Fujifilm X70 review: Pocket ace

We waited years for a cheaper X100. But this is something more.

Back in 2012, Fujifilm introduced a little camera called the X100, with a rangefinder-inspired design, an APS-C sensor, and fixed 35mm-equivalent f/2.0 lens. While the “film” in Fujifilm’s name remained, this camera proved the brand’s prowess in the digital realm, offering a winning combination of image quality, portability, and plain-old, good-looking, retro design.

In the years since, the premium-level X100 has been replaced twice by new versions, and photographers have long wondered if a “cheaper X100” would ever see the light of day. Well, the Fujifilm X70 is here to finally answer that question.

Can this $700 advanced compact camera really live up to the lofty reputation of its bigger sibling that costs nearly twice as much? To find out, and to see if the X70’s smaller size and lighter weight might even give it some advantages over the X100T, I took one with me on a carry-on only trip to Boulder, CO. (Not because Boulder is like the supreme proving grounds for cameras, just because I happened to be going there.)

After spending a few days with it, the best praise I can give the X70 is that it is through-and-through a real X Series camera. This is a family of cameras that exist as contemporary icons, credited for reviving a retro design style that pairs so nicely with craft beer, beards, and artisan coffee. Although outclassed in some respects by their peers from other manufacturers, Fujifilm cameras remain highly sought-after; they are attainable objects of desire, the blue-collar Leica. They serve as inspiration for their own use, and compel you to pick them up and shoot.

Through-and-through a real X Series camera.

To that end, the X70 is no different. Despite the significantly lower price, it is crafted with the same care and attention to detail as the X100T. For such a small camera, it feels very solid, and the rubber grip provides for a confident, if not exactly comfortable, single-hand shooting position.

Fuji had to forgo a viewfinder to get the X70 to this size, but little else was sacrificed. There is a seemingly impossible amount of direct control at your fingertips.

The fixed, 18.5mm (28mm equivalent) f/2.8 lens features a very narrow profile, and yet the designers managed to fit an aperture ring, focus ring, and accessory thread on it. Aperture and focus are fly-by-wire systems, but they feel mechanical. The aperture ring has satisfying clicks at each 1/3-stop increment, and the focus ring turns very smoothly. I could argue the feel is even an improvement over the X100T, although this is probably subjective.

There are reasons to buy the X70 that go beyond size and price.

The top deck crams shutter speed, exposure compensation, an auto mode switch (like that of the X-T10), drive mode button, video record button, and the shutter release and power switch all on the right side. Again, each control is very solid, helping contribute to the camera’s overall upmarket feel. A standard hot shoe resides just to the left, centered above the lens.

Putting all of those physical controls in one area can make it difficult to reach the smaller ones, like the drive mode button, which gets sandwiched between exposure comp and the auto mode switch. Still, I prefer this approach to having to dig into the menu. I would like to have an ISO dial up there somewhere, too, even if it replaced exposure comp, but that’s just me. Luckily, there are plenty of customizable buttons, so you shouldn’t have to dive into the menu system at all after your initial set up.

So at first glance, the X70 does indeed seem to be a cheaper X100. But, to be clear, I don’t believe Fujifilm actually intends for it to be perceived this way. Instead, the X70 is a perfect complement to Fuji’s existing lineup, filling multiple gaps that existed previously in size, feature set, and price. It offers a compelling value proposition, even to owners of the X100T (such as myself).

It’s impossible not to compare these two cameras, which are built around the same sensor and feature similar design language, but there is a difference in size that is more significant than side-by-side photos can illustrate. The X70 will easily fit into a jacket pocket, whereas the X100 has to be worn around the neck or carried in a bag. Out for a long day of hiking, street shooting, or just playing tourist? Honestly, the X70 may be the way to go; it’s just that much easier to carry with you—not to mention, cheaper.

But there are reasons to buy the X70 that go beyond size and price. For me, it all comes down to the lens. As much as I like the 35mm-equivalent field of view on my X100T, there are plenty of times when I wish I could go wider. The 28mm-equivalent lens on the X70 offers a look that, for better or worse, is becoming increasingly familiar: it is the field of view of most smartphone cameras.

It’s not as fast as the lens on the X100 (f/2.8 vs. f/2.0), but I found myself shooting mostly around f/4 or f/5.6, anyway. It’s possible to achieve a decent amount of subject/background separation, at least for closeups, but at 18.5mm, depth of field isn’t going to be super shallow at any aperture. An extra stop there wouldn’t have made a big difference.

No matter what they say, autofocus performance is still just okay.

Where I might miss that extra stop is indoors and in low light settings, where the difference between 1/30th of a second and 1/60th can make or break a photograph. (Fortunately, the ISO capability of the camera was good enough to keep up with all the lighting situations I found myself in for this review.)

What really impressed me about the X70’s lens was the lack of vignetting and distortion (yes, even shooting in raw). Architectural lines remain almost perfectly straight from edge to edge. This illustrates one of the greatest strengths of having a prime lens mated to a camera body, as achieving distortion-free optics in an interchangeable zoom lens, even one costing thousands of dollars, is apparently quite difficult.

On the downside, the lens does seem a little soft at 100% magnification. This may be due, in part, to Fujifilm’s notorious practice of baking-in noise reduction to the raw file, or to Adobe’s less-than-perfect interpretation of the X-TRANS sensor raw data. At any rate, it’s not a significant drawback for how I imagine most people will use this camera, but pixel-peepers may be slightly disappointed.

My only other complaint is one I share with just about every Fujifilm camera: no matter what they say, autofocus performance is still just okay. It’s not actually that slow, but it feels slow. The lens hunts back and forth before locking in, and it’s pretty loud. If you’re shooting video, forget about it—your shot will constantly shift in and out of focus, and the sound of the AF motor is easily picked up by the built-in microphone. (There is also tremendous rolling shutter distortion in video, but let’s be real, nobody is going to buy this camera to shoot serious video).

Supposedly, the X70 uses on-chip phase detection autofocus in addition to contrast detection, so I don’t understand why the lens hunts so much. Regardless, Fujifilm’s mirrorless competitors have been making faster, quieter AF systems for some time—even with standard contrast detection.

I would love to see the AF woes addressed in a future firmware update, and Fujifilm is known for doing that, so there is some hope (although, it’s doubtful anything can be done about the noise).

As it stands, the AF performance is probably the only thing holding this camera back from being a truly great street photography machine. If you rely on autofocus, you may find yourself missing the decisive moment by a fraction of a second. Luckily, the “f/8 and be there” method works pretty well if you want to set your focus manually.

Don’t let the less-than-stellar AF performance deter you from using the X70 for street photography, however; everything else about this camera is perfect for it. The wide lens and small size make it easier to shoot discreetly from the hip, while the articulating monitor allows for easy low-angle framing. The screen is also touch-sensitive, so you can trip the shutter with the tap of a finger. (For super top secret mode, opt for the black version.)

The monitor can even flip up a full 180° for all your selfie-shooting glory. You could argue that there is some real photography use for this, but face-detection AF automatically turns on when the screen is in this position, so, sorry, your enthusiast-level, retro-design camera has a selfie mode. I know, I know: this is Pro Photo Supply, and selfies are lame, but they aren’t going away, so at least with an X70, you’ll get good quality ones.

All off these features (minus selfie-mode, perhaps) add up to a lightweight camera that packs a serious punch. Its small size, wider lens, and articulating touch screen give the X70 greater versatility in more environments compared to an X100. This is why it’s wrong to label it as just a “cheaper X100.” It is very much its own camera with its own advantages, and price isn’t even the main one.

So, would it be ridiculous to own both an X100 and an X70? I don’t really think so. One could, conceivably, carry both cameras in less space than an X-T1 and two lenses. This is not exactly a fair comparison—the X-T1 is a full system camera—but it’s interesting to think about. Personally, I could see using the X70 as my take-everywhere camera, while keeping the X100T as my go-to for more planned photo shoots.

While there are obvious reasons to compare the X70 to the X100T, there are actually more direct competitors. For example, how will the X70 succeed where the Nikon Coolpix A failed? And what about the Ricoh GR? All three offer 16MP, APS-C sensors with fixed, 28mm-equivalent, f/2.8 lenses. All can be held and used easily in one hand. All are priced at or below $700 (or were when last sold, as is the case with the Coolpix A, which actually premiered at a wishful $1100).

How will the X70 succeed where the Nikon Coolpix A failed?

Again, I believe Fujifilm’s success here will come not in being the camera with the best specs (although, in this case, it may indeed be), but because of a certain je ne sais quoi about it. I hate that I wrote that just now, but I really don’t know how to describe it. It is simply a camera that feels right.

I’ll try to explain: Both the Coolpix A and GR took a modern, simplified approach to design, with a minimal amount of direct-access control. This isn’t necessarily wrong, and both cameras won over small groups of loyal users, but I think they missed the mark when it came to appealing to enthusiasts at a broader level.

The X70’s reliance on dedicated, physical controls may seem archaic, but the type of photographer drawn to this level of camera appreciates that. Photographers are visual thinkers, but we still like tactile feedback. We don’t want button-activated manual focus, or exposure settings that are only visible on a rear LCD screen.

Had the X70 been available when the Coolpix A and GR were new, I think those cameras would have had a lot more trouble selling.

Ricoh at least seemed content to let the GR live on as a niche product, but Nikon had to sell as many cameras as possible. As such, it had somewhat of an identity crisis on its hands with the Coolpix A. It was billed as a second camera for DSLR owners, but the Coolpix name belied its enthusiast nature. And at $1100, it was originally priced to compete with the Fujifilm X100, but it looked and felt like a much cheaper camera, one geared more toward consumers. It also carried with it a promise of being easy to use, even including consumer-oriented Scene modes.

Of course, no consumer was about to be duped into spending $1100 on a camera that didn’t even zoom, bro.

The X70 doesn’t promise to be easier to use, simply easier to buy.

The X70 should easily avoid this fate. Selfie-screen aside, it is clearly aimed at enthusiasts alone, Fujifilm’s bread-and-butter customers. It may be smaller and less expensive, but it holds on to everything people love about the higher-end X Series cameras: inspired design, great build quality, and plenty of direct control.

With the X70, Fujifilm has given us a new entry point into the X Series that’s not easier to use, simply easier to buy. The DNA is unchanged, its status as an object of desire intact. This is proof that Fujifilm knows its audience, and is the reason the X70, while imperfect, will succeed in a space where others have already tried and failed.*

Overall assessment

  • Studio 58%
  • Photojournalism 60%
  • Travel 81%
  • Casual 75%
  • Filmmaking 27%
Score explanation

This is our assessment of a camera’s usability based on both objective and subjective measurements in four categories. Each category’s score is a function of all measurements, but with different weights.

Studio – A high rating in this category means a camera is well-suited to use in a studio environment, where size and weight don’t matter and lighting can be fully controlled. This score is most affected by resolution, while ISO sensitivity and cost are negligible.

Photojournalism – Cameras that perform well in this category are generally good for concerts, weddings, sports, and travel photography. This score is most affected by ISO sensitivity, build quality, and performance (AF and continuous shooting speed, battery life), while resolution is negligible.

Travel – Above all else, a good travel camera is one you can take with you anywhere. Size and weight matter most to this category, while build quality and ISO sensitivity are also important.

Casual – A casual-use camera is one that you can easily carry with you and is great for family pictures, vacations, hiking, etc. This score is most strongly affected by size, weight, and cost.

Filmmaking – This score looks at all the video features of a camera, such as video resolution, frame rates, and audio inputs and outputs. Keep in mind, this score is provided in the context of a camera being reviewed for its still photography first. A high score in this area does not necessarily mean you should shoot your next blockbuster indie skate rap video on this camera.

 

*The author understands that the metrics of success are not standardized across manufacturers, and concedes that the Ricoh GR is still a pretty great little camera.

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