Fujifilm X-T2 at Le Mans Classic: First Impressions

Overtaking

I’m responsible for Fujifilm products where I work, so Fujifilm invited me to the European launch event for their new X-T2 camera!

Although I never got around to do a review/first impression of either X-T1, X-T10 (my preferred camera at the moment) or the X-Pro2, I feel I have to do one on the X-T2 because I got to do some extensive testing and have a lot of images (skip to the end for the gallery).

During my stay in Paris I got to spend a little over 12 hours with the brand new X-T2 at the Le Mans Classic car show. The cameras we used were, as far as I know, more or less complete with all features enabled. However, the firmware on our cameras was not the final version, so some things may yet change.

Whats new?
So, in case you’ve missed it the main features on this camera include the same processor and 24MP X-Trans sensor as the X-Pro2, new and improved autofocus, more frames per second, better EVF with higher frequency and shorter “blackout” between shots, tethered shooting, and 4K video.

Build and handling

Taking the camera for a walkThe camera has a solid magnesium alloy weather sealed build. It’s not much bigger than the X-T1, got a good grip and handles well. If you’re already familiar with Fuji cameras you’ll know your way around the camera in a matter of minutes. Everything feels familiar, but improved. Like the selector buttons on the back, that were a nightmare on the X-T1, are now much better and the dials on top are a little higher for better grip and can also be locked. I was a little dissapointed to see that the X-T2 did not get the same ISO dial as the X-Pro2, but a regular one. I really like the one they have on the X-Pro2. There are a couple of new buttons on the back (some of which didn’t work, but I suspect the beta-firmware is to blame there), but most notably the joystick used for changing focus point. Very handy!

I used the camera most of the time with the vertical grip attached. The grip actually gives you improved and deeper grip in the horizontal position as well as improving handling in the vertical position of course. The grip has dedicated buttons in vertical position (like you would expect of a vertical grip…), and improved handling when used with big zooms like XF100-400mm or XF50-140mm. With the big lenses the set up became more balanced with the grip. On my Nikon D800 I would never use a grip as I felt it would be too big and bulky, but even with the grip the X-T2 is still not a big camera.

Another major update to the X-T2 is the EVF. It’s brighter, faster and better than before. It’s a joy to use and it’s 100fps means you’ll have no problem using it on fast moving subjects. I did experience some troubles with the eye sensor, it didn’t always activate properly, but again this could be a firmware issue.

The screen is mostly the same as before, but with the added tilt upwards when shooting in the vertical position. To me this is not a very big deal, but I do see the use for some, particularly when shooting portraits. However, a traditional sort of tilt screen would be more flexible, especially when it comes to video.

Autofocus

Close raceAutofocus have been dramatically improved on the X-T2. Both speed and accuracy, but also performance all over. There’s a reason they took us to Le Mans to test this… It’s fast. They also introduced a set of new AF modes that specifically lets you fine tune the AF to the situation. The idea is to make the camera predict the subjects motion to improve the AF. You can even make your own preset, specifically design for the situation you’re in. I tried a bunch of them to see if I noticed a difference. While the difference is there it’s may not always be obvious. The standard auto mode is actually pretty good for most uses, but it’s clear that they try to approach the demands of a professional sport/action photographer with this feature.

Image quality

The X-T2 have the same image quality as the X-Pro2 and then some. Better firmware (which will be available for X-Pro2 as well) means better image rendering and quality. The 24MP X-Trans sensor delivers wonderful images! When combined with the high quality Fujinon XF lenses this camera delivers a stunning image quality and very rich details. If you’re used to high-resolution files from Nikon D800, this is not far behind.

A quick ISO test to see what this camera can do.

A quick ISO test to see what this camera can do. Shot with Fujifilm X-T2 and XF16mm f/1.4 @ ISO8000, f/4,

I didn’t shoot on the far end of the ISO range, but I did some shots on ISO 8000 and 12800 and it delivers a very good result. There are much less noise and much more detail in the images shot on ISO8000 with the X-T2, than images shot on ISO6400 with the X-T10. I printed some of the ISO8000 shots in 30x45cm and they look great! There are of course noise, but it’s that nice Fuji-noise.

Combine the amazing image quality with the excellent film simulation Fujifilm offer and you get amazing looking images straight out of the camera. In fact most of the images shown in the gallery at the end are straight out of the camera. Not because Lightroom doesn’t support the camera yet, because it does, but because they look so darn good! I really like the new Acros simulation. That alone is a reason I’m seriously considering an upgrade from my X-T10!

Video mode

It’s clear Fuji is finally breaking into the video marked with this camera. The X-T2 got a new video mode. It’s selected on the same dial as you select continuous shooting and bracketing. In the menu, they’ve put in a new video shooting menu.

Unfortunately I did not get the chance to test the video properly. I’ve seen some 4K footage shot with the camera and it certainly looks very promising, as does the specs. The 4K uses a 1.8x oversampling and new features include 3.5mm jack input for microphone (they finally got rid of the useless 2.5mm…), you can adjust sound input levels during shooting, 4:2:2 8-bit F-log out the HDMI, 100 Mbps internal recording and of course 4K! They finally deliver som very interesting specs.

Another cool feature, dubbed “Quick 4K” by the Fuji-guys I talked to, is the possibility to use the film simulations on video! This means if you know what you want and have a proper set up with lights and stuff you can get really good-looking footage straight out of the camera. A cool feature for a lot of photographers out there starting to do video, but not wanting to do all the heavy post production.

Their video feature is still made up of some compromises, though. You really need the vertical grip to get a proper video setup. The grip will give you a 3.5mm headphone jack, increase the recording time from 10 to 30 minutes and give you an AC-adapter.

VPB-XT2: Vertical Power Boost Grip

Gare Montparnasse

Shot with Fujifilm X-T2 and XF16mm f/1.4 @ ISO800, f/2, 1/3500, Acros

I’ve said a bit about the grip already, but it’s worth to sum up what this grip actually is. It’s not just a grip it’s also a performance enhancement. On the grip you can actually flip a switch called “boost” to enhance a couple of features. This include 11 fps continuous shooting, 30 minutes of 4K shooting, faster AF, higher update frequency in the EVF as well as shorter blackout between shots and a 3.5mm headphone jack. In addition it is of course a vertical grip with better ergonomics and an extra set of buttons when shooting in the vertical position.

The grip can hold two batteries and you can have one in the camera, giving you a total of three batteries that improves battery life a lot. The official number is 1000 exposures with this setup, but during my day at Le Mans I shot almost double that and still had some power left at the end of the day. You also get a AC-adapter with the grip. Plug it into the grip and it can power the camera from an AC power source or it can use the grip as a dual battery charger and charge both the batteries in the grip simultaneous and in record time.

So should you get the grip? If you shoot video it’s a no brainer. Also if you shoot events or  work long days and shoot a lot of pictures, then the extra power is nice. If you do wildlife, sport or action and need the extra speed and performance then you should definitely get it! However, if you do street, journalism, portraits or travel and want to keep the size to a minimum and don’t need the extra enhancement, then you can safely drop the grip and still have a very good camera.

Conclusion

Fujifilm X-T2 certainly is a very interesting camera. It was a bit of a disappointment handing it back in and going back to my X-T10. When I decided to get the X-T10 I also tested the X-T1 and build quality aside, the X-T10 does not lack anything. Until now. The X-T2 is a big step up in every way. The image quality is very good and the image quality when shooting on high ISO-values is vastly improved. As is the autofocus.

So worth an upgrade? Should you get it? Well, I’m seriously considering it myself. Now I’m not saying it can compete with a Nikon D5 or a Canon 1D X II. If you’re using one of those cameras you probably do a lot of low light, fast autofocus, high-speed stuff, like wildlife or sports. While the X-T2s performance is dramatically improved in all those three areas and can probably handle much of it very well it’s not quite there yet. However, if you’re upgrading from a Nikon D300 or D7xxx or even a D800 or a Canon 6D or 7D and looking for a smaller set up and a good all-round camera then the X-T2 is a serious contender. Street photography, journalism, portrait, weddings, events, landscapes and the occasional wildlife and sports, the X-T2 can handle it!

Check out the gallery below for images taken with the X-T2. Most of these are straight from the camera, no post-processing. I mostly used Acros and Classic Chrome film simulation.

Photo tip! Try panning fast moving subjects by slowing down the shutter speed and follow the subject in a panning motion as it moves by. It creates a nice blurry background.

Long exposures in the night

Summer nights is Norway can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it. The sun sets late and rises early leaving the summer nights almost as bright as day. This is great can be great for photographers as you can continue to shoot with ease long into the night!

I took these photos on a cabin trip last weekend because I was curious to see how the Fujifilm X-T10 handled long exposures and I wanted to do a little test. I didn’t have any ND-filters so I decided to wait until the sun had set and the moon came up. So, when the others went to sleep, I went out and set up my camera.

I took these photos at about 1.30 in the morning. I used a tripod and up to 30 seconds long exposure time to capture the liquid motion of the sea. I also stepped down to f/16. Partly to get good depth of field and partly because it allowed me to use longer exposure times.

It was not a planned shoot, so the set up lacked remote and the tripod was a bit wobbly, but I got a few nice shots and I’m pleased to see that the X-T10 handles long exposures very well!

First Impressions: Blackmagic Studio Camera

I got the opportunity to try the new studio camera from Blackmagic recently. While it was not an extensive test I did draw some conclusions.

blackmagic-studio-cameraI do some part-time work at a local youth club as a video instructor/mentor. They want to start a proper video group who can do live multi-cam productions of concerts and events at the club. Per now they don’t have much equipment and need to invest in some new equipment. Since we already have a Blackmagic ATEM Production Studio 4K switcher and a HyperDeck we’re happy with, the Blackmagic Studio Camera looked tempting, and would fit in well in an all Blackmagic setup.

The reason Blackmagic is tempting is of course because of the price. It’s a youth club with limited funds. Blackmagic’s cameras would give us a full studio setup with talkback, tally, and everything else you’d get from a conventional studio camera. Not to mention they’re fairly cheap compared to everything else.

My first impression when picking up the camera was simply “wow!”. It’s slick and good-looking. It’s very nicely organized; big screen with all the buttons, all the connectors in one place. No hidden connectors on the back or illogical placement of buttons that’s hard to reach. The screen is simply amazing. It’s big! The menus are very easy to use and to navigate. It’s probably one of the best menus I’ve seen on any camera!

However, while the camera looks slick and is very attractive there are some drawbacks. First of all I found it hard to focus, with only color monitor (at least I didn’t find a way to turn it black and white) and hardly any focus peaking. It didn’t help that I was using a slow Panasonic 14-140mm 4.0-5.6 lens.

That’s the second part that’s disappointing about the studio camera; The fact that it uses  MFT-mount. While this is great because you can use a lot of MFT-lenses, and can use a bunch of adapters to mount just about anything. It’s not so good because most of the MFT-lenses are still photography lenses with no back-focus, slow lenses with F-drop and not made to zoom or focus while filming. This isn’t much of a problem in a talk-show, newsroom or other settings where you can make everything fixed and you hardly zoom or refocus, but for a concert or live setting it’s a big problem. In order to get proper lenses you would have to invest in proper video ENG lenses that’s twice the price of the camera. Meaning the whole “this is cheap and good”-argument goes down the drain. At least for the use I was testing the camera for. Another problem is the ergonomics of the camera. It’s impossible to shoot hand-held without some sort of rig.

We had almost decided to go for the Blackmagic Studio Camera, but after testing it we decided this was not ideal for our use. We actually ended up getting a couple of CanonXA25’s (because we already had one of these cameras). Not as cool as the Blackmagic, but in the end a lot more flexible. They have proper back-focus and good zoom and focus features. In addition you can use it hand-held, which is great for concerts. While the studio camera can only be used in a studio setting, as they don’t have a recorder, the XA25 is a conventional video camera and it can be used for other work as well. Of course the XA25 also has its drawbacks for multi-camera work. Most noticeably it can’t be controlled remotely by a camera controller, meaning the camera operator will have to adjust gain, iris and white balance him/her self. This makes things a bit more tricky, but at the same time just good learning for the youths.

So, Blackmagic Studio Camera; I’m both impressed and disappointed. It’s cool that they’ve designed a new style of studio camera just because they can, and challenge some of the well established norms. While some of the features are genius and work well, some are not. It’s cheap and good for a controlled settings or if you have proper lenses and need a camera upgrade. For a youth club the Blackmagic Studio Camera looks appealing at first, being cheap, easy to learn, easy to use and incorporates right into an all Blackmagic workflow. However, it’s not all that great. The lenses are the biggest issue. You’ll need to invest a lot more to get usable optics for this camera. You’ll need to invest further more before you can shoot hand-held. That being said, I’m curious about what a mark II of this camera could offer. If Blackmagic manages to keep the good parts, fix the problems and maybe release a set of affordable lenses. Then this could be a winner!

Nikon D810 first impressions

Nikon D810Please also read my impressions after spending a little more time with this camera in the field photographing wildlife in Finland!

I’ve been very lucky and got to bring the brand new Nikon D810 home with me home this weekend! I got to play around with it for a couple of days, before returning it. While I’ve barely scratched the surface of this camera, I thought I’d share my thoughts on it so far. This is no in debt review or lab testing. It’s simply just my experience and thoughts after using this camera for a couple of days.

What’s new?
The new Nikon D810 is the successor of the highly acclaimed D800. It’s kept the high-resolution, but added more power under the hood with the Expeed 4 processor. This means the new D810 let’s you shoot more frames per second, have an upgraded focus system, and new features when recording video. You also get one step lower and one step higher ISO value, and a lot of minor upgrades such as RAW S and Picture Control 2.0. All in all, it looks good on paper, but how does it hold up in reality?

Build quality and design
The D810 is very similar to the D800. No doubt about it. It’s pretty much the same build and the same quality. It’s a bit smaller and lighter than the D800. I find it a little less bulky than it’s predecessor, and I think the grip is a lot better on the D810.

As for the design, it’s very similar, but Nikon have moved around on some of the buttons. There’s a new info-button on the back. This is actually quite handy, especially in video mode. The BKT-button has been moved, and replaced with the metering button. Personally I don’t miss the BKT-button as I hardly use bracketing, but I’m no fan of the new metering button placement. It’s now a two hands operation to change metering mode. It’s not a big issue, but in some situations I like to change metering mode quickly, and on the D800 it’s very convenient for me to change metering mode with just a flip of my thumb.

For photography
Before I talk about the image quality, I want to note that I shot mainly JPEGs as I don’t have any software that handles the RAW-files. This is not the best basis for judging quality, but then again this is not a lab test either. As for image quality there is very little to complain about. It’s nothing short of amazing. The sharpness and details are just astonishing. Just from looking at the images I’d say they’re a bit sharper than those from my D800. Just like the D800E the D810 doesn’t have a low pass, or AA-filter which could make it prone to moiré and aliasing. While I didn’t specifically try to provoke moiré, I did not have any problem with moiré and the camera seems to handle most situations quite well.

Just like the D800 the D810 is a real joy to shoot with. ISO range have been extended in both ends with a low at 64 ISO, and a high at 12800 ISO. I didn’t get to do an in-depth test to see how well it deals with noise compared to the D800, but from what I can tell it handles noise well. As I’m used to shoot RAW and now shot JPEGs it was hard for me to draw any concrete conclusions about how much better it handles high ISO noise.

The D810 is able to shoot up to 7 frames per second which is a nice upgrade. Combined with the new auto focus-system it makes this a quite capable camera! One of the things that I like best with this camera is in fact the new auto focus. It’s faster and more precise than the D800, and the new group-AF is a really nice feature. It makes it easier to keep moving objects in focus. I shot my dog running towards camera, and the AF nailed more shots than my D800 would’ve done under similar conditions.

I also find the D810 slightly less prone to motion blur than the D800. With the D800 I’ve found the camera sort of prone to motion blur on slow shutters. On the D810 however, I’ve not encountered the problem. My guess is that this is because of the new shutter and mirror construction. It’s suppose to create less vibrations.

For videography
The new D810 have some nice upgrades to its video capabilities as well. The most obvious one is the ability to record 1080p50/60. I think this is really overdue and should have been in place on the D800 as well. Just like the D800 you can get 10-bit 4:2:2 video out via the HDMI, but unlike the D800 the D810 is also able to record internally while at the same time outputting 10-bit video to an external device. There is no 4K, and I don’t really mind, to be honest. I think Nikon (and other camera makers for that matter) should focus on handling HD video well before they venture into higher resolutions.

Video is very similar to what you get on other Nikon cameras when it comes to settings and features. The exception is a new button which gives you easy access an on-screen menu so you can get access to some features such as zebra while recording video. The D810 also have some new audio features, and a built-in stereo microphone. The built-in microphone is pretty poor, but I didn’t really expect anything else., however the ability to filter out wind, or strengthen vocals is a neat little feature.

The higher frame rates are accompanied by higher bit rates as well. For 50/60p recording the bit rate is 40Mbps. For 24/25/30p recording however, the bit rates are the same as the D800’s 25Mbps. I’m a bit disappointed that Nikon didn’t come up with better internal recording on this camera. It’s great that you’re able to output uncompressed studio profile video, but a higher bit rate and less compressed video in camera would make it a more versatile camera.

Nikon were the first to put video in their DSLRs with the D90, but they’ve not been keeping up with the rest when it comes to video features. So, while speaking of features that are way overdue, the D810 finally got zebra stripes. A feature most videographers are used to and have missed on most DSLRs. It’s nice that they’ve finally built-in this feature, but it’s locked on 100%. Personally, I like working with zebra at 70%. Why Nikon has not incorporated zebra settings I don’t know. The same goes for focus peaking. I would’ve expected this basic feature of a brand new camera that claims to be a multimedia tool. While the higher resolution on the LCD-screen makes it easier to focus it’s still hard to be precise enough without focus peaking or other tools.

Nikon have met one demand though. They’ve added a flat profile for video shooters. This records with a setting that’s aimed at giving you the best dynamic range and the most to work with in post production. I didn’t get to test this feature thoroughly enough to say how well it works, but Nikon has redesigned the Picture Style feature so it looks promising.

The video that the D810 produces looks pretty amazing. I didn’t get to do a lot of in dept testing of the video feature, so I can’t say how well moiré and rolling shutter is handled. From what little I shot the first thing that stood out was sharpness. I find the D810 video to be much sharper and more detailed than that of D800.

Conclusion
The D810 is not as revolutionary as the D800 was. However, the upgrades are quite noticeable! I primarily shoot with a D800, and I do notice the difference between the D800 and the D810. Most notably is the higher frame-rate, the better autofocus and that it’s less prone to motion blur. These are significant upgrades and they make the D810 a much better all-rounder than the D800.

I was a bit disappointed when it came to the video though. Yes, 50/60p is a big step forward, but it’s nothing extraordinary. Same goes for zebra. These are basic features in a pro camera. I find that the whole video feature is still missing a bit. Unlike Canon or Panasonic who also make video cameras, Nikon have nothing to lose by going all in on the video! Then again they have no experience with video which may explain the lack of basic features.

So will I be upgrading? The D810 doesn’t offer big enough upgrades for me. I do a lot of events and what I need is higher ISO and better auto-focus. Yes, the D810 has both, but it’s not significant enough. I’d rather look for a D4 as it is better than the D810 on both accounts. Also had there been bigger upgrades on the video I’d may consider it. It’s still missing some key features for me. I feel Nikon really wants to make a good video feature, just doesn’t know how. I really like the D810 though. Don’t get me wrong. However, for me and what I use the camera for, the upgrades simply aren’t big enough to warrant an upgrade on my current budget. That’s not saying I really, really want one though!

Please also read my impressions after spending a little more time with this camera in the field photographing wildlife in Finland!

Check out the gallery below for some test shots!

 

Panasonic GH4 first impressions

I had the pleasure of playing around with the new Panasonic GH4 earlier today. However, very briefly. I only got about 10 minutes or so. This is not enough to do a full review, however enough to make up a couple of thoughts, and first impressions.

I didn’t have time to stroll through all the menus, and check out every little function. I just grabbed the camera, ran out, and did a couple of video test shots. After all, the 4K capabilities of this camera is all the rage!PANASONIC GH4

First of, just by holding the camera I really like how it sits in my hands. Light, but heavy enough. The weight and balance also depends on the lens of course. I used a heavy prime, the 45mm 1.2, and it balanced nicely. The build quality seems good and, to be honest, what I expected. I did not look closely at the buttons and dials. However, they seemed logically placed, and I didn’t spend any time looking for any of the buttons. As I’m used to handle DSLRs, I found that the different buttons were exactly where I expected them to be. The GH4 have a bunch of buttons for easy access to different settings, and at first glance, it seemed to have the buttons you’d expect. It also had a lot of programmable Fn-buttons. This is really nice, though I did not look into the programming options.

Then for the video testing. What I first realized was how great the display is! It’s very sharp, and detailed. It’s very easy to work with, and it’s easy to tell focus when focusing manually. Though, focus peaking, and other tools help as well. I, of course, set it to 4K 25p right away for this test. I wasn’t sure my 45MB/s off the shelf SD-card would handle it, but it did actually! As my testing was quite brief, and I didn’t want to spend it in menus I don’t know what codec, bitrate etc, I landed on. However, I it surprised me to find more than just a couple of options. Compared to most DSLRs or system cameras, you have a vast number of options when it comes to choosing formats, codecs and bitrates.

As I mentioned earlier, the 4K capabilities of this camera is all the rage and for good reason!  The image quality is very good and the images looks clean, sharp and detailed. Very detailed. The details and sharpness is in fact really amazing and not only in 4K! Down-sampled to HD and the images still looks smashing!

All in all, my first impressions of the GH4 are very good! It’ll be interesting to try it some more, and see what other people think of it, as new reviews surface. I most definitely think the GH3 have a worthy successor in the GH4, and I think the GH4 will be a very successful, and popular camera. I suspect Panasonic have done a lot of things right with this camera. I don’t think this is the camera that will make me cross over from a DSLR, though. Still images are still the most important work I do, and the work I do most of, so the still image capabilities comes before the video capabilities. While the smaller mirror-less cameras are getting better and better, I still prefer the superior still image quality, and capabilities of the DSLRs at the moment. That being said new cameras like Fuji XT-1, and now the GH4, come pretty close in convincing me otherwise!

Below you can see the test shots I did, nicely edited by Andreas Kalvig Anderson. I shot everything hand-held, so it needed a bit of stabilization here and there. These shots were down-sampled to HD, and of course compressed for YouTube, in the editing process.