The Evolution Of The Mirrorless Hybrid Camera With The Fujifilm X-T4

The new Fujifilm X-T4 Mirrorless Hybrid is the latest offering from Fujifilm.

As you’ve seen if you’re tapped into camera/production social media and it’s resulting blogosphere, Fujifilm recently announced the successor to the Fujifilm X-T3, one of the most popular cameras it has ever produced. We shot a project for a Los Angeles NPR station two years ago and had a chance to use our client’s Fujifilm X-T2 as a gimbal and B camera, gathering various moving b-roll footage around the station as we shot interviews with our A camera in their on-air studio. Overall, I found the X-T2, despite some glaring video omissions, to be a pleasant camera to use with some nice results.

The Fujifilm X-H1 Mirrorless Hybrid had more video-driven features and IBIS but was larger than the X-T series bodies and it still lacked some video features.

I then covered the launch of the Fujifilm X-H1, a more video-centric model with in-body image stabilization (IBIS) and a few more video features. After using the X-H1 a bit and speaking with the engineering team that was over from Japan at Fujifilm’s offices in Los Angeles, I knew that Fujifilm was close to introducing a camera that, while primarily a still camera, would have enough solid video features to be useful for me.

The Panasonic Lumix GH4 was our first 4K-capable mirrorless hybrid. It had some great video features but some fatal flaws, as well, for our needs.

My Mirrorless Hybrid History

A bit of background: I owned the Panasonic GH4, it was our first 4K camera, but I found that the Micro Four Thirds imager seemed to be too noisy for my shooting style, and I found the skin tones lacking, with a pastel quality that had to do with the noise reduction the GH4 applied. I also had experience shooting with my producing partner’s Sony A7 II on a few shoots and while I found its high ISO ability to be useful for low-light shooting (we shot some footage in a dark nightclub for a documentary where we couldn’t light the shots), I found its constant overheating when shooting 4K and its color science to not be appealing to me.

I have a DSLR, the Canon EOS 80D, that wasn’t a bad video camera, but it only shot 1080 and I found the footage to be marginal when any kind of grading or even mild color correction was applied. As we were heading into production for a docu-series that we wanted to produce in 4K, I was on the hunt for a 4K-capable mirrorless hybrid. I really liked the Panasonic GH5; it was a big improvement over the GH4, but its autofocus wasn’t very good even though the rest of its features were very appealing for video shooting.  

Full-frame mirrorless hybrids like this A7 II allowed Sony to capture a huge portion of the mirrorless market, but the A7 line has languished as competitors have moved ahead with specifications and capability.

I was planning on using whichever mirrorless hybrid we ended up with primarily on a gimbal and as a handheld, in a cage mount for shooting in cars, on small boats in the ocean or in other locations where bringing in our A cameras, the Canon C300 MKII and the C200, fully rigged, would be too conspicuous.

The Fujifilm X-T3 has been a resounding success for Fujifilm simply because it was a great camera at a very good price with amazing capabilities as both a still and video camera.

Enter The X-T3

When Fujifilm introduced the X-T3 in late 2018, I knew that it could be a good contender to serve as the gimbal and B camera for our docu-series. It seemed that Fujifilm had improved on the X-T2 and X-H1 video capabilities with the exception that the X-T3 lacked IBIS. But it had improved autofocus, the ability to use the AF while shooting 4K, great color science, a very detailed and good looking sensor called the X-Trans 4 and not only a way to shoot Flog, Fujifilm’s log format, but also the ability to shoot using Fujifilm simulation presets.

I knew that Flog would generally yield the most dynamic range, but I had seen some YouTube clips shot using the X-T3’s film presets that I thought looked very good too. With the X-T3, Fujifilm introduced a new film simulation called Eterna that looked to be a great starting spot for light grading and color correction. The other intriguing thing was that the X-T3 shot 10-bit H.265. 10-bit, which has gone from being considered an exotic high bit rate to what’s now considered standard fare in mirrorless camera video, but at the time of the X-T3’s introduction, 10-bit 4K wasn’t common. The ability to shoot at up to 400 Mbps made other competing camera’s 4K data rates (100 Mbps on all Sony A7 variants!) look weak and inadequate for post-production.

The Fujifilm X-T3: Likes

  • Small Size, Lightweight – These are important when operating on a gimbal all day.
  • Cost/Value Equation – With some of the competition coming in at close to $4,000, $1,299 on sale was appealing.
  • Color Science – The X-T3 colors are very appealing to me. Flog is Fujifilm’s log profile; it’s mildly flat but easy to expose for. The film simulations are also interesting and fun to work with for certain projects.
  • Specs – 4K DCI and UHD at up to 60p, data rates up to 400 Mbps, 10-bit 4:2:0 H.265 8-bit H.264 recording options and up to 120 fps in FHD. These place the Fujifilm X-T3 side by side or better than almost every other mirrorless hybrid available.
  • Construction/Tactile/Ergonomics – The X-T3 has a personality. It’s not a computer-with-a-lens feeling camera like some of its competition. It also has dedicated old-school rotating knobs and dials for selecting the most commonly changed parameters. The construction is robust with lots of metal used instead of plastic.
  • Good Lens Adaptability – We bought two Fujinon XF lenses, the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 OIS and the XF 16mm f/1.4 WR, but we also bought the Fringer Pro X mount to EF adapter so we can use any of our dozen Canon EF S and EF lenses with the X-T3. Not all operate perfectly in AF, but most do.
  • Detail – I was impressed with the amount of detail that the X-T3 records to 4K with its almost 6K sensor. This detail lends a very precise look to the images without being cold and sterile.
The Micro HDMI video output on the Fujifilm X-T3 is one of the weakest features of an otherwise great camera.

The Fujifilm X-T3: Dislikes

  • Terrible Battery Life – The too small NP-W126S 1,260 mAh batteries run out after only about 20 to 25 minutes of shooting video. That problem can be solved with the addition of the Fujifilm X-T3 battery grip, but that added a few hundred dollars to the bottom line.
  • 29:59 and 19:59 Recording Limits – Shooting documentary coverage, the recording time limits became a nuisance at times.
  • AF Challenges – When we bought the X-T3, with its initial 2.0 Firmware, the AF functions were usable. Not as good as our Canon C200, 80D, 300 MKII and not as good as the latest Sony A7 variants. But usable, better than the Panasonic GH5, if you kept an eye on it. We waited months for bug reports and user feedback to update the X-T3’s FW to 3.01, hearing no major negatives, but once we started shooting gimbal using the AF-C focus settings, we began to notice an AF pulsing. When you framed up an interview, for instance, the AF on the X-T3 would constantly micro-adjust itself, resulting in the subject seeming to mostly be in focus, but you’d notice a constant slight shifting in the background focus. 
  • XF Lens Issues When Shooting Video – We rented several different Fujinon XF lenses for various shoots and noticed that besides the AF pulsing described above, all of the Fujinon XF zooms also had focus delay where when you zoomed the lens, it would often take the camera an extra second or two to actually locate the subject and snap into focus. This focus delay, coupled with the exposure compensation that Fujifilm engineers into every zoom lens, makes using the X-T3 with XF zooms a not very pleasant experience with constant exposure shifts visible in your footage. Every time you shift the focal length of the zoom lens, the lens and body shift the exposure to compensate for there being less light at longer focal lengths, even if every setting on the camera is in manual mode.
  • Micro HDMI Video Output – I can’t say enough bad things about how terrible, fragile and unreliable the micro HDMI video output on the X-T3 is. Fujifilm used it to save space, but it has almost become a rite of passage for the X-T3 owner to have to ship their X-T3 back to Fujifilm repair to fix and/or replace the micro HDMI connection.
  • No Video Waveform – The X-T3 has a histogram, but no video waveform monitor. The histogram merely displays pixel brightness distribution from dark to light pixels. No marking, calibration or scale. Without a video waveform, it can be difficult to accurately judge exposure and lighting on skin tones.
The Fujifilm X-T4 adds the most requested feature from Fujifilm users—IBIS!

On To The X-T4  

Since I haven’t yet had a Fujifilm X-T4 made available to me for review, I can’t verify a few small details about the new X-T4, but looking at Fujifilm’s specifications, press photos, YouTube videos and the like, I can surmise what I believe the X-T4 to be. Cutting to the chase, in a nutshell, the X-T4 is basically an X-T3 with a slightly larger body, same exact sensor and video specs save for the fact that it can now shoot 240 fps in FHD versus 120 fps on the X-T3. Fujifilm added a new ETERNA Bleach Bypass film simulation, a flippy screen for Vloggers, a significantly larger battery and IBIS. There has been much consternation that the X-T4 also loses the 3.5mm headphone jack from the X-T3, which was replaced with a USB C dongle.

How Does The X-T4 Address Limitations For The Pro Video Shooter?

Here are the main points that I found lacking in the X-T3.

  • Terrible Battery Life – The X-T4 upgrades Li-ion battery NP-W235, at 2,350 mAh, nearly doubling the battery power of the X-T3 battery. It remains to be seen how much additional battery drain the IBIS function on the new X-T4 battery results in.
  • 29:59 and 19:59 Recording Limits – The X-T4 doesn’t change or eliminate these limits.
  • AF Challenges – The X-T3 recently received a 3.20 FW update that tamed the focus pulsing other than when using Flog in low light. It appears the X-T4 utilizes basically the same technology with similar results.
  • XF Lens Issues When Shooting Video – Unfortunately, these issues are tied to the XF lenses themselves, not just the X series bodies, so they remain.
  • Micro HDMI Video Output – Fujifilm retained the fragile micro HDMI video output.
  • No Video Waveform – Fujifilm didn’t add a video waveform monitor, retaining the same histogram display as the X-T3.
I predict the Fujifilm X-T4 will be just as big of a hit as the X-T3 was, if not bigger. It adds user-requested features to the already excellent X-T3 and a slightly higher price with a slightly larger body to house the IBIS.

My Take On The Fujifilm X-T4

The headline feature of the X-T4 is IBIS. The X-H1 had IBIS but was a physically larger body than the X-T3 and not the X-T4. Fujifilm implemented magnetic IBIS which, according to preliminary tests, works pretty well. That said, most but not all pros utilize a gimbal, motion control slider or a Steadicam-like device to fluidly move the camera. IBIS seems to be more of a hobbyist feature, but it can be useful in certain situations, taming the micro jitter that’s painfully apparent when shooting 4K especially. I’ve tried shooting handheld with our X-T3 without the accompanying cage, monitor microphone and external battery system that all together add up to making our X-T3 handheld rig weigh about 6 to 7 pounds depending on the lens. Trying to shoot handheld with the X-T3, even with a wide-angle lens, results in a lot of micro jitters that the IBIS in the X-T4 will tame.     

A feature that has been used to hook a lot of still shooters coming into the world of mirrorless hybrids is the full-frame sensor. I debate even including this point, but all of the Fujifilm X series bodies use an S35 sensor. If you shoot a lot of low light and need high gain without as much grain, FF sensors are superior in low light. That said, the Fujifilm X-T3 does well up to about ISO 2,500, which is plenty of gain for all but the darkest situations. Since the X-T4 uses the same sensor, it’s fair to say the ISO performance is probably roughly the same as the X-T3. Most but not all video/digital cinema pros are able to light the majority of their scenes, but if you shoot weddings, events or constantly shoot in other situations where you want or need to shoot at ISO 12,500 or higher, do yourself a favor and buy an FF camera.

Moving on from sensor size, the X-T4 appears to be more of a good thing and one the most interesting mirrorless hybrids out there. The value equation is still excellent with the X-T4 body retailing for $1,699 in the United States. IBIS was easily the most requested feature at all of the Fujifilm Summits and from feedback from Fuji user groups. The second most requested feature was a flippy screen versus the tilt screen on the X-T3. The additional battery horsepower is much welcomed, although until we get a hands-on review unit, it’s hard to say what the recording times will be.

Overall, if you’re buying your first mirrorless hybrid, the X-T4 appears to be an across-the-board winner, with a great value equation and features for $1,699. If you’re obsessed with shooting in the dark, look elsewhere for a full-frame camera. If you own the X-T3, the real question is, is it money well spent to sell off your X-T3 and upgrade to the X-T4?

For us, the answer is no. We have tamed the short battery record times of the X-T3 with the external battery grip that adds two more batteries to the internal X-T3 battery. We power the X-T3 from the DC output of our gimbal, so short battery times aren’t a factor anymore. Same with IBIS, we have the Zhiyun Crane 2 gimbal, so we don’t really need IBIS. We don’t need the flippy screen because (thankfully) we don’t Vlog. Objectively, the X-T4 is an iterative upgrade, but it’s an upgrade of an already very good camera that probably edges into great territory for pro video/digital cinema shooters.

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