A few weeks ago I came into a small windfall. And I mean small. We're not talking thousands here-but it was enough to make me think of being able to afford to replace my camera.
There were three main contenders (for me):
1. Stay with olympus but upgrade to the EM1 Mkii (and possibly get a different lens range)
2. Buy the Fujifilm XT2 and lenses
3. Buy the just announced Sony A7iii and lenses.
The Sony is a compelling buy and I suspect will be the camera to beat for a while to come. Neither the Olympus or Fuji will, I suspect, have the same level of performance and image quality. However when I held a Sony (A9) it felt, and looked, somewhat soulless compared to the Olympus and Fuji. Additionally I had made the decision that I really wanted to be able to photograph wildlife again. Sony had a decent wildlife lens but the price was eye watering. The Olympus had the Panasonic Leica 100-400 (200-800 equivalent) and the Fuji had its 100-400 (150-600 equivalent) and with a 1.4x teleconverter the Fuji could also reach the 800mm mark. Had I not been interested in wildlife I would have bought the Sony-as a landscape shooters camera it has such a lot to offer. But I am. So I didn't.
So, which one to choose-Fuji or Olympus?! I was in this position a few years ago with the Fuji XT1 and the Olympus EM1 and blogged about it. Both had their good points and neither were perfect. Ideally I'd wanted to take certain elements of each and create my perfect camera and that is still true today. You can read that blog here.
Back when I wrote that blog I had decided the XT1 was better for me but after a few months with it I swapped to the Olympus EM5ii and have used that camera happily for the last three years.
Ultimately, last month, I chose the Fuji and bought an XT2 with 18-55mm, 55-200mm and 100-400mm (with converter) lenses. I also bought used versions of Samyang's 12mm and 50mm manual prime lenses. This blog, just as with the previous one above, offers my view on the Fuji XT2-what I love about it and what I miss from the Olympus I've sold.
Lets just get this out of the way-for me Fuji make the best looking cameras on the planet (along with the Nikon DF and Olympus Pen-F). I cut my teeth in the 1980's on Prakticas, Zenits, the Canon AE1, Olympus OM2, OM10 and the XT2 reminds me of those gorgeous old film cameras. The Olympus OMD range have a lovely retro look too but not on the level of Fuji. Ultimately it's what a camera does, not what it looks like, that matters but if you can have both, well....
The XT2. Right at home with my classic SLR collection.
And yet three years ago those retro dials, lovely though they were, created frustration for me. I wrote in my blog then:
"On my E-M1 when I was shooting landscapes I generally wanted aperture priority, F4, lowest iso, image stabilisation off, single AF, matrix metering, face detection off. I assigned ALL of those settings to the A mode on the olympus mode dial. This meant when I switched to 'A' (aperture priority mode) all of those settings activated too (not just the aperture priority). When I was shooting action I wanted shutter priority, auto iso, continuous AF tracking, image stabilisation on etc. I set ALL of those settings to activate when I switched to S (shutter priority) on the mode dial. This saved me time and meant everything was instantly ready to take a shot without me having to remember to switch metering modes or change the iso. On the X-T1 I have to consciously check and then change all of those settings if I want to change 'shooting genres'. Normally it's not an issue but occasionally it is. Last week I had my X-T1 set to shoot Chesterton Windmill at dusk. Everything was set for a typical landscape shoot but then a hot air balloon came into view sweeping low above the fields and missing the Mill by inches. I got shots of it which made the national papers and made me some cash but, looking back, the shooting setup for a fast moving balloon in gloomy conditions was far from ideal. I'd needed to switch from a landscape setup to an action one quickly and didn't have time."
The above is all still true. With the Fuji you can't just pick up the camera and shoot knowing what your settings will be without checking. Before I take a landscape image I have to check that the shutter dial is on A, that the focus switch is on S (and not manual), that the ISO dial is at 200, that I'm not in bracketing mode etc. If I was shooting manual focus at iso3200 when I last put the XT2 down then I'll be using those settings when I pick it up a week later. With the Oly I just checked that the mode dial was in 'A' and I knew that I was back at iso200, f4, aperture priority etc.
Three years ago having to check each dial and switch irritated me (because I often forgot to do so). Now however, quickly checking the dials is something I have got used to doing. When I put the Fuji back in the bag I check that I'm back in standard landscape settings ready for the next time and I also do another quick check when I get it out of the bag. And here's the interesting thing-having to check each dial means I am also evaluating whether the setting is right for the shot I'm about to take. Do I want to be at f5.6 or f11? Should I go for spot metering or matrix metering given the light conditions and the subject? With the Oly I already knew I was at bog standard landscape or action settings and so hardly ever changed from that. With the Fuji I have to consciously look at each dial and in doing so I now consider what the best settings for the planned image might be. I think the Fuji has slowed me down. It's made me think a little more about what settings I need for the image I'm taking. And I quite like that.
A little thing perhaps but the joystick is a pleasure to use. Easy to find with an eye to the viewfinder and quick to navigate with-it's much better than the 4 way controller method.
Film simulation modes.
Well actually not film simulation modes generally but just Fuji Velvia. Even when shooting raw images the viewfinder shows a Velvia simulation and it makes landscapes look stunning. So much so that I now shoot raw AND jpeg to check out the Velvia jpegs. My Olympus had film simulation modes too but I never used them and I don't think I'd use Fuji's were it not for Velvia. It really is lovely to behold for landscape photography and gives a great starting point for further tweaking as needed.
Crummock Water in the Lake District shot in Velvia Film Simulation Mode. Crummock Water using Velvia Simulation modeCrummock Water using Velvia Simulation mode
Image Stabilisation (IS)
Olympus is, I think, the king of IS. Being able to handhold a two second exposure using in-body IS is just a remarkable achievement on the EM1 Mkii. The XT2 body doesn't have inbuilt IS at all-you'll need to buy the XH1 for that. IS is in all of the zoom lenses but I have found that, when I am handholding with my zooms, I need to increase my shutter speed just a little more with the Fuji than I did on my EM5 Mkii because the IS isn't quite as efficient. Fortunately I can increase the iso to a much higher level than I could on my Olympus to compensate. The gem seems to me to be the XF 100-400 lens which seems to have really decent IS and I've handheld a number of garden bird shots at 800mm and got sharp images.
Robin shot handheld at 800mm (full frame equivalent) to show the IS capabilities. Robin shot handheld at 800mm (full frame equivalent) to show the IS capabilitiesRobin shot handheld at 800mm (full frame equivalent) to show the IS capabilities
Depth of Field
On a micro four thirds (MFT) camera, lens and sensor physics dictate that, for a given f stop, depth of field is always greater than the same f stop on an APS-C camera. In real terms this means that you got less of a blurred background shooting with an MFT camera than an APS-C camera and so making something stand out from its background can be less easy. Of course there are scenarios where this hands the MFT cameras an advantage. Shooting macro needs lots of light and huge depth of field and you get more of both on an MFT camera with macro lens. Handholding landscape images is another example where you could get greater depth of field at higher shutter speeds with an MFT camera. What I have found with the XT2 is that getting a creamy background is a dream-especially on my Samyang 50mm at f1.2!!
Shooting at f 1.2 to emphasise the subject and blur the background. Shooting at f 1.2 to emphasise the subject and blur the background.Shooting at f 1.2 to emphasise the subject and blur the background.
Those same laws of physics also mean that MFT diffraction (deterioration in image quality) occurs at lower f stops than APS-C cameras.Due to the diffraction issue I wouldn't often shoot my Olympus camera at greater than f8 due to diffraction affecting image quality. With the Fuji I seem to be able to get to f11-f13 before diffraction kicks in. This means I can get starbursts more easily on the Fuji than I could on my Olympus (see below). As I like shooting landscapes into a setting sun I think I'll enjoy this.
Sunburst at Chesterton Windmill. Shot at f 11. Sunburst at Chesterton Windmill. Shot at f 11Sunburst at Chesterton Windmill. Shot at f 11
Image Quality (IQ)
If I'm honest I suspect that for the majority of my shooting (ie on a tripod at iso200) I wouldn't notice any difference at all between the XT2 and the other cameras I was considering. If I was handholding I suspect the better IS on the Oly (or indeed the Sony) might lead to sharper images in low light. At high iso (think star photos, aurora etc) the better high iso noise management on the Fuji would probably win out against the Oly-this will be especially useful to me when shooting wildlife.
Ultimately they are all great cameras with great IQ and I feel I would have been happy with the images whichever camera I'd chosen.
A roe buck shot handheld on the XF100-400 at iso 10,000! A roe buck shot handheld on the XF100-400 at iso 10,000!A roe buck shot handheld on the XF100-400 at iso 10,000!
In my previous blog about the XT1 and EM1 I stated that writing anything even slightly derogatory about a camera is likely to inflame the fanboys of one camera brand or another. Indeed after that blog post 3 years ago I received a number of comments from Fuji and Olympus owners who were furious that I could think another camera did something better than theirs. In truth both the EM5 Mkii that I left and the XT2 I moved to are superb cameras. So are the Nikon D750, D500 or D850, the Pentax K1, the Canon Eos 5D Mk iv, the new Panasonic G9, the Sony A7iii or Sony A9. None of these cameras will take a poor quality photo (though their owners might!). They all have strengths and weaknesses and the choice is probably your style/genre of photography, brand loyalty and personal choice. For me, right now, I'm loving exploring what the XT2 can achieve and I'm enjoying my photography a little more as a result. Next year, or the year after, I might have my eye on something else...especially if I get another windfall!