FUJIFILM X-T3 Review
December 12th, 2018
I’ve been enjoying spending time with the FUJIFILM X-T3 mirrorless camera body and the monster XF 200mm F2 OIS lens – evidence that Fuji is getting serious about sports/action photography. The X-T3 and Fujinon XF 200mm F2 OIS are a marriage that could probably only happen on Fuji, for they alone have focused their their development on APS-C (and Medium Format, to a lesser extent) and skipped over full frame altogether. That has produced perhaps the most serious APS-C (crop sensor) development that I’ve seen. Fuji has (by far) the best selection of pro-grade APS-C lenses, and, if you think that APS-C is for you (and I’ll detail a few reasons why that might be the case), then it is hard to argue against going Fuji…and the X-T3. At the same time, I don’t think the Fuji X-T3 is for everyone, and I’ll detail why in this review as well.
In this review I’ll break down the handling, image quality, sensor performance, video performance, and autofocus performance of the Fujifilm X-T3 along with a few lenses (I’ve also got the XF 35mm F2 on hand along with my favorite budget prime lens at the moment – the Kamlan 28mm F1.4). You can find photos from all three of these lenses in the image gallery and perhaps get a sense of whether or not the X-T3’s autofocus and sensor produces images that you can love.
First of all, a few arguments for and against APS-C. After spending an extended period of time with the X-T3, I feel like it (along with Fuji’s robust catalog of lenses), may just be the best approach if your idea of mirrorless is small, light, and compact. Sony, Canon, and Nikon have demonstrated that if you want full frame and wide aperture lenses, then mirrorless ultimately has few advantages over DSLRs when it comes to size. It seems that the reduced size of the bodies is quickly lost when you pair pro-grade lenses with them, and the proliferation of using lenses via adapters only adds to that. The size of the lenses often means that one feels the need to use a grip extender, a battery grip, or something similar to help the balance and ergonomics of using these larger lenses.
But Fuji’s APS-C-centric focus has allowed them to both maximize the potential of an APS-C sensor and also develop lenses purposefully for that smaller sensor. And they have developed a lot of very good, very well received lenses with pro-grade features and apertures. For the most part, you can find an equivalent Fujinon APS-C lens to just about all the traditional DLSR focal length/aperture combinations. That’s simply not something you can say on every platform. Other brands focus primarily on full frame and, as a result, most of their APS-C lenses tend to be consumer-grade. If you want pro-grade lenses on, say, Sony (I own an a6500 APS-C body from them), you are often required to revert to full frame lenses, which, by nature, are larger and heavier because they have been designed to cover a full frame image circle. This quickly defeats the ideal of “smaller and lighter”. With most brands, you are buying lenses for the potential of using them on either APS-C or full frame, but Fuji’s approach is that “we are going to do APS-C“, and so they do it well. They’ve got an amazing selection of quality lenses (most at fairly reasonable price points).
I’ve run a number of sensor tests as a part of this round of reviews, as I had the new Canon EOS R, the Sony a7R3 and a6500, and the Fuji X-T3 on hand at the same time. It allowed me to test them all at their limits, and, while I do believe that there are still a few advantages for full frame, I can safely say that Fuji has really closed the gap and maximized the potential of their 26MP X-Trans Cmos sensor. The advanced autofocus system is also exceptionally good now, giving one the ability to easily get excellent action shots. The advantages that the DSLR approach have traditionally had are slowly being eroded away by advancing mirrorless technologies. I was able to get as good of high speed tracking images in some situations as I ever have before:
What about full frame? In an absolute sense, full frame remains my favorite platform. It still has more flexibility at the limits, and I often prefer the smoother gradations of both color and noise. The performance at higher ISOs remains my favorite, and I also feel the images have more tolerance for how you will approach sharpening. But I also found my typical preconceptions challenged somewhat during this review, and, while I still maintain my position, I can also safely say that the line between the two platforms has become somewhat blurred. I would say that there are very few shots that you cannot get with the Fuji X-T3.
So let’s take a closer look if the Fuji X-T3 meets your needs for photography and/or video. If you would prefer to watch your reviews, you can see my thorough video review here:
X-T3 Handling and Features
I would recommend watching this video, as there are a lot of dials and switches on the X-T3, and this is the best way to both see them and understand what they do.
There are two things that I think will be a potential deterrent to those considering a Fuji X-T3. The first is universal, and that is that it lacks In-Body-Image-Stablization (IBIS), and optical stabilizer in the camera body that applies to all attached lenses. This has been an extremely popular feature on Sony’s mirrorless cameras (and others), and Fuji actually employs it in their FUJIFILM X-H1 camera (and one would assume that the X-H2, when it arrives, will also employ IBIS). It would seem that Fuji is using this to differentiate the X-T3 from the more expensive X-H1, though at the moment the market is complicated, as the X-T3 actually has a number of superior specs – from resolution to buffer to video modes to a superior autofocus system. One would assume that the X-H2 will help clarify the market again by embracing the upgrades to the X-T3 along with some of its own (IBIS being one of them). From my perspective, a lack of IBIS is the only thing that really holds this camera back.
But others will have a second issue with a camera. The Fujfilm X-T3 has more physical controls on it than any modern camera I’ve seen. There are dials, switches, and buttons where many of the cameras functions can be accessed without ever looking at a menu. It’s a decidedly analog approach to a very digital camera, and I personally love it. It’s a classic SLR design (particularly in the optional silver finish that I’m reviewing) that reminds me a lot of my old Pentax Spotmatic film camera. It took me a few days to discover how to do everything I wanted to do (mostly because every camera manufacturer seems to have their own names and descriptions for certain functions. Case in point: Canon calls continuous autofocus “AF Servo”, Sony calls it “AF-C (Autofocus Continuous)”, while Fuji has Continuous AF, broken down into drive modes as CH (Continuous High) and CL (Continuous Low). Know that you may need to either spend a little time in the manual to learn all the functions, or, at the least, you should watch my video above that demonstrates the function of most of those dials and switches.
There are two “two layer” dials, with a top mode dial (one for ISO, the other for Shutter Speed), with a secondary dial underneath operated by a front facing lever. Underneath the ISO dial is the drive mode dial, allowing your to quickly choose basic things like Single AF, CH, and CL, but also to switch into video mode, bracketing exposures, panoramas, and more. Underneath the TV (shutter speed) dial is a secondary dial where you can select the metering mode. In my review of the Canon EOS R, I complained that it had one dial too few. Here I’ll take the opposite tack, as I don’t find a dial for controlling shutter speed to be the most efficient approach to selecting shutter speed and thus find it unnecessary. It can only select full stops (you go straight from 125th to 250th second, for example) and bottoms out at 1 second of exposure, which means that the shutter speed that you actually need may not even be accessible via the dial. The byproduct is that I personally only the dial for three settings: A (controlling shutter speed via one of the two wheels as per usual), B (Bulb Mode, ditto on selecting the value), and T (shutter speed priority, ditto on selecting the value).
The third main control dial is for Exposure Compensation, and it’s a dial that I’m always happy to have. It’s the quickest and most logical way to bias exposure in one direction or another if you are shooting in a mode like AV mode, which I often choose if I’m in lighting conditions where visually confirming exposure is more difficult (very bright conditions, for example). The On/Off dial is located around/under the shutter button, and I personally like this location. On the EOS R, for example, it is on the left side of the camera, requiring a more intentional activation (since most of the camera operation typically is right handed). This allows for very quick access, and is more similar to the Sony A7 series.
The shutter button itself also has a very classic style, as it is threaded on the inside to allow for customization (soft touch accessories, for example). There are two other control wheels, one located beneath the shutter button and the other located at the back near the thumb rest. These are typically going to be used for shutter speed and aperture value. What’s unique about these control wheels is that they also can be clicked and serve a dual function as a button as well. The rear wheel, for example, I currently have assigned to magnify the image when I’m manually focusing.
There is one final small switch located on the front of the camera, and it is a quick access AF Mode switch, which allows you to switch between M (Manual), C (Continuous), or S (Single Shot). Perhaps the best thing about this switch is that it gives you an easy, dedicated way to access Manual Focus and replaces an AF/MF switch on the lenses themselves. It works well once your muscle memory extends to remembering that it is there. What’s also useful is that on the front of the camera near the grip and on top of the camera between the dials are two Custom Function buttons. The front one (by default) is a quick access to drive mode settings based on your current drive mode. For example, if I’m in CL (Continuous Low), it opens up the menu setting where I can choose a speed for CL (from 3-5.7FPS). If I were in CH, it would give me both the mechanical and electronic shutter burst mode options. The second button by default gives you control options for Eye detection. Some of those options include selecting a priority for which eye (right or left) that you want focused on. It’s an interesting mechanic that does give some diversity from Sony’s approach.
Other physical controls take the form of seven buttons on the back of the camera along with a four-position directional pad (each direction can also be programmed for a different function). One of these is a dedicated Q (quick menu) button. This is similar to Canon’s approach, though I prefer Canon’s method of navigation in that menu. There are a number of options there (16, typically) in the Q Menu, which is good, but when you select one of those options with the tiny joystick also located on the back, the logical (at least for me) choice is to select the option you want to change by hitting either the OK button on clicking the little joystick (clicking it in works similarly to the OK button). Instead of opening up the options for that choice, however, it okays the choice already made and closes the Q menu.
What the camera actually wants you to do is to move over to the desired setting you want to change and then rotate the rear wheel to change the settings (without another dialogue box ever being opened). I don’t find this a very intuitive process even after spending more than a month with the camera and, more often than not, I’ll click either the joystick or the OK button and have to start the process over again. What’s interesting about this is that while you cannot use the touchscreen to select in the regular menus, you can tap on the icons for the various options in the Q menu and it will open up a dialogue box and allow to select the option you want (by a tap on it) in the way that you would expect the menu to work all the time.
The X-T3’s touchscreen is somewhere in between the Canon EOS R and the Sony a7R3 in functionality. It isn’t as responsive or useful as the EOS R (where all menu options can be accessed via touch), but it is much more useful than Sony’s (where no navigation can be done on the touchscreen). The X-T3 does allow for things like dragging the focus point around with a thumb when you are looking through the viewfinder, and will also allow one to tap an autofocus point and even take a photo through that means.
While Fuji does not use the fully articulating screen like the EOS R, it does improve on the tilting screen by allowing the screen to be tilted both horizontally and to be released on the left side (there’s a small release button there) and tilt vertically. This solves the problem whereby a tilting screen is useless if used in a vertical/portrait orientation. It’s a nice touch.
Fuji has a wide range of menu options, and nearly all controls can be customized to the user’s preference. Every camera maker has a different way of organizing such menus, and so expect to have to learn where everything is if you aren’t a long-time Fuji shooter, but I found the menus fairly logical once I began to learn how Fuji labels things. Everything is organized under size main groups: (Image Quality, AF/MF, Shooting Settings, Flash Settings, Movie Settings, and Setup). There is a seventh tab called “My” (My Menu) that will be populated once you select custom functions to be there. I like to task commonly used settings that I haven’t assigned to a physical control to that area.
An experienced user will probably enjoy the controls of the X-T3 (I do), but, as noted, not everyone will love the sheer number of controls. It will be intimidating to some. I view the X-T3 as being designed for those with a fairly strong grasp of camera operation, and probably not designed for beginners. You need to make a realistic evaluation of where you fall on that spectrum in evaluating if the X-T3 is the camera for you or not.
The natural grip on the X-T3 is nicely shaped, but not particularly robust. As per usual, a person with bigger hands (like myself) is going to find that their pinky finger has no natural place to go. Fuji does make a grip extender (the MHG-XT3), which helps with this. I used an inexpensive alternative from McoPlus (not yet available to the public) which I estimate will cost about a third of the price of the Fuji one and does a great job.
The McoPlus Metal Grip allowed me to have a thicker grip to hang onto along with enough length to give me a place to put my pinky finger. It is a sleek, tool-less design that mounts in seconds, and in a very useful addition, has Arca-Swiss compatible grooves along the bottom that allow it to quickly be attached to a tripod without the need of a quick-release plate. It adds a lot of functionality for very little money, and I found that it improved my ergonomic experience.
There is a little port on the front of the camera that is the flash sync port. It unscrews and pops off, but is also very small, so be careful not to lose it! On the left side of the camera is a cover that, when popped open, reveals the main connectivity ports, including a micro-HDMI, USB-C, Headphone, and Microphone port. Charging can be done via the USB-C port, and I was happy to find that even small power-banks would help to quickly charge the camera. This turned out to be a “life-saver” at an event I was shooting at, as I had put the camera in a bag with it left on, and various jostles had kept it active, so I discovered the battery was nearly dead when I went to shoot in the evening portion of the event. I ran out to my camera and grabbed the Rescue A6 that I keep in my car. Within about 20 minutes I was able to charge the camera enough to complete the event with plenty of battery to spare. Above this is a separate, smaller cover that hides the remote shutter release port.
The right side of the camera houses the card slots. The X-T3 has two UHS-II compatible SD card slots, which is something a lot of us value for a variety of reasons. This helps the camera to feel more professional grade.
On the bottom of the camera there is a battery door. The X-T3 uses the NP-W126S battery pack. CIPA has rated this battery pack at 390 shots with the X-T3, which I would call conservative. It doesn’t seem to eat batteries at the same pace as the a6500, but it would be wise to have a spare or two. There’s also a covered port where one could connect the VG-XT3 vertical battery grip if one required more battery life. It should be noted, however, that the X-T3 does not require a battery grip to enable faster burst rates like previous cameras. All of the abilities of the camera are native to it.
The X-T3 sports a OLED electronic viewfinder design with 3.69m-dot resolution and a high 0.75x magnification, specs which rival the Sony a7R3 and exceed those of the a73. Not a bad place to be for a camera that costs literally half as much as the a7R3. It has a good refresh rate (100fps) and I saw no blackout under any kind of shooting conditions. It’s just one more way that the X-T3 exceeds its apparent market position.
The camera body is made of a magnesium alloy and sports quality weather sealing. There’s a lot of great stuff happening in the build and design of the Fuji X-T3, but the sheer number of physical controls is somewhat polarizing (according to feedback from my audience thus far) and the lack of IBIS is a factor that may sway some to Sony despite Fuji’s other advantages.
Fuji X-T3 Autofocus Performance
Improved autofocus is one of the core areas of improvement with the X-T3. People’s expectation of autofocus performance of mirrorless bodies has continued to grow, but fortunately the technology seems to be rapidly improving. The X-T3 has a completely new sensor with higher resolution, and autofocus is actually part of that package. In Fuji’s words, “The sensor’s design also includes an expanded phase-detection autofocus system, which now has an impressive 2,160,000 points that cover nearly the entire sensor area. This AF system delivers faster, more accurate focusing performance along with low-light sensitivity down to EV -3. Complementing the imaging and focusing capabilities, an updated X-Processor 4 is also featured, and delivers faster focus response for subject tracking and also supports Face- and Eye-Detection AF when working in AF-C mode and when recording video.
The X-Processor 4 also utilizes four CPU units for faster image processing and it benefits overall performance with AF speeds as low as 0.06 sec. 0.17 sec shooting intervals, 0.045 sec shutter lag, and a 0.3 sec start-up time. Quick continuous shooting is possible, up to 11 fps with a mechanical shutter or 30 fps with an electronic shutter and a 1.25x crop, and internal UHD 4K60 video recording with 10-bit output is also supported.“
I had a unique opportunity to test these claims as I was simultaneously testing Fuji’s first super-telephoto lens, the XF 200mm F2 OIS (a stunning lens, by the way). In a sense, Fuji had to develop an incredible autofocusing camera to make this lens worth buying, so I think that the development of these two products had some overlap. What is certain is that the Fuji X-T3 has a remarkably robust autofocus system on a lot of levels. As noted, it has the part which frankly I consider mostly marketing, namely the 2,160,000 phase detect points. Every camera maker has different ways of disseminating this kind of information, but it’s obviously essentially impossible to either verify or debunk this claim, as all of those focus points actually boil down to 425 selectable AF points (which is about all you would ever want packed over an APS-C sensor anyway!).
The vast majority of the sensor is covered with AF points, and the improved sensitivity of those points means that many of you who have lenses that you’ve used with previous Fuji cameras will probably note a marked improvement in your low light focus. Because I don’t have a history with Fuji, I can’t tell you the difference. What I can say, however, is that I had good focus results (though some reduced focus speed, as per usual) in very low light conditions. It always helps to have an edge on your subject (a contrast point) to aid AF, but I was able to lock accurate focus in what was a 1/17th second exposure at ISO 12,800 – essentially a dark room with a little bit of light spilling in through a doorway. My focus accuracy in general was nothing short of excellent.
We might as well start with the extreme – high speed tracking.
First of all, in a camera like the X-T3 you have the opportunity to select different AF-C custom modes, though my Fuji expert (one of the Fuji Guys!) feels like the standard “Multi-Purpose” mode often does the best job. I tried a few different modes but didn’t notice a major difference in the effectiveness. Still, it’s worth taking a look and trying to match the mode to your priorities for a given sequence. The other thing that I noticed was that I got much better results when I started off a sequence with focus locked rather than trying to pick it up on a moving target while already taking photos. I think you are better served by taking a second and locking focus on the moving target before holding the shutter button down and bursting.
You have the ability to fire off a LOT of frames very quickly. The limit with a mechanical shutter is 11 FPS (with full continuous autofocus). This is obviously exceptionally fast, and represents the practical limit of what I would ever need and more. This is very close to what the Nikon D5 or Canon 5D Mark IV are producing…and at higher resolution to boot! Where the X-T3 lags behind those sports/action cameras is in the buffer, where the X-T3 can capture about 36 RAW images or 145 JPEGs. That’s still very useful, but that also means that you can fill the buffer in a little over three seconds! You can select an 8FPS option to give you a little longer sequence and still plenty of frames.
If you want to go the other direction, however, you can switch to Electronic Shutter mode and jump to 20 FPS with continuous autofocus. Be ready to nail your subject, though, as your buffer drops to 34 RAW files or 79 JPEGS. In RAW you’ve got less than 2 seconds before the buffer fills. But that’s not all! You can also switch to a Sports Crop Mode (1.25x) that gives you a bit of additional reach but also reduces the size of each file so that you can extend your buffer. You can select a 10FPS mode that will give you nearly 39 RAW (uncompressed) or 500 JPEGs. Jumping to 20FPS gives you 34 RAW and 114 JPEGs, and finally a 30FPS option (WOW!!) that gives you 33 RAW frames or 60 JPEGS. The latter mode is obviously for very unique circumstances, and it will be imperative to time things properly. Fuji’s guidelines on buffer seem to bear up in testing.
One final plus is that the camera does quite a good job of quickly clearing the buffer without the penalties a lot of Sony cameras have (sitting and waiting!) The combination of the buffer, frame rate, and an excellent focus system make this a surprisingly capable action camera.
My “torture test” has been tracking our dog (about a 23 pound King Charles Cavalier Spaniel) playing high speed fetch. It’s a fairly small subject moving at a very high rate of speed, and inferior focus systems just can’t track this combination. This is compounded in this case by the fact that a 200mm lens at F2 on an APS-C body has a depth of field at 20 feet of less than 3 inches (8 cm or so). That’s a very small margin for error, and thus it is a very, very demanding scenario. I found that when I started a sequence with focus locked, I was able to have accurate focus on a high percentage of the frames in a burst (and at 11 frames per second on the X-T3, those add up quickly!). Here’s one such sequence:
You can see that focus remained locked until the subject got too close to the camera. Here’s another favorite little sequence because of the nature of the shots with my Bengal cat chasing the dog rather than the other way around:
I also had excellent success when tracking a panning sequence, though in many ways this is less demanding as the distance between the subject and the camera changes less significantly. What this sequence shows, however, is that the focus system effectively keeps from being “distracted” away from the subject.
I’ve done a little post-processing on one of the photos from the burst and added a crop so that you can just how well focused these images actually are:
If I didn’t start off with focus lock and just started a burst, however, my success rate went way down, with the camera/lens often not picking up focus until late in the burst (if at all). With such a small margin for error (shallow DOF), even a minor miss is pretty obvious.
I don’t doubt that with more familiarity with the combination, I could get even better results. Still, what I’ve seen is enough for me to know that this will make a very effective action pairing (X-T3 + XF 200) for photographers. If I can get successful results with the scenario described above, then more typical action (larger target and lower rate of speed) should be very easy.
Moving on to more moderate subjects, I found that I experienced universally excellent autofocus consistency throughout the course of my review period. You have a number of different focus modes you can access along with multiple ways to interact with those focus points. You can use your thumb on the touchscreen to move an autofocus point or zone around, or you can use the little joystick to do something similar. Which is better for you will ultimately be a matter of preference. As this photo and crop show, however, autofocus is extremely precise.
When I was just learning the camera and the XF 200mm, I was desperate for subjects. A neighborhood cat had strayed into our yard, and I wanted a subject, so I took a few photos. There’s nothing particularly wonderful about this photo, but I was curious about the nature of the autofocus accuracy. I was pleasantly surprised by the intuitive nature of the autofocus system that locked onto the cat even though it was mostly hidden behind a little oak sapling. I felt like this was an intelligent autofocus moment, and it increased my respect for the abilities of this system.
The X-T3 has its own version of Eye AF (and mentioned in the previous section), which actually allows you to prioritize what eye you want in focus (a clever feature). While Sony’s Eye AF seems more robust in its ability to lock onto eyes and track them in real time even with exaggerated movement, I actually found the Fuji’s performance just as good for practical purposes. Let’s start with events, where I found I had a near perfect track record of locking on faces/eyes with either the very expensive XF 200 F2 but also the relatively inexpensive XF 35mm F2.
The same was true when I did portraits with the X-T3. I had essentially all perfectly-focused images from some portrait sessions with multiple lenses. The full spread of AF points means that you can essentially put focus anywhere and get accurate results.
I had very little to complain about with the autofocus performance I got from the X-T3. It handily leaves the nearest competitor that I’m familiar with – the Sony a6500 – in the dust. The AF is more sophisticated, faster, and has much better controls attached to it. My final illustration was taken in deep twilight conditions, ISO 6400, with the 200mm F2 + 1.4x TC, so a 280mm F2.8. Despite the dusk lighting conditions, in shadow, with a long lens/TC combination, autofocus accuracy is nailed.
Fuji X-T3 Sensor Performance
I had the opportunity to test the X-T3’s sensor against a number of other mirrorless competitors, including the Canon EOS R and Sony a7R3 (my stand-in for the a73, which I don’t have) and the Sony a6500. I tested a number of different metrics and came away pretty impressed with what Fuji has done. Every camera is a balance between different priorities, but I think Fuji has managed to strike a pretty good balance with its new sensor in the X-T3.
From Fuji, “[with] a newly developed sensor, the X-T3 features an APS-C-format 26.1MP X-Trans CMOS 4 sensor, which has a back-illuminated design to afford smooth tonal rendering, improved low-light performance, and a low native ISO 160 setting. As an X-Trans sensor, it still utilizes the randomized pixel array, too, which provides a high degree of image quality and sharpness due to the omission of an optical low-pass filter. Versus conventional pixel patterns, the X-Trans design more closely mimics the organic nature of film in order to produce nuanced colors and tonal transitions, while also reducing moiré and aliasing.”
All of this sounds very good, of course, but how does it play out in real life?
Fuji X-T3 ISO Performance
First of all, this is my first time testing a camera with a base ISO HIGHER than ISO 100. I’ve tested a few with a lower-than-100 base ISO, but never a higher one. This proved a little bit of a challenge for some of my comparisons, since all of my mental maths for calculating proper shutter speeds and stops is based on a base ISO of 100. Those quandaries aside, I actually didn’t find the higher base ISO affected my day to day shooting very much other than ending up with some different shutter speeds than I’m accustomed to seeing. The native ISO range of the camera is more limited than any I’ve reviewed in modern history, running from ISO 160 to 12,800, with an expanded range going doing to ISO 80 and moving up to 51,200 on the high end. I personally don’t ever use expanded ISO range, though from what I’ve heard, Fuji tends towards the conservative end of things when calculating the ISO abilities of its cameras. After running extensive tests, I will say that I believe the X-T3 to be very competent throughout its native ISO range. This shot is at ISO 6400:
The best way to see how the X-T3 performs at higher ISO values and how it compares to the other cameras is by watching this “Sensor Wars” episode.
It would be difficult to disseminate all the information covered in the video, but I’ll hit some of the highlights. At ISO 1600 there is virtually no difference from base ISO (160) on global examination of the image. There is no additional apparent noise, color fidelity remains the same, and global contrast looks identical.
If we zoom in to a pixel level, we see, well, pretty much the same thing. You might be able to find slightly more noise if you looked really hard, but without the two images side by side, I doubt you’d be able to spot it. This is still a very, very clean result.
If we advance two more ISO stops, to ISO 6400, we see pretty much the same thing on a global level. If I compare the ISO 1600 result (on the left) with the ISO 6400 result (on the right), they look essentially the same.
At a pixel level it is possible to see some increased noise now, though it tends to show up mostly on places that are smooth and have no texture of their own. Contrast and color fidelity remain strong, and I’m not seeing any real color banding or color casts.
At max ISO (normal range), I can’t objectively say I see much of a difference on a global level, though I know that there is additional roughness at a pixel level. Earlier cameras would often deliver a low contrast, color-tinted result at their ISO limits, but that’s not at all the case with the X-T3. The color and contrast at ISO 12,800 looks nearly identical to the ISO 6400 result.
At a pixel level we can primarily see additional roughness (noise). I would classify it as being noticeable but not destructive.
The most natural competitor for the X-T3 is the Sony a6500. They looked more similar than different, though I would say that I found the a6500’s noise pattern a little rougher.
Fuji says that the X-Trans sensor produces a more film-grain-like noise pattern. I’m not sure I can see much of a difference. Here’s a real world shot at maximum ISO (12,800). I’ll let you decide for yourself whether that looks like film to you or not. I’ll include a monochrome to help you pretend that it is film.
Fuji claims that they are delivering “full-frame-equivalent” results with their APS-C X-Trans sensors. Obviously the recent full frame competitors have a much greater ISO range (up to a native ISO 40,000 + expanded), though, as noted, Fuji does tend to be a little conservative on that front. When I compare the new EOS R or my Sony a7R3, I do find the size of the pixels/noise less obvious, but neither is it marked difference:
The most obvious difference would be if I downsample the resolution of the a7R3 down to the 6240 x 4160 resolution of the X-T3.
That’s not entirely fair, however, as the X-T3 actually has a great pixel density than the a7R3. A rough calculation of the pixel density on its 1.53x crop factor sensor means that you would need a full frame camera with around 60 megapixels to have a similar pixel density. The a7R3 has more megapixels in an absolute sense, but relative to sensor size it actually has less. Pixel pitch is a measurement of the distance between each individual pixel (from the center of one to the center of the next. The a7R3 has a pixel pitch of 4.5 µm; the X-T3 has a pixel pitch of 3.74 µm. To put it more clearly: the Fuji X-T3 has a tremendous number of pixels packed into a a very small areas. So, the fact that it does as well as it does in this comparison speaks well of what Fuji has accomplished. You are able to get highly detailed images with relatively low noise even at higher ISO settings. Pretty impressive, really.
Fuji X-T3 Dynamic Range Performance
I’ve got a great video episode that both teaches dynamic range and compares the X-T3 to other leading cameras in this area both at base ISO and at ISO 6400. Watching this will be the best to get the information.
I value dynamic range within a camera in two specific areas: the ability to cleanly lift shadows without introducing noise or color banding and the ability to recover highlights without introducing “hot spots” where information has been permanently lost. The current leaders in this category are the best sensors from Sony and Nikon (which may be a redundant statement). The value of good dynamic range is in the margins of photography, as eliminating shadows or recovering blown out highlights doesn’t always produce the better image. Having good dynamic range (particularly if you shoot RAW), allows you a lot more creative vision over how the final image will turn out. Take this image, for example. The original is pretty flat and lifeless. I’ve had to do this review during some rather poor conditions when the lighting has been mostly grey and flat. Still, with a few tweaks in Lightroom (perhaps 20 seconds of work), I’ve created an image that is perhaps a little too vivid. If I were sharing this image I would refine things a little further, but it does a good job of illustrating what dynamic range in a modern camera allows you to do in post. You can see much more information in both the highlights and shadows, and that’s dynamic range at work.
There are many scenes in nature where the variance between bright areas and shadows exceeds a camera’s ability to record the whole range of light (our eyes are extraordinarily good at this). The ability to recover highlights means that a blown out sky might be recovered and add a lot of visual interest to an image, or perhaps to eliminate “hot spots” on a person’s face that has gotten overexposed by a flash. The ability to recover shadows allows you to, for example, underexpose a bit so that the sky is not blown out while still safely recovering information in the shadows. It can also be a lifesaver if a flash doesn’t fire, for example, or settings are wrong, and a crucial image that could have been lost can be saved in post. This is the real-world value of dynamic range.
In my tests, I found that the X-T3 did an excellent job of recovering shadows very cleanly. Here we have an image that I purposefully underexposed by four stops. As you can see in the original RAW image, there is very little information left there. In post I added those four stops back into the recovered image. What we find is an image that has been recovered with very little penalty. The X-T3 does excellent with shadow recovery.
Even if we look in at a pixel level, we see very little noise introduced and no color casts or banding.
As is often the case, highlight recovery lags behind shadow recovery. I’ve only done a three stop overexposure here, and yet you can still see that there are a few unnaturally bright areas in the global scene where some information has been lost. This is what we call hotspots.
Taking a look at a pixel level, we can see places like the facade of the Spotmatic where some of the texture has been permanently lost. Increased dynamic range would allow that to be recovered.
Sony is class-leading in this category, and the main reason is in highlight recovery. I find other cameras (including the X-T3) competitive in shadow recovery, but where Sony pulls ahead is in highlight recovery.
Here’s a final little anecdote on this topic. I was shooting at an event, and a photographer friend was very excited to try the X-T3 and XF 200mm F2 combo. Unfortunately he didn’t know the controls, so his early shots were, well, pretty brutally underexposed as the event was over and I had been shooting for stage lighting conditions while he was randomly shooting subjects under house lighting. My first inclination was to just delete the following image, but then I thought, “What a great opportunity to show a real-world example of recovery”. Unfortunately the image itself is probably not worth recovery, but it does illustrate the point even under far less than ideal lighting conditions (and at ISO 1600 rather than base ISO). This is a 3-stop recovery and I have done nothing but add exposure and adjust the white balance – no noise reduction of any kind.
The Fujifilm X-T3 is competitive within the segment but not class-leading when it comes to dynamic range. I would estimate that it sits around 1.5 stops behind the best from Sony.
X-T3 Resolution and Detail
As I’ve previously noted, the X-T3 has a lot of pixels packed into it’s APS-C sensor. 24 MP has been the previous standard limit, though Samsung did push past that to 28 MP in the NX500. While the rumors ahead of release were that Fuji would do something similar, instead we see that they elected to split the difference at 26 MP. This is, frankly, where Fuji’s commitment to APS-C over full frame will be a challenge. We’ve already noted that this 26MP APS-C sensor has a much higher pixel density than the highest resolution full frame camera (at the moment of this release that remains to be the Canon 5DsR with its 50.6MP sensor and pixel pitch of 4.13 µm. Without some kind of breakthrough technology it will be hard to push resolution much higher on APS-C without introducing too many other compromises. In the past few camera generations we’ve seen full frame cameras jump from around 22MP to the 50MP of the 5DsR, whereas over that same period APS-C had gone from 18-20MP to as high as 28MP (and that camera is no longer being produced). Not quite the same giant leap.
All of that aside, however, the Fuji X-T3 is delivering the most detailed APS-C images I’ve personally seen. There is a tremendous amount of information packed into photos, and I’ve found the resolution perfectly suited to my own work. Look at the amount of information in the fur of our dog (and this is at F2 from that amazing XF 200mm F2).
In many ways resolution has more to do with marketing than reality, as most photographers are sharing photos that are displayed on screens with much, much lower resolution than what even the lowest end mirrorless or DSLR camera is capable of. My main display is a 4K monitor, but if you did the same calculations for “megapixels” with it’s resolution, it would be only a 8.2MP display. There are some 8K displays out there now (that’s a 33MP equivalent), but at current sizes you would have to look at them from about 12 inches away to appreciate the difference…and at the moment there aren’t really consumer graphics cards that can drive that kind of resolution.
Most photos are being viewed at much lower resolutions than what the camera that captured them is capable of producing. There are some exceptions to this rule. If you shoot commercial photography, for example, your work might need to be blown up to billboard size. If you do a lot of large format printing, a very high resolution camera might make a difference. But for most people in most situations the 26 MP resolution of the X-T3 is going to be plenty. There’s even a crop mode at 1.25x which gives you a still-useful 16.6 MP resolution but with additional reach (and also enables some of the insane frame rate options mentioned above). I found that I’m getting the most detailed APS-C images that I’ve gotten before.
Even when using an inexpensive Kamlan 28mm F1.4 that I reviewed on Sony earlier this year (I grabbed a copy of the lens for Fuji X because I like it so much), I was able to get incredible amounts of detail:
I think the amount of detail in images will be very satisfying to end users. There’s one minor Fuji quirk that may be related to the X-Trans arrangement on the sensor, and that is that sharpening of images needs to be handled a little differently. When you start to push sharpening on X-T3 images, a pattern almost like tiny brush strokes starts to emerge. Now, maybe you’ll like this, but I can definitely say that it is different behavior than what I’ve seen before. I really noticed this when I compared the E-mount version of the Kamlan on the a6500 to the X-mount version on the X-T3 and shot the same sharpness test. The two images sharpen very differently in Lightroom (look closely to see the pattern).
There are articles out there that explain techniques to minimize this behavior if it bothers you.
Color science is a fairly divisive topic. I’ve found that my work in comparing color science has been both popular and controversial. Here’s at least part of the reason why: people don’t all see color identically. This has become evident based on a number of photos that circulate around the Internet featuring a dress or sandals that people perceive to be very different colors. Part of this has to do with the way that people’s eyes process color (some have more red cones in the eye, others more green), but it also comes down to the reality that in the Internet age people view images on screens that vary widely in their color calibration and accuracy. Put simply: not everyone is seeing the same thing.
I use two displays in my personal desktop array. My primary display is a high-end BenQ SW271 (I reviewed it here), with my secondary display being an older Dell U2410. I calibrate both of them on a monthly basis using a Spyder5 Pro. I also view my photos regularly on the screen of my iPad Pro and my Dell XPS 13 laptop (which also has a high end 4K display). In short, I use a lot of high quality screens in my work, and, based on what I see on them (and from prints), I feel like Canon produces the best, most natural color.
A Fuji portrait in Classic Chrome (with some tweaks).
The color from the X-T3 seems closer to Canon than Sony, from what I can tell, but it doesn’t handle identically. I find that you have to learn how to process color from each camera maker (and sometimes down to the individual camera). After nearly a year with the Sony a7R3, I find that I’m much happier with the color I can get out of it…but I had to learn how to handle the color in post. I did that by developing custom profiles over time.
Getting good color out of Fuji is less complicated, though I don’t feel that I’ve yet maximized the potential of what I will be able to do. It starts with selecting a color profile in camera or in post. Fuji’s approach to this is a little different, as instead of basic color profiles they instead offer film simulations with names that evoke classic film stocks (the company is called FujiFILM after all!) This includes stocks like Provia, Velvia, Astia, Classic Chrome, and more. I’m still experimenting, but I most frequently reach for Classic Chrome. It’s a little less saturated but often has a tasteful look to it. I find Velvia (which is Vivid) too intense for me. Provia is the Standard, and it is fairly neutral. Astia is “Soft”, and it’s another one I like. Your mileage may vary, and what I like for one type of image is not necessarily what I like for another.
Still, here’s a look an image with a number of different profiles applied in Lightroom. First, Adobe Standard:
Now Astia (Soft)
Now Classic Chrome
I feel like I’ve been able to develop a feel from Fuji color fairly quickly, and, while I’m not as familiar with it yet as I am with Canon (and to a lesser extent, Sony), I’m very happy with the images I’ve been able to get from it.
You’ve also got a lot of great options on the monochrome front, with classic film emulations but also the ability to go into the menus and tweak the look in several ways. For example, if I select Acros, I’ve got the added ability to select whether to apply a Yellow Filter (more contrast, darker skies), Red (slightly more extreme of yellow), or Green (for better skin tones). There is also an option to warm or cool the monochrome image in camera. You can move to near-sepia on the warm side and near-selenium on the cool side. I’ve included three different looks in this little gallery, including an Acros monochrome, an Eterna Cinema look, and a Provia Standard:
You can also control grain (if that’s your thing) in camera as well. Most of these tweaks in-camera will only matter if you are shooting JPEGs. If you are shooting RAWs you can do all of this in post. Many that have chosen Fuji have done so for their ability to shoot JPEGs and get what they like right out of camera. If that sounds like you, then the Fuji X-T3 might be a great choice. It’s certainly got a lot of customization available for influencing the output.
I would recommend that you take a long look at the Image Galleries page to see if you like what is there – most of which has received minimal processing so you can make a fair determination.
Fuji X-T3 Video
If you’ve read this far, then you’ve probably figured out that the X-T3 is definitely a feature-packed camera. The same applies to the video front. Fuji says this, “More than a stills camera, the X-T3 offers an enticing array of video capabilities, including internal UHD 4K60p video recording at 4:2:0 10-bit, as well as 4K60p 4:2:2 10-bit via HDMI output, both at up to 400 Mb/s—and simultaneous external and internal recording is possible. DCI 4K30 and Full HD 1080p120 recording is also possible, and video files can be saved using either MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 or HEVC/H.265 compressions, and 4K. Greatly benefitting overall video performance, the speed of the quad-CPU X-Processor 4 enables fast read speeds of 17 ms when recording 4K60 video, which helps to reduce rolling shutter distortion when filming moving subjects.
In addition to the supported 10-bit color depth, the X-T3 also includes the F-Log gamma setting, which provides a flat picture for use in advanced color grading software during editing. This maximizes the potential dynamic range in difficult scenes and image adjustments can be made, as well, to highlight tone, shadow tone, color, and sharpness. When working in F-Log, an updated noise reduction algorithm is available along with 4K inter-frame noise reduction, and the Minimum sensitivity has been lowered to ISO 640 to suit working in a broader range of scene types.”
Bottom line is that Fuji has nailed the specifications. From the bitrates to the frame rates (4K60!) to the inclusion of F-Log, there are a host of choices here. My experience with the video is that the X-T3 is capable of producing beautiful footage either with the standard film emulations or with F-Log. You can see some footage in the final video review.
I’ve got two criticisms on the video front. One will apparently be solved via firmware update soon, according to this article. Currently the X-T3 has a 4GB file limit, after which the camera instantly starts a new file. For many people that’s not a big deal, but I use these cameras to record longer format clips for my YouTube Channel (in 4K), and I had four separate files after one of my reviews that I filmed on the X-T3. It just creates more work for me, as I synchronize audio in post, so having to do that four times rather than once creates more steps for me. The V2.0 firmware is supposed to eliminate that limitation (along with introducing some other new specs).
The second issue that I saw may or may not be related to the two lenses that I had on hand to test with. I found that focus transitions during video AF weren’t as smooth as what I would like. There was at times a visible stepping instead of a smooth transition. It appears that this is an area where Fuji lags a bit behind Canon and Sony.
Those minor criticisms aside, however, this is an amazing little video camera. It’s got a LOT of tech packed into it, and so far I haven’t run into any overheating issues.
The FUJIFILM X-T3 is, quite simply, the most versatile, well-rounded APS-C camera of any type that I’ve ever seen…mirrorless or otherwise. It may be the most compelling reason to NOT go full-frame out there, particularly if you value the smaller/lighter philosophy. Fuji has developed a wonderful ecosystem of lenses to support their cameras, and without question they have the best selection of higher-grade, better performing lenses designed specifically for APS-C out there. Most of these lenses are priced reasonably when compared to the full frame equivalents for other systems. The X-T3 has a great focus system, excellent image quality, strong sensor performance, and impressive frame rates both for action shooting and for filming. I’ve got only one serious complaint, and that is Fuji’s choice to not include IBIS (In-Body-Image-Stabilization) and cede that major advantage to Sony. Some may be a bit daunted by the massive amounts of physical controls, though I personally enjoy that aspect of the camera, and one always has the option to utilize the Quick or Regular menus to make changes instead. Still, I think some would fear dials and settings getting changed and then not knowing how to “fix” things.
There are very few images you can’t get with with the X-T3, as both its focus system and sensor are capable of a lot. It’s price (right under $1500 USD) makes it feel like a bargain when you consider all that it has to offer. If you want a small, light, versatile camera, look no further than the Fujfilm X-T3. It might just make you this happy:
- Beautiful build with a classic sensibility
- Excellent focus system that exceeds anything from Fuji previously
- Extremely fast frame rates with continuous autofocus
- Tracking ability works well
- 26MP X-Trans sensor produces good detail, ISO performance, and dynamic range
- Great video specs, including 4K60P options
- Huge amounts of customization available for images and controls
- Solid ergonomics
- Great lens selection
- Performance available without the need for any accessories
- Flushes buffers quickly
- No IBIS
- Some may find number of physical controls overwhelming
- Battery life is average at best
- Video AF transitions not as smooth as Canon or Sony
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