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Fujifilm X-T2 review: for the love of photography

Refinements that make for a fantastic upgrade

Fujifilm’s X-T2 is the perfect mirrorless camera for photo geeks. It seems like that’s true of every camera that Fujifilm releases, but the X-T2 is a refined sequel to the X-T1 that improves on its predecessor in the ways that matter most: resolution, autofocus, and ease of use. It’s still got all the manual control dials and stunning electronic viewfinder that lured photographers to the X-T1. At $1,599 (or $1,899 with a bundled 18-55mm lens), it’s actually more expensive than the X-T1’s original starting price. But as soon as it’s actually in stock somewhere again, I’ll be getting one.

After weeks of trying out the X-T2, I’ve come to trust it like few cameras I’ve used previously — even counting full-frame DSLRs. There are still scenarios where $3,000 Canon and Nikon cameras can handily best Fujifilm, but the experience of shooting with the X-T2 is so sublime that you’ll have a hard time finding them. We described the X-T1 as a “perfect, no-compromises mirrorless camera.” But, of course, it wasn’t perfect, and mirrorless cameras have improved at every angle since 2014. The X-T2 is Fujifilm’s attempt to clinch the top spot from rivals, and the camera pulls off that mission magnificently.

A first glance might have you believe that Fujifilm barely changed a thing with the X-T2’s design. And while it does maintain a nearly identical, SLR-styled body, there are definite changes — most of them for the better. The camera’s hand grip is slightly deeper and more comfortable. That, combined with a larger thumbrest makes the X-T2 easier to grip for long periods if you’ve got big hands. The camera is still constructed from magnesium alloy and weather-sealed, and Fujifilm’s selection of rain-safe lenses has grown considerably since the X-T1’s release. The X-T2 includes the bigger, more immersive eyecup that was a standalone accessory for its predecessor.

The XT-2's many dials and buttons give you expert control over your images

Then there are the physical controls that photo nerds love. Fujifilm has altered the locking mechanism for the shutter speed and ISO dials, making it way simpler to adjust those settings on the fly. You just press once to unlock, and again to lock in your current selection to prevent it from accidentally being changed during shooting. Fujifilm again gives users six function buttons, plus dedicated autoexposure and autofocus buttons. There’s a new "custom" setting on the exposure compensation dial that lets you flick the camera’s front command dial for faster adjustments. Fujifilm has also added a fourth metering mode: center-weighted.

Fuji XT2 tilting display Chris Welch

Absent is the video record button that was on the X-T1; since the X-T2 is capable of 4K recording, video has earned its own spot on the drive dial. And the Wi-Fi button has been repurposed, so you’ll need to assign that to a function key if you frequently transfer images directly to your smartphone for Instagramming, like I do. Fujifilm’s smartphone app, available for Android and iOS, works just as reliably here as with the X-T1, though I’ve noticed that sending photos over to my iPhone 7 is much slower than before — perhaps because of the larger file sizes. The phenomenal multi-directional focus stick has been brought over from the X-Pro 2, placed right where your thumb naturally wanders.

The electronic viewfinder that was one of the X-T1’s big draws has also been improved. It’s brighter, smoother (60fps by default), and Fujifilm added an auto-brightness setting to keep it matched to your shooting environment. Turn on the X-T2’s boost mode and the viewfinder switches over to an ultra-smooth 100fps refresh rate. This can be a significant help when shooting action subjects and makes peering through the large OLED EVF even more astounding, but it does drain the camera’s battery quicker.

The X-T2’s 3-inch rear LCD display — unchanged in sharpness at 1.04 million dots (slightly less than the X-Pro 2’s LCD) — can now articulate outward and tilted to the right. That’s nice for photographers who often shoot in portrait orientation, but I barely ever used the new angle. Just like the X-T1, I mostly used the tilting display when shooting from a low-down or high-up perspective where looking through the EVF wasn’t feasible. It’s not a touchscreen, as Fujifilm insists that’s not something its advanced users want. Other hardware improvements include an additional SD card slot, so the X-T2 can write to two UHS-II cards simultaneously. Fujifilm also added a 3.5mm microphone jack if you want something better than the built-in mics for video. It’s also USB 3-compatible, so transferring photos when tethered is much less painful than before.

The X-T2 largely feels similar to the camera it succeeds, but start shooting and that’s where the deepest improvements become obvious. The X-T2’s 24.3-megapixel APS-C X-Trans sensor produces noticeably more detailed photos than the 16-megapixel sensor in the X-T1. It helps that Fujifilm’s kit bundle includes the fantastic 18-55mm (f/2.8 - 4) lens, which outshines most of the pack-in lenses that accompany other cameras. I’m disappointed there’s no package that includes the do-everything 18-135mm lens that spent 95 percent of the time attached to my X-T1, but hopefully that will come later on. Still, if you’re buying the X-T2, it’s worth spending the extra $300 for the 18-55 lens. Native ISO now ranges up to 12,800, and the maximum mechanical shutter speed has jumped to 1/8000sec compared to the 1/4000 ceiling the X-T1 had.

Fujifilm has dramatically improved autofocus performance and flexibility on the X-T2. By default you get 91 autofocus points with 49 phase detect points taking up the center. For more granular focus control, you can switch over to an expanded 325-point setting, where 169 of those are phase-detect. Again, better when you’re following moving subjects with either the Zone or Wide/Tracking AF modes — and the focus stick is a huge help when trying to key in such precise focus. In either case, phase detect autofocus points cover around 40 percent of the frame. Fujifilm says the X-T2 can hit focus in lighting as low as -3EV, and the camera was very consistent in my experience. (Then again, so was the X-T1 after some firmware updates.)

But where the X-T1 could struggle with action / sports photography and fast-moving subjects, these problems seem almost completely resolved with the new camera. Fujifilm claims to have improved its continuous autofocus algorithms, and my testing bears that out. The X-T2 had no problem tracking the action at an amateur boxing night. Continuous shooting tops out at 8fps, but you can extend that to 11 shots-per-second if you’ve got the optional battery grip attached. The battery grip also extends 4K recording to 30 minutes from the usual cutoff of 10, and adds a headphone jack for audio monitoring. It can also hold two batteries, allowing use of three batteries for marathon shooting sessions. Battery life is still a weakness of many mirrorless cameras, so carrying a charged spare in my bag is something I’ve programmed into my brain over the last couple years. The battery grip’s benefits require a big added cost though: it’s $329, which is only slightly less than Fujifilm’s fantastic 35mm f/2 lens.

The X-T2 produces gorgeous JPEGs that have become perhaps the biggest signature of Fujifilm cameras. Sometimes I’ll shoot in RAW since you’ve always got the option to reprocess images with those film simulations later, but you can skip RAW in many instances and come away with phenomenal colors and tones. Being able to skip Lightroom and postprocessing entirely and get wonderful photos straight out of camera is such a compelling reason to choose Fujifilm. You can also apply those film simulations to video, which can now be shot in 4K at 24p, 25p, or 30p. The X-T2 offers surprisingly strong video features, like the ability to shoot ungraded, flat F-Log footage. But even if Fujifilm is getting more serious about video, it’ll take a lot to draw people away from companies like Sony and Panasonic, who’ve focused on video for years. This is still a camera that most buyers will use predominantly for stills.

You don’t need to buy the X-T2 (or Fujifilm’s other expensive flagship, the X-Pro 2) for those great images, though. The X100T remains a wonderful camera to carry around in a bag. The X-T2 is for those who have professional or prosumer use in mind and need the camera’s blazing-fast focus, dependable performance, and excellent results. It’s not Fujifilm’s easiest camera to lug around, but it’s now the best camera in the company’s line. There’s just a joy that comes with shooting with the X-T2. That’s true of many cameras, but if you already own a Fujifilm camera and "get it," you’re probably already trying to talk yourself out of buying the X-T2. I can’t help you there; your main challenge right now will be actually finding one.

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