An Honest Review of the Fuji XT-3

Scoot Down the Highway was an award-winning street shot I took with my Fuji XT-3.

When it became clear the Nikon Z6 was tragically flawed with both major autofocus issues and intentionally stunted device (hello one slot), I passed and bought a Fuji XT-3. While a crop sensor device, the XT-3, and its newer sister XT-4 are often lauded as comparable to many full-frame cameras.

After more than a year shooting with the camera, I can safely say the Fuji is a wonderful second body.  It is not a better camera than professional full-frame cameras. When I read such claims, I just shake my head. I would not replace my D850 with an XT-3 or 4.

Now, that’s not a knock. The XT-3 is currently a $999 crop sensor device. Its sister In-Body stabilization empowered XT-4  is a much pricier $1700. For $1000, I don’t think you can buy a better crop-sensor body. Given the cheaper and quite good XF lenses, yes, the XT-3 is probably as good a value as entry-level full-frame mirrorless cameras like the Sony A7II, Canon RP, and Nikon Z5.

This review doesn’t feature lab tests, and hopefully, it won’t bore you with overlong descriptions of technical details. I’ll leave that to the DP Reviews of the world. Instead, I will simply discuss the negatives and positives based on my experiences, and how the XT-3 fits into my current kit.

Sophisticated Camera Users Should Be Aware of these XT-3 Flaws

Southwest Harbor: This is an HDR image based on three bracketed Fuji images.

Matched up against a higher quality full-frame sensor, the Fuji suffers from dynamic range liabilities. It simply cannot produce photos with wide-ranging light levels, rendering darker than normal shadows. Further, it struggles to meter effectively in such situations. These are significant issues for landscape and event photographers who must deal with dynamic lighting situations (hello, wedding sunset photo).

For landscapes, I have overcome this by bracketing five photos on a tripod and creating simple HDR stacks to create more dynamic range. However, what takes me three frames with my Fuji, I can often achieve with one frame in my Nikon D850.

In addition, I have noticed (as have others) that the Fuji XT-3 really does not perform well in low-light situations. It’s bad on several levels, primarily autofocus challenges, but also grain when you open the shadows (dynamic range again).

A lovely single frame sunset taken with the XT-3, but it does illustrate the limited dynamic range. I pushed the edit as far as I could take it without making the photo too grainy.

The XT-3 struggles to meter well in such situations.  Finally, its lower ISO range ends at 160, a far cry from bigger full-frame sensors featured on Canon and Nikon.  These flaws impact night and event photography.

Fuji’s low light experience is bad enough that even though I can shoot with the XT-3, I avoid doing so. I have seen it miss in several low light situations where Nikon DSLRs almost always succeed. As a result, I wouldn’t use my XT-3 for an event or night photography, unless I needed to as an emergency fill-in body.  Why bother when you have a Nikon D850?

A smaller nitpick… Pixel peepers may find the unique Fuji X-Trans processor pixels a bit annoying, particularly if you want to edit at that level. This is a minor issue for me, but it has come up a few times with tight portraits.

Finally, I am still a bit peeved that Fuji released the XT-4 so quickly after the 3 and that the company basically gutted the latter’s price making my used  XT-3 worth only several hundred dollars.  But with so many cheap full-frame cameras hitting the market, I understand this.

What I Love About the Fuji XT-3

A portrait of DC Model Holly Ahrens taken with my Fuji XT-3.

OK, some tools are not equal, and a professional or serious enthusiast knows this. That being said, the Fuji XT-3 is still a great camera that has a lot to offer.

I have touted my Nikon D850’s virtues, but let’s be honest: It is a big heavy camera. Nikkor lenses are equally heavy when compared to the Fuji’s extensive line-up of XF lenses.  Size and weight were the primary reasons why I began seeking a mirrorless solution two years ago.

The XT-3 is much lighter than the NikonD90,  Df, D750, D810, and D850 (my previous five cameras).  The Fuji’s size and nimbleness make it ideal for street and travel photography.

Further, its dials and interface are much more enjoyable than the workmanlike Nikon. That makes for a much more fun experience shooting.  So when I go on a walkabout, I grab the Fuji every time.

Bass Harbor Head Light as photographed on my Fuji XT-3.

From a technical perspective, the Fuji XT-3 is a vastly superior video camera. It is simply head and shoulders better than the Nikon DSLRs I have used. In addition, the Fuji XT-3 bracketing feature is superior to Nikon’s, particularly when shooting handheld.  Its compensation dial is better and more intuitive than Nikon’s compensation feature. Finally, it’s joystick-based autofocus system is 80 times better than the Nikon D850’s.

Believe it or not, I am still using the kit 18-55 F2.8-4 kit lens, too. It’s a damn good lens that delivers robust sharp images. I have augmented it with the incredible XF 56 f1.2 lens, and the less impressive but low profile XF 27 f2.8 lens. More on lenses in the kit section.

I did bring my Fuji to Acadia National Park on my recent three-week workcation. And I shot with it about 75% of the time, particularly when I  went on hikes with my dog and bicycle rides. Though I used the Nikon D850 for more dynamic situations like astrophotography and some select landscape shots, the Fuji was always the go-to for walkabouts.

My daughter Soleil as photographed in Graffiti Alley in Baltimore on the Fuji.

On the editing side, the much-lauded Fuji color science is as fantastic as advertised. You get really dynamic and rich colors during the golden hour and throughout the day. The film simulations as photo profiles are amazing. My favorites are Eterna Cinema, Pro Negative Hi, and the robust vibrant Velvia.

XT-3 images are super sharp with the kit lens and the 56 mm lens, rarely needing much assistance in the editing software.  Editing Fuji images generally takes a little less time than the Nikon. When put in situations where the camera shoots well, it renders better raw photos than the DSLRs I have used.

How the Fuji Fits In My Kit

A Black Lives Matter protest photo taken with my Fuji XT-3.

Short term, the Fuji XT-3 is my back-up body for professional jobs. I just converted my Nikon D810. Given the COVID 19 crisis and its impact on events, most of the jobs I do get these days, don’t require a second body.

When I am out shooting on my own, I use it for travel, street, and dog/photo walks. I also use it as a second camera when I am shooting in diverse situations that also require a 70-200, such as a political protest.

As already noted, the Fuji offers a more enjoyable photo experience in spite of its limitations. However, because of its limitations, I am hesitant to invest in too many XF lenses.  I will need to buy a second full-frame camera when the COVID situation ends and events return.

A cardinal as photographed with the Fuji XT-3 and a rented 100-400 XF lens.

Lenses are pricey for full-frame systems. It would be penny wise and pound foolish to get too invested in the Fuji system.

Even though I need a new wide-angle zoom to replace my old 14-24, I am waiting to choose a full-frame mirrorless system before buying a new wide-angle lens. New professional zooms for events and 35 and 85 mm prime lenses will all be full-frame mirrorless, as the replacement need dictates.

That being said, when there are lenses I want just for fun purposes, the Fuji system has the answers I need. It is likely to be an ongoing part of my kit, at least for street photography, photo walks, and travel purposes.

I  rented the Fuji 100-400 zoom lens twice, and have had outstanding results with it that are on par with Nikon’s 200-500 lens. Fisheye lens? Yeah, that seems like a good third party X system purchase.

Final Thoughts

A Cadillac Mountain sunrise as seen through a Fuji XT-3.

If you are considering the XT-3 for a personal camera, I think you will love it. At its current price, this is a steal of a camera. The accompanying lenses are relatively affordable.  It can handle 80-90% of the situations you will want to photograph.

But if you are looking for a professional camera system, I think you would be well-served renting an XT-3 or 4 for a couple of weeks with a nice lens and really pushing it to meet more challenging situations. I think you will find yourself looking elsewhere for answers.

When it comes to professional mirrorless, the Canon R5 and R6 look great. The Sony A9 II and perhaps the upcoming A7 IV are also intriguing. And finally, Nikon is rumored to at least finally update the Z6 with the professional features it was missing.  It may be that the Fuji GFX medium format system meets those needs, but it has a limited lens system and is still a bit more pricey than most professional full-frame mirrorless systems.

Outside of my professional needs, the Fuji has demonstrated its worth as a fun walk-about camera. I may go X-Pro at a later date, but for the foreseeable future, the XT-3 is a fine camera.

 

 

 

 

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