Mirrorless or DSLR? There are plenty of articles on the subject, but I don’t necessarily think of this as an either/or proposition. I own a Nikon D810 and a Fujifilm X-T2 and enjoy both for very different reasons. Initially on buying the X-T2 I thought that it would be a game changer, and it is in a certain sense. You can read the vital statistics on other websites, but I can’t compare the two cameras as they’re designed for what I see as two completely different purposes. If I had to summarize that in two words they would be flexibility and quality. That isn’t to say that the X-T2 isn’t capable of quality. However it’s a mistake to try and compare the files that the two cameras produce. One camera will get you pictures that the other won’t simply because it fits (along with a bunch of lenses) in a messenger bag that I take everywhere with me. It is also far less noticeable and attracts less attention. Ergo, even if I could take the D810 everywhere, people pay far too much attention when I use it. Having said that, the D810 NEF files are simply magnificent and outclass the X-T2 RAF files. There is simply too much difference in the dynamic range of the camera. The Fujifilm RAWs also take a lot more time for Adobe Bridge, Photoshop, and Lightroom to process. There is a still a lot more work to be done before it can be argued that the same speed of workflow can be achieved with the X-T2 files.
The X-T2 allows you instant access to an amazing amount of lenses with the simple use of an adaptor. Although getting good results out of older lenses takes care and time, it does allow freedom from the sterile perfection of the newest lenses. A Nikon D810 gives you full access to all of Nikkor’s products, plus whatever the third parties have been up to. In my opinion, the 3rd party lenses that are worth looking at are the Sigma Art lines and of course the Zeiss products. The advantage with Zeiss lenses is that they are future proofed and have shown their ability to keep pace with the latest high resolution Nikon bodies. They will likely be competitive up until about 50MB resolution and perhaps beyond should Nikon choose to follow in Canon’s footsteps. The future seems to be in MF digital for the working pros, but that is an expensive proposition indeed and beyond the scope of this writing.
Walking with the X-T2 is much less intimidating than with a D810. You can see from the faces of the people around you that when your D810 has the MB-D12 attached along with any reasonable quality lens, it’s big and they quickly step out of your field of view. The X-T2 attracts nowhere near the same amount of attention, it’s almost like you become invisible, particularly when using the LCD at waist-level pretending to chimp. Add in the possibility of using the electronic shutter with no noise, and you can pretty much do what you want. You can make an argument here about whether the X-T2’s ability to focus peaks trumps the Nikon D810’s bright viewfinder, particularly when using manual focus. Yes and no is the answer, particularly in lowlight situations. The X-T2’s dials are awesome – until you are in near darkness and can’t see a thing. At this point you are completely reliant on your memory of where the buttons are and looking at the LCD. In the case of the Nikon, it’s simple enough since the basic system hasn’t changed in years, plus the ability to just reverse turn the power button and see the settings on top. At this point I want the X-T2 to be able to glow and highlight all the marked numbers – maybe a feature for the future X-T3?
Talking about menus for a moment – I don’t like either the X-T2 or D810 menus. There are too many things buried in deep. The X-T2 wins with its well thought out haptics and dials – until you want to do something simple like erase your memory card, which is three layers in. Not all of the settings menus are to my mind logical either. I don’t like pressing down buttons while rotating things, which means the D810 doesn’t do well at this at all. If you are in practice, no big deal, but set down the camera for a bit and move on to another system, and you might struggle to remember things.
The viewfinder – isn’t it nice to be able to see exactly what you are outputting? The X-T2 has a much improved EVF which obviates the need to chimp since you already know what’s coming, especially when you’re using one of the film simulators. I like the fact that you can see in B&W, but not always. Sometimes I would like to be able to just see the RAW image, and have the camera take a B&W JPG in addition to the .RAF, not being forced to see in B&W. Not a possibility at this time (are you listening Fujifilm?), but it sure would be nice. One of the coolest things about the X-T2 is its ability to reprocess in camera the .RAF, making it possible to output as one of the other film simulators, which by the way are a very good selling feature. The best one is Acros, but the Chrome, Astia, and Provia film settings are also worthy of use. The Velvia seems to rub me the wrong way, but I can still get at a good version by using a preset from either DXO Optics or VCSO. A bit of tweaking in Lightroom, and you’re done.
Weight – it’s hard for Nikon to win here, but it’s not as bad as you might think. A D810 with a small lens like the Nikkor AF 50/1.8D isn’t that heavy as a walkabout lens. The trouble is when you want to bring the lenses that are truly worthy of the D810 and are able to extract all of that resolution off the 36.3 MB sensor – the mighty Zeiss lenses or the Holy Trinity Nikons. Having said that, the X-T2 and the Fujifilm 35/1.4 combo is small, light, and very, very quiet. Which brings us to sound – the Fujifilm is a ninja, and the Nikon is not. Although sound dampened, you won’t be getting any Not Disturbing Wildlife of the Year awards. Which makes me wonder… even with the superior files, could you be getting wildlife photos because of the silence with the X-T2 that you might not get with the D810?
A random thing which I have absolutely no way of proving – the Fujifilm requires less cleaning and is generally better about sensor dust. I seem to have to clean my Nikon at least twice a year, but so far with the Fujifilm (owned for 6 months now) I only had to use a blower to remove a hair. It’s not a big deal, but either the automatic sensor cleaner works better, or there is just less static attracting dustballs. I’ve had ones on my Nikon big enough to name.
Autofocus – OK, I get that I’m wading into a minefield here. Mirrorless is supposed to be less effective and harder to focus than a DSLR. The answer from my point of view is yes and no. Using two similar situations in the sense that they are both really hard to focus in – taking a picture of an approaching train in rain and snow. I got the rain picture through sheer speed – basically the mirrorless high speed is ridiculous – 11 fps or something like that – which allowed the X-T2 to grab a shot that I liked. The D810 in the snow inspired me with a lot more confidence, and absolutely nailed the shot the first time. I guess I would want to say that I think you’ll get the shot with either camera, but the way of going about it is different. One shot one kill vs. spray and pray. I want to say that I wasn’t as confident about the X-T2’s ability to lock on to the shot, but I certainly don’t have as much experience with X-T2 AF. You can argue about which one is harder – high contrast with snow blowing everywhere vs low light pelting rain, but at the end of the day I got what I wanted. Another similar situation with the X-T2 – more rain.
Battery performance – not worth discussing, really. Mon pays c’est l’hiver, so until the X-T2 battery can handle -20C and pelting snow, the D810 won’t be losing here anytime soon. You need a minimum of two batteries for the X-T2, and I would say on a travel trip that four would be about right.
More to follow.