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The 'enthusiast compact' sector has rather exploded in recent years, with every major manufacturer now offering models which offer photographer-friendly manual controls and Raw format recording. In general these cameras fall into two distinct types - relatively large, chunky cameras with fast lenses and flash hot shoes, and smaller, externally-simpler 'shirt pocket' cameras. This latter category was for a while dominated by Canon's S-series like the latest Powershot S120, but was last year completely shaken up by the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 with its much larger, high resolution 1"-type 20MP sensor.

Fujifilm also entered this market last year, with the XF1 - a beautifully-designed, but distinctly quirky camera with a manual zoom ring and lens retraction mechanism. We loved its combination of striking good looks and photographer-friendly controls, but it appears to have struggled to make much of a market impact in the face of all the buzz that surrounded the RX100. So this year Fujifilm is trying again, but with the much-more-conventional XQ1.

The XQ1 is, in terms of design, determinedly mainstream, and in many ways it's as unlike the XF1 as chalk and cheese. It's dressed in a sober single-color body shell, either black or silver, and uses a now-common round-lens control ring, which rotates freely without click-stops like the RX100's. The XF1's mechanical zoom ring is replaced by an utterly conventional lever around the shutter release. Overall, the XQ1 looks just like its main competitors.

Fujifilm XQ1 key features

  • 12MP 2/3" X-Trans CMOS II sensor
  • ISO 100-12800, customizable Auto ISO (max and min ISO, minimum shutter speed)
  • 25-100mm equivalent, F1.8-4.9 lens with optical image stabilization (3 stops benefit)
  • Lens control ring (click-less)
  • Full manual control, Raw format recording
  • 3" 920k dot LCD
  • Full HD movie recording with built-in stereo microphones
  • Film simulation modes for different color and monochrome 'looks'
  • In-camera Raw conversion, with all in-camera processing parameters adjustable
  • 'Advanced Filters' image-processing controls, previewed live on-screen
  • Built-in Wi-Fi for image sharing to smartphone, tablet or computer
  • 'Focus peaking' display for manual focus
  • In-camera battery charging via Micro USB port

The XQ1 is far from all-new though - dig into the specs and you'll find it has exactly the same 25-100mm equivalent lens as the XF1. This offers a headline-grabbing F1.8 maximum aperture at the wide end, but a less-impressive F4.9 at telephoto. It uses the same 2/3" type X-Trans CMOS II sensor as the Fujifilm X20, which employs a novel color filter array and no optical low-pass filter in an attempt to deliver more detail than its 12MP pixel count might at first suggest. The sensor also incorporates phase-detection pixels for fast autofocus - and this means that the XQ1 is startlingly quick.

On the back the XQ1 sports a large, high resolution 920k dot 3" LCD, and fills the remaining space with buttons to give direct access to commonly-used functions. Crucially, it retains one of our favorite features of the XF1, the 'E-Fn' button that accesses a further of range of functions (which the user can choose to suit their needs). We'll cover this later, but suffice to say it makes the XQ1 one of the most photographer-friendly small cameras around.

It comes in silver or black

The XQ1 will come in a choice of colors - a rather white-ish silver, or a purposeful-looking matte black. One point of note is that the black finish is distinctly textured, making this distinctly small camera less slippery in your hand than most of its peers. The silver version, in contrast, is noticeably smoother. The XQ1 will go on sale in November 2013, at a suggested retail price of $499 / £349.99.

Sensor sizes compared

The diagram below compares the size of the XQ1'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 (rather more expensive) Sony RX100 (II), but it's about half as large again as the Canon S120's.

The XQ1's 2/3" sensor is half the area of the Sony RX100 II's 1" sensor, but about 50% larger than the Canon S120's 1/1.7" sensor.

Variation of maximum aperture with focal length

The XQ1's headline maximum aperture of F1.8 only applies at wide-angle, and like the Canon S120 and Sony RX100, the lens is much slower at the telephoto end. The table below shows the maximum aperture at each of the focal lengths on the on-screen virtual 'zoom ring' (as 35mm equivalents):

Equiv Focal Length
Max aperture

One point worthy of note here is how rapidly the maximum aperture diminishes as you zoom in; it's dropped by fully two stops at 35mm (equivalent). Other similar cameras tend to keep their maximum apertures faster in this intermediate range.

Enthusiast compacts: lenses, sensors and background blur

One real complication when comparing cameras with different sensor sizes is due to the interplay between sensor size and maximum aperture. A camera with a large sensor, but relatively small aperture lens may not necessarily outperform a camera with a smaller sensor but larger aperture lens, particularly with regard to low light performance and the ability to blur backgrounds - something often claimed in manufacturers' marketing materials.

One way of addressing this is to compare 'equivalent' apertures. In much the same way as equivalent focal lengths can be used to directly compare angle of view, equivalent apertures can be used to compare the lens's ability to blur backgrounds in any given shooting situation (a larger aperture will blur backgrounds more, at any given focal length). They can also be used as an indicator of how cameras are likely to compare in terms of low-light image quality, although plenty of other factors complicate this too (including lens quality, image stabilization effectiveness, and image processing, etc). In the graph below, the lower the line, the better the camera is likely to be for low-light image quality and blurring backgrounds, at any given equivalent focal length.

The XQ1 is shown by the darker of the two green lines on this graph. In this comparison it's ahead of the Canon S120 (orange), although not by all that much, but it's distinctly behind the Sony RX100 (dark blue). But its relatively small maximum aperture means that overall it also lags behind compact cameras with lenses which are consistently fast through the range, such the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7. In essence this is a consequence of its truly pocketable design.