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Friday, December 15, 2017

Fujifilm XQ2 Review- More Than A Surprise Bargain

Fujifilm XQ2 Review- More Than A Surprise Bargain
December 2017, Carl Garrard
Fujifilm XQ2 Review- Fujifilms XQ2 is a sub-compact camera for enthusiast photographers. In its small shell it houses a bright f/1.8-4.9 wide angle 25-100mm 4x zoom lens, a 12mp 2/3" sized X-Trans II sensor (with raw capture), full HD video, wireless control and image transfer, a tempered glass rear screen, and much more. It's a lot of power you can put in your pocket, and it is just slightly smaller than a deck of playing cards. For those who like to travel light, but won't compromise such options as mentioned, this is a bargain camera that you ought to take a look at. After all it's at stocking stuffer used prices these days. There is more too this camera though, as noted in my abbreviated format review.

Fujifilm XQ2 Current Best Price

Fujifilm XQ2 Review- Pros and Cons

Let's get right into things, I know these days many of us have short attention spans, so I'll start right into my experiences with the XQ2. Pros and Cons are divided into two categories for ease of reading, standard and image quality.

  • Fits in your pocket with ease
  • Tempered Glass LCD Screen (love it)
  • Wifi
  • Decent macro at wide end
  • Excellent panoramas
  • Pro light mode is better than expected
  • Quick autofocus
  • Decent amount of customization
  • In camera charging
  • Good battery life w/lots of power saving options (high/standard performance, etc) 
  • Good thumb grip on the back
  • Excellent Jpegs out of camera (and custom settings available)
  • Good image stabilization
  • Easy to use Menu
  • Effective pop up flash
  • Reliable image stabilization
  • Has a little bit of internal memory, enough for one full sized raw and Jpeg file, or several full sized Jpegs (good in a pinch if you leave your card at home, we all have!) 
  • You can change the battery whilst on a tripod (tripod mount offset from center )
  • 80% of the performance of the G9 series, at less than half the cost
  • AEL lock is not available for any custom button (front ring set at exp. comp is the work around)
  • Little slippery on the front (nitpick)
  • Not as much resolution and larger sensor options (but 12mp is plenty!)
  • Macro only decent at the wide end
  • Battery life suffers a bit in high performance mode
  • Max 1/4000th shutter speed only available at f8 and beyond (no ND filter either), max shutter speed wide open is 1/1000th of a second (the biggest con of this camera imho)
  • Shooting in Manual mode can be a little challenging because of limitations of control customization
Fujifilm XQ2 Current Best Price

Pros: Image Quality
  • Raw files sharpen well in Adobe (no worms or weird artifacts)
  • Excellent noise control up to ISO 1600, very good 3200, 6400/12800 somehow manage to not fall apart (sensor over performs expectations) even though they are only available with Jpeg.
  • Grain from higher ISO's adds beautiful character and tone on prints
  • Versatile focal length lens (25-100)
  • Awesome Jpegs and in camera customization
  • In camera/raw development 
  • Overall sharp competent lens with few weaknesses
Cons: Image Quality
  • Would prefer a bit more range of customization of NR/Sharpness/Highlight/Shadow (nitpick)
  • Lens could be a bit sharper in extreme corners(nitpick)
  • Little bit of blue sky noise at base ISO if you don't mind exposure (nitpick)
  • Slow aperture on long end (nitpick)
  • Watch out for hot pixels (and there's no pixel mapping option)

Fujifilm XQ2 Current Best Price

Fujifilm XQ2 Review- Out and About with the XQ2

Overall the XQ2 is a much better camera than I expected it to be (especially for the $149.00 used/like new price tag on mine). With a little minding of your settings, there's no doubt this camera can make some seriously excellent images even in low light situations. It's a sub compact camera, super small, meant to compete originally with the likes of the Canon S120 and RX100 series. But even these days it holds up remarkably well to cameras with larger sensors such as the G9X/II and Sony RX100 cameras. As long as you can live with less total resolution, you'll be rewarded with images that have more dynamic range, better grain (noise) control, and overall character than you probably expect.

1/1.7" sensors are notably smaller (canon s120/G16) than the 2/3", and it shows in the image quality too.

Very good dynamic range ISO 100. Bit of sky noise, not a problem unless you need clinically clean images (Click to enlarge)

Fujifilm XQ2 Current Best Price

Since the 2/3" sensor isn't that much smaller than the 1" sensor (11mm vs 16mm diagonally), actual cross compared pixel size ends up being pretty close when the 12mp 2/3" sensor is compared to the more popular and larger 20mp 1" sized sensor that has found its way into many enthusiast cameras these days (RX100/G9 for example). Meaning, it gathers light similarly because the pixels are pretty much the same size, you just have less of them. You can nitpick side by side images all you want, but in real life shooting, you will see the gap narrow between the advantages of the 1" sensor considerably. Truly I'm surprised at how well this sensor performs. But its sensor wasn't the only surprise.

ISO 400 raw (Click to enlarge)
ISO 1600 raw (Click to enlarge)

ISO 400 raw, Classic Chrome selfie  (Click to enlarge)

Another bonus (for Adobe Raw fanatics) is that although this sensor is a Fujifilm X-Trans type, for some reason there are no odd artifacts created when sharpening images in Adobe products like there are for other Fuji cameras (especially ones with larger X-Trans sensors). Why this is, I'm sure you can look it up on the net to find out, but if there's no penalty, do you really care why? I don't because well, it just works.

X-Trans II sensor diagram, note there is no filter to blur out false color, and the random pattern of the pixels vs. a standard Red Green Blue array.

Since I have other Fuji cameras, like the XE2 and XE3, its nice to have some  commonality in using all three cameras. In a way the XQ2 is like a mini version of the X-E2 with a built in lens and no viewfinder. Menu's are very similar with the two cameras. And when I shoot with my X-E2, I bring the XQ2 along as well, it fits in my pocket without any weight penalty, and serves as a great back up or a zoom camera if I'm using a prime lens on the X-E2. A great back up camera indeed, but also a great stand alone camera or super light weight vacation camera. It also comes with me to work every day. It's a camera I can rely on to be there and prevent those days you wish you had a capable camera with you (those happen a lot, especially when you use a larger camera system).

ISO 400. Look like film? Yep thats the nature of Fuji raw files at higher ISO's, what I like is that DR is still maintained in higher ISO's better than a lot of cameras I use. I decided to keep the shadowy silhouettes in this image however. (Click to enlarge, see the nice grain)

If you decide to use the XQ2 as a primary camera, be sure to pack another battery just in case. Always keep it topped off if you don't want to bring a spare. You can charge the camera with a USB cable (the same type that charges most mobile phones/smart phones), or buy a second hand charger that usually comes with a couple batteries on Amazon or Ebay for example. I have a USB cable in my car that I use to top off my phone, and the XQ2. But with all this said, I can get 250-350 shots out of the battery depending on the energy saving settings I've made in the camera. Keeping it turned off in between shots helps too.

Handling the little XQ2 is pretty nice for such a small camera actually. It has a nice rear thumb grip that helps keep it from slipping out of your hand when using it one handed. The front could be a little more tactile, but it's a very light camera and so far I've had no slippery bar of soap moments with it at all. One handed use is easy, and you want that in a compact camera. From turning it on to making adjustments, its mostly a very well designed camera for this type of shooting.

Buttons dial and lever can all be operated with one hand, less the flash switch of course.

Good thumb pad keeps it secure in one hand

There aren't many buttons on it, but Fujifilm worked it out by making more of them. By including the E-FN option that gives a couple buttons double duty, and add that the four way pad is customizeable (including the front ring), and the XQ2 can mostly be configured to your liking. The only option (or button) that is lacking on the XQ2, is an auto exposure lock (AEL). That is done by a half press with the shutter. Workarounds are available that don't frustrate the experience for me, mostly. There are times I wish I could have an AEL lock option other than the shutter release, but I'm not going to make a huge stink out of it. It's a teeny camera, after all.

Quick grab, only mildly clever. ISO 100, f/6.4 Cropped in raw using Fuji's Monochrome setting.

Whether shooting landscape or macro, or even low light and street scenes, the XQ2 seems equally adept at all tasks. It doesn't really stand out as a best performer in any particular category. Rather, it's just a sort of jack of all trades master of none camera, and I'm just fine with that. As a macro camera, I've used better, but for still subjects you can get some pretty close shots (just watch out for your own shadow from the camera).

Avocado Tree leaf, ISO 100 f/4, 25mm. Decent macro area (Click to enlarge)

Crop at 100% view (Click to enlarge)

Fujifilm XQ2 Current Best Price

I'll wrap up this review with a few more general comments about other features, such as flash and video, and panorama etc. Features that you may not rely on as much if you are just a stills shooter, but will occasionally need to use.

The small built in pop up flash works surprisingly well in conjunction with the cameras metering. For the classic flash look, it will be great in a pinch at parties or as fill light for effect, documenting, etc. It's far enough away from the center of the lens to ward off red eye, which is what you want a built in flash to do. Stay close to subjects, and keep your ISO set to auto up to 400 or so, and you'll be surprised how well it works.

For video, you have the option to set at full 1080p at 60fps, all the way down to 320x112 at 250fps. There are enough options to satisfy beginner to intermediate video users, and it will likely please those needs especially if you are primarily a stills shooter. Audio is stereo with two built in mics at the top of the camera. You can grab still shots during video making as well, and choose manual focusing using the front ring for quiet focusing operation. Video quality overall is very decent and will look great on an HDTV. Don't expect miracles, and you'll be quite content with the output.

Panorama is where Fuji have really beaten their competitors. They use the same in camera stitching and manual shutter to produce them, but they do a better job than other competitors in my opinion. Typically they have much less stitching errors, better quality detail, and better metering than others. Panorama sizes are available from 120 to 360 degree sizes. I suggest setting the camera to shoot in portrait orientation as you'll get better vertical resolution this way than shooting in landscape orientation.

Panorama out of camera. You can't choose many settings but Fuji did a good job with it regardless.

Wifi works great with Fuji's android app, I cannot speak for iphones. It's one of the better apps that come to mind, right up there with Canon's. Images transfer quickly to phone or computer (the latter being harder to set up honestly.)

Fujifilm XQ2 Review- Summing it Up

I am tiny, I am the XQ2. Fuji,make an XQ3 please.

Concluding, the XQ2 isn't without quirks. But nothing is. We all have them and so does our equipment, no matter what kind. These days I liken the relationship of a camera to a photographers' eye to human relationships we have in real life. It's not about perfection, but how how the quirks of the equipment or person mesh with your own. That you will have to decide for yourself.

What stands out for me, is that the XQ2 is a very compact, affordable, and capable pocket camera. And the better you know it, the more it will do for you. Understanding its limitations is key, but for a camera this size I minimize expectations a bit. In that sense, the XQ2 exceeds expectations for such a small camera. I'm able to do more with it than I assumed in most circumstances, and it performs better than expected as well.

Stand out characteristics are its very interesting image quality. The raw files, even at ISO 100 have a very film like grain and tonal quality, in some ways more authentic to film than even my XE3/2 cameras, and so it has it's own charm amongst the heard. When I'm not using my Leica or X's, this camera is a companion I can feel comfortable relying on, but more than that, it's unique "signature" makes me want to use it more than I ought too.

I'm aware of some of its limitations (max 1/1000th of a second wide open for example) and keep those in mind. Mostly though, its a pocket powerhouse of a camera that produces signature images from a sensor size that warmed my heart from first use of the old digicams in 2003-2005. Sensor quality has indeed improved since then, but 2/3" has this signature of its own that is hard to describe. Match that with Fuji-sauce, and you can make some real beauties with this pint sized pal.

Stay focused.

-Carl Garrard

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Fujifilm XQ2 Current Best Price

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1 comment:

  1. Hi, interesting that you have reviewed a 2015 camera in 2017, but I too have just come across it in 2018! I was looking for a pocket camera for hiking and skiing (don't need weather sealing) as there are occasions, especially skiing, when my XT20 kit is too large. I have just bought a XQ2 based largely on your review. I was looking at the Panasonic LX10/15, but frankly for a VF-less camera the extra £350 I would have had to pay to the LX15 I could not justify. I have yet to try the XQ2 out, but many thanks for your insightful review. Jules