Fujifilm X-A3 Field Test Part I

Great image quality for the price, but there are some tradeoffs

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 08/29/2017

XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS: 230mm (345mm eq.), f/10, 1/500s, ISO 200.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.
Introduction

The Fujifilm X-A3 slots in as one of the more affordable interchangeable lens X-series cameras from Fujifilm. The camera includes consumer-oriented features such as a simplified control layout, touchscreen "selfie" display and a bevy of in-camera creative shooting modes. Considering its entry-level price point, the X-A3 still offers a lot of image quality performance for the price, and the X-series lenses are very versatile. Let's take a look at how the X-A3 handles in the real world.

Key Features and Info
  • 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor with traditional Bayer filter (not an X-Trans sensor)
  • Native ISO range of 200 to 6400
  • 3-inch tilting touchscreen display
  • Continuous shooting at up to around 6 frames per second
  • 1920 x 1080 resolution video recording at up to 60 frames per second
  • In-camera panorama shooting and other creative modes
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • $600 with 16-50mm kit lens

The X-A3 is compact and easy to use, but the display is poor in bright light

The Fujifilm X-A3 is a fairly compact mirrorless camera. It has a retro-inspired appearance and shape, and I like the look of it a lot. When it comes to the feel, I'm less smitten with the X-A3. Its front grip is quite small and the faux-leather covering doesn't offer much grip. The plastic body does not convey a particularly rugged camera, which isn't surprising given its low cost. When using a longer lens, such as the XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS, the small front grip makes it hard to keep the camera feeling balanced.

I like the control layout of the X-A3, though. It has a pair of command dials, both of which are easily accessible with your right thumb while shooting. There's a small function button to the right of the shutter release which by default controls ISO. It's a very small button, but it is easy to press nonetheless. The only aspect of the controls I don't like is that the rear buttons don't have much travel distance and sit very close to the camera body making them somewhat difficult to press.

The 3-inch touchscreen on the back of the camera is very nice overall. It tilts 180 upward and around 45 downward. To use it as a selfie screen, you have to slide the display slightly so that it isn't obstructed by the top of the camera. The tilting mechanism feels pretty sturdy. On a less positive note, the display is very reflective and difficult to use in bright light, especially at its default brightness. But even when the screen is set to maximum brightness, I found it hard to use in bright daylight. Without a viewfinder, this proved to be a problem for me at times. The tilting display helped somewhat, but wasn't enough to overcome harsh lighting conditions.

Overall, the Fujifilm X-A3 handles well considering its price point. It doesn't have the same solid feel and great ergonomics as some of Fujifilm's more expensive X-series offerings, but the X-A3 does its job well and looks good.

Fujifilm X-A3 delivers great image quality for its sensor size and price

The Fujifilm X-A3 has a 24.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, which delivers impressive results. The sensor has a native ISO range of 200 to 6,400, which is fairly narrow, but it performs well across much of that range and can be extended to 100, 12,800 and 25,600 when the need arises -- although the extended ISOs are not very useful, I found.

At default settings, the X-A3 produces images with good detail and color, although I do find the in-camera processing a bit excessive at times, leading to issues with artifacts and some sharpening halos around edges. With that said, for its camera class, it makes sense to opt for a bit of extra sharpening on JPEGs. If you'd like a more nuanced image file, you should shoot RAW.

XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS: 182mm (272mm eq.), f/7.1, 1/640s, ISO 250.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS: 182mm (272mm eq.), f/7.1, 1/640s, ISO 250.
100% crop of the above image. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image. The Fuji X-A3, even with the relatively inexpensive long zoom XC 50-230mm lens, produces images with a lot of fine detail. Considering its megapixel count, sensor size and cost, the X-A3 produces very good image quality.
 
XC 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS II: 16mm (24mm eq.), f/8, 1/200s, ISO 200.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

XC 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS II: 16mm (24mm eq.), f/8, 1/200s, ISO 200.
100% crop of the above image. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

On the topic of RAW images, the X-A3 does not employ an X-Trans sensor like Fujifilm's more expensive X-series cameras, which means that while you don't get the benefits of the X-Trans sensor, you also don't have to jump through the same hoops to find a capable RAW processor.

When considering JPEG images, the quality at higher ISOs is very good for an APS-C camera. The X-A3 uses a good noise reduction system, resulting in images with low amounts of noise but still good detail. Now, RAW images are a bit different, as the sensor itself isn't superb at high ISOs. With good processing, however, you can still produce impressive and printable images up to and even beyond ISO 3200, which is a good feat for a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor.

You can bring out a lot of detail from the shadows of low ISO RAW images from the Fujifilm X-A3, as shown in the example images below. Sure, some noise was introduced, as is to be expected, but I was able to push this file far and still have a very usable, good-looking file.

XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR: 16mm (24mm eq.), f/7.1, 1/400s, ISO 250.
Original JPEG image. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR: 16mm (24mm eq.), f/7.1, 1/400s, ISO 250.
100% crop of the original JPEG image above. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR: 16mm (24mm eq.), f/7.1, 1/400s, ISO 250.
Modified RAW image. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR: 16mm (24mm eq.), f/7.1, 1/400s, ISO 250.
100% crop of the modified RAW image above. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Overall, the Fujifilm X-A3 produces very good image quality for the price and sensor size. While X-Trans sensors offer some advantages over the sensor found in the X-A3, the X-A3 sensor is a bit more user-friendly for those who want to process RAW files but don't want to struggle to find the right RAW processor for their files. If you'd rather avoid processing altogether, the Fujifilm X-A3 still has Fuji's excellent Film Simulations, which help you produce a specific and pleasing look for your files. Further, the in-camera processing, while at times heavy-handed, is good overall, making it easy to capture images worthy of being shared and printed.

XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS: 230mm (345mm eq.), f/6.7, 1/500s, ISO 3200.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS: 230mm (345mm eq.), f/6.7, 1/500s, ISO 3200.
100% crop of the above image. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image. This JPEG image, straight from the camera with default settings, still shows a lot of fine detail, even at ISO 3200.

XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS: 230mm (345mm eq.), f/6.7, 1/500s, ISO 3200.
100% crop of the above image. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image. While the detail is good, the cost is that smoother areas show a fair bit of visible noise. Even though you can see the effects of noise reduction, the camera's attempt to retain detail results in a blotchy look to smooth areas at higher ISOs. I think this is a fine trade-off to make overall.

Fujifilm X-A3 is capable, but its autofocus performance can struggle at times

The contrast detect autofocus system in the Fujifilm X-A3 came up a bit short during my testing. It is not a particularly fast system, especially when shooting in low light with the kit lens or the XC 50-230mm lens. With the XF 16mm f/1.4 lens, autofocus was unsurprisingly better, but that is a $1,000 lens and not likely a common pairing with the X-A3.

The camera offers a variety of autofocus modes, including single point autofocus, Zone AF and Wide/Tracking AF. The single point AF mode offers five different sizes of AF point, of which I preferred the smallest. Even then, it was a bit too large for pinpoint accuracy. The Zone AF mode uses 77 areas across an 11 x 7 grid and the Wide/Tracking mode uses up to 9 autofocus areas. The tracking performance was not strong, struggling with quickly-moving subjects.

This screenshot shows the autofocus point layout when using Single Point AF.

In situations where you need more precision than the single point AF offers or perhaps the autofocus just doesn't deliver the expected results, the camera does offer manual focusing as well. Further, the X-A3 includes focus peaking, which is great. You can select from white, red and blue focus peaking overlay colors, all of which are available in "low" and "high" options. You can see "Red (High)" in action below.

The focus peaking, even on "High," is very sensitive. It's not unusual for focus peaking to show so much area as being in focus that it becomes difficult to rely on for manually focusing.

In moderately challenging situations, the X-A3's autofocus performance is slow. In low contrast scenes in particular, the camera can regularly fail to acquire focus, hunting back and forth through the scene. It can be frustrating. But on the other hand, the autofocus handles many scenes very well.

XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS: 230mm (345mm eq.), f/6.7, 1/640s, ISO 800.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image. The autofocus can struggle at times. When photographing loons, which are an admittedly difficult subject, I was disappointed with the success rate of the X-A3.

Overall, the Fuji X-A3 offers respectable autofocus performance, but it certainly is not a camera well-suited for photographing action or working in very low light, unless you pair it with a lens with a much faster aperture than the kit lens.

Performance: A weak area for the X-A3 as it offers limited speed and overall performance

As is the case with autofocus, performance is not really a strong suit of the Fujifilm X-A3. The camera is rather slow to activate, taking a couple of seconds. It doesn't sound like a long time, but it's never good to feel like you're waiting on your camera, and I definitely felt like I was waiting on the X-A3 on numerous occasions during my time with it. When you capture an image, for example, you can press playback and view the image, but the camera is still buffering even when you're viewing the shot. Once the processing and buffer clearing is done, the camera's display suddenly blacks out before the image pops up again, this time with shooting information on the screen. It takes a while to process RAW+JPEG, so this happened a lot when I tried viewing images. For instance, if I shot a few images in a row and was viewing just the first shot, when the camera finished processing the series, the display would black out briefly before usually turning back on for image playback mode.

Shooting speeds aren't particularly impressive for a mirrorless APS-C camera. You can shoot at just under 6 frames per second, but when shooting RAW images, the buffer is shallow at only 6 frames. Despite the small number of frames, the buffer still takes five seconds to clear. When shooting RAW+JPEG, the buffer is slightly slower, although it has the same depth. If you want to shoot sports or wildlife, RAW image capture will be difficult. For JPEGs, the buffer is 9 frames, and it takes 7 seconds to clear, so JPEG capture isn't really an upgrade for sports and wildlife shooting.

XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS: 230mm (345mm eq.), f/6.7, 1/500s, ISO 640.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

On a positive note, the X-A3 has good battery life for a mirrorless camera. The battery is rated for 410 shots, and I found that it was certainly up to the task of hitting that mark and then some. It also supports internal charging, which is nice.

If you don't need to shoot fast action nor require the ability to capture a lot of continuous frames, the X-A3's mediocre performance shouldn't pose an issue. However, for photographers who want a speedy mirrorless camera, the X-A3 will come up short.

Field Test Part I Summary

A pretty good start for the Fujifilm X-A3, which is looking like a great value

XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR: 16mm (24mm eq.), f/2.5, 1/320s, ISO 250.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

What I like so far

  • Compact and stylish camera body
  • Nice tilting mechanism for the display
  • Impressive image quality for the sensor size and price point
  • Great value

What I don't like so far

  • Display is too dim and reflective for bright lighting conditions
  • Lack of viewfinder is an issue given the display performance in bright light
  • Autofocus performance is sluggish
  • Continuous shooting performance and overall speed is below average

So far, the Fujifilm X-A3 has proven capable of impressive image quality, and it looks like it will prove to be a very good value. The camera is priced competitively and delivers good image quality for its sensor size and camera class. While the autofocus and overall performance has not shown itself to be fast, the image quality has helped to offset its sluggishness. The camera body itself is nice, as is the tilting touchscreen for the most part, and it offers a good combination of compactness, usability and image quality.

XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS: 50mm (75mm eq.), f/4.5, 1/125s, ISO 400.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

In Field Test Part II, I will be taking a look at the camera's shooting modes, video features and quality and further discuss the X-A3's handling in real-world shooting situations. Stay tuned to Imaging Resource for more on this affordable X-series camera from Fujifilm.

XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS: 230mm (345mm eq.), f/6.7, 1/800s, ISO 250.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

 



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