Fujifilm X30 Field Test

Fujifilm's retro compact gets modern features, keeps great image quality

by Jeremy Gray | Posted: 12/23/2014

13.2mm (52mm eq.), 1/750s, ISO 100, f/8, +0.3 EV, Auto WB, Provia/Standard Film Simulation

Introduction

The Fujifilm X30 shares many specifications with the X20, yet introduces numerous improvements. The X30 comes with built-in Wi-Fi, a larger tilting display, an electronic viewfinder, and improved battery life. While these features may not impact image quality, they certainly enhance the way you shoot with the X30.

Body and Handling

With its retro-inspired styling, the X30 looks great. More importantly, the X30 felt comfortable in my hands. Despite being smaller than the cameras I typically shoot with, the X30 was easy to grip. There are small handgrips on both the front and back of the camera that are coated with a rough surface that made me feel like I always had a firm grasp on the camera. The X30 weighs in at just under a pound (14.9 ounces, or roughly 422 grams) and balances nicely with the fixed 28-112mm equivalent f/2-2.8 lens. I like that there are clear focal length markings on the lens at 28, 35, 50, 85, and 112mm. The lens has a cap that has a soft material on the interior that grips the lens to ensure that the cap doesn't accidentally come off. However, I was disappointed to find that I couldn't attach the lens cap to the camera body or strap when I was shooting.

The X30 has many customizable buttons that are generally well organized and easy to reach. The camera's power is controlled using the zoom ring on the lens. The camera typically turns on fairly quickly and there is a built-in resistance when zooming out that prevents you from rotating too far beyond 28mm and accidentally turning the camera off. Conveniently, you can actually view images without turning the camera on via the zoom ring by holding down the Playback button.

The mode and exposure compensation dials on the top of the camera are easy to read and have great tactile feedback and grip. The command dial and control ring both lack tactile feedback and this limits their usefulness for various applications. The only feedback that the control ring offers is an electronic clicking sound. You can customize the control ring such that it adjusts settings such as aperture, ISO, WB, and various other context-dependent settings. The control ring is still useful overall, but without tactile feedback, I struggled to use it to adjust settings with any precision while shooting out in the field. When using the camera in its nearly silent 'quiet mode,' the control ring unfortunately loses its only form of feedback.

Despite having never shot with a Fujifilm camera before, the menu and user interface system is simple and intuitive enough that I was able to quickly learn how to operate the camera and access all the relevant settings. The buttons and directional pad on the back of the camera are easy to reach and use when navigating the camera's menu system, although the right directional button (which also serves as a function button for the camera's flash) is a bit harder to manipulate as it is located adjacent to the grip on the back of the camera. I used the camera with thin winter gloves and was able to manipulate many basic controls, such as the top dials, but navigating menus with the directional pad proved quite difficult. However, given the camera's small size and large display, the camera's usability is quite impressive.

Overall, the camera handles well and there are numerous useful handling features on the X30. The control ring, while not perfect, still offers quick and customizable access to various features. Additionally, the Q button brings up a customizable menu on the camera's display. The only complaint I have about button placement on the X30 is that the movie record button is small and in my opinion located too close to the exposure compensation dial.

28.4mm (112mm eq.), 1/350s, ISO 100, f/2.8, +1 EV, Auto WB, Provia/Standard Film Simulation

New and Improved Features

Built-in Wi-Fi and Camera Remote app

The X30 has built-in Wi-Fi and is compatible with Fujifilm's Camera Remote app. To pair your phone with the camera, you have to press either the Wi-Fi (Fn) button on the back of the camera or access wireless connection options through the shooting menu. After selecting the camera as a Wi-Fi connection through my phone's settings, it was simple to connect to the X30 through the app. The app offers a lot of control over the camera, such as controlling shutter speed, aperture, ISO, film simulation mode, white balance, macro, flash mode, and the self-timer. The app is responsive, and there is minimal display lag with the live view stream. By tapping different areas on the screen, you can control where the camera focuses. Viewing and downloading captured images to my phone was easy and relatively quick for full-size files. You can also change the default download size to something more mobile-friendly, which makes downloading images remotely even faster. Overall, it's an impressive app that lets you control the camera's most important shooting options.

Display

Another important usability upgrade over the X20 is the X30's 3.0" tilting display, which has twice as many dots as the X20's non-tilting 2.8" display. The display is easy to move and has a good range, although it would be nice if the display tilted further down so that you could more easily use the camera when holding it up over your head. The display offers many customization options, including brightness, color balance, and even a sunlight viewing mode that makes the display brighter and easier to view in bright light. The X30 offers various live view display options, including a live histogram, a focus point grid, and various, useful shooting settings. Additionally, one of the live view display options gives you an electronic level and a few primary shooting settings displayed along the bottom.  

Electronic Viewfinder

The X30 has an excellent, large XGA OLED viewfinder with about 100% coverage. This camera is my first experience with EVFs, and it is by and large a great introduction to the advantages of these types of viewfinders. In most lighting conditions, the EVF is clear and easy to use, with only the dimmest lighting conditions causing problems. In low light situations, I do miss an optical viewfinder. Additionally, the EVF occasionally stutters, which was most obvious when I had locked focus but then wanted to reframe the image. Once focus was attained, moving the camera too quickly made the image on the EVF shift with a disorienting delay. However, in most instances, I did not encounter difficulties with the EVF.

Compared to an optical viewfinder, the EVF offers the convenient ability to get a live preview of settings such as various filters, exposure compensation, and contrast and saturation adjustments right through the viewfinder as you're shooting. For shooting with manual settings, it was useful to get an accurate preview of the scene and to see the image I just captured played back through the viewfinder. Another nice touch on the X30 is an eye sensor to the right of the viewfinder, which worked very well at detecting whether or not I was looking through it or if I was trying to use the camera's display to take an image. The X30 also has a useful built-in electronic level that appears through the EVF. Overall, the X30's EVF vastly exceeded my expectations.

Shooting with the X30

The X30 uses the same 12-megapixel 2/3” X-Trans CMOS II sensor as the X20. While some competing cameras have moved to a 1” sensor, the X30's sensor is still relatively large for its class. The X30 produces impressive JPEG files with rich colors, nice sharpness, and smooth tones. With a variety of film simulation modes and controls over image parameters such as saturation, contrast, highlight tones, shadow tones, and sharpness, it is easy to get high quality images straight from the camera. Less impressive, however, is how the X30 handles RAW files. The X30 cannot shoot RAW past ISO 3200, it cannot shoot panoramas in RAW, and it cannot shoot RAW files when in filter mode. However, in the many situations that the X30 can record RAW files, they proved to be high quality.   

7.1mm (28mm eq.), 1s, ISO 100, f/11, Auto WB, Provia/Standard Film Simulation, Manual Mode

Autofocus Performance

The X30 uses a hybrid AF system that uses both contrast and phase detection. I found the X30's autofocus to be quick and accurate in a wide variety of lighting situations. In good light, the X30 never missed a beat. I found that multi focus worked really well. Area autofocus was good too, although when I was trying to focus on an area that was relatively low contrast, the camera occasionally struggled to lock focus. That said, you can select among an impressive 49 different focus points across the entire sensor and can even control the size of the autofocus point. By pressing the center of the command dial, the camera zooms in on the focus point either through the EVF or on the camera's display, which is a useful option for getting critical focus. Regarding autofocus during burst shooting or fast motion, the X30 does a pretty good job of maintaining focus with subject tracking. It isn't a camera you could use to get consistently sharp images of high-speed subjects, though, but it works well for most situations and consistently produces sharp images.

The X30's autofocus performs well, even in difficult lighting conditions.
19.5mm (77mm eq.), 1/85s, ISO 100, f/2.8, Auto WB, Provia/Standard Film Simulation

Accurately focusing on close-up subjects is easy with the X30's Macro and Super Macro modes. Macro mode can be used at any focal length and allows a minimum focusing distance of 3.9 inches (9.9 centimeters) at 28mm eq. and 1.6 feet (48.8 centimeters) at 112mm eq. Super Macro mode is only available at maximum wide angle but allows the X30 to focus on a subject only 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) away from the lens. Autofocus is quick and accurate in both macro modes and the tilting display is helpful when doing macro work. The off-center tripod mount on the X30 can make tripod work a bit tricky, but it is still a perfectly usable camera on a tripod.

7.1mm (28mm eq.), 1/125s, ISO 640, f/2, Auto WB, Provia/Standard Film Simulation, Super Macro

The X30's Metering and Auto Modes

The X30 meters images consistently well, faltering only on rare occasions. When I was shooting snow, I used exposure compensation to whiten the snow. Other than that, the X30 delivered expected results. Similarly, the X30's auto white balance is consistently accurate. To deal with particularly difficult lighting situations, the X30 allows easy access to shadow and highlight tone adjustments to help balance out the exposure. Unfortunately, in bright lighting, using the X30 with a wide-open aperture can become problematic. The X30 is limited to a maximum 1/1000 of a second shutter speed when the aperture is wide open, and there's no built-in ND filter. With smaller apertures, you get faster shutter speeds up to 1/4000s.

Auto ISO works well with the X30. The camera consistently chose a reasonable ISO sensitivity and shutter speed given the ISO range I had chosen. I found myself using Auto-ISO 800, which means that the camera will shoot at any ISO up to 800. With the aperture wide open in aperture priority mode, this was often a suitable choice. The X30 has built-in optical stabilization, which worked well enough to allow me to shoot sharp images at shutter speeds I would normally consider too slow. There are also Auto-ISO options up to Auto-ISO 3200, which is useful when you might be shooting in particularly low light, although the sensor size prevents noise-free images above about ISO 800.

The X30's automatic SR+ mode works well at determining the type of subject you are shooting and intelligently applies different settings to enhance the subject.
9.3mm (37mm eq.), 1/200s, ISO 200, f/2.2, WB Auto, Film NA, SR+ Mode, DR 200%

The X30 features several fully automatic shooting modes. There is a programmable auto mode, which allows some user control while still ensuring correct exposure. There is also an advanced SR auto mode. This mode allows the camera to determine what type of scene you are shooting and make adjustments accordingly. For example, if the camera senses that you taking a landscape image, the camera will make image adjustments such that you have a sharper, more vivid landscape image. Or, if you are shooting and the camera is focusing closely, the camera will go into macro mode automatically. SR+ mode worked well and I could see it being particularly helpful when shooting different scenes in quick succession. The standard automatic shooting mode offers minimal control yet delivers consistently solid results without any scene recognition processing.

Shooting in Low Light

7.1mm (28mm eq.), 1/7s, ISO 800, f/2, WB Auto, Film NA, SR+ Mode, DR 200%
(This image has been edited. Click image above to view the original.)

Shooting in low light is no problem for the X30. The autofocus system and the sensor both deliver impressive results in low light situations. With acceptable files up to ISO 1600 and usable files up to ISO 3200, the X30 will serve most people well in any lighting situations. At around ISO 1600 you may observe some issues with false color and tonal transition becoming less smooth, and at ISO 3200 these issues can become more dramatic. Although autofocus can occasionally struggle to find the subject in very low light, the autofocus system surprised me with its ability to accurately focus in low light situations.   

The X30 has a built-in flash that will only be used when you manually trigger the flash to pop up from the top left section of the camera body. The flash has various settings, such as forced flash, suppressed flash, slow sync flash, and red eye reducing flash modes. The flash also has a "commander" mode for use with off-camera flashes, though it's very rudimentary and just disables pre-flash metering so that remote flash units can sync to the exposure. Thus, it's basically just a trigger, with no TTL autoexposure or output control over the remote flashes. The flash is powerful for its size but the X30 also has a hot shoe that will accept larger external flash units. With the various flash settings, you can achieve the desired lighting for a particular situation.

Overall, the X30 is impressive in low light in many ways. The autofocus system, the sensor itself, and the built-in flash all work well to produce a camera that can be confidently used in low light situations. While it is disappointing that RAW images can be only be captured up to ISO 3200, this is a minor issue with what is an otherwise great compact camera in low light.

The X30's built-in flash impressed me with its ability to balance out this night scene.
7.1mm (28mm eq.), 1/9s, ISO 1600, f/2.8, -0.3EV, Auto WB, Provia/Standard Film Simulation, Slow-Synchro Flash

Shooting Manually

The control ring on the X30 also doubles as a focus ring when the camera is set to manual focus. The control ring works well in this capacity and manually focusing with the X30 is easy. Twisting the control ring faster or slower impacts how much acceleration there is to focus adjustments. In other words, a slow rotation results in fine-grained, precise focusing whereas a quick, fast rotation results in a coarse, large focus adjustment. It's an intuitive and smooth experience. While shooting in manual mode, the EVF reflects what the scene looks like given the camera's current settings. There is a focus peaking that highlights sharp edges in the EVF so as to better display the part of a scene currently in focus.

Adjusting the shutter speed manually is achieved by using the command dial and if you hold the function button on the front of the camera, the command dial changes the aperture. The camera's accurate metering and instant feedback via the EVF allowed me to get the correct exposure in manual mode easily. Combined with the smooth focusing of the control ring, using the X30 in full manual mode is enjoyable. Of course, you can still let the camera's reliable autofocus system handle the focusing while you control the shutter speed and aperture manually.

Speed

7.1mm (28mm eq.), 1/150s, ISO 100, f/2.2, Auto WB, Provia/Standard Film Simulation

When shooting in JPEG, the X30 can capture around 15 or so images at about 12 frames per second. When shooting in RAW, the FPS is reduced to 9, which is still an impressive number. Beyond the buffer, the camera slows down but can still continue to capture images at a vastly reduced speed. Unfortunately, processing images, particularly RAW files, felt slow with the X30. Additionally, the camera was inconsistent in how quickly it would wake up from being idle, with it sometimes taking a few seconds to fully power back on. However, with the fast burst firing and good continuous autofocus capabilities of the X30, it is certainly an agile camera overall.

Film Simulation mode      

13.2mm (52mm eq.), 10s, ISO 320, f/11, Auto WB, B&W +Yellow Filter Film Simulation, Manual Mode

Film simulation mode provides numerous options that made shooting with the X30 more fun and allowed me to influence the final images in important ways right in the camera. I particularly enjoyed the different black and white filter options, and for color film simulation, the Velvia (Vivid) filter was my favorite. I shot with vivid a lot, especially when shooting colorful scenes. The X30 adds a new 'Classic Chrome' film simulation mode that softens colors and adds shadow contrast.

I particularly enjoyed shooting with Velvia/Vivid film simulation. This film simulation gives images a pleasing vibrancy straight out of the camera.
23.7mm (93mm eq.), 1/30s, ISO 160, f/2.8, Auto WB, Velvia/Vivid Film Simulation

Digital Filters

There are a lot of digital filter options, but many of them are unappealing for most images, however 'Miniature' and 'Pop' are interesting and produce nice results. High key and low key could also be useful in certain situations. Which of these filters are used is a matter of personal preference, and it's never a bad thing to give people more options. Unfortunately, you cannot capture RAW files when using the digital filters -- the Filter mode does not allow for RAW+JPEG capture either. It is also worth noting that the X30 cannot accept screw-on physical filters without an additional accessory ring. It would be nice if there were some form of a graduated neutral density filter that could be applied to images as you capture them to make up for the lack of a built-in graduated neutral density filter option.

7.1mm (28mm eq.), 1/640s, ISO 200, f/2, Auto WB, Miniature Filter

Shooting Video

The X30 can capture video up to 1080p and 60fps. Recording video with the X30 is as simple as hitting the 'record' button on the top of the camera. To capture video with autofocus, the camera has to be set to 'continuous focus' using the front dial. The video quality itself is fairly good, although the camera can be slow to make necessary exposure adjustments on the fly. The camera's overall operation is quiet when shooting video. There is also an external mic jack on the X30, which is yet another usability upgrade from the X20 which required a special USB multi-connector adapter to use an external mic. Still images can be captured while shooting video, but these stills are not high quality and are truly just snapshots. Overall, the camera records good quality video files.  

Fujifilm X30 Daytime Sample Video
1,920 x 1,080, H.264, Progressive, 60 fps, MOV
Download Original (183MB MOV)

Conclusion

What I like most:

  • Image quality at low ISOs is excellent
  • The selection of film simulation modes are excellent, particularly the black and white filters
  • Build quality, mode and exposure compensation dials, and overall button placement is very good
  • The EVF is excellent
  • Large tilting display is useful and sharp
  • Camera performs well in all regards when shooting in automatic modes
  • The buttons are highly customizable
  • Hybrid AF system is quick and accurate
  • Battery life rated for 470 shots compared to 270 shots for the X20

What I like less:

  • No RAW past ISO 3200
  • No RAW when using filters
  • Standard noise reduction can be excessive at times
  • EVF can be difficult to use in low light
  • No way to attach the lens cap to the camera body

What I do not like:

  • Top shutter speed is 1/1000s when aperture is wide open (and no built-in ND filter)
  • Lack of physical feedback on the control ring
7.1mm (28mm eq.), 1/125s, ISO 500, f/2.2, Highlight Tone +2, Shadow Tone -2, Auto WB, Velvia/Vivid Film Simulation
(This image has been edited. Click image above to view the original.)

Overall, the X30 is an impressive compact camera that captures high quality images. The camera works well on both basic and advanced levels, allowing anyone to easily capture great images while giving more advanced users plenty of control when they want it. The X30's new features make shooting with the camera enjoyable and easy, and in general the camera handles very well. The new EVF in particular is very impressive, and along with the new larger tilting display and built-in Wi-Fi, the X30 is fun to use out in the field. Additionally, the larger battery ensures you can shoot with the camera for long periods of time, which I certainly found myself wanting to do.




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