Since joining the team at DPReview a few months ago, I’ve been doing my best to borrow and get my hands on as much gear as I possibly can. Like most working photographers, I am heavily invested in a single system, and beyond obsessive review-reading across far corners of the Internet, I didn’t come to DPReview with too much hands-on experience with other brands and their respective systems. In the process of trying to familiarize myself with all the cameras and systems I could, it’s the Fujifilm X-A2 that has surprised me the most and has become my personal pick for Gear of the Year.

What I love

  • 16MP Bayer APS-C sensor promises great clarity, color and ISO performance
  • Full X-mount compatibility for those wanting a system to grow into
  • Twin control dials for rapid changing of settings
  • Tilting screen with good visibility
  • Cheap

Fujifilm's X-system is filled with fast lenses and quality bodies: the company knows how to make great cameras. But I’ll admit, even with the possibility of putting some gorgeous Fuji glass on the X-A2, I had pretty low expectations because the camera just feels so cheap. My fixed-lens X100 is made of metal, and it feels like it. By contrast, the X-A2 is made almost entirely of plastic, and... it feels like it. The surface is fairly slick and hard to get a good grip on, the controls have nowhere near the satisfyingly dense and damped action as those on higher-end Fuji’s, and while I appreciate a tilting display more than the average Joe, this one hangs somewhat loosely when it should be secure against the back of the camera.

So here comes the surprise: I don’t really care so much that this camera feels so cheap, simply because it is so cheap. It is among the lowest-priced interchangeable lens cameras, and yet, still packs a 16MP APS-C sensor that produces absolutely stellar files.

ISO 500, F5.6, 1/60 at 16mm on the kit lens. If not for the articulating screen, this would have been much more of a 'spray and pray' situation. Processed to taste from Raw.

Glance over the spec list and you’ll note that this is the only Fujifilm camera in its current lineup that lacks an X-Trans sensor. Given that Fujifilm has put X-Trans at the heart of almost all of the X-series models, this also served to temper my expectations a bit. But make no mistake, the Bayer sensor in the X-A2 may not have a pixel-level detail advantage over an X-Trans, but I found that it still produces excellent colors and controls noise very well all the way through ISO 3200 (6400 is usable in a pinch). An added bonus: Raw file support is wider, thanks to the near-ubiquity of the Bayer pattern.

The included kit lens also feels very cheap, right down to the plastic mount, but as with the body, its build and appearance bely the ultimate results it’s capable of. It is pleasantly sharp for a kit zoom, offers swift, silent and accurate focusing in good light, and includes effective image stabilization. When you pair the X-A2 with one of Fuji’s compact primes, such as the 18mm F2 R or the 27mm F2.8, the setup is coat-pocketable and remains light enough to be handled with only a wrist-strap.

ISO 6400, F2.8, 1/56 on the Fujifilm 27mm F2.8 lens. Straight-out-of-camera JPEG.

So while the large sensor and sharp kit lens are big selling points for most people looking at a new and affordable ILC, this little camera keeps on going with additional features that only serve to further enrich the shooting experience, even for seasoned DSLR shooters. Integrated Wi-Fi, above-average battery life, twin control dials, a tilting screen and a bounce-capable pop-up flash make for a camera that is both flexible and responsive for a wide variety of shooting scenarios. There’s also incredibly useful one-button 100% magnification feature during playback, something that is annoyingly omitted on many competing entry-level models.

The X-A2 is kind of like that kid that skipped a grade in school. He’s the odd one out, maybe a little immature and doesn’t quite belong, but hey, he keeps up with the bigger kids just fine. So yes, the camera and bundled lens are built more cheaply than I’d like and it lacks the X-Trans sensor, but the Bayer sensor is still a treat.

Shooting with the X-A2 reminded me a lot of shooting with my X100, which is a good thing (yes, I have the latest firmware). As long as you don’t often drop or abuse your cameras too heavily, the X-A2 represents a solid investment in the Fuji X-system, and its image quality can easily hang with its bigger and pricier brethren. With its well-implemented controls, it's also a great choice for those who are considering taking more manual control over their photography, and is an excellent camera to grow into. 

ISO 800, F2, 1/60 on the Fujifilm 18mm F2 R lens. Straight-out-of-camera JPEG.