Fujifilm X-T3 review: Is it still relevant in 2021

Photography is one of my many hobbies. I still remember the day getting my first “proper camera”, a second hand Canon 500D off my dad’s old work colleague many years ago. It was a very light, beginner DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) camera which I learned all the photography basic with. A camera which ISO 400 was its very limit. Trying to take a photo with anything higher than that was like trying to watch a TV with a broken antenna. Despite that, for the 10 years I had with it, it was more than enough for my skill. But recently, with the mirrorless market maturing creating an ever more compact and capable camera, I wanted to treat myself with an upgrade with better portability and the skills that comes with a new camera.

Skill in photography is acquired by purchase, not by practice.

(or is it the other way round?)

Fujifilm launched the X-T3 back in 2018. By that point, Fujifilm has a reputation for making gorgeous cameras that also pack with great performance and X-T3 was no exception. Although only sporting a cropped sensor, it holds itself so well in the market that has often been used to compete in the “budget full-frame” market. 

Specification

Let’s get the boring list of spec out of the way:

  • 26.1MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS 4 with a primary colour filter.
  • 20 fps shooting with AF (11 fps with mechanical shutter)
  • 30 fps shooting in 1.25x crop with electronic shutter
  • 425-point hybrid AF system
  • Improved tracking AF and Face/Eye detection
  • 3.69M-dot electronic viewfinder
  • Dual SD cards slot
  • 10 bit 4:2:0 H.265 internal video capture
  • Internal F-Log capture
  • Three-Axis tilt screen
  • USB-C connector which also allows for charging the battery

That’s about the gist of it… Even a nerd like me gets bored after this. Essentially it’s a camera that comes with loads of impressive goodies that is enough for hobbyists and amateurs. Nowadays cameras are so good that the decision of which cameras system to pick boils down to the user experience (which we will get to) rather than spec alone.

The Good

1.    Good looking

Fujifilm X-T3 is gorgeous. Call me vain, but if everyone is producing extremely capable cameras, the least you can do to stand out is to have a good design. Just like a Fiat Multipla is more than capable to take you from A to B, why did you choose to drive a BMW? From the shutter speed and ISO dials to the threaded shutter button and the aperture ring on the XF lenses, everything plays its part to complete the nostalgic look. A slim profile instead of a big chunky box also means the fashion-conscious like myself are more likely to carry about to take pictures.

2.    Physicals dials

If you have read some of my previous blog posts, you probably know that I am a BIG FAN of physicals buttons and dials. Especially in cameras, you put your face to the viewfinder leaving very little space to use your touchscreen. Having physical dials and NINE buttons that can be customised to your preference improves the workflow by a million miles. Shaving off those precious seconds fiddling with settings can mean getting the shot or not. Although I found the on-off switch can be bumped a bit too easily, especially while chucking it in and out of the bag. On multiple occasions, it ended up taking pictures inside my bag like stupid bum calling people.

3.    Film simulation

You can’t talk about Fujifilm’s cameras without mentioning their film stimulations. Analogue photography is making a comeback. People like films for their personality that the “perfect” digital photography lacks. Fujifilm was already a big player in the photography world even back in the film day, Superia, Pro 400H and ACROS 100 to name a few. So it is incredible that Fujifilm decided to incorporate the colour science of those popular films into their digital camera. With the colour already amazing straight out of camera JPEG, it makes post-editing much easier. They also allow you to fine-tune how the camera process colour in-camera to create different “recipes” to achieve different looks like the infamous Portra 400 and many more.

4.    Great autofocus and fast continuous shoot

X-T3’s autofocus is quick and snappy. With the new firmware update, it improves the eye AF, tracking algorithm and the fastest AF speed down to 0.02 seconds to be on par with the latest X-T4. Although it may still not up to Sony’s standard, I found it performs well enough for my shooting style as a hobbyist. Pair with their extremely impressive continuous shooting mode up to 20fps with AF and 30fps in cropped mode, I still haven’t found a scenario where I wish to have a quicker camera. But just like owning a fast car, you know the speed limits are 30mph, but it is always nice to know your Bugatti can go to 300mph just in case you need it.

5.    More than a capable hybrid camera

Now I have to put my hands up that I am not a videographer so I don’t know much about video capability. So let me regurgitate some of the specs like the 10-bit 4K and internal F-Log capture, which sounded like something a serious videographer would be impressed by. And if you don’t want to grade your footage in post, you can use their film stimulation to get remarkable colour straight out of the camera.

6.    X-Trans sensor performance on par with Full Frame

I know the direct comparison between APS-C and Full Frame isn’t fair, but Fujifilm’s X-Trans sensor is holding up extremely well against, say Canon EOS RP’s sensor despite the smaller size. Without diving into too many details, Fujifilm’s X-Trans sensor arrange their photosites in a slightly different way compared to the conventional Bayer sensor. Fujifilm said it reduces the moire effect and therefore no need for a low pass filter that degrade the image resolution. The result means greater perceived resolution than the number of pixels. In real life, their low light performance also seems to outperformance the RP’s.

7.    Wallet-friendly lens selection

When I was considering different camera system, I was really drawn to Canon’s RF lenses because of their sharpness and colour rendering. But it gave me a heart attack even just looking at the price tag. For example, RF 70-200mm F2.8 costs an eye-watering £2,700 and meanwhile Fujifilm “equivalent” 50-140mm F2.8 costs less than half the price at £1,300. They are both incredible lenses and even if you can convince yourself that the RF lens is sharper, how many of us in the amateur world actually NEED that pixel-peeping difference. I mean if you have a bottomless bank account, by all mean, but not all of us work that hard or that lucky.

8.    Compact

Oh, and did I mention being compact? One of my reasons for wanting to switch to a mirrorless system is because it offers a slimmer profile. APS-C lenses are generally smaller because they only need to cover a smaller sensor. For instance, the massive Fujifilm XF 50mm F1, despite having a larger aperture, is still smaller than the Canon RF 85mm F1.2. My philosophy is: the smaller the system is, the more likely I will be bringing it around with me to shoot more.

The compromise

1.    Full Frame look

At the end of the day, APS-C is still just an APS-C. So you don’t get that “full-frame look” with that shallower depth of field (although it is not strictly true).

2.    Battery life

X-T3 uses the NP-W126S battery quoted to be able to take about 390 shots in one charge. To be fair, the number isn’t bad. But to conserve battery life because of its small capacity, X-T3 goes into the energy-saving mode (dimmer screen and slower refresh rate) after a few seconds of inactivity. Sometimes it can be irritating especially when you are just looking through the viewfinder trying to compose your image when it drops off, although a quick half-press of the shutter button will bring it back to normal.

3.    Shallow grip

X-T3 doesn’t have the chunkiest of grip. To maintain its slim profile, the grip is actually fairly shallow which doesn’t give you much confidence to hold especially if you have a big lens on. However, I don’t find it much of an issue as some other users online. Perhaps because Fujifilm is a Japanese company with a potentially Asian-sized design, it fits my hand pretty well. If it is a cause of concerns, there are loads of third party camera grip out there that can easily tackle that.

4.    Screen not fully articulate

One of the main selling points of this camera is its video capability. However, it doesn’t come with a fully articulated screen which makes vlogging difficult without an external monitor.

5.    Complicated menu system

Although it is not the worst I have used *cough Sony cough*, but coming from Canon who boasts an intuitive menu system, I found it hard to navigate through the menu system at first. It ended up taking much longer than I would like to get all my setting right for my need.

Still relevant in 2021?

Last year, in the midst of COVID lockdown, Fujifilm came out with their X-T3 upgrade, X-T4. With added IBIS, fully articulate and higher resolution screen, bigger battery, even faster continuous shooting and Classic Neg and Bleach bypass film stimulations, it is no doubt an overall better camera than X-T3. However, if you look a bit closer, X-T3 may actually be a better option for most people.

They both use the same sensor and image processor, and with a firmware update v4.0 to X-T3, the autofocus system is now the same as the X-T4 as well. It means the gut that REALLY matters is the same. Colour can be manipulated in post, you can carry an extra battery in your pocket and if you are mainly a photographer, you won’t need the fully articulated screen. So it is down to how much you would pay for the IBIS. At the moment, X-T3 is ~£400 cheaper than X-T4. That’s equivalent to a decent brand new lens like the 35mm F2 or the pancake 27mm F2.8 and more options available in the second hand market. The 5 axial IBIS are said to provide up to an impressive 6.5 stops compensation. It can come in clutch in a low light situation when you don’t have a tripod with you. In my opinion though, unless you are that niche of photographer that constantly encounter these scenarios, I would rather crank up the ISO, deal with the noise in post and get an extra lens. Or just be more organised and bring a tripod with you for god sake…

Verdict

Fujifilm has absolutely nailed it with their X-T3. It was easily the best APS-C camera out in the market when it was first released back in 2018 and still holds true in many aspects despite the release of X-T4. There is really no bad camera nowadays, but Fujifilm created a product that provides a holistic experience to photography rather than blindly chasing that perfect sharpness or even higher resolution. You might be able to find a better still camera or a better-equipped video camera out there but it will be tough to find a better camera that can do both as brilliant as this gem.

With the X-T4 available on the market, X-T3’s price has since dropped and to the majority of the hobbyists and amateurs looking for a startling good deal, I would say look no further because this camera will make you fall in love with photography once again.

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