My recent trip to New Orleans was what professional photographers call a great photo op. The architecture of the French Quarter, the Mississippi riverboats, the funky music scene — the whole city is a great subject. So I needed to take a camera that would go anywhere and give me great-looking photos, but wouldn’t weigh me down. My choice this time was the Fujifilm X-A3, a new, medium-priced mirrorless camera that offers good photo quality and has a little style to boot.
If you’re camera-savvy, you know that mirrorless cameras are the modern counterpart of the single-lens reflex, or SLR, cameras that once dominated high-end photography. They deliver similar-quality photos in a smaller, more streamlined package — just what you want for running around a new city, discovering new things.
I shot just about every type of subject over the course of a week in the Big Easy, and if you read this site, you’re seen a lot of the photos already. But as usual when I borrow a camera to travel with, I do an in-depth review for those who are interested. So here’s my take on the Fujifilm X-A3, the newest in Fuji’s longstanding line of stylish mirrorless cameras.
Looking at the camera
The Fujifilm X-A3 is built like an old-time rangefinder camera. In fact, it looks much like a vintage Leica, and Fuji has accentuated the look with a faux leather casing on the front and sides. The one I got was black, but it also comes in stylish brown and pink.
The X-A3 is smaller than an average SLR, but it’s not a tiny camera: it has a little heft to it, especially with the sizeable 24-75mm (equivalent) kit lens attached. There’s a small grip on the back and a bigger one on the front to make the camera easier to handle, though with my long fingers, I would have liked it to be larger.
The camera has a big, sharp, touch-screen monitor. You can use the touch function to zoom, focus and shoot photos with the tap of a finger. And the monitor tilts up or down – it even flips upside down so you can take selfies. There’s no viewfinder, however, so you’re going to be using the screen to take all of your shots. A cute little pop-flash comes in handy when shooting inside or at night.
The X-A3 has a lot of manual controls, with a command dial on top and a sub-command dial on the back, to put the settings right under your thumb. And looking deeper, the camera has some serious specs for a model in this price range, starting with a potent, 24.2-megapixel APS-C-sized sensor.
There are full manual modes, plus Program and two special Auto modes, including Advanced SR Auto, which chooses the best scene mode for the picture you’re shooting. It also lets you use some of the camera’s other features, including special filters and film simulation modes, which mimic the look of the famous Fuji films like Velvia and Provia.
Pushing the “Q” button on the back brings up a very useful control screen (see photo above) that lets you adjust most of the common settings. It also lets you do some sophisticated things, like calibrating the highlight and shadow tones, colour and sharpness settings.
The camera also has five-axis image stabilization, with four different modes, to avoid blurry pictures from shaky hands. And there’s RAW format with in-camera file conversion for those who want to take top-quality images.
Here’s a page from the Fujifilm website if you want to see the camera’s full specs.
Shooting with the Fujifilm X-A3
I found the Fujifilm X-A3 to be a handy travel companion. While it’s not a tiny camera you can slip in your pocket, it was small enough to carry around without getting a sore shoulder. And the tilting screen let me shoot from high or low angles without doing contortions: I especially liked tilting it downward to shoot over crowds, like this one at a Mardi Gras parade. (Note: the photos below are just as they came from the camera, though some have been reduced in size to fit the screen. Click on the photos for a closer look.)
Importantly, the camera woke up fast when I needed it – I counted about one second. And it focused quickly in most situations, though it could hunt for a moment in low light. The focus engine worked well in most cases, though I did get a few surprisingly unsharp shots.
I used the Program mode for a lot of my photos, and it handled most light conditions well. When the lighting got tricky, I tried the SR Auto mode, and in most situations it came through with good results.
One of the trickiest challenges for a camera is taking food photos in restaurants – the artificial light tends to produce off colours that are hard to get rid of. But to its credit, the SR Auto mode nailed the white balance on this shot at the Red Fish restaurant in the French Quarter.
Finally, the Fujifilm X-A3’s battery hung in like a trooper, compared to some of the other mirrorless cameras I’ve travelled with. In most cases, it was still chugging at the end of the day. and it charged up pretty quickly when I got back to the hotel.
Looking at the pictures
I came back from this trip with a lot of sharp, good-looking photos. My daylight shots were generally well-exposed, with excellent colour and lots of detail, even in trying conditions. I confined myself to standard settings, though I could have enhanced the colours in a dozen different ways using the camera’s special modes.
The real test is shooting in low-light conditions, however, and here the camera came through admirably. It produced some great-looking shots in the darkened streets of the French Quarter at night, with very little grainy “noise” in the shadow areas.
It also did a nice job in indoor settings like the famous Oak Alley Plantation. However, as with many cameras, the Program mode tended to lower the shutter speed too much in low light, blurring any movement. I discovered later that the X-A3 allows you to set a minimum shutter speed and a maximum ISO value in Program – a very useful feature. Oh, well, next time …
The Fujifilm X-A3 shoots movies at 1080p and 720p, with a choice of 24, 50 and 60 frames per second (sorry, no 4K). And while I didn’t shoot many movies with it, I did capture some footage from a tour boat as we cruised through the Louisiana bayou. There’s even some Cajun background music.
The Fujifilm X-A3 is a very capable travel companion. There’s not much this camera doesn’t do, and do well, with its extensive list of features and customizable settings.
Of course, that also means you need to learn a little about the camera in order to get the most out of it. Exploring the “Q” menu is a good start, but you’ll also find a lot of other features in the menus, like wireless photo transfer and a dynamic range adjustment, to even out the highlights and shadows in contrasty lighting.
The shots in this post were taken with the kit lens, which performed well. But you can expand the camera’s reach with wider and longer lenses, depending on the type of shooting you do. Fuji has a good range of lenses, including prime lenses and longer zooms — though I don’t recommend shooting extreme telephoto without a viewfinder.
All in all, I’d recommend the Fuji X-A3 both for beginners and for more advanced photographers who want a versatile everyday camera. It checks all the boxes – and the classy looks are a bonus.
If you’re in Canada and want to try out this camera, Fujifilm is offering free three-day trials of its cameras in some cities. Here’s a page that will tell you the details.