Fujifilm XF1 review

4 out of 5
£379

For

Competitively priced, f/1.8 aperture at 25mm equivalent, manual lens control (including compact collapsible design), raw shooting, E-Fn button works well, good low-mid ISO image quality, competitively priced against the competition

Against

Ongoing "white orb" issue, maximum aperture dips to f/4.9 at the 100mm equivalent, faux leather finish looks markedly more budget than its intentions, no viewfinder possible

The Fujifilm XF1 might be the baby of the X-series range, but it comes in big on the features front. Touting the same larger-than-average 2/3-inch sensor size as its X10 and X-S1 contemporaries, this compact trims back on the bulk by introducing a collapsible manual zoom lens. Is this the feature to make the Fujifilm XF1 the high-end compact camera to beat all others, or does it fall short of its potential promise?

Design

In the press shots the Fujifilm XF1 looks like a dashing little number, doesn't it? Indeed we think this slice of camera pie looks delectable for the most part - the silver-like finish with an etched "XF1" name on the top and the focal-length-marked lens barrel are all sparkling highlights amid what's an overall ace design.

But in the real world we though that the the faux-leather finish looks too fake. The XF1's design faux-up, if you will. We like the concept, we like the range of colour choices, but it almost looks as though this leather-like finish is stickered on to the body. It's not the sort of style that helped to set the initial X-series models apart from the more generic competition.

The collapsible lens is one of the XF1's standout features. The barrel sits almost flat to the body, and can be pulled to its first stationary "off" position, then twisted into its "on" position which fires the camera up. It's all done by hand, which gives that connected, tactile feeling, although it could be considered fiddly. Each phase has a "dip" to provide a semi-stiff lock-like position, though an over-eager twist of the zoom can still click the lens beyond its widest angle setting and into the off position.

While it may be unconventional - that's clear enough as there's a sticker on the top of the camera to explain how to use it step by step to save a lengthy browse for an on switch at first use - it's a piece of functional design that sure does keep the size down.

READ: Canon PowerShot S110 review

But the XF1 isn't exactly tiny; we're not talking Canon PowerShot S110 kind of scale here. The Fuji's lack of protruding grip - which isn't really necessary due to the second hand required to adjust the zoom lens - viewfinder, hotshoe or accessory port ensure that the simple, retro-style body is easily pocketable.

It's difficult to moan about any of those apparent feature omissions as Fujifilm also makes the X10 model which caters for such features - although a "hidden" hotshoe and port for optional electronic viewfinder on the XF1 would definitely be welcome.

What the XF1 does remain big on is manual control. As well as the manual zoom lens, the camera has a mode dial on its top to quickly jump between manual and auto shooting modes, complemented by both a rear thumbwheel and rotational d-pad controls. A dedicated function button next to the mode dial and programmable E-Fn (electronic function) button to the rear - which presents the d-pad and surrounding buttons' second controls mirrored on the screen - ensure the likes of one-touch raw shooting, ISO sensitivity and the like are never far away.

The E-Fn button is definitely useful, as it essentially means every d-pad direction and surrounding button can double up to provide a second function. However the associated display on the LCD when the E-Fn button is pressed does give the impression that it's a touch-enabled UI - but it isn't, as the XF1 doesn't have a touchscreen. A small point, and one that was quickly forgotten after the full week of use we had to review the XF1.

Performance

From its standby position the XF1 fires up quickly and is ready for use, though the twist action means just over a second before she's ready to go. This is faster than waking the camera from "sleep", however, which requires a full press of the shutter button to get things back up and running if the lens is left in its extended position.

We've already established that the XF1 has no viewfinder and that the 3-inch LCD screen lacks touch-sensitive control, as that's just the nature of this particular model. While this has some knock-on effect to how the camera is used, it doesn't impact the ability of speed of the camera's autofocus system.

It's here that we're impressed for the most part. As well as multi and single point AF options, there are continuous and tracking options for moving subjects and manual focus is also available.

Continuous focus, as with any compact camera contrast detection AF system, isn't particularly staggering in its ability to adjust focus at pace, but it's the single autofocus option where we're most impressed. It's fast, accurate, and there are a wide array of focus point positions to select from. A shame there's no touchscreen to make greater use of that last point.

Manual focus offers a zoom magnifier to assist with fine tuning focus on the rear screen, and the rear rotational d-pad controls the focus distance. However the lack of a digital focus-distance within the display is a disappointment and in low light conditions there's a slight lag between adjusting the d-pad and seeing on-screen results.

Close-focus when shooting at wide-angle setting works very effectively too, right up to just a few centimetres from the subject. Used in conjunction with the f/1.8 lens at this focal length and it's possible to get some cracking macro shots.

Image Quality

The XF1's 2/3-inch sensor and EXR processor are they very same as found in its X10 bigger brother. Save for the lens difference between the two, image quality is otherwise a match in terms of detail and image noise at the various ISO sensitivities. For those in the know, this is good news.

READ: Fujifilm X10 review

Shallow depth of field is easily achieved at the wider-angle settings thanks to the f/1.8 maximum aperture, although this dips to an f/4.9 maximum at the 100mm equivalent, which is far is more limited. Herein lies the main difference between the XF1 and the X10 in many respects - the latter camera opens up greater possibilities at longer focal lengths, but to buy one you'll need to further open up your wallet as it's the pricier and bulkier choice of the pair.

But back to the XF1. Its Auto ISO option ranges from ISO 100 through to ISO 3200 at the full 12-megapixel resolution, while ISO 4000-12,800 settings also exist but only in 6 and 4-megapixel variations. These very highest sensitivities are a bit of a write-off for most work to our eyes, so we'd avoid them where possible.

When it's good it's really good. Indeed the XF1 produces image quality that outperforms most of its near competitors. Even in low light we were able to fire off handheld snaps that looked great up to ISO 1600, despite image noise becoming more visible.

Shoot at the lower ISO settings and there's plenty of detail and the camera's new lens is sharp and largely chromatic aberration free too. Only slight purple fringing was visible to the edges of some frames.

However, despite all its goodness, there's still a lingering issue owed to the sensor at the camera's heart. Just like the X10 and X-S1 models that share the same 2/3-inch sensor size, the XF1 also struggles to process specular highlights in some circumstances.

READ: Fujifilm X-S1 review

If, for example, night photography is your thing then the XF1 isn't likely to make the cut - light sources can - though won't always - "bloom" into larger orb-like shapes that can be distracting, even more so in twilight conditions. It's not going to hurt all shots, but it's a known issue worth raising.

Verdict

The Fujifilm XF1 is a great proposition that introduces a smaller scale to the X-series range; its trimmed-back feature set sits alongside the bulkier X10 very well indeed.

The XF1's style remains in line with its high-end X-series cousins, although we're not fond of the faux-leather finish that's been wrapped around the bulk of the body. Still, if you're looking for something that bit more outlandish in the digital age then the XF1 sure does tick that box. It may not be built to the kind of standard as per the X100's magnesium alloy panels, but that's to be expected where a more budget, mass-targeted product is concerned.

READ: Fujifilm X100 review

We're impressed with the XF1's image quality at the low-mid ISO settings, even if the 2/3-inch sensor can produce the same "white orb" issues as per its X10 and X-S1 contemporaries. Not a bother for all scenes, but if night shooting is your thing then this camera isn't likely to deliver on its high-spec promise.

The collapsible lens is a fun and functional feature that works well and we love having a more traditional hands-on manual zoom lens to whizz between focal lengths. But its this design which means the maximum aperture - which is an impressive f/1.8 at the 25mm wide-angle setting - dips down to an f/4.9 maximum at the 100mm equivalent. It sure isn't the f/2.0-2.8 aperture of the X10.

We have handfuls of love for the XF1, but that comes with some pinches of disappointment too: the decision to shift to a new lens means that maximum aperture suffers at the long end; the existing sensor has ongoing issues; and we sure weren't won over by the faux-leather finish. It's these points that hold it back from the kind of greatness and high-calibre build that the initial X-series models brought in abundance.