Nikon D750 vs Fujifilm X-T2: Shooting Motorsport

Nikon D750 vs Fujifilm X-T2: Shooting Motorsport
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Nikon D750 vs Fujifilm X-T2: Shooting Motorsport

My name is Chris Harrison, and I’m a photographer based in Hilperton, Wiltshire, England. In this post, I’ll share a head to head comparison of the Nikon D750 DSLR and Fujifilm X-T2 mirrorless camera in shooting motorsport.

Due to being a creature of habit more than any master plan to compare these two cameras, I ended up shooting the hill climb at the 2017 Festival of Speed with the Fuji kit from near enough the exact same spot as the 2016 event with the Nikon. I also realized that (again being a creature of habit) the gear used for each system was pretty similar. I thought it would be interesting to throw together a comparison of the two systems.

I know how these things can often go, so I’ll list the caveats in an easy to digest list before I get started:

  • This was never planned.
  • Had I planned it, I would’ve thrown in the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 to give a true equivalent focal length comparison (with the Nikon 85mm 1.4).
  • Had I planned it, I would’ve aimed to grab a few more comparable shots in the paddock.
  • Had I planned it, I would’ve used similar settings on the hill instead of whatever felt right at the time.
  • They are a year apart, so clearly weather/light and angles are different, the light was beautiful in 2016 (Nikon), but pretty terrible in 2017 (Fuji).
  • I’ve been using various Fuji and Nikon gear concurrently for the past 4 years, so know both systems inside out. The X-T2 was however new to me and literally unboxed just before I arrived at the event.

2016:

  • Nikon D750
  • Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art
  • Nikon AFS 85mm f/1.4
  • Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6
  • Nikon D300 (Spare/Backup)

Total Weight (with batteries): 5165g (~11.4lbs)

2017:

  • Fuji X-T2
  • Booster Grip + batteries
  • Fuji 23mm f/1.4
  • Fuji 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6
  • Fuji X-T10 (Spare/Backup)

Total Weight (with batteries): 3150g (~6.9lbs)

Clearly the Fuji is missing a an 85mm equivalent which would have made a small difference to the overall difference in weight (although only 400g). Due to the additional security checks required I heeded the advice not to take a bag and slung the Fuji’s over my shoulder, not something that would have been comfortable with the Nikon kit.

So, all of that out the way, here are a bunch of photos:

The above shots are a mixture of Fuji and Nikon (4 each, in no particular order), so you can probably see why I thought a comparison would be interesting.

Weight & Handling

Despite the low angle of many of these photos, I shoot everything from public positions. That means getting into unnaturally low and awkward positions and handholding the camera for long periods crouched or bending down (panning whilst unbalanced is seriously hard work). The D750 and 200-500mm was brutal in that respect at around 3kg and I felt it in my arms for a few days after. The X-T2/100-400mm combo is hardly lightweight, but at around 2kg it was significantly lighter and easier to handle than the Nikon.

In the paddock the difference was less noticeable (aside from having much lighter gear on my back), but the Fuji really came into its own with the full AF system available via the clever LCD screen. The D750 live view implementation is ok, but it doesn’t come close to the full AF with joystick goodness of the X-T2.

AF Speed/Accuracy

The D750 AF system is awesome and practically infallible once you’ve hit your stride. With the lenses micro-adjusted to death it all just works, I took around 2000 photos at the 2016 event and looking back I’m struggling to find a single one trashed due to being out of focus; as I said, it just works. Considering the 200-500mm isn’t the fastest lens in the world it performed brilliantly and (in good light, as that’s all I had to go on) didn’t feel far off usual workhorses such as the 70-200 f/2.8.

The X-T2 puts up a surprisingly good fight though. For static stuff in the paddock it inspires far more confidence with the EVF and instant review in the viewfinder, and as mentioned earlier full AF through the LCD is miles ahead of the Live View effort from the Nikon. Out on the hill climb I was really interested to see how the Fuji would perform as this would be the first time I was close enough with a long enough lens to get some true head-on shots (much, much tougher for the AF system than panning).

The overall hit rate wasn’t as consistent as the D750 but it also wasn’t far off; aside from the very occasional momentary lapse into AF hunting (only a few times during the day) it inspired plenty of confidence, locking on quickly and accurately and then tracking with ease.

I briefly tested the tracking systems for both cameras, but as usual quickly returned to AF-C and bog standard single point for both. They both worked absolutely fine, but fancy tracking simply isn’t needed for large contrasty objects like vehicles and I like to choose exactly where to put the AF point, not have it decided for me.

EVF v OVF

The EVF in the X-T2 is exceptionally big and bright and particularly with the booster grip it’s super-smooth and virtually lag free. It’s pretty amazing how far things have come since the X-Pro1.

For relatively static stuff it’s a slam dunk for the Fuji, I had 100% confidence in the AF as I could see exactly what I was getting instantly. Features like magnified focus and focus peaking were just the icing on the cake.

Out on the hill I was really surprised at the noticeable improvement of the X-T2 EVF. The lag, blackout and smoothness really is a significant step up from even the X-T1. It’s probably not particularly noticeable when shooting day-to-day stuff, but a Ferrari passing at 100mph? Big difference. Clearly there is still some lag compared to an OVF, but I honestly didn’t notice it and it certainly never held me back at all.

This really is personal preference, but the EVF has come far enough now that I wouldn’t want to go back. Sure the OVF is fundamentally easier to use when shooting action, and for peeps who like to machine gun the EVF would probably be an exercise in frustration if you’re used to a DSLR, but the X-T2 EVF is comfortably good enough not to have got in my way at all.

System Speed

As expected for a DSLR (and one loved by wedding photographers), the D750 does pretty much everything as quick as you’d ever need it to. It does fall down slightly on buffer size and clearance speed, but in terms of operation it’s hard to complain about any aspect of it.

The X-T2 is again a big step up from previous Fuji bodies. Start up to shooting is probably the biggest and most obvious improvement but it’s also much quicker to jump from image review to shooting. I found the buffer quite slow with a UHS-I card (much slower than the quoted numbers) but understand it’s a much quicker beast with UHS-II cards installed.

Clearly they are both fundamentally different systems with different philosophies. With the X-T2 pretty much everything is to hand (and if it’s not there is a spare function button for it) including the excellent AF joystick. The D750 is slightly more menu driven but has the benefit of U1 and U2 custom settings on the dial, meaning you can switch vast swathes of settings instantly.

Full Frame vs APS-C

Without delving into the equivalency debate I thought I better give a mention to this as I know it’s a favorite subject of the internet. The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART gives a lovely sense of subject isolation even at that relatively wide-angle, the Fuji 23mm f/1.4 is a peach of a lens but it simply doesn’t make larger subjects like vehicles ‘pop’ quite like the Sigma can.

One interesting point to mention, f/1.4 with the Nikon is all well and good but on a sunny day and without filters in my bag the 1/4000 maximum shutter speed limited the usefulness of the wide aperture. The Fuji goes to 1/8000 with the mechanical shutter and 1/32000 with the electronic shutter so even with the 56mm f/1.2 you can shoot static subjects wide open.

Out on the hill the differences are pretty much irrelevant as I’m usually aiming for a sense of movement rather than throwing backgrounds out of focus; with shutter speeds anywhere from 1/30 to 1/200 I’m never going to troubling the maximum aperture on any system.

Battery Life

I didn’t give this any thought on the day so I wasn’t going to include it, but ‘the internet’ has a tendency to pick up on mirrorless battery life – mainly due to the CIPA ratings – so I figured it was worth a mention. I remember reading with amusement when people jumped on the Sony a9 and suggested it could fully discharge a battery in about 24 seconds because of the frame rate and CIPA rating. OK then.

The CIPA rating for the Fuji X-T10 is 350 shots; at the last motorsport event I covered with the X-T10 (a 24hr race) I passed 2000 (two thousand) frames on a single standard battery before the ‘imminent death’ symbol (otherwise known as the battery dropping one bar). Bear in mind I’m not a machine gun shooter either, the vast majority are single shot, or two/three frames in quick succession at most.

It should be noted at this point that the D750 (CIPA rating: 1230) used in a similar way will also laugh at its already impressive quoted ‘life’ as well, but not quite to the same degree as a mirrorless camera.

So, the X-T2 (CIPA rating: 340). I was using it with the Vertical Booster Grip and left Boost Mode switched on all day, as expected the 3 batteries installed were comfortably enough to see me through even with lots of EVF chimping and WiFi transfers throughout the day. I finished the day on near enough 2700 shots (around 6 hours of shooting), to show for it I had one fully depleted battery and the remaining two discharged to around 50%.

Processing

D750 RAW files are really nice to work with in terms of exposure, you can really push shadows or claw back highlights without major penalty. However I’m not a huge fan of the colors out of the camera even with white balance nailed, so they take a bit of work in that respect.

The Fuji RAW files are also super flexible but not quite to the degree of the Nikon, however the colors are just spot on and files generally require very little work. It’s also perfectly possible to shoot JPEG all day long with confidence that the files are going to look great, Fuji just knows how to nail color. That’s all quite handy, as for whatever reason I find Fuji files are really quite slow to load in Lightroom (I’ve tried a very powerful MacBook Pro and a Surface Pro 4, both with the same results).

Conclusion

The D750 is an awesome bit of kit, I remember well the derision it was met with from many when it was announced, but it’s gone on to be a much-loved professional workhorse that simply does everything really, really well with the minimum of fuss. Is it fundamentally a ‘better’ camera than the X-T2, considering image quality, AF, battery life, low light abilities etc? Yes, it would be hard to argue otherwise. But, is the X-T2 close enough that it probably won’t matter for most people? I’d argue that would be a yes too.

The X-T2 does the fundamentals well enough that the inherent benefits for me (size, weight, electronic shutter, EVF, full LCD shooting etc.) just make it a more enjoyable camera to work with. The tactility of the controls and overall experience of simply operating the X-T2 are a genuine joy.

What I lose in AF speed I gain by being able to hold the lighter kit for longer in odd positions etc. What I lose in creative DoF control I gain in the angles I can explore with amazing flexibility of the clever LCD screen and so on. As ever there are compromises on both sides, it’s up to individuals to decide which of those things mean more to them. Hopefully the images here show that the end results can be good either way.

By the way, for every pair of photos, all the D750 images are above and the X-T2 photos are below.


Note: All gear used has been personally paid for by myself. I have no affiliation with Fuji or Nikon. I attended the Festival of Speed as a regular member of the public and received no special access or benefits, all photos were taken from publicly accessible areas.


About the author: Chris Harrison is a photographer based in Hilperton, Wiltshire, England. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find his wedding photography here and his non-wedding imagery here. You can also find more of his work and connect with him through Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and Instagram. This article was also published here.

Nikon D750 vs Fujifilm X-T2: Shooting Motorsport

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