(Pocket-lint) - Although it might sound like the bad guy from a not-yet-written Terminator movie, the Fujifilm X-T10 is actually the good guy. A very good guy indeed. For this compact system camera is like a watered-down version of its X-T1 bigger brother, albeit without the bigger price to boot.
That's really where the X-T10 fits into the equation: it's affordable, priced at £500 for the body only, or £799 with a better-than-your-average 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 kit lens. Ok, so it can't travel through space and time - read that as it lacks the waterproofing and same magnification scale electronic viewfinder as the X-T1 - despite its retro looks suggesting it's from a parallel universe of the past.
Fortunately the X-T10's features are fixed very much in the here and now. It'll wipe the floor with a Canon EOS M, is better built than an equivalent affordable Sony E-mount camera, and while it's not going to outperform the likes of the Panasonic Lumix GX8, this Fujifilm still has price very much on its side. No sign of the good guy finishing last this time around, then.
Retro appeal: Design & controls
Fujifilm was the first camera company to get into the modern-retro design seat, pulling its classic camera looks from years gone by into its modern XF-mount series. And we think it works rather splendidly; indeed it's encouraged other manufacturers to follow suit.
You needn't be a camera genius to operate the X-T10 either. Despite a dedicated shutter dial atop the camera and aperture control rings built into each XF lens allowing for full manual control (or aperture/shutter priority use), you can pop everything to auto at the flick of a switch, literally. Sat just off the shutter speed dial is an Auto switch, which can be used to jump out of manual control to leave the camera in charge.
But if you do know a thing or two then you get the benefit of more classic controls. Ok, so the distinct aperture values don't display on the lens ring, you'll need to glance at the screen for that, but it's about as close to the old school of thought as you'll get in an interchangeable lens camera.
It's all well built too, with a die-cast magnesium alloy body looking and feeling a step beyond its asking price. There's no weather-sealing on this particular X-series model, however, but that's no surprise.
Fully featured: Viewfinder & LCD
And just because the X-T10 is modestly priced, doesn't mean it scrimps on other features. Key to these are the inclusion of a built-in OLED viewfinder in addition to the rear LCD screen. However, while these are similar to those found in the higher-spec X-T1, they're not quite as standout on the X-T10 for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, and despite the same 2.36-million dot resolution viewfinder panel sounding identical, the magnification isn't as significant on the X-T10 (0.62x vs 0.77x) which makes for a smaller image to the eye. The circular cup isn't as well light-sealed or comfortable on the X-T10 either.
Then the 3-inch LCD screen to the rear - which is the same size on both X-T10 and X-T1 - is slightly lower resolution on the X-T10 (920k-dot vs 1040k-dot) and mounted on a tilt-angle rather than the X-T1's vari-angle bracket.
As we alluded to at the beginning, the X-T10 is all about falling into the right price bracket, so we don't think any of these points matter too much. If they do to you then, well, the X-T1 is still available to buy.
Besides, when put to use we've found the tilt-angle screen's ability to position as a waist-level screen has been spot on, which is how we typically use a vari-angle screen anyway. The viewfinder resolution is up there among the best going too and looks great.
Like the X-T1, however, the X-T10's viewfinder can't be considered quite perfect in low-light conditions as there is some ghosting. Half-pressing the shutter to acquire focus can cause its preview to stutter too. But all small issues in the bigger picture of things, as the finder is otherwise superb in medium-to-bright conditions and super-fast to activate thanks to its eye-level sensor.
Autofocus: Aces & ailments
Compared to where the X-series started off, the X-T10 shows that its autofocus system is more than capable. Fujifilm likes to chuck around speedy numbers like 0.08-seconds to acquire focus, which certainly sounds impressive and, sometimes, feels realistic thanks to the hybrid autofocus system on board.
However, the one murmur we have to make is that it just isn't quite up there among the greats. Compare the X-T10 to the Panasonic Lumix GX8 and there's no competition, especially in dim conditions, with the G-series prevailing. Sure, the Fujifilm will walk all over the Canon EOS M, but that latter model's system is towards the bottom end of the compact system camera capability scale anyway.
We've found some other familiar Fuji-isms with the X-T10 too: that it's sometimes guilty of trying to be too fast for its own good and occasionally faltering to acquire focus; and that sometimes focus is confirmed when clearly it's way off; or that continuous autofocus continues to lack the smoothness and thought of a decent DSLR.
So we find ourselves sat somewhere in the middle, really. Typically using the X-T10 with its one-area centre focus point - there are also 49-area points in a seven-by-seven grid which can be used in auto, zone or single-point selection - it proves capable enough, despite lacking a touchscreen for quick focus point adjustment.
But, for the right photography, we didn't find any of that to matter. From our low-light snaps at indoor toy shows (as used on the site for Top Toys 2015), through to car pictures (check out the Audi Q7 first drive lead picture) and other challenging scenarios (it came along to the Three Peaks Challenge too), we've been using the X-T10 as our go-to camera for a number of weeks now.
The only time it's come to let us down has been with battery life, calling it a day in the middle of a product shoot. We do demand a lot, but after a long day's shooting, having the three-bar display flashing red in threat of full depletion was a bit of a shame - but perhaps no surprise given the couple of hundred shots taken.
Image quality: Top-spec for cut price
One of the great things about the X-T10 is its resulting image quality. Just because it's more affordable than many other X-series cameras doesn't mean it holds back on the image sensor front. Under the hood is the same one as found in the X-T1 and, therefore, older X-E2, which is a great base to build upon.
Fujifilm does things differently to its competitors too. Although plenty of the competition have removed the low-pass filter in recent years - which is traditionally used to diffuse light entering the sensor in order to feed the colour array beneath for better colour accuracy, while avoiding jaggy edges and moiré - it's only Fujifilm that has an X-Trans CMOS II sensor with unique colour array. This array is cleverly arranged to avoid the need for the low-pass filter, resulting in extra sharp images - even when using just the standard 18-55mm kit lens.
Perhaps the more interesting thing about the 18-55mm as used in this test is that with an f/2.8 maximum aperture at the widest-angle setting (and f/4.0 at the longest zoom setting) the camera can let in more light than many equivalent competitors. It's like a kit lens with added grunt. If you want even more there are plenty of standout optics in the XF-mount line, and if you want to focus close-up to subjects then the 18-55mm won't be your best friend either.
Playing with more light can be a great way of avoiding the higher ISO sensitivities; those settings needed to process an image when conditions are dim, for example, typically resulting in less detail and what's known as image noise (those mottled dashes and colours, often present in the mid-shadow areas).
But even when shooting at the higher sensitivities (such as ISO 3200) using the X-T10 the results are pretty great. Not just because of low amounts of visible image noise, but, as we'd touched upon before, the level of sharpness. The large APS-C size sensor makes for attractive shallow depth of field too, for that pro-looking soft background effect.
Such crispness is particularly true in the raw files, where the base image remains unaltered. Although that means a less vivid image than the JPEG counterpart, we actually prefer it - as we find the standard (Provia) JPEG settings to be over-saturated for some colours, such as reds, as shown in a fruit bowl image example. The raw shots also avoid distortion correction, which is otherwise particularly prevalent when shooting wide-angle, again resulting in sharper images than their auto-manipulated JPEG equivalents.
However, the JPEG processing comes into its own when hiding some of the image noise, which can otherwise be spotted beyond the ISO 1600 setting. Still, the X-T10's ISO 200-800 sensitivities are exceptional, from shooting horses in fields, to giant fish sculptures, Meccano robo-toys, and beyond - we've been pleased with all the results.
It's a shame there's no true ISO 100 option - it's only a "low" setting available without the same degree of dynamic range - but with an electronic shutter option up to 1/32,000th second available, the ISO 200 sensitivity is entirely acceptable as the lowest offering available.
Just as we said of the X-T1, the X-T10 puts DSLR quality shots in your hands, only this time on even more of a budget. When it comes to APS-C sensor sizes such as this, we think the X-T10 is up there with the very best on the market, including the likes of Sony and Samsung.
As we quipped within the opening lines of this review, the X-T10's Terminator-like name actually might be entirely apt given how it shoots down most of its near-priced competitors. Its combination of retro design, quality construction, top notch image quality and decent general performance make it a great all-rounder.
To find shortcomings with the X-T10 only really shows face in the autofocus and so-so battery life departments. Its autofocus system can't claim top prize in its field, lagging behind the likes of the Panasonic Lumix GX8, and without touchscreen or more complex focus options. But for the right photography that's not going to be a nail-in-coffin deal-breaker.
Sure, the X-T10 might be a watered-down version of the X-T1. But it's avoided excessively diluting the core components that make such a camera so appealing, such as the built-in electronic viewfinder. Our minor qualms - which, essentially, are the same ones we had with the X-T1 - remain just that, and aren't enough to hold the X-T10 back. This is retro done right.