Fujifilm XQ1

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: Small, quick, and good.

The Long Version: The Fujifilm XQ1 is an interesting camera.

Well, actually, that's not entirely true. It's a raw-shooting compact camera that's trying to make its way in a world of ubiquitous smart phones. There are similarly-sized but more expensive cameras that have much bigger sensors, and cheaper cameras that have similar features and more refined designs. My XQ1 was given to me as a gift, and so I've been trying to decide if, knowing what I know now, I would have bought one for myself.

The big deal about the XQ1 – its Unique Selling Feature – is that it's the cheapest and smallest camera with an X-Trans sensor. This is the same 2/3 size as the X20/X30 series, not the bigger 1.5x unit that goes in the X100 and X- cameras, but it's still a bit bigger than the ones that Canon or Panasonic use in their point and shoots. While I'm not convinced that size actually matters at this scale, the XQ1 does produce good images with lots of detail.

The main competition for any compact camera is the smart phone. This is an easy image quality comparison to make: the XQ1 beats my iPhone 5S quite handily. The XQ1 has wifi connectivity, so I've been using it for many of my social media endeavours. There's a distinct quality advantage even after the reduced-size 3MP images have been edited and fed through the spaghetti-shredder of online recompression and transmission. And that's even before things that used to be a photographic staple, like zoom lenses and low-light ability, come into consideration.

I suppose others might choose it for art-making, but I use the XQ1 almost exclusively for impromptu and record-keeping photos. Snapshots, twitter-fodder, chance encounters with mayoral candidates, and so on. It's nice to have a small and good camera for this, especially since it has a decent zoom lens. That lens, and the wifi connection, is why the XQ1 is the camera that I usually carry each day.

A little-known fact is that "WiFi" is actually short for "well, iffy". Linking the camera to a phone or tablet means going into playback mode, turning on wifi on the camera, selecting the camera wifi network on the phone, launching the Fuji app on the phone and hitting 'connect'. With luck the camera hasn't timed out, or had a button hit that would turn off its wifi broadcast and needed the whole routine to restart.

Once the iffy connection is made then the rest goes fairly easily. I prefer to just use the Fujifim "PhotoReceiver" app that has the camera choose which images to send, since the camera's LCD provides a bigger preview of the images to transfer. It means a bit more juggling devices than using the app that allows the phone/tablet to browse the images that are on the camera, but it's easier overall.

But of course using the XQ1 isn't as fast or easy as just using a phone to take a photo – and yes, I'm of an age where that still seems like an odd thing to say. My phone is always closer to hand, and I can have its camera up and running before the XQ1 powers on. So there's always a decision to make, to decide if it's worth using the bigger camera, but that's always the way.

I don't really have much to complain about with the XQ1, which is a little odd for me. I wish that it had a dual-axis level instead of single, and that the mode dial was firmer, since it tends to move all on its own when the camera isn't being observed. But the bigger control issue is the ring around the lens. There's a slight lag and no detents, so it's necessary to pay attention to the little numbers on the screen to use it. This means that the camera always needs to be supervised and can't be used intuitively. Often that's a critical flaw, but for a simple little compact camera maybe it's not that important.

The XQ1 also doesn't have any sort of 'safety' override on its exposure controls, and it's actually fairly easy to run out of shutter speed when leaving the lens wide open in bright light. This is a camera to set in Program mode and forget about any control beyond exposure compensation.

There are some other features that are fun to have. The sweep panorama mode works well, and I like the film-effects bracketing that can mimic different black and white contrast filters. Since I only use the XQ1 in jpeg mode – my generation of Lightroom can't handle its raw files – this has turned out to be quite handy. Once I accepted the XQ1 as a happysnaps point-and-shoot this camera has turned out to be a lot of fun.

The question remains: if I wasn't given this camera, would I buy one? I'm still not sure. The XQ1 takes better photos than the Canon S100 I owned a couple of years ago, even though the Canon had the advantage of being a more mature design. So when the time comes to replace my XQ1, I'll certainly look at what Fujifilm is offering – along with whichever Canon camera happens to be current that month – because the company is certainly showing real promise. And hopefully by then they'll include a bigger battery and a stand-alone charger, because this USB-only thing is the pits.

last updated 7 sept 2014


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