Fuji X-T30 Review – Outstanding Performance In A Tiny Package

We’re experiencing a transition period in digital cameras with the mirrorless segment emerging in a big way the past two years. It’s eating into the DSLR market in decline and new users looking to invest in a system are faced with a bevy of options. Complicating matters further is the emergence of cell phones as more than adequate devices for capturing day to day memories and even enabling artistic expression from a pocket sized device that is always in tow. As consumers, we stand to benefit as cameras get more feature packed in each iteration with manufacturers hoping to capture your business and gain new users investing in their ecosystem of lenses.

Fuji’s latest APS-C camera has a lot to offer at a more than reasonable price point of $899 (body only) for advanced enthusiasts and pros looking for a vacation from their larger daily carry. The X-T30 is their next offering after the X-T3 to use the 26.1mp X-Trans CMOS 4 sensor. The baby sibling to the X-T3, which stands atop the Fuji APS-C lineup as its most capable and professionally qualified camera, the X-T30 takes a majority of the best features of the X-T3 and crams it into a lighter, smaller body that is ideal for trips and personal projects.

Key Features

  • 26.1mp APS-C X-Trans CMOS IV Sensor
  • 4K video up to 30fps 200Mbps/100Mbps
  • 1080p video up to 120fps 200Mmbs
  • 425 Phase Detection AF points
  • Built-In Wi-Fi
  • Built-In Flash
  • Continuous shooting up to 8fps with mechanical shutter
  • Continuous shooting up to 20fps with electronic shutter at 1.25 crop
  • UHS-II capable SD card slot
  • 2.36 million dot EVF Viewfinder 0.39 inch
  • 3.0 inch 1.04 million dots touch screen color LCD

March 2018 – I fell in love with the Fuji X system when I brought my X-T2 to Tokyo

My Mirrorless Story

To qualify my thoughts on this camera, I’ll share my history with DSLR and mirrorless cameras. For my day to day professional work, I’m shooting with two Nikon D850cameras after a decade of shooting Canon bodies and a couple years with the Nikon D750. A few years ago I started to dabble with mirrorless after trading some old gear and buying some things on the used market. It led me to the Sony a6300 which soured my feelings on the mirrorless experience initially.

As a wedding photographer in Tucson, Arizona, I was looking for the perfect personal camera for passion projects and travel. I thought I’d found a contender in the a6300, but I was left underwhelmed by its sterile user experience, lackluster RAW files, and a barren landscape of APS-C E-Mount glass leaving you with pricier Full Frame intended glass on a much smaller body. What’s the point of a smaller sensor camera that doesn’t have lenses purpose built for it? I wasn’t excited to use a soup can sized lens on this smaller body. Balance is important to me. After a month long trip to Seoul in 2017, I couldn’t get rid of the camera fast enough.

After selling off the a6300, I jumped into the Fuji X-T2 and was immediately enamored with the experience. I fell in love with the images, form factor, and affordable but feature packed lens selection all made to size for the APS-C sensor. Despite only moonlighting with this camera, I wouldn’t hesitate to have it fill in for me on the average portrait session I typically perform on location.

What I wanted most out of my mirrorless experience was a detachment from my normal processes and intuitions. I wanted an experience that was foreign to me and would add hesitation to my workflow with the hope of being just a little more intentional in my photographic process. When I shoot for myself, I typically shoot in JPEG only and choose from one of the filmic processing modes built into the camera such as Classic Chrome or Velvia. Bringing photos into Lightroom is what I do for work. This needed to feel like my hobby again.

So after a year and a half with my X-T2 including trips to LA and Tokyo and a handful of personal projects, it took shooting with the X-T30 to make me have a hard look at what I features I could live without in the X-T2. Shooting primarily for myself, I could live without the dual card slots found in the X-T2 & X-T3. That extra slot takes up real estate that adds millimeters to the overall size of the camera. I can also live without the weather sealing and fully magnesium body that adds weight to the camera. The X-T30reduces the camera down to its bare essential size needed to encompass the most important core features one would covet in the larger X-T3.

Fuji X-T30 – ISO 1000 – 50mm – 1/200sec – f2

Performance

My initial thought on how this camera performs is how zippy it feels compared to my my X-T2. The AF feels faster, more certain to lock focus, and the focus selector stick helps me navigate the focus points faster than before. The touch screen is very responsive and the touch to focus feature is handy in a pinch when navigating the focus stick might be too slow in the moment.

Photographing a studio session, I felt very confident in the focus system and noticed my keeper rate for intended in focus areas of an image were much higher than on the the X-T2 in similar conditions. Eye detect AF only lifted my confidence in getting sharp images consistently. In well lit conditions, I trust the AF-C focus mode to track a walking subject moving towards the camera. This trust diminished after the sun had set. The EVF in boost mode is relatively lag free and I feel like for the most part that industry wide, EVF viewfinders have finally overcome some of the nausea inducing lag that persisted in the early generations of mirrorless offerings.

The base ISO is down to ISO 160. Personally I prefer a lower base ISO, especially in a camera that only has a max mechanical shutter speed of 1/4000sec, so it’s nice to see it come down from the base ISO 200 in the X-T20 and X-T2. High ISO on this camera is about as good as I’ve come to expect from an APS-C sized sensor. I comfortably shoot at ISO 3200 or ISO 6400 for photos that at most will only be shared on Facebook or Instagram. Higher ISO settings up around 12800 are available as well as extended ISO at 25600 and 51200, but let’s be clear, if we need to push an image to those ISO levels, we’re not in good light to begin with.

Design

This is one area where the X-T30 shows any weaknesses and by far is my biggest gripe with the camera. This camera is cartoonishly small. Even the miniscule fast primes such as the 23mm F2 WR look slightly absurd on the tiny X-T30. There’s a point of diminishing returns where the reduction in size begins to affect the comfort and handling of a camera. The X-T30 has exceeded that point. I’m probably on the large end of hand size, so it stands to reason a person with petite hands could really like this camera, but I doubt it.

There’s a sweet spot where small size and balance is achieved, and it’s found in the XT-3. Even with the retro inspired stylings of these cameras and their more rectangular form, the ergonomics are excellent. I can comfortably hold and operate the camera with my right hand, which I do often, especially when travelling and toting a small bag or personal items. With the X-T30, I cannot confidently hold it one-handed. Because the height of the camera is a centimeter shorter than the X-T3, I can’t get all four of my fingers onto the face of the camera around the grip. My pinky and even my ring finger are forced to relocate to the bottom of the camera. It’s not comfortable.

X-T30: This hurts and I can’t access the AF stick with my thumb

X-T3: This is comfortable and I can still access the AF stick and not drop the camera

Because the X-T30 is so small, it’s forced to place the AF point selector stick lower on the camera. There’s no possible way to operate the camera one-handed and manipulating the stick with your thumb, something I could do with relative ease on the X-T2/X-T3. So even if you’re a smaller handed photographer and could fit all four fingers around the grip, you still wouldn’t be able to reach the AF stick with your thumb. This camera forces you to operate it with two hands, which I didn’t realize was a negative for me until the option was taken away.

The X-T30 tripod mount seems unnecessarily close to the battery door

One flaw that will stand out to users of the Peak Design clip system is the unfortunate placement of the tripod mount. It’s positioned so close to the battery door that if you use the PD plate, you’ll have to remove the plate to swap out batteries and memory cards. This meant I had to keep an allen wrench or multi-tool handy whenever I was out and about with the camera. I’m sure a camera’s center of gravity has everything to do with location of the tripod mount, but it sure seems like that mount could have been moved over a couple centimeters without compromising structural integrity. Otherwise, the X-T30 and the PD system are a great match as wearing the camera on your belt clip is very convenient and barely felt by your body. This is a must for me when I’m spending long days exploring new cities.

Build Quality

Immediately you’ll notice how much lighter this camera is compared to the X-T3. With only a magnesium alloy top and bottom plate, the rest of the body consisting of plastic, it feels markedly toy-like compared to the X-T3. The feel of the body is in direct opposition to the build quality of the lenses you’ll attach to it. The camera lacks weather sealing which would discourage me from using it in rainy conditions or dusty locations, such as the windy desert areas that populate my home state of Arizona. If you’re the kind of person who might tote this camera to the barren playa of Burning Man, you definitely should opt for the weather sealed X-T3.

Value

This is where the X-T30 shines. For the body only, the $899 price tag is a steal. Coupled with a fast prime lens, you would still come in well under the body only $1499price tag of the X-T3. With a great lineup of affordable and weather sealed primes such as the 16mm f2.8, 23mm f2, 35mm f2, 50mm f2, it’s a relief that you can move into a new system and not have spend $1000 or more to get into quality glass.

The value of this camera surpasses its cost. There are an absurd amount of flagship Fuji features packed into this camera for a very reasonable price, which I find very refreshing. I can’t imagine needing anymore features out of this camera except for maybe a 60fps 4k mode at the expense of a lower bitrate, and possibly in body stabilization which isn’t feasible at this size of camera. There’s just nothing left to ask for at this price point. In a couple years when this model has been updated, there’s going to be a dearth of amazingly priced low mileage used bodies for enthusiasts to snatch up.

Competition

It’s lonely in the APS-C mirrorless market and the next closest competitors can be found in the micro four thirds space. Cameras like the Panasonic GX85 or Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II occupy similar price points and features sets and include advantages like 5 axis in-body image stabilization or weather proofing, but pay the penalty of files that won’t hold up the same amount of detail at higher ISO due to their smaller sensor size, and a severe 2x crop factor that diminishes the narrow depth of field qualities of wider aperture lenses. You could make a case for the APS-C Canon EOS m50 being a competitor, but with so few lenses made for that mount it’s not a very compelling argument.

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