The enthusiast compact sector has undergone a distinct revival in recent years, with every major manufacturer now producing a model or two that offers full manual control and RAW format recording, aimed as a second camera for enthusiasts who usually carry an SLR. These cameras have generally fallen into two distinct camps - those featuring either fast lenses or long zooms with lots of external controls, and smaller-bodied 'shirt pocket' cameras. The latter category was more-or-less owned by Canon for several years with its S-series compacts such as the Powershot S100, but has recently been shaken-up by the arrival of the Sony Cyber-Shot RX-100 with its relatively large 1"-type sensor. Now it welcomes a new contender - the Fujifilm XF1.

The XF1 is the latest model in Fujifilm's premium X-series, that originated with the FinePix X100 and has since expanded upwards to the interchangeable lens XF system (including the recently-announced X-E1), and downwards to the X-S1 superzoom and fast-lensed X10 compact. The XF1 shares much of its innards with these last two models, including the larger-than-average 2/3" EXR-CMOS sensor and EXR processor. To these it adds an optically-stabilized 25-100mm equivalent lens with an impressively fast F1.8 maximum aperture at wideangle, but a somewhat more pedestrian F4.9 at telephoto.

Where the XF1 stands out from its main competitors is in its looks. The Canon S100 and Sony RX100 are both functionally-styled black-bodied cameras for photographers who wish to stay discreet; the XF1, in contrast, is positively designed to be noticed. With its two-tone body - silver-coloured top and base plates and lens barrel, and contrasting leatherette coating - it's a very attractive camera; indeed Fujifilm's advertising catch-phrase is 'Looks good enough to wear'. There's a choice of three colours - the deep red shown in this preview, alongside light tan and a relatively-sober black - each of which gets a matching slide-in leather case as an optional accessory for fashionistas.

The second stand-out feature of the XF1 is its lens mechanism - the zoom ring is mechanical, and like on the X10 doubles as the power switch. But there's a a further twist - it also collapses into the body in a fashion somewhat reminiscent of the iconic Rollei 35 film compact. This gives the XF1 the distinction of being the smallest camera to offer a mechanical zoom ring around the lens. The result is a camera that slips into a shirt pocket but offers a directness of compositional control that will appeal to stills photographers (although less so to video shooters).

Aside from this the XF1 offers a solid specification. It has plenty of external controls, including two dials on the back of the camera, a customisable Fn button on the top, and a clever new E-Fn button that effectively turns six of the rear buttons into additional user-configurable Fn buttons. It offers Fujifilm's 'Film Simulation' colour modes - JPEG colour rendition being one of the company's biggest strengths - and adds a selection of the now de rigueur processing filters such as 'Toy Camera' and 'Selective Colour'. Naturally you also get Full HD movie recording with stereo sound.

Fujifilm XF1 key features

  • 12MP 2/3" EXR-CMOS sensor
  • ISO 100-3200, ISO 4000-6400 at 6MP resolution, ISO 12800 at 3MP
  • 25-100mm equivalent, F1.8-4.9 lens with optical image stabilization (4 stops benefit claimed)
  • Manual zoom ring and lens retraction mechanism
  • Full manual control, RAW format recording
  • 3" 460k dot LCD
  • Full HD movie recording with built-in stereo microphones
  • Film simulation modes for different colour and monochrome 'looks'
  • In-camera RAW conversion with all in-camera processing parameters adjustable
  • 'Advanced Filters' image-processing controls, previewed live on-screen

Fujifilm EXR-CMOS sensor

The XF1 shares the EXR-CMOS sensor that's used in the X10 and X-S1. This unconventional 12MP sensor can be used by the camera in three different ways - either to give a full-resolution 12MP image, or by pairing pixels, to give 6MP images with either lower noise or extended dynamic range. You can read more about this in our review of the X10 - we'd expect the image quality to be very similar.

Sensor sizes compared

The diagram below compares the size of the XF1's 2/3" sensor to those in its nearest competitors - in general larger sensors potentially offer better image quality. The XF1's sensor is half the size of that found in the (more expensive) Sony RX100, but it's about half as large again as the Canon S100's.

The XF1's 2/3" sensor is half the area of the Sony RX100's 1" sensor, but about 50% larger than the Canon S100's 1/1.7" sensor.

Enthusiast compacts: lenses, sensors and background blur

The table below compares the XF1's lens specifications and sensor size against its main competitors and the X10. Along with the familiar 35mm-equivalent focal length, we've also included a 35mm-equivalent aperture range, which gives some idea of the control over depth of field offered by each camera's lens.

  Sensor area, mm2
Focal length range Focal length range (equiv.) Aperture range Aperture range (equiv)* Dimensions (mm)
Fujifilm XF1 58
6.4-25.6mm 25-100mm F1.8-4.9 F7.0-19.1 108x62x33
10-37mm 28-100mm F1.8-4.9 F4.9-13.4 101x58x36
Canon S100 41
5.2-26mm 24-120mm F2.0-5.9 F9.3-27.4 99x60x27
Fujifilm X10 58
7.1-28mm 28-112mm F2.0-2.8 F7.9-11 117x70x57
Panasonic DMC-LX7 34**
4.7-17.7mm 24-90mm F1.4-2.3 F7.1-11.7 111x68x46
Samsung EX2F 41
5.2-17.2mm 24-80mm F1.4-2.7 F6.5-12.5 112x62x45

* Equivalent aperture, in 135 film terms - this gives an idea of the depth of field control offered by the lenses when the sensor size is taken into account.
** Panasonic DMC-LX7 sensor area figures based on 4:3 aspect ratio mode

Photographers tend to be interested in how well a lens can blur backgrounds when shooting portraits at full telephoto, and in this respect the XF1 lags somewhat behind the RX100, but does better than the S100. But none can quite match the X10 and other small sensor compacts sporting lenses which maintain a decently-fast maximum aperture at telephoto.

The equivalent apertures also give a rough idea of how the cameras might compare in low light; to a degree they indicate how far a larger sensor should be offset by a faster lens. Obviously this isn't the whole story; the characteristics of the individual sensors matters too, as does the quality of in-camera processing for JPEG shooters. But the story is essentially the same - the XF1 should do a bit better than the S100, but not as well as the RX100.

Size compared

The XF1's mechanical, rather than motorized lens mechanism means it's slightly larger than its direct competitors. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - it's still small enough to slip into a short or jacket pocket, and there's enough space on the back for a decent range of controls, including two dials.

The XF1 is just fractionally taller than the Canon Powershot S100, and its body is wider too. The S100 offers a slightly longer zoom range, but a has smaller sensor.
The S100 is, however, notably slim, which makes it that bit more pocketable than the XF1. This of course is substantially down to the XF1's manual zoom ring - the S100 uses a motorized zoom controlled from a collar around the shutter release.
The XF1 is also slightly larger from the front than the Sony Cyber-Shot RX100, despite the latter having a sensor twice the area. As with the S100, the XF1's two-tone design contrasts strongly with the Sony's utilitarian lines.
From the top, the positions are reversed, and the XF1 is a fraction slimmer than the RX100 when their lenses are retracted.