Tuesday 13 November 2018

Tech review: Fujifilm X-T3

Price: €1,499

Fujifilm X-T3
Fujifilm X-T3

Is this the best non full-frame camera on the market? If your main use for it is photography rather than video, it certainly feels like it.

Fujifilm's new X-T3 builds on the solid platform of its predecessor, the X-T2. Indeed, it's practically identical in look and handling to that camera. This is mostly a good thing: Fujifilm's APS-C cameras are probably the best-looking around, mixing retro styling with very functional, useful controls.

But the new model throws in some extra welly, with noticeable improvement in output.

That upgrade comes largely in two areas: a new 26-megapixel sensor and a much faster processor (engine).

Both are important and contribute to an enhanced experience.

The sensor is Fujifilm's first 'backside illuminated' (BSI) model, meaning that it's significantly better in low light and in dealing with shadow.

I could tell the difference straight away.

I'm used to Fujifilm X-Series cameras. I have the X-Pro 2 and X100F, both of which use the same 24-megapixel X-trans sensor as is found in the X-T2. It's a good sensor and delivers great results. But it was always noticeably a step behind in dealing with low light than 'full frame' cameras, such as Canon's 5D or 6D series, Nikon's D810 and D850 or Sony's A7 Series (all of which cost more than the Fuji cameras, incidentally).

This meant that, among other things, I would always switch to the Canon when I had to shoot things in low light or very mixed light situations, such as theatre stage productions or family dinners.

Looking at the files from the new 26-megapixel BSI sensor, it's clear to me that Fujifilm is closing the gap, despite the smaller sensor size.

In the first few days I had it, I tested it out in venues ranging from a darkened bar to a sunrise to a day out in Dublin Zoo. Cropping in showed a big improvement in the detail and dynamic range. This was true across different lenses, too, from the budget 50-230mm zoom lens to the high end 56mm f1.2 and 50-140mm f2.8 lenses.

So under the same lighting conditions, my experience is that you'll get slightly better photos on this camera than on the X-T2 or the X-Pro 2.

The other significant upgrade to the X-T3 is its processor. Its enhanced muscle-power means you can now shoot up to 11 frames per second in mechanical shutter mode or 20 frames per second in electronic shutter mode. That's great for things like sports (or any fast-moving situation).

The extra oomph also facilitates faster auto-focusing, even on older lenses. This is arguably more important to more people than the extra frames per second. I did find it to be speedy at auto-focusing, although it's not quite at the level of Canon's 6D Mark ii, which uses Canon's peerless dual-pixel autofocusing system.

The new processor also helps out with the X-T3's video capabilities. So it can now shoot in 4K at 60 frames per second or in 1080p at 120 frames per second. For those who really take video seriously, it's also capable of 10-bit recording. And it now has a headphone jack as well as a microphone jack, meaning you can monitor your audio as you film - a crucial control for videographers.

As decent as all of this is, I suspect that few professional videographers will be switching to this camera from what they currently use, which seems to be a combination of Panasonic's GH5 and Canon cameras. This is largely for two reasons. First, the X-T3 has no in-body stabilisation (Ibis). For photographers, this is a minor inconvenience: it basically means that you'll need to shoot at a minimum of 125th of a second most of the time, unless you're using one of the (very few) stabilised lenses that Fujifilm offers. But for videographers, it's much more significant. It means that handheld footage will invariably be jittery and shaky unless you're using something like a dedicated gimbal. (Fujifilm does have Ibis on a sister camera, the pricier and bulkier X-H1.)

The second video drawback is that the 'articulating' touchscreen doesn't flip out like rival screens on models such as Canon's 6D Mark ii or Panasonic's GH5. For some types of videographers (such as vloggers), this is a deal-breaker. It is incredibly useful - essential, even - to have a screen you can see yourself on when recording. Professionals might add in an accessory screen but that means having to construct a rig, creating much more weight and heft.

There is a third general drawback, whether you're a photographer or a videographer - battery life. It's quite poor. You'll get less than half the number of shots you would from a Canon or Nikon DSLR. There is little chance you can bring this out for a day's shooting without at least one spare battery in your pack.

That said, the X-T3 has other typical advantages accruing to a mirrorless camera. One is that it's still considerably smaller and lighter than a DSLR. That makes a big, big difference when you need a travel camera.

Another advantage, which is consistently underplayed, is that the X-T3 can shoot completely silently. It's hard to overemphasise the advantage this brings. It means you can shoot in situations you simply wouldn't want to with a DSLR, especially in subdued or quiet situations, such as in a church or during a moment of sporting construction (like a golfer teeing off). Yes, there is still a little 'banding' in silent (electronic shutter) mode when shooting in low, artificial light situations. But overall, it's an incredible facility to have, one that many DSLR users are still only waking up to.

There are plenty of other upgrades on the X-T3, from the electronic viewfinder to the new touchscreen controls (which can also be used to control your focus point like a touchpad when you're using the electronic viewfinder).

And Fujifilm, which has a reputation for listening to customer feedback on its cameras, has tweaked some smaller things. For instance, the exposure compensation dial on top is much stiffer now. That's good: on my X-Pro 2 it is forever shifting in response to casual friction against it.

One last pleasant surprise is the price. When the X-T2 was launched two years ago, it cost €1,700. The better, more advanced X-T3 only costs €1,500. This is apparently because Fujifilm moved production from Japan to China. But it makes the X-T3 a compelling proposition, especially when you consider the premium that rival cameras are looking for.

For instance, Panasonic's G9 costs €1,729 while Canon's 6D Mark ii costs €1,900. (On the other hand, there are cheaper, capable all-rounder APS-C or Micro Four Thirds rivals such as Canon's €1,150 80D or Panasonic's €800 GX9.)

In summary, the X-T3 may be the best APS-C camera out there right now. It's a pleasure to use and has the advantage of Fujifilm's excellent lens lineup.

For a video review of Fujifilm's X-T3, see Independent.ie/videos

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