(Pocket-lint) - Fujifilm is among the leaders when it comes to making tough, underwater cameras. But then it’s also among the leaders when it comes to pushing out multiple iterations of its camera ranges with great frequency.
As a result the Fujifilm XP170 is near identical to its waterproof XP150 predecessor. Its one big new addition is Wireless Transfer Function technology that’s used to pair up with a smartphone or similar device in order to then share your pictures.
Is this future-thinking technology enough to elevate the XP170 to a level of greatness above and beyond its predecessor? It’s sink or swim…
The FinePix XP170 doesn’t try to pull any whacky punches from a design point of view - unlike a certain Canon D20. As far as we’re concerned this is the most sensible approach to a waterproof camera: no-frills though it may be, it fits well to the hand, is large without being oversized and is easy to use.
On top of the camera is a zoom rocker - a great rarity among waterproof cameras and a feature that we’re really pleased to see. It makes using the 5x optical zoom lens effortless, something that can’t be said for cameras that use a duo of zoom buttons to their rear.
There are no manual modes to speak of, which means the XP170 is one easy to use, point-and-shoot camera. If you want a little extra control then the P (programme) mode is only a couple of button presses away and opens up the likes of ISO sensitivity and autofocus area type. However, that’s pretty much where the options end; none of these settings is extensive, but that makes good sense for a camera of this type.
There are a couple of unavoidable qualms though: the lens is positioned close to the camera’s side and, as it doesn’t extend from the body, it is easy to accidentally place a finger in front of it.
Furthermore the screen that covers the lens is susceptible to fingerprints and watermarks, which can affect image quality. But it’s not just Fujifilm that’s a culprit in this area, it’s quite universal for all waterproof compact cameras.
Another gripe is the shutter button. Its position on top of the camera is spot on, yet the button of the review sample we’ve been sent is excessively stiff to depress. We’re not talking impossible - it’s rather subtle in fact - but it’s a nuisance nonetheless.
On the camera’s rear is the same 2.7-inch, 230k-dot LCD as per all previous XP-range models. This really ought to have changed for this model as it’s showing its age; it’s too small, doesn’t express detail in preview or playback and is on par with cameras a third of the XP170’s asking price.
One tough cookie
Despite one or two minor design hiccups, the Fujifilm team sure has made one solid camera. We’ve thrown it, drowned it, stomped on it and, well, pretty much treated it like dirt.
The camera will operate under 10m of water, survive drops of up to 2m, is freezeproof to -10C and, short of being bulletproof, is what we can only express as a bit of an ‘ard nut.
Of course all of those measurements are the "official" standpoint. We pushed the camera a little further and it didn’t suffer any problems after a roll down the stairs and a few drops significantly higher than its quoted two metres.
Performance & Image Quality
But these tough features do come at a price. The XP170’s feature set is reasonable, and on par with other waterproof cameras but, unfortunately, that’s rather pedestrian across the board, and, we must point out, that’s not just restricted to Fujifilm’s range.
There are no manual modes, the autofocus isn’t as quick as many other compacts out there, we’d like to see more extensive user-controlled autofocus-point positioning, and the aforementioned LCD screen is poor by current standards.
The 28-140mm zoom lens covers a reasonable range, which we wouldn’t anticipate to be any longer as it has to operate within the confines of the camera body’s thickness.
The 14-megapixel 1/2.3-inch sensor at the core of the camera produces images just like the XP150 did. We like the punchy colours, though the metering can often blow out highlights in brighter scenes. The processing deals well with any colour fringes - those green, red or purple/blue edges that can appear around subjects - and produces clean images from centre to edge.
But its quality in the details that it lacks. The lens might not be the sharpest, as expected because of its confines, but the image processing also attributes to images showing a lot of grain-like noise. This means edges lack definition, details can’t be made out, but - and most problematic of all - all this occurs even at the lowest of ISO settings.
When it gets extra dark the XP170’s ISO 100-3200 range has the numbers to cater for darker scenes, but it’s here that images further suffer. While shots at ISO 1600 and upwards are "legible", the level of grain creates a softer, more colour-muted image.
Some good, some bad, but on the whole we find the XP170’s image quality to be underwhelming.
Wireless Image Transfer
Which brings us to the XP170’s distinguishing feature: Wireless Image Transfer.
You’ll need to download the Fujifilm Photo Receiver app for your smartphone or tablet device as the software is only designed to share to the application. This raises the first hurdle: despite its Wi-Fi capabilities the XP170 can’t communicate directly to the World Wide Web. There’s no "share to Facebook" style feature here - that’s left to the smartphone or device to handle.
Images can be sent at full size or compressed to 3MP to save on transfer time. As a backup system it works rather well.
However the process of opening the app, selecting the specific camera’s Wi-Fi network and syncing can feel like a bit of a faff. Some deeper features, such as auto back-up, direct link to social media and the like would make more sense and offer to cut out the smartphone middleman.
The XP-series has carried an affordable price legacy. Until now. The XP170’s addition of Wireless Image Transfer hoiks this price point up beyond its XP150 predecessor, acquiring a more sizable £220 asking price.
But the XP170 sees no improvements in optical or image quality performance compared to its predecessor and, as a result, it lacks in the all-important camera department.
Yes it’s tough and waterproof and this aspect of the XP170 will serve any user well, and that, fundamentally, is why it justifies its score. But otherwise its pictures are below average, the shutter button feels stiff in use, the screen quality isn’t good enough and competitor models offer better autofocus.
Much of that might be forgivable if the XP170 maintained the more budget position of earlier models in the range. If Fujifilm is going to aim for a more technological user, it needs to back it up with the necessary quality. Sadly that lacks here.