Guest post written and illustrated by Ned Bunnell
I was intrigued when Fujifilm announced the X70 in January. The press release touted it as a premium fixed-lens compact camera. Design wise, clearly it’s the baby brother to the X100T. However, its specs indicate the X70’s primary mission is to compete with the Ricoh GR II. Having shot almost exclusively with the GR and GR II for the past three years, as well as shooting film several times a year with the GR-1v, you could say I’m a devotee of Ricoh’s compact camera design philosophy. Knowing this, Tony Rose of Popflash Photo loaned me one of his first X70’s and asked me to see how the X70 compared with the GR. After shooting with the X70 for two months, I have a few thoughts about the X70 as a GR competitor and why Fujifilm entered this niche market.
Both cameras use a 16.3 MP APS-C sensor and a 28mm equivalent ƒ/2.8 lens using seven elements in five groups. Fujifilm dropped the hybrid viewfinder used in the X100T but added a tilting touchscreen to the X70. Knowing that some users might miss having a viewfinder, Fujifilm offers a VF-X21 optical viewfinder that looks like a clone of the Ricoh GV-1 (see above), and they both have framelines for 21 and 28mm. Ricoh sells a .75 wide angle converter lens* that increases the GR’s field of view to 21mm. Although I have not seen any announcements from Fujifilm, it’s likely they’ll offer a similar converter lens. There’s already a setting in the X70 to select "wide conversion lens."
Coincidence that the sensor size, lens FOV and optical accessories of both cameras are similar? I think not. By offering a very similar camera system with a tilting touchscreen (which is quite responsive and accurate in selecting focus points) Fujifilm is likely to sway potential customers to buy the X70 versus the GR II which is looking a little dated these days.
Fujifilm reduced the body of the X100T to create a smaller, almost pocketable camera. Like the X100 series, the X70 is a beautifully built camera adorned with retro looking buttons. Many say the X100 and now the X70 look similar to the classic rangefinder camera. After comparing the black X70 to my Leica M4, a classic film camera introduced in 1968 (above), it’s clear Fujifilm did a great job matching the luxurious black paint of the early Leicas. Compared to the X70’s beautiful fit and finish, the GR is the epitome of minimalism. Void of any shiny buttons, housed in a matte black finish with a boxy shape, the GR is meant to be unobtrusive but highly functional.
The X70 is a bit thicker due to its fixed, non-retractable lens, whereas the GR is slightly wider to accommodate its array of controls and very secure thumb grip which occupy the right backside of the camera. In reducing the size of the X100T and needing to use a bigger frame to hold the LCD, Fujifilm had less space to lay out the buttons and controls. The body feels a little crowded especially on the back of the camera, which in my opinion hurts the handling and ergonomics of the X70.
Compared to the X70, the GR makes one-hand operation intuitive and comfortable. The GR’s controls and extensive customization options allow you to assign your most used settings so they’re within fingertip reach, and you never have to raise the camera or move your hands between shots.
Having always shot in raw, I was pleasantly surprised by Fujifilm’s out-of-camera (OOC) JPEG film simulations. While not as accurate as what I get from shooting DNGs with the GR or even the X70’s own raw files, the X70 JPEGs exhibit film-like colors, good tones, and nice contrast. However, if you dig a little deeper into the X70 JPEGs you will notice smearing in subtle details even at ISO 800. Note: you can't control noise reduction with the X70’s X-Trans filter, versus the GR, which has no AA filter and lets you turn NR off if desired. Technically, the GR produces more detailed images than the X70. But it might not matter in this rapidly changing photography world.
As part of testing the X70, I posted images on Instagram from my iPhone using unedited OOC JPEGs. Folks don’t notice the X70’s image smearing but they immediately like the color and saturation. Many photographers today don’t do any desktop image processing, never shoot in raw, and are more interested in easily transferring images from camera to phone. Therefore, the X70’s film simulations, which are ready to upload and post on social media, could actually be more important to a prospective buyer than the GR’s superior files and better ergonomics.
(While I’m impressed with the X70 colors, I prefer the detailed, full range images I can process from my GR. The GR's raw files are extremely malleable; I can pull out more detail from the shadows, and the conversions to B&W from GR files are excellent. And while I’ve read claims that the X70 is better at high ISOs, my tests at night using a tripod at ISO 3200 indicate the GR has more detail and better contrast and shadow definition vs. the X70 image, which is noticeably smeared and lacks detail. If I put the X70’s pleasing OOC color aside, both raw and JPEGs from the GR have more bite or detail—but you’ll have to use Photoshop or Lightroom to process your images.)
Am I going to abandon my GR for the X70? Not a chance, as the GR’s image structure and ergonomics suit my style of photography perfectly. However, since they’re both very capable and enjoyable cameras to use, when asked via direct message on Instagram how I netted out the cameras, my reply was "one has a beautiful body, and the other would suit a ninja warrior."
Quite a few folks on the gear forums have asked "why" the X70? The 28mm fixed lens APS-C camera market is a niche. Nikon put their toe in these waters a few years ago with the Coolpix A, but it was discontinued in less than two years. Ricoh sells the majority of GRs in the Japanese market, where it has developed a cult-like following. I’m sure one of Fujifilm’s goals with the X70 is to keep its loyal X-series customers in the fold, even if those customers want a compact, street-shooter style camera.
I’m actually hoping the X70 does well. It might prompt Ricoh to respond with a strong GR III offering, since they disappointed many loyal users with a rather meager upgrade from the GR to the GR II. Competition, even in a niche market, is a good thing.
*Note that to use the conversion lens, you also need an adapter.
Ned Bunnell is an avid photographer with an eye for people, places and classic cars. He retired as president of Pentax US (Ricoh Imaging) four years ago. You can follow him at Instagram.
©2016 by Ned Bunnell, all rights reserved
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Featured Comments from:
Ken Ford: "Very nice review! I was initially interested in the X70 until I realized it did not have an internal finder—that killed it for me. Shoe-mount OVFs are a poor substitute for a built-in VF of any kind."
KeithB: "While the intended meaning of the statement 'If I put the X70’s pleasing OOC color aside, both raw and JPEGs from the GR have more bite or detail—but you’ll have to use Photoshop or Lightroom to process your images' is completely understandable in context of the article, experienced Fuji X users often advise using Photo Ninja, Iridient Developer, Capture One, or other raw converters for Fuji X files. This is especially relevant since the review makes mention of 'color smearing' and image detail in general, which the Adobe ACR raw converter is known to have problems with when processing Fuji X files."