Sunday, September 9, 2018

FIRST LOOK REVIEW: FUJIFILM X-T3 - When a great camera gets better! (PART 1)

When the Fujifilm X-T2 was launched just over two years ago, a lot of photographers were very excited. Rightly so, as the X-T2 turned out to be a great camera for pros and serious amateurs. Although I made the complete switch from Nikon to Fujifilm when the X-T1 (review here) came out, now 4 years ago, the X-T2 was a big step up from its predecessor. 




About 6 months ago, there were more and more rumors about a possible successor of the X-T2 that would be announced at Photokina. Well, we didn't even have to wait till the worlds largest photography conference at Cologne, Germany; a few days ago the X-T3 has been announced!

Unlike the X-T2 (review here) where I was more involved in the early development of the new camera, Fujifilm Middle East, got me a pre-production copy of the X-T3 much closer to the release date. Work commitments made it not possible to have a full "First look review" ready at release date, but here it is now!

Lets get the usual disclaimer out of the way. The camera I tested was not a production copy. There might still be small changes once it becomes available on the market end of September. I used two different firmware releases, the last one being 1.0, which I suspect being close to if not identical to production ready . 

As I've been shooting the X-T2 as my main camera for the last two years, this "First Look" review will for a large part compare it to its predecessor.

DESIGN
At first sight the X-T3 looks virtually identical to its older brother and this is a good thing! When comparing it side to side, the grip is just a little bit more pronounced, although minimal. It is made of magnesium alloy and is of course weather sealed.

The weight of the X-T3 is 539 g, compared to 507 g for the X-T2; not a significant difference. Except for the depth which has increased by about 9mm, the rest of the dimensions are about the same.  




The label at the bottom right that used to say "Made in Japan", is gone. Not a surprise as the camera is Made in China; well we should say Assembled in China! A fact that is somewhat hidden with a label at the back of the tilt screen. Is it a big deal? Well nobody seems to complain that their +1000,-USD iPhone or Android phone is made in China as well... The fact that the X-T3 is cheaper than when the X-T2 was originally launched, is probably partially because of the move to China for production. Clearly the design is still 100% Japanese and I personally for the moment don't see a reason to be concerned. Time will tell if there is a difference quality control as well as wear and tear, over time. 

BUTTONS AND DIALS
The X-T2 corrected a flaw of the X-T1 where the 4 way controller buttons (D-pad) were too much recessed and were quite hard to be pressed. But it wasn't however perfect when it comes to the top plate. 


A lot of people complained that the exposure compensation button on the X-T2 was often bumped unintentionally while handling the camera; Fujifilm seems to have listened and have made the button slightly smaller. The X-T2 combined ISO and Drive dial on the top left is also not without its own problems. When changing the ISO it is not uncommon to also end up in the different drive mode. Using the same button design as on the X-H1 seems to have addressed that problem as well! The overall button layout is identical to the X-T2.

For those like me which don't any longer have perfect eyesight, the little diopter button on the left side of the viewfinder is now lockable; again a small but important update.


Front and rear command dials have a bit more resistance and have a better "clicky" feel (if that is even a word?) to them. Overall all of the camera buttons and dials will be easier to handle with large hands and/or using light gloves for cold weather usage. I was hoping to have a better button for "back button autofocus"; a bit like on the X-H1, but unfortunately we have to live with the AF-L or AE-L buttons. When it comes to buttons and dials, to me this is the only thing that could be improved upon. 

LCD
I was hoping for a fully articulating screen (like on the much cheaper X-T100), but unfortunately we have to live with the same 3-way tilt screen like on the X-T2. 

The only difference of the 3 inch 1.04M dots LCD, is that it is now also a touchscreen; a good thing! Like on some of the other recent X-series touchscreen cameras, the LCD can be used as an autofocus touchpad when shooting through the EVF. Depending which eye you shoot with and in order to avoid your nose picking the AF point, only a certain part of the screen can be used for this function.

Overall, I did find the touchscreen experience very similar to the one on the X-H1. Having touchscreen together with the "joystick" gives one plenty of choices to navigate and AF. 


ELECTRONIC VIEW FINDER (EVF)
The EVF, is the same as on the X-H1 and GFX 50S and has resolution of 3.69M dots (1280x960) compared to 2.36M dots on the X-T2. Unlike some other cameras the full resolution of the EVF is used in both play and shooting mode. Fujifilm claims to have worlds fastest EVF with a 0,005s lag... how do they even time something like this

A complaint some photographers had was that when zooming to 100% on a RAW file, the zoom was much less than when looking at a jpeg file at 100%. Although the functionality is still the same, the size of the embedded jpeg in the RAW file has been increased. This allows for "almost" the same 100% zoom as on a full size jpeg.  

Compared to the X-T2, the top of the viewfinder is a few millimetres further away from the body, which reduces nose contact with the LCD; those with very large noses are out of luck! 😀 

By default the EVF frame rate is 60fps, which is plenty for most shooting. "Boost mode" brings this up to 100fps. 

SENSOR / PROCESSOR / SHUTTER  
The new camera has a brand-new 26.1Mpx X-Trans 4 APS-C BSI CMOS sensor which builds on the existing X-Trans technology. As the name implies, the sensor is a Back Illuminated Sensor (BSI). Basically it should allow for better low light performance. Check out this link for more info on BSI. Minimum native ISO is now 160 instead of 200, while the extended goes down to 80; a welcome reduction.

I was not able to test RAW file development as no RAW developer was available while testing. In part 2 of this blog, we will have a look at the image quality in some sample images.


One of the things I was silently hoping for was the amazingly soft shutter of the X-H1 made with special springs... Well, I'm as disappointed as you are. The actual shutter feels pretty much identical to the X-T2 one, which wasn't bad to start with.  

The shutter can be selected in a variety of modes; the standard Mechanical Shutter (MS) and Electronic Shutter (ES), but also like the X-H1 the Electronic Front Curtain Shutter (EF) mode that under certain conditions allows for a shorter to non existent black out time. There are also a variety of combinations, depending on the actual shutter speed, such as MS+ES, EF+MS, EF+MS+ES. 


When shooting in EF shutter mode the sound is just a little bit quieter but not by much; unlike the X-H1 where the difference between MS and EF is much more pronounced. Compared to the X-T2, the MF shutter sound is a little bit softer, again not by much and only noticeable when tested side by side.

The X-T3 processor, "its brain", is also brand-new; the 4 core X-Processor 4 is three times faster. It does a very good job processing images and clearing the buffer. Combined with high frame rates (fps), the EVF provides a blackout free shooting experience at 30fps.



For very high speed action there is a new Sport Finder mode; this uses a 1.25 cropped image (limited to 16Mpx) which is indicated by a special frame on both LCD and EVF. This way one can see the action enter the viewfinder before the actual (cropped) frame is entered. A bit like when using a Optical viewfinder which of course this camera does not have. 

There are a large variety of fps settings available to choose from when in CH and CL mode. The highest is 30fps when using the Sport Finder mode and Electronic Shutter (ES). When using the ES mode in non-Sport mode, the camera shoots at 20fps maximum at its full 26.1Mpx resolution. The highest fps using the Mechanical shutter (MS) is a respectable 11fps. 

As the sensor read-out is 1.5 faster than on the X-T2, the rolling shutter problems when using ES have largely disappeared. I did not see any electronic shutter artifacts, even when panning fast moving cars; a scene where these artifacts are common. It might need some more real life testing, but I believe the ES has become a viable option for shooting fast action. If you don't like to use the ES, 11fps with the mechanical shutter is still pretty good as well! 

When it comes to buffer slowdown, the most limiting is obviously when shooting uncompressed RAW files at 30fps using the new Sport Finder mode. Most serious sport shooters will limit themselves to jpeg only anyway. By doing so one easily doubles the numbers of shots before a slowdown. When using a fast SD card (300Mb/s), emptying the buffer is fast. Even while it is doing so, the camera is still useable and record some more.

Lastly, something Fujifilm can more than likely easily rectify in a firmware update; when the self-timer is set on (2 or 10s) and the camera goes to sleep, I don't want to go back into the menu to redo what I just did. Please Fujifilm, make it like the GFX where it "remembers" your last setting on the timer before auto-shutdown. 


AUTOFOCUS


Autofocus on the X-T2 for all except the most challenging tracking situations was already pretty good; especially since the 4.3 firmware update. As the new sensor is now completely covered with Phase detection Auto-Focus points (PDAF), it makes for faster AF, especially in low light and while AF tracking. And there is no shortage AF points; 425 to be precise!

The low light illuminance PDAF has been increased from -1EV to -3EV; this basically means that the camera will still autofocus when underexposing by 3 stops. Although still limited by lens design as well, the difference in low light  AF was noticeable when using older Fujifilm glass like the 35mm f1.4.

One thing that was definitively lacking on previous generation X-series cameras, was the Face and Eye detection. Although fully featured it was not known for its reliability... Together with the new faster processor, a new Face-detection logic is used which seems much better.


MEMORY CARD SLOTS / EXTERNAL PORTS
Like the X-T2, the camera has two SD card slots, both support UHS-II up to 512GB. Yes Nikon and Canon, a mirrorless with 2 card slots! It is possible. But, it seems that only still images can be backed up. I did not find a way of backing up video files to the second card... Kaizen, Fujifilm?


Just above the memory card slots on the right, there is now a separate Remote shutter release port that takes any 2.5mm remote. My old 7,- USD Phototix unit worked just fine but I'm sure Fujifilm will be selling a branded one as well! Having a separate remote release door is a big plus for me as I hate leaving all my ports open in dusty environments. 



On the left, one still has the rest of the wired camera connectivity; HDMI port, USB 3.1 connection, a microphone port (3.5mm) and yes... a headphone port (3.5mm)! In the X-T2 the latter is only part of the battery grip and received a lot of critique. Also the little door can be removed for those that will install the camera on a video rig. Well done Fujifilm!


BATTERY AND VERTICAL BOOSTER GRIP
The camera uses the same NP-126S battery which we was originally introduced on the X-T2 and can also be found in the X-T20, X-H1. Using the new processor they have been able to conserve some energy; a single battery is now good for 390 images up from 340 in the X-T2. The camera comes with the BC-W126S battery charger but I did not observe any problems using the older BC-W126 chargers. 



The camera itself can be charged via the USB-C connection on the left. What is new, is that it can charged while actively using the camera, even with an external power-bank. The only caveat is that one will need 9V power output. The lower 5V output will charge but won't allow it to remain on while doing so.

Like its predecessor, there is an accessory Vertical Grip (VG-XT3). Notice that it is no longer called a Vertical "Booster" Grip (VBG), as the booster part is now part of the camera body itself. Yes, that is right, while on the X-T2 the grip provided extra camera performance (EVF Frame rate, fps,...) this is not the case any longer. 



Like the camera, it looks virtually identical as well. A hardware difference on the new grip is that there is no more headset port as it is now on the body itself. Some will ask why there was a need for new grip since the size is almost identical? It is likely because the "Booster" element was not needed any longer and redesign was needed. Its launching price has however remained at 329,-USD. A bit on the high side for a 1500,-USD body, but special bundle deals for the moment bring it down to around 200-250,-USD. The main reason while one would get the grip is to extend the battery life as well as better handholding with long glass like the XF100-400 or XF200 f2 lens. I also tend to charge all of my batteries via the grip as it is much faster.

CONNECTIVITY
Like all of the recent X-series cameras the X-T3 is equipped with low power 4.2 Bluetooth and connects easily with the Fujifilm Camera Remote App on IOS or Android. Beside remote control of the camera, the app also allows for image transfer to your smartphone or tablet but there is room for improvement here... 

Looking at the competition I think it is time to overhaul the Camera remote app and functionality. Fujifilm, please look what Panasonic have done with theirs; for example still not being able to browse through images in landscape mode is not really 21st century like.

Unfortunately the geo-tagging is still not up to my expectations neither. One still needs to regularly check and update the position by re-syncing the app as the geotagging does not seem to remain life and update itself on the fly. What I would like to see is a single start-up of the app at the beginning of the shoot and then switch it off at the end; this while constantly updating the geotag position of the camera. It might draw a little bit more power, but for me it would be worth it.   

VIDEO
What came somewhat as a surprise to me is how featured the X-T3 is as a video camera. Now, I've said it before, I'm not your video man... 

Merely experimenting a bit with video, there are definitively better reviewers out there who do specialize in video. For starters I invite you to check out Cinema5D post about the video features of the X-T3.

In brief the camera is the first APS-C camera that shoots 10bit internally. 4K video up to 60fps is available as well as in-camera 120fps slow motion. Video shooters love the Eterna camera profile, as it is easy to grade in post processing.

Like the X-T2 internal F-Log (call it RAW for video) is available as well. While before a video recording would stop whenever a battery was empty when using the battery grip, it now automatically switches over to the next battery seamlessly. 

The Movie menu has 5 pages of features and functions, including new items like Zebra settings, tally lights, etc... Serious video shooters will of course be mainly shooting on monopods or with video-rigs as the X-T3 does not have In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS).

NEW MENU ITEMS

The X-T3 has a number of new menu items. Below I'll pick a few which I find noteworthy...

PRE-SHOT ES
Another function that sport and other high speed shooters will like is the Pre-Shot function which is only available in Electronic Shutter (ES). This starts shooting images as soon as the shutter button is half pressed, constantly loading the last 20 into the buffer, initially not onto the card. When the shutter is fully pressed the last 20 images are then transferred from the buffer onto the SD card on top of the actual images made while pressing the shutter. This improves our changes when shooting fast action photography, where we are sometimes just a split second too late. Only thing, we need to remember is to half-press the shutter a little before the actual shot is expected. 

BLACK AND WHITE TONING
Both for standard Monochrome as well as in Acros Film simulation modes, the in camera jpeg files can now be toned.


Acros Y with +2 Warm
As part of the Image Quality tab, there is a warm and cool tone setting of +/-9. Especially when being used at the smaller settings (max 2), this makes for some nicely toned black and white images. Just get rid of the Sepia Film Simulation Fujifilm and give us something useful instead! 

ETERNA
In order to have a nice "cinema" look and allow for easier grading in video, the Eterna Film Simulation is now also available on the X-T3. It makes for soft color and rich shadows.  


COLOR CHROME 
When expressing colors such as red, orange or yellow in high contrast, high brightness tends to exist. If contrast and brightness both reach their peaks, there is no longer room for tonality. As a result, the image becomes flat. Color Chrome Effect uses this to create tonality while maintaining high contrast. As a result, an image is achieved without losing its depth. About 10 years ago, this was done with the creation of "fortia" film. 

Rather than building a new Film Simulation for our X-series, Fujiflm has decided to give us the option to add the Color Chrome affect a la Fortia, as part of the image quality tab. 

It is however not to be used for all images. In the image of the aircraft below,  where the reds have not peaked yet, one notices that the one without the effect is a better image.


Velvia - Color Chrome Effect OFF

Velvia - Color Chrome Effect STRONG
In the image below, the one with the effect on STRONG, has more detail and is probably better as some of the yellows/oranges are blown out in the first image.  

Velvia - Color Chrome Effect OFF

Velvia - Color Chrome Effect STRONG
It is something we first saw in the GFX50S Medium format and which is now also available with one of three settings; OFF/WEAK/STRONG. With the previous X-Processor Pro there was about a 1s slowdown whenever the effect was being used. Users were therefore asked to preferably use it post shooting as part of the in-camera RAW development and not while shooting. The newer processor in the X-T3 is however perfectly capable to apply the effect while shooting. Whenever you are shooting reds and yellows in high contrast situation, think about this setting! 

WHITE BALANCE LOCK
Sometimes things are being implemented and one thinks, "why has nobody before thought about this"? This is the case with the White balance Lock function. Just like one can press a button to lock the exposure (AE-L) or autofocus (AF-L), we can now do the same for a given white balance. This is especially useful when different lights in night scenes constantly change the WB. Yes, we can enter a custom WB but this is so much easier. All the points for innovation Fujifilm!

MANUAL FOCUS 
Focus peaking to make manual focus easier has been around since a while. What might sound like a little thing is that the colour that shows the in-focus area can now also be set to "yellow" (like on the X-H1). Especially when shooting black and white, I find this much better than the red setting I used before. 

There is more for you manual focus shooters... A Digital Microprism like we used to know in the film days has now entered the 21st century. Especially when using older glass with a smooth focus ring (non focus by wire), this seems to work well. With the newer lenses I personally still prefer Focus Peaking. 




ELECTRONIC LEVEL
Like the X-H1 it features a two axis (pitch and roll) electronic level. I prefer to use one of the 4 touchpad functions to be allocated to the electronic level.

INFORMATION CONTRAST ADJUSTMENT
Likely something I won't use that much, but there are four different contrast settings for all of the information text displayed on the LCD and EVF. Part of the screen set-up, this changes only the text in the EVF and LCD, unlike a change in brightness that is still available for both EVF and LCD. The latter one, changes the brightness of the image as well as the surrounding text symbols. There are 4 choices; standard contrast setting, High, Low and Dark Ambient Lighting. The last one provides you with red text only, which will protect your night vision when out and about in the dark.

In Part 2, we will have a look at the image quality, provide you with some real life sample images as well as come up with some conclusions.

Feel free to share this blogpost; no need for prior permission as long as Bjorn Moerman Photography is credited.


Till then, 
BJORN




4 comments:

Bob Jensen Photography said...

Great article. Can't wait for part 2. Next time we meet I will have one of these!

Bjorn Moerman said...

PART 2 is out now...

Pennyfan said...

Best review by far, thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

I could not tell much a diff from chrome effect on the burning truck photos, but the photo was sure interesting. What this a staged stunt? Or was it an accident?