A Review of the Fujifilm X-T2

I guess I’ll start by saying I’ve never gone out and bought exactly the camera I wanted before I bought the Fujifilm X-T2. I’ve always compromised on something, usually favoring either the mid-range dSLRs or premium fixed-lens cameras.

My last camera purchase before this one was a rangefinder-style Fujifilm X100s, which I loved for its high quality, fixed lens, manual controls, and solid construction. I bought it to replace a Nikon D5000 that I never warmed up to thanks to the lack of manual control and plasticky build.

The X100s was one half of the sweet spot for me: Manual controls, compact body, solid feel, classic styling. The 23mm/f2 lens was a little wide for my taste, though, and I like having a variety of lenses. When I’ve had SLRs or dSLRs, I’ve liked to have a general purpose zoom and a fast prime for walking around. I also missed having a flip-out or flip-down rear display, which makes macro and street photography a lot more comfortable.

The X-T2’s sibling at the top of the Fujifilm lineup is the X-Pro2, which is built like a chunkier, interchangeable lens X100. I looked at the X-Pro, and it definitely checked the “interchangeable lens” box, but the rear display doesn’t fold out, so I waited to see what the X-T2 would look like.

Design and Build

The X-T2 is shaped like a small dSLR. It’s more trim than even low-end dSLRs, and that smaller profile extends toward many of the lenses (which are designed to balance well with the X-Pro2, as well).

It uses an electronic viewfinder instead of an optical one, and it has a fold-out rear screen that makes it easier to shoot from the waist or fold out in such a way that it’s easier to use on a tripod when shooting in portrait orientation.

Unlike previous X-series cameras, it has a dedicated joystick (more like a nub) for setting the focusing point, vs. using the directional pad after putting the camera into selection mode.

The real design stars, I believe, are the three physical control dials on the top of the body: ISO, shutter speed, and exposure compensation. With very few exceptions, all Fujifilm X-mount lenses also have an aperture ring, which means you have full manual control of all the key settings.

Unlike many other cameras, there is no “mode dial.” In other words, the camera doesn’t have an explicit set of controls to put it into program, aperture priority, or shutter priority mode. Instead, you can set each control manually, or put each in automatic mode. While there are some “scene modes,” they’re pushed down into the menu system.

Finally, there are quite a few programmable buttons that make it easy to get quick access to certain settings. For instance, I’ve programmed the top “Fn” button to trigger the camera’s built-in Wi-Fi capabilities, and I’ve set up the front function button to activate the face/eye detection system for ease of access when shooting portraits.

There’s also a dual SD card slot, with a few settings for how to use the second card:

  • Sequential: Fill up the first card, move on to the next.
  • RAW+JPEG: Store RAW and JPEG files on the same card, move on to the second card when full.
  • RAW/JPEG: Store RAW files in slot 1 and JPEGs in slot 2.

UI

Beyond the physical controls, there’s a fairly rich set of configuration options in the menu system.

I think Fujifilm’s menus are about as good as anything I’ve used from Canon, Pentax, or Nikon–and they’re light years beyond Sony. They’re about like any camera’s menu system, which is to say that you will get better at them over time, and they require practice and frequent use.

There are a few things that make the core menu system a lot more palatable:

First, you can put some frequently accessed menu options into a special user menu. For instance, I keep the option to toggle exposure/white balance preview for the EVF in that menu to help when I’m shooting portraits with a flash: Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to see the subject through the EVF in a room where I’m controlling external light.

Second, there’s the “Q” (for “Quick”) menu, which has its own button. With the Q menu, you can create 7 presets that control things like:

  • Dynamic Range
  • Film Simulation
  • Image quality
  • Highlight and shadow tone
  • Autofocus mode

When you access the Q menu, you can choose a preset, and then you can adjust the settings for that preset temporarily, until you power cycle the camera. So if you’re shooting a scene where a given preset was mostly satisfactory, you can make a small tweak that persists until you’re done shooting, at which point the preset reverts to its saved state.

I have several presets:

  • A very punchy black and white preset with stronger shadow and highlight tone, and a yellow software filter.
  • A softer "Classic Chrome" preset with less highlight and shadow tone and a more pronounced grain effect.
  • A "flat" preset

You can not only customize the settings for each item in the Q menu, you can customize which settings appear in the Q menu. For instance, I seldom touch white balance because it’s easily corrected in post, so I don’t care if I have quick access to it.

It took me several months to get comfortable with the menu system and the Q menu. Now that I’ve made north of 5,000 exposures with the camera, I feel pretty comfortable with it all and can quickly get the camera into a proper shooting state very quickly.

Image Quality

Fujifilm X-series cameras make lovely images. Even shooting “flat” images with no adjustments, out-of-the-camera JPEGs are nice.

There are a few things that take those JPEGs the extra mile:

First, there are some truly lovely film simulations. Other manufacturers have scenes or modes. Fuji’s film simulations are a bit more subtle and they’re meant to reproduce some of the tone and grain characteristics of film without going to the extreme that consumer filters like you’d find in VSCO or Instagram go.

The standout simulations, in my opinion, are Classic Chrome and Acros. The former is soft and the most “vintage” of the lot, and the latter is a lovely monochrome. The Acros simulation has four variants: A neutral version, plus versions with yellow, red, and green “filters” applied. The yellow filter makes clouds and sky pop a little more, and the red and green filters are useful for assorted portrait situations.

The quality of the JPEG output makes for a tough workflow decision. I’ve been shooting in RAW because I’ve wanted to get to know the camera better before committing to a less flexible darkroom format. The RAW files are huge, though, and incur some post-production penalties. Fortunately, Lightroom understands Fuji’s film simulations making it possible to import a card full of RAW files and apply a film preset to them.

As I’ve gotten more comfortable with the camera’s behavior and my own mastery of it, though, I’ve found that the JPEG output is really good. JPEGs make for a faster workflow, and they’re easier to deal with in a mobile situation (e.g. loading the day’s shoot up on an iPad and quickly sharing a selection of photos). While iPads can handle RAW files, they’re much slower at it and you’re left with a very “flat” image that reflects none of your in-camera settings (film simulation, highlight tone, shadow tone, sharpness).

I’m still giving my workflow some thought, and the completionist in me is leaning toward storing RAWs on one card and JPEGs on another. Too often I find myself going back to an old exposure and being grateful I left my options open. One way to address that is to use simulation bracketing for each exposure (save one JPEG each of a neutral, Acros, and Classic Chrome exposure, for instance). Another is to simply capture both a RAW and a JPEG, quickly share JPEGs over social media, and archive the RAW once home.

I’m coming down on believing that for portraits and event photography of whatever kind, I’ll probably prefer to shoot in RAW to have the maximum number of options in post. For vacation, day-to-day, and 365 photos, I’ll stick to my split strategy.

Anyhow, that’s all a digression from the key point: It takes lovely pictures that work right out of the camera with very little post. With in-camera shadow/highlight tone, film simulations, sharpening, and dynamic range settings, you can dial in a pretty nice image that needs very little work in post.

My Lenses

I have a few lenses for it, as well:

  • A 16mm, weather resistant prime
  • An 18-135mm weather resistant zoom with image stabilization
  • A 23mm/f2 weather resistant prime
  • A 35mm/f2 weather resistant prime
  • A 35mm/f1.4 prime
  • A 56mm/f1.2 prime
  • A Lensbaby Trio/28
  • A Lensbaby Composer with the Sweet 35, Sweet 50, and Edge 50 optics

Bottom Line

The Fujifilm X-T2 is my first-ever “no compromises” camera purchase, and I don’t regret it for a second. I wanted something I’d have to grow into a little, and it has definitely provided that experience. If you go read other reviews you’ll get more flavor for things like the complexities of the metering and autofocus systems, which I haven’t touched on.

If you’re wondering about a recommendation, I guess I’d offer these guidelines:

  • If you already have a dSLR you want to update from, you'll be pretty comfortable with it minus the electronic (vs. optical) viewfinder, which some people find challenging.
  • If you're looking to step up from a point-and-shoot of some kind, and don't need weather resistance, you might want to consider the Fujifilm X-T20, which provides the same sensor and basic image quality for less money and a more consumer-friendly control scheme.
  • If you'd like something without interchangeable lenses at all, but want a premium and slightly more retro shooting experience than Canon, Nikon, or Sony will provide, the X100F comes with the same sensor but a fixed lens that's pretty general purpose.
  • If you want a camera you can hand to anybody so you can be in the picture, it's a bit of a challenge. Not undoable, but making a preset handy in the Q menu will help.

You can’t say what you are, but you should try anyhow.

I say 'I consider myself a feminist,' because I really do. But I always feel like I'm taking a big risk when I say 'I AM a feminist,' because there is always, always some other feminist out there who will show you that you're wrong. Usually they'll also show you that you're awful for it. — Someone somewhere I visit regularly

Another feminist here. That’s an understandable sentiment.

Personally, I hate calling myself anything at all, ever. I spent four years trying to reconcile what I thought I was, what I wanted to say to people I was, what I wanted people to think I was underneath, and what I wanted to be with what I was being every single day by just waking up where I was waking up and doing what I was doing.

I spent even more years after that trying to work through whether I’d ever known or could ever know what I was: Maybe I’d stopped listening to my better angels. Maybe the better angels had never been real. Gandhi had suggested that nonviolent behavior could be motivated (and tainted) by cowardice, so I wondered to myself if what I’d thought had been a nonviolent worldview hadn’t actually been a sort of cowardice, and that by enlisting maybe I’d just embraced what I’d always been.

Some understandings about myself and the world around me crystallized, some things just got more complicated:

Could I jump out of an airplane at night? Yes. And for the last year I was jumping out of airplanes, it’s fair to say I was frightened every time. By the time I got to that point, I’d healed up a lot. I wasn’t who I’d been when I walked into the recruiter’s office: If the controlled environment of the army had been a splint or a cast, it ended up setting my bones into shapes they hadn’t been before I enlisted. So I gained some understanding of what it is to be deeply afraid and yet still do the thing you set out to do. For a period, living that pattern allowed me to say to myself that I wasn’t a coward, that I had a core I could depend on. So I started looking beyond where I was, and having thoughts about what could be next, and wanting it. I didn’t want to give up and disappear into the army.

Then I was out, and rather than going back to be near the people who had cared about me and supported me while I was in, I chose somewhere else. I couldn’t just go back to where I had been, among people who might have been tempted to say, “well, that’s all over now and you’re back.”

I was loved and cared for, but not a lot of people knew me. They just had the biography, and that question of cowardice was still very real, and was suddenly unresolved again because I figured out that physical courage isn’t moral courage. So, I wanted the new people in my life to know something more about me than where I’d been, but I was still struggling with what it was I’d want them to know, and if it was possible for there to be anything more to know. After all, there was what I thought I was, what I wanted to say to people I was, what I wanted people to think I was underneath, and what I wanted to be, but there was what I had been every single day for four years by just waking up where I was waking up and doing what I was doing:

I’d been the guy who got sent to the chaplain because he wouldn’t sing the baby-killing cadences, and then invited to declare himself a conscientious objector. Didn’t do it, though, because I wasn’t. I just didn’t like baby-killing cadences.

I’d been the guy whose boss told him he should seriously consider taking a subordinate into the woods to beat him up, and briefly wondered if it would need to come to that, then learned how to make anger and its energy palpable; maybe to help avoid taking that step and maybe to make it easier if I had to.

I’d been the guy who told a barracks bully that I’d take an eye or an ear, and needed to believe it.

I’d been everything that environment demanded of me, and I chose to stay in it.

I nearly started typing, “but in the end,” because that would allow this to be narrativized and resolved. But there’s no end because I’m still sitting here typing. There’s an ever-unfolding now that I needed to learn about.

There were all the moments where I looked back on some of the things I said and did and hated them. When I’d tell stories about things I’d seen or done and I’d realize people were repelled by the mere fact that I’d been there to see them. There was the year where I needed to get help because I’d see a picture of a maimed child in an Iraqi marketplace bombing, or read about a murder-suicide on an army post from some solider who’d come back from the wars changed, and I’d think about how I’d wanted to be some part of that, and that’d be it for the day, stopped by anger and grief. I’m so glad I worked at home: I don’t know what I would have done with people around when those moments came. Maybe I would have just swallowed it whole instead of composing some polite fiction of a status message and going to sit in my room.

Then there was just more life, and a slowly growing recognition that I couldn’t ever un-be those things. When he was little, Ben thought I’d once been a knight. It was heartbreaking to explain that I hadn’t been. But it was strengthening to realize that the more truthful I could make myself be with him, the better a parent I could be to him.

I figured out that I had to start being the person I wanted to be in that ever-unfolding now. I had to accept that some people would see the biography and think things they’d be justified to think, and that I had to set that aside: There’s no erasing it, and to erase it would be to erase me. Instead, I had to learn how to be open to the things that I can hear and feel are right, and accept that they might be incongruous with what I’ve been.

Because of all that, because I once set aside everything I said I was and became something else, and because I then spent years trying to make all of that make sense, I’ve got a deep aversion to saying I’m anything at all. To the extent it’s any of my business how people talk about themselves or what they are – and it almost never is – I wish there’d be less “speaking as a …” and more “because I live my life thus.”

At the same time, self-identification helps people, right? It helps us hold each other – and ourselves – accountable.

I read bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody where she writes “the soul of our politics is the commitment to ending domination,” and I thought to myself “yes, that’s right, I want to live that and teach my son that.” I put down the book and thought “I agree with her, and other people who call themselves feminists,” and then I felt okay saying “I’m a feminist.”

Despite my aversion to saying “I’m this” or “I’m that,” I think “I’m a feminist” is a thing worth saying.

Because I’m a man, steeped in this culture and taught habits of thought that are anti-feminist, I’ll sometimes do things that aren’t feminist things to do. I’ve been lucky to have people in my life who have been gentle and patient with me when I’ve done this. Some day I’ll meet someone who won’t be as kind, or who will want to prove that I’m not a feminist at all. Depending on who that comes from, that could be upsetting or embarrassing.

The alternative, my heart tells me, is to be less supportive than I could be; to be an “ally” who can still maybe slip back and forth, maybe never having to own being wrong or hypocritical ever again because I remember how hard it was to put a sense of self together again after being something besides what I wanted to be.

All we can do is be what we are in the ever-unfolding now. We can open ourselves to hearing what’s right, and we can try to choose what’s right, or at least choose what’s less wrong. We can accept that we’ll sometimes fail at that. We can allow ourselves to be held accountable. We can try again.

On the Quicksilver (and the curious marketing conceit “RV resort”)

We took our new Quicksilver trailer out on its inaugural camping trip this weekend. A few notes on the whole thing:

We’ve got a Livin’ Lite Quicksilver 8.0. It’s a tent trailer, not a pop-top, so when it folds out it’s sort of like having an old-school canvas tent with a bimini frame sitting up off the ground on a big aluminum box.

Not being a pop-top, and being made of aluminum, it only weighs about 850 pounds, which is well under our Toyota Matrix’s 1,500-pound towing capacity. Driving it out to Mt. Hood this weekend was pretty easy. It was very quiet, and the main thing I noticed about it was how it affected braking: I definitely needed to give myself more time to slow down.

Setting it up is very easy: It has a vinyl cover you unsnap and roll up, a set of four aluminum struts that hold up the bed ends when it’s unfolded, and a bunch of snaps, velcro and bungie loops to hold the tent top in place. Ideally, you’ll want to deploy it with two people, but I’ve managed to put it up and take it down on my own. With two people, it takes well under 10 minutes to get from “completely closed up” to “fully deployed.”

Setup on the inside, once the tent is up, is pretty easy, too. The galley top (with a sink and a cabinet) can be lifted into place by one person. It has a folding table and removable seat cushions that stand up in a minute or two. There are also little light/fan combination units that clip onto the bars next to each bed end and plug in to 12-volt power sockets.

IMG 4909

As RVs go, it’s a pretty simple affair.

Each end of the tent has a double mattress. It’s also possible to collapse the dining table and lay it between the two dinette seats, then put their cushions down to sleep two more people. The mattresses on the beds are a little thin, so next time I think we’ll bring along our Therm-a-Rest pads.

It has an electrical system with three standard household outlets and a 12v adapter. You can run it off its own 12v deep-cycle battery, or you can connect it to shore power. It also has a small sink with a faucet that can either work with city water connected from the outside, or pump water from a plastic, 7-gallon tank in the galley base. It was pretty nice being able to wake up and start the water for the French press with an electric kettle. There’s no built-in stove, but there’s enough counter space to use the two-burner camp stove our dealer threw in. Alternately, there’s a small aluminum table you can mount outside the trailer to use for cooking.

It’s got pretty decent storage. The galley offers three small cabinets with plenty of space to stow cables, hoses, the camp stove, and first aid kit. There’s another cabinet by the door that can hold a few things you might want to grab out even before the trailer is fully deployed. The dinette seats also offer storage compartments. For travel, you can slide a few things under the dining table when it’s folded and placed over the edges of the dinette seats. We were able to fit everything for our trip into the trailer itself (including cooler and folding chairs), and didn’t have anything in the car with us.

We had good weather for our trip. It got down to the low 40s overnight, and we used a small ceramic space heater running off the electrical system to keep the trailer warm. I slept in an unzipped sleeping bag and stayed pretty comfortable.

IMG 4913

I can’t name many downsides. Sleeping with a heater in such cool weather did cause some condensation. We toweled a lot of it off before we packed the tent back down, and since it was sunny and in the high 50s this afternoon when we got home, we just set it back up again to air out and dry out a little more.

The city water pressure from our hookup was a little high and caused a small leak around one of the pipes. We spotted that happening pretty quickly. One of the nice things about the all-aluminum body is that it wasn’t a huge deal to towel up the water without fear of rot setting in.

All in all, though, it’s mainly a big tent on wheels, with plenty of space to sit around if the weather turns (or if you just feel like hanging out in there). It definitely changes your outlook about the weather when you know you’re sleeping four feet off the ground under a waterproof vinyl top. Because it’s a little more weatherproof than a tent, and because it’s easy to heat if need be, it extends our camping season quite a bit. Because it’s a little more comfortable to sleep in than a tent, it also extends our range. We’ll probably do a few more trips to some of the regional parks like Oxbow and Stub Stewart, just to make sure we’ve got the hang of driving a trailer around the metro area, but we’ve already got a spot reserved at Crater Lake this summer, and I’d like to figure out a longer trip somewhere further out before next year.

Where We Stayed

When we bought the trailer, the dealer included a year’s membership in an RV park network. We can stay in any of the parks in the Pacific NW for free for up to 30 nights this year.

We stayed at Mt. Hood Village. Since our trailer is just 16’ when fully deployed, we opted to stay in what you might call the “rustic” section of the facilities: Dirt sites with water and electricity (but no sewer or cable t.v.)

That was probably for the best: We had the entire area to ourselves. The premium area was packed pretty tightly with really big RVs. Yeah, they had a shorter walk to the (indoor) swimming pool and hot tub, but they also had to deal with all the hooting and yammering of people out under their awnings, drunk on Coors Light and the novelty of just-a-hoodie weather in January.

The vibe was pretty friendly. Our family did get the side-eye from a dude with a pony tail and the most gigantic owl tattoo I have ever seen: It spanned his chest and its eyes encompassed his pecs. He seemed a little miffed we were in the hot tub (which was huge … it could have easily seated 10 people), maybe because he was hoping to maul his girlfriend in there. Al & Ben left to go swimming, and he did get a little nasty with the towel-off once he and his girlfriend decided to climb out. Another couple in the corner looked to be completely fucked up on something that made them squint into the far distance and occasionally slur giggling observations. Oh, and Ben & I shared a sauna with a guy who’d bark “shut-it-shut-it-shut-it-the-heat-the-heat-the-heat” when people came in or out. He was also super worked up about a missing flashlight, and he snarled recriminations at one of his children through the steamed glass.

Still, people did smile and say “hi,” so friendly enough; but I think we’d have been okay just sitting by the fire, too. I also think that perhaps “RV resort” is one of the more interesting bits of branding nomenclature I’ve encountered in a while if that place is an average specimen. Your average state park is doing what it can to make the sites feel a little isolated from each other, and what you lose in the way of a hot tub, gift shop and swimming pool you make up for in relative quiet, hiking trails, twilight ranger shows at a rustic amphitheater, and fewer opportunities to see some dude with a ginormous owl tattoo toweling his lady off all nasty.

The membership is free for a year, though, so really we can live in both worlds if we choose.

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Multimedia

This video is 14 minutes of camper setup competency that I find a little hypnotic. It helps that the Livin’ Lite company is located in Northern Indiana, and so I’m hearing the voice of my people (more or less: I’m about two years more “from Oregon” than I am “from Indiana,” at this point).

Which reminds me of another thing that I enjoyed this weekend:

I worked at an RV plant the summer after I graduated from high school. I was really, really bad at it, but I learned a lot: I installed air conditioners, manufactured step-well covers, routed and secured fiberglass sheets to partition walls, undercoated vans, and did a bit of finishing work here and there.

Sitting at the table enjoying my coffee this morning, knowing the trailer was made in the same town where I helped put together RVs, it was pretty easy to see bits and pieces that looked like things I’d made or assembled that summer. You might see some of that stuff and not think twice about it, assuming a machine did it, but I spotted a few things: A small nick on the crimp on an otherwise perfect aluminum cover; and the thumbnail impression of a screw that had gone in a little off, then got pulled back out a bit and tightened back down a tiny fraction of an inch the other direction. For a second, I could smell routed fiberglass and rolls of carpet in a hot warehouse.