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.

Expanding laptop storage

A couple of weeks ago I upgraded my laptop by swapping the current hard drive, a SSHD type disk, with a new SSD. The performance was noticeable increased at once!

However, now I had another problem. My old hard drive was 750 GB and my new SSD only 240 GB. So, storage became a problem. I store most my stuff on a NAS with a Raid setup, but this is more of an archive. It’s slow to work with video files from network storage, so I need a bit of storage locally on my computer as well.

The solution was to take out the DVD-player and put my old hard drive back in as a second disk. I’ve rarely used my DVD-player at all so this is no loss to me. I bought a kit from IcyBox, IcyBox IBAC642. The kit consisted of a caddy for the HDD so that it could be installed in the optical drive bay of my laptop. The kit also had a chassis for the DVD-player so that I can use it as an external USB DVD-player. While the DVD-player chassis was metal, the caddy was plastic. All in all the build quality of the kit did not impress me, but then again it was cheap and it does exactly what I need it to do.

IcyBox  IBAC642, SSD/HDD caddy

IcyBox IBAC642, SSD/HDD caddy. Comes with caddy for your HDD/SSD, and external USB chassis for you DVD.

Installing it was really simple. It does need you to know your way around a computer, but no it does not require any special knowledge. The job took less than 10 minutes and involved less than 10 screws. The result is that I now have a high performance SSD, making my computer fast and more than enough storage space for other stuff.

Review: Atomos Ninja2

For my short film Over Fjellet I had the pleasure of testing out Atomos Ninja2. If you’re not familiar with it; the Atomos Ninja is a small HDMI video recorder. It records in Apple ProRes files onto a harddrive or SSD.

By sending an uncompressed* HDMI signal out of the camera, in my case Nikon D800*, I could record it as Apple ProRes 4:2:2 files on the Ninja. This is much better quality than the built-in recorder gives me (h.264, 25mbit/s). For this project the main advantage of the higher bitrate and color sampling comes in post production when it comes to color correction and grading. For others it will be important when it comes to incorporating CGI and special effects.

All you need to get started, beside the Ninja-kit, is a HDMI-cable and a 2,5″ storage drive. The Ninja can use both regular spinning hard drives (HDD) and solid state drives (SSD) I used a regular spinning hard drive and this worked perfectly. Though I did not have any intense camera-movement or bring the camera on a bumpy car ride or anything. For that you would probably be better of using a SSD. As for the HDMI-cable, I picked up a cheap one at a local electronics store. Only requirement is that it is a mini-HDMI (Type-C) to regular (Type-A) cable as the camera has a mini-HDMI connector and the Ninja uses a regular.

The Ninja is really a joy to use! It’s just plug and play and it’s so intuitive and simple. It took me no more than 5 minutes to get comfortable with it, and know every function there is. This simplicity is truly one of it’s strengths. It doesn’t have mile-long menus and a lot of extra functions you never use, and you don’t miss it. You control everything through the touch-screen. I’m no fan of touch screens actually, but for the Ninja it really works. They’ve built a user interface from scratch and made it specifically for touch screen and not just converted a regular one like most cameras do. Because of this it’s really fun to use the Ninja and it’s quick to navigate.

In addition to being a recorder, the Ninja also functions as a monitor. It’s not really a high-quality monitor, but it works just fine. The main advantage is that it has some important functions most DSLRs lack, like zebra-stripes and focus peaking. You can also switch between black and white and color. It can also double as a monitor for the camera assistant when pulling focus.

I didn’t really miss anything with the Ninja. It has a good system of naming clips where you set scene and shot and it automatically adds number of take. I don’t think you can give the clips names of your own though. While there were sufficient with accessories in the kit I did miss some sort of mounting-device for attaching the Ninja to the camera. A simple cold-shoe mount would’ve been enough. Also I wouldn’t mind a better build quality. It’s plastic and got a few bumps after only two days of regular use. On the plus, side the battery capacity is really impressive. Handled an 8 hour day with intense use  with no problems at all!

All in all the Atomos Ninja2 really impressed me! It’s powerful, and really useful when shooting on a DSLR, yet it’s just so simple, playful and really fun to use.

*Well it’s a 4:2:2 signal and not a 4:4:4 raw RGB signal. It’s labeled uncompressed because in the TV-world 4:2:2 color sampling is considered uncompressed as it has no visual quality-loss.

*One note on setting up Nikon D800: During set-up I found it a bit illogical and difficult to set up the D800 to output a clean, high-quality HDMI-feed. However, if you just follow the steps described on the Atomos website it should work just fine!

It’s a wrap!

We finally wrapped principal photography for Over Fjellet today! After three intense and busy days of shooting on locations in the middle of nowhere. It was an interesting shoot in several ways. For one we were a small crew on demanding locations and on a tight schedule. Second, I tried out some new equipment like Atomos Ninja 2, Wondlan camera rigs and Sirui tripod. I’ll try to do some posts about my experiences with the different equipment in the upcoming days!

First DSLR video shoot!

Believe it or not, but today was my first ever DSLR video shoot! That is, I’ve used it briefly as part of a project mainly shot on regular video camera a couple of years ago, and I’ve worked on productions shot on DSLRs, but I’ve never shot a production entirely on a DSLR as a DP before.

That being said, this was a school assignment and not an entire short film. It was a single scene we wrote and shot, as a collaborative project between our TV-production class and the drama class. It was a simple and quick production with less focus on technical qualities and more on storytelling and acting which is why I thought it would be a perfect production to test out DSLR-shooting and put the video mode of my D800 through some practical testing.

While I’ve recognized the potential of DSLR video, I’ve remained skeptical. There are several reasons, mainly quality and practical use. The bit rate is usually low, image quality questionable (image quality is not the same as depth of field…) It’s hard to focus, lack of dedicated buttons and lack of proper audio functions for some. I’ve only seen the material from today’s shoot on the camera LCD and a laptop, but not a proper monitor yet, so can’t really say much about the quality in this post. However, I can share with you some of my practical experiences.

First of all let’s talk equipment. I had my D800, a range of Nikon lenses: 17-35mm 2.8, 50mm 1.8 D, 85mm 1.8 D, 105mm 2.8 D micro. A Zacuto 3x viewfinder, Sevenoak shoulder rig and of course a regular video tripod and a standard light kit of a couple of 800w oranges and some LitePanels. In addition we were planning on using an Aja Ki-Pro recorder to record a 4:2:2 output and then use the SDI-out from the Ki-Pro to get a proper field monitor. unfortunately the Ki-Pro was in use on an other production and we had to do heavily compressed in-camera recording in steed.

I actually used all of the lenses. My favorite was by far the 85mm. Not only the sharpest of the bunch, but also the easiest one to pull focus with. However, none of them are particularly good for video. Then again, they’re stills photo lenses and not film or video lenses. Luckily it was a fairly simple set up. Most of the shots were tripod mounted and static with some simple focus work. On a video camera it would’ve been easy, but it was much harder on the DSLR. To make it easier for my self I worked on a 4-5.6 aperture.

I have some mixed feelings about the Zacuto viewfinder, though. It made it a lot easier to see focus on the LCD screen and actually made it possible to somewhat finetune focus, but I found it clumsy and bulky to work with. However, the worst part was that it was hard to see the entire frame. I could only focus on one part at the time and did not get a good overview of the entire frame. This made it actually quite hard to work with and I felt I lost some control. I used the 3x magnification, perhaps 2,5x would’ve been enough.

I must admit it was fun to work with the D800. I ran the camera on full manual mode. This gave me control of shutter, aperture, ISO, and the works. In addition I put the white balance on manual and then I felt I had control over the camera in much the same was as a video camera. Of course I missed the zebra or a waveform monitor in the camera, but I had the histogram which gave me some control over the exposure. I did not fool around with any of the audio options on todays shoot, though. So, I have no practical info about that. We recorded everything with an external sound recorder and will be syncing it later. I’m also a bit disappointed I did not get to try the 4:2:2 output via HDMI. Hence, I look at this as more of a testing of the practical issues related to DSLR video shooting as quality probably would’ve been much better with a high quality recording.

I’ve not yet converted to the DSLR video religion and don’t think I will either. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked shooting DSLR for this project and hope to do more of it in the future. That being said I will not shoot DSLR on every single project just because “oh my God, it’s so awesome, it looks like film!”. It requires more than just the camera to make the video look good and with a DSLR perhaps even more so, because of the limitations when it comes to focus and bit rate etc. However, on certain projects that require that particular look and where I have the time and resources required, I will definitely consider DSLR as a real alternative!