What I am about to say is not spin, I haven’t been ‘put up to it’ and it has involved spending lots of money. My money. As some of you will have deduced, I have bought into the X-System in quite a big way. This information may be irrelevant to you, but I thought I would share my thought processes in case it is helpful. I hope it will also contextualise the opinions I have shared to date. This may be especially poignant because of the systems I already own, or have recently owned. However, in a nutshell, my motivation was simplification and flexibility. I own far too many cameras and lenses, some of which are getting too little use.
As you may be aware, I left Leica M behind (perhaps six months ago). I did this because other systems have become so very strong on image quality (there being pros and cons between systems) and compactness. With the painfully high cost of bodies (and never wanting to travel with less than two), it no longer made sense to remain with Leica for their wonderful M system. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it and still wince when I think that most of my lenses are already gone. But at the end of the day, I am a pragmatist. I love the ‘window into the world’ and I love the lenses, but simply put, I find I can get the result I want on far cheaper systems that are more flexible. As always, YMMV.
I have also been waiting to see what Canon got up to before deciding whether to continue with new bodies, or leave Canon behind. The decision is now clear: I am leaving Canon behind. I made this decision because the 5D IV, as good as it is, remains too expensive in the UK for what it offers (me). At £7,000 for two bodies, I declined. On top of this, I needed a couple of lenses to round out the system for my current (essential) needs and the overall cost was precisely £10,000. That is a huge amount of money for someone who already had a fairly good EOS digital system, albeit with older low Dynamic Range sensors. I very nearly did it (considering grey imported bodies to reduce costs by about £1,000 per body), but I could not escape the stinging sensation.
While I could let go of the Leica M system (as a luxury), the Canon system filled an essential role that I cannot do without: events, where responsiveness and intuitive operation is essential. I am personally not happy with using the Sony FE system for such applications, because the bodies do not have dual card slots (A9 excepted) and they feel too sluggish and ‘woolly’ for decisive work. There are many notable photographers who feel differently, but this is how I feel. While the A9 has been announced since I made this decision, it would have been £9,000 for two bodies and I would need even more lenses than I would need for Canon to round out an events rig for years of hard work. The cost would have been more like £15,000. Ouch!
I was stuck in this situation, edging ever closer to buying two 5D IV bodies simply because I felt I had little alternative. Sticking with the ageing 5D II and III sensors was not an option, as they demand totally different image capture considerations to everything else I shoot. The 5D III is to transparencies what high Dynamic Range sensors are to negative film.
If I am honest, I had not even considered Fujifilm, for the following reasons:
- Previous X-Trans sensors (16MP) produced peculiar foliage and fine detail in Adobe LR, my standard processing platform. This was a show stopper.
- 16MP is short of what I wanted for such a key system.
- The X-Pro 2 is great, but I wanted a more conventional DSLR-alike camera.
- I did not feel the X-Pro 2 (with earlier firmware) had good enough tracking.
I was chatting away with the guys in the Chester branch of London Camera Exchange and asked to have a play with the X-T2 that was generating so much interest (and so many sales and orders). I was bowled over on the spot. AF was slick, the camera felt so nice in the hand, the lenses were compact and the viewfinder was great. I went home, read all that I could on the X-T2 and X-Pro 2 and felt confident the image quality was good enough. I then returned to the store soon after and bought an X-T2 with Power Booster. On the one hand I was excited and on the other terrified I’d just wasted my money on an experiment that might not work out!
I spent a few days playing with the camera and getting to know the basics. I was so impressed, I returned to the store and bought another X-T2 body with Power Booster (and an X100F). The Fujifilm promotion gave me the boosters at half price and I got a £200 bonus on trade ins. So off my Canon bodies went. In fact, the 5D III was a direct cost neutral trade against a new X-T2 body.
What Does Fujifilm X-System Represent to Me?
…It’s an incredible ‘Jack Of All Trades’
The Fujifilm X-T2 provides the speed I looked to Canon for, with the compactness I looked to Leica for, yet with more speed and responsiveness than Sony FE (pre-A9), with only small disadvantages. This means that I could actually do everything I need to do with the X-System. However, there is no denying that the FF Sony bodies (at up to 42MP) can resolve more detail and their Bayer sensors are ‘lower risk’ when dealing with foliage. My Pentax 645Z is in another league for ultimate detail, so the 24MP X-T2 is certainly not a panacea. It is, however, not weak in any area at all. It may not be the best either, but it is certainly good enough. While that may sound like faint praise, it is actually the opposite. Aside from specialist areas (such as native tilt and shift lenses), I cannot think of any really compelling downsides to the X-system. I can, however easily make the following statements about some of the competition:
- Canon EOS (and other DSLR systems) covers all bases, but the weight and bulk is much higher overall, as is the cost.
- Leica M is at the pinnacle of optical excellence, but far less flexible and dramatically more expensive.
- Sony FE offers breathtaking image quality and body compactness from Full Frame, but their fastest lenses are large and they have very few compact medium speed lenses of the f2 variety (that would rival the f1.4 designs from Fujifilm).
- M43 manufacturers, such as Olympus and Panasonic offer some amazing products, but the difficulty achieving shallow depth of field with a range of focal lengths would not allow them to be the ‘go to’ kit for events and people.
Looked at like this, it is not hard to see why the Fujifilm X-system stands out as a ‘Goldilocks’ system for general use.
So Everything Canon is Going?
No, not quite. The bodies are gone and a couple of lenses, but there are some I just cannot let go of, because they are so special:
- Canon EF 50mm f1.2 L
- Canon EF 85mm f1.2 L II
- Canon EF 24mm f3.5 TS-E II
The f1.2 L primes are old school and imperfect. Sigma ART lenses are newer Canon releases are optically ‘better’, but have less pleasing rendering for B&W portraits to my eye. The 24mm TS-E is a magnificent tilt and shift lens that is phenomenal when shooting cityscapes. Suffice to say, there is nothing in the Fujifilm X-System that can replace them. When I want super shallow depth of field, I have nothing else that can do the same job as the f1.2 primes on Full Frame.
The Fujifilm X-System is not Perfect
Little is. However, I will now run through some ogeneral thoughts about the system, both positive and negative:
Autofocus & Weather Sealing
The X-T2 can provide AF that is even quicker than my 5D III ever was. Noticeably so. However, this all depends on the lens. There is quite a variation across the X-System, with lenses like the newer 23/35/50mm f2 WR being super quick. The 16-55mm f2.8 WR is also stunningly quick, so much so that it feels all but instant to me (certainly quicker than the Canon 24-70 f2.8 L II on my 5D III). However, some of the older lenses like the 23mm f1.4 are clearly not as assertive or fast as Canon’s comparable lenses (35mm f2 IS). That said, even the venerable old 35mm f1.4 R is not slow. It just isn’t super quick or slick! It makes a few noises and you can feel things moving during focus, but it is at least dependable and quick enough with recent firmware. Also, the older lenses tend to lack weather sealing, which is a shame. However, observations like this don’t make or break a decision like this for me. In a few years, we will have Mk II versions, but between now and then the existing models will produce beautiful photographs.
The X-T2 Power Booster
It makes the X-T2 a very different animal and I advise anyone interested in tracking AF and best possible AF results to go and get one. It not only ups the fps to 11 (from 8) but also improves the tracking. There is a half price deal in the UK at the time of writing, when bought with a X-T2, meaning you get a lot of additional utility for £150. I also find that the additional mass is useful with some heavier lenses and you benefit from greatly increased battery life (one battery in the body + two more in the grip).
Resolution is remarkably good. If you are happy to accept that an APS-C camera has more depth of field due to using lower focal lengths and can therefore be opened up one aperture stop (compared to Full Frame), the X-T2 easily keeps up with well regarded Full Frame cameras throughout most of the aperture scale, even when you adjust for Fujifilm’s more optimistic ISO scale. (Colour noise is low and colour integrity is high, which makes a huge difference and is one of the reasons why the D750 is so well regarded). However…..
When you hit the ‘aperture wall’, which for most fast Fujifilm lenses is f1.4, most current FF cameras will perform better in terms of high ISO performance at the same f1.4 aperture number (albeit with less depth of field). However, the X-T2 is so good that I am not bothered. The high ISO files remain somewhat malleable and don’t show banding when pushed, like the 5D III did by the bucket load. Sure, at the same aperture the 5D IV can do better. However, I have invested 40% of the cost into the 2 x X-T2s plus power boosters than two 5D IVs would require. At the same time, I have much smaller and lighter cameras and lenses to carry around and a far higher frame rate when I want it. Take your pick. Some will see best possible f1.4 performance as more important, which is fair enough. I quite like a bit of grain, especially in B&W and without banding or nasty colour casts, I can still get the frames I want. Remember, it isn’t a competition with other people who have different needs and wants. It’s what matters to you. Besides, image quality will only get better with each generation. There will be a Back Side Illuminated (BSI) sensor and/or a stacked sensor in Fujifilm’s future, of that you can be sure.
The lens line up is getting better and better. I will write in more detail about specific lenses in due course. however, the lenses I have (or will soon have) are:
- 16mm f1.4 (coming)
- 10-24mm f4 OIS (here). Stunning.
- 18-55 f2.8-4 (here). Very good.
- 16-55 f2.8 WR (possibly coming). I bought a refurbished lens and it was faulty.
- 23mm f1.4 R (here). V. Good.
- 35mm f1.4 R (here). V. Good.
- 56mm f1.2 APD (here). Stunning.
- 90mm f2 WR (here). Stunning.
- 50-140 f2.8 R (here). Stunning.
The AF in some of the older lenses really is in need of an update. As mentioned, it works and works pretty well, but these lenses are not cheap and really ought to have silent, ultra slick AF and weather sealing at their price point. The 35mm f1.4 is now a £450-500 lens in the UK, which is not inexpensive. The 23mm f1.4 R is a £750 lens and it is about £300 more expensive than the Canon 35mm f2 IS; however, the latter has very much better AF. I have shot several copies of the 23mm f1.4 and it remains one of the least smooth Fujinon lenses in the AF department. I guess we just have to be patient, just as Canon 35mm f1.4 L users had to be to get weather sealing in the Mk II version. Clearly these issues have not stopped me buying in, but it is an area for improvement that buyers will expect all the more as time advances.
It would be good if Fujifilm standardised on the AF/MF system as either a push-pull, or clutch. I don’t personally fine this much of an issue, because I don’t use manual focus much on these cameras, but this is a big one for some people.
There are a couple of missing lenses. We know there is an up to date 80mm f2.8 Macro coming (I won’t buy one, as I don’t need one) and there is also a 8-16mm f2.8 or thereabouts. This will be welcomed by wedding photographers and other groups, who want the extra wideness compared to the 10-24mm and who value aperture speed over stabilisation (assuming the pro ultra-wide ships without it).
But…. There is no super shallow depth of field portrait lens. The 56mm f1.2 APD is amazing, it really is. It is *miles* smaller than the Canon 85mm f1.2L II, but it actually has depth of field comparable to an 85mm f2, or so. It is a bit smaller and lighter than the 85mm f1.8 EF, but not much. It therefore makes a wonderful general purpose portrait lens for the majority it situations that don’t require ultra thin depth of field. If there is one lens I really, really, think Fujifilm should release, it is this: 73mm f1.2. I don’t care if it is big (the 90mm f2 WR is hardly small). I don’t care if it costs £1800. However, I would really like to have a lens that genuinely competes with the likes of the standard 85mm f1.4 found on full frame. By having an effective focal length of 110mm, it would sit right between the 56mm (85mm on FF) and the 90mm (135mm on FF). By being a bit longer than the 56mm in actual focal length, it will have appreciably shallower depth of field at the same aperture. It would provide a bit more room for indoor use too, compared to the 90mm f2, and the speed would make low light use much more viable (even if not stabilised). For me, this is a ‘please, please, please’ lens. By having such an option in the lens lineup, those with less to spend could opt for either the 56mm or 90mm, but those wanting the shallowest depth of field and greatest speed, could buy this ultimate lens. At 12mm shorter than a FF 85mm f1.4 and a half stop faster, depth of field will easily compete.
A 35mm f1.0 lens would also go down very well, but this has not happened yet. I understand that it was removed from the lens roadmap a little while ago and what a shame! An alternative, now that we have the f2 WR line, would be to separate the f1.4 and f2 lenses even more, but bringing out the updates to the 23/35mm f1.4 lenses as f1.2 versions. Anyway, who knows what they will do and I am in the main, very happy happy with the lenses Fujifilm offers. They often seem ‘just right’.
Lens Hoods! This is an area where Fujifilm ought to do better. The standard hoods are cheap and not in keeping with the cost of the lenses. I have one that kinda rattles (23mm f1.4 R), because the fit is not good. Some are unnecessarily bulky and others just feel flimsy. The inner surfaces are often just milled (ribbed) plastic, with no flocking or quality matting. I feel that £750 lenses should have better hoods. The same could be said of the X100F: for the price, it should come with the adaptor ring and a decent metal hood.
Battery Capacity: A larger battery would go down well. The X-T2 + lenses are light enough to mean there is a good 50g available to designers and I would have appreciated slightly larger battery capacity. That said, the current batteries work fine for me. I can imagine that Fuji wanted to share the same battery with the new X100F and I can see that a larger battery might have been difficult to integrate here. Fair enough. Also, the X-Pro2 has the same battery. Perhaps we will see something bigger with the X-Pro3 and X-T3, with the X100F’s successor continuing the existing battery.
X-Trans Sensor! I am pretty neutral about this, at least now. I was unhappy with the way the earlier X-Trans II sensor jived with Lightroom, but the current X-Trans III produces results with little watercolour effect or ‘squiggliness’ with fine detail. It is not perfect and in this regard Bayer sensors are better, but I do appreciate having no issues with moiré and the excellent high ISO performance. I also appreciate the somewhat organic and random nature of X-Trans noise. I know many Fujifilm fans love the X-Trans sensor, but I am ambivalent. What I can say is that I feel very happy with the overall sensor performance and for me it is no longer an issue.
Metering. Fujifilm cameras tend to meter a little bit ‘hot’ compared to Canon and Sony, so there is more risk of highlight clipping. Being aware of this, one tends to just add a bit of negative exposure compensation here and there. The upside is that the cameras invariably expose well to the right, giving cleaner shadows. Conversely, the Sony bodies can expose a little to far too the left, meaning post processing takes a bit more of a toll on shadows than would otherwise be the case (assuming you have just gone with the cameras auto exposure choice).
Quality Control is such an important issue. I have not had any issues with my X100F, but there are many reports of returns. Regarding my X-T2, I did return one body for a somewhat vague joystick, which felt quite different to my X100F and other X-T2. Perhaps I was being pernickety, but it did not feel as it should. Considering all the use these cameras are going to get, I wanted to start off on the best possible footing. I will report back on the lenses when I cover them in more detail.
I’ve spent a lot of money on building an instant X-system, but it has been more than covered by the Leica and Canon equipment I have let go. I feel very liberated and have no regrets about what I have sold. It makes so much more sense to have fewer camera systems that can do more each and to carry less weight in the process. All cameras are getting so good nowadays that smaller and less expensive cameras are able to satisfy the needs we often associated with larger and more expensive items. With mirrorless going from strength to strength, any deficiencies in performance will be improved with future generations. I therefore fully expect to be catered for over the coming years.
I am not selling my Sony equipment, because it is still fantastic. It also provides me a light weight landscape kit that offers higher resolution than Fujifilm (I have a 36MP A7R). The A7II is the camera you might expect me to offload, as the X-T2 now covers many of the same bases; however, the Sony is the perfect platform for those amazing Canon lenses I want to retain! Might I let go of the Sony system in the future? Probably not; however, if I did, it would be because I was letting go of the 645Z as well. The Canon lenses can be mounted on the GFX 50S; however, that’s not something I am contemplating just yet. Certainly the appeal of shooting entirely within Fujifilm is strong, but switching over to the X-System has already been a lot of work! I would also want to see if the Fujinon GF 32-64 really can compete with the huge but phenomenal 28-45mm, because that lens is a mainstay of the system for me.
Have I traded down to APS-C? I don’t see it like that. If I can get the result I want, what else matters? And I can. Fujifilm has done incredibly well with the latest cameras sporting the X-Trans III sensor. I feel I have comparable or better high ISO to the likes of the 5D III, when compared as an overall package (luminance noise, colour noise, malleability and colour retention) and I have a much smaller camera system, which my mangled back will thank me for! I can also shoot the same events rig for reportage, travel and documentary work and that is absolutely priceless. The fact that the Fujifilm cameras make such nice B&W files is sugar on top.
As an aside, if Fujifilm really does go ahead and build ‘the ultimate X’ at a $2000-3000 price point, I think they will have a surprising number of customers. With what Sony has managed to do with the A9’s internals, I have little doubt that Fujifilm would be able to do the same, perhaps with a more upmarket chassis. This will give more ‘headroom’ to the system and attract more people with diverse requirements to buy in. Should they go ahead and invest in a handful of super-duper lenses, like a 73mm f1.2 and 35mm f1.0, the draw of their APS-C system will only deepen. Although I don’t see it happening, an 14mm, 18mm and 30mm tilt and shift lenses would be nice too 😉
Shooting one system is something many dream about, but it rarely happens. Fujifilm is closer than ever and it will be interesting to see how they develop going forwards. They do listen to their photographers and so we may just be surprised….