In a field crowded with options, there is no better value for the money than the Fuji X-T3.
There’s an informal title in the world of boxing just as sought after as the more official World Heavyweight Champion. Due to the vast difference in physical sizes between boxers, the athletes compete in various divisions based on their weight. So a heavyweight boxer won’t be paired in the ring with a featherweight. Or, to put it simply for those unfamiliar with the terminology, putting a 300 pound boxer in the ring with a 150 pound boxer in a competitive match would quickly migrate from the world of sports to manslaughter.
Yet, the delineation between the groups is based on size, not skill. It’s hard to say that Sugar Ray Leonard was a lesser boxer than Mike Tyson just because they were born with different body types. So boxing fans long ago coined the phrase “the best pound-for-pound” boxer to identify the fighter with the greatest understanding of the sweet science despite their physical attributes. It’s a way of judging an athlete based on his specific skill set and effectiveness and not on the statistics on the back on his baseball card.
I borrow that phrase now as it is the best way I can think of to explain what makes the Fuji X-T3 the best bang for the buck in my current camera lineup. Yes, it has an APS-C sized sensor as opposed to full frame. In boxing terms, if medium format would equate to heavyweight, full frame to light heavyweight, the APS-C would fight in the middleweight division. Continuing the analogy, I suppose you’d put Micro 4/3 in the welterweight division and even smaller sensors in the lightweight division. But enough boxing analogies as I’m sure you get the point. The sensor, on paper at least, lives in the middle of the pack. Not quite full frame but in 2019 image quality terms, more than capable of producing “professional” images.
Just to give you an idea of the basis from which I am speaking, I am a long time Nikonian. I began my career with the crop sensor Nikon D200 but now shoot primarily with the full frame 45.7MP Nikon D850 or, when the assignment demands, the Phase One medium format systems. In-house, my primary mode for capturing video is a Canon C200. Arri Alexas or Red Cameras are rented when the client’s needs demand it. Generally speaking, I am not above spending money on quality. I am a commercial photographer and director working in the advertising market creating images and films for larger athletic and activewear brands. My clients demand nothing less.
So why, when I have all of those tools at my disposal, do I identify as my best purchase the camera system that is only ¼ the cost of my Nikon system (including lens and accessories) and only 1/10 the cost of my Canon C200 setup? Doesn’t the D850 provide a higher resolution still file in a side-by-side comparison? Well, yes. Can the dynamic range of the X-T3 really compare to the 13 stops provided by the C200? Well, no. Nor can Sugar Ray Leonard’s punching power be compared with that of Mike Tyson.
(Quick note: In the event that you meet Sugar Ray Leonard, please don't mention that I just said that. I've met him before, and even at 62, I'm pretty sure he could still knock me out.)
But just like you can’t win every fight with a knockout, the X-T3’s value derives from having a well rounded game that will allow you to win on skill, even if you don’t have the bank account.
Now, I should admit that the title of this essay is a bit of a misnomer. I didn’t technically buy two Fuji X-T3s. Instead, early last year I bought an Fuji X-T2 as a walk around camera just to help me rediscover some of the joy of photography and to be used mostly on personal work. Not expecting much, I instantly fell in love with that camera, as you may have read in my previous articles, and started looking for ways to include it in my professional shoots as well as my personal ones. To my surprise, I found that while the D850 files were more detailed when I brought them initially into Capture One, the X-T2 was more than capable of producing an image that could fit into a gallery of images shot with the D850 without the Fuji images sticking out like a sore thumb. In other words, I could incorporate the Fuji into a shoot in specific situations without a client complaining about a drop in quality or really even noticing the difference at all.
To put a finer point on it, I just recently won a bid on a big advertising assignment for a large activewear brand. As usual, in the brief they referenced several of my previous images as examples of what they are looking for. Plenty of the images on the list were shot with my X-T2 and not the D850 or the Phase One. At portfolio size, it's tough to tell the difference. Now, I will shoot their assignment with the Phase One due to specific file size needs, but if you find yourself thinking that the camera itself determines the value of a photograph, this pretty much proved that to be a false concern, at least in my opinion.
I am constantly advising younger photographers that it is the photographer that makes an image and not the camera. This was that adage in practice. Don't think you have to spend a lot to create a great image. I was able to produce equally great (and oftentimes equally awful) images with the X-T2 and cameras that costs ten times as much. The only thing that mattered in the end was my creativity or lack thereof. The lighting, camera angles, and interaction with the subject brought much more to the table than sensor size or resolution in determining the quality of the final image.
Which brings me finally to the second purchase, a brand spanking new Fuji X-T3. Well, I guess technically, I did buy it used as a store display version that saved me an additional $300. But, needless to say, it’s new to me. So besides getting an awesome deal, why did I decide to invest more money to upgrade what was already my favorite camera in the bag?
Well, I guess first off, I should say that it was less an upgrade than an addition. The still capabilities of the X-T3 are marginally improved from the X-T2 for sure. They improved the auto focus, although that’s never been a problem for me with the X-T2. The autofocus is faster, and most importantly the autofocus point cover a wider area.
It’s got a higher burst rate. Being able to shoot a 30fps burst? Wow. I don't use this often, but it's great for creating animated GIFs. In terms of sensor size, the additional 2MPs taking it to 26MP vs 24MP is negligible. In my opinion, you don’t really feel increases in megapixels until you get into the range of doubling your megapixel count. I'd even say that if you are only concerned with stills and you have a limited budget, picking up a used X-T2 (or one at the now discounted rate of $1099) may save you even more money and be a valid option.
But where the X-T3 takes matters to a whole new level is on to video side. 4K at 60fps. 1080 at 120fps. Built in headphone jack. F-log. Eterna film profile. Ability to record to an external recorder like the Atmos Ninja Flame in 4:2:2 color space. The improved H.265 codec versus the traditional H.264. Adding to that math, you have a lot of practical features that I find invaluable on my C200, including focus peaking, zebra patterns to protect highlights, on screen histograms, and swift auto focus for tracking with moving subjects. They even have the nice detail of a front and back tally light which may seem like a small thing, but is actually invaluable these days when photographers are so often asked to turn the camera on themselves. There’s nothing more annoying than giving a ten minute monologue only to return to the camera and realize it wasn’t recording.
As for image quality, to my eye, there is no question that the Canon C200 produces a more “cinematic” images than any other tool in my shed. It's key virtue being the aforementioned dynamic range. Being able to shoot in both C-Log and Canon RAW video is invaluable when you’re working run-and-gun. It also has built in features that make it really convenient when operating as a one-man band in sometimes unpredictable situations. Given its size and attributes, the system is incredibly portable and easy to just pick up and go.
Yet, as portable as a cinema camera may be, it’s never going to be as portable as a one pound mirrorless body small enough to toss into your camera bag without forcing you to rethink your packing options. As Chase Jarvis famously said, “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” And sporting a smaller size, but still amazing 4K video, the X-T3 simply gets to be with me more often. So, for impromptu video shoots, or snatching B-roll before a moment passes by, the smaller size is a definitive advantage. I've also taken to using it as my primary gimbal camera. Shooting with the C200 as my primary, I find that I am able to blend in the X-T3 footage seamlessly enough in most situations that I am able to double my output and be more efficient on set.
Like comparing the D850 stills to the X-T2/X-T3 stills, comparing the X-T3 video to the C200 video isn’t exactly a fair comparison. But, just like the X-T2, the X-T3 is more that capable of producing professional level results and at a fraction of the price. That cost/value equation is what allows me to have two of them (for a combined cost less than my D850 body) whereas I don’t see myself being able to afford two C200s anytime soon.
By having both the X-T2 and the X-T3, it allows me to have an entire set up, a much lighter and more portable set up, separate from my main combination on days where backing up the grip truck and marshaling scores of assistants is either not and option or not desired. I leave my X-T2 setup with my preferred still settings. And I leave the X-T3 setup to my preferred video settings while mounting it to a cage, a gimbal, or a tripod. This allows me to move through a hybrid shoot quickly and efficiently without having to take time to switch one camera back and forth between still and motion settings or have to take apart a gimbal every time I want to switch between mediums. Simply put, I can create more assets for a client in a shorter amount of time with less weight for less costs. That’s called getting bang for your buck.
To be sure, there are situations where I opt for the larger siblings in the family. The advertising assignment I mentioned above is an example. And the Nikon D850 and Canon C200 are still my primary tools for the majority of client work. If you are shooting an image intended to be on a billboard or printed large as an in-store display then you are going to want the resolution of the D850 or medium format. If you plan to crop significantly or you are shooting a product shot in search of extreme detail, 45.7 megapixels won’t hurt your cause. Likewise, it you are shooting a feature or a commercial where you plan on doing significant color grading or adjusting of exposure in post, the C200 may be the tool for you. If you are working with an extended crew where you will need to build out you camera system to account for all the various production areas from sound to follow focus to client monitors, you’d be best suited going for the C200.
But, if you are working either solo or with a small crew, needing to produce work quickly and efficiently on a budget, and your work is intended to end up online, on social media, in editorial, or on regular sized physical prints, there is no other camera on the market that offer you more value for the amount of money you will spend than the pound-for-pound champ, the Fuji X-T3.