Recently, blissfully, I’ve been able to get back to shooting. Slowly but surely the gigs are coming back, although I will say I’ve been tackling them solo mostly. Partly for safety concerns and partly because these aforementioned gigs are pretty simple interview setups followed by b-roll primarily. Obviously on these shoots I’ve been using my C500mkII as the A-Cam, but as these have been interviews I needed a B-Cam. My first thought was to rent a C70 or even a C300mkIII, but then it occurred to me that I might not need to rent anything at all.
I’ve not been shy about my love for the Fujifilm cameras. I carry around my X-T3/27mm Pancake combo almost everywhere I go and it never fails to draw a response, usually from people assuming I’m shooting film. They’d be forgiven for thinking that, as the body of the X-T cameras is designed to evoke a vintage aesthetic with knobs on top of the body for most of your settings that resemble the classic shutter speed knob of older film cameras such as my Nikon F2. I love this, as do many Fujifilm shooters, because it really just “feels” right. I like being able to see everything right at my fingertips and I like not looking at screens when I don’t have to. When Fujifilm let me review their Xpro3 I was similarly enamored with the more “rangefinder” sensibilities married with modern technology.
Another thing that “we” Fujifilm photographers love are the film simulations. Fujifilm cameras have the unique offering of multiple customizable film simulations, essentially allowing you to color correct your image before the camera ever saves a frame. It’s not super granular, but it allows you to capture images in a way that is more original to you and doesn’t look too “digital”. Canon, Sony, and Nikon are said to have certain “looks”, whereas Fujifilm has dozens (or hundreds if you want to count simple things like saturation/curve/DR/white balance adjustments).
Speaking of image and white balance, one feature I absolutely love about the Fujifilm cameras is the white balance adjustment matrix. Instead of just picking a color temperature, you’re also given a Hue grid for which to nudge the overall color of the image if you’d like, which can result in some really fantastic and unique looks straight out of camera. I genuinely only shoot raw if I’m doing a higher-end paid gig (and I do use my X-T3 on those kinds of gigs, without hesitation), opting instead to shoot jpegs for the majority of my photography since I can get the image to look almost exactly how I want straight out of camera. Sometimes I’ll do a super minor tweak after the fact, but usually it’s a simple curve/tone adjustment if anything.
I could go on for a while about the things I love about the Fujifilm system for photography, but that’s not what this article is about. While assessing my B-Cam Conundrum, I realized I had one right there on the shelf; my X-T3. I remember people saying the X-T3 and now the X-T4 were great for video, but were they that great? I’ve never really shot with a DSLR or Mirrorless camera in a video capacity (which sounds weird in this day and age but the 5DmkII came out my Sophomore year of college so we were well into our camcorder workflows and I just never switched). Could I conceivably use it to intercut with my C500mkII without having to adjust the hell out of it in post? Would it hold up to simply filming during a full day?
Well, according to my interview with Dan Stoloff, DP of Amazon’s The Boys, the answer is yes! Dan had mentioned in our talk that he sometimes used his X-T3 as a C-Cam to the Sony VENICE he was using for that show when he needed to put a camera somewhere the VENICE simply wouldn’t fit, so with that confidence I went ahead and (after running some quick tests) set out to film some stuff with my Fujifilm in hand (the embedded video below starts at where he mentions his use of the X-T3, but it’s 1hr 29s in if you need the time stamp).
Well, almost. I almost did that until Fujifilm via Filmtools offered to let me borrow their X-T4 “Cinema” kit. So what actually happened is I went out to film with both Fujifilm cameras, as well as their 18-55mm and 50-135mm Fujinon Zooms, on top of my C500mkII. A three camera setup for the price of none! I count my blessings every day, I’ll tell ya what.
First shoot was with my friend Stevie Redstone, shooting a few small in-studio music videos. These were incredibly low-budget, so we kept things simple with a Wide, a Tight, and a Handheld camera. Stevie was also recording the takes we were filming live, so as there was no way to do a re-take the three camera setup really was pretty crucial. The two cameras were fine but the third angle really allowed us to spice up the videos in a way that elevated it beyond what was ostensibly an interview setup.
The C500mkII served as our hero shot, the wide, and the X-T3 with the Fujinon 18-55mm covered our tight angle. I chose to run the X-T4 handheld (with the 50-135mm) because it has in-body image stabilization where the X-T3 does not. Once I figured out how to move my body to best work with the stabilizer, I was having a great time just floating around and getting some nice close ups of instruments and faces and hands and all that good stuff. The other nice thing about the X-T4 is it has a monitoring LUT so you actually have an idea as to what you’re filming. The X-T3 just shows you the log image, annoyingly. “Natural View” kind of works (and I mean kind of) but it turns off when you hit record so it’s not very useful. In any case, I was shooting both cameras in F-Log, 4:2:0 10-bit saved to the internal SD cards. You can record 4:2:2 10bit externally but I’ve found that’s not entirely necessary, or hasn’t been for me yet at least.
Now, at the last second we decided to run up to the roof of the building to shoot at sunset with DTLA as our background. This meant taking up lights, stands, cameras, and instruments, and then running cables aaallllll the way down to the studio. And then we forgot the speaker so Stevie could actually hear what he was playing on his piano. Safe to say we kind of missed the sunset, filming more around “blue hour” (which contrary to the name’s suggestions is only like 15 minutes) but where the Fujifilm cameras saved us again was in their size. Instead of hauling a giant C500mkII up on to the roof, I was able to just pick up the two cameras and essentially climb the side of the building and get ready to shoot in an instant. So while that setup didn’t have the benefit of the third camera, it was something we were able to set up incredibly quickly and, again with that built-in image stabilization, I was able to get some really nice, varied shots using the 50-135mm zoom to cut in with the stationary X-T3.
On that note, one thing I did do to kind of tie all the shots together on all 3 videos was to add just a very subtle amount of camera shake to the two cameras on sticks. Nothing too crazy, just a kind of “low frequency” bob almost as if we were simply witnessing the result of the camera operator breathing. This was just enough to unify the three images in a way that was subconscious but effective, as cutting between two static shots and a moving one was a little distracting.
Here I have to talk about the Fujinon zooms: they’re just outstanding. They’re super sharp with no noticeable annoying artifacts to speak of, they’re actually surprisingly light for their size, they’re parfocal, there’s no breathing when you rack focus, and they’re relatively affordable costing less than one traditional cinema lens for the set! I wish I could have them on my C500 (although Fujinon does make PL zooms, as well as ones for full-frame, that are used on hundreds of sets every day and are similarly top-notch) but for X-Mount lenses these things are fantastic. Fujifilm actually doesn’t make a ton of native X-Mount lenses so it’s nice to see such an insanely high-quality option made available, especially at that price point.
After shooting those music videos I had to return the XT4 and Fujinon Zooms (the kit also came with a Ninja V that I didn’t end up using in this case) but I still had work to do, so I soldiered on with the same setup to film some interviews I’ve been working on.
For the interview setups I’m using Nikkor AIS primes in place of the cine zooms, which do a great job of giving the cameras some visual cohesion as well as just being really solid options even by today’s standards. Especially on my C500, which is full frame, the Nikkors really shine. They provide just enough visual “zhush” that I don’t need to rely on filtration or any post tricks to get things looking sweet. If it’s good enough for Kubrick it’s good enough for me, right?
I did “accidently” shoot one interview with a Nikkor on the C500 and a Fujinon on the XT4 (not shown here) and that… isn’t something I’d necessarily advise. Took a bit of editing to get those to match, primarily because I shot the Nikkor wide-open on accident so everything was a little fuzzy, whereas the Fujinon was tack-sharp. Play vintage games, win vintage prizes right?
Another thing that the X-T3/4 is great for is getting B-Roll. Ohhhh we love B-Roll these days don’t we? And what do we need more than anything for B-Roll? That’s right, 120+ frames per second!
The XT3 and 4 “only” shoot 120fps at 1080p (the XT4 can go up to 240fps in HD) but that’s totally fine as blowing it up to 4K doesn’t give away the trick at all. The IQ on the Fujifilm cameras genuinely is astounding, I think people are really sleeping on just how good the X-Trans sensors truly are. Coupled with the genuinely surprising 18-55mm standard kit lens and its OIS, I was able to hand-hold the XT3 and run in front of subjects while filming (in slow-mo) and still have the image be stable and in focus thanks to the eye-tracking auto focus. Annoyingly, my C500 disables autofocus when filming high-speed, something the C300mkIII doesn’t do, so that’s kind of dumb but what can ya do? In any case, that dreamy slowmo look is easy as pie to get with the XT cameras, and so I did it. Clients love super slow mo, but for filming static items it makes things a little easier because you only need to roll a few seconds to get a nice long clip, but also smooths out any jitters you may experience by making them happen at a lower frequency so they’re less noticeable, if at all. Doing a little “hip dolly” move adds some visual interest and there ya go.
The XT3 and XT4 are nearly identical, but there are a few differences to note. First, the monitor is slightly different and flips out to the left allowing for a “selfie” view, as opposed to the XT3’s screen which simply folds out for a “top-down” view, or it can kick out at a 45-degree tilt for low-angle vertical shooting. Personally I prefer the tilt screen on the XT3 over the swivel version, but it is nice to be able to “protect” the screen on the XT4 by flipping it around to face the body when it’s folded away.
There’s also a dedicated Movie/Still switch on the XT4 which keeps the settings between the two separate which I really like. The XT3 just has the “movie” selector on the wheel that switches between Single/Burst/HDR/etc. This isn’t the end of the world, but it’s nice to just flip to video and know all your settings remained the same from the last time you shot (as it is on the XT4) instead of having to go through and make sure your shutter speed and image characteristics and everything are where they should be. There’s also the aforementioned 240fps and Flog monitoring LUT, the latter of which is way more useful than the former but they’re both solid additions to the XT4’s toolkit.
I will say, one thing that was included in the XT4 Cinema Kit that was loaned to me was a dummy battery that allowed me to power the camera via Dtap (as well as the Ninja V since the battery mount had an additional Dtap port). Since the XT4 and XT3 use different batteries, I went ahead and bought myself a similar dummy battery for my XT3 which I’ve now used on a handful of shoots with great result. I simply have a v-mount… mount… that I attach to the tripod leg that the camera sits on. I’ve found that, with either camera, a 95kwh battery seemed to last me all day so that was a dream.
One thing that’s not so dreamy is the classic “DSLR” problem that nearly all cameras of this ilk are victim of, and that’s the 30-minute limit on recording times. Now that’s not an issue for narrative-type work, but when you’re doing a long interview or something similar, you’ll find that you need to keep your eye on the runtime so you can quickly hit the record button again. Luckily I didn’t run into any overheating or anything, and it saves the previous clip in something like 1 or 2 seconds so you’re not sitting there waiting on a buffer or whatever, but it is something that doesn’t allow you to just “set it and forget it”. In practice I found I was able to do this without affecting the final product as the XT isn’t recording the hero audio and it was easy enough to just toggle the next clip during a time where the subject wasn’t talking or doing anything important. Again, it’s only like 3 seconds of downtime at the most so it’s not a huge issue, just one to be aware of.
In post, I was very easily able to get a match between the XT cameras and my C500. I was able to do this in a few ways:
Firstly, I shot a color chart with both cameras simultaneously and simply matched them with vs-curves in Resolve, adjusting for global similarity when an exact color chart match didn’t actually look correct. This was pretty quick and easy, and I’ve done it plenty of times before with other cameras.
The second way of matching was to use the Fuji-supplied “Flog to Eterna” LUT and then just matching the resulting image to whatever I was doing with the C500 image which honestly seems to be a relatively simple affair. It could just be because I’m only dealing with a head and a blurry background with the XT footage (as that’s my “profile-side, up-close” angle) but truly that wasn’t difficult. What is slightly annoying is that there’s no IDT in Resolve for Flog, so hopefully that gets added soon.
The third way was to use something like Colourlab’s “Look Designer” or FilmConvert’s “Cinematch” programs, the former of which I’ve reviewed here. With Colourlab it was pretty simple (just using Clog2 and Flog as the inputs) and Cinematch just released their C500mkII Profile so that was trivial to pull off. Point is, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the image held up to grading, as well as how easily it matched. I’d definitely recommend doing so in Resolve, as Premiere’s color tools aren’t nearly as robust.
So what does all this mean? The easy answer is simply “whatever you want to make of it” as this is just my use case and your mileage may vary, but I just can’t overstate how fantastic the Fujifilm cameras are. Obviously we hear about Fuji Fanatics who love the photo capabilities (and I count myself among them) but I don’t think enough credit goes to these cameras for their video quality!
Before Dan telling me about using his XT3 on The Boys, the only other thing I saw that proved the thesis was Matthew Libatique, ASC’s short film A Different Beyond, shot on the XT3 also using Fujinon Zooms (although that camera rig was built up like crazy). Having now gone through 10+ shoots with this combo, I can confidently say the XT cameras are excellent image makers, fantastic B or C cameras, and a great addition to your kit overall if you were so inclined.