Our Mirrorless Quest

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Our Mirrorless Quest

The Fujifilm X-T3 paired with the FUJINON XF16mmF1.4 WR lens.

There have been specific mirrorless cameras that have become popular with DPs and cinematographers shooting on various projects, particularly films that have limited budgets. Sony’s a7R III and Panasonic’s Lumix GH5 and GH5S are among the most notable. But some, like me, have found that Fujifilm’s X-T3 mirrorless camera might be a better fit. Here’s why.

The Rise Of The Mirrorless Camera In Video

The Sony a7R III and the Panasonic Lumix GH5 and GH5S have helped make mirrorless cameras popular over the past few years. Since 2018, we’ve seen many mirrorless camera releases. And at this point, the demand for mirrorless cameras is up and many professionals both want and need a smaller, lighter camera system that can pull double duty as an occasional still camera while shooting high-quality 4K video.

My production company owns the Canon EOS Cinema C200, although we also rent whatever camera best suits the needs of a production. For example, over the past year, we’ve rented the Sony FS7 Mark II, Arri Alexa Mini and various models of RED cameras. It’s all driven by what works best for the production.

Our Mirrorless Quest

As a companion camera, we’ve been shooting with the Canon EOS 80D as a B-angle/gimbal camera. For our needs, we’ve found the 80D has been a good companion camera, which we’ve often utilized for shooting BTS production stills as well as footage.

Choices, Choices

As the market has driven toward 4K resolution video, we’ve been looking for the right mirrorless camera to replace the 80D as a B camera and as an on-gimbal.

I’ve used the Panasonic GH5 several times, and I reviewed the GH5S for HDVideoPro last year. Both cameras impressed me. I found the in-camera image stabilization (or IBIS) in the GH5 works very well. And although the GH5S lacks IBIS, the low-light performance from the Micro Four Thirds image sensor is impressive.

Our Mirrorless Quest
Dual SD-card slots allow for sequential but not dual recording.

We’ve also shot with the Sony a7 II several times. The camera is amazing in low light. However, unfortunately, it tends to overheat and shut down when shooting long 4K clips. Plus, I’m not a fan of using Sony’s color science and using video clips straight out of the camera: It requires a lot of tweaking in post to get a look I like. I also find Sony’s menu system arcane. So that particular Sony a7 variant wasn’t high on our list.  

A New Candidate?

This past fall, I began to take notice of the latest Fujifilm mirrorless camera, the X-T3, which I bought at the end of 2018.

One of the most appealing features was Fujifilm’s outstanding on-camera film-simulation filters. In the past, I was always a fan of the interesting looks that I could obtain with various Fujifilm stocks, both with stills and with motion-picture film. On this camera, besides the normal palette of eight Fuji film simulation filters, Fuji added a new simulation called Eterna that’s geared more toward video capture than some of the other filters. It reminds me of the WDR (Wide Dynamic Range) setting on my C200 that’s good enough to use straight out of camera but responds well to a simple color correction, too. 

Our Mirrorless Quest
From Top To Bottom: Microphone input, Headphone, USB-C and Micro HDMI. Plus, the port cover is detachable.

There are those times when you have to just shoot footage and download it to a drive for the client on set. At times, on tight deadlines, your footage may or may not be color corrected, graded or have a LUT applied. For those times, there’s value in the X-T3’s film simulations: They all look quite nice and can be used to shoot in a variety of styles that can be used straight from the camera with no grading or color correction.

This is a good option for clients who work on tight deadlines and simply don’t have the time to color correct and grade the footage before uploading to social media channels or internal websites.

What Makes The X-T3 Appealing

At this point, the X-T3 has been on the market for some time. That means you’ll be able to find numerous articles, reviews and YouTube videos that go into the minute detail of every spec that the camera has.

Our Mirrorless Quest
Here’s a frame grab from a shoot on one of our documentaries in production. For this scene, we used the Fujifilm X-T3 with Fujinon XF18-55mmF2.8-4.0 OIS, mounted on a Zhiyun Crane 2 gimbal.

Rather than utilizing the limited space I have to write about the X-T3 to list the deep and comprehensive list of features and specs that you can easily read about or watch elsewhere, I’ve simply listed the X-T3 features that set it apart from the pack for me:

  • 4K 60p
  • FHD 120 fps
  • H.265 (HEVC) in 4:2:0 10-bit
  • Fujifilm film simulations
  • Microphone input jack and headphone jack
  • Fuji XF lens compatibility (since I really like the quality of Fuji lenses)
  • Small-sized, lightweight, magnesium body (including its retro camera design)
  • Dedicated ISO, EV-compensation and shutter speed-locking metal selector dials
  • Excellent electronic viewfinder
  • Decent-quality LCD screen
  • Very capable autofocus system, with face and eye tracking
  • 100Mbps, 200Mbps and 400Mbps data rates

On The Set With The X-T3

The day I bought my X-T3, I put it to work the following day (a somewhat foolish but necessary task, since our Canon 80D was being used for stills). I put it on our gimbal for this shoot and shot in 4K. After quickly going through the X-T3’s box and manual, I found the settings and menu system to be fairly intuitive.

For my first shoot with the X-T3, I mounted it onto a Zhiyun Crane 2 gimbal. During the shoot, I was able to keep my subjects well framed, correctly exposed and in focus, thanks to the clarity of the X-T3’s LED screen.

I used internal zebras and a histogram since the X-T3 lacks a waveform display. But the zebras with the histogram made exposing correctly easy.

The X-T3’s face-and-eye detection locked onto subjects fairly quickly. However, like Canon’s Dual Pixel AF system, the X-T3 loses tracking if the subject turns away from the lens into profile or if the subject is wearing glasses or a hat. This isn’t unique to Fuji: Most AF camera systems have a hard time with these challenges.

Our Mirrorless Quest
The Fujifilm X-T3 shooting side-by-side with the Canon C200 on a recent production.

For my next shoot, I used the X-T3 for a series of interviews shot at an automotive facility with some technicians. I used the Canon C200 as my A camera, with the X-T3 mounted on our Rhino EVO Motion Control system.

On the A camera, I utilized a 35mm focal length as a wider frame showing the subject and a car behind them, while the X-T3 captured a medium close-up moving shot on the slider. I used a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 USM attached to the X-T3 with the Fringer EF to X-Mount adapter. This adapter is very useful as it allows Fuji shooters to utilize most EF and EF S Canon lenses on the Fuji X-Mount with IS, aperture control and autofocus intact. The X-T3’s face detection functioned flawlessly using the adapter and Canon lens.

The still frame caps here are straight from the camera with no color correction or any sort of grade applied. The results speak for themselves.

Examining The X-T3 Footage

Upon returning to our office and downloading the footage I shot using the Eterna simulation, I found the colors were accurate and the skin tones looked excellent.

I was struck by the sharpness and detail present in the footage. They almost have a three-dimensional appearance that’s appealing, although to be fair, the Eterna Profile is a baked-in look that isn’t exactly neutral, like a log profile.

If you want to craft your own distinct look with the X-T3, it’s probably best to shoot with the X-T3’s log setting, known as Fuji Log or F-Log. You can then apply any of three Fuji-supplied LUTs (one of them is Eterna) in editing or apply other creative LUTs afterward. I found that the using F-Log, the camera seems to have between 12 and 13 stops of dynamic range, not as much DR as our C200, which is rated at up to 13 stops when shooting XF-AVC/.MP4 and up to 15 stops when shooting Cinema RAW Light.

But for a relatively low-cost mirrorless camera, an honest 12 to 13 stops of DR is quite good.  

Our Mirrorless Quest
The X-T3 displays zebras to judge exposure levels—here set to 90 IRE.

The Bottom Line

If you examine the specs, you may notice the X-T3 lacks some important features found on other mirrorless models. However, it has impressed me after shooting with it on half a dozen client shoots over the past three months. So here’s my take on the camera: 

  • It’s not full frame: The Fujifilm X-T3 uses an APS-C/S35mm-size imager, which is my favorite imager size (for its depth of field and field of view characteristics). However, it’s not as large as a full-frame sensor, which is found on the Sony a7 series line and others. But the X-T3’s sensor is quite a bit larger than the Micro Four Thirds sensors used in Panasonic Lumix GH5/S cameras. For me, full frame can be useful for stills but not as much for video capture. In fact, it can make your DOF too shallow at wider apertures and longer focal lengths. In my opinion, full frame is an overrated and unnecessary feature for video shooting.
  • It lacks IBIS: The X-T3 lacks an in-body image stabilization system (IBIS) like the one found on its larger Fuji X-H1 sibling. So I bought two Fujifilm lenses: the XF18-55mmF2.8-4.0 OIS zoom (which has lens IS) and the XF16mmF1.4 WR prime lens (which lacks lens IS). I did find the IS on the zoom reduced micro jitters. However, since I only shoot with the X-T3 on a gimbal, slider/motion control or tripod, I don’t need to shoot handheld. So, it wasn’t an issue for me. And for most pros, IBIS is nice to have but not essential.
  • It lacks other pro video features: You might notice the X-T3 doesn’t have a number of features, like internal ND, XLRs, Time Code i/o or Internal 4:2:2 recording. That’s because it’s a mirrorless camera, not a professional video camera. It does include pro features like two-stage zebra indicators, F-Log and 400Mbps 10-bit HEVC. However, that’s why I categorize it as a backup/B/gimbal camera. And for $1,500, it’s an excellent value.
  • Compared to the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K: Some have compared the X-T3 to the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. However, the Blackmagic model doesn’t shoot high-resolution stills. It’s a camera that’s aimed at a different user. For me, I found the X-T3 very versatile since it shoots very good-quality still and video.
  • Better battery life: The battery life is too short on the X-T3: just 35 to 45 minutes per battery. (The Canon C200 can shoot four to five hours on one battery.) But the optional Fujifilm VG-XT3 battery grip lets you use two additional batteries to the internal battery recording time, for about two hours of shooting time.
  • Satisfied clients: My clients love the footage shot with the X-T3, which looks similar to footage shot on far more expensive, larger and heavier cameras. With good lighting, the X-T3 can capture images with extraordinary fidelity, rivaling and at times even surpassing the images we capture in Cinema RAW Light on the C200, a camera that costs five times as much. And while the X-T3 is far from perfect, it’s a superb tool and a great value for the relatively low cost. In my view, there’s no other APS-C camera on the market that rivals it in features and image quality.