Fujifilm XQ1 review

The Fujifilm XQ1 takes the X-Trans image sensor from the excellent X20 and puts it in a body that's sized like the XF1. The result is impressively compact and is capable of capturing great photos.
Photo of Fujifilm XQ1

The XQ1 ($499.95 list) takes two of Fujifilm’s better compact cameras, the X20 and XF1, and melds them into a sleek, impressive image capture device. It uses the X20′s excellent X-Trans image sensor and puts it into a body that, like the XF1, will easily slide into a pocket. Add in a durable metal chassis, a sharp rear LCD, and integrated Wi-Fi, and you’ve got an impressive pocket shooter. We didn’t like it quite as much as our Editors’ Choice, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II, but it’s priced at $250 less, putting it in reach of a greater number of photographers.

Design and Features
The XQ1 is a fine looking camera. Available in black or silver, it measures just 2.3 by 3.9 by 1.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 7.3 ounces. The black version features a textured exterior, but if you get it in silver the surface is smooth to the touch. It’s noticeably smaller and lighter than the X20 (2.7 by 4.6 by 2.2 inches, 12.4 ounces), but that camera has a few more features, including a manual zoom lens with an f/2-2.8 aperture, an optical viewfinder, and a hot shoe.

What the XQ1 and the X20 share is a 12-megapixel 2/3-inch X-Trans image sensor. It’s just a little bit larger than the 1/1.7-inch sensors that are normally found in enthusiast compacts, but nowhere near the size as the 1-inch chip that Sony puts in its RX100 and RX100 II. Fuji’s X-Trans color filter array is more complex than the Bayer color filter found in most image sensors. It uses a 6-by-6 pattern of red, green, and blue filters to capture a color image, rather than the traditional 4-by-4 Bayer grid. The more complex arrangement promises to deliver more film-like images, and, to my eye, it delivers on that promise. It also omits a low-pass filter—the X-Trans arrangement resists color moiré effects on its own—so there’s nothing in front of the image sensor that is designed to reduce image detail.

The lens is a 25-100mm f/1.8-4.9 (35mm equivalent) design. It’s a modest 4x zoom ratio, and doesn’t capture as much light as a camera like the Olympus XZ-2 when zoomed all the way in, but the narrow aperture makes the XQ1′s small size possible. There’s a control ring around the lens; it can be configured to perform a number of operations, including EV compensation, aperture or shutter speed adjustment, ISO adjustment, film emulation selection, drive mode adjustment, or, perhaps most intuitively, zoom. My preference is to use it for EV compensation, as the zoom rocker that’s integrated with the top-mounted shutter button does a fine job adjusting the focal length.

There’s also a mode dial on the top plate, a power button, and a manual catch that raises the pop-up flash. On the rear you’ll find a control dial with four directional settings (macro, exposure compensation, self-timer, and flash), a movie button, playback controls, and the E-Fn button. Pressing the latter changes the functionality of the rear controls and displays an overlay graphic so you know what those alternate functions are. You can configure each of the six remapped controls to perform practically any function imaginable. By default they adjust the film simulation mode, metering pattern, drive mode, ISO, white balance, and focus area.

It’s a versatile system, and one that puts a lot of control at your fingertips, even though the XQ1 isn’t covered in buttons and switches. Most of the functions are pretty standard, but the film simulation options are worth some discussion. Fujifilm has a strong analog heritage, and it has included virtual versions of some of its most popular emulsions into this camera. These include the oversaturated slide film Velvia, the more muted Astia, four flavors of black-and-white, and a sepia tone mode. The default color mode delivers a natural look, and is named after the company’s most natural slide film, Provia.

The rear LCD is one of the better ones that you’ll find on a compact camera. It is 3 inches in size with a 920k-dot resolution, so there’s no wanting for clarity. It’s not a touch panel, like the one on the Canon PowerShot S120. While I’m a fan of physical controls, the ability to tap an area of the Live View feed on the S120 and other touch-screen cameras to quickly select a focus point is missed here.

Wi-Fi is built into the XQ1. At this point, it’s an expected feature, especially for a $500 camera. Fujifilm’s implementation is pretty basic. You can transfer JPG images to your iOS or Android device using the free Fujifilm Camera App. The app includes a GPS logger; when it’s enabled it adds location data to photos, assuming the clock on your phone and camera match up. There aren’t any advanced features like remote control available, and you can’t connect to a hotspot using the camera to upload directly to social networks. If you want that type of functionality in this class of camera you’ll want to look to the Samsung EX2F.

Performance and Conclusions
The XQ1 starts and shoots in about 1.5 seconds, which is a good time for a camera of this class, and records a very short 0.03-second shutter lag. If you shoot JPG you’ll be able to shoot at 12.3fps in burst mode, but only for 10 shots before the XQ1 slows down to about 3fps. If you shoot in Raw+JPG or Raw mode the maximum burst speed slows to about 8.9fps, but only for about 9 photos before slowing. Clearing the buffer to a SanDisk 95MBps memory card requires about 3.5 seconds for JPG, 4 seconds for Raw, and 5 seconds for Raw+JPG bursts. The similar Canon S120 takes about the same time start and shoot, and also records a near zero shutter lag. Its burst shooting mode is 10fps for JPG images, but it slows down to 1.9fps when shooting Raw and 1.6fps when capturing Raw+JPG.

I used Imatest to check the sharpness and distortion characteristics of the XQ1′s 25-100mm zoom lens. At its widest angle it has a maximum aperture of f/1.8. It scores 1,953 lines per picture height on a center-weighted sharpness test, with decent (1,705 lines) performance at  the edges of the frame. PCMag considers an image to be acceptably sharp when it crosses the 1,800-line mark. Narrowing the aperture to f/2.8 offers only marginal improvement (2,070 lines), and the camera delivers similar numbers at f/4 and f/5.6. Image quality suffers starting at f/8, due to optical diffraction. When shooting in JPG format there is a little barrel distortion, about 1.6 percent. Interestingly enough images show less distortion (0.9 percent) in Raw mode, which is uncommon to say the least. The field of view of the Raw image at 25mm is noticeably wider, and the areas of the frame that the JPG cuts out are noticeably fuzzy. It may be a questionable choice on Fuji’s part, but it does give JPG shooters better out-of-camera images, while giving Raw shooters an image without in-camera adjustments applied.

Zooming the lens to the 50mm setting does away with any in-camera differences between Raw and JPG images. The maximum aperture is f/4.2 there, and at that setting the XQ1 records 2,147 lines per picture height, with minimal distortion and sharp (1,829 lines) edges. Performance is just about the same at f/5.6, and suffers a bit at f/8 (1,847 lines). At 100mm the lens is tops out at f/4.9, but still manages 2,146 lines with no noticeable distortion. Despite recording images to a different image sensor, the XF1′s identical lens delivered very similar scores in its sharpness test.

I also used Imatest to check photos for noise, which can sap detail and give photos a grainy look at higher ISO sensitivity settings. When shooting JPG, noise is controlled through ISO 1600, where it just hits our 1.5 percent cutoff. It increases to 1.8 percent at ISO 3200. Close examination of images on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W display. [[**SENTENCE FRAGMENT; PLEASE CORRECT]] Even at ISO 1600, the XQ1 does a good job at maintaining image detail; noticeably better than the Canon S120. At ISO 3200 the XQ1 still bests the Canon, but neither camera is that good, as fine detail gives way to blur. ISO 6400 and 12800 are available as well, but only in JPG mode; image quality at those sensitivities is degraded to the point where I’d recommend you avoid using them if possible.

If you opt for a Raw workflow, the XQ1 lose some of its advantage. The Canon S120 holds up a bit better when viewing Raw images in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5.3, showing just a hair more detail and a slightly tighter grain pattern at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200. Neither camera can keep pace with the Sony RX100 II at high ISO. Its 1-inch image sensor gives it a distinct advantage; I was impressed with the quality of its Raw output through ISO 6400.

The XQ1 records video in QuickTime format at up to 1080p60 quality. The footage is crisp and smooth, and the camera is quick to adjust focus as the scene changes. But adjusting the focal length of the lens when shooting adds an overbearing whirring noise to the soundtrack, and there’s quieter, but still audible, sound when the lens changes focus. There’s no mic input on the svelte camera (nor is there space for a hot shoe or add-on EVF like you’ll find on larger top-end compact cameras), so you’ll just have to live with it. There’s a micro USB port on the right side, covered by a flap; in addition to computer connectivity, it doubles as a charging port. Fujifilm opted not to include an external battery charger with the XQ1, so you’ll have to buy one ($50) or deal with plugging the camera into the wall when it needs more juice. There’s a micro HDMI port for HDTV connectivity—it’s hidden on the bottom of the camera—along with a standard memory card slot with support for SD, SDHC, and SDXC.

The Fujifilm XQ1 is an impressive pocket camera. Its lens is sharp throughout its zoom range, its image quality holds up through ISO 1600, the focus is speedy, and it’s got built-in Wi-Fi. It’s not quite the equal of the X20; there’s no viewfinder, and its lens doesn’t cover the same zoom range or capture as much light when zoomed—but it’s less expensive and it’s smaller. If you like the idea of an X-Trans sensor and want a smaller camera, this is the one to get. It outperforms the Canon S120 when shooting JPGs, but Raw shooters (especially those who use Lightroom as a workflow application) may prefer the similar S120, as its Raw output holds up a bit better at very high sensitivities. The XQ1 impresses, but it isn’t the best enthusiast compact we’ve tested; that’s still our Editors’ Choice Sony RX100 II. The Sony is $750 (but is also available in a slightly less-featured version, the RX100, for $650), and if that’s out of your budget the XQ1 is a solid alternative.

Specifications
Dimensions 2.3 x 3.9 x 1.3 inches
Interface Ports micro USB, micro HDMI
Sensor Type X-Trans CMOS
Megapixels 12 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.08 seconds
LCD dots 920000
LCD size 3 inches
Touch Screen No
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 12800
Type Compact
GPS No
Optical Zoom 4 x
Boot time 1.5 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 25 mm
Weight 7.3 oz
Lines Per Picture Height 1953
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
LCD Aspect Ratio 4
Image Stabilization Optical
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 100 mm
Shutter Lag 0.03 seconds
Sensor Size 2/3" (8.8 x 6.6mm) mm
Viewfinder Type None

Verdict
The Fujifilm XQ1 takes the X-Trans image sensor from the excellent X20 and puts it in a body that's sized like the XF1. The result is impressively compact and is capable of capturing great photos.
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