Testing out the Fujifilm XT3

BACKGROUND:

I’ve thoroughly loved my trusty Canon system for the last 6 years. With a kit of about 5 main components- a 5D Mark III, 17-40mm f/4, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8 and 580ex II strobe, I’ve been able to shoot anything that comes my way- from events to portraits to landscapes. It’s no wonder the 5D is an industry standard for photojournalists and imaging professionals alike.

Recently I’ve been looking into getting a second 5D body (the new Mark IV) to have the added versatility of two bodies while shooting events- however, something else caught my eye: mirrorless…

Mirrorless cameras have exploded on the market in recent years and boast many gimmicky features that appear to upstage traditional DSLR’s; but do they match up? My only experience with mirrorless systems had been a Sony a6000 which shot impressive pictures for it’s size, but still lacked the dynamic range, color depth, and functionality of prosumer DSLR’s. Mirrorless cameras have been progressing fast, however, and I was drawn into the Fujifilm X-series (mainly due to aesthetic reasons- the old 35mm film camera vibe is right up my alley…). The stats check out on paper, and make this camera out to be a miracle at an affordable cost. Temptation got the best of me, and I forewent the safe option of another 5D and instead threw money at an XT3, 24-70mm f/2.8 (35mm equivalent) and 24mm f1.2 .

Taking my new Fuji XT3 on a test run shooting photos on Aspen Mountain. Pictured with an added grip (I found this pretty useful for ergonomics) and the  XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R  lens, which actually isn’t all that better than the kit lens. Just heavier and more expensive, with constant aperture.

Taking my new Fuji XT3 on a test run shooting photos on Aspen Mountain. Pictured with an added grip (I found this pretty useful for ergonomics) and the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R lens, which actually isn’t all that better than the kit lens. Just heavier and more expensive, with constant aperture.

THE XT3 ARRIVES:

Upon receiving a huge B&H box with all the goodies, I tore through the packaging and quickly assembled my new camera kit like a kid on Christmas. I had a full week of assignments lined up for the newspaper which I work for, and decided it’d be good to put the camera through it’s paces and see how it performed shooting editorial assignments. I left my beloved Canon 5D Mark III in the office and set out with a sleek new mirrorless camera.

What I owned of the Fuji X-series packed away in my camera bag. It still takes up a lot of space, but was noticeably lighter and ‘sleeker’ than my Canon system. Felt great on the hike up Aspen mountain. A win for the mirrorless system!

What I owned of the Fuji X-series packed away in my camera bag. It still takes up a lot of space, but was noticeably lighter and ‘sleeker’ than my Canon system. Felt great on the hike up Aspen mountain. A win for the mirrorless system!

XT3 IN ACTION

So the aesthetics are sexy, the weight and size are nice, and the controls and layout are pretty intuitive. But how does it shoot? You can look at data and light analysis charts (or whatever the hell they use to compare camera sensors) all day, but in the end all I care about is the image it produces. So, here are some images I shot throughout the week for work and for fun…

On a shoot at Two Roots Farm in Basalt, CO. Direct sunlight, moody clouds… the 16mm f/1.2 produced pretty nice colors and was very sharp. Still kinda unsure about the color and dynamic range compared to a familiar Canon look… but I could get used to this.

On a shoot at Two Roots Farm in Basalt, CO. Direct sunlight, moody clouds… the 16mm f/1.2 produced pretty nice colors and was very sharp. Still kinda unsure about the color and dynamic range compared to a familiar Canon look… but I could get used to this.

Shooting the local disastrous post-office! Here’s an example of an un-edited photo in a variable lighting situation, where there’s a lot of light pouring in through the window, but the interior is dark. I used the camera’s increased dynamic range option (DR200) for this, and it turned out ok.

Shooting the local disastrous post-office! Here’s an example of an un-edited photo in a variable lighting situation, where there’s a lot of light pouring in through the window, but the interior is dark. I used the camera’s increased dynamic range option (DR200) for this, and it turned out ok.

Took a shot at the John Denver sanctuary in Aspen just to see what a landscape in broad daylight would look like. A nice sharp image, but the color still seems a little weird to me… maybe colder and greener than my familiar Canon profile? Even after warming it up in post and messing with sliders, it still doesn’t seem quite as ‘life-like’ as a Canon photo.

Took a shot at the John Denver sanctuary in Aspen just to see what a landscape in broad daylight would look like. A nice sharp image, but the color still seems a little weird to me… maybe colder and greener than my familiar Canon profile? Even after warming it up in post and messing with sliders, it still doesn’t seem quite as ‘life-like’ as a Canon photo.

Farmer hands shot with the 16mm f/1.2, and a pre-baked Lightroom filter applied. I thought the Fujifilm RAW files accepted filters and presets well, and looked good with film stock style colors.

Farmer hands shot with the 16mm f/1.2, and a pre-baked Lightroom filter applied. I thought the Fujifilm RAW files accepted filters and presets well, and looked good with film stock style colors.

Mountain top photo of the Freaks on an overcast day. Colors still seem a little off to me! Can’t really put it into words. but not the ‘look’ I’m familiar with in Canon. Still, nice and sharp and great detail though.

Mountain top photo of the Freaks on an overcast day. Colors still seem a little off to me! Can’t really put it into words. but not the ‘look’ I’m familiar with in Canon. Still, nice and sharp and great detail though.

FEATURES I LIKED

Shooting with the XT3 was actually pretty enjoyable. The dedicated ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and exposure dials were a nice touch (although still not as efficient to change as the 5D), AF worked well for what I used it for, and the ARTICULATING SCREEN! I love these so much for low angle shots, and I wish high end DSLR’s included these (although I can understand why they don’t- probably a durability issue). Overall the XT3 was a super enjoyable camera to shoot on, and I had a blast taking pictures with it. Did I mention it looks cool too?

VERDICT

So, while I really enjoyed the size and weight of this camera, the classic aesthetics, functionality, and overall design, I wasn’t quite as moved as I had hoped. Maybe I’m just too invested in the Canon series, or comfortable with how it all works. I’ve definitely become accustomed to the colors and feel of Canon cameras, and it was kinda hard to let that go. After all, any photo I’ve taken and been proud of in the last 6 years has come from my 5DMIII. Plus, with Canon, you’re in a way also buying into a whole network of other professionals and support, like Canon Pro Services, and widely available accessories and lenses. Fujifilm is definitely more limited in that arena. And, even though DSLR’s are heavy and clunky, they are true workhorses that get the job done, and do it very well. I don’t think I’m quite ready to give up my old clunky DSLR, and for that reason, the XT3 is currently in a box headed back to B&H, where they’ll (hopefully) refund my money and I’ll put it towards the 5DIV- something familiar, dependable, and, well- safe. If I had the extra cash, I would definitely keep the XT3 and 16mm prime for fun personal projects and traveling- but every penny counts for me. In the end, if my return isn’t accepted, and they send it back, I think I’d be okay with using both systems in my workflow, and capitalizing on each of their talents.

However, even after all this experimenting and searching for ‘the perfect camera’, I have to remind myself- it’s about the image, not the gear it took to get there. There are pictures shot on iPhones that will convey more emotion and depth than anything I’ll probably ever shoot. So while it’s fun to geek out on gear occasionally (and is definitely important for delivering high-quality, print-worthy images in a commercial setting), I think now it’s time to binge on photo books and start reading about some of my photographer heroes.

One of my favorite photos from a recent trip to Scotland, taken on an iPhone.

One of my favorite photos from a recent trip to Scotland, taken on an iPhone.