This is a first for me. I'm not usually one to be an early adopter of anything technology related. I prefer to let others jump in first and get the bugs shaken out and fixed before I commit to buying in. Well, I broke this personal rule of thumb when I pre-ordered a Fujifilm X-T2 about a month before it started shipping. It was not an easy decision. I absolutely love my X-T1 and given the substantial price jump on the new model I wasn't sure I needed the upgrade. The tipping point might be surprising to some. It wasn't the increased resolution, improved autofocus tracking, dual memory card slots or other performance related upgrades. It was Acros.
One of the things I love most about Fujifilm's X cameras is their wonderful film simulations. These days when there is so much that you can do with raw files in post processing that this may not make sense to a lot of photographers. I know it doesn't because I routinely get told I'm foolish for shooting in JPEG mode. Here's the deal. I hate post processing. I hate staring at a computer screen pushing pixels around trying to get the look I'm after. Some people live for that and post processing is the driving force behind their creativity. That's not me. I find it tedious and stifling to my creativity. I'd rather be out there shooting and have little to do with my images when I get home.
When I look at Fujifilm's JPEGs I rarely find that I can do better in post processing for the most part. Yes, there are times when the raw files are needed. Most of the time I find that for me they are not. I do have to say that I haven't been that crazy about Fujifilm's black and white simulations. While most of the other film simulations have tighter connections to specific film stocks, the black and white mode didn't seem to be modeled after anything specific and the results for me were kind of bland. I found that I got better results shooting in Classic Chrome mode and converting to black and white in post (even though I hate post processing). Now, with the Acros film simulation I don't think I'll be doing that anymore. Fujifilm finally has a black and white film simulation modeled after an excellent film, Acros. It's a film that I still shoot today from time to time. Perfect.
The Acros simulation has been out for a while now in the X-Pro 2. I could have picked up that camera and had the film simulation I wanted months ago. I chose to wait for the X-T2 because I knew it would be the better fit. I shoot a good bit of action stuff - live music, sports, events. That's where those other new features come into play. To justify the price of this upgrade it needs to perform in demanding conditions. A film simulation based on a much loved film stock is the main allure but the camera has got to be able to do everything I need it to from portraits to live music to fast action sports. I'm taking the gamble that it will. I'm all in.
My X-T2 came in late last week and I picked it up yesterday at Precision Camera. It went straight from the box to my camera bag. I didn't even have time to charge the battery before I left to photograph a local band. Thankfully my X-T1's batteries work just fine in the X-T2. With full faith in my untested purchase I headed out to catch a late show of my friends Horseshoes and Handgrenades at the Saxon Pub in south Austin.
Of course, I set the X-T2 to the Acros film simulation. Fine JPEG only, no safety cushion of raw files. I dialed in the standard settings I'm accustomed to using at live music performances around here: -1 highlights, -1 shadows, noise reduction as low as it will go (now up to -4 on the X-T2). I set dynamic range to auto and operated between ISO 1600 and 3200, full manual. I used single point autofocus. The lens was my favorite XF lens, the Fujfifilm 35mm f/1.4.
I was struck by the dynamic range I was getting, especially in shadow detail. The -1 setting ended up being a little too open for me in shadow detail when I saw the images on my computer screen so the above files are tweaked just slightly with a bit of boost in the shadows to darken them for my tastes. In the future I think I'd go 0 or +1 on shadows. I like the -1 highlights to help roll them off gently for a more film-like look. The auto dynamic range helps to keep highlights in check as well.
Auto focus performance was exceptional. I had no hunting whatsoever - although the stage lighting at the venue was pretty decent. The X-T2 seemed to breath new life into my 35mm lens. The 35mm is a first generation XF lens and a lot of people view it as sluggish compared to more recently released XF lenses. It locked on quickly, especially when using a phase detect point. I can't think of a single shot that I lost due to slow AF speed. I can think of lots of shots I missed with the same lens on my X-T1 in similar shooting conditions.
I did fumble a few times with the new controls. This was due to my inexperience with them and not any short comings of the camera. The new AF point joystick is, well, a joy to use. When I remembered it was there it was amazingly fast to move the point around and get it where I needed it quickly. My X-T1 is setup such that the back arrow keys control the AF point and I found myself repeatedly hitting the arrow keys on the X-T2. Old habits die hard but the new way is much better. I was also having to fiddle with the new lock button on the ISO and shutter wheels. The XT-1 requires you to always press the ISO dial button to turn the wheel. Now the button acts kind of like a ball point pen clicker. Click to lock or unlock and it stays that way until you click again. It's an improvement that I'll have to get used to.
Also improved on the X-T2 are the doors for the memory cards and connection ports. I was always managing to open the memory card door on my X-T1 accidentally. The door and latch is much better now and I don't think I'll be having that problem any more. Speaking of memory card slots - there are two of them now. Hot damn, I love that. For paid work I really like having that instant backup. It's hard to put a price on peace of mind. SD cards are kind of fragile.
The eye cup that was so great on the X-T1 is even better on the X-T2. The EVF display is amazing as it was before. If you wear glasses, this is the mirrorless camera for you. No question about it. One other thing I noticed and I'm not sure if this is just because it is new but the articulating LCD has a more solid feel now. It stays firmly seated against the camera body until you deliberately pull it up. My X-T1's LCD lifts very easily - too easily in comparison.
So far I am thoroughly impressed with the X-T2. It remains to be seen how the revamped AF system tracks in fast action sports. Thankfully hockey season is closing in fast and you can expect me to give the X-T2 a chance to prove itself at a Texas Stars game soon. I have a feeling I'm not going to be disappointed.
I intended for this post to be just a quick first impressions write-up. While I was playing around with the tone options here at home I thought I'd add a short addendum about that because I think there is some neat stuff here. I grabbed a shot in raw of my sometimes willing model, Chloe, sitting in late afternoon window light. It is a high contrast scene with hard window light on one side and just some faint lamp light on the other. This is ISO 3200 and f/2.8, DR200 (by auto choice.) I processed JPEGs in camera at each of the shadow detail settings (-2 through +4). Highlights are at -1 in all except the last, which is at +4 highlights and +4 shadows - an extreme case that I don't think I would ever use but I wanted to see what the histogram would look like. I didn't include the full highlight range because I usually prefer to pull highlights down if anything.
The interesting thing about the push/pull of highlights and shadows in the Acros simulation is that the extreme ends are lifted. You won't see clipping in either end of the histogram as a result of pushing the tone controls to the extreme. The result is very film-like. Maybe I should say Acros-like. Based on my experience with Acros I'd probably be inclined to keep the shadows no higher than +1 for general use, especially something like a portrait. This will take some more experimentation.