On Mount Fuji.

The Fujifilm X-T3 with XF23 F1.4 & XF35 F1.4 Review.

It's probably a general photographer's thing that we're always looking out for new gear.

I've noticed this semi-constant questioning of your kitbag tends to go in waves - you do a great set of shots with your current set up and you're really happy, but if you're going through a bit of listless patch it's obviously your gear's fault, so like some lustful teenage boy you start 'looking around'.

Now saying all that - and cod psychology aside - it's pretty common, and indeed wise, to look over the fence at what's going on with other manufacturers systems to see if there's something to help you get better shots and with that in mind I've been looking at Fujifilm's offerings for some time now.

The combination of really charming 'retro' styled bodies, small bright lenses and the famous Fujifilm colour science was really quite enamouring, not least as my first digital camera in 2001 was a Fuji MX1700 (1.5 megapixels of raw power!) so I was keen to go back and check what they'd been up to in the intervening 18 years.

So, one big courier delivery of flight cases offered up an excellent counterpoint to my current Sony A7r ii, all set up and ready to go for a week's testing.

The Fujifilm X-T3.

So what is this beast? Well, the XT3 is the newest kid on the X-Series block. It looks fab - like a proper camera! - and sports all the latest stuff like pop out screens, a little joystick for moving focus points in AF mode and lots of tactile, easy to access dials for ISO, shutter speed etc.

The Fujifilm X-T3.

This is important and one of the reasons why my interest had been piqued by the XT3, because as mind-bogglingly good as the A7r ii is, there are drawbacks: the handling is a bit sub-par, the menus are deep and annoying and (I find) that you're always fighting the camera a bit when you should be shooting. Would the XT3 with all it's vaunted ease of use be any different in the real world?

The other elephant in the room is the sensor. The Sony is full frame, and the Fuji is APS-C.

Now, I'm not going to go into a proper technical breakdown of differences in this piece (there's loads of stuff on the internet about that - if you're interested try here), but suffice to say a bigger full frame sensor has more pixels, increased dynamic range (e.g the amount of light and dark you can play with in post, plus low light performance) and also allows you to get better depth of field at wider apertures.

But again, away from a technical test, how does this equate out in the real world actually using an APS-C camera vs a full frame one - would I notice any difference?

The XF lenses:

For this test, I'd picked up the two brightest lenses that Fuji produce for this mount. The XF23mm F1.4 and the 35 F1.4.

These respectively (because of the smaller sensor size and various other timey whimey science stuff) land up full frame equivalent to 35mm at F2.1 and 53mm at F2.1, so essentially I was pitting them toe-to-toe with my Sony Zeiss 35mm and 55mm lenses.

The Fujifilm XF23 and 35 F1.4. Also, note all those lovely dials on the X-T3.

One thing, I would say is these guys are built beautifully - and both include that most wonderfully old fashioned thing: an aperture ring!

Another plus point straight out of the box is the size. My Zeiss 35 is HUGE, but this is down to the bright 1.4 aperture and it being built for a full frame sensor. It’s just physics. The Fuji 23 despite being much smaller and lighter, is built for a small sensor and is only (really) running at 2.1.

So we're looking at a trade off: will the benefits of well, weighted, lighter lens really best a brighter lens on a full frame camera with it's increased DOF despite its increase size? Only getting out there and taking some shots would show.

At Carters Steam Fair.

The initial opportunity to try out our dynamic trio was a right old test - for both system and butterfingered user.

Round and round.

Carter's Steam Fair is a bit of an institution around Maidenhead way, and with the fair in town and a firework display in the offing, it was the obvious event to try out how the X-T3 handled low light conditions plus if the lack of in-body stabilisation (which I have on my Sony) really made that much difference?

As I said, it was a tough gig and I was all fingers and thumbs among the chairoplanes and huck-a-duck for a good 45 minutes until I got a bit more used to X-T3, but I was impressed by the Eye AF in the low light (but less impressed that it's either on or off unless you delve into the menu - on my A7r ii, I toggle it with one button) and I was equally happy with the focusing speed I was getting.

The proof is in the pudding however, and the next day gave me the opportunity to have a good old look at the files.

As expected, my wobbly hand had got a bit lazy with Sony's excellent IBIS so I had a fair few fails due to camera shake, although that had been solved by upping the shutter speed (which in turn increased the ISO, unfortunately...) however this wasn't as much as an issue as I had previously thought.

Yes, the low light performance wasn't nearly as good as the A7r ii, but where I did get noise it was quite filmlike.

The issues I did have which frustrated me were two-fold - and not unexpected. Firstly, with the APS-C sensor it's really difficult to get the depth of field that you'll get with full frame, so certain subjects didn't quite 'pop' out of the background as much as I'd like, and secondly as the dynamic range isn't as good there were quite a few shots in that light that if taken with the Sony might have been a keeper, but with the Fuji didn't get a star in Lightroom.

Of course, it was the first run and one thing that did shine through was the famous Fuji colour science. Great skin tones where I captured them and bright reds and greens.

In Oxford.

The following day, and in marked contrast to the low light of the fair, we popped over to Oxford in the bright sunshine. I spent a good part of the day switching between the two lenses, and I quickly realised that I favoured the 35 F1.4.

Lunchtime in Oxford.

There's something about the 23 F1.4 that I couldn't put my finger on - whereas the 35 has a proper almost Leica like analogue look at times, the 23 just had me a bit meh. I don't think it's the focal length - I regularly get 35mm shots on the Sony that I'm delighted with - I just think it's not a lens I'd rush to buy: the 23mm F2 from Fuji is much cheaper, smaller and modern, and if I was buying this system that would be the one I'd plump for.

Our trip to Oxford took in all the usual haunts, from the covered market to the Pitt Rivers via back streets to the Ashmolean and by the end of the day, I'd say I was getting just that little bit more used to the XT3, and really enjoying the easy access to functions via dial as opposed to the slightly disconnected Sony world I usually live in.

In London.

Finally, I travelled into town for one of my usual days of street photography. Deciding that the Fuji colours were begging for a hit of colour, I went down to Liverpool Street to walk around Shoreditch, Hackney and Hoxton in the hunt for hipsters and blinding street art.

Agent Orange.

One thing I would mention at this point in proceedings is weight, which is a real plus for the system. Usually, after a day out and about, my mid 40's Dad bod has an aching back and shoulders, but with the lighter Fuji lenses and body, I definitely felt a bit better after a few hours in the saddle.

As expected, the graffiti and street art suited the colour science of the Fuji, and the fast focusing allowed for a couple of shots I might have missed with the Sony, but I found myself struggling with the un-togglable Eye AF (i turned it off in the end) and the focus point joystick which frankly, just got in the way. These might be user error of course, and from what I've heard Fujifilm are excellent with firmware updates so the former might get sorted soon.

Another issue I found was considerable lens flare on the 35mm. I'm not sure if that was the coating on the supplier filter or an issue with this copy, but I didn't notice it in camera and was disappointed when a few shots got junked in post due to over the top flaring. Shame.

The skinny.

You'll have guessed by now that this isn't one of those hugely technical reviews (they're plenty of them out there) but just my experience with the Fuji X series system I had for the week.

So, in the style of all the best of these sort of things. here are the pros and cons of the Fujifilm X-T3 series in my subjective opinion:


  • Those Fuji colours.
    I shot mostly in RAW but the JPEGs looked great too. Plus skin tones are bonza.

  • The Handling.
    Loved the dials and quick access, although I do think the online banging on about it being miles better than Sony is a bit OTT.

  • The Weight.
    I've not got a backache. Yey!

  • Two SD card slots.
    Failure is not an option.

  • The price.
    As a system, it's cheaper than the Sony especially if you want some nice Zeiss lens wear.


  • The Depth of Field.
    I'm sorry, I tried, but I really, really missed it. The ability to isolate your subject to the degree I get to do with the A7r ii is something I couldn't be without.

  • The Dynamic Range.
    It can't hold a candle to Full Frame here. No sir.

  • The Eye AF.
    Being either always on or off and not button assignable drove me a bit mad, but when it’s on it’s really quite good.

  • The Lenses.
    The 35mm F1.4 has a lovely look, but mine had lots of flaring and it's a bit noisy - quite a bit of clunking as it's hunting for focus. As mentioned, I found the 23 just a bit bland.

Would I switch systems?

As I said right at the top, we're always looking for something new that would bring some extra quality to our photography and I'm as guilty as the next man, but my ruling at the start of this process was I need to be wowed by the Fuji for me to take the slightly odd move of - in theory - 'downgrading' from Full Frame.

Unfortunately, I wasn't blown away. Don't get me wrong - if I had a budget that didn't get to the Sony system and I didn't want Micro Four Thirds then the X-T3 is an excellent product, with tiny lenses, great colour and brilliant usability but once you've got spoilt by big fat 48mp files with bags of dynamic range and lovely DOF, it's going to have to be something a bit more special to make this photographer change systems.

My caveat to all this is that it’s my belief that you really need a few months with a new camera/lens to get in tune with it and find out it’s full strengths, so I might not have got the most out of the X-T3 in a week’s test.

If Fujifilm ever went full frame, added IBIS and updated some of the wider aperture prime lenses, I might well be there. But not yet. In the meanwhile, I'm sticking with Sony unless something blows my skirt up.

Perhaps something with a red dot. But that's another story...

18 or Over.

Ok, I know. It’s half way through January. But i’ve been busy. Busy picking photos.

But dammit, it’s not easy to choose your best shots of the last year. I don’t mean that to sound conceited, but it’s just I took a shedload of photos last year and it takes a lot of legwork to prune them down. Oh boo hoo.

Anyway, last time around, I just went for 17 shots which I loved from the previous year, but frankly that was tortuous, so this year I’ve plumped for a collection of shots that I really like (note: subjective) wrapped up in the 3 different categories where my photography seems to inhabit: Street, Corporate & Events and Travel.

Enough yadda, hope you enjoy. Here’s the 2018 chart rundown…

Street life.

2018 was a busy street year. Whenever I got the chance, I’d get up into London - hopefully with decent light - and see what I could get. Prime spots were Soho and surrounding areas, the Tate Modern and perhaps slightly oddly, the new area around Kings Cross.

Corporate shindigs & happening Events.

From brand launches for pharma companies, to 1940’s Days to Will Young, 2018 was the year of the event. Had loads of fun out there - for clients new and old - capturing chefs cooking, beers being drunk and rugs being cut.

Big days out - travels with the family.

Got around last year. Maybe not as far or wide as the year before (actually, I went to Australia so I couldn’t have gone any further really…), but from Devon to The Isle of Wight with Brighton, France and Belgium in-between it was a year of fun for travel snaps with and without the rest of the brood.

Leffe through a lens. Or two.

There's actually more bikes than people in Belgium. Probably.

Ok. Let's get the obvious out of the way first. Belgium. It's all waffles, chocolates, beer and frites with mayo, right?

Well, there's always a truth in a cliche and our trip there did incorporate all of the above - some more than others - but I'm glad to report it's all that and quite a lot more.

Along with it being a welcome break over Easter, our visit to Bruges was a bit of work mixed with pleasure for me - which is a lot less international jet set than it sounds.

As a pretty much exclusive user of Carl Zeiss lenses on my Sony, I was delighted they agreed to let me road test some of their fantastic Loxia lenses in the field. To avoid boring the non-camera nerds among you, I've left the technical bit to the end - scroll down to find out how I did with these lovely bits of glass...

Meanwhile, let's hop on a ferry, shall we?


Day 1. No fighting on these beaches.

Malo-les-Bains Beach.

After an astonishingly early start and drive to Dover (white cliffs untouched by the Photoshop skills of the Daily Express that day) we disembarked at Calais and - remembering to drive on the right - made our way to Dunkirk as a lunch stop. 

Having enjoyed/endured the Christoper Nolan film of the same name recently and to experience the real thing, we dropped by the excellent Museum Dunkerque 1940 Operation Dynamo museum which is stuffed full of exhibits, artefacts and staffed by enthusiastic staff ready to inform history mad 10-year-olds.

It was pretty sobering stuff. The museum doesn't just centre on the 300,000 evacuees, but tells the wider story, serving as a welcome reminder of the horror of war and the rise of nationalism - especially pertinent in the current political climate we find ourselves in. This stuff happened then, and it could happen again. 

We couldn't leave without a visit to the famous Malo-les-Bains beach which has a most fantastic light - that blue-y grey you see in the war fiicks is very much present. 

On the beach.

The Nolan film is obviously a big deal locally at the moment. There was signage up everywhere and on one building on the beach (the frankly hideous Dunkirk Kursaal) you got a full explanation of the filming locations - including the pier that they blew up. You really get a feel for Operation Dynamo on Malo-les-Bains - you can almost see the little boats of England appearing through the fog...

So, full of history we wandered through town (stopping for some very nice Wes Anderson architectural opportunities) and back to the car for the final part of the journey - and a welcome blonde beer. To Bruges!



Day 2. Waffles, Bikes and Pralines.

After a hugely unhealthy and enjoyable waffle breakfast (really - how can it be so wrong?) we hit the cobbles - avoiding the many, many bikes - for some serious tourist action. 

There's pretty much nothing in central Bruges which hasn't been cleaned, polished up and made Belgium in a heart-shaped box for the international tourist, but unless you're some sort of hardened travel cynic it's really difficult to not enjoy it. The food and drinks are top notch, the shops small and artisan, and the architecture beautiful. A day of wandering was polished off with another round of beer in a fantastic little bar called 'T Brugsch Bieratelier - worth a visit if you fancy going through the entire menu and putting a downpayment on a catering sized hangover.



Day 3. Belfries, Boat Rides and Windmills.

It's easier on the way down.

Hitting our stride, we really pushed the boat out on our third day in town. Literally.

If you go to Bruges, you do need to go on one of the canal boat rides. It's like going to London and not riding a red bus. Our little cruise came with a comedy Captain Haddock style driver (spot him below) who was worth the entry fee alone. 

Before our trip out on the high seas though, Alice and I scaled the giddy 366 steps up to the top of the famous Belfry - Mrs. W decided this was not her cup of tea and went to visit the local C&A instead (the Europeans still have a soft spot for 80's flammable polyester it would appear)

There were certainly some amazing views to be had up in the Belfry - but if you're not a fan of lots of ascending small steps it might be worth giving it a miss. Still, I'm glad to see that contrary to that In Bruges scene where Brendan Glesson decides there's a quicker way down from the tower, that plenty of sturdy wire mess is installed up top...

Despite being pooped from all that climbing, we spent the rest of the day wandering towards a less well known Bruges landmark - the Sint-Janshuis Mill. Still working, it's at the end of a lovely walk out of town which gets quieter and quieter as you pass through little streets of charming houses - basically, I want to live there.



Day 4. Meant for Ghent.

Most of the big hits in Bruges are 'do-able' in a couple of days, so on our final day we diverted pre-ferry to Ghent for lunch and a bit of a look around. Via charming tea shops (one called Alice so we had to go in - turns out that it was beautiful inside), we made a bee line for the remarkably well preserved (read: much rebuilt - castle). Not sure I was prepared for the extensive torture exhibit, but everybody loves castles and it's got great views of the city. 

Ghent itself is a bit like Bruges' older, bigger and less polished brother. It's still got canals and boat rides, but with added hen and stag do chic and a more 'working town' vibe. We liked it though - worth jumping on the ferry for again.

Which neatly leads up back to the DFDS terminal and, waiting in the queue a little time to ponder on the Belgian cliches mentioned above. Yes, you've got your praline, your Leffe and your chips, but Belgium is certainly a bit more than that. With its long history, pretty towns and duel Dutch/French nature, there's a complex character to it that get's a bit missed on a worldwide stage which is shame, and the people we found hugely friendly and welcoming. 

Lots of the UK obviously has issues with Brussels, but don't include us. Especially when the beer is so good.


Twice as nice with a Zeiss.

So, the technical bit. I've written a post about using manual lenses for street work before where I spent an afternoon using an old Olympus 50mm with an adaptor.

Being a big fan of the Batis range of Zeiss lenses, I really wanted to try out the manual only Loxia range, so the trip to Belgium was a great opportunity to give both the 35mm and 50mm a street whirl. 

The Loxia 35 and 50.

Obviously, it's a big difference from AF as you've got more to think about when 'in the moment' - getting the focus correct whilst hitting the composition with a moving target is no mean feat out on the street. I'll be honest and say even with the A7Rii's cool manual focus peaking mode that I struggled a bit initially and my 'keeper' rate was really low - nothing to do with the lenses here, all down to the photographer!

After a bit of trial and error, I reverted to using the old 'f8 and be there' trick - you can especially see this in the Ghent people shots as they're different to my usual style, which tends to be more shallow in its use of depth of field. I can certainly see why people use this setting - suddenly I started getting proper decent shots - albeit it with high ISO's - and my confidence returned!

For me, where the Loxia's really shine is in a static situation (or that might be my lack of manual street chops!). When sitting in a bar capturing people, having the ability to choose the thing YOU want to focus on rather than what Mr. Sony thinks is best in that situation is wonderful - there's more control. Plus the warm analogue aesthetic they give off is lovely - compared with my AF Sony 55mm f1.8 for example, which is great but very, very sharp and slightly 'digital' looking, the Loxia's have a nice 'old fashioned' look.

In a way, you don't mind if you miss focus - a Loxia still makes it look lovely.

Oh, and did I mention they are gorgeous bits of kit? - fast, smooth focusing action and lovely metal build quality. Pick of the two for me was the 35mm - it was certainly nice to have a lens of that focal length on my Sony that was drastically smaller than my behemoth Distagon 1.4 which tends to shout "LOOK... PHOTOGRAPHER!!!" when you're trying to be a bit covert.

So the question is: could I move to an all manual set up and dump autofocus? Possibly, but not now. I love the quality of the Batis line and they allow me to get the shots I want without the worry of missing the moment.

However, the charm, history and control of a manual lens are real and it's certainly something I'll be developing. So perhaps it's not a choice between one or another, perhaps it's horses for courses and perhaps a Loxia will be in my future camera bag after all...

Small tech note: 85% of these shots were the Loxia 35/50 and the rest were the Batis 25 when I need to go wider - for instance up in the Bruges Belfry and shots from the castle in Ghent.

Many thanks to Adam at Zeiss for the loan.