A few days ago, one of the minor review sites was linked from the Fuji Talk Forum and a discussion broke out about their rather harsh indictment of the XQ1’s AF. They said that it missed focus all the time, thus rendering a good camera unreliable (I’m paraphrasing.)
I commented that I had not seen that in my hundreds of images so far, and I hadn’t. But I had been in well lit scenes and I instinctively go for contrasty subjects. I am also comfortable with focus and reframe as a technique.
So today, I decided to play with the camera and scanned around a dark room for a while, trying to focus on items I saw. A patch on a wall, a canvas surface, a nylon camera bag. Whenever I pointed at a surface, even one with features like a seam, the camera failed. Even with the AF illuminator on, it failed and failed in AFS mode. I had to find a spot that had real contrast (not just a feature with subtle contrast) and then it focused just fine.
Contrast that to the F770EXR. It focused on everything in the room with no effort. And faster to boot. The AF illuminator is brighter, but that’s not the whole story. You can hear the focus mechanism at work and it is simply faster and more accurate.
My final test was to switch AF modes from single to multi. In Multi mode, the camera searches for a feature near the center of the frame on which it knows it can focus. And that worked just fine. It found a feature that worked 9 times out of 10. And interestingly, sometimes it chose a surface that it had failed to focus on in AFS mode but snapped into focus with no issues in AF Multi mode. Go figure …
I’ve often thought that Fuji’s firmware team was inferior in a lot of ways. They manage to make their excellent EXR cameras extremely difficult to operate without guidance (which I have provided here in lieu of simple menus.) But more importantly, the different lines of compact cameras have very different capabilities and features. While the XQ1 has brilliant menus for tweaking settings (every setting can be tweaked so JPEG becomes very viable as an output format), it seems that the firmware guys did a mediocre job of the AF system when they had an excellent AF system available from the F series. This is unacceptable and if I ran that team I would be pushing them to always build using their best algorithms.
Anyway … the issue is real, but is easily worked around. In walkabout scenarios, I never see it. But when in low light, you do have to be careful to use focus reframe if you want to shoot AFS, or just switch to AF Multi and allow the camera to pick something to focus on.