Towards the end of 2017 I bought a Fujifilm X-T2 and 18-55mm ‘kit’ lens as a replacement for my increasingly unreliable Nikon 28-70 f/2.8. It’s not the obvious alternative, nor is it absolutely comparable. I’m not going to bore anybody with my full detailed reasoning, other than saying I am very keen to lighten the weight of my camera bag when I am travelling back and forth between the UK and Africa. I always take a wide angle / mid-range zoom lens for ‘wildlife in the landscape’ photography.
Despite hearing a fair bit of negativity from photographers who pontificated about unresponsive and slow autofocus, poor ergonomics, unintuitive menu systems and dreadful battery life, I continued with my own research and decided to find out for myself. As always, the good people at the Newcastle upon Tyne branch of London Camera Exchange were very helpful and offered a good trade in price on some of my older unused gear. I also attended a Fujifilm evening at Digitalab in Newcastle upon Tyne with Fujifilm ambassador, Matt Hart and Technical Specialist, Nathan Wake which was very interesting and useful.
This blog post isn’t intended as a formal review, it’s more of an evolving account of my experiences and thoughts.
With the battery and memory card in place and the 18-55mm f/2.8-f/4 lens attached, the first thing to put a smile on my face is just how light it feels. In fact, it is lighter than just my Nikon 28-70mm lens alone! Despite this, the X-T2’s magnesium alloy body construction feels solid, as does the metal bodied 18-55mm lens.
I can’t help but appreciate the fusion of retro-design and modern photographic technology. The lens aperture ring, engineered dials for shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation are a throw back to a more vintage style of camera. Underneath these dials we can access some of the features of a more modern camera system. For a relatively small camera we have the benefit of large 3 inch 1040k monitor screen with a very robust hinge and tilting mechanism.
Contrary to some of the negativity I heard before I bought the camera, I found navigating the menu system to be intuitive and it is easy to find settings quickly. In principle it feels like a similar process to that which I am used to on my Nikon cameras.
Shortly after purchasing my X-T2 I began working on a new commission for Digital Photographer magazine (see tear sheets). I used my X-T2 and 18-55mm lens for the first time as part of this. Upon publishing, I was delighted and encouraged to see one of these photographs as the main shot for my feature.
Electronic Viewfinder, Batteries and Film Simulations
It is the first time I have used a camera with an Electronic Viewfinder for any length of time. The live exposure, histogram and flashing hightlights are incredibly useful, especially when working in constantly changing light with different species. I always stress the importance of being able to operate a camera without taking your eye away from the viewfinder. Reviewing a photograph and adjusting menu settings in the viewfinder is therefore a most welcome advantage too. I’ve found using the camera’s ‘Performance Boost’ improves upon EVF lag but it’s not bad to start with.
Battery life is a negative point, it is rated to just 340 shots. But, we have to be realistic! With such an incredibly versatile and fast EVF, we have to expect a hit on battery life. The viewfinder can be set so it is activated automatically when your eye is detected so this helps. Nevertheless, I bought an additional battery a couple of days later!
I also spent time using the film simulations in camera and also as profiles in Adobe Lightroom. So far I’ve found ‘Provia’ to be a superb starting point to add a few simple Lightrooms tweaks to. The ‘Chrome’ setting has a great feel to it and I’ve been pleased with results of this simulation, especially in low winter sunlight. I have to say though, I found ‘Velvia’ a bit too much for my tastes! It’s been fun and interesting to experiment with these in Lightroom.
Kit lenses are often mid-range zooms of variable quality. They can be capable of very good results but often in limiting circumstances, e.g. f/8 – f/11 and around the mid-focal length range. So step forward the Fujinon 18-55mm f/2.8-f/4… Metal construction, metal mount, very little distortion and sharp across the range, non-rotating front element and 4 stops of stabilisation. This is no ordinary kit lens! If you believe price is an indicator of quality, you may be interested to know this lens alone retails between £600 – £700.
My X-T2 kit wasn’t purchased to replace my main camera, I maintained that my Nikon gear would still be my wildlife photography ‘workhorse’. Despite this, I was curious to evaluate the X-T2 autofocus with moving wildlife, in particular the focus tracking of subjects such as birds in flight. I couldn’t do this with my 18-55mm ‘kit’ lens, but a friend kindly loaned me a Fujinon 100-400mm f/4.5-f/5.6.
While visiting a local wildlife reserve I photographed a couple of greylag geese flying over the reed beds. Not the most difficult of subjects to photograph in flight by any means but I was pleased with the sequence of shots using the zone focussing for the first time, especially considering the negativity I had heard about the autofocus.
My time with flying subjects was limited but given these early and encouraging results I am keen to explore the autofocus capability further. I was also pleased with the overall quality of the 100-400mm lens. The sharpness is very good and the optical stability very effective. The build quality is excellent and the lens also feels very light. Being used to my Nikon 200-400 f/4 which also needs a tripod for extended use, using the 100-400mm handheld without any strain feels incredibly liberating too!
I was also loaned a Fujinon 1.4x teleconverter with the 100-400mm. I admit to brushing this aside at first as I’ve never had acceptable results with teleconverters on zoom lenses using Nikon and Canon equipment. I’ve found either the point of focus to be soft or the background out of focus elements to be too harsh and contrasty.
I spent a couple of hours in a woodland bird hide where 400mm was still a bit too short. I had the teleconverter in my bag so I grudgingly attached it to the lens and and give it a try. After all, it would be silly not to!
Well, I am amazed…
I’ve never known such clarity and sharpness from a zoom lens with a teleconverter. The combination gives a focal length of 560mm but with the X-T2 APS-C sensor, an equivalent field of view of 840mm. As expected, the autofocus slows down due to the f/8 aperture but in the right circumstances, this is certainly a useable combination.
So, what do I not like?
Battery life feels disappointing but I’ve already touched on this above and I can accept this given the versatility and the quality of the EVF brings to my photography. I’d also prefer a dedicated AF-On button, you can of course assign AF-On to the AE-L button but it doesn’t feel ergonomic for thumb placement. At present I’m at a loss to understand the metered shutter speed display disappearing from the viewfinder when using aperture priority with the Shutter AE set to off in AF-C to maintain metering while panning. Admittedly this last point may be user error but I’ve researched it on the internet and noticed a few others sharing the same experience.
Photography with the Fujifilm X-T2 is a pleasure. I feel like I am enjoying using a camera again, it’s a much more tactile and enjoyable experience, more than just taking photographs. In comparison, my Nikon cameras now just feel like tools. I suppose cameras are just tools, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy using them, does it?
The more I use the Fujifilm system, the more impressed I become.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time researching the potential costs of buying some more Fujifilm equipment as I’d like to use the system a lot more in Skye, South Africa and Kenya. Financially, I can’t do this without shedding a fair amount of my Nikon system and it’s certainly not practical to carry two systems, especially when weight is such a key factor. Ultimately, I don’t feel ready to lose the security blanket of my Nikon D500 and 200-400mm f/4.
I described this as an evolving blog post which I would amend as my experiences of using the X-T2 and researching the Fuji X system continued.
I’ve continued to research Fujinon lens prices and found time to delve deeper into the X-T2 autofocus settings. I’ve looked at making changes to the number of AF points available within the zone AF setting and also the tracking sensitivity options. I’ve also researched making a few more customisations for access to settings and also understood the benefits of using the X-T2 ‘boost mode’ which improves AF performance and EVF refresh rate.
Newsflash! After a lot of thought, hesitation and research… I no longer own any Nikon cameras or lenses! Instead, my small collection of Fujifilm gear, the X-T2 and 18-55mm ‘kit’ lens has been boosted by a Fujinon 50-140mm f/2.8, 100-400mm f/5.6, 1.4x Teleconverter and a Power Booster Grip for my X-T2. I’ve also ordered the new X-H1 and its own Power Booster Grip which were announced on 15th February.
The Power Booster Grips offer a more ergonomic grip for portrait format photography, extra battery space, in-situ battery charging, increased autofocus performance and frames per second rates. The new X-H1 has the same sensor as the X-T2 and includes a dedicated AF-On button, a top plate LCD monitor and increased autofocous performance, including f/8 to f/11. It also offers more than 5 stops of in-body image stabilisation, increased durability, improved video modes and a new film simulation. I’m hoping to take delivery on 1st March, just in time for our Highlands and Eagles Isle of Skye Photography Tour! Going forward I envisage the X-H1 being my main camera with the X-T2 on a second lens. I can’t wait to get going on Skye, on the Farne Islands and out on the Savannahs of the Masai Mara and the Lowveld of the Greater Kruger in South Africa!
I’ve had a chance to look at the grip this morning, to give it its full designation…. the VPB-XT2 Vertical Power Booster Grip.
I used to use grips a few years back with my Nikon D200, D300 and D700. More recently with the D500 and D800 I became a bit disillusioned with their overall usefulness in terms of adding features and value, especially for their price.
The VBP-XT2 is just as expensive but it offer a lot more than just ergonomics. Firstly, it allows us to use three batteries at the same time and interestingly these can be charged in-situ using an AC power adaptor (included) which plugs into the grip. I can see this being very useful when travelling and trying to keep weight to a minimum. The grip also provides a dedicated switch for the performance boost mode. A key advantage with this is that it alows me to re-assign something else to the method of doing this in camera, probably AF related. We can also ‘lock’ the shutter button to prevent accidental use when the camera is not being used in portrait format.
Ergonomically, the recessed grip feels comfortable and it helps make the overall camera fit my shovel-like hands! The build quality is superb and once attached it really feels like part of the camera rather then an afterthought or an add-on.
Fujifilm have put a lot of thought into this grip. It is feature-rich, and designed with versatility and the needs of different users in mind as well as convenience. It’s not just about following the herd!
I’ve had the chance to get hands-on with the newly annnounced Fujifilm X-H1 this morning (19th February) at a preview event with Fujifilm at the Newcastle upon Tyne branch of London Camera Exchange.
The most obvious and noticeable feature is the significantly larger and more recessed grip which also extends to the VPB-XH1 Power Grip. Ergonomically, this feels more DSLR like in the hand and it helps make lenses like the 100-400mm f/4.5-f/5.6 and 50-140mm f/2.8 feel a lot more balanced.
The magnesium body is even more solid than the XT-2, 25% more to be exact thanks to a thicker body design.
The illuminated top plate LCD monitor is also something DSLR users may be more familiar with. Interestingly and usefully, the light text and dark background can be reversed for personal choice or to make viewing easier in different light. In addition, the LCD information can be customised to to show key settings for personal preferences.
The inclusion of a dedicated AF-On button is welcome and the tradtional top exposure compensation dial is replaced with a more DSLR-like button and dial on the grip. The EVF feels brighter and is a higher resolution than the XT-2.
The mechanical shutter has been redesigned and is remarkably quiet – at first I thought I was using the electronic shutter and hearing one of the audible feedback options! The shutter button position and angle is also another DSLR like feature.
There isn’t much autofocus testing you can do in a shop without a memory card, that said the X-H1 does feel more responsive than the XT-2. It is the same physical autofocus system as the X-T2 but has an updated algorithm. Focusing at f/11 is also possible although I didn’t try this. I look forward to testing to see if this increase will make the 100-400mm lens and 1.4 converter more repsonsive at f/8.
The new 5 axis IBIS, ‘In Body Image Stabilisation’ worked noticeably well on a lens without in-built OIS. When using a lens which includes OIS the X-H1 will intelligently choose a combination of lens and body stabilisation for optimum efficiency. Longer lenses will utilise their own OIS for pitch, for example.
The VBP-XH1 grip is a lot like the X-T2 in terms of features and ergonmics. Together, the grip and camera use the same NP-W126S battery as the XT-2 which is very handy as I will be using these cameras together. As an added bonus, the VPB-XH1 ships with two batteries included. Great news!
Delivery is still scheduled for 1st March but this is not guaranteed. I have my fingers firmly crossed!
I’ve had a chance to get out and use my own Fujinon 100-400mm lens and teleconverter. I’m pleased to report that my experience is consistent with the loan versions which have since been returned to their owner. I don’t think I have ever used a telephoto zoom lens which covers this range and is as sharp throughout, especially with a 1.4 teleconverter. It is an outstanding lens.
I’m a little stuck for variety of subjects at the moment so it has been more woodland birds. As much as I enjoy our native woodland birds, I am looking forward to getting up to the Isle of Skye next week to point the new lenses at some White Tailed Sea Eagles and later this year on photography trips with clients, at some African mega-fauna! Downsizing has also left me needing another bag! My bags were bought to fit a 200-400 f/4 with the body attached and the Fujifilm gear is much smaller. I’m picking up my X-H1 tomorrow at London Camera Exchange and they also have a good selection of bags to look at too.
I’m now a couple of months into using the X-H1 now so I thought it was time for a bit of an update. This will be the last update to this post as I am now well into writing a more formal review of the X-H1. The keen-eyed readers may note that I’ve changed the title of this post too. What started as ‘dipping my toe’ into the world of mirrorless cameras with the Fujifilm X-T2 and a mid-range zoom quickly evolved into a full system change and to an extent, a different way of working too. So, a title change seemed appropriate!
It was quite difficult to get out with the X-H1 due to the adverse weather conditions we experienced, namely the ‘Beast from the East’. I’ve been making up for lost time though with Red Squirrels, Great Crested Grebes, more woodland birds and one of my favourite subjects, Puffins. A trip to the Isle of Skye in March also threw me back in to the world of landscape photography! Sadly our planned White Tailed Sea Eagle trips were hit by adverse weather, we saw plenty but the light was absolutely terrible.
Wandering around with the X-H1 and the 100-400mm attached to a Black Rapid shoulder strap has been incredibly liberating compared to lugging around the Nikon DSLRs, 200-400 f/4, tripod and head. In turn, this has increased the enjoyment of my work. I continue to be astonished by the quality the 1.4x teleconverter when attached to the 100-400mm but I tend not to use it with the 50-140mm, I just reach for the 100-400mm instead. I have tested the 50-140mm combination and as expected, it is fantastic. I prefer to use the telconverter in brighter light conditions where shooting at f/8 isn’t a problem. I think the teleconverter is better at maintaing sharp detail when using it to photograph smaller things which are still quite close where you want to fill the frame rather than subjects which are larger yet more distant.
The change to Fujifilm has also unexpectedly rekindled my passion of a spot of landscape photography. As I’ve mentioned somewhere further up this ever-expanding blog post, photography with the Fujifilm is an enjoyable and tactile experience and sitting amongst the dramtic scenery of Skye was quite inspiring. Shedding kilograms from my camera bag has allowed me to carry a bit more gear than I would have done previously. There is room for a few filters now, as well as a wide angle lens so when the opportunity presents itself, as it did in abundance on the Isle of Skye, I’m enjoying tinkering again…
More recently I managed to get to Northumberland’s Farne Islands, one of my favourite patches to photograph Puffins which are beginning their breeding season. I was told over and over again that a mirrorless camera just wouldn’t have the AF performance I had enjoyed with cameras such as my Nikon D500 and I would see the end of wildlife action photography. Well, challenge accepted and disproved!
I’m still very happy with this change and I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever. I’m looking forward to continuing using the system over the next few months, particularly on the Farne Islands and on my trips leading photography safaris to South Africa’s Greater Kruger and Kenya’s Masai Mara.
Before I end this longest ever blog post, I’d like to mention my appreciation of Fujifilm’s Kaizen philosophy. Fujifilm have pushed out significant firmware updates to the X-T2, but not just bug fixes. The last update introduced 120 fps 1080p and F-log video, focus bracketing, improved phase detection AF and f/8 to f/11 minimum aperture. Also, enlarging, customising and positioning of information in the LCD and viewfinder. It is great to know that Fujifilm are working on continuously improving their older cameras and pushing their hardware abilities as much as possible. I’ve seen Nikon and Canon release updated camera models with less improvements to write about!
I have to note my appreciation to some very helpful people. Firstly, the very good folks at the Newcastle upon Tyne branch of London Camera Exchange for their guidance, ideas and overall help with my transition to a new camera system. It’s a great camera shop with very helpful and knowledgeable staff and it’s a pleasure to do business there. Also, thank you to Nathan Wake and John Dallas at Fujifilm and Matt Hart of Fujiholics for their valuable advice.