Fuji X-T3 Field Test Part II

Out in the wild with Fuji's enthusiast-grade flagship camera

by | Posted 10/15/2018

XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6: 400mm, f/5.6, 1/1600s, ISO 400, -0.3EV

Introduction

While much of the hype and attention these last few weeks has been focused on Fujifilm's medium format GFX system (and with good reason!) let's not forget about their much-loved APS-C X-Trans cameras, namely their latest SLR-styled enthusiast-grade camera, the Fuji X-T3. Sporting a nearly identical exterior design to that of the X-T2, the X-T3 instead offers major under-the-hood improvements, including a new, higher-resolution APS-C X-Trans sensor, an updated image processor, an improved autofocus system and better video shooting capabilities. On paper, the specs of the X-T3 not only make this camera superior to its predecessor but it also currently gives the flagship X-H1 a run for its money. And money, as well, with the X-T3 coming in at just $1500 body-only compared to the X-H1's $1900 price tag.

Writer and photographer Eamon Hickey got to spend some quality time with the X-T3 already, attending Fuji's X-T3 launch event in New York as well as spending some time with the camera afterwards. In his initial Field Test, he came away initially impressed with the camera's AF performance, speed and video features.

We've now secured our own review unit, and I've now had an opportunity to shoot with the new X-T3 in a variety of environments and with a variety of lenses. In my Field Test "Part II" I'll discuss my take on the camera's design and its handling characteristics. I'll also dive into the X-T3's image quality at both low and higher ISOs as well as exploring its autofocus performance.

Let's get started...

XF 8-16mm f/2.8 (PROTOTYPE LENS): 8mm, f/2.8, 1/3800s, ISO 160, -0.3EV

Design & Handling

Okay, so if you're already familiar with the Fuji X-T series, especially the X-T2, you'll feel right at home with the X-T3. Hardly anything has changed with the body design -- hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? However, as someone who hasn't spent much time shooting the predecessors, the handling and usability of the X-T3 is fairly new to me. That said, I'm not completely in the dark when it comes to Fuji cameras, having reviewed and now own a Fuji X100F.

Let's start with one of the main features you'll notice right away when you pick up the camera for the first time: the grip. Unlike most DSLRs and also SLR-style mirrorless cameras, the body of the Fuji X-T3 (and its predecessors) doesn't offer a sizable handgrip. Not only does this design choice keep the X-T3's size fairly slim and manageable, but it also goes along with the characteristic retro aesthetic Fuji uses in their X Series cameras. Many classic film SLRs didn't feature much of a handgrip either.

As a long-time DSLR user and now-owner of cameras like the Olympus E-M1 II, I usually prefer cameras a with nice, sizable handgrip, even though I wouldn't consider my hands to be particularly large. A larger grip not only helps maintain a solid, secure hold on the camera with just one hand, but it also helps with comfort and balance when using larger, heavier and longer lenses. However, I am actually pleasantly surprised by how nice and comfortable the X-T3 feels in my hand. The front grip only protrudes about a quarter of an inch (not a lot to wrap your fingers around), but when combined with the small but critical thumb notch on the rear of the camera, the X-T3 feels surprisingly secure in my hand.

Paired with a small, lightweight prime lens, the X-T3 feels lightweight and well-balanced as well. Using a medium-sized zoom, such as the 16-55mm f/2.8 or new 8-16mm f/2.8, the pairing certainly seems a bit more front-heavy; I usually shoot two-handed in this situation.

However, I spent a lot of time using the X-T3 with Fuji's long 100-400mm telephoto zoom lens. In this setup, having a deeper grip would greatly help with overall ergonomics, as this lens is quite long and fairly hefty. Fuji sells a battery grip for the X-T3 that not only adds a vertical grip but also includes a small front piece that increases the size of the main handgrip. Unfortunately, I didn't have the grip available to test, but if I were shooting with long, heavy telephoto lenses with the X-T3 on a consistent basis, I'd recommend getting the battery grip (plus, you gain the excellent feature of having three total batteries in-use for super-extended battery life performance).

In terms of the controls and button layout, again, it's nearly identical to that of the X-T2, with the exception of enlarging the drive mode sub-dial and metering mode sub-dial that are sandwiched under the ISO and Shutter Speed dials, respectively. The slightly taller size of these two sub-dials certainly makes them easier to adjust.

Much like the X-T2 and other Fuji cameras, including my X100F, the buttons and dials on the X-T3 feel rather small (well, with the exception of the big three top exposure control dials, of course). The front and rear command dials are rather thin, at only around an eighth of an inch thick, and don't protrude very much out from the body. Most of the buttons, too, are equally tiny, with very little travel when you press them. All that said, however, I never really felt frustrated while operating the camera. Compared to the X-T1, the X-T2/X-T3 has improved 4-way control buttons with a better "click" to them. The front and rear command dials are easy to reach and operate with a nice tactile click that aren't too stiff. Given that the X-T3 uses individual control dials for shutter speed, ISO and aperture (on the lenses), I don't find myself using the front and rear control dials for on-the-fly adjustments all that often, as I would with more a "traditional" camera.

Speaking of the separate control dials, while I own an X100F, for my first time out with the X-T3 I instinctively dove into the menus, the Quick Menu, or the Fn button for the setting to change ISO. It took me a moment to realize, "oh yeah, there's a dedicated ISO dial." Fuji cameras are distinctive in their design and control scheme compared to modern cameras, and if this is your first Fuji camera, it might take a little time getting used to the old-school "Fuji way" of exposure settings adjustments.

With that said though, the X-T3 is extremely customizable. Don't want to use that ISO dial? No problem. In fact, by default, if you rotate the ISO dial to the "A" position, you can then use the front command dial to quickly scroll through the ISO levels as well as three available ISO Auto presets (which are also customizable with sensitivity range and minimum shutter speed). Almost all of the buttons on the camera, labeled or not, can be reassigned to all sorts of different functions to fit your shooting style and needs - a very flexible design. The X-T3 even incorporates customizable swipe gestures into its touchscreen controls, as you see in the screenshot on the right. Swipe in any of the four cardinal directions on the rear screen to toggle settings on and off, or modify screen overlay text, among other options. (More on the touchscreen itself later.)

Other physical features include an updated OLED electronic viewfinder with an increased resolution, going from 2.36-million to 3.69-million. However, according to the specs, the X-T3's EVF has a slightly reduced magnification factor, going from 0.77x on the X-T2 to 0.75x. That's likely an insignificant difference in the grand scheme of things, and while I don't have an X-T2 to compare side-by-side, I must say that the EVF on the X-T3 is excellent. It's bright, crisp and very large with little to no noticeable lag. Compared to the LCD-based EVF on my X100F -- which I quite enjoy -- the X-T3's OLED display offers a much larger view (0.75x vs. 0.48x magnification), as well as better color, brightness and contrast.

The X-T3 maintains the same multi-directional tilting rear LCD as on the X-T2, which I enjoy. As more a stills guy and not a video shooter, I appreciate the tilting screen designs rather than the flip-out "articulated"-style screens. I find it easier to shoot from lower and higher angles with a tilting screen rather than having to maneuver a screen out to the side; it's a personal preference thing, I admit. The X-T3's nifty screen tilts both in the horizontal direction as well as in portrait orientation, which is very helpful, particularly when shooting low-to-the-ground vertical landscape shots with an ultra-wide lens.

The screen's quality is very nice, and I honestly have no complaints about that from using the camera in the field. In terms of glare and usability in bright sun, I didn't experience any problems, though to be fair, if I was outdoors in the sun, I was more often than not using the EVF. The tilting mechanism will help angle the screen some away from from the sun if need be.

A new feature for the LCD is the inclusion of touch functionality. I love having a touchscreen as it provides a really fast way to move the AF point/box right where I need it...usually. In the case of the X-T3, I found the touchscreen to be somewhat laggy and not as responsive to touch as other cameras I've used. It still works, mind you, but I feel like I have to be a little more deliberate in my tapping to move the AF box where want it. As with other cameras, the X-T3 offers a variety of touchscreen functions, including a touch shooting feature, tap-to-focus (where you tap to place the AF box, and the camera automatically focuses on that spot) as well as a tap-to-move the AF box (where you tap to move the AF box but are still required to half-press the shutter button to autofocus).

Both AF touch features work decently well (minus the lag, of course), though you can't touch and drag the AF box around the screen. Oddly, the automatic "tap-to-focus" option won't allow you to use the joystick control after tapping on the screen. Instead, you actually have to tap the "[AF] Off" icon on the screen to deselect the AF box, thus letting you use the joystick control once more to move the AF box -- a process that seems rather unnecessary. The touch-to-shoot function also behaves differently than I've experienced on other cameras. Notice I say "touch"-to-shoot and not "tap"-to-shoot. No, on the X-T3 you actually have to tap and hold your finger on the screen in order for the camera to fire a shot, which I found odd at first and made me think tap-to-shoot didn't work at all for some reason or another. [Editor's Note, 04/30/2019 - Correction: Tap-to-shoot functionality actually works as expected, but behaves differently depending on the autofocus mode. In AF-S mode, tap-to-shoot will immediately fire off a shot, however in AF-C mode, you will need to hold down you finger on the screen for a brief period in order to capture a shot.]

Lastly, I feel it's important to mention weather sealing. I love a camera that I can take out in bad weather, get it dirty, and generally use it without feeling like I need to be overly protective. Now, this is all within reason; I'm not deliberately bashing the camera around or tossing it in the dirt, but the confidence of knowing it can withstand some rain or other water splashes, in particular, is important to me. And, so, I'm happy to report that the Fuji X-T3, along with the weather-sealed XF 8-16mm f/2.8 lens is indeed sealed up nicely against some unexpected rain, as I experienced recently up in the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. A quick shake and some wiping down with a cloth and the X-T3 and lens fired perfectly fine.

An impromptu rain shower is no problem for the weather-sealed X-T3, though be sure to have a similarly weather-sealed lens to match.

Image Quality

The previous X-T2 earned high praise for its image quality, both at low and higher ISOs, despite an increase from 16MP to a 24MP APS-C X-Trans chip. The X-T3 once again offers a bump in resolution, but not as striking of a change as before, going up to 26MP -- making it one of the highest-resolution APS-C cameras to date. (The Samsung NX1 and NX500 used 28MP APS-C-sized sensors.) Resolving power is nice to have if you need it, but as you increase in megapixels, the dynamic range and particularly high ISO performance can start to suffer as you cram in more and more pixels. For the X-T3, going from 24MP to 26MP is not a major increase in resolution, and as an APS-C camera, I think it still falls into a good range: lots of resolving power yet still excellent high ISO performance.

XF 16-55mm f/2.8: 34mm, f/3.6, 1/125s, ISO 200, -0.7EV
100% Crop

Speaking of resolving power, the Fuji X-T3 does indeed bring a lot to the table in that regard. Especially at low ISOs and with a sharp lens, the X-T3 is capable of capturing images with fantastic fine detail, excellent colors and a wide dynamic range. I mention "sharp lens" in particular because at first, I spent a lot of time using the 100-400mm lens capturing shots mostly of birds, often far-off birds and birds in flight. I was initially a bit underwhelmed with the level of detail I saw in my photos. The camera and lens seemed to have no trouble with autofocus (except for cases of bad luck and user-error every now and again where I missed focus completely). However, images were sharp and in-focus, but the detail was not as tack-sharp as I had hoped. I decided to check our lens review for the 100-400mm, and as is often the case with long zooms, the lens does indeed show decreased sharpness as you zoom past 300mm. In the end, I needed to rein in my expectations, not only for the level of detail I should expect from an APS-C camera but also from the 100-400mm, which isn't supremely tack-sharp at 400mm.

XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6: 400mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO 320, -0.3EV
100% Crop

That said, though, I was able to get very sharp, nicely detailed photos with the X-T3 and the 100-400mm lens, especially if the subject was fairly close.

XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6: 400mm, f/5.6, 1/1000s, ISO 320, -0.3EV
100% Crop

On another note, when it comes to capturing sharp photos with the X-T3, it's good to remember that this camera doesn't have in-body image stabilization, unlike with the X-H1. I think I've become spoiled by the many, many Olympus, Panasonic and Sony mirrorless cameras that come with robust body-based image stabilization systems that make it easier to capture crisp, blur-free photos in more challenging lighting conditions, especially when combined with optically-stabilized lenses. With the X-T3, I found myself not only with a camera body that lacked IBIS but also frequently with lenses that did not have optical image stabilization (they exist, of course, but most of the Fuji lenses we have lying around IRHQ don't have O.I.S.).

I found myself shooting a lot of indoor events and such with very dim lighting, and in order to get crisp images, especially candid photos of people moving around, I really had to dial-up the shutter speed and subsequently increase the ISO sensitivity quite a bit to compensate. Of course, image stabilization won't help if I'm panning the camera or if my subject is moving. However, trying to capture static portraits and other still subjects in low light is more difficult without some form of stabilization, and I found myself missing this technology. (Dear Fujifilm, please add O.I.S to your XF 16-55mm f/2.8 lens please!)

XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro: 60mm, f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 640

When it comes to dynamic range, even with straight-from-camera JPEGs, I was rather impressed with the tonal range captured. With bright, daylight scenes with heavy contrast, there was still a very good balance of highlight detail with properly-exposed skies and visible, clean detail in the shadows. Of course, using RAW will give you more flexibility to pull out details in both highlights and shadows (should you need to) and the X-T3 is no exception here.

XF 10-24mm f/4: 10mm, f/4, 1/280s, ISO 160
Unedited, straight-from-camera JPEG. Notice that the sky is not overexposed while the heavily shaded building still has visible detail.
In this overly-edited raw file, I pulled the highlights back and raised the shadows all the way in Capture One 11 just to get a sense of the additional detail that could be recovered from an X-T3 raw file.

Regarding higher ISO image quality, Fujifilm cameras consistently do very well, with the X-T2 being one of the best APS-C cameras we've seen for high ISO performance. Looking at high ISO images from the X-T3, this camera should earn similar praise once we get to that analysis. Despite increasing the pixel count, the camera is capable of excellent high ISO photos. The new 26MP X-Trans sensor and updated image processor do a great job of producing JPEG images with a high level of detail while removing a lot of unsightly noise. If you look closely at high ISO images, of course, you can see noise, especially once you get up to around ISO 3200, but noise is really finely-grained and not very distracting nor detrimental to the overall image quality. The detail that the X-T3 can capture even at really high ISOs is very impressive. For example, just look at the amount of detail in the squirrel fur in the ISO 12,800 image!

XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6: 400mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 12800

At higher ISOs, I can certainly see the X-T3's noise reduction processing at work, and at really high ISOs, the NR processing can start to look a bit "digital" and artificial-looking. Even though the camera's default level of noise reduction is at "0" on a +/-5 scale, I still see the NR processing a bit too strong for my taste, but overall not too bad since you don't typically "enjoy" photos by looking at them at 100% magnification.

XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6: 359mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 4000, -0.7EV

Autofocus

Lastly, I want to talk about my experience thus far with autofocus. I've used the X-T3 in a variety of environments, both indoors and out, and shot subjects using both AF-S and AF-C modes. Overall, the AF performance of the X-T3 is fantastic. The majority of the time, the AF speed is fast... almost too fast, in some ways. I half-press the shutter, and the shot is immediately in focus. It's excellent. I say "too fast" because, in a way, it's kind of unbelievable; you half-press the shutter and the shot is in focus. Boom.

XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6: 280mm, f/5.2, 1/1000s, ISO 160, -0.3EV
Note: This image has been edited. Please click to see the original.

The X-T3's undergone a big upgrade when it comes to autofocus compared its predecessor. For starters, the X-T3 now offers phase-detection AF across the entire sensor by way of 425 total user-selectable AF points -- 100 more selectable points than the X-T2. Also, the sensor itself is comprised of 2.16 million phase-detection pixels on the sensor (up from 0.5 mil) which helps increase the camera's low-light AF sensitivity from -1EV to -3EV. According to Fuji, there have been improvements to how data is read off the sensor to improve focusing in low light and on low contrast subjects, and faster AF/AE processing helps improve subject tracking performance for fast-moving subjects.

XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6: 400mm, f/5.6, 1/1000s, ISO 640

In my experience so far, both outdoors in good lighting and indoors with poor or dim lighting, the X-T3 did very well when it came to autofocus performance. As I expected, better lighting conditions yield faster AF performance, especially for larger focusing distance changes. In dim lighting, I did experience a slow-down in AF speeds, but the X-T3 still manages to achieve focus.