(Pocket-lint) - It took us about three minutes to fall in love with the Fujifilm X-T1. So when we were first shown the Fujifilm X-T2 back in July it only took us about three seconds.
In many ways the X-T2 is the most advanced compact system camera offering we've seen, its goal firmly set on being the best mirrorless solution for continuous autofocus and subject tracking.
Like the X-T1, the X-T2's key sell is not only that it looks retro cool in its weather-sealed skin, but that it delivers top-spec features. And with the new Boost mode the camera can whizz away, snapping eight frames per second (8fps) or 11fps with the optional battery grip attached.
However, there's no touchscreen control, while that additional grip option transforms the camera's capabilities to such a degree that it's almost like contemplating two different camera purchases. Does that confuse what the X-T2 is all about, or does its potential duality further bolster its strengths?
Fujifilm X-T2 review: New layout
For the X-T sequel the layout has changed a little compared to the original - but it's largely for the better. The dials are now bigger, fuller in both height and reach, with both the dedicated shutter speed and ISO sensitivity dials offering press-to-lock buttons to avoid accidental knocks.
The exposure compensation dial - like that of the Fujifilm X-Pro2 can cater for +/-3EV or +/-5EV via the custom "C" option - lacks such a lock/release mechanism, though. We've rarely knocked this out of place in our use, so it's not a massive problem - but as there's no alert light when the position is shifted away from "0" you might not know about it; the exposure meter overlay present in the viewfinder is small too.
The only true frustration about the dials are the ring selectors around them - used to select between drive mode and metering, respectively - being too squat in terms of height, thus really fiddly to manoeuvre. It's not impossible, of course, and this ensures that you won't slide out of single frame to high frame-rate burst by accident, for example.
Even so, the overall feel of the X-T2 is far more open than the previous model; more detailed. On the rear there's a toggle dedicated for autofocus point adjustment, as pulled from the X-Pro2 model. It's a small toggle compared to what you might find on a Canon DSLR, such as the EOS 5D MkIV, but on the Fujifilm it's incredibly useful.
Fujifilm X-T2 review: Screen and viewfinder
Another area where the X-T2 amps things up is with its new 3-directional LCD screen. This means it can be tilted vertically upwards and downwards or, via the flick of a switch to the screen's side, horizontally to a right angle - which is handy for low-level portrait orientation work.
Thing is, this switch, like those ring selectors, is also fussy to handle - we would rather have seen a Pentax K1-style fully manoeuvrable one instead. Still, Fujifilm's choice of tri-directional screen implementation isn't just a first for the company, it's the first time we've seen one in any camera. And the chances are you'll typically use it in one direction or another anyway, depending if you're more heavily portrait- or landscape-orientation based when shooting.
Having been using the X-T2 while abroad we've found the screen to be hugely useful for waist-level work - although it's a shame it doesn't pull away farther for an even better view, largely because the viewfinder eyecup can get in the way of vision. And we really can't fathom why there's still no touchscreen.
In an attempt to be battery savvy, the X-T2 also employs a low screen refresh rate when it's not in use after a short period of time. We're often guilty of leaving the screen on between shots, so while the idea is a good one we find its rapid implementation to be a little irksome - it's not nice to watch a stuttery refresh rate. A half depress of the shutter button will kick things back into action though. Equally when the camera times out and goes to sleep a hard press of the shutter is needed to reactivate - and it's not especially fast to fire back up.
The viewfinder in the X-T2 is a stormer. The X-T1 set the benchmark for this when it was launched in 2014 - and the X-T2 picks up where that camera left off. The main take-away point is how large the panel is: its 0.77x magnification makes it as physically large to the eye as a professional DSLR would offer. Add to that a high-resolution 2.36m-dot OLED panel and there's certainly no lack of resolution. The X-T2 is twice as bright as the X-T1 and offers a higher refresh rate too (well, if Boost mode is activated anyway: that sets it to 100fps refresh rather than 60fps).
Our one and only qualm with the viewfinder is its activation speed. There's an eye-level sensor that can automatically kick the panel into operation, but the minor delay means you'll be staring into darkness for a short moment before things kick off. The only remedy, really, is the leave the viewfinder active all the time (by disengaging the screen via the "viewfinder" button to its side).
Fujifilm X-T2 review: Performance
Which leads us onto the more complex and detailed stuff in the X-T2's continuous autofocus settings: this camera wants to be seen as akin to a high-end DSLR in its continuous autofocus adjustment options.
There are options to tweak tracking sensitivity for subjects entering ahead/behind the current subject, speed tracking sensitivity for steady or fast-accelerating/decelerating subjects, and zone area switching to prioritise subjects based on zonal positions. Confused yet? You needn't be: the camera is setup with five pre-sets and a sixth custom setting so you can do as you please with the controls.
Which is all well and good, but there's not the same degree of precision in the X-T2's autofocus system to see it quite keep those pro DSLR cameras at bay. Sure, it's the best we've seen in a compact system camera, but it's still short of the mark in some areas. It doesn't feel as comprehensive as the 3D tracking you'll find in, say, the Nikon D500.
The reason is pretty simple: the focus point size lacks pinpoint accuracy, while the camera itself may slightly miss focus lock-on and you'll end up with an object in front being the focal point. It's slight, and we're being critical, but even with those various tracking sensitivity options we've not always come up trumps with perfect shots.
The flip side to that is how much better than X-T2 is than earlier mirrorless models. It's streets ahead when it comes to quickly locking onto a subject and holding it. Shooting cyclists whizzing down the streets of Shanghai on their electric bikes, for example, wasn't a problem even when panning fast - so long as the shutter speed value is set correctly (something the X-T2 is so well setup for, given its manual layout).
Switching to single autofocus - which can be actioned by flicking the S/C/M switch on the front of the camera, it's as easy as that - puts the full 91-point system at your fingertips. It's easy to adjust point selection and point size using that rear toggle and the thumbwheels. Like we say, a slightly more pinpoint option - much in the same way as Panasonic offers with its G-series, such as the latest Lumix G80 - would elevate precision to an even higher level.
Otherwise, on the whole, the X-T2 does a grand job. It rarely has to hunt for focus, with only a few failed instances occurring during our testing. And with the 16-55mm f/2.8 lens the close-up focus distance is somewhat restricted - but that's lens dependent rather than indicative of the camera itself.
Fujifilm X-T2 review: Battery grip enhancements
It's not all entirely that simple, however, as the camera's burst speed and continuous autofocus ability can be considerably enhanced with the addition of the VPB-XT2 battery grip. Not only does this bring two extra two batteries (totalling three) to the party for added longevity, it can also boost burst shooting maximum to 11fps (from 5fps/8fps).
The X-T2 has continuous autofocus that is potentially some six times more capable than the X-T1. As an example, Fujifilm demonstrated how the boost in processing, reduced shooting interval, blackout time and shutter time-lag would free-up more time in a 3fps burst to allow six opportunities to refocus in the X-T2, compared to the X-T1's one opportunity (because of slower processing, and longer interval/blackout/lag times).
As the burst speed increases the number of opportunities for refocus to be possible within a burst are reduced, but Fujifilm still cites that 5fps on the X-T2 is twice as capable as in the X-T1. We're talking accuracy here, as the system has those additional opportunities to refocus on a moving subject.
Which is all well and good, but the benefit above 5fps isn't as significant. Furthermore, relying on an accessory grip to enhance functionality is a bit of a nonsense in some respects, given how radically the addition transforms the product. It's almost as though Fujifilm has made two products in one, with two different target audiences.
And if you're in the group of the battery grip then you'll probably find its design limiting: it doesn't extend the height of the camera grip sufficiently enough, which makes it rather uncomfortable to use, as there's no space for the pinky.
If you don't use the grip then a Boost mode does also exist in the standard X-T2 setup to up the finder refresh rate to and maximise burst shooting to 8fps. There are so many tiers to the X-T2's capabilities depending on setup that it can come across as simply confusing.
So if shooting moving subjects is what you're all about then you'll not only want the X-T2's battery grip - you'll need it.
Fujifilm X-T2 review: X-Trans image quality
The remainder of the X-T2's innards will be familiar to any X-Pro2 users: there's the same 24.3-megapixel X-Trans CMOS III sensor, paired with X-Processor Pro, for ultra high-quality images. And we've been sold on this sensor since first using it.
Compared to the X-Pro2, the X-T2's sensor has been tweaked slightly, with the on-board phase-detection autofocus area increased to 75 per cent vertical and 50 per cent horizontal - up from 40 per cent both directions in the X-T1. That expands the most responsive focus area to ally with the continuous autofocus options. In many ways it makes the X-T2 more "pro" than its "Pro2" brother.
The results, however, are largely one and the same. And they're pretty mind-blowing at times. Fujifilm's handling of dark shadow areas even at high ISO sensitivities is excellent, keeping colour noise at bay and maintaining richness and contrast that some competitors lack. That stands true right through to ISO 6400. Long exposures can look a little banded, however.
The lowest ISO sensitivities hold the most detail, although it's a shame ISO 200 is the base level sensitivity for this camera. There is a low "L" setting on the ISO dial, but you won't get the same dynamic range from such shots, which could be a problem when shooting raw and hoping to make adjustments.
There's lots of colour without things looking overdone, although sometimes the default contrast is a little too harsh - this can be adjusted by selecting different Film types within the menus.
When it comes to detail the full-scale 24MP shots look great. It's only when zooming in to inspect detail much closer that you'll spot any degradation in quality due to processing as the ISO sensitivity rises. It's only really by four-figure ISO sensitivities that you'll start to see mottled textures or processing artefacts around defined subject edges, or heightened softness as a result of processing. It's not particularly severe, however, with shots at ISO 6400 holding up well - so long as you're not expecting flawless detail at every point.
As we said of the X-Pro2 there is some dependency on lens choice. The XF lenses in the Fujifilm stable are, by and large, aimed at the higher end, but they do carry their own issues from time to time: the 35mm f/2.0 has fairly severe corner softness, for example; the 100-400mm, while decent, is relatively limited in maximum aperture (at f/4.5-5.6) throughout. Pick lenses critically and learn their strong points and weaknesses for the best results. Centre sharpness, though, is something we can't complain about from the 16-55mm f/2.8 lens though (it's only really the weight and size of it that can feel off-kilter with a camera like the X-T2).
In addition to stills, the X-T2 also intros 4K video capture. It's the first time it's been offered in a Fujifilm camera. So it's odd, then, that there's no one-touch movie button control like the earlier X-T1. There's full F-Log Gamma options, in among "Quick 4K" which means Film Simulation modes can be used during capture too, for graded-like results without the need to post-process. A 4:2:2 HDMI output for serious shooters looking to capture off-camera, plus 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks, makes the X-T2 high-end in its thinking. Oh, and lets not forget the twin UHS-II-compatible SD card slots on board too.
In some respects the Fujifilm X-T2 is so good that it nudges the grander-named X-Pro2 off the company roster's top spot. It's a camera that takes the earlier X-T1's mantra and magnifies it considerably.
If you want the best continuous autofocus of any mirrorless camera then look no further the X-T2. Equally, if you're seeking a top level, yet portable, interchangeable lens camera then the great build, performance and imaging results make this an obvious shortlist contender.
It's not totally perfect, but most of our moans - no pinpoint focus, the potential confusion of Boost mode and the additional battery grip, continuous autofocus not outsmarting a top-end DSLR, lack of a touchscreen, plus some control foibles - are all minor points that can't quite detract from what a world-class act the X-T2 is.
The X-T2, in many respects, sets a new benchmark for the mirrorless market.
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