The Empire Strikes Back: My experience with the Fujifilm X-T3

September 6th, 2018 Posted by Photo, Tech No Comment yet

It is so hard for me to believe that it’s been 2 years since I first wrote about the launch of the X-T2. In that time a lot has changed for me, from my personal life to professional work. But one thing stayed constant; the X-T2 has remained my favorite camera ever created. I dropped one down the side of a cliff and into a lake, and when it returned to life 2 weeks later I bought a second body. So to be completely honest, I’ve never really once considered what a potential successor to my favorite camera might look like. And yes, I’m leaning into the Star Wars title, because I love telling people to join me on the dark side, and there has never been a clearer path to do so than right now.

X-T2 + 16f/1.4
*Disclaimer* I was shooting with a pre-production unit, etc. And I am under no obligation to say nice things. These words are 100% mine, and anyone that knows me can vouch for my honesty (sometimes to a fault). Also, everything you will see below below is an edited JPEG, because at this moment, there is no RAW converter available for this camera. Mostly using ETERNA. -2 shadows, -2, highlights, and zeroed out on everything else to give me a decently flat image to be able to grade.  And lastly, a lot of the images you are going to see were shot with the XF8-16f/2.8 lens because I got the lens on the same day and frankly, I had been looking forward to shooting with it since it was announced.
X-T2 + 16f/1.4

Before we dig in, you need a little bit of context:

Needless to say, when Fujifilm reached out to me and told me that they were going to be sending me an X-T3, I was simultaneously super excited, and extremely nervous. You see I was only going to be able to have it for about a week for testing, compared to the months that I had with the X-T2. Not only that, but this week just so happened to coincide with the Alaskan Cruise my wife was taking, rendering me a single dad (read: useless photographer) for a few weeks. Knowing that I wanted to put this camera through its paces in our brief time together, I immediately sprang into action figuring out where I was going to shoot for the 4 days before she left.

Let me start my experience with the X-T3 by saying this: I have NEVER gotten such a perfect set of weather-related circumstances. Mother nature came through in a big way for me when I needed it the most. This is going to read more like an experience in story form than any sort of review, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I wanted to show you something MORE. I would have loved to test this with actual client work, as well as shooting some astrophotography. But hey, I just didn’t have the time I needed. I’ll most certainly post a follow up once I… *spoiler alert* buy one of my very own.

X-T3 + XF8-16f/2.8

Day #1  – The Arrival

Instead of eating on my lunch break, I went to a nearby lake to test it out. What I ended up with was the absolute perfect cloud situation to shoot reflections and really see what the XF8-16mm f/2.8 could do. Before I left, I sat down at a picnic table and started digging through the menus to see what else was different about this camera. Immediately Base ISO 160, 20fps Electronic Shutter & 30fps sport crop mode (I’m looking at YOU Sony), the EFC (Electronic First Curtain Shutter), 4:2:0 HEVC internal 10-bit / 4:2:2 10-bit external recording jumped out at me. And all of that paired with the new backside illuminated sensor I thought, “ok, this camera is going to be a big deal.”

Battery is of course going to be a hang-up for some. Let’s look at it this way: Fujifilm has developed an amazing and vocal user base – people like me who own multiple camera bodies. If they go bigger in favor of more power, these users are going to be upset that they can’t use all of the batteries that they already own. But of course, you are always going to have those who get out their pitchforks to the tune of “Same old battery? Psh, we want better battery life!” It’s a catch-22 for a manufacturer. My argument is always going to be the same: Shut up and buy a few extra batteries. It’s not like they take up that much space in your bag. All of that to say: Battery performance is improved in my limited testing, add the vertical battery grip and once again you can rock 3 batteries at once, negating ALL arguments on the battery front. If this is your hangup then you need to reassess some things.

X-T2 + XF8-16f/2.8
X-T3 + XF8-16 f/2.8

Day #2 – Sunrise

There is something extremely peaceful in watching the earth come alive at first light. But more specifically I love waking up early enough to scout where I want to shoot. I got just the right amount of fog and haziness that I knew things were going to get pretty interesting. I found one spot in particular that I knew once the sun got high enough in the sky, I had to return to.

X-T3 + XF50-140 f/2.8
X-T3 + XF50-140 f/2.8 + 2x TC

There are a lot of things about photography that I love. But above it all is the ability to take what is normally a mundane scene, and capture light and atmosphere in such a way that makes for something complex and interesting. Everything else just melts away in those moments. I threw the 50-140 and 2x Teleconverter on to frame up the composition that I had found before the sun started to rise. Being that the 50-140 is my most used lens, I was anxious to get it on the camera and see how it performed, and much to my surprise the AF speed was something else. I played around focusing from the trees in the foreground that I was shooting through, to the lone tree behind and couldn’t believe how much the performance had been improved. Considering I never had any complaints about the speed on the X-T2, I have to admit I was very impressed.

This was the composition I was waiting for:

X-T3 + XF50-140 f/2.8

But what I didn’t anticipate was the heat from the rising sun causing more fog to fill the valley that I was shooting. It ended up creating some of the most beautiful and delicate light rays that I have ever seen. These kind of layers aren’t something that happen a lot here in Michigan, so you can imagine my excitement when the stars aligned.

X-T3 + XF50-140 f/2.8 + 2x TC
X-T3 + XF50-140 f/2.8 + 2x TC

I knew I had “my shot” so I headed home and stopped by a few of my normal spots along the way to capture the last bits of remaining fog and light. That 2 extra mm that you gain with the 8-16 may not seem like much, but it gave me a completely new perspective on scenes that I have been looking at for 4 years.

X-T3 + XF50-140f/2.8
X-T3 + XF8-16f/2.8
X-T3 + XF16 f/1.4

The detail off of this new sensor is just incredible. Check out the unsharpened 100% crop of the above image. (My goodness I never tire of shooting images like this with the XF16mm f/1.4.)

100% crop

Day #3 – Sunrise in Toledo, OH – 4am alarm

I decided that one of my best options for diversifying the things that I wanted to shoot would be to head to Toledo and meet up with one of my local friends Logan. My one hope was to be able to shoot some backlit deer at sunrise and really put the near 100% phase detection pixels to the test.

I led a Fujifilm sponsored photowalk the night before, so thankfully I had the XF200mmf/2 lens on hand, and decided to bring it along. It was pretty apparent that the weather was cooperating and the light was going to be beautiful. I stalked a crane wading in the river with the sun yet to rise, and I figured it would be an optimal setting to test the low light capabilities of the camera. Bumped up the ISO and Voila!

X-T3 + XF200 f/2
100% crop

When I got this one back on the computer, I have to admit I was a little taken.  For the record, I had in-camera NR turned off and no noise reduction was done in post. It was a little reminiscent of the time that I first looked at an image from the GFX50S at a high ISO. Obviously the noise performance out of that sensor is astonishing, but the level of detail, dynamic range, and noise performance that you get out of this backside illuminated sensor in the X-T3 is incredible for APS-C. I know low light performance and noise are usually huge points of contention in the “BUT FULL FRAME” argument, and I am here to happily say: BYEEEEEEEEEEEE! All joking aside, this is the point that I realized I would be upgrading both of my X-T2’s *tear*

X-T3 + XF8-16f/2.8

As the sun began to rise and dip behind some wispy clouds I shifted into “shoot everything” mode. I can’t wait to revisit these RAW files in post and really get a feel for the dynamic range off this sensor. As much as I love Fujifilm JPEGs, in my landscape work it is really tough for the artist in me to not have free reign over the image.

X-T3 + XF50-140 f/2.8
X-T3 + XF50-140 f/2.8

As the sun continued to climb we decided to walk a little deeper into the park. Logan knew of a couple areas where the deer like to hang out, and sure enough, we crossed paths with what appeared to be the bravest family of deer in existence. I went ahead and flipped to CH mode at 20fps ES just to see what the camera could do. The blackout time is virtually non-existent in the EVF and the 100fps refresh rate was really apparent. The camera just feels so much more responsive all around.

X-T3 + XF200 f/2
X-T3 + XF200 f/2

I made my way down alongside the bank to see if I could catch one of them drinking in the river (a shot I have never gotten despite years of visiting the park).

X-T3 + XF200 f/2

FINALLY! Really excited to snag this shot, but even more excited about the reflections and depth of the other shots that I got. The morning haze was in full swing and really added to the atmosphere.

X-T3 + XF50-140 f/2.8
X-T3 + XF50-140 f/2.8
X-T3 + XF50-140 f/2.8

I kept following as they made their way along the river, and managed to grab a couple “portraits” of mama and baby looking right at the camera, autofocus never wavering despite all of the weeds in the foreground.

X-T3 + XF200 f/2
X-T3 + XF200 f/2

Having been absolutely satisfied by the morning’s haul, we headed to another of Toledo’s best spots to again put the 8-16 to work.

I have shot this location time and time again and it never ceases to amaze. Regardless of the time of day, the light always falls so magically. And again, that extra 2mm makes ALL the difference in a place like this. (That sunstar though…)

X-T3 + XF8-16f/2.8
X-T3 + XF8-16f/2.8

I also knew that this spot was going to be wonderful for some lifestyle shots of the camera in action. I am SO excited about the addition of silver out of the gate. Something about that retro look that I am really into. Prepare yourselves for some gear porn…

Day #4 – The End – 3:30am alarm

Knowing that I wanted to finish strong, I ended up taking this day off work to head to Hocking Hills in Ohio. It’s only a 4 hour drive from me, but I knew it was really going to further diversify what I could present in this blog post for the launch. I enlisted another friend of mine named Dave to come along for the trip. There are offsetting benefits and costs for Hocking Hills in the summertime. The tree cover makes mid-morning to afternoon light totally acceptable to shoot, but the waterfalls were more than likely going to be completely dried up. Regardless, it was the right call to go. We quickly realized that we were going to be going through Toledo right around sunrise again, so I made the call to go ahead and have a repeat of the previous morning.

X-T3 + XF50-140 f/2.8
X-T3 + XF8-16f/2.8

Somehow the sunrise was even more amazing than the day before, and made for some excellent hero shots.

X-T2 + XF16 f/1.4

Shortly thereafter we were on the road again. Hocking Hills is located about an hour north of where I grew up, so I definitely consider the area home. Any chance that I get to go back and visit is never a disappointment. Much to our chagrin, I was right, and the water was pretty low. But this did mean that we had unfettered access to the areas normally obstructed by water. So I got to shoot a few vantage points that I never had seen before.

X-T3 + XF8-16f/2.8
X-T3 + XF8-16f/2.8

The light coming through the trees, as I expected, was absolutely beautiful and made me extremely happy that I had sacrificed a vacation day even if I was only going to be there for a few hours.

X-T3 + XF8-16f/2.8
X-T3 + XF8-16f/2.8

The last spot of the day was the lower falls at Old Man’s Cave. Thankfully there was a decent amount of water running and we were able to make our way around the side and get right underneath the falls – something normally not possible to do. There were some beautiful logs that made for a spectacular foreground element that I climbed down to. And I have to admit in an awkward situation like this, where you have the camera on a tripod in a place where there is no place to comfortably stand, using the touchscreen to autofocus and fire the shutter was extremely handy.

X-T3 + XF8-16f/2.8
X-T3 + XF8-16f/2.8

All in all it was an exhilarating couple of days, and I have so many wonderful things to say about this camera. I mean, we really bonded in that short time. In a way it truly is the perfect upgrade for someone like me who shoots a variety of different subjects and needs the absolute best in image quality and low-light performance without wanting to sacrifice anything on size. I have also recently found myself utilizing continuous AF more for different things, and the phase detection across the sensor makes for an amazing experience. Like chasing around my 2-year-old son, and I mean quite literally chasing him around has resulted in some crazy sharp images. I have never been a face detection guy, but I figured that I would give it a shot and it was extremely impressive.

XT3 + 16mm f/1.4
XT3 + 16mm f/1.4

If you shoot video, then the 10-bit recording and 4K/60 is going to be a game changer for you. I know, I know. Many are going to say, “But where is the IBIS?” Well for those of you haven’t been following along since the very first X Series camera was released in 2011, Fujifilm have dedicated themselves to maintaining a certain size-to-performance ratio. Fujifilm released the X-H1 because there were video professionals that required it. And I fully expect them to continue in that direction. If you need IBIS, you’ll have an option for that in the X-H line. The X-T lineup, however, will always be there for photographers like me – who would much rather the smaller form factor.

X-T3 + 50-140 f/2.8

Boasting an extensive feature set, this is a worthy upgrade from a camera that I have adored for the past 2 years. The X-T2 marketing efforts boasted “Creative Perfection” and I have to admit that for me, it is still abundantly true. I am so grateful that Fujifilm have recognized that when something “isn’t broken, then there is no need to fix it” and the X-T3 retains the same ergonomics and controls that I have grown to love, with a few  upgrades where it counts. Buttons and dials feel more like they do on the X-H1, bigger and stiffer, and the booster grip has a much beefier feel to it. Making it closer in size to the standard grip on the X-H1. These cameras just have such a personality to them. I have shot with a lot of other mirrorless systems, and while other manufacturers are stripping away physical dials, like Sony, Nikon, and Canon with their newly announced mirrorless cameras, Fujifilm is planting their feet firmly in the ground in a way that makes me extremely happy. Because in reality, it means EVERYTHING to the way that I shoot. Between the operation speeds, improved low light performance, and autofocus improvements this is a total win. And the already small gap between APS-C and full frame is all but closed in my opinion.

X-T3 + 200mm f/2

My hopes for this post were to give you a real world account of how this camera feels to me, as well as LOADS of images. Because for some reason, outside of the wonderful Jonas Rask, Dan Bailey, and other fellow X-Photographers, images don’t tend to be the focal point in a typical camera review. I wanted to do a bit more than step into my backyard and shoot flowers or my cat for you. Selfishly, I hope that everyone gets to experience the joy and satisfaction of shooting with this system, because it’s SO much more fun being on the dark side.

In conclusion: “Impressive… MOST impressive.”

As always, I would love to continue the conversation on social media. If you have questions that I didn’t answer, hit me up below or on twitter or instagram! Want to call BS on a claim? I would love nothing more than to banter with you. Because above all, I hope to continue to grow our community! And of course, if you have been inspired at all to purchase any of the aforementioned gear, consider using my amazon affiliate links below, I will get a small kickback that allows me to buy pizza and beer:

 

Fujifilm X-T3 Mirrorless Digital Camera
Fujifilm VG-XT3 Battery Grip
Fujifilm X-T2 Mirrorless Digital Camera
Fujinon XF 50-140mm F2.8 R LM OIS WR
Fujinon XF 16mm F1.4 R WR
Fujinon XF56mmF1.2 R
Fujinon XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS Wide Angle Zoom Lens

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Bryan Minear is an Official Fujifilm X-Photographer, Vanguard Professional, & GNARBOX Pro Team member based in the Midwest.



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