Hands-On Review: Fujifilm X70

The diminutive X70 is a camera that Fujifilm is very proud of, and rightly so. When I sat down to talk to the company about the new members of the X-Series cameras, which include this new shooter and the X-Pro2, the PR team was especially excited about the X70 because it brings so much of the higher-end Fujifilm cameras into a truly portable body with a price tag under $700.

The X70 is designed to be a go-anywhere camera that’s as powerful as the bigger X100T, whose naming it shares. The X70 features the best of the company’s current lineup, along with some new features—such as a touch-screen LCD that flips 180º for selfies—to make it a powerful alternative to dragging a larger camera, even if that larger camera is as small as the X100T or the X-Pro2.

The 180º rotating LCD screen makes composing ridiculous selfies like this easy.

The X70 has a new Fujinon 18.5mm ƒ/2.8 lens, which is equivalent to 28mm on a full-frame camera, though I can’t help but wish for an ƒ/1.8 or ƒ/1.4 lens here. Since size is the driving factor of the X70, an ƒ/2.8 lens makes sense, as a wider-aperture lens would be bigger.

There’s a wide-angle converter available for the X70, and the camera features a “Digital Tele-converter” that crops to 35mm and 50mm field of view in-camera. Since this is a sensor crop, not an actual change in field of view, I can’t foresee a situation in which I would do the crop in-camera—cropping in postproduction provides unlimited choices in framing and accomplishes the same thing with possibly better results.

Fujifilm’s optical prowess has always been the strong suit of the brand, as the company’s Fujinon lenses are known for high quality. The X70 uses “Lens Modulation Optimizer” technology to correct imaging artifacts for “edge-to-edge sharpness and a realistic three-dimensional effect.” I’m not sure about that last part, as the photos from the X70 don’t seem any more 3D than from any other camera, but the image quality is definitely apparent.

The company claims a 0.5-second startup time, and that’s mostly accurate. I’ve found that if the camera has been off for a long time, it sometimes will take more than a second to start up. Activate the camera after it’s just been shut off, though, and it boots up as fast as any camera in its class.

AF speed is listed as being 0.1 seconds to focus, with a 0.01-second shutter lag and the ability to capture images every half-second, but I found the X70 not as accurate as expected. More on the autofocus in a moment.

The sensor is a 16-megapixel APS-C CMOS II sensor with the company’s EXR Processor II, making it the same resolution as the X100T. All good there, as the X100T sensor is big enough even for commercial jobs.

But, in many ways, the X70 is an improvement on the X100 series, albeit with some compromises. The focus on the X70 is significantly better than the X100T, and as the focus speed on the X100T (and predecessors) is the most common complaint about those cameras, it’s nice to see the X70 so peppy. The X70 features both face detection and eye detection, while the X100T doesn’t have eye detection. The ability of the camera to detect a face is much more reliable and much faster on the X70, as well, though it wasn’t as accurate as on competing brands.

Image quality is generally excellent, and there’s good detail and low noise (for an APS-C sensor), at least to ISO 3200, and even a bit higher. I was able to take pictures in the low-light environment of several museums, and most of the photographs were particularly vibrant and well saturated. Still, in others, the images were overly grainy—much of this seems to have been due to the camera metering for the background lighting and not the selected subjects, underexposing subjects and leaving them grainer than they could have been.

Daytime, image quality really shines. Fujifilm has always been great at capturing blue and green hues, and the X70 is no exception. In late afternoon at the Baltimore harbor, the X70 nicely reproduced the sky and the water of the harbor. If you’re looking for a compact camera to do landscapes, it would be hard to beat the X70. The relatively wide lens has a lot of vertical convergence at the edges (as would be expected), which is easily corrected for in Lightroom or Photoshop.

The vertical convergence in this lens is to be expected when shooting landscapes with a wide-angle lens, and is easily corrected in software.

Fujifilm also included an on-lens dial just forward of the Aperture control dial, which can be used for a variety of camera adjustments, saving trips to the menus. That’s good, partially because Fujifilm has often been knocked for their menu system. There have been essentially no changes to the look or functionality of the X-Series camera menus since I bought the original X100, and the system looks dated. The on-lens selector is a great idea, and one I’d like to see on other compact systems.

As a compact camera, though, there are a number of compromises, and the X70 has its share of “gotcha” design elements, as well.

There’s no viewfinder on the X70, only the touch-based LCD screen. There’s an accessory “viewfinder” that fits into the hot-shoe, but that’s a rangefinder-style optical piece with nothing more than etched crop lines to help frame a scene, and no feedback about focus or camera settings. It’s a very cute combination, one that pulls its design sense right from the early days of film. The viewfinder was easily washed out when I was testing the camera in the afternoon sun after a snowfall in Washington, D.C. I essentially had to guess at the framing.

The X70 also suffers from the same “bumped dial” problem that plagues most cameras these days. Take the X70 out of your pocket or bag, and more often than not, the exposure compensation dial will have changed position because of friction against the dials. This design issue also affects the focus mode dial, so that occasionally I’d take the camera out and it would be set to a few stops underexposed and set to manual focus.

The base ISO for the X70 is ISO 200, which is higher than many base ISOs, and the result is that a lot of images would really benefit from a neutral-density filter. Back to the shots of Washington, D.C., in the snow, and it would have been nearly impossible to capture an image at a slow shutter speed.

The autofocus on the X70 is also not nearly as accurate as some competitors in this price range. The Sony a6000, priced at about $500, focuses vastly faster and more accurately than the Fujifilm X70, as does the new Sony a6300 for around $300 more.

While it’s fast, it’s not as adroit at picking out the right subject, even with face detection on. In a series of shots inside the dimly lit National Museum of American History, the X70 failed in a series of six shots to lock onto the face of my wife and son, and instead grabbed the vertical line of a train behind them, leaving me with no in-focus images despite face and eye detection active. I watched as the camera tried to rack the focus, but with the viewfinder alone, I wasn’t aware the photos were out of focus until reviewing them later on a computer.

All those caveats aside, the X70 is a very capable, compact APS-C camera. With a price tag just a hair under $700, it’s designed to provide the image quality of the more robust X100T with a smaller and updated form factor. The X70 has a much larger sensor than the majority of “compact” cameras on the market, which means much better image quality. As long as users understand there are com
promises in compact cameras, the X70 would be an excellent addition to a photographer’s arsenal. Contact: Fujifilm, fujifilmusa.com.

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