Comparing X-Trans Sensors
Omar Gonzalez posted an interesting video yesterday that I want to share with you. It poses the question: which Fujifilm X-Trans sensor is the best? I don’t want to get too deeply into what’s “best” because that’s very subjective. Omar directly compares images from X-Trans II, III & IV sensor cameras to see what the differences are. There can be, in fact, some pretty significant differences between sensor generations! If you have a few free moments and haven’t already watched it, push play on Omar’s video above.
I’ve done some pretty similar experiments. I’ve done my own side-by-side comparisons in the past. I know the differences between the sensors, particularly regarding JPEG output, and I agree with most of what Omar says in his video. Each sensor generation produces slightly different results, and that’s largely due to Fujifilm’s programming.
X-Trans II is programmed warmer than the others, and fairly significantly so. For example, my X-T1 Kodachrome 64 recipe requires a White Balance Shift of 0 Red & -3 Blue while my X-T30 Kodachrome 64 recipe requires a WB shift of +2 Red and -5 Blue, so there’s definitely a difference. X-Trans III is slightly warmer than X-Trans IV, but not by much—it would require a decimal in the shift, such as around a 0.3 adjustment, to make them match, which unfortunately isn’t possible. Omar doesn’t discuss X-Trans I, but it’s more similar to X-Trans III and IV in regards to warmth.
I don’t find X-Trans II to be punchier than X-Trans III or IV, but they are certainly not programmed the same. Omar detected more contrast and more vibrant colors from his X-Trans II camera, but I think I can explain what is happening. First, the luminosity curve isn’t identical, so highlights and shadows are rendered slightly different on X-Trans II. Second, adjustments in X-Trans II cameras max out at +2 and -2, while adjustments in X-Trans III & IV cameras max out at +4 and sometimes -4; however, +2 on X-Trans II isn’t the same as +2 on X-Trans III & IV. +1 on X-Trans II is roughly equivalent to +0.8 on X-Trans III & IV, so it might seem to produce punchier results, but +3 on the newer sensors goes beyond +2 on X-Trans II, allowing you to get more contrast and color vibrancy from the newer cameras. X-Trans I is more similar to X-Trans II in how it renders shadows, highlights and saturation, but it’s not identical.
High ISO is something else Omar looked at, which is definitely subjective—what one person finds acceptable another might find detestable. On X-Trans I & II cameras, I don’t like going above ISO 3200 for color photographs. On X-Trans III cameras, I sometimes find ISO 12800 to be acceptable for color photography, depending on the subject and settings. On X-Trans IV cameras, ISO 6400 is my upper limit for color pictures. This isn’t too dissimilar to what Omar found, although I believe that ISO 3200 is his preference for the upper ISO limit no matter the camera. There’s no right or wrong acceptable threshold, just what works for you. For B&W photography, I don’t mind using even higher ISOs—in fact, it might be preferable to do so.
In my opinion, of the different X-Trans sensors, X-Trans II is the most “different” looking, although mostly because it’s programmed to produce warmer pictures. In some ways X-Trans I is more similar to X-Trans II and in other ways it is more similar to X-Trans III & IV. There are some differences between X-Trans III and X-Trans IV, but to my eyes they’re the most similar. I don’t personally believe that any one sensor generation is inherently better than another, but it’s clear that they’re not completely identical.
Fujifilm continues to add new JPEG options to newer cameras, which allows you to further customize your straight-out-of-camera look. X-Trans I doesn’t have Classic Chrome. X-Trans II doesn’t have Acros. X-Trans III doesn’t have Color Chrome Effect. This is just scratching the surface! There are just so many more picture aesthetics that one can get straight-out-of-camera on the X-E4 than the X-E3, and the X-E3 can get more than the X-E2, and the X-E2 can get more than the X-E1. For many people, that makes the newer sensors “better” than the older ones, but if you prefer how an older sensor renders pictures, then that sensor is likely “better” for you. It just depends on your preferences—whatever works best for you and your photography. While one camera will render pictures a little different than another, and one might have more features than another, the most important thing is what you do with it. Using your gear to the best of your ability is much more important than the gear itself.