Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fujifilm XF1 retro serious compact shooter

I didn't really get anything for Christmas this year so I treated myself to another compact camera, the FujiFilm XF1.  This is not going to be a professional review, you can read pixel peeps reviews at various pro camera blogs. This post will be about my raving impressions and satisfaction with this new piece of kit.

What is it?

It is a retro designed rangefinder "styled" digital camera that competes with the Sony RX100, Panasonic Lumix LX7, and Canon S110. In other words, it is considered a "serious compact" camera with such features as a larger 2/3" EXR CMOS sensor (compared to other compacts), a max  f/1.8 aperture at it's widest 25mm (35" equivalent) focal length, RAW, and complete PASM manual controls. It has the same sensor as the Fujifilm X10. It originally listed for $500 but I was able to get it for $199 which is an incredible bargain.

So why did I get it? Well, I needed something smaller than my Micro 4/3 kits and something infinitely better than my disposable Canon Powershots (that I happen to replace every few years due to faulty lens errors). Why not the Sony RX100?  Are cameras like the Sony RX100 better? Sure, but I didn't pay $500-600 for my XF1 either. At that price point, I rather stick to my Micro 4/3 cameras and prime lens set-ups. Furthermore, I love the retro look which I am a big fan of. Can't you tell from looking at this picture below of my digital cameras? I like the clean lines, leatherette wrap. The XF1 is stylishly beautiful.

Here are some size comparison shots with other cameras.
Olympus OM-D EM5 with a 14mm (28mm 35 equivalent) pancake lens and a Canon ELF 300HS.

Here, next to another Micro 4/3 Panasonic GF3 with a 20mm pancake prime lens along with the Canon ELF.

In other words, the XF1 was a bit bigger than I expected. I've seen pictures online and it is roughly the same size as the Sony RX100 in all dimensions. Hence, I don't consider it a camera you can easily put into tight jeans but more of a coat/jacket pocket camera. Nonetheless, I like it despite it's bigger than anticipated size. Still, it is more pocketable than any Micro 4/3 camera even with a prime lens. And based on quality, Canon ELF Powershot cameras are a thing of the past for me. There is simply no comparison to anything else short of a Sony RX100, Panasonic GM1 (which are double, triple the street price of the XF1), that I would now consider.

Previously, most of my photography is with my lower grade, disposable Canon Powershots. I have a few that I keep around and they're convenient but lately, they've been bothering me. I have a baby daughter and she moves around quite a bit. Powershots and cameras with 1.7" inch sensors (found in 90% of compact cameras) just plain suck. I mess up on so many random shots, I delete more than half of them. With this camera,  on the first day of shooting my always moving daughter, I was able to keep 8 out of 10 shots. 8/10 is  a very good scorecard in my opinion. Hence, despite the slightly bigger size, this camera is definitely better than my more expensive compact 1.7" sensored Canons.

There is a big gripe that I've read in all the reviews and I'm certain a majority of the people out there would complain about. It is the dreaded start-up procedure. There is no power button, you turn on the camera by twisting and turning the lens three times to activate it. There is a 3-5 second delay start-up and I can see this annoying a lot of people. They design this camera to give it a retro experience as well. Zoom is manually controlled so if you are the type that likes to zoom while videotaping, forget about it. This camera is designed for people who want to actively engage in the process of photography. I really "dig" the manual zoom because it reminds me of my real retro rangefinders. It is the same pleasurable experience as having to wind my manual chronograph wristwatch in the morning. Others may not take the same pleasures.

So why do I like this camera? f/1.8 at 25mm. I love wide angle and I love fast apertures. I never do flash photography and this is my perfect night-casual pocket camera. At the full zoom, the lens does get slow to f/4.9. This may bother some people but what can you expect, it is a compact camera at $200 that as a 2.3" sensor and shoots RAW! Speaking of sensors, Fuji did an incredible job. It is one of the cleanest, smallest camera and the images have incredibly wide dynamic range and low noise for it's size.

Fuji calls it's tech EXR. You can shoot in EXR mode which is a super-auto and I've been doing just that. I'm normally an aperture priority mode kind of guy but the EXR mode is pretty cool. You have the option of high resolution, low noise for night shots, or wide dynamic range. And boy, this camera has incredible dynamic range in JPEG mode. Shooting in EXR will cut the megapixel count in half to 6 MP from it's 12. Why is this important? The wider the dynamic range, the more editable the image is. You have more steps in luminosity and detail. DPreview notes with EXR (on Fuji cameras), you can forget about clipped and blown highlights. And that is exactly correct. Put these images in Lightroom and you can do a lot of crazy stuff. This camera can easily do 10-11 EV stops of exposure. It is rated at 11.2 EV stop.

Here are some examples. Images on the left are original JPEGs and the images on the right are what you can do in terms of manipulation. Wider Dynamic Range = More ability to edit and not lose detail. I can easily pull the sliders in Photoshop or Lightroom on both ends and keep on going and going!

Here, I can easily fix exposures and fix shadows to give a good fill without the use of a flash.

Easily create HDR images with single exposure files.

Bringing out more detail and contrast.

Even un-edited photos look good. Here is a handheld shot as I walked under a construction site at night. This is a straight JPEG image from a compact at f/1.8!

The camera has pretty good DOF (Depth of Field) and bokeh for such as small camera. I did some quick shots and was quite impressed with my $200 buy.

Low light and night shots, again, very good for a $200 camera. Noise is to be expected but I didn't expect the camera to be this clean and well exposed for extreme light differences.

Sure my M4/3 cameras can produce some of these shots but none of my pocket cameras or cell phone can which makes this camera a rocking accessory in my coat jacket. Again, at $200 on Amazon, this is an incredible buy.

There are some drawbacks. The video mode is iffy and looks pixelated. The lens turn-on procedure will surely turn off a lot of people. Hence, this camera falls into the quirky field. However, I love the feel, heft and build quality. It is a solidly design piece of camera with incredible amount of retro style and panache. The performance of this camera is untouchable at $200 and higher. It competes with others costing hundreds of dollars more. It ticks all the right checkboxes for a serious compact - RAW files, larger sensor, fast wide lens. What else can I ask for in this price range?


  1. Enjoyed your review. I bought an XF1 last month and am enjoying it.

    We must be twins separated at birth, because I own the exact same three cameras as in your picture - and, I also own the Rolex book! (who has that?)

  2. Great review. I just bought an XF1 and can't wait for it to arrive this week!

  3. I own the XF1. would you say the GF3+14mm f2.5 is a HUGE upgrade ?

  4. hello, I first bough the XF1. then "upgraded to" GF3 + 14mm f2.5.

    Now I'm wanting to go back to XF1 because XF1 is easier to hold, and the UI is way better. Do you feel the same?

    Also it supports Auto-ISO in manual mode.

    Should I sell the GF3 ?

    1. No. My XF1 died. I've been reading amazon customer reviews. A few XF1 have died due to a faulty lens mechanism. The GF3 is a huge upgrade.