Fujifilm X-T30 hands-on review

Fujifilm’s X-T30 is an engineering marvel designed to inspire shutterbugs

Bursting with features, the X-T30's real strength is its polished shooting experience.
Bursting with features, the X-T30's real strength is its polished shooting experience.
Bursting with features, the X-T30's real strength is its polished shooting experience.

Highs

  • 425-point autofocus system
  • Great image quality
  • Impressive 4K video
  • Fast continuous shooting speed
  • Engaging user experience

Lows

  • No in-body stabilization
  • One questionable design decision

Steve Jobs famously once said, “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.” It was in reference to the introduction of the iPhone, and how it would take sales away from the iPod — a move that proved to be tremendously important for Apple. The topic of self-cannibalization comes up often in the camera world. Some companies, like Canon, avoid it like the plague; others, like Fujifilm, appear to embrace it.

The X-T30 arrived on the scene just six months after the flagship Fujifilm X-T3, and brings with it many of that camera’s advanced specifications and features — for hundreds of dollars less. At about $900 for the body only, the X-T30 may leave some X-T3 customers wondering what they paid $1,500 for. After all, it has the same sensor, same processor, same autofocus system, and similar video capabilities, all wrapped up into an even smaller, lighter weight body.

There are, of course, differences, mainly in the build quality and control layouts — things that Fujifilm fans tend to appreciate. The X-T30 also sees some small tweaks over the X-T20 that feel more like lateral moves rather than true improvements. While such things shouldn’t be discounted, there is little that separates the X-T30 technically from the X-T3, and that makes it a very impressive product. As a primary camera for beginners and enthusiasts or as as secondary camera for professionals, the X-T30 is one of the best buys on the market.

Design and handling

The raison d’être of the Fujifilm X-series is the design. It puts modern digital technology into an analog-inspired shell, using physical shutter speed, exposure compensation, and aperture (on the lens) controls in place of multifunction command dials, modifier keys, and on-screen displays. It isn’t about whether such a paradigm is better or not compared to the more standard layouts used by other manufacturers; it’s simply about whether or you like it or not. Does the camera elicit an emotional response when you hold it in your hands?

Above all else, this is what separates the X-T30 from what is likely its closest competitor, the Sony A6400. A casual glance at each camera is all it takes to recognize their spiritual differences; one is a modern piece of high-tech gadgetry, the other is a tool someone who calls herself an artist would use. Both are, with minor exceptions, equally capable. The X-T30 doesn’t have the A6400’s 180-degree flip screen, instead opting for an LCD that can partially tilt up or down, but we prefer its center-mounted viewfinder. Neither camera has in-body image stabilization, which comes as no surprise for the X-T30 as not even the X-T3 has it.

The point here is that no matter how advanced the X-T30 has become, no matter how many features Fujifilm has managed to cram into its 13.5-ounce body, the primary reason for buying it remains the same — and if it doesn’t nail that classic look and feel, if it doesn’t capture the spiritual essence of the X-series, it fails.

The X-T30 offers one of the most engaging shooting experiences of any camera in this class.

Fortunately, by and large, the X-T30 succeeds here. The top plate is decorated liberally with the type of single-function, direct-access control we’ve come to expect from Fujifilm. Users who want to throw that all away can toggle the Auto switch, which forces the camera into a fully automatic exposure mode regardless of where the various dials are set.

Compared to the X-T3, the X-T30 is smaller and not weather-sealed. It makes do with a single SD card slot, but does use the same battery as the X-T3 (and the X-T2 and X-T20 before it). It also lacks an ISO dial and is down on total number of buttons. Compared to the X-T20, there is one major change to the control layout: The four-way button cluster on the back has been replaced with an autofocus point selector joystick.

Fujifilm X-T30 Hands-on
Les Shu/Digital Trends

The AF joystick is one of our favorite features on modern cameras; it’s such a small thing, but it improves operation dramatically. However, praise for the joystick is usually offered when it’s an addition, not a replacement, to other controls. By removing the four-way button cluster, Fujifilm has left useful real estate on the back of the camera completely empty. To try to visually fill this void, the joystick itself has been placed lower than normal, which makes for worse ergonomics when holding the camera in shooting position with the viewfinder to your eye. When shooting one-handed, it is almost impossible to reach the joystick and maintain a secure grip on the camera.

To be clear, this is not inherently worse than the X-T20 — nor is it inherently better. While we do slightly prefer using the joystick to select the AF point, it’s not quite as intuitive for navigating the menus as the four-way buttons were. In short, it’s a trade-off, and a needless one at that. There was plenty of room to simply add the AF joystick without removing any other controls; but apparently this is one area where Fujifilm is still afraid of cannibalizing the X-T3.

All things considered, this is a small concern. The X-T30 still offers one of the most engaging shooting experiences of any camera in this class. Its 2.36-million-dot electronic viewfinder is both smaller and lower resolution than the 3.69-million-dot unit in the X-T3, but it’s still a great feature on a $900 camera body. The grip isn’t quite as comfortable as the larger X-T3, but it comes with a weight savings of nearly 6 ounces. Paired with a compact lens, like the new XF 16mm F2.8 R that we tested with the camera, it’s perfectly sized and easy to carry around for a full day of shooting.

Features and specifications

Fujifilm’s decision to separate its midrange and upper-tier cameras on physical design rather than technical capability is an interesting one, but one that we expect will leave many X-T30 owners very happy. If you don’t need dual card slots or weather sealing and you can get by with a less robust control layout, there is very little you will sacrifice by choosing the X-T30 over the X-T3.

You will get slightly slower maximum performance on the X-T30, in terms of both shutter speed and continuous shooting rate. Shutter speed tops out at 1/4,000 second, a stop behind the 1/8,000 second of the X-T3. Burst rate manages a respectable 8 frames per second with the mechanical shutter, down from 11, but you can fire away at 20 fps using the electronic shutter — and still with continuous autofocus.

Video also has taken a step down, albeit a very small one. 4K is recorded from the full width of the sensor at up to 30 fps, not 60 like on the X-T3, and internal recording tops out at 8-bit 4:2:0 and 200 megabits per second, rather than the 10-bit, 400Mbps codec of the X-T3. However, this is still a big leap over the cropped, 100Mbps 4K video of the X-T2 and X-T20. Somewhat unexpectedly, the X-T30 also allows for clean, 10-bit 4:2:2 output over HDMI and even includes the flat F-Log profile for preserving more dynamic range.

This is an astonishingly capable camera for under $1,000 that only gets better when you pair it with a nice lens.

We had a very short time with the camera for this hands-on and were not able to conduct a thorough test, but on paper, this means the X-T30 should produce equally good video to the X-T3 when shooting to an external recorder — and that is very, very impressive for a $900 camera. In fact, the HDMI output of the X-T30 is superior to that of the Sony A6400. That a Fuji is outperforming — that it even comes close — to a Sony for video is a bit shocking.

As for still photography, it’s a similar story. You get the same backside-illuminated, 26-megapixel sensor and X Processor 4 from the X-T3, paired with the same 425-point phase-detection autofocus system that effectively covers 100-percent of the frame. Face and eye-detection work in both continuous autofocus and video modes, and performance is very good with newer XF lenses. (Older XF lenses were built with more complex focusing elements which make them a bit slower.)

Sample photos shot on the Fujifilm X-T30

The autofocus system, while good, is not as advanced as the impressive Real-Time Tracking in the A6400, which uses artificial intelligence to recognize and track subjects. If you shoot a lot of sports or action, that’s one area where the Sony may come out ahead — not having had the chance to fully test the X-T30 in such a scenario, we will reserve judgment for now, but the A6400’s performance here is impressive and would be tough to beat.

The bottom line

Despite not being completely onboard with the changes to the control layout, we remain wholly impressed with the X-T30. This is an astonishingly capable camera for under $1,000 that only gets better when you pair it with a nice lens. When pushed to its limits, in both still photography and video, the X-T30 exactly matches the quality of the $1,500 X-T3. Yes, for video that requires an external recorder — but the fact that a camera in this class even has that capability is noteworthy.

More importantly, when the excitement over the tech fades away, the X-T30 offers a shooting experience that distills the practice of photography into its most important and engaging aspects. And that is perhaps Fujifilm’s greatest strength; that for all the features and power, nothing ever gets in your way, nothing distracts you from the essence of the art. And a camera that pours this much tech into a design that allows you to completely forget about it, is quite an accomplishment.

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