(quick edit until I can fix it properly. the two birds below I ID as female brewer’s blackbirds are in face female brown headed cowbirds. Apologies for the confusion).
Friday I realized I’d basically not left the house in ten days and I was starting to go a bit stir crazy, and since I had to go pick up a prescription, I grabbed lunch and the camera and headed out to Coyote Valley for a quick sit in the sun and to try to take some pictures.
Note the time: noon. That implies: bright, harsh light, nasty shadows, a lot of back lit birds in the sky, and in general, rough conditions.
Let’s see how the Fuji X-T3 handled this.
First, some details. I plan on doing a detailed configuration/operate post once I’m comfortable with how I operate the body, but here are some general notes on the setup.
The camera: Fuji X-T3 with the Fuji 100-400 F5.6 Lens and the Fuji 1.4x Teleconverter. That means at full power I’m shooting at 560mm at F8. I often shoot at F/11 because I think I get a bit more sharpness out of the lens, but this is a great, sharp setup. I was shooting at ISO 1600 because I wanted to make sure I kept shutter speed up.
The exposure system has four main configuration options: Spot exposure (based on center of the image), center-weighted (give priority to the center but consider the entire frame), multi (real time evaluation of the image to find areas to give priority to) and full (average the entire frame). In general, I shoot in center-weighted, although I’ll shift to spot for some tricky situations. The Fuji has an option to have the spot AE to follow the spot Autofocus point, which I’ve turned on.
The autofocus system has around nine zillion options, and once you start tweaking it I think it can get overwhelming, but to get the most out of it, you really do need to experiment and find which settings work best for you in various situations.
To start, there are three primary AF modes: Manual, AF-Single and AF-Continuous. With Manual, you do it yourself, but you can trigger the AF to do an initial lock-in and then manually tweak it. AF-S, when it’s triggered, finds focus and locks to that. AF-C when it’s triggered locks in and then continuously adjusts the focus as long as AF is triggered.
When I was a Canon shooter, I used a common configuration called back-button focus; you remove AF triggering from the shutter and fire it separately via a separate button, that gives you maximum control. What I’ve found as a Fuji shooter, though, is that I much prefer leaving AF tied to the shutter; if I’m in a situation where focus is tricky and this isn’t working, I can quickly switch to manual focus, fire off AF to get close, use focus peaking to dial it in, and then shoot. Since focus is one of the Fuji physical switches, you don’t need to dive into the menus to do this so you don’t get distracted and lose the shot.
So I’m either shooting manual focus with the AF assist and focus peaking, or I’m shooting AF-C with the AF trigger on the shutter. I will sometimes shift to AF-S for stationary subjects, but AF-C handles them well most of the time.
AF-C and AF-S each have four modes: Spot, Zone, Tracking, and ALL.
Spot and Zone both can be adjusted for size: Spot can be a single focus point, or can be widened up to 3×3. Zone starts at 3×3 and can be widened to 7×7. Tracking covers the middle portion of the frame and can be made wider or narrower to fit your need, and ALL, of course, the entire frame. All can be adjusted to either 117 focus points or the entire suite of 425.
For Spot and Zone, you can move it around the frame in various ways to point it at what you want in focus; it doesn’t have to be in the center of the frame.
In case you didn’t have enough options yet, AF-S and AF-C each have a bunch of settings to tweak, and Fuji has bundled up some common settings into five broad sets: Multi-Purpose, Ignore Obstacles, Accelerating/Decelerating Subjects, Suddenly Appearing Subject, and Erratic Subject. You can also, if you’re a masochist, set up your own custom setting here, so there are six possible customizers here.
You can prioritize the shutter: do you want to get images started (shutter priority) or do you want to make sure you have focus locked in? (focus priority). This is one place I’ve already made a change because of the improved AF in the X-T3 over X-T2: with the X-T2, I had AF-S set to focus priority and AF-C set to shutter priority; now, I’m focus priority all the way.
There are other options as well, but these are the key ones to understanding how to
tweak the AF system to make it bow to your will, and this is why it’s important to test and practice and try things out to see what works best for the kind of photography you do and the kind of shooting style you have.
The good news is that Fuji has the camera designed to allow you to tweak most of this with minimal chimping of the menu system (“five minutes later, I had the camera set up right, and the Cheetah was in the next timezone). The quick menu is your friend, but I won’t cover that today.
I am finding I’m setting autofocus in a few specific ways:
Manual focus, using AF assist and focus peaking to dial it in.
AF-C on the shutter button. This I adjust in a few ways:
Most commonly I’m in Zone at a 7×7 square, which I’ll keep mostly centered in the frame. For birds in trees or brush, I’ll switch to spot at 1×1 or 3×3 to remove clutter.
For custom settings, I’m usually on set 4 (suddenly appearing), but I’m finding set 5 (erratically moving) can work nicely, and set 2 (ignore obstacles) can be effective in woods/brushy type shooting. Many fewer “really nailed the focus on THAT BRANCH” moments.
What I’m finding in these early tests: the AF system is a lot faster and a lot more accurate. When it locks on, it stays locked on quite nicely. it’s better at ignoring clutter around the prime subject, if you help it by minimizing the focus field where you can. it’s a lot better at tracking moving subjects.
So I’m really liking the autofocus improvements a lot. The exposure system is improved, too. A common problem with this kind of photography is when you point the camera up in the sky and you get a nicely exposed sky with a black, featurless blob in it. When set to center-weighted, I’m getting a much better exposure of the bird, and the dynamic range capture of the means I have some chance of getting a well-exposed bird in the image. I do tend to shoot this with an exposure compensation of +2/3 to encourage that.
One big improvement I’m seeing in that: where even the X-T2 had a tendency to blow out the sky, I’m getting usable skies with color pretty commonly. That’s some serious sensor magic going on and I’m loving it. As you’ll see below, it’s possible with minimal tweaking to pull in a nice looking sky with a pretty bird in it, not a bird on white seamless…..
The larger 26 megapixel sensor means more data in the image, which means a lot more detail, and a better ability to crop if you need to (and with birds, you need to).
Even with backlit birds — see some of the Kite photos below where you can see the sun glowing through the edge of the feathers — you get good detail in the bird.
Life’s not perfect. A few things I’ve noticed:
In a few images, I’m seeing what feels like a sharpening halo along some edges, right out of the camera. See the edge of the golden tail of the red-tail for an example. It’s a lot more noticeable on screen than in this photo, but it caught my eye.
While most of the images are really low noise, I’ve seen a few come out of the raw processor with higher noise levels than I expected.
Since I normally shoot auto-white balance, there’s a weird difference between an X-T2 RAW and an X-T3 Raw. An image that would typically show around +5 on red-green tint on an X-T2 is coming into Lightroom with that value set more like +55. That means if you shift it from “as shot” to “daylight” in Lightroom, it gets a nasty green tint.
All three of these things SEEM to be effects of Adobe’s RAW processor, but I haven’t had a chance to test with an alternative like Capture One yet. For the noise, a luminance noise reduction of about +25 works wonders.
Here’s a selection of images from this shoot. FWIW, I shot 355 images. Of those, I culled 9% as focus dings. That’s a much smaller number than I’d typically see with the X-T2, and it’s actually a lot better than that, because over half of those culls were a single burst that never properly locked on. That is a good indication that the AF is locking on faster and more reliably, and once locked on, stays locked.
All in all, I’m really liking this camera as an improvement over the X-T2 more than I thought I would.
All of these were shot at ISO 1600, F8 or F11, with shutter speeds ranging from 1/1500 to 1/4000. I used exposure compensations from 0 to +2/3. Processing in Lightroom is pretty simple. with no split toning and minimal HSL adjustments.