The Fujifilm XP30 is designed to handle extreme conditions -- water, dust, freezing temperatures, and general abuse won’t phase this little digital camera. That's nothing new, but the XP30 does have a new, hyped-up feature: GPS geo-tagging functionality, which records locations by latitude, longitude, and even the name of the city or town.
The XP30 follows Fujifilm’s inaugural rugged camera, the 12-megapixel XP10, and comes at the same time as the GPS-free XP20. The new models are more rugged than their predecessor, designed to go deeper in water and fall from greater heights than their predecessor. That's great, but of course, it still needs to take solid photos, and it would be nice if the GPS function worked as advertised, something that has apparently been quite challenging for camera manufacturers to pull off thus far. Read on to see if the XP30 succeeded.
Body & Design
The XP30 comes in a snazzy black, green or orange shell constructed of thin metal and plastic. The case looks good, but there isn’t much to grip -- if you’re diving underwater, you’ll want more than the wrist-strap to keep the XP30 from slipping away. It doesn’t feel as tough as the competition -- namely the armor-clad Olympus TG-810, the most durable camera available -- but it’s much lighter to carry around. At 0.9 inches thin, the XP30 isn’t as skinny as some of its competitors, but is certainly svelte enough to fit in a pocket.
Though it can apparently withstand depths of 16.5 feet, it was not snorkeling season in New England at the time of writing. But I dunked the camera in my sink and tub a few times and am happy to report that it still functioned properly. The pictures it took weren’t fabulous, but I’ll admit the subjects in my sink are of limited interest. I was nervous about the battery compartment door -- it sometimes popped open when I tried to close it, but it never opened underwater. The XP30 can also handle a drop from 4.9 feet; I handed the camera over, worry-free, to my one-year-old and its durability did not disappoint. It can operate in freezing temperatures down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Fujifilm XP30 is tagged as an all-weather model, but it isn’t invincible: As with any all-weather digital camera, the warranty comes with a laundry list of disclaimers. The XP30 is waterproof, but only if there aren’t strong currents in the water. It may be tough, but not tough enough to withstand salt water; a rinse and full dry-out is required after every dip in the sea. All of the care instructions are in the manual, and it’s worth a read-through for tips on keeping the body up to par (on that note, Fujifilm recommends replacing the camera’s internal rubber seals annually -- a job that they say can only be done in-house, of course).
Like its predecessor and sibling, the Fujifilm XP30 has a 5x optical zoom lens with an optical image-stabilization system. The lens has a 28mm wide-angle, a big improvement over the XP10’s 5x, 36mm wide-angle lens. Unfortunately, the XP30’s tiny lens has an f/3.9 maximum aperture that doesn’t allow much light to hit the image sensor. This is a common problem with rugged cameras and their tiny internal lenses, though: The $299 Olympus TG-610 has the same narrow maximum aperture on a similar 5x lens. The XP30’s lens, located in the upper-left corner of the front panel, is a finger-magnet, and fingerprints make the already-borderline images look splotchy.
On the back, the XP30 sports a run-of-the-mill 2.7-inch LCD screen with 230,000 pixels. The rest of the panel is peppered with small buttons that are standard to other FinePix cameras. The most important buttons are along the top: the power button is nicely recessed so that it doesn’t accidentally turn the camera on, the shutter release button is big and smooth, and the zoom tilter is so small and pointed that it just might break the skin on your finger.
Performance & User Experience
One of the first things I noticed about the XP30 was the audible noise it made when turned on. It makes a soft buzzing sound similar to the din of fluorescent lightbulbs. The lens makes more noise as it zooms in and out; this is more noticeable in movies. Add in the robotic-sounding auto focus and the XP30 has its own orchestra.
The Fujifilm XP30 won’t be known for its speed. It takes its time to start up (especially if the GPS is enabled), takes more time to take a picture, and seems a bit lazy in the continuous-drive mode. It can snap three shots at a pedestrian 0.8 frames per second, and then it takes a few seconds to write those to the memory card before snapping more. By then, the action is probably over and gone.
To its credit, it is easy to use thanks to its intuitive buttons and menus. It has two auto modes, one program mode, and 18 scene modes. Each has a short description that appears with it in the menu, although some sound like they’ve been poorly translated; “Shoots face skin appear smooth” is the description for the Portrait Enhancer mode, for example. Most of the scene modes are standard fare, but there is a handy and effective Motion Panorama mode that stitches three shots together in-camera. There are also underwater modes, which help regulate the exposure in those unique conditions.
The GPS function on the XP30 is neat -- when it works. I couldn’t get the GPS to work in my city, surrounded by 3-story buildings, and never got it to work indoors. Once I ventured outside of the city, the GPS still seemed spotty. It nowhere near as reliable as a car’s GPS. That said, when it did work, it was a fun feature to have, and it makes sense on a camera that's supposed to be able to travel far and wide. The GPS can be enabled in the setup menu, and it can be set to work at all times or only while the camera is powered on. I set it to the battery-saving mode while I tested it out, and the battery still drained much more quickly than I’d expected.
In fact, my biggest complaint with the XP30 is its short battery life. This camera is supposed to be able to go anywhere and do anything, but its battery doesn’t keep pace with this concept. It's rated at 200 shots per charge, but it doesn’t get anywhere close to that, even when I turned off the GPS (the GPS-less XP20 is also rated at the same 200 shots, which doesn’t sound right to me). It took fewer than 100 pictures before needing to escape to its charger. If you do get this camera, be sure to factor in the cost of purchasing extra batteries: each one costs $60.
Image & Video Quality
Check out the pictures and judge for yourself, but this camera took some of the worst I’ve personally seen. [I've seen worse, but, no, these aren't very impressive. -Ed.] The colors are often unrealistic, especially indoors and in low-light. The XP30 has a Natural Light & With Flash mode that takes two pictures, one with a terrible yellow tint (natural light?!) and one with a bright flash. In low light, the white balance was completely unreliable. When I took a series of pictures of the sun rising over the city’s skyline, I increased the ISO and the results were shocking: Not only did the noise increase so much that the ISO 3200 setting looked like a poorly done watercolor painting (no surprise there, to be honest), but the colors were tinted differently in almost every picture. All in all, a cell phone could probably take better pictures -- but most cell phones can’t swim, freeze, or get dropped.
Recording movies on the XP30 is simple: You only need to push the movie button on the back of the camera. The 5x optical zoom is available during recording, though its motor noise can be heard loud and clear. Movies on the Fujifilm XP30 are recorded in VGA (640 x 480 pixels) or high-def 720p, both at 30 frames per second. They look good, as long as they’re in focus before recording begins -- if not, it can't quite catch up. (Check out some videos here, here, and here.) One note relating to the HD movies are that the camera itself does not have HDMI output, so if you’re looking to view your high-def videos on your big screen, you’ll have to load them onto your computer. No direct line here.
This camera is built to go where most cameras can't. Perhaps your SLR is too bulky to climb a mountain with you, and your regular point-and-shoot or cell phone won’t survive the elements. The Fujifilm XP30 will survive such extreme conditions and therefore be the only option in some cases -- the best camera is always the one you have with you, the old saying goes, but the pictures will disappoint in all but the most forgiving conditions. The camera you have with you doesn't help if its battery is dead, either, and the XP30’s battery has a very short life, sometimes needing a charge twice a day. If you are seriously considering buying the XP30, you should really buy an extra $60 battery along with it. At that combined price of $300, or for just a few bucks more, there are many other rugged cameras with better picture quality and longer battery lives.
The Sony TX5, for example, debuted last year at $349, but has since dropped in price by almost a hundred dollars. It is waterproof to 10 feet, shockproof to 5 feet, and freezeproof and dustproof too. It has 10 megapixels, a 4x lens, and 720p HD video. Its marquee feature is its 3-inch touchscreen LCD, a rarity on rugged digital cameras. It shoots some of the clearest pictures in the rugged camera category, too. Despite its bad habit of letting water in behind the LCD (though the other components tend to be fine), it's a best bet for a tough guy camera. We're eagerly awaiting its replacement, the TX10, as well.
Perhaps the most comparable camera to the XP30 is the Pentax WG-1 GPS, a 14-megapixel model with a GPS unit. The WG-1 also has a 5x lens, 2.7-inch LCD, and 720p HD video. It has tougher specs, as it adds waterproofing to 33 feet and a crushproof rating to 220 pounds. It also adds an HDMI port to watch videos directly from the camera on the HDTV. The Pentax retails for a bit more at $349, but its battery will allow 260 shots per charge.