The Fuji X100…who doesn’t know about this camera? Most reviews came out almost 2 years ago for this model. As I write this, the follow-up X100S has just been announced. Why would I decide to write a review now? User experience. I have used this camera day in and day out for a long time now. I feel my opinion has been well field tested and can speak confidently about the strengths and weaknesses of this little camera. I will go over a few of the features first, and how they play out in the real world, and then I will discuss the true strength of the camera with image examples. So…let’s begin.
If you want specs, check them out here. Basically the X100 has a 12mp APS-C sensor which means it is only 50% the size of a true 35mm frame. It has an optical viewfinder with frame lines and a trick electronic viewfinder. The electronic viewfinder replaces the optical view at the pull of a lever! Nice. It also has a 23mm F2 fixed lens that has been matched to the sensor. This gives an equivalent view of 35mm on a 35mm full frame. Small compact body size that fits in many pockets. (until you mount the lens hood!)
So the camera has direct control dials for aperture and shutter speed. They are in whole stops and can be adjusted in thirds further from the two control wheels on the back. I honestly think they should have just made both dials in half stops and been done with it. Moving true intermediate stop control of the dials to the rear takes away from the speed and intuitiveness in my opinion. It also means I need to adjust my right hand to access the wheel, moving me away from full control of the shutter speed dial and shutter. The AFL lock button on the back also should have been an option to focus like a dSLR * button. No lock, just focus. This would have made the camera a bit quicker to use I feel.
I also have made two additions to my camera. The first being the lens hood and filter. It made the camera little larger but I much prefer the lens protection. I also don’t worry about the lens cap often when pulling the camera in and out of a bag quickly. The second addition I made was to the center Menu OK button. There was no way realistically trigger this button quickly without hitting every other button on the wheel. Lensmate.com offers a fantastic solution for this. It costs about $5 and makes the center button truly functional. It just presses on. It has never slid or come off either. Perfect fix.
You can see here the X100 compared to a Leica M8. The Fuji is smaller in every dimension pretty much. It is also MUCH lighter. Then again, it is not nearly as solid as an M…but what camera is? It is extremely comfortable to hold however. The hand grip is just enough to be secure. In terms of a camera, it seems Fuji has captured Leica’s philosophy as good as they have! The camera, is small, discreet, high quality, and silent.
The Fuji has a leaf shutter. This has less vibration and sometimes sharper results in general than a focal plane shutter. I’ve been able to handhold the camera with sharp images down to 1/6 of a second. The second leaf shutter benefit is that it is literally SILENT. Most people that try shooting with my Fuji don’t realize when it has made the shot. Perfect street camera in that respect. The third major benefit of a leaf shutter is sync speed. The fuji X100 syncs all the way to 1/4000 of a second!!! Yes, this little camera can handle some amazingly awesome flash work if you need to knock out the sun! In addition to that, the X100 has a built in Neutral Density filter of 3 stops. I have programmed the RAW button on the back to activate the ND filter. Press a button and you knock down 3 stops of light instantly. And your view never changes! Fantastic!
The viewfinder is a unique element of this camera. The optical viewfinder is good. A bit of distortion and aberration at the edges, but livable. There is parallax correction even for the autofocus box. Nice. The only catch is the autofocus box is much larger with the optical than the electronic viewfinder. I find myself switching to electronic when I need to ensure I am autofocusing on the proper spot in my scene. I like the optical viewfinder for many situations. The electronic viewfinder is good, especially if you adjust the blacks and highlight tone in the menus. This allows you to see a truer image in the viewfinder. The only major drawback of this viewfinder is the refresh. If you pan quickly without having locked focus and exposure first, you get major motion blur. Also, if you are focusing on something that is moving, the viewfinder wont refresh til after autofocus locks. By then often my subject has moved. Missed shot. At least with the optical viewfinder I can still see what is going on. Overall, I can live with it in most situations. You must also be mindful of your focus distance and if you are using macro setting or not. Too close or too far depending on how you are set and the camera won’t focus, and the viewfinder doesn’t help any when its out of focus!
So two other big drawbacks in use of this camera are bracketing and ISO selection. You can only bracket at most +1 and -1 stop. Why not +2 and -2? Could this not be changed in a firmware upgrade? For any HDR work, two stops between each shot is pretty standard. For a photographer-centered camera, I just can’t understand why this camera only brackets 1-stop out.
Second, AUTO-ISO can only be turned on or off by digging through the menu. Very slow to adjust when shooting. Why not have it in the ISO menu?
One more small quirk in the field is the battery indicator. Unless you show more information on your viewfinder, you cannot see the battery life indicator. I also do not understand how they have programmed the battery indicator to respond. It seems as if I go from 75% indication to a dead battery instantly. Up until that point it shows a full battery. I have been caught off guard many times thinking I still have enough to go another hour. Keep a spare battery with you! Overall, I do get good battery life.
So, there are a bunch of points that one must live with when using this camera. How about the really good? The sensor and lens!
The sensor on this camera is phenomenal. I was completely blown away by what this sensor can produce, especially since it is only a half-frame sensor! I have not used any sensor of this size that impressed me so much in overall image quality. There are plenty of good cameras, but this Fuji is truly great. The lens and sensor have definitely been optimized for each other. This is the benefit of not having interchangeable lenses. I don’t mind that. Especially since this lens can do fantastic macro work.
At F2, you can get great depth of field and separation in subjects depending how you focus. Being a semi-wide lens, you can really use this to draw in your viewer.
F/2, ISO 1600. Getting close with the X100 is awesome. Its not a true 1:1 macro, but for larger subjects you can get excellent “macro” results from such a camera. You must be careful however, at F/2, macro images can get a little dreamy depending how close you get.
Here is another macro shot. Excellent detail for such a subject considering the camera fits in your pocket! Very versatile, especially when travelling.
Self portrait. Camera looks small and retro. People don’t think twice!
Another macro shot. You can see the dreamy glow surrounding the background flowers as they go out of focus. Excellent color and rendering of the main flower.
This shot is at F/8, 4 Minutes, ISO 200. Yes, that is a LONG exposure. This was shot late at night and there was virtually no light. All the light in the photo came from a dim street lamp behind me. I have made beautiful prints of this and the shot holds up excellent. Barely any long exposure noise when you are careful. The only catch is you need to have the screen or electronic viewfinder on to be able to see how long your timer is going for. The optical will only say “Bulb.” Keep a spare battery handy and make sure to turn your screen brightness all the way down before setting a long exposure or you will eat right through the battery.
F/2 , ISO 2500. This camera is clean up to 3200 ISO with good detail. Dynamic range drops a little bit that high up, but the results are still more than usable. This image at 2500 is great and still retains detail. Impressive for an APS-C.
Here is another long exposure image. 45 seconds at F/16. Yeah, there is diffraction at that point, but for a scene like this its usable.
This is 1/3 of a second at F/16 with the ND filter on. It was the middle of the day and I could not get any longer exposure time with this much sun brightness. Even though, the ND filter is quite handy!
The colors are rich and accurate. The lens renders in a very pleasing way. The lens is perfectly usable at F/2, and ISO is fantastic throughout the entire range. You can literally leave the camera wide open on aperture priority mode, set auto ISO, and just shoot away without worry. Adjust compensation for your scene and you can work fairly quickly and know you will have good quality in the photos. If you take your time and work slower, or on a tripod, you can make some fantastic images with this little camera. Even better is how light it is. You can take a much lighter tripod with you and get fantastic results. I have even gotten excellent results using just a small gorilla pod hybrid model.
To sum up:
Flash sync to 1/4000
Silent Leaf Shutter
Built in 3-stop ND filter.
Electronic viewfinder with zoom feature.
Some odd button layout choices
Manual focus is basically unusable
Autofocus is slow in many situations or cannot lock on
Viewfinder refresh pauses during autofocus.
You can only bracket +1 or -1 stop.
Battery indicator is definitely not doing its job!
Having such an excellent and versatile camera in a package that fits in your pocket is amazing. Yes, there are some quirks and compromises…but it fits in your pocket! It weighs next to nothing. You can get semi-wide angle shots as well as close ups and excellent macro. (for a 35mm lens) How many cameras are this versatile while retaining this image quality level? Oh…and you don’t need to worry about dust on the sensor with this camera! The lens doesn’t come off. Even better. The X100S that was announced seems to address many of the quirks, as well as the focus issues. If this camera can focus as fast as a dslr in its next version as they have stated, it will be a winner for sure. Then all we need as an X100 that has a 90mm lens fixed on it and we have the perfect travel combo. Til then, this is still one of the most exciting and enjoyable cameras the digital world has seen yet. Props to Fuji for such an excellent camera!