Last week I purchased a gently used Fujifilm X-A3, which included the kit 16-50mm zoom lens. When the package arrived I found a camera that had been well kept and seemed basically brand new. With the announcement of the X-A5 (there is no X-A4) last week, I was able to get the X-A3 for only $400, which is an absolute bargain! My intentions are to sell the lens, and I think that will bring the total for the camera body to somewhere near $250. Honestly, I don’t know if a better value exists in the camera market today.
You might be wondering why I didn’t wait a week to get the new X-A5 (it’s available beginning today), which is improved and even has a different (and supposedly better) lens. The quick answer is cost, as the new camera has an MSRP of $600, and obviously $400 is less than $600. The longer answer is that the improved features of the X-A5, which include updates to auto-focus and video, are not important to me. I will be using manual-focus lenses on this camera and I won’t be using it for video, so most of the upgrades won’t effect me. It’s very nice to have the latest-and-greatest, but if I can save some money and get something that’s essentially the same but a year older, that’s typically a wiser decision.
You might also be wondering, why the X-A3? Why not the X-E3 or X-T20? Clearly the X-E3 and X-T20 are better cameras, as the X-A3 is the bottom-end entry-level X-series model, but they are also much more expensive. Like a lot of people, I can’t afford to drop a bunch of cash on new gear every year. I have to consider every purchase carefully and justify the amount that I’m spending.
The X-A3 is very popular in some parts of the world, but in the U.S. it’s not a camera that people get excited over and so sales are mediocre. In fact, you might not have heard of it before. One reason for this is that, while the X-A3 is indeed an X camera, it is not an X-Trans camera. Yes, the X-A3, which has a 24-megapixel APS-C Sony-made sensor, has a Bayer color filter array and not an X-Trans array. It’s not the only X-series camera that’s not X-Trans (the most well-known model is the medium-format GFX-50s), but the fact that it’s not X-Trans makes it less desirable among Fuji X photographers. I lot of people look right past it just because of the Bayer sensor.
The differences between X-Trans and Bayer are not huge. I thought that X-Trans would make more of a difference than it does. That’s not to say there aren’t advantages to X-Trans over Bayer, because there indeed are, but simply that the differences are fairly minor and nothing to get worked up over.
For starters, comparing ISO image quality between the X-A3 and X100F, ISO 1600 and below look identical between the two sensors. The X-Trans sensor at ISO 3200 has a barely noticeable advantage, at ISO 6400 the X-Trans sensor is obviously superior, and at ISO 12800 the X100F is usable but the X-A3 is definitely not. Dynamic range is very similar between the two cameras, but when pushing the shadows significantly, X-Trans is a little cleaner. What accounts for all this is the number of green light-sensitive sensor elements (50% on Bayer, 55% on X-Trans), which provides more luminosity data on X-Trans cameras. That’s the biggest advantage of X-Trans over Bayer.
Another advantage of X-Trans is that it doesn’t require, nor does it have, an optical low-pass filter (a.k.a. anti-aliasing filter), which blurs the image slightly to prevent moire pattern distortion (a.k.a. aliasing). Higher resolution Bayer sensors, such as the 24-megapixel sensor found inside the X-A3, doesn’t really need one, either, as aliasing is less of an issue with that much resolution (although it can still creep its ugly head on occasion), so fewer Bayer cameras have it nowadays. The X-A3 does have an optical low-pass filter, which is kind of a disappointment, but in reality the sharpness difference between a camera with and without an anti-aliasing filter is only noticeable when comparing massive crops side-by-side. If you compared identical images captured with the X-A3 and X-E3 using the same lens, then made 200% crops and put them next to each other, you’d notice that one would be slightly more crisp than the other. In real-world use, where nobody is making massive crops and nobody is making side-by-side comparisons, there is no practical difference. It’s not as big of a deal as some would have you believe.
The biggest difference for me between the two cameras is the in-camera JPEG processing. Specifically, the X-A3 does not have the Acros Film Simulation, nor does it have faux film grain. What it does have are the same options found on X-Trans II cameras. In fact, while the camera has the same resolution as X-Trans III cameras, because of the menu and Bayer sensor, the X-A3 is more like having an X-Trans II camera. It definitely produces different results than my X100F, which I don’t mean as a bad thing (or good thing), as the results aren’t necessarily worse (or better), they’re just subtly different.
The X-A3 has a touch flip-screen, which is a cool feature. For street photography I like to flip the screen to a 90-degree angle and use the camera like a twin-lens reflex, shooting at the hip. People are less aware that you are photographing them when you are looking down and it’s not obvious that you are actively taking pictures. Unfortunately the X-A3 has a hideous PASM dial instead of a shutter speed dial. For the price, though, it’s easy to overlook this shortcoming.
The X-A3 is actually a well-equipped camera capable of capturing high-quality images. The camera is cheap because it’s made from cheaper materials, with a lot more plastic and a lot less metal than other Fujifilm X cameras. It feels like it might break if it took a lot of abuse. The one positive out of this is that it weighs less, so it is less cumbersome to carry.
Comparing the size of the X-A3 with the X100F, the body of the X-A3, which has a very similar style to the X100F, is noticeably smaller. It’s not as wide or tall as the X100F, and, if you were to add a 27mm pancake lens, you might have a poor-man’s X100F, but smaller. With an old Industar 61 lens attached using an adapter, the lens sticks out about as far as my X100F with a lens hood. The X-A3 is definitely a small camera, and a great companion to the X100F because it is an interchangeable-lens option that is similarly small and potentially pocket-sized.
The reason why I purchased another camera in the first place is because I couldn’t capture a certain photograph with the X100F. The X100F has proven to be versatile enough for almost any situation. When I saw a beautiful full moon rising over the mountain ridge with a cloud layer covering just the top of it, and I couldn’t capture the scene as I wanted because the X100F has a fixed wide-angle lens, I knew it was time to add a second Fuji X camera to the camera shelf. This wasn’t the first time that I encountered a situation where the X100F wasn’t the right tool for the job, but simply the last straw. These situations aren’t frequent, but it will be nice to have a second camera when needed.
I love my X100F and I will continue to use it as my primary camera. Almost always it’s the perfect picture-making tool for whatever situation. It’s small and lightweight and can fit into a large pocket. It has a leaf shutter and wonderful fill-flash built into it. The image quality is just fantastic! It’s a joy to use and my favorite camera that I’ve ever owned.
When it’s not the right tool, then I will have my X-A3 and a handful of lenses to handle those situations. So far, in the five days since it arrived in the mail, I’ve used the camera to capture some nice photographs in a variety of situations. The lenses I’ve used are an Industar 61, a Helios 44-2, Helios 103 and a Jupiter 8M, which are vintage Soviet Union lenses that produce wonderful images that are full of character. I’m waiting for a Jupiter 21M to come in the mail within the next week or two.
The reason why I have these old Russian lenses lying around is because I own several old 35mm film cameras that they attach to. I already have X-mount adapters because I used to pair these lenses with an X-E1 that I used to own. I loved using these lenses with my X-E1, and I’m ecstatic to be using them once again!
Sometimes I wish that I’d kept the X-E1 because I really liked that camera. I sold it (plus some lenses) to help pay for the X100F. Is the X-A3 an upgrade over the X-E1? I think in many ways it is a small upgrade, and in a few ways it’s not, but the X-A3 has a lot fewer clicks on the shutter and so I anticipate that it will hang around for at least a couple of years. My old X-E1 had captured a lot of images, and I wondered how much longer it would continue operating before breaking down. Even if the X-A3 isn’t all that much of an upgrade, the peace-of-mind that it will last for awhile is worth something.
I appreciate vintage glass attached to Fujifilm X cameras, and I’ve immensely enjoyed the X-A3 paired with old Russian lenses so far. I will continue to play around with it and sprinkle posts about my experiences using it on this blog. I hope that you don’t mind. And, don’t worry, I’ll continue to write the usual X100F stuff as I still have plenty to say.
All of the photographs in this article are straight-out-of-camera JPEGs. I didn’t edit anything, and I think this gives a good idea of what can be accomplished without using software. I appreciate all the time that Fujifilm cameras save me because I don’t need to fiddle with RAW files anymore. Below are more example photos from my X-A3 camera. Enjoy!