05 Feb Is Fujifilm X-Series good enough for professional photography?
This post is one I have had on my mind for some time and really wanting to put it in an un-biased way to share the facts and my experiences. It’s also going to be a long post so grab yourself a cup of coffee and give yourself some time. To preface this, it’s not the camera that makes the photographer. It’s the photographer that uses the camera which is just a tool to get the job done. In saying that, the camera helps to get the job done more efficiently and effectively.
To drop in here, this is going to be about stills photography, not video. It seems like just about every review on YouTube focusses on video and that’s not really helpful for a stills shooter.
I have been using Fujifilm X-series cameras for a couple of years for all of my professional work. As a full time photographer, my needs are good image quality with sharp lenses, reliable and rugged equipment that can handle a little brutality and an easy workflow in both shooting and post-processing. It also needs strong performance in low light/high ISO situations and fast autofocus. Lightweight is also a big bonus and also one of the reasons I initially chose the Fujifilm X-system.
My work varies quite a lot whilst still being focussed within the travel photography area. Sometimes it’s a peaceful sunrise through to 10-hour shoot days that consistent of bright daylight to very dark situations and really needing to push the ISO to keep a fast shutter speed for capturing action and motion. There is the occasional event or commercial shoot thrown in there as well. Basically, I need the camera to be as versatile as the work. A tough call, I know.
The switch came from a full frame Canon 6D with L-series lenses that was always reliable and built like a tank. The reason behind the change was to reduce weight and try to consolidate my camera system to be a little more “travel friendly”. Plus, at the time I felt like I had outgrown the camera and the options in mirrorless from Canon were not to a standard I was looking for. Considering the EOS R had not been announced or released yet, it was time for a change.
Starting with the X-T2 and three lenses being the 10-24mm f/4, 35mm f/2 and 55-200mm, I then added the X-T20 to the collection so I had multiple camera bodies for commercial work. A few months after the release of the X-T3, I sold the X-T20 to fill the space with an X-T3 so I had multiple bodies shooting dual card slots and much preferred the ergonomics of the T3 for fast shooting and a few other reasons, including a joystick.
My current main lenses are the 10-24mm, 35mm and 50-140mm as the f/2.8 aperture is certainly needed for low light shooting.
So, the question is, how good are the Fujifilm X-Series cameras for professional photography? Are they up to the job? And, how do they hold up after a couple of years usage?
Quick answer – Yes, but they have their issues.
If that was all you wanted to know, stop reading here. If you are really wanting to know my experience with them after travelling to multiple countries and deriving a full-time income from photography and using these cameras, read on.
Let’s start with the usability and ergonomics of the cameras. This may seem like a boring topic, but if you’re going to be using a camera for 8 hours or shooting regularly, then having a camera that feels comfortable is very important.
With the camera being lightweight as well as the lenses, it makes it much nicer to have this on me for long shooting days or even big hikes. Travelling is also a dream with being able to fit two camera bodies, a few lenses, a drone (DJI Mavic 2 pro) and NiSi Filters in a Xennec bag under 7kg for hand luggage on a plane.
The grip on the main body is slightly small for my big hands. I certainly don’t have mechanic hands, but still like a slightly bigger grip. To combat this, I use a Sirui L-bracket for the X-T3 which has an additional grip handle when the battery grip is not attached. I will talk about the grip soon. The L-bracket also has an Arca-Swiss mounting plate on the bottom and left side for mounting on tripods.
That extra grip certainly helps to make the camera more comfortable to hold. The additional front handle grip has helped on all three Fujifilm cameras I have owned up to this point. From here though, I am just going to talk about the X-T3 ergonomics as that is the most recent camera I have and it’s not too dissimilar to the X-T2.
Shutter button placement is okay with where you have to place your finger. It was a bit of a difference to the Canon when I first changed over with it being on top rather than tilted slightly forward that gives a more natural feel, especially with the larger, more comfortable grip. I ended up getting a screw in soft-press shutter button that helped a little as after about 4 hours I was getting a sore finger from the stock shutter button which can get a bit uncomfortable.
The design and style of the shutter button on the GFX100 and 50S are much better for commercial shooting and longer use in the day. The X-H1 is more in the GFX style that would help with some of the things mentioned above.
Tactile controls are nice, but are they the be-all-and-end-all? Nope. Working commercially, I like speed and the ISO dial on the left top of camera is certainly fast to change. The shutter dial is always locked on ‘T’ and I use the back scroll-wheel to set the shutter speed so it can be adjusted quicker and in 1/3 stop increments. Exposure compensation doesn’t even get used with me as I shoot in manual. Not to try and sound snobby with shooting manually, I just prefer it.
Underneath the ISO, the mode change dial is okay but I find myself knocking it quite a bit or it gets moved if it hits my leg when I have the cameras on the BlackRapid Double Breath harness and then picking up the camera to grab an image, I need to adjust it back. It doesn’t happen all the time but when it does, it’s annoying.
The last thing here is the aperture ring. I quite like this function. It’s a nice way to change the aperture, although I do find it’s another thing that gets knocked or bumped. To work around this, it’s become a natural reaction to check every time I pick up the camera from my side and that has been the work around I found to be most effective.
Software has been a bit of a struggle for both cameras here. Like I mention just below, the battery grip on the X-T2 glitches a lot and has triggered images, doesn’t read the batteries by just saying they’re empty and a couple of other things that will need to be taken care of. There have been a few times to viewfinder has locked up where the battery needed to be taken out before the camera could be used. Viewfinder on the X-T3 flashes green strips as well that has been a slight issue and a couple of other software problems I have found. (NOTE: X-T2 was sent to Fujifilm repairs under FPS and will update once I’ve had a chance to use it thoroughly) (NOTE 2: FPS Australia have been incredibly helpful with any questions I’ve had and would highly recommend joining the program if you meet the criteria.)
I will touch on build quality here – specifically the X-T2 as I haven’t had the X-T3 long enough to really comment on it. The T2 is struggling with the workload. I have got a few issues with it that need to be repaired. Some software as mentioned above and a couple of physical things like the ¼” screw thread mount in the base of the camera now not sitting in its place and rattling around the base of the camera. Certainly not what I expected from a camera less than two years old and then the battery grip issues I mentioned.
One last mention is that with the form factor of the camera, and more so with the battery grip attached, my knuckles hit up against the lens when shooting vertically. It’s probably most noticable with the 50-140mm and its tripod collar as it’s a big lens.
Overall, the cameras have quirks with the ergonomics that you may or may not like. I have learnt to live with them and figured the best way to hold and shoot in my workflow.
If you have read reviews or watched YouTube videos, this section is going to come as no surprise to you. The battery life is not great.
For example, I was shooting an event in pretty low light the recently (from writing this post) and it was being covered for 3 ½ hours. In that time, I had the battery grip attached running 3 batteries (genuine Fuji batteries) with boost mode turned on to try and hopefully avoid missing shots with autofocus and I went through 2.5 batteries on the X-T3 and 2 batteries on the X-T2. Yep, that’s the speed they disappeared.
I know what you’re thinking – “Ryan, just swap a battery when one is low or dead, it’s not that hard.” I know that and understand. I have done it many times. Shooting professionally, I want to speed things up, not slow them down which is why I shoot with the grip so that is less to think about the large majority of the time.
Speaking of the battery grip, it certainly makes the camera nicer to hold as well as giving me vertical controls but the main reason was so I did not have to keep changing batteries all the time.
A trick I have picked up for getting the most out of the battery is to flick the camera off when it’s not being used. That applies more to travel than on the go paid work but it helps prolong the life. Leaving boost mode off is a big thing as well which will save battery life. I’m usually on Normal mode so the case above is a little extreme but required for the job I was shooting.
If you are doing commercial work, would I suggest the grip? Yes! 100%, YES! It will save you some headaches with having to change batteries regularly if you are shooting big jobs. It’s one less thing to think about most of the time.
NOTE: I have used both cameras with grips on full day shoots and using a few power saving techniques (some mentioned above), I have managed to get full days without changing batteries.
AF-S mode on this camera is incredibly accurate, especially when in good light and using really sharp lenses like the 50-140mm. The detail rendition, even though it’s an APS-C camera, is amazing.
I have had so many sharp results from the system that I was blown away. In good light, I have seen results on par or sometimes better that what I would get with EF L-Series lenses. The 50-140mm would have to be my favourite lens to get some amazing results and even at f/2.8, the subject is razor sharp.
AF-C however is a bit hit and miss. Let’s use the 50-140mm as the example here. For such an amazing piece of glass, I often get soft results when AF-C turned on. I have tried switching continuous focus modes depending on the situation, I have also left it in mode 2 for tracking a subject and ignoring obstacles but still quite often get just missed results. Yes, shutter speed, OIS and other elements can be involved. I understand how that side of it works and I set my camera settings to correct settings for each situation.
What I see in the final images is that focus is just out. There will be a shot that is the ‘hero’ of a series and it will be soft. For example, I photographed a triathlon locally to where I live and with runners coming to the finish line I have plenty of series of shots when the continuous autofocus was enabled and with the zone focus type on and the green squares over their faces supposedly tracking down the finish line, I have about 65-75% just soft with some results razor sharp. Those just-out-of-focus images are the ones that would have made the final cut. Out of around 20 series of images, about 2-3 of those have images that are 90-100% sharp in every image. I don’t expect them to be perfect, I know cameras aren’t at that level yet, but would expect more than what I get.
With the X-Pro 3 released and a firmware update that is 3.2 for the X-T3 released, hopefully some of these issues have been fixed.
Eye autofocus is certainly something I don’t rely on in X-series cameras. Tried it a couple of times and at this stage, it’s just not there. As second shooter at a wedding once, I used it for a couple of shots and it just missed. I’ve tried it several times since then and it’s just not accurate enough. Not to the standard of Sony that is supposed to be bang on every time. (NOTE: Firmware 3.2 for X-T3 has been released which seems to have improved this, although still yet to fully test.)
As my way of working and having never had eye af in a camera before the X-T3, this doesn’t actually bother me because I just set my focus point and use it how it has been used for years. Put the focus point on the eye and focus – simple right? Eye AF will be a standard in the future for all cameras, it’s just a matter of fine tuning and making it better.
Alright, now this is the big one for me. Low light environments.
Focus hunting, for the work I do has become a bit of an issue. As soon as the light starts to drop, it obviously takes longer than normal to focus, but mainly the X-T2 really struggles. Having looked into it, the X-T2 is rated to focus at -1EV and X-T3 is -3EV. The X-T3 is definitely much better and I aim to use it as my main camera for darker situations although it still struggles at times.
There are times as well in good light that hunting still occurs. I can have the focus point directly over the subject, focus (with back button focus) and still, the camera doesn’t grab. For people who are using this for general purpose, that may be okay because you can just focus again. For professional use, this has meant lost shots. You can’t always check every image after it’s taken and there’s needs to be some faith with the camera. For this reason, I may end up selling the X-T2 in future when an upgraded model is released as it’s a very good camera, but it has its flaws.
One memorable moment I was let down by the gear was doing a studio shoot for some real estate agents and to do full body shots in the studio I was using the 35mm. Most of the time, this is a great lens, although somewhat slow to focus. Eye AF was off because I didn’t have faith in it getting accurate focus. The focus point was directly over her eye using the phase detect points and I was having to focus, refocus and refocus again to actually get it to lock on. It was not dark, well-lit actually and it just didn’t grab, meaning shots were missed.
I am not writing this to bag out the Fuji system. I use this as my everyday camera and for professional work. It’s to make you aware that if you start shooting in low light environments, the cameras will struggle at some point.
If you’ve been a Canon or Nikon shooter, you would be used to having near unlimited lens choices for every needs. Fuji is a bit different in this way.
They don’t have a massive range of lenses, however what they do have are brilliant. The results are sharp (most of the time) and usually pretty quick focus. Third party manufacturers also haven’t been making much for the X-series system yet, although this is now starting to shift with the rise in popularity of the cameras. So, if you’re a Sigma lens fan and wanting to switch over to Fuji, you may not be able to use your Sigma lenses or hang out and see if Sigma will bring something out.
From my experience with a number of lenses, these things are relatively tough and can take a beating. With travelling or shooting quickly, I’m pretty rough on my gear. So far, I have not had any issues with the lenses I own except the 10-24mm that seems to have come loose on the lens mount which I just tightened up the screws and that seems to have put a hold on the problem.
I don’t think there has been a lens I thought felt ‘cheap’ in the XF line – All the ones I have owned or used have been built well with solid mounts and have held up to me torturing them.
In saying that, you may have noticed that the majority of my lenses are zooms. Yep, I’m a zoom guy. Most Fuji shooters are prime people. If you’re reading this, you may be as well. I personally like having versatility to work quicker. Zoom with your feet is all well and good until you want more compression or need to really punch in to something quickly. It also helps to have less in my bag for travelling for size, weight and overall usability.
Being mostly a zoom shooter, I do sometimes miss that ‘full-frame’ DOF. Shooting at f/1.4 on a prime lens gives you a really nice bokeh background but the widest I usually shoot is f/2.8 and it just doesn’t give the same effect, especially on a crop sensor. I knew that going in so I’m not complaining.
Low Light/High ISO + Sensor
One of the key selling points of the Fujifilm cameras is the sensor and how it performs in low light/high ISO environments. From my experience, it performs sort-of-okay at high ISOs, it gives you grain but without colour noise – a nice touch.
A comfortable level for me to push the camera to would be up to around 1600-2500 ISO before it starts getting too bad. I like my work to be a clean final result and at around this ISO range I know that I can somewhat comfortably apply noise reduction, even though there will be quite a loss in sharpness from both the noise reduction in post-processing and losing sharpness in the image from the camera level.
When the ISO starts to push above 3200, I know that I’m not going to be as happy with the results as I feel comfortable with. Above ISO1600 also means you need to expose VERY well. You have a small area of leniency in post-processing around the 1600-2500 ISOs but above that if you need to pull the exposure up, it really pulls in a lot more noise.
This is an inherent part of using a crop sensor camera. High ISO performance is not in the sales pitch for most APS-C cameras. Although, Fuji does handle a lot better than the majority of crop sensors on the market. All you have to do is Google “Best APS-C camera” and you will get the Fuji X-T3 in every list from a wide variety of websites.
With their current line of cameras and into the future, I want to say that there’s really no need for more megapixels. 30mp in the X-T3 I feel is plenty and anymore will really compromise the low light performance and overall, I think that would hurt more than it would help.
So many camera brands are in a race to boost the megapixels of their cameras and there’s no real need unless you print BIG prints. If you are planning on doing that though, I would highly recommend the GFX100 which is a beast of a camera. Although I have had an image from an 18mp Canon camera (one of my early ones) printed on the side of a building with no issues because the viewing distance needs to be so far back.
The awesome Fuji colours with the cameras high ISO performance is lost as well. It seems to go a lot muddier colouring and loses the really beautiful tones.
A last thing to tag on the end here is that as a photographer, we are looking at our images all the time, pixel peeping and being our own worst critiques. This is kind of a good thing because it will help us to critique our own work. This is not what a client is looking at though. A client is looking at a smile, food, a location – basically they’re looking at the subject, not zooming to 100% and as long as you have caught the moment to share, that’s what they really want.
I don’t think it would be possible to talk about the Fujifilm system without talking about the post-processing side. A contentious point of debate from users all over the world.
Now some of you may hate me after what I’m about to write – Worms Do exist!
Yes, when I switched to the system in early 2018, I was using Lightroom which was not optimised to read Fujifilm X-Trans sensor files. It took me a while to really spot the flaws but they were there about 50% of the time. Worms from sharpening and even just on the initial import – it took quite a bit of work to avoid them or remove them.
What really tipped the scales for me was on a trip through the UK where I took a few images in the Lake District at Aira Force (a waterfall) which had great flow and plenty of foliage. When the images were imported, the leaves in the trees were unrecognisable and it looked like Lightroom had taken a potato masher and pummelled all my RAW files to give the leaves a green mashed potato look filled with worms. That was the straw that broke the camels back.
It was time for another solution. CaptureOne Pro was the best option I found. With them having worked with Fujifilm to help optimise the program to read the RAW files correctly sounded very appealing at that point.
The workflow inside of CaptureOne is slightly different to Lightroom and takes a few editing sessions to adjust, but I find it more beneficial. Culling speed as well as processing, organisation, colour processing, highlight and shadow recovery, sessions and a few other things. I think it’s a really great program without the monthly subscription, if you choose that.
It has been suggested to use Irident X-Transformer that is supposed to help with getting the files right for processing. I haven’t used this as it’s just another step to be added into the workflow and I try to work quickly, not slow down, especially with post-processing.
Since switching to CaptureOne though, Lightroom CC has been updated quite significantly and is supposed to be a much better solution now.
One thing that is annoying relating to the camera is the actual RAW file size. My 6d files were around 25mb each, the EOS R is 31.5mb – the X-T3 is 51.7mb on average from my own files. If you shoot 2000 photos from a day or a wedding, that starts to really add up in hard drive space. I understand there is a lot of information in there, but if that could be made smaller and a little more ‘hard drive-friendly’ would be brilliant.
In this review, I haven’t really mentioned the amazing colours that come from the cameras and that’s because every review does and we know they look good. CaptureOne, I feel, handles all of those colours better than Lightroom.
There is a massive fan base of users for Fujifilm cameras. Just the way they give you that film camera feeling with solid image quality in a small form factor is brilliant. I love the Fujifilm system and having been using it for a couple of years in all my commercial work now, it has been great to me so far.
When I bought the system, it was between Fujifilm or Sony. With the complex menus and flat colours of Sony as well as barely any weight saving from my 6D, Fujifilm was the obvious choice. Great reviews, good company backing it and what looked like an easy system to use.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have things that need to be improved. There are a few workarounds that I have personally implemented that seem to work and help in getting the best from the system.
I will still be using the system for the foreseeable future but also going to keep an eye on what other manufacturers are doing. Where Fujifilm is at the moment with the X-Series system, I feel they are a VERY solid competitor in the mirrorless market, certainly giving Canon, Nikon and Sony a run for their money.
There is still room for improvement however. What I’ve listed throughout this entire post, these are the problems (or some of) I run into on most shoots I go out on. If someone from Fujifilm is reading this, keep improving the system because I know it has a lot going for it with so much more to come.
What I feel would be a really big addition into the Fujifilm system is to simplify. The cameras have amazing features but it just seems sometimes the entire workflow is too complicated, mainly around the post-processing and autofocus modes side. If Fuji could work with the developers even further to help stop the processing issues that sometimes still occur, it would just bring it all together even more.
This is my personal view and real-world experience. Not based on specs, based on real use.
I guess my final thoughts from all this and maybe one question you’re thinking. If I had to do it all again now and switch from DSLR to a mirrorless system, would I go with Fujifilm or another brand?
As of February 2020 – I would go with Fujifim X-Series. For me, I’m not a Sony or Nikon person. Olympus would have too small a sensor for what I need and low light is really not meant to be great. The last option I would consider is Canon. Right now, their mirrorless option in the EOS R is not right with single card slot, no joystick and a few other things. If they have a strong mirrorless option, then it may be something to consider along with Fujifilm for the colours, autofocus and low light/high ISO performance.
Anyway, I hope that this post has been of some use to you reading (if you have read this far) and helped you in making your decision to buy into, switching to or add to your kit.