Fujifilm X-30: Small But Powerful Enthusiast P&S. Can it keep up with the competition? Does it have to?
When I first heard about the new X-30, I was a bit hesitant. Did I want to review it? When I finally got my hands on it, I liked it immediately. It wasn’t about image size or if it had an optical or electronic viewfinder. It was about how it felt in my hands. This camera makes you want to shoot with it, period. It feels like a compact X-100 series camera with a zoom. It’s solid build quality and ergonomics makes me want to run out and start taking pictures immediately.
There has been much talk about the smallish 2/3″ sensor that is no longer considered large compared to the 1/1.7″ sensor that was the previous standard in most enthusiast point-and-shoot cameras. Canon and Sony have 1″ sensors, and now Panasonic has leap-frogged everyone by going M43 with the latest LX100. Can the X-30 keep up in this very competitive enthusiast market? Does it have to? Let’s take a look and see what this camera can do…
Let’s start by going over the PRO’s and CON’s with the X-30. Although there’s lots to like about the 3rd generation X compact camera, the sensor size will be the biggest issue that most enthusiasts will have. I know because I was one of them. OK, let’s start:
-solid build quality (although the camera is no longer made in Japan. Made in China)
-well balanced ergonomics according to the size of camera. Well-placed and solid buttons and dials
-very nice EVF (class leading. Better than the RX-100 mrk III and Panasonic LX-100)
-high resolution articulating screen (although I found I used the EVF more for street photos)
-manual zoom improves speed, accuracy (no step zoom), and saves on battery life
-larger NP-95 battery for 400+ shots per charge (same battery as the X-100 series)
-improved menus and functions. Customize Q-button icons. More custom functions added
-wireless controller and ad hoc wifi transfer. Perfect for social media-grammers
-no buttons on left side of LCD screen! Major functions accessible with right hand
-additional control ring behind the zoom ring. Easily customizable as well
-no image quality improvements (exact same sensor and processor from X-20)
-2/3″ sensor now considered small compared to competition
-high quality lens cap (same style as X-100) but difficult to store while shooting
-on/off switch should not be built onto the zoom ring. It should be near shutter button
As you can see, overall I really liked shooting with the X-30. The only real gripe I had was with the on/off switch. The sensor size is really a personal choice. I didn’t find the resolution too low for what I was using it for, and actually prefer smaller sensors for street photography because of the advantage of gaining extra depth of field (more in-focus images).
The camera is not pocketable, but just big enough for an enthusiast to take it everywhere without feeling the weight. It’s not so small that buttons and functions are becoming difficult to execute (think Canon S120), but not so big that you feel you’re dragging around a brick all day (think Canon 5D). Coupled with a smartphone or a tablet, the X-30 can take high resolution images that’s more than enough for all those Instagrammers, bloggers, journalists, etc. We’ll get into image quality a bit later, but let’s look at some of the features that make this camera worth your consideration.
Is the EVF on the X-30 going to blow you away? Nope. However, for a $599 USD camera, it’s better than all of its competition, including cameras that are approaching the $1000 price point. The refresh rate is decent, low light performance is above average, it has a built in diopter and eye sensor. It also includes focus peaking (white, red, blue) and the super cool vertical info feature that first appeared on the Fujifilm X-T1 (I demonstrate this on my quick review video here). I actually liked the optical viewfinder (OVF) of the X-10/X-20, but I like the electronic viewfinder (EVF) better (and I’m an OVF fan!). I liked it so much that I rarely used the LCD. Maybe it’s because it works well with the manual zoom, or maybe because it reminded me of using the larger X-series cameras. This leads to the other feature I really like about the X-30: the operating software and functions
OS and Functions: the best
I’ll say it: the X-30 is the best functioning Fujifilm X series camera. It felt like a combination of the X-T1, X-E2 and the X-100S into a single, compact camera, and still had improved upon features. The X-30 can:
-customize the Q-button icons in menu mode (first X series to have this)
-vertical EVF info mode, focus peaking (red, blue, white)
-21 custom function button options, including flash exp comp ( X-T1 only has 17)
-no buttons on left side of LCD and shifting the DRIVE button within reach of your thumb
-rear dial with push-button input feature and front button and front dial around lens barrel for quicker access to menu items and features (superior to X-100S, X-E2, X-T1
-full wifi controller (same as X-T1, but superior to X-E2’s viewer only)
Since I’ve recently reviewed the X-T1, X-E2 and the X-100S, I can say that the X-30 is the most functional and refined OS X-series camera to date. Yes, much of the updates can be a firmware update to the rest of the cameras, and most of these features are also available on the soon-to-be-released X-100T; but the X-30 is the most advanced and matured X-series camera to date… but also with the smallest sensor! Ok, we’ll talk about that later. Let’s just say that if you’re a Fujifilm X-series shooter, you will be delighted shooting with the X-30. It’s everything the X-100S should have been, and everything that the X-T1 will have in the next firmware update. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that shooting blind, the X-30 buttons and layout feels better than the X-T1 (flush buttons) or the X-100S (weird rotating wheel on back). It’s equal to the X-E2 in feel, but the button layout and the menus are superior on the X-30.
Other ‘KAIZEN’ Updates: small but significant
A bigger battery and a higher resolution and articulating screen isn’t going to change the world, but often it’s the small things that makes a camera great. The X-30 now uses the NP 95 battery, the same as the X-100 series. The X-30 has a new 3″ 920K LCD screen, versus the old X-20 (and X-100S) 2.8″ 460K screen. The addition of the control ring, focus peaking, more film filters (Classic Chrome), and more customization isn’t going to blow people’s minds like Sony’s super innovative pop-up EVF on the new RX-100 mrk III. Sony wows people with innovation every time they come out with a new camera, and that’s ok. Fuji rarely does (except when the X-100 and X-T1 were first released). They believe in the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, or smaller, incremental improvements. That’s what the X-30 is, an incremental upgrade to the X-20. Should it have been called the X-20S? Probably not, because the addition of the EVF and articulating LCD screen merits a generation jump. However, because of this one nagging issue, I can see why some were disappointed with this camera. Yes, the sensor.
2/3″ Sensor: too small?
Can the 2/3″ sensor be considered too small in the enthusiast compact camera market? Yes and no. When I first started the review, I thought this would be a big deal for me. It wasn’t. If you’re spending $700+, then most expect a larger sensor, such as the Sony RX-100, Canon G7 X, Panasonic LX100. If you’re spending less than $500, then the 1/1.7″ CMOS sensor is still good enough, such as the Canon S120 and G16, Panasonic LF1 and LX-7, Nikon P340 and P780.
The Fujifilm X-30 is unique in the marketplace with the 2/3″ CMOS sensor. I don’t think there’s another current model that uses this size sensor, although this was a very popular size 8 -10 years ago. In terms of size, it’s between the 1/1.7″ and the 1″ (here’s a size comparison), and in terms of price it is also right in the middle ($300-500 for the 1/1.7″ sensored cameras, and $700-800 for the latest 1″ sensored cameras). The price for the X-30 is very fair for what you get within the scope of the market place. The image quality is also competent, especially with Fuji’s unique X-trans sensor and really unique film simulation jpegs.
Is the image quality good enough for an enthusiast? If you’re all about sensor size and top resolution, then the answer is no. Go and buy a full frame Sony A7 series camera, which many pixel peeping nerds have done (I haven’t… yet). If you’re about a balance of image quality, ergonomics and functions, pricing and style (yes, how a camera looks and feels motivates and inspires us to shoot), then the X-30 is a great balance. If your images aren’t going to be blown up beyond 11 x 14, or you’re not a working pro with certain client needs (although even then, I argue that most clients don’t know what they need), then the X-30 works. I would say that even smartphone cameras with 1/3.2″ sensors (4.54mm x 3.42mm= 15.53mm square) can take amazing pictures, even for commercial work (I have done commercial work using only my iPhone 5S).
I do wish that Fuji did at least tweak the sensor a bit (better high iso performance) or the processor (faster RAW processing), but my guess is that this is the last iteration of this lens-sensor combo. The next X-40 camera will most likely have a 1″ X-trans sensor (they can’t just buy Sony’s sensor like Canon did), which means a new matching lens.
CLASSIC CHROME and FILM FILTERS: digital film
For those of us that actually shot professionally in the film days (for me it was the 1990’s), we became very aware of how certain films looked for whatever application we were using it for. For me, weddings was Kodak Portra 160 and 400NC, sports was Fuji Superia 800, nature was Fujifilm Velvia, and travel was Kodachrome 64. For print film, even the paper that it was printed on made a difference on how the image looked. It was this combination of film and paper (and the photo machine operator or darkroom artist) that decided how the final image looked like. The photographer had very little say on how much contrast, saturation or any type of filtration-look that the final image had. The manufacturer and the photo lab made most of these decisions for us.
When photographers today talk about shooting without filters, or shooting pure images without any post processing, I think they are applying an old philosophy that is out of place in modern photography. If you shoot RAW, you’re always modifying the final output of the image. As well, JPEGS are modern day equivalent to film, with predetermined contrast, saturation, colour balance, etc. For some, to modify it means that you’re somehow breaking some unwritten rule of not altering the manufacturer’s suggested look. I think that’s just silly.
With modern digital photography, the power is in our hands to create our own film, our own look, our own style. I think JPEGS and post-processing is the greatest tool that has been given to the modern photographer, and Fujifilm is leading the pack with film simulation JPEGS. Classic Chrome mimics the look of the Kodakchrome, which wasn’t a true slide film (E-6), but a black and white positive film with colour dyes added. I loved shooting Kodachrome (and so did famous local street photographer Fred Herzog) and shooting the Fujifilm JPEG Classic Chrome brought back great memories. No it’s not exactly like Kodachrome, but shooting in the rain or on a cloudy day, I loved the way it muted the shadow areas and cast a grey look to the overall image while still maintaining a decent colour punch (especially yellows and reds). The beauty of shooting digital film is that we’re not stuck in a single ISO. I can shoot Classic Chrome from ISO 100 to a usable 1600, and same as Velvia (it was an ISO 50 slide film back in the day).
For the sake of this review, I was shooting in film simulation bracketing mode (Provia, Classic Chrome, Monochrome), although this mode does not allow you to shoot RAW at the same time. Too bad. I like Fuji’s JPEGs, and find it difficult to take advantage of RAW while still maintaining a certain film simulation look at the same time.
CONCLUSION: a worthy compact enthusiast camera
I’ve had the Fujifilm X-30 for almost a month. Like most of my review cameras, I spend more time shooting than most reviewers, who often have it for just a few days, or sometimes hours (with pre-release cameras). I really get to see how a camera performs after multiple battery charges, multiple memory cards, different situations and lighting conditions. As a camera nerd, I always have a camera with me, even if I’m just going to the grocery store. The X-30 is a weird size camera in that it’s not an EDC (every day carry) for me. I like more compact cameras like the Ricoh GR series, the Canon S series, or even my iPhone.
However, if I need a powerful-enough camera for work (real estate agent, media photographer, blogger, insurance, etc.) and need a fast zoom (it’s still f/2.2 at 50mm equiv), and need ad hoc wifi connection, the X-30 has it all. In fact, for my social media commercial work, this camera is perfect. I can easily shoot high quality jpegs or RAW images, I have a decent range of focal lengths, and it connects easily and quickly to my smartphone.
If you’re already a Fujifilm X-series shooter, but you want a light-weight backup to your ILC (interchangeable lens camera), the X-30 is very intuitive. You can shoot this camera with your eyes closed. It feels like what the X-100S should operate, but smaller, lighter, and with a zoom lens. At this point, the X-30 is actually a more powerful and functional camera than the X-100S except for the sensor size. In fact, this camera has one up on every Fuji camera previous to it. This is what Fuji is counting on to win the hearts of existing X-series photographers. The X-trans sensor has a unique look, and even your post processing workflow will be very similar to your other X-trans equipped cameras. Again, this is an easy choice for existing Fujifilm shooters as a small backup camera.
How about if you already own an X-E2 or X-T1, but now you want a compact camera and are looking at the bigger sensored rivals (Sony RX-100, Canon G7X, Panasonic LX100, etc.)? Why consider the 2/3″ sensored X-30? There’s more to a camera than sensor size. Have you played with the Sony menu’s before? Have you seen Canon’s oversaturated jpegs? You know both the Sony RX-100 mrk III and Canon’s G7X don’t have a hotshoe right? Have you held these cameras in your hand? They are solid, but they’re very tiny and ergonomics are a bit odd. It’s fine as a point and shoot, but there’s no meat to these cameras.
I’m not picking a fight with these other great compact enthusiast cameras. Everyone knows I love shooting with my Ricoh GR-D IV and I loved my Panasonic LX-3. Each brand has strengths and weaknesses. All I’m saying is that it can’t just be about sensor size. If it was, why is the Olympus OM-D EM5 and EM1 with a tiny M43 sensor doing so well against the Sony A7 series with full-frame sensors? If it was about sensor size, shouldn’t any M43 or APS-C sensor camera be considered inferior?
Another point: have you seen the second hand price of the older Ricoh GR-D IV? This tiny sensored camera (1/1.7″ CCD) has become a cult classic among street photographers because of its great ergonomics, functions, customization and amazingly film-like monochrome JPEGS. In fact, I still get lots of hits on this review even now, and people are always asking me if I want to sell it. The answer is no! At the same time, what’s happened to the Canon G1X mrk I and it’s huge 1.5″ sensor (bigger than M43)? I reviewed it. Amazing and huge files, but it couldn’t rely on just image and sensor size to win over the enthusiasts. Sensor size isn’t everything.
The Fujifilm X-10 and X-20 hava become cult cameras in its own right, not unlike the Ricoh GR series. Is the X-30 a worthy successor to the X-20? A definite yes. The overall improvements are great, even though the sensor and lens is exactly the same. If you have an X-10 or the X-20, is it worth the upgrade? If you’re looking for an image quality upgrade, then the answer is no. It’s exactly the same (slight difference with the X-10 and the first gen X-trans sensor and processor). However, if you’re looking for a refinement in operation, functions, ergonomics, and a class leading EVF, then this camera is worth considering.
If you don’t already have a compact camera companion to your larger system camera, or are thinking of upgrading your older camera, is the X-30 a good investment? Depends on what you’re looking for, but I would say that the price is fair for what you get in terms of image resolution and features. It also has a class leading EVF, ergonomics and functions, a fast and high quality lens, and fully loaded with features, many of which I didn’t review (panoramic modes, portrait with soft background, toy filters, full 1080 HD @ 60fps, etc.). I would recommend to go down to your nearest camera shop and play with it in your hands. I am a strong believer in ergonomics. If you don’t like holding it, you probably won’t shoot with it. You can stare at specs all day and order online from B&H or Amazon without actually playing with it. I’ve known guys (yes, it’s usually us nerdy guys who only focus on specs and not ergonomics) who order a Canon 5D or Nikon DF, only to return it after realizing they don’t like the shooting ‘feel’ (usually upgrading from a smaller sensor camera).
My final thoughts on the X-30? It’s in an odd spot in the market. It’s not fun being in the middle of the pack, in terms of price and sensor size. Will those who don’t mind the smaller 1/1.7″ stretch their budget to get the X-30? Will those who don’t mind spending $800-1000 lower their sensor size expectations to get a better handling camera? As I mentioned in my video, if the sales on the X-30 is slower than expected, I recommend to Fuji that they throw in the lens hood and filter adaptor, and perhaps even bundle it with the super awesome EF-X20 flash. Everything about the camera is great, and my only real complaint (sensor size was a concern, not a complaint) is the on/off switch on the zoom barrel. It’s not even a real switch anyway. You can hit the play button on the X-30 and you can preview images, and also connect to the wireless controller software while in this mode. What happens next? If you go to shooting mode (with the zoom barrel at the off position), you can actually see through the lens, albeit out of focus. So the on/off switch isn’t real. I know this because I have the new Fujifilm X-100T with me and guess what? You can’t press the play button to turn on the camera when the main on/off switch is in the off mode. That’s a real switch.
As mentioned in my video review (more than once), the on/off switch on the X-30 should be like all the other X series cameras and have it around the shutter button. This is the most logical spot. The main advantage for this is because of the manual zoom lens on the X-30. I like shooting at 35mm or 50 while on the street. Unlike all of its other competition, the X-30 can be manually left at any particular focal length. If the on/off switch wasn’t attached to the zoom barrel, you can even turn the X-30 off and leave the zoom at any given focal length. Then, when you’re ready to shoot, turn on the camera, and it’s already sitting and waiting at your preferred focal length. This also allows you to turn the camera on/off with just your right hand, no need to use your left hand. This two handed on/off is irritating, especially when shooting in the rain, or if you have your hands full (maybe take-out food or a bag of groceries!). Another small complaint is the high quality all aluminum lens cap, similar to the one of the X-100 series. It feels nice, but it’s hard to store while shooting. If you put it in your pocket with your smart phone, you risk scratching the phone’s screen. If you store it with your keys, your keys will scratch the metal. If you put it in your back pocket and sit on it by accident, your bum hurts (I’ve done this many times). There’s no place to store the lens cap! I just left it at home. Buy the lens hood with the built in 52mm filter thread, and buy a regular plastic lens cap. Easy to store, stays on secure, and it’s cheap to replace if lost or broken.
My conclusion is that the X-30 has a quirky place in the market place, but it has its place. We’ll see how the holiday shopping season plays out, especially with Canon’s G7X and Panasonic’s LX100. I think even Sony is probably worried about these two cameras, as the RX100 mrk III sits right in the middle of the price range of these two very competent cameras. Fuji is at the very bottom of the ‘larger’ sensored cameras, although I argue it has the best ergonomics and unique features (manual zoom, hot shoe, long batter life). I had a good time shooting with it, and if you’re an X-10 or X-20 user, you’ll love the upgrades. If you’re a Fuji X shooter, you’ll also love the familiarity of the controls and menus, but also the refined operation over every other X series camera (except the X-100T) at this time.
Check out my full video review on the X-30 on YouTube as well, and let me know if you have any questions or comments below. I currently have the new X-100T and so far so good. Feels a lot like the X-30, minus the zoom lens! A first impressions video and post is coming shortly. Happy shooting!