These days, a lot of people just take photos with their cellphones or iPads when they travel. But to my mind, if you really want to bring back a gallery of great-looking pictures, it still pays to bring a real camera. On my recent trip to Europe, I took along both an SLR camera and a very capable compact, the Fujifilm XQ2.
The XQ2 is the newest entry in the Fujifilm X line, which combines retro looks with cutting-edge technology. And it delivers a lot of photo quality and some sophisticated features in a body small enough to fit into a shirt pocket. It’s a camera that’s simple enough for a casual user, but capable enough for an experienced shooter.
At first glance, the XQ2 resembles a mini version of a vintage Leica rangefinder camera – it comes in a black-and-silver version, too, and you can even get a leather case to give it a classic retro look. It’s small but not tiny, and its body is deep enough to get a good grip on, aided by a little moulded thumb pad on the back. There’s a little pop-up flash, as well.
The camera has a bright three-inch monitor. And the controls look pretty standard for a compact of this type: a settings dial on top, plus a rotating control ring on the back, along with four buttons. But one of those, the E-fn or “function” button, controls one of the camera’s special features: a ring around the lens that lets you manually adjust a chosen setting. Using the function button, you can choose from a comprehensive list of settings, from exposure compensation to white balance.
The XQ2 also has a good set of manual controls, a boon for experienced photographers. You can shoot using aperture or shutter-speed priority, or go to full manual control, using the rear control ring to change the settings. They’re shown in a nice graph across the bottom of the monitor.
On the other hand, the camera also has a very capable Auto mode, plus “Advanced SR Auto”, which chooses the scene mode that best suits the shooting conditions. You could happily use those modes your whole trip and come back with some great shots.
You’d expect the XQ2 to have something serious inside. And it does, with a 12-megapixel, 2/3-inch X-Trans CMOS-type image sensor. That’s substantially bigger than the sensor in most compact cameras, and even though 12 megapixels isn’t a sky-high number, you’re getting bigger pixels on a bigger sensor — a recipe for good photos.
There’s also a 4X optical zoom lens, with a range equivalent to 25–100 mm. I’d prefer a little more zoom, but that’s adequate for everyday shooting. And the lens has a big maximum aperture of f1.8, so you can easily shoot in low light without using the flash. As well, there’s a very capable image stabilization system to prevent blurry shots if you have shaky hands.
Finally, the XQ2 has a lot of special effects, from 14 scene modes to eight creative filters to Fuji’s proprietary film modes, which let you recapture the look of the acclaimed Fuji films. As well, it will shoot in the high-quality RAW mode, and process the photos in-camera. And there’s wireless transfer to your phone or computer.
Shooting with the Fuji XQ2
I used the XQ2 as my “handy cam” on my European trip, and it was handy indeed. It started up quickly – important when a good shot appears unexpectedly. And it got a focus smartly in almost every kind of lighting: Fuji claims it has the world’s fastest focus engine. Even shooting out of bus windows, the camera came up with good shots most of the time.
No exposure system is perfect, but the XQ2’s handled most situations pretty well, and where it didn’t, I could use the camera’s high dynamic range (HDR) mode, which helped make sense of high-contrast scenes. Or, I could use the manual modes and choose the settings that worked best.
Like most compact cameras, the XQ2 tended to use slow shutter speeds when the light got very low. Switching to shutter priority mode let me choose a higher speed to keep things crisp. However, even in Auto mode, I found the image stabilization feature let me get sharp shots if I took care to hold the camera steady, as in this shot of the city hall in Tours, France.
The movie mode worked well in good light, though I found the little video button hard to find and engage. As well, there was a little delay before it started shooting, and in very low light the camera sometimes struggled to get the right exposure and hold the focus.
Looking at the photos
I was pleased with the quality of the photos the Fuji XQ2 turned out. Most were well-exposed and sharp-looking. Viewed full size, there was some grainy-looking “noise” in low-light photos, but it was well controlled and not intrusive. Overall, the pictures looked great at regular size — good enough for an 11X14 print, and likely larger ones too.
To let you see the XQ2’s true photo quality, I’ve posted all the pictures in this review at full size, except for the feature photo at top. Just click on the pictures and expand to see them as they came out of the camera .
I got very few missed focuses with the XQ2, and only a few real under- or overexposures. The camera even did a nice job in some difficult mixed-light situations, like this restaurant in Paris’ Latin Quarter.
After returning home, I decided to give the camera a real low-light tryout, so I took it to a local park after dark and pushed the ISO sensitivity up to a lofty 2000. Here’s the result: much better than I’d expected. There’s grainy-looking noise, as expected, but overall, the picture hangs together surprisingly well.
I’m not a big fan of special effects, but they were fun to play around with: here’s a shot taken in the Old Town Square in Prague using the dynamic tone filter.
Finally, if you want to see what the XQ2 can do in movie mode, take a look at my video of the Viking Odin, which I included in my recent review of the ship.
The Fuji XQ2 is a very capable camera, which can turn out great-looking shots in just about any situation. It’s compact enough to carry wherever you go, but not so small that it’s hard to handle. And with its high photo quality and manual controls, it’s a camera you can grow with, even if you start out using only the Auto modes.
That said, if you’re going to use the advanced features, there’s a bit of learning to do: the camera’s menus contain a long list of customizable settings, some of which work only in manual modes, and it’s easy to get a little confused.
As well, while I found the video mode worked just fine in good light, it did let me down now and then when I pushed its capabilities. And tiny, sunken video buttons are becoming a pet peeve of mine.
Overall, though, I’d recommend the XQ2 as a walk-around camera for both casual and serious photographers. It’s not the cheapest camera on the shelf, but it’s not expensive either, and you certainly get a lot for your money.