If I’m honest with myself, my one true hobby is collecting hobbies. I play guitar and record electronic music. I picked up painting last year. (I am objectively horrible at it.) I cook. I brew beer. I dabble in DIY electronics. I’m an avid hiker. An on-again-off-again runner. I’ve flirted with boxing. Oh, and I write. Obviously.
Now I’ve added photography to the list. I explored it a bit back in high school and college, but had only picked up a camera (that wasn’t built into my phone) outside of work a handful of times since. Then in 2021, after a couple of years exclusively using my phone’s camera for review photos, I decided I desperately needed to upgrade. I eventually settled on the Fujifilm X-T30, in part because I had a limited budget. But, while I went out in search of an affordable workhorse to up my photo and video game at Engadget, what I ended up with was the perfect camera to rekindle my interest in the art of photography.
Let’s start with what attracts many people to the Fujifilm family in the first place: the controls. My first photography experiences were with film. Sure, it’s been a long time since I last used a film camera, but at least I have some level of comfort there. Unlike most digital cameras, Fujifilm’s X series mimics the look and feel of a 35mm film camera. There are dedicated dials for shutter speed and exposure compensation, and many of Fuji’s first-party lenses have physical aperture rings. If I had sprung for the X-T3 I’d have even gotten a dedicated ISO dial. But there are two programmable dials that can be mapped to control ISO and aperture, even if you’re using a lens without an aperture ring.
This makes the X-T30 far more tactile and satisfying than other digital cameras I’ve used, whereas I would usually just put them in aperture priority and forget about it. Without a PASM dial (Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority and Manual) as a crutch, I’ve been forced to learn the camera’s various options inside and out. I also have to think more carefully and critically about each exposure. Yes, you can essentially put the X-T30 in shutter or aperture priority mode by changing certain settings to auto, but you can’t just turn a dial and be done with it.
The other big thing for me is the film simulations. Fuji cameras have a built in set of profiles that are supposed to mimic particular film stock. Think of them kind of like Instagram filters, but less terrible. Astia is tuned for portraits, Velvia is perfect for landscapes, Eterna gives you that low-contrast cinematic look, and so on.
And that’s just scratching the surface: You can tweak the settings further to fine-tune your straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) JPGs to achieve various styles and approximations of other films. There’s even a whole little Fujifilm subculture dedicated to “film recipes” that aim to capture the general vibe, if not the look of many classic film stocks. One of the best resources for this is Fuji X Weekly, where Ritchie Roesch shares and shows off various recipes to try and recreate things like Kodak’s Portra 400 or Ilford Delta.
Because I’m someone who likes to obsess over tiny details and tweak things, this is perfect for me. When I first discovered Fuji X Weekly I spent several days going through the recipes that were compatible with my particular camera (and some that weren’t), punching in the settings and taking test photos, saving my favorites to Evernote for easy recall. Fuji makes it simple to load up to seven of these presets with the Q menu, so I can essentially go out with seven different “films” loaded in my camera and switch between them as the situation dictates.
What I like most about this setup is that I can just go out and shoot, and come back with great looking photos that don’t need any editing. I can decide in the moment: Would this be better with a warmer color palette? Should I be turning up the saturation here? How would this scene look in high-contrast black and white? And I don’t need to do a lot of menu diving to test different looks out.
I always shoot in RAW + JPG, in case I change my mind later or if something doesn’t come out quite how I wanted. But being able to basically see the finished product and focus on actually composing photos, as opposed to spending even more time sitting at a laptop is great. It’s exactly what I need in a hobby: less staring at a computer screen.
Without getting absurd and gimmicky – artificially limiting how many pictures I can take or using only one preset for at least 24 shots in a row – this feels about as close to shooting film as I’m gonna get on a digital camera. And while, yes, I know I could always just go back to shooting on film, I’d really rather not. I like many of the modern conveniences afforded by a digital camera. Plus, 35mm film and quality development services have gotten quite expensive. Even expired rolls of lower-end stock can fetch a decent price on Craigslist.
It’s not all roses, though. The X-T30 is limited to recording 10 minutes of 4K video at a time, which can make shooting reviews a PITA. And, perhaps more importantly, I may have joined the Fujifilm flock at the exact wrong time. For years the company cultivated a loyal fan base with its philosophy of “kaizen,” which saw it continuously updating even older devices to bring new features and bug fixes. Unfortunately, the company has started to move away from that in recent years.
The X-T30 last received a firmware update over one year ago, in early October of 2021, and that was almost entirely minor bug fixes. It wasn’t even three years old at that point. The company introduced the X-T30 II around the same time which from a hardware point of view is almost identical, but it has a host of new software features and film simulations. There seems to be no technical reason that many of those features couldn’t be ported over to the slightly older camera, especially the film sims, but Fuji has left some of its users out in the cold.
Here’s hoping Fujifilm remembers that it attracted dedicated followers by focusing on the experience and delivering regular meaningful updates to users. Because, while I love my camera, and do think it is probably the best camera for me, I’m a little concerned that I discovered the Fuji community just in time for it to evaporate.