Maybe it's no surprise that when Fujifilm's first advanced pocket camera fell flat, they turned to proven designs for the basis of it's second try. I just played with Fuji's new XQ1, and I could believe It wasn't a Canon S120. But just because it's familiar on the outside, doesn't mean it's got the same stuff inside.
When Canon released the S90 all the way back in 2009, it changed the way photographers thought about tiny point-and-shoots. It wasn't a toyIt took beautiful photos and handled like dream. We're now all the way up to our fifth in the line, and it's hard to find a better shooter for the money than the $450 S120. For casual photography, the design is a perfect harmony between functionality, simplicity, and size. The Canon S-series has been so successful, in fact, that its pared down design and trademark control ring around the lens have been copied several times. Last year, the one-inch sensor in Sony's RX100 finally dethroned the Canon S90—but the RX100's design took a lot of cues from the S-series as well.
And now we have the XQ1, which from a distance would be indistinguishable from the Canon S120. A few observations: The P/S/A/M mode dial on the top now has a new "Filters" setting for people who want to colorize their photos in-camera. There's also an Fn button on the back panel, which changes what the buttons on the back of the camera do, effectively doubling the functions you can access without going into the menus. That's a nice touch. The XQ1's 25-100mm f/1.8- f/4.9 lens is also very slightly less zoomy than the 24-120mm f/1.8-5.7 lens on the S120.
But generally, the feel—like the look of the camera—is basically the same S-series handling we're used to. The most noticeable difference is that the control ring around the lens rotates smoothly without the click stops of the S120. I prefer the latter because it prevents you from going too far when you're making adjustments.
What's quite impressive is that Fujifilm has built a much larger image sensor into the same size camera body as the S120, and given the camera a comparable $500 price tag. (The Sony RX100 and Rx100 II are larger cameras that are much more expensive.) The 12 megapixel, 2/3-inch sensor in the XQ1 is 50 percent larger than the 12 megapixel, 1/1.7-inch sensor on the S120.
This sensor is the same new chip that's in the X20, which means it benefits from hybrid phase and contrast-detect autofocus. What does that mean? Some of the fastest autofocus on the market. Between the better focus and the bigger pixels, the XQ1 will likely have better image quality, especially when it's dark. Overall, the camera's performance was snappy and accurate, even in the crap conditions of a Fuji press event.
And maybe it's a good thing that Fuji has chosen to copy rather than create. Since it first started making fancy digital cameras a few years ago, they've always basically been fantastic image sensors in clunky retro bodies. Put that image quality in a camera that's easier to use, and we're in business.