The arrival of the Fujifilm X30 will see the high-end compact market hot up once more as the year comes to a close. It's a busying sector around this price point, with the just-announced (and pricier) Panasonic Lumix LX100 nestling in as a prime competitor. We loved the earlier Fujifilm X20, but does the X30 update warrant as much admiration or are surrounding competitors closing in on Fujifilm's once monopoly position?
Pocket-lint got to meet the Fujifilm design team and take a more thorough look at this forthcoming camera. The Japanese team dunked us into deep-as-you-like detail about the new camera. Our first query was why the X30 has grown; it's larger than its X20 predecessor. At 118.7 x 71.6 x 60.3mm it is only 1.7mm wider, 2mm taller and 3.5mm deeper than before - but it really shows when the two products are sat side by side. We didn't want this particular X-series line to get any larger, so that's a shame in our view.
But, like with everything, there's a reason behind it. Or, in the X30's case, a number of very valid reasons: a new viewfinder, larger tilt-angle LCD screen and an additional lens control ring.
Unlike the X20's optical viewfinder with an electronic overlay, the X30 has ditched optical altogether and instead opts for a large electronic viewfinder. There are advantages to that: the earlier 85 per cent field-of-view in the X20 meant you couldn't see the entire frame you would capture, whereas the 0.39in, 2.36m-dot electronic one delivers a 100 per cent field-of-view which means what you see is what you get.
Put that finder up to the eye and it's really impressive for a small camera that costs under £500. An equivalent 0.65x magnification (the X20 was 0.48x) means the image is large, it's easy to see, the resolution is decent and there's very little lag in the indoor conditions we used the camera. We were getting ready to denounce the X30's use of electronic - but it's made us eat our words. We've not seen a better electronic viewfinder in a camera at this price point.
Then, and if you can get past the way it looks given the X30's "Marmite" love it or hate it retro design, there are the camera's other top features. The 28-112mm f/2.0-2.8 equivalent lens is the very same as in the X20 model where it proved itself worthy, and the same can be said for the 12-megapixel 2/3-inch X-Trans CMOS II sensor.
But there's a problem: not only is the X30 larger than the aforementioned Panasonic Lumix LX100, it also has a smaller sensor. Yes, the price of the Fujifilm is smaller by comparison too, but if you want a top spec dedicated compact then Panasonic has a very attractive competitor on the table now.
With the Panasonic there's a 24-75mm f/1.7-2.8 Leica lens that offers a wider angle view and much larger Micro Four Thirds sensor. You'll need to pay an extra £299 for that privilege given the LX100's £799 asking price, but that will make a lot of sense to many. However the compact-style zoom toggle around the LX100's shutter is far slower in use than the Fujifilm X30's combination of twist-to-zoom and manual control ring combination.
Where the Fujifilm is a step ahead of the Panasonic is with overall build quality. There's something sumptuous about the way the camera looks and feels in the hand thanks to that all-metal body. Not so with the LX100, it's a little less premium in finish than we would like.
Elsewhere the X30 adds a new graphical user interface when using the viewfinder, Wi-Fi, can snap an apparent 470 shots per charge (a 70 per cent increase over the X20), has an improved three-stop optical image stabiliser, and a quicker write speed (1.7x quicker than the X20) for getting those raw files onto the card in double-quick time.
Bigger, bolder, and altogether better - the X30 takes the X-series concept and runs with it. There's a lot to like, but in a market where it's harder to shine the competition doesn't make things easy. If you want something smaller then the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III is already available, while the Panasonic LX100 may be the camera to overthrow the current king. Choices, choices...