Long story alert!
When I first started using digital, back in 1999, with Kodak cameras, then a brief foray using Canon’s first D30 and then D60 DSLRs, I took the plunge and due to good pricing at the time, jumped straight into the Nikon camp in 2002 (whatever the Nikon vs Canon, Canon vs Nikon arguments are, both Canon and Nikon boast absolutely superb bodies and lenses and I could easily have opted to purchase happily into either system, and still could).
Shooting on a D100 was a revelation, and this set me along a long and happy path with excellent equipment, and superb optics. Results were good, and with a bit of work to understand the slight differences and nuances of digital technology (it is photography at the heart of it, just like film, and the same core principles apply), impressive results can be achieved.
Moving on, as my system was expanded with newer and faster lenses, my main body was changed first to a D2X and then finally the monstrously fast full-frame D3 in 2009. The perfect system was in place and this has served me well and reliably to suit all the types of photography that I want to use the system for.
It’s important to note that although we live in a world of the new and shiny, the constant release of ‘upgrades’ and newer models, that the camera and it’s lenses are purely there to act as a tool to capture images, and from the photographer’s point of view, should provide no (or at least the minimal) barrier to achieving the result that we want in the captured image.
We get attached to our favourites, and I am no exception in having a bias towards Nikon, but only out of the results that I have achieved, and the support that Nikon give – which has always been excellent. We also invest heavily in the system from the manufacturer that we choose. This has meant that I have had no real reason to consider changing he system, but shear weight and amount of equipment have a part to play in ensuring that the photographer keeps shooting, as frequently as possible, with as many varied and interesting subjects as possible to keep things fresh and alive.
So why are we talking about Fujifilm, and the X-T2? Well, one of the things I also like to do is cycle, stop and take photographs now and again, and be mobile with camera gear when walking too – as well as having a camera with me most of the time, daily, to grab those shots that you can never plan for. This can present some issues when you have a pro-level SLR with lenses and other paraphenalia. We all probably carry too much kit around anyway (unless we are feeling very disciplined!), and I am no exception, often carrying multiple lenses, yet using very few of them.
For wildlife I was mainly using a 300mm f2.8 prime with a teleconverter, and often hand holding this to get the shots I wanted. For sports, a 70-200mm f2.8 zoom and for general use, a 24-70mm f2.8. Along with this, a 50mm f1.4 and a 105mm f2.8 macro. Even carrying just 2 or 3 lenses and the body, a few accessories etc, mounts up to a hefty weight. The camera and 300mm with teleconverter weighs in at 5kg. Not light.
During a touring cycling trip to cycle around Yorkshire in 2014, as well as camping gear, I took my camera gear to grab some of the Tour de France action in July. On a trailer behind my bike, I was hauling round a huge amount of weight, but didn’t want to compromise on performance. A Nikon P100 that I could have used at the time was too slow in focusing despite a good zoom range, or the compact Canon Powershot A640 that I carried as my go-to compact, again, was very capable, with good image quality, but didn’t have the AF engine to keep up with anything that moved fast!
After this trip, and into early in 2015, I started to think about alternatives. There were a number of capable zoom compacts around, with faster focusing, and a number of a new breed of mirrorless cameras that were starting to get very capable. Sony, Olympus and Fujifilm were all in this market, and Nikon had the ‘1’ series. The Nikon offering had good specs, but just felt like it wasn’t a camera at all. It was modern, unconventional, and to a certain extent offered lots of features (nothing wrong with any of that). It didn’t have the feel that I liked though, and it didn’t have an eyepiece viewfinder! A serious omission in my book, but obviously one that panders to millions of people who prefer to look at a screen rather than use an eyepiece – and this mode of operation can yield some benefits, but doesn’t give me what I want from a capable and smaller camera, with some of the features of a larger SLR.
Being fairly conventional, what I was looking for was something like the old film Nikon FM in size, but with some fast focusing interchangeable lenses to give me a system that I could use for the photography that I wanted, whilst on the move and keeping ‘reasonably’ light. Too much to ask?
Playing around with smaller cameras at the photography show in early 2015, I started to look at cameras such as the Olympus OM-D series with built in body stabilisation, and the possibility of adopting the micro-four-thirds system of lenses, which gave plenty of scope for building a small and capable kit. Also, was the recent clutch of Fujifilm X-Series cameras, including the X-T1, which had been out on the market for a few months and was receiving some good reviews. Of all of the systems that I had handled, the Fujifilm felt most like a ‘real’ camera. The option to use ‘retro’ styled controls as well as mimicking front and rear dials as used to on my D3 was attractive. It looked like a flexible and capable system. Added to this was also a growing set of Fujinon lenses. Like Nikon and Canon, Fujifilm have been in the game a long time, and have expertise in quality optics. Could this be the start of something?
Mulling over this, and the different technology in the X-trans sensor (different of course to the standard bayer pattern Sony sensors operating in Nikon, Canon etc), I wanted to try a system out. I therefore sold my Canon Powershot, and purchased an X-30, mainly to look at the technology and try it out in the real world – nothing really to lose and I could sell the X-30 again should I wish to go for something more. This was not to serve as a replacement to my SLR of course, but as a more capable companion system, as the AF systems on the compacts and the mirrorless X-T1 still didn’t catch up with the D3 (a big, big ask – even now).
The X-30 in itself was a bit of a revelation, and felt quick and nimble to use, with reasonable results of action even in unfavourable light. Using it alongside my D3 to photograph a cyclo-cross race was a lot of fun.
A decision was made in late October 2015. I would sell the X-30, some of my Nikon glass (that I wasn’t really using much), keep the core D3 system with lenses that I used most, and get an X-T1 to use as my carry everywhere system. Having already handled the X-T1 and the new XT-10 at a Fujifilm roadshow, I knew I had the right choice of camera.
This I did, and must admit to being very happy with the system. It wasn’t as fast as my Nikon, but neither did I expect it to be, although there were users out there in the professional realm shooting with the camera in sports and wildlife, there was some scope for this. I just wasn’t convinced that I could use it for the job. Upon speaking to Fuji ‘ambassadors’ at the Photography Show in 2016, it was confirmed that the system wasn’t there ‘just yet’, although again, in the right hands, some excellent results could be gained (remember above, when I said that I didn’t want the camera to be a barrier?) It did however kick off an idea that there may even be possibilities of a new camera system that might fulfil my needs, and that I may not even need my workhorse of a Nikon and the associated heavy artillery that I carry around. This thought was pushed back by these comments.
The X-T1 however, offered no barriers to regular and enjoyable shooting, and gave some inspiration to get out and use it, and carry it around as a daily shooter. Compact not required.
I had it on good authority from Fujifilm and Fujifilm users on-line, that the company operated to keep their models ‘alive’ with frequent firmware updates to bring them in-line with newer models, and to introduce user wish-list functions and improvements. This certainly seemed to be the case and within a month or two, I had installed 2 firmware updates (mainly as updates for lenses), a lens firmware update, and looked forward to further updates to improve AF performance etc. I certainly liked this approach, and speaking further to professionals such as Ben Cherry (www.bencherryphotos.com), it seemed that, like Nikon, Fujifilm would offer this ongoing support. Again, back in early 2016, it was still the case of ‘not-quite-there’ in terms of speed of AF etc.
What of the X-T1? Well, it is a sturdy and very impressive little unit. Battery life was however average, so a battery grip is definitely the order of the day if you want to shoot extended sessions, and with an OIS lens, the motor will add to the drain already placed on the camera by the electronic viewfinder and screen. With my Nikon, I could spend days shooting with the EN-EL4a 11.2v battery, and with a spare in the bag, I could easily spend a week away and not have to recharge at all. This is not the case with a Fuji, so battery purchases will be required if you want to put more than 350 shots through your system. Other limitations are in the issues of screen blanking. Unlike a traditional optical viewfinder and a fast shutter speed, you could sometimes lose sight of the object that you were panning with between the frames. A slower frame rate doesn’t help with this, but horses for courses, this is not a pro-level DSLR. Similarly, AF tracking isn’t quite there on the X-T1, and with Nikon and it’s 3D AF, even with the unique wide tracking mode – unless of course I’m doing something wrong (entirely possible).
Results are however superb. The JPEGs are some of the nicest I’ve seen out of any camera. I’ve hardly needed to use the RAW files (and annoyingly, as with Nikon RAWs, Adobe Lightroom doesn’t really handle them terribly well without carrying out some import processing t make them look right). Coupled with the Fujifilm modes which process the resulting JPEGs as per the ‘real’ film types such as Velvia, Provia, and the monochrome filters etc, you can end up with some excellent and very pleasing results – these modes are so much more than a gimmick.
I’ve rattled on quite a bit in this pre-amble, and have been shooting happily with my X-T1 for more than 12 months. So much so, that I carry this camera almost everywhere, and have only used my Nikon in Scotland whilst shooting wildlife, where I needed a bit more of a reach with my lens (300m plus 2x teleconverter). I did get another Fuji lens – the excellent 100-400mm. Half the weight of my Nikon, but not quite as fast in respect of the wide open f2.8 (in saying this, I shoot at 5.6-8 with the teleconverter on the Nikon, and I’m pretty much shooting F8 and slower on the Fuji).
After shooting some further cycling images this year, I tripped along to the Photography Show 2017 at the NEC, and amongst my aims for the show, I wanted to look at the updated X-T2 – supposedly an update of the X-T1. In trying the camera out – which I did, and in speaking again to Ben Cherry on the Fujifilm stand, it was immediately and obviously a huge step up from the X-T1.
Along with a higher resolution sensor, faster AF and a greater number of focus points, the tracking had been considerably improved, along with the frame rate upped to 8 fps (frames per second) – 11fps with the battery grip (actually called a ‘power booster’, it gives performance increases for those who need it, and extends shooting life by allowing you to add 2 extra batteries, giving a comparable shooting longevity to probably 1 Nikon battery!). Viewfinder blanking was massively improved, and high ISO had been upped to 12800. Using it with the 100 – 400 was seriously impressive in terms of the speed to lock on to a subject, and the modes available for AF-C – more later – give plenty of options to quickly switch and customise to your shooting scenario. This was, as per many on-line reviews, a significant jump in terms of capability.
I was sold, and so was the X-T2, at the show(!) So what now? Would I sell my X-T1 (to part pay for my X-T2)? Would I now even consider a switch from my trusty warhorse in the form of the D3 and invest in the Fujifilm ecosystem? Is the X-T2 a game changer?
I think so. An X-T2 with a large lens on weighs half of the Nikon, making it ‘portable’ when I’m not in a car without having to spend a month weight training to train to carry it (okay – an exaggeration!). Could the X-T2 focus as quickly or even more quickly than my D3? Could it keep up a long burst of frames to capture fast moving animals and birds? Would Fujifilm continue to support the camera and lens with useful firmware updates? (..this question has already actually been answered and I’m eagerly awaiting firmware version 2.00 due imminently)
For some, it won’t be that game changer, and many will require the speed, build and resilience of the pro-level DSLR all of the time. If I were to invest a lot more money, and weight, bulk weren’t a consideration, then I might wait and gather funds to buy the current king of high speed AF performance – the Nikon D500, smaller brother of the £5000+ D5, but even this then requires better and more modern optics than I have now, and once you’ve bolted on a battery grip and lens, we have the weight of my D3 system again. Performance gained, but weight gained, and I’m on a diet!
Even from my short time with the X-T2, the results gained from it are pin sharp when focus is acquired, see the close-up image of the Chiffchaff above, and it is a feasible unit to handhold even with the larger lens. There AF-C modes seem to be up to the job for the fast moving stuff (the real test will begin shooting more cycling events, and more opportunities for wildlife with spring now here), and I have the confidence that the system is actually up to the task – the same task that my Nikon has capably executed – at less than half the weight!