Fuji X-T2 Field Test Part II

Toting 4 high-end zooms into the wild for C-AF exploration

By Dave Pardue | Posted: 11/09/2016

For those of you who've read my first X-T2 Field Test centered around the storm Hurricane Hermine, which made her way along the eastern seaboard just a few months ago, you'll only need to fast-forward a day in time to begin this second part of the X-T2 shooting journey with me. I'd gone to the coast to find wildlife in secluded national sanctuaries, and found a hurricane instead. (Oh well, roll with it!) But the storm was here and gone in a veritable blink, and the wildlife and natural fauna returned to do their thing. So, I shook off several fitful nights of sleep and headed out into the welcome return of the sun.

1/1000s / f/8 / ISO 250 / 24mm eq. / XF 16-55mm f/2.8 WR

The day after the storm, and life resumes for the survivors.

(Images have been resized to fit this page, and some have been cropped and/or adjusted in post-production, primarily to balance shadows and highlights where needed. Clicking any image will take you to a carrier page with access to the unedited full resolution image, as well as access to EXIF data. RAW files for most images and edited versions are available for download and personal use from our Fuji X-T2 gallery page.)

Fujinon XF zooms: I can see for miles and miles

Nobody buys a flagship, high-performance camera unless they intend to pair it up with high-quality lenses based on their own shooting needs. The Fuji X-T2 is the "DSLR-styled" family member of the higher-end Fuji line, being geared more towards sports and wildlife than its rangefinder-styled X-Pro2 brother, and therefore screams at you to mate it with comparable zoom lenses. Seeking both wildlife and nature across several national wildlife preserves in the Southeastern US, I was grateful to have access to this treasure trove of high-end zooms lenses.

Equipment check at the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina and a good time for a Fuji X-series family photo. From left to right, the XF 10-24mm f/4; XF 50-140mm f/2.8 WR; XF 16-55mm f/2.8 WR (mounted on the X-T2); and the XF 100-400mm f/4 WR. (Image captured with a Fuji X100S.)

So here I was surrounded by several enormous wildlife reserves all teaming with an abundance of interesting species to photograph, along with capable glass for all manner of situations near and far. And as you may recall from the first Field Test, I was also packing seriously good battery life given the extra two batteries housed in the new portrait battery grip. Add to this that all but the 10-24mm f/4 are weather-sealed, including the booster grip, and I felt really primed and ready for action. And yet, there was one notable exception to that positive feeling...

Can a DSLR-styled mirrorless compete with a DSLR in the C-AF department?

Since the advent of mirrorless cameras, both end-users and us reviewers alike keep asking the same question over and over again: "When will enthusiast mirrorless cameras really be able to pull off continuous AF like the enthusiast-grade DSLRs?" Popular cameras like the Fuji X-T1, the Olympus E-M1 and the Sony A6300, all of which I've had ample shooting experience with personally, certainly offer good C-AF performance, but we've found that none of them quite reach the C-AF performance heights of competing enthusiast DSLRs like the Canon 7D II and now the newer Nikon D500. They're getting ever closer, yes, but still not quite on par with them in the more demanding fields of sports and wildlife.

Fuji is claiming that's now changed, and that true enthusiast DSLR-quality C-AF performance is now here in a mirrorless body in the form of the X-T2. Did they finally hit that hallowed mark? Read on for all the images and details from my experience thus far, but let me start the summary of my conclusions now and say that for the first time in my mirrorless shooting experience I came away extremely pleased with my keeper ratio. This has to date only happened for me when shooting DSLRs, so it was an eye-opening experience to say the least.

1/1600s / f/6.4 / ISO 400 / 256mm eq. / XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 WR

One of many keepers I got on a shooting day in wildlife sanctuaries, this shot of a soaring Great Egret is notable in that there are plenty of distractions in the background that could easily confuse a C-AF system. The X-T2 remained nicely locked onto this graceful subject throughout the burst series without missing a beat or getting confused by the background, as seen in the animation across several frames below. This has not been my "typical" experience with mirrorless cameras in general, where a missed shot or two here and there is more the general expectation.

Fuji X-T2 - Advanced parameters and the new custom C-AF presets

So what's changed with this model? Well, plenty! As you've likely seen in our overview for this camera the number of overall AF points has increased a great deal, including 169 points with phase-detect pixels, and also a big increase in zone focusing points, offering 49 with phase-detection to the X-T1's 9 PDAF points. Combined with a new processing engine shared with the X-Pro2, the overall AF system is reported to also be a good deal faster in general.

These three basic parameters define the behavior of the C-AF presets on the X-T2.

Equally as interesting to me are the all-new focusing algorithms housed within the X-T2, and a hugely expanded array of presets and customization potential. Using three basic parameters of Tracking Sensitivity (to adjust which subject the camera locks onto); Speed Tracking Sensitivity (to adjust how the camera behaves based on changes in a subject's speed); and Zone area Switching (to select which part of a zone should receive focus priority) you're now afforded a wealth of combinations and permutations to dial-in just how you'd like the C-AF to function on behalf of your current shooting needs.

You can then choose from 5 different presets (Multi-purpose, Ignoring obstacles, Accelerating/decelerating subjects, Subjects that suddenly come into the frame, and Erratically moving subjects) or choose Preset 6 and create your own by tweaking and fine-tuning the three parameters mentioned above. For my shooting needs on this particular day, I focused primarily on the Multi-purpose preset ("A standard setting for moving subjects in general") as it seemed to provide the best settings for flying birds and alligators on-the-move. Once we acquire another X-T2 sample we'll take an expanded look at some of the more specific-use presets on our C-AF test course.

C-AF burst sequence using the Multi-purpose C-AF preset

Below are examples pulled from additional bird sequences from this first day of C-AF exploration with the X-T2.

1/1250s / f/4.5 / ISO 200 / 150mm eq. / XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 WR

A shot from another series I got where the Egret travels from one tree line to another. Historically, with mirrorless cameras in this type shooting situation, I've encountered very mixed results and experienced frustration with a lot of "hunting" going on with the C-AF system, watching the subject swim in and out of focus. For most of the sequences I attempted on this day of shooting, including the one above, virtually all images were captured in tight focus.


1/2000s / f/5.6 / ISO 250 / 214mm eq. / XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 WR

An image from yet another successful series shooting a Great Egret, and this one with ample background elements that I've found tend to confuse typical mirrorless C-AF systems. This was not so with the X-T2 from my experiences thus far.


1/1600s / f/5.6 / ISO 320 / 222mm eq. / XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 WR

Here's another sample from a burst series of a fishing Snowy Egret to show a subject slightly further in the distance, and yet again with plenty of background elements that might otherwise confuse a C-AF system. I've included several full burst series in the Fuji X-T2 gallery.

So there's an initial sampling with birds in flight. Time now to change locations and get a bit deeper into the wilds, so let's pack up and hit the road. We'll take the back roads and avoid the interstate... making our way from Pinckney Island over to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, a home to some rather prehistoric-looking fellows. A quick stop for some more iced tea, and we'll be ready to roll!

Looking for action in Alligator Alley

"Alligator Alley" in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

As you near the Atlantic Coast, the border of South Carolina and Georgia is divided down the center of the Little Back River, which winds its way through the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge and an area that's now commonly known as "Alligator Alley". If you find yourself in the neighborhood, just look for Highway 170, the North Coastal Highway, and ease your way into the heart of the refuge and your alligator search will be underway. Please don't forget an enthusiast-grade camera like the X-T2 and a quality zoom lens or two... as neither your compact camera nor your smartphone will deliver the goods out in these parts. (Thanks to our lens specialist Rob Murray for turning me onto this area!)

1/640s / f/5.6 / ISO 800 / 306mm eq. / XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 WR

Gorgeous, dangerous, almost prehistoric.

1/1250s / f/5.6 / ISO 800 / 600mm eq. / XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 WR

I made a critical error in judgment that I am remiss to share as it could have easily turned into a fatal one. I was very much enjoying my shooting experiences with the X-T2 on this particular day that I forgot to "mind my surroundings" (as "Ducard" (Liam Neeson) is fond of saying in "Batman Begins"). I was shooting the alligators from just a foot off the bank of an estuary to get these shots, and then noticed a gorgeous blue heron perched just to my right (images below). So, I swung the camera in that direction and the bird seemed to put on a show for me, posing this way and that, and I was mesmerized by the whole experience (and, as mentioned earlier, was exhausted from fitful sleep through the storm). I have no idea how many minutes I photographed that bird, but suddenly realized I'd not taken my eye off the EVF for some time. I looked down and my new pal, the alligator, had reversed direction and was a bit closer to me. (OK - at 600mm eq. he wasn't right on top of me, but closer than I would have generally preferred!) He didn't seem like he was poised to come after me, but he certainly seemed to have his "eye" on me. I captured the above image, chastised myself for foolishness and scurried back up the bank. Next time I'll try and remember to mind my surroundings!

That's an initial sampling from my experience thus far with the X-T2's C-AF capabilities. We no longer have a sample unit of the camera, but intend to get another one at some point for further investigation of the presets and customizable settings in order to bring you more details and compare it more directly to other competing systems in both the mirrorless and DSLR camps. I can wholeheartedly say, in the meantime, that my experiences out in the field were unlike any I've yet experienced with a mirrorless system to date. This left me feeling very encouraged by the potential for mirrorless systems in the tricky fields of sports and wildlife going forward, and I can't wait to get another sample in for further testing and for indoor sports season.

Fuji X-T2 - Image quality out in the field

Shooting moving subjects had proven both enjoyable and relieving with the X-T2 and its majorly improved C-AF system, but I needed a break from all that and went searching for more tranquil shooting situations back at Pinckney Island. It's later in the afternoon, and things are starting to slow down -- a good time to slow my own pace as well.

1/320s / f/11 / ISO 200 / 22mm eq. / XF 10-24mm f/4 R

I love the Fuji 10-24mm f/4 ultra-wide-angle zoom lens. I'd gotten the chance to shoot it on the X-T10 for this article late last year, but was excited to now be shooting it on a flagship model. Second only to having a long zoom lens, a good ultra-wide-angle view is a key component to being out in the wild. This image, like the earlier "family photo" of the gear, was taken at the Pinckney Island wildlife refuge, which offers spectacular views to accompany the wildlife themselves.

1/640s / f/5.4 / ISO 200 / 502mm eq. / XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 WR

I was only about 14 feet from this flower, so the depth of field is ultra-thin at this focal length and aperture combination. It makes for a compelling background, which was likely only about 8 feet behind and yet melts entirely away.

1/2500s / f/2.8 / ISO 200 / 210mm eq. / XF 50-140mm f/2.8 WR

Turning now to the venerable Fujinon XF 50-140mm f/2.8 WR lens, an exceptional model that was honored with a well-deserved "Lens of Distinction" in our 2015 Lens of the Year awards, and one that pairs nicely on this latest flagship model.

Fuji X-T2 - It's for the birds

I found several areas where I was able to nestle myself in between bushes or trees and not create too much timidity for the "locals" as it were, and primarily using the XF 100-400mm f/4, I was able to get several shots unlike any I'd yet been able to capture. This was the most peaceful and enjoyable part of my field trip to the coast with this excellent camera and lens system, and I'm grateful to the creatures below for their hospitality and for patiently allowing me into their tranquil worlds.

1/1250s / f/5.6 / ISO 320 / 468mm eq. / XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 WR

This Double-crested Cormorant seemed to love having his picture taken. Oh, I'm sure I'm imagining that, but he did seem to "smile" at me several times. Either way, from me to him or her, thanks for the lovely poses!


1/1000s / f/5.6 / ISO 200 / 600mm eq. / XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 WR

This is the Blue Heron I was referring to above who was perched on a crossway above the estuary while I was photographing the alligators. The light was very nice, and I could have stayed there photographing him or her for an hour. What a beautiful bird as seen through this lens!

[1:1 crop from the center image above]

The detail: For a better look at the X-T2's potential sharpness in the field paired with the XF100-400mm WR, here's a full resolution crop. The 24.3MP resolution sensor certainly offers a great deal more cropping potential than the 16.3MP X-T1. (Note: All images for this Field Test were taken handheld and using the O.I.S. enabled on the lenses.)

1/2000s / f/5.6 / ISO 200 / 468mm eq. / XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 WR

Depth in the field: I love the subject-to-background (and foreground!) isolation potential available with longer lenses like the XF 100-400mm WR. Once again, at this relatively close distance (roughly 12-15 feet) to these Great Egrets the depth of field is very shallow indeed. It makes for compelling images if the S-AF is accurate, and I've found it to be top notch and consistent on the X-T2.

1/1000s / f/5.6 / ISO 200 / 600mm eq. / XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 WR

Going all the way: This is the closest any of the Great Egrets allowed me to come, and the relatively near background simply fades away as a result of the close proximity to the subject (perhaps 10 feet or so) at this fully zoomed focal length and widest available aperture. Click the image to examine the original as delivered by the camera, and then click again to see it at full resolution strength and survey the details.

1/2000s / f/5.6 / ISO 200 / 600mm eq. / XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 WR

Comic relief: If you've followed both my Field Tests closely you're now aware of how exhausted I was after enduring and shooting in the storm from Field Test 1, still only one day removed from the last of its remains at this point. Watching this guy attempt to eat this fish was the perfect antidote. He adeptly caught it, tossed it into the air and simply couldn't get it down his gullet. It was clearly "more than he could chew" as it were. He tried three times, and I was laughing so hard I almost missed the chance at a shot. This resized image is zoomed in a good bit from the original, as I wanted to give you a closer look at the light comedy. And as you can see in one of the smaller images below, he did at last find a suitably sized dinner for himself.

1/1600s / f/5.6 / ISO 200 / 600mm eq. / XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 WR

I was glad to come across this unusual White Ibis while shooting, as they are certainly a rather more exotic species than I'm used to running across in the suburban neighborhoods north of Atlanta, GA. Another White Ibis can be seen in the first image below, in association with a Snowy Egret and a Great Egret. (A relative seabird trifecta!) And this time the Great Egret had captured a dinner he was actually able to swallow and enjoy.

1/125s / f/2.8 / ISO 6400 / 75mm eq. / XF 50-140mm f/2.8 WR

A crescent moon and Jupiter posing in conjunction for this image taken at day's end with the 50-140mm f/2.8. I needed ISO 6400 here in order to achieve a reasonably fast shutter speed at max aperture, and the X-T2 handled that relatively high gain setting quite well. This was processed from the out-of-camera JPEG, and shows only mild noise in areas of the sky. The RAW file for this and most images in this report are available for download and processing in our Fuji X-T2 gallery.

Fuji X-T2 Field Test - Part II Summary

A high-end camera needs to be weather-sealed, and the X-T2 more than proved its mettle in that regard in our Field Test Part I. It also needs to have high-caliber C-AF chops out in the field, and thus far that's exactly what I've encountered -- excellent results, and noticeably better continuous autofocus performance than any mirrorless camera I've shot with before.

High-end cameras also need terrific image quality, and once again, terrific image quality is what I've consistently found from the X-T2 across a variety of subject matter. And lastly, a high-end camera needs a comparable lens ecosystem, and it's my personal belief that Fuji tops the bill in that regard. Zooms or primes, the Fujinon system is my favorite line of lenses, and the X-T2 is the most versatile X-series camera with which to pair them.

Stay tuned for Part III of this Field Test, where I'll explore more custom settings in the C-AF department, more high ISO images, delve into 4K video and pair the camera with several quality Fujinon primes for portraits.

Fuji X-T2 Field Test Part IFuji X-T2 Gallery


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