Fujifilm’s new APS-C size X-T3 is a more affordable and portable option than full-frame rivals.
WORDS & IMAGES ADAM DUCKWORTH
Adapted for web with some new images and video content by Dane Pestano.
With the recent glut of full-frame announcements, it would be easy to dismiss anything apart from a camera sporting a 35mm sensor as not up to professional work. Most serious camera companies now offer fullframe in DSLR and mirrorless versions, and are keen to point out the advantages of the bigger sensor such as low-light performance, ultimate resolution and a shallow depth-offield thanks to using longer lenses.
They are obviously far less keen to point out an APS-C camera can be smaller, lighter, far cheaper and can largely replicate the wafer-thin depth-of-field with fast glass. And the reality of the modern market is that very few pros consistently have to deliver files that will be printed in huge sizes, so the ultimate image quality is not really an issue. For that, Fujifilm offers the relatively affordable medium-format GFX System anyway.
That leaves Fujifilm flying the flag for the original benefits of mirrorless cameras, which are about being small, portable, affordable and packed with features to aid the photographer in both stills and video.
And while the newcomers are offering a small selection of lenses, Fujifilm already has 34 on the market and it’s growing all the time. The latest iteration is the new APS-C sized X-T3, which still follows the Fujifilm X Series philosophy of traditional style, distinctly retro controls on a rugged and weatherproof metal camera, but one that’s packed with the latest tech to help the pros do their job.
By the admission of Fujifilm’s product planning chief Makoto Oishi, it has taken four generations to finally get a camera that is a great all-round performer. Makoto admits the first-generation X-Pro1 of 2012 was an ideal street camera thanks to its rangefinder style operation, the 2014 X-T1 packed in more resolution and was ideal for landscapes. Two years later came the X-T2 with faster operation that could finally handle commercial work or even sport, with good video. But it had a few quirks like having to use the battery grip to use a headphone socket.
And now comes the X-T3, finally a great all-rounder with all those bugs ironed out. It’s an affordable camera that can be used for all types of pro work, including action, and also sets new standards for capturing highquality video with incredible spec. It may look like a clone of the X-T2 but has more resolution from an all-new sensor, is faster in terms of file processing with the knock-on effect of quicker autofocus and frame rates, has the viewfinder of the flagship X-H1 and video spec that outperforms it handsomely.
Thanks to the new sensor and processor that’s triple the speed of the old one, the X-T3 out-performs the flagship in just about all areas, except for the reinforced lens mount and the T-series still doesn’t have inbody stabilisation. To give it that would have made it bigger and more expensive.
It may look and handle like an improved X-T2 but is actually hugely different inside, with a brand new 26.1-megapixel BSI X-Trans CMOS sensor that can shoot at up to 30fps thanks to the electronic shutter – albeit it with a 1.25x crop. Used with no crop it maxes out at 20fps, or change to the mechanical shutter and it still rattles through images at 11fps. It can also record 4K video at 60p to give half-speed slow-motion, something not many cameras can do yet.
The native base ISO is down to 160 from 200, and there are Fujifilm’s Film Simulation modes such as Acros, Classic Chrome and Eterna. Using these also generates a Raw file so you still have full control afterwards.
The autofocus system has also had a big boost in performance, with total coverage across the frame of speedy phase-detection AF points. Plus face and eye detection, too. The EVF has a 100fps refresh rate when set in boost mode and there is no viewfinder blackout during high-speed continuous shooting – something that has blighted many mirrorless cameras for years making them largely unusable for shooting sport.
The two-way tilting LCD now is touchscreen enabled, and the EVF dioptre adjustment wheel is now lockable to avoid accidentally being moved.
The touchscreen can be used as an AF touchpad and there are options for choosing which parts of the screen are active, to prevent your nose accidentally pushing on the screen and changing the focus point when you’re using the viewfinder.
Fujifilm also spent a lot of time fine-tuning the controls with several dials being slightly enlarged for an easier grip and buttons modified for a more solid feel. There’s also a new mode where you can change the colours of the menus for
easier viewing at night, and you can alter the size of the icons on the EVF for easier viewing even with slightly dodgy eyesight. Battery life is rated at 390 shots per charge, which is decent for a mirrorless camera but you will need at least one spare for a full day of shooting.
If you are used to the handling of any of Fujifilm’s recent cameras then getting to grips with the new X-T3 will take no time at all. The body is now a new four-piece design but the camera is the same size.
If you have a background in old-school SLRs, then you’ll have no issues either thanks to the traditional layout with obvious, knurled control rings for ISO and shutter speed. And even users of modern DSLRs with swoopy plastic bodies will have little trouble adapting to the retro-style controls as the Fuji can be customised to work like a Nikon or Canon with two control wheels changing major settings.
It remains a cool-looking retro cam that is simple to get to grips with and use quickly and efficiently. Add on the new and slightly larger battery grip and it feels far better balanced with larger lenses. It’s a shame there is no dedicated AF-ON button on the back for back-button focusing.
So much for the impressive spec, but after two days of using the camera around a stately home then at the Goodwood Revival motor racing meeting, then the camera really delivers. Of course, shooting high-speed motorsport action is a real test of any camera, and the new AF worked very well.
Fujifilm says it focuses 1.5 times faster than the X-T2 and in use, it certainly locked on well to static subjects even in dark conditions such as in pit garages. It’s claimed to focus in light levels as low as -3EV and there’s no reason to question this.
The new 100fps viewfinder still has a very tiny bit of lag but is still quick enough to make sports shooting a practical proposition.
VIDEO SPEC SETS NEW STANDARDS
Video capability is where the new X-T3 really shines, with truly stunning spec that puts it among the very best and significantly improved even over the flagship X-H1. Mate it to Fujifilm’s cinema glass and an external recorder and you have an incredible bit of pro video kit.
It can capture DCI 4K and UHD video in 60p and output 10-bit 4:2:2 files to an external recorder; or capture 10-bit 4:2:0 internally using the H.265 codec at 200Mbps. The only other mirrorless camera to record 10-bit internally is the Panasonic GH5.
The Fujifilm can record F-Log footage internally with a minimum ISO of 640, and a firmware update will see Hybrid Log Gamma coming later this year which is ideal for fast HDR workflow. The camera has microphone and headphone sockets, with a flap that can be removed for when the camera is on a rig.
In UHD or DCI 4K video, there is a slight 1.18x crop of the sensor. At 30p or below, the X-T3 records oversampled video using the full width of the sensor and you have a choice of All-Intra or Long GOP compression at up to 400 Mbps, which needs a fast V60-spec SD card.
In 1080p HD it records at up to 120fps for super slow-motion. The AF in video mode is good, too, using phase detection points to make it quicker and more reliable, with useable face tracking. Although serious video shooters will stick to manual focus and use peaking. There is also a punch-in to check focus feature, and adjustable zebras help nail exposure.
In use, the standard colours are bright and punchy which suited racing cars, but may be a bit too bold for more cinematic work. In that case, the Eterna film simulation mode works really well, or you can fine tune the settings in camera. Rolling shutter is reduced to 16ms, say Fujifilm, which is very good and we noticed very little when shooting video. All of a sudden, Fuji’s new X-T3 is right up at the top of the pack for video shooters who want to use a mirrorless camera.
When shooting racing cars at speed it occasionally hunted a little when you first half-press the shutter, but then quickly acquired focus, locked on and tracked well. The AF is adjustable for tracking speed and sensitivity, with different pre-sets for different types of action or you can custom set your own. These make a big difference to how the AF performs and once you got to know the camera, you’d soon learn which work best for different shooting situations.
Overall the AF is excellent, with fantastic all-round performance for the vast majority of shooting. There is also improved face and eye detection and this is quick and precise, offering an ideal way to use fast portrait lenses wide open even when the subject looks away then looks back. Many professionals are wary of any aids like this but once you get used to them and how they work, they are real time savers. Really obvious reflections in spectacles did make the eye detection struggle a bit, but then you can switch to one of the other AF modes and it nailed focus every time.
For slower shooting when using manual focus, Fujifilm has also introduced a Digital Microprism focusing aid, which is designed to simulate the view through a film SLR finder. This might sound like it’s purely a retro design bit of fun, but is actually supposed to be a useful way of using manual focus accurately. Some people might find it genuinely helpful.
Of course the proof of a camera is in the final images and the X-T3 really does pack a punch that’s shockingly good for a camera with an APS-C sensor. At our test, the Raw software was not available – although it was due to be launched on the same day the cameras hit the shops. So we could only inspect JPEGs which we used in the default in-camera modes.
IMAGES: The X-T3 has a much-improved autofocus. For slow pans, rolling shutter effects of skewed verticals are obvious using the electronic shutter.
Having said that, the files were detailed and sharp, with bold and saturated colours even in standard setting rather than using any Film Simulation modes. Skin tones are pleasing and natural, an essential part of the mix for portrait, social and wedding shooters. The noise is very well controlled, too, even pushing the ISO up the scale to 6400 and above. Which realistically is the maximum most pros would ever need.
Further tests on the camera a few weeks after the initial Goodwood try-out showed very good high-ISO performance. You can blow up the images significantly and there is not a huge difference between the files and those from the most expensive and latest full-frame cameras. The files are punchy, have lots of dynamic range with easily recoverable shadow detail – and that’s in JPEG. When the Raws are readable, that will only increase.
We did note some purple fringing when provoked, but this is likely down to the kit lens on those shots and was easily corrected in Photoshop or Lightroom. The only real issue we
had was encountering significant rolling shutter when shooting racing cars going past a grandstand. These were shot using the electronic shutter at 1/125th sec, and it made the grandstand look like it was leaning (see pictures to the right). Changing to the mechanical shutter totally removed the effect, but it’s something to watch out for when panning.
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