In the midst of more camera companies stepping up and entering the mirrorless camera market with full frame cameras galore, Fujifilm is launching its next generation APS-C. And make no mistake, the X-T3 is indeed next generation APS-C mirrorless.
The debacle will be inevitable. Should I go “full-frame” or stick with APS-C or even M43? But this is nothing new. Sony and Leica have been doing full-frame mirrorless for quite some time. But now we have Canon and Nikon in the game. Let’s just agree on one thing: Added competition is a consumers best friend!
Fujifilm has always stated that APS-C delivers the best compromise between image quality and size of gear. They entered the medium format mirrorless segment with an intention to offer supreme mirrorless image quality and resolution slightly disregarding size. Whether or not this dual format strategy is clever remains to be seen.
Marketing strategies put aside, let’s get on with the topic at hand, the newly announced Fujifilm X-T3 camera. I’ve had the chance to test out the camera for the past month or so, and I’ve tried my best to put it to the test in various situations. Not as deliberately as with my X-T2 review back in 2016, but I did manage to find some galloping horses.
Let’s just get the disclaimers out of the way first, so we can continue on common ground.
Disclaimer: The camera used in this review is a pre-production prototype camera. Image quality might therefore not be final.
Disclaimer II: All productshots of the camera are shot by me for Fujifilm Corp.
Disclaimer III: I’m an official X-photographer. That’s spelled brand-ambassador. My views are most likely as biased as they come. This being said, I’m an open and honest guy and I speak my opinions. I have used, and still use to this day, all other imaginable camera systems, be they analogues, digital or pinhole. Whether you believe my views of this camera or not, at least you get to see some colourful images of horses 😛
All is new at the frontline
This writeup is bound to get a little long, since basically everything inside the X-T3 is new and next-generation. In line with what Fujifilm have been doing with the X100 series, they’re keeping exterior refinements to a minimum, under the common sense moniker to “not fix what isn’t broken!”
So let’s start out by looking at the very core of this machine. The sensor and processor.
These are the heart and brains of the X-T3, and they’re both a real step forward in terms of dynamics, IQ and speed.
A lot of talk always revolves around the sensor qualities itself, while a lot of people tend to forget about the processor. This is a paradox since the sensor is basically a lightsensitive plate, while the processor is actually what interprets, analyses and renders the final image that you see in your output. So if you like Fujifilm colours and IQ, that isn’t the sensor talking. Thats the processor.
All new backside illuminated 26.1MP sensor
The new X-Trans 4 sensor inside the X-T3 is a backside illuminated sensor. What this means is well described at Wikipedia:
A traditional, front-illuminated digital camera is constructed in a fashion similar to the human eye, with a lens at the front and photodetectors at the back. This traditional orientation of the sensor places the active matrix of the digital camera image sensor—a matrix of individual picture elements—on its front surface and simplifies manufacturing. The matrix and its wiring, however, reflect some of the light, and thus the photocathode layer can only receive the remainder of the incoming light; the reflection reduces the signal that is available to be captured.
A back-illuminated sensor contains the same elements, but arranges the wiring behind the photocathode layer by flipping the silicon wafer during manufacturing and then thinning its reverse side so that light can strike the photocathode layer without passing through the wiring layer.
What this will do in day to day shooting is offer a little bit more light gathering ability, and hence a little more dynamics. We should see less noise at higher ISO since digital amplification of signal can be reduced, as well as a little bit of a dynamics increase.
The most notable result of this is that the base ISO on the X-T3 is now ISO160 as opposed to the ISO200 on the X-Trans 3 sensors. Extended ISO goes down to ISO80.
The other new thing on this sensor is that it now has a 100% phase detection autofocus coverage. That means that edge to edge, you will be able to use the far superior PDAF instead of being limited to CDAF in the outer portions of the frame.
The low light limit of PDAF has also been lowered from -1EV in the older generation to an impressive -3EV. In real life, trust me, this works VERY well.
The all new X-Processor 4
This is where things get really interesting. The new processor in the X-T3 is a true powerhouse, that solves a lot of the issues with speed that the X-Processor Pro couldn’t quite handle.
Most notably is a much faster readout, so you can now have blackout free EVF shooting at 30fps. Albeit in a crop mode, but still. It handles an insane amount of data readout. There are a lot of notable speed improvements, so I will mention the most important ones here.
Speed and AF abilities
The X-T3 now handles fps bursts of up to 30 fps in a new 1.25x sports-crop-mode. This mode results in 16.6MP images, and when combined with the electronic shutter (ES) you get completely EVF blackout free 30fps shooting. When shooting RAW + jpeg in this mode the buffer will fill after 33 shots, but when shooting jpeg only it will handle 60 frames in the buffer. Without the sportscrop mode, the X-T3 will do 20fps with ES and 11fps using mechanical shutter. The buffer in these modes will hold 36 shots of RAW+jpeg and between 80 and 145 shots in jpeg only mode.
The tracking in these highspeed modes are continuous. That mens that shooting a horse coming straight towards you a galloping speed can actually be held in focus with the 200mm f/2 shot wide open. I was quite impressed with this, so I have made an example of it, and packaged 33 consecutive shots for you to download and check out for yourself. The shots are jpegs SOOC, only resized for uploading.
You can download them HERE
You now have an option of pre-shooting with the ES. What the camera does is starting to take images already at halfpressing the shutter. It it’s constantly filling and clearring the buffer, so as to be perfectly ready and in focus for when you depress shutter completely. I used this for most of the horse-shooting in this review.
In regards to autofocus points you now have up to 425 AF points as opposed to the 325 on the X-T2/X-H1. This obviously aids in gaining more precision from the AF system.
Eyetracking has been improved considerably, and is now very very precise, and once locked on it is quite hard to get rid of it. Trust me, my kids tried at numerous occasions, and failed 😀
I don’t use this feature much, since I’m a one-shot-kind-of-guy, but I know that a lot of you guys use this feature vigorously, and you will be glad to know that it has indeed been improved quite a bit.
Color Chrome and B&W toning options
The new processor makes it possible to use the “COLOR CHROME” processing found presently only in the GFX50s. It’s a rendering to the jpegs that further enriches and deepens colorsaturation. I use it a lot on my GFX, but it does take approximately a second for the GFX to save files using this rendering. The speed of using this render on the X-T3 is considerably faster than on the GFX. I don’t know how much. But it is faster.
You now also have the option of selectively toning your black and white jpegs in real time, so you now have other toning options than the generic standard of “Sephia” toning. This is something that I really like, and if you use Acros with +1-2 in warmth you will get some very nicely toned black and white images.
In the manual focus department you now have the option to use the yellow coloured focus peaking, that was first introduced with the X-H1, and which feels way superior to me than red, white or blue.
But in addition Fujifilm included a very cool digital micro-prism focusing aid. It works just like the old micro prisms of old SLRs, only digitally emulated. It works really well for me, but only when using real vintage manual focusing glas. Using the focus-by-wire of the Fujinons isn’t a good option for this focusing aid.
Overall the new processor makes this camera fly in all aspects. With everything from AF, to burst, over general operating speed, things are screaming with this camera. It is a really noticeable change!
And as an added bonus, they even kept power consumption low, so now you have an added 10-15% longer battery life compared to the X-T2. This is definitely also a welcome change.
Build and feel
Whereas the innards of the X-T3 has seen a complete overhaul, the outer build of the camera has remained literally unchanged. Fujifilm has hit a home-run with the X-T2 layout, and they have been widely recognised for that. So they did the perfectly natural thing of not changing something that wasn’t broken.
Fujifilm did decide to launch both the black and silver option at the same time. So no more waiting for a graphite edition.
The silver coating is really nice, and has a little more sheen than the X-T20/X-E3 type silver.
The X-T3 has the exact same button layout as the X-T2. The same. Period.
They did include some new things though.
The X-T3 now has touchscreen operability as has become the norm in todays camera market. It works the same way as on the X-H1 giving you added 4 way swipe functionality, AF point and shooting options as well as the option to turn it off 😛
The diopter on the side of the EVF prism is now equipped with a lock. So to change it, simply pull, turn, and push it back to lock. FINALLY!
The Exposure compensation dial has been moved further inwards on the top plate to avoid any accidental turnings. Especially over time as with use resistance will lessen (at least it has on my X-T2)
All the ports that you need are now in the house itself. That means the Audio out, mic, HDMI, and new USB-C interface is now enclosed below the hatch on the left side of the camera, which as an added bonus is now detachable for use on video-rigs, gimbals etc etc.
The battery grip now serves as only that, a battery grip. No added boost speed, no added ports. Just a basic battery capacity expansion with buttons.
The camera is built in China, not Japan. Some people have already launched public concerns about this, but this to me is ridiculous. The build quality is every bit as fine as the X-T2 and if I didn’t look at the label behind the flipscreen, I wouldn’t even know. If it has any long term usage consequences remains to be seen. But we’ll see. For now it will be fair to expect lower production costs, and hence lower final consumer pricing.
As usual this is NOT my field of expertise. I still hold on to the oldschool thought of a picture speaking more than a thousand words. I did try out a bit of video with the X-H1, but my interest in video kind of faded from there. So this will mostly be a listing of featured that are now part of the X-T3 that will make video shooters very happy.
For starters you now have true 10 bit 4:2:0 video to SD card using the H.265 codec. You still have 4:2:2 10 bit out of the HDMI.
In both DCI and 4K you now have a maximum of 400mps at 30fps, and you can do 60fps at both full DCI and 4K.
These specs are quite impressive, and again support the claim the the new X-Processor 4 is one fast chip!
Fujifilm also finally added zebrastripes to the video helping aid, which I also now a lot of videographers will love (and have needed for a long time)
Image Quality and samples
Obviously this is what is important, all the fancy specs above boils down to this sole part of the camera. Image Quality.
This term is so subjective, so analysing it without going into pixel peeping territory can be quite challenging.
What I’m noticing is a slightly lesser grained appearance at the higher ISO’s. This is expected because of the new BSI sensor. It’s not really that pronounced, but it is there when you peep. The highlight control is also a little better and I found it quite a bit harder to blow the highlights than on my X-Pro2. If that is on account of me becoming a better shooter, I don’t know. Fact is that I had less blown highlights than I’m used to at the same settings and conditions.
I also really tried to provoke the problem that appeared on the X-Trans3 of seeing a gridded structure of the sensor when shot into direct sunlight. I simply couldn’t provoke it. Maybe they fixed that issue.
You get a couple of extra megapixels at 26mp comparison to the 24 in the X-Trans 3 sensors , which is always a welcome addition for some added cropping power. As long as it doesn’t compromise signal/noise ratio which it appears it hasn’t.
All in all image quality is better. I have not been able to test out RAW files, since there is no software supporting it for now, so all my experiences are based on in camera based renderings of jpegs which have always been very awesome with Fujifilm. The X-T3 is definitely no exception.
Below you can see my usual type of sample shots. Yes, they have been edited using software. But they are jpegs as a starting point. If you want SOOC jpegs with no editing applied, you need to view them somewhere else, which is probably quite possible 😉
Make sure you view the gallery, and you can download each image in the gallery as a scaled 3000px jpeg. All metadata is embedded.
The X-T3 is an amazing camera. It’s a true next generation APS-C sensor and processor in what has been tested as a perfect enclosure. Brand new on the inside, same on the outside. It has incredible speed bumps in regards to tracking, burstshooting, overall speed and rendering and the videospecs are really quite impressive. But what is more important to me is the added dynamics to the image quality. The X-T3 is a very serious mirrorless camera. And with ins conception I see no reason why I would buy a full frame mirrorless camera.
My good friend Tilman Jentzsch has made a great writeup using the X-T3 mainly at concerts: http://blickwechsel.ch/2018/09/06/a-first-look-at-the-fujifilm-x-t3/
The incredibly talented Bryan Minear also has a great writeup out. He has the right attitude focussing on images instead of spec talk: http://bryanminear.com/the-empire-strikes-back-xt3/