There is a new sheriff in town, say hi to the Fujifilm X-T3. Yes, the X-T3 is the evolution of the XT series, but also way more than that. It is the very first contact with the next, 4th generation of Fujifilm X cameras. With the brand-new and powerful back-illuminated 26MP X-Trans CMOS 4 sensor for the first time in a Fujifilm camera, the X-Processor 4 image processing engine also a first in the Fujifilm line and a multitude of well thought out improvements this is the first of the new top of the line Fujifilm workhorses.
(Featured image above – courtesy Jonas Rask / jonasraskphotography.com)
I have quite some history with the Fujifilm X-System, moving from the X100S to the X-Pro1, to the X-T1 and then to the X-T2. Since the X-T2 came out, I shot it on a daily basis, closing in on a six digit number of exposures during the course of those two years since I had it. For all my street work I rely on the XT system, while for documentary work I like to use the GFX system. Whenever discretion, speed and reliability matters, the XT system is my weapon of choice on the streets of the world. When time is not an issue and the setting is reliable, the GFX is the way to go for me. With every generation update in the Fujifilm world, my excitement and equally my ability to get more out of my Fujifilm cameras grew reliably at every step of the way. So I was very excited for the opportunity to play with the pre-production X-T3, verifying my high hopes that have built over the course my X-T2`s lifecycle. Let me tell you right away: I was not disappointed. Much like the X-T2 I knew instantly that this would be my street camera for the years to come. Let’s figure out why.
When I made first contact, the camera body put on the table in front of me by the Fujifilm Switzerland folks was easy to be mistaken with the X-T2. In fact, covering the model type labeling on the camera body would make it difficult for anybody to point out if you are looking at the X-T2 or the X-T3. At first I did not even notice that there was an X-T3 sitting right in front of me.
When picking it up from that table it felt like I got the same camera that I already had in my bag. Best thing ever, no need to change any muscle memory or workflow on a haptic level, I immediately felt at home. But what was different? As at this time, no spec sheets where available to me, it took me a day or two to figure out the total of fifteen changes that can be found on the cameras exterior. In the Fujifilm Kaizen spirit, the changes are so subtle and well reflected that you have to look close and shoot the camera in order to discover and appreciate them. The camera does not scream „look at me, I am new and so much better“. Yet, compared to the X-T2, the X-T3 is full of useful updates and changes but, on the exterior, presents them in a very understatement kind of way. To me that is amazing as the form factor of the XT series does not need any update from my point of view. I love the discreet and efficient nature of this design and the old school look that is almost a disguise of its real capabilities.
During the last weeks, while I was testing the camera for my purposes on the street, I was speaking and teaching a workshop at a visual arts festival in Rumania, always caring the X-T3 with me, attached to the outside of my trusted Billingham bag, in plain sight for everybody. Even though a lot of guests and participants were Fujifilm shooters themselves, not a single person noticed that I was not shooting with the X-T2. When asked about my camera, I responded to everybody that this is the X-T2. There were no questions asked and not eyebrows were raised. Sorry to all that I was not honest with, but you might forgive me for this one.
Let`s have a closer look.
First, the base plate layout of the X-T3 has not changed. No need for a new metal grip, the „old“ one fits perfectly. I added the MHG-XT2 to the X-T3 and it was a perfect match. Good choice by Fujifilm not to change that as it allows for the re-use of any accessory based on this base plate design. There is an updated version, the MHG-XT3, but I did not have the opportunity to have a look at it yet to figure out the differences to the previous model. There is also a new battery grip that was updated. Function buttons have been moved to be better accessible and in better ergonomic positions on the battery grip itself. As I don’t and did not use the battery grip, I won’t be able to give you any insights on the performance with it. Having the metal grip on the body, I turned to my Lensmate thumb-grip. It fits in the hot-shoe, but here I noticed a small difference for the first time. The viewfinder has gained a bit of size in depth to the back and therefore, applying the thumb grip, you notice a three millimeter gap where the thumb grip should align with the body. Nevertheless, it works and besides the visually noticeable gap to the shutter side, it remains fully functional. So far so good.
In general, the quality of all exterior buttons has noticeably improved. Where before you had to occasionally visually check if you hit the right button, you now get more of a tactile feedback when pressing the buttons. They give you a satisfying confirmation that you actually hit them. The buttons stand out a slight bit more from the body than on the X-T2. This design makes it much easier to navigate blindly around the camera. A great improvement that I, as a street shooter highly value as it does impact my efficiency directly. The less I have to look at my camera, the more time I can dedicate to looking for subjects. I feel the body got also an improvement regarding the material covering it. Much like from the X-T1 to the X-T2 and to the X-H1, the whole construction feels a bit more sturdy from generation to generation. Looking at the different access doors for connections and the dual card slot, they are constructed very well and make me feel very comfortable that they will stand the test of time, heat, humidity and heavy use.
Like me, you won’t notice the changes in the diopter adjustment wheel for the viewfinder unless you start playing with it. Listening to complaints that it was way to easy to change the setting by accident on the X-T2, Fujifilm went all the way to solve that. The wheel has now a „watch crown“ design. You pull it outwards, adjust it, push it back in and the setting will be locked. This is not only very useful and functional, but also airs a sense of style and quality. I love the fact that Fujifilm does further improve the exterior without changing the user experience substantially for no apparent reason.
Following that line of thought, the exposure adjustment wheel got a valuable improvement too. It might happened to you as well, you grab you camera put it up to your eye and everything is dark or bright… Sure you dragged that exposure correction wheel along the interior of your bag or another surface and the changed it to -3 or +3. Good thing that this should not happen anymore. The exposure correction wheel is now moved from the edge of the body, about three to four millimeter inwards on the top plate, out of the reach of accidental dragging. The additional resistance in turning it will further help prevent this from happening.
Looking at the two main adjustment wheels for shutter speed and ISO on the top plate, we find further improvements. Both wheels have gained a bit in hight and are easier to grab. They still have the easy push to lock and unlock mechanism, preventing unwanted setting changes. Below the left wheel we still find the drive modes and below the right one the metering options. Both have been improved by slightly re-designing the switching handle in front into a shape that you can, again, grab without having to search for it, by adding a bit of a grip pattern and an angle to them, making it easier to operate them.
Last but not least, looking at the camera, the top right corner has changed the angle, making it slightly more comfortable to have your trigger finger resting there. The remote access is now on top of the card slots on the right side behind a flip door and the left side connection panel consists now of a 3.5mm mic jack and a 3.5mm headphone jack along side a USB C and a mini HDMI slot. Additionally the door of the left side „video panel“ can be removed in order to not be in the way when wiring up your video setup. The device feels sturdy and like a quality piece of gear, evoking confidence regarding its longevity and contribution to my creative process by how I can operate it. I could not have been more wrong with my initial assessment. This camera has changed a lot in details and improved a lot on the connections, the controls and exterior. They did it the Fujifilm way, evolution instead of revolution.
Looking into the viewfinder, you will discover a new quality of EVF from Fujifilm. It has a 3.69 million dot resolution with a high magnification ration of 0.75x. Peeking trough it for the first time I felt that this looks better than many mobile devices I use. To me the best EVF I have seen from Fujifilm so far. Not only definitely very usable but also super reliable in the shooting process and for checking back results. The shutter is great, and allows even a slight bit more flexibility and tolerance to hold it without exposing than the X-T2. I am glad that the same shutter button design with the soft release thread was kept, instead of using the X-H1`s shutter, which was, for me, way too sensitive and did not allow for any tolerance in re-framing or holding focus without exposing. More often than not I was taking shots while trying to frame the shot properly. The X-T3 has this good old Fujifilm shutter feel that I love for my line of work.
Onto the core essentials, what makes it the 4th generation?
If most tuning and updating happened under the hood, what is it? The very moment that cemented my decision that this was going to be my camera for the years to come for street work, was when I took the first too shots and saw the resulting jpegs. The new X-Trans CMOS 4 26MP sensor is producing gorgeous images. No kidding, it is, for real, it is. Fujifilm managed to re-incorporate something that I was not specifically missing while using the X-T2, but it came back to me immediately when looking at those X-T3 files. The X-T1 had this beautiful sensor that, when pushed to high ISO started looking very much like analog film. The way it handled noise and grain was just beautiful. Guess what, the new sensor brings this back to the fullest degree. This might be, amongst all other things, my single most exciting feature that will make me fall in love with the X-T3. The jpegs just look awesome and that seals the deal for me. The way the depth of field and the areas in focus are rendered and how light and sharpness falls off makes me look at these files wanting to produce more of them. Difficult to describe the look in detail, but I see it as just beautifully organic and analog to a degree. As expected, the ISO performance remains outstanding. I never doubt pushing any image to 12`800 ISO and feel very comfortable about the result. Oh yes, there is also the new native base ISO of 160 which was formerly only available as extended ISO range. While this matters less to me, many photographers will highly appreciate this new ability. Equally, with the new sensor, the dynamic range has visibly improved and ads to this look I am so excited about. I always came from the point of view that only the image matters in the end, so i could not be more excited about how the new sensor looks.
When I tested the X-H1 last year, I was highly impressed by the focus speed and hoped this improvement would come to the XT series as soon as possible as well. Guess what, it did. More so than I expected. The X-T3 is the first model that pulls it’s processing power from the new X-Processor 4 image processing engine. This results in the X-T3 being the fastest and most powerful camera in the current Fujifilm line up. To give some context to this, the X-T3 is 20x faster in processing than the original X100 and 3x faster than the X-T2. That is quite some power for the next generation of Fujifilm cameras. The focus is fast, spot on and reliable. In comparison to the X-T2 it is 1.5 times faster and I noticed its snappiness right away when taking the first shots. To me it means I get more shots in focus while shooting on the street and that matters tremendously when it comes to getting results. The hit and miss rate is reduced to a degree that makes me confident to get more brave in getting the shot, or even attempting shots that I doubted being able to get up to now with the X-T2. The difference in focus speed opens up new possibilities to X-T3 users. Especially the improved low light abilities of the focus which were extended from -1EV to -3EV, allowing accurate focusing in low light are useful to me when shooting in the night, which I do a lot. The X-T3 enables also a whole range of photographers to rely on the Fujifilm system that were in doubt about focus performance up to now. In the absence of any experience in that field, I have talked to professional sports photographers who tested the X-T3 and they all feel comfortable to use on the X-T3 as their main work-tool in professional settings. Mix all the speed improvements with up to 30fps blackout free continuous shooting and a massively improved continuous focus tracking as well as improved eye and face detection and fast moving subject are no longer a worry for X-T3 users. So we surely will spot more Fujifilm gear around sport events in the future, since Fujifilm will also provide more high quality lenses in this field as we move along. Prepare for Fujifilm jpegs to show up on the sports section of you newspaper. So, if the speed works for sports, then it will enhance any other photographers abilities when it comes to relying on the X-T3`s focus speed.
How about the video?
Mentioning the X-H1, the X-T3 also rivals the X-H1 in terms of functionality when it comes to video and gives a potential outlook on possible updates in an eventually upcoming X-H2. The connections provided on the body already indicate that Fujifilm encourages you to use the X-T3 for video and when you dive into the menu you will find the full video functionalities that we saw in the X-H1. Combine this with the new processor, the new sensor and the improved dynamic range and you might want to give it a shot to use it as your main video camera. Especially taking into consideration that the X-T3 supports 4K/60p 4:2:0 10 bit internal recording as well as as 4K/60p 4:2:2 10bit HDMI output in the new generation. The absence of the stabilizer might require you to add a gimbal into the mix, but that was a given for most, even with the stabilizer in the X-H1.
At my first dive into the general menu it took me no longer than with my X-T2 to set the camera up my way. Everything is where I am used to and within less than two minutes I was ready to shoot. Surprisingly easy… I love this about the Fujifilm update and evolution policy, you will most likely always be at home right from the start. The X-T3 now also brings the touchscreen functionality to the the XT series. A very welcome and to be expected feature as we have seen it in the X-T20 and other models over the last year.
Who is the X-T3 for?
First: everybody who still shoots with an X-T1 and skipped the X-T2, this is the moment to get a major „wow“ moment when you upgrade. Changing from the X-T1 to the X-T3 will jump start you into a whole new world. If you own an X-T2 and you are happy with the performance, you might hesitate. It will be up to you and your style of photography to figure if you find an advantage in the new feature set or like to have then newest and shiniest with all the up to date features and components. Just note that this is not just a better X-T2, inside it is a whole new camera and the first arrival of a new generation. You will feel an improvement in many areas, mainly speed and image rendering quality from the new sensor. Shooting video, if you don’t own an X-H1, you might want to give the X-T3 a try. The image quality is great and the feature set is up to par with the X-H1, even exceeding the X-H1 with regards to features and formats. To be seen which of those features can and will be brought to the X-H1 by Kaizen firmware updates. If you don’t rely on an internal stabilizer, this camera might be for you. And then everybody who uses any Fujifilm X-Series camera as a workhorse: this is a valuable update for you. If you rely on your camera to make a living or produce images in a professional context, you will feel more secure and assured with the X-T3, no matter what X-Camera you come from.
I am excited about the X-T3. As much as I would like to add some critical points, I do honestly struggle to find any significant ones after the first weeks of testing. For my use as a street and documentary shooter, it provides me with an improved experience from my former camera and it is just a logical continuation of improvements on all levels. It feels like a significantly better X-T2 without any attached learning curve or workflow change, and that in itself is amazing. The 4th generation has arrived. I can’t wait to receive my production model.