(Pocket-lint) - Fujifilm is a winner when it comes to high-end compact cameras. So when the company unveiled the X70 at the tail-end of 2015 we were surprised and delighted by the concept: this 28mm f/2.8 (equivalent) fixed-lens camera pools together all that's great and good about the X-series in a wide-angle lens package, but unlike its larger X100T brother it ditches the viewfinder.
Which makes it sound more like a standard compact - especially as there's a touchscreen that can be angled forward for selfies for the first time in the series. But it's anything but, embracing the retro style and magnesium build quality the X-series is well known for. It's not going to be a camera for the masses, nor as we've found over a long weekend of use is it the fastest model ever, but is the X70 the must-have high-end fixed-lens companion to buy?
Fujifilm X70 review: All about the lens
Those familiar with the X100T will find the X70 positively dinky by comparison. Not that its 112.5 x 64.4 x 44.4mm body is exactly small given the large APS-C sensor at its core, but it's a whole lot more pocketable thanks to that less substantial lens.
And that lens is what this camera is all about: a 28mm equivalent with f/2.8 maximum aperture means it'll be the wider-angle of view many X100T owners have been looking for. There are 35mm and 50mm equivalent digital crop options of sorts too, but as these are buried deep within the menus, are incompatible with raw shooting and, for some untold reason, aren't assignable to the Fn7 customisable button to the side of the camera, and therefore aren't particularly practical. So think of the X70 as a 28mm through and through, pretty much - something that we suspect could be easily improved with firmware updates. If you want wider than 28mm then there's a physical 21mm equivalent wide-angle conversion lens, sold separately (£149).
Anyway, back to the good stuff about the lens. We love how it feels like a pancake from an interchangeable lens camera; it doesn't protrude excessively from the body, but just enough in order to make aperture selection via the manual control ring nice and easy - this aperture ring has "wings" which are easy to nab with a spare finger to make adjustments, in 1/3 stops if you wish. It avoids being fiddly, and because that lens is so shallow to the body it's an absolute necessary design feature.
The camera's magnesium top plate looks the part too, and just like other X-series models has the separate manual shutter and exposure compensation dials for full exposure control. Or, at the flick of a switch, pop the camera into "Auto" and it'll handle all the settings for you. Just don't forget you've left it there while you're left wondering why the selected aperture or shutter speed isn't adjusting - there's no light or particularly obvious notification that the mode is active, bar from the physical position of the switch.
Fujifilm X70 review: Pro design?
Now the addition of an Auto switch might make the X70 sound a lot more point-and-shoot than the likes of the X100T, but - and despite the new touchscreen controls, including swipe and pinch much like a smartphone (those later controls during playback only) - the X70 still feels like the modern photographers' tool. If anything, it makes us question why the X-Pro2 doesn't have the touchscreen option added as part and parcel of its feature set.
Using the touchscreen of the X70 is super easy: it's a case of tapping the screen to adjust the focus point and then just letting the AF system kick in and do its business. There's even a touch shutter option for immediate focus and shooting, although we've tended to avoid this one￼ due to accidental snaps by pressing the screen - and you're then left waiting for that extra microsecond of time while the camera processes an unwanted image to card.
Within the X70's menus there's an option to link/unlink spot exposure with the autofocus area, which we expected to separate the points into two manually configurable ones on the screen - but this isn't the case. Indeed, in the model we have, we can't see the difference whichever option is selected there.
The physical button arrangement makes quick-access to settings fairly straightforward, although the lack of markings on the four-way d-pad seems a little odd. Given the scale of the camera some buttons feel too tightly positioned too - pressing the right d-pad means your finger is pressed right up against the lip of the screen; while the video button up top is rather close to the exposure compensation dial; it's all a little too tightly arranged, not that it's an impossible-to-use configuration.
The LCD screen lips out from the camera's body because it's a tilt-angle design, which can flip up by as much as 180-degrees to face forward. Yep, it's a selfie screen. And while we're unlikely to be using it for that use very often, it's still particularly useful for discreet waist-level shooting, or angling the screen by 45-degrees in the opposite direction for overhead shooting. Use it to its fullest or just use it a little - it's another logical inclusion in a camera such as this, whether selfie fan or not. Fujifilm X70 review: No viewfinder
The lack of a viewfinder is one obvious absence that sets the X70 apart from the X100T. There's an argument to make a wider-angle viewfinder-laden X-model to give more choice, but at a 28mm equivalent we suspect there's a strong chance the optical rangefinder-style solution would present an excessive amount of the lens barrel in the shot (maybe not, though, as it's a shallow lens).
Instead the X70 offers a separate optical accessory, a 21mm equivalent that clips into the camera's hotshoe. If you're wondering why it's wider-angle than the 28mm equivalent lens on board then there are two answers: one, the frame is marked out in the finder (although we didn't get to see this accessory in action for this review) so subjects beyond it can be seen before they enter it, X100-style; and two, there's that optional 21mm equivalent lens adapter which will match the finder edge-to-edge.
We're in two minds about the viewfinder situation. Not having that optical-meets-digital crossover of the X100 means the X70 isn't as versatile as it's big brother, but then it's smaller and more affordable as a result. And we've not wildly missed using a finder - even when out shooting in sunshine we've found the screen to stand up well enough.
Fujifilm X70 review: Performance
When it comes to autofocus there's been a lot of trumpet-blowing of late from all manufacturers, with the X70's official webpage boasting "fastest AF" of just 0.1-seconds. Oh, but there are two asterisks next to that statement, because it's caveats a-go-go - it's not the world's fastest or anything like that.
Realistically, and while certainly fast enough, the X70's autofocus system isn't the fastest out there; it's actually one of the camera's sticking points as we've come to find over extended use, with low-light causing the system to hunt. But even when it slows, the accuracy can't be called into question - and that, perhaps, is the key thing to get absolutely right.
The autofocus setup is arranged over 77 points when in Zone and Wide/Tracking modes, or 49 selectable points when in Single Point mode. However, when using a single focus point it can be resized between five different sizes to assist with slightly more pinpoint accuracy - something we've found distinctly useful when convincing the camera to focus on a near subject rather than the background. Even so, it's not to the degree of precision that something like Panasonic's Pinpoint mode offers, which is a shame - no other maker has yet managed a cross-hair-style pinpoint-accurate mode though.
In bright light the X70's response is at its snappiest, but treat moving subjects with caution - the X70 isn't a sports photographers' camera, but then you probably knew that already. Super-fast electronic shutter speed up to 1/32,000th sec is available though, so freezing motion isn't a problem, or the usual manual-moving shutter works to a maximum 1/8000th sec.
Close-up focus works well too, without the need for a separate "macro" mode. This is a 28mm equivalent after all, so making the most of the f/2.8 wide-open aperture's ability to pronounce background softness by sticking the camera up close and personal with a subject is the way to do it. Not ideal for portraits, perhaps, without some distance between you and subject.
Fujifilm X70 review: Image quality
There's no scrimping on image quality in the X70, just as that's what has always excelled about the X100T. With the same 16.3-megapixel X-Trans CMOS II APS-C sensor under the hood in both cameras there's the physical size to enhance shallow depth of field, but also the larger-than-average surface "pixels" to help maintain quality way beyond what a normal compact is capable of producing. In some senses the lack of the X-Trans CMOS III sensor - as per the X-Pro2 - seems like an odd omission, but Fuji's got to save something for the top-of-the-line model.
Either way, the X70's resulting images are ridiculously good. We've had our minor niggles about the camera's focus speed from time to time, or the tight arrangement of buttons, but that's all seemingly forgotten when looking at the images. And that's what's important about a camera, right? That f/2.8 aperture pays dividends for beautiful bokeh backgrounds and doesn't suffer from softness in close-up shooting (like the X100 models do).
There's still no ISO 100 option, however, with the range starting at ISO 200, increasing to ISO 6400 (extendable to ISO 100-51,200). No surprises here, seeing as we've seen this sensor before. Plus that lens paired with the lowest ISO sensitivity is a sight to behold. Whether shooting old buildings in low sun at f/8, or close-up blossom at f/2.8, the sheer level of detail on offer is quite spectacular.
In part that's down to the lens, but also the X Trans CMOS II sensor's structure and its absence of an optical low-pass filter (OLPF). This whacky sensor namesake relates to a colour filter array unique to Fujifilm, put in place to avoid moire and combat false colour - which sometimes results when there's no low-pass filter. Standard cameras' colour filters look at a two by two grid of pixels to generate the colours for the four resulting pixels, whereas the X-Trans CMOS II looks at a six by six grid (arranged in a non-linear fashion) to produce the colour data for the resulting 36 pixels within an image. It's tried and tested technology that the X70 really benefits from.
It also means great low-light results too. Even four-figure ISO settings reveal little to no image- or colour noise, and there's stacks of detail. Just take a look at the ISO 1250 shot of a stuffed toy lion and revel in the detail in the mane. Such sharpness does begin to suffer in the higher ISO echelons, but even ISO 3200 has clean blacks and only shows some slight softening.
Plus, if default images aren't as you want then there are all manner of in-camera adjustments that can be made too: noise reduction, sharpness, colour, shadow and highlight tone levels are all independently adjustable by +/-2 via the quick menu to tailor shots to your liking. There are also film simulation modes - whether classic black and white, or those to mimic classic Fujifilm stocks, including Provia (standard), Velvia (vivid) or Astia (soft).
If you're looking for image quality bang on the money at this focal length then the X70 produces image quality as good as a pro-spec DSLR. It's really something.
With its £549 price point the X70 might sound expensive, but the kind of image quality that can be squeezed out of it makes it worth every penny. Sure, there's no viewfinder, but that's part and parcel of what this pocketable compact is all about. And while some features such as the tilt-angle touchscreen are more, let's say, commercial, we find them practical.
A fixed-lens compact is never going to be for the masses, though, but as there are so few quality wide-angle solutions out there the Fujifilm X70's 28mm equivalent is a sure-fire route to success for a discerning audience. If you're looking for something more flexible then the Panasonic LX100 is probably the route to go down, not that both models are distinctly comparable.
So while we'd like a more detailed and faster autofocus system, and are in two minds about the lack of viewfinder, the X70 is otherwise a champion addition to the X-series. It's really all about the image quality, which is why we suspect X100T fans and, to some degree, newcomers will be rushing out to buy this wide-angle wonder.