Fuji X100 review

Having received my Fuji X100 a few weeks ago, I thought it was time to start compiling my thoughts on this camera.

This is my first camera review, so go easy on me 😉

No this is not a portrait of me 🙂 F2.0 iso 2500

The Background/ the competition:

When the very first information started to surface about the Fuji X100 back in 2010 I was immediately taken by its design. As a then Panasonic GF-1 user I hoped for something similar to that wonderful little camera, but with a more “resilient” sensor. When I say resilient I mean a sensor that would produce less noise at higher iso’s, and a sensor that would not create blown out highlights that were often unrecoverable in post processing.

My experience with the Panasonic GF-1 coupled with its removable 20mm f1.7 lens had on the whole, been beyond my expectations. Here was a almost pocketable camera, that brought the fun back to photography. Looking back through the files on my computer I can see it brought out the creative side in me, and by the number of shot’s I took was a camera that I rarely left out of my backpack when traveling. The fast f1.7 lens was both tiny, and remarkably sharp wide open, Its wide light conduit in some ways compensated for the upper noise limit of the camera. I even sold an image 24″ x 36″ taken indoors at iso 800 with it… This camera is a great little tool that punches above it’s weight.

Fuji X100 hits Toronto streets… F8.0 iso 400

To explain further, one of the things I liked best about the Panasonic GF-1 was its menu system. On some levels I wished I could have lived with the Olympus EP1/2 instead due to it’s nicer .jpg colour rendering (despite nearly always shooting in raw), and more classic retro design. To this end whilst owning the GF-1, I bought an Olympus EP2/pen to compare with the GF-1, being smitten with the idea of its digital eyepiece display, and body design. The Olympus EP/2 has the same sensor as the GF-1.

I hated it. The menu drove me crazy… I’m sorry, but if I’m going to use a camera to take pictures rather than just look at it 🙂 , it needs to be user friendly. For my needs it wasn’t. I took it back within a week, and put it down to experience. I carried on using the GF-1 enjoying the speed and simplicity of its interface even more, reveling in its ability to make quick changes in settings at the slightest whim of creativity. Here are some of my shots with the GF-1 on Flickr

Fuji X100

3 months ago :

I pre-ordered the X100 as soon as I found a store in Toronto that would accept my request. Pre-ordering was something I’d never done before with a camera, but I felt the design of it was so revolutionary (in digital cameras), that it had to be a great move… Didn’t it?

I felt if I was one of the design team involved with such a project for such a camera, I would surely put my utmost effort into it. I felt the people involved in Japan must be really enjoying themselves with the concept of a camera with both an electronic viewfinder (EVF), and an optical one (OVF) fitted to a small form factor unit.

As time passed the Fuji marketing machine got into its swing, and seemed to confirm my thoughts on how happy and proud they must of been to have designed such a camera. Photography forums were all a buzz, and more and more people were speculating on how wonderful this camera was to be once released.

Finally about a month or so ago, some people got there hands on pre-release units and although some unforeseen shortcomings marred the overall picture (a 1/1000sec top shutter speed at f2.0 being one such disappointment), the camera still looked to be an outright winner. The descriptions of it’s design being beautiful to behold and operate ringing true. Any issues would surely be fixed in the final firmware/release version of the camera…

More recently:

The camera was released in different countries at different times, or at least got to market earlier in some parts of the world than others. Some people in Asia getting their hands on it in February. Here is a picture that I saw online back in February that told me (again) this camera in the right hands had potential for great images : Link to early shot I liked.

Now in late Apri,l I’ve read a number of other preliminary reviews of this camera, from all parts of the world most of them written by people who have found the Fuji to be an enjoyable camera to use, but there are some gremlins it seems…

My experience so far…

I finally got a phone call from the camera store on the 31st of March, and decided to pick the camera up the next day. I’d already purchased and charged a couple of Ebay batteries compatible with the camera, so on the 1st of April (don’t laugh!), I was ready to walk out of the store and start shooting! I paid for the camera and the first time I picked it up I was pleasantly surprised to find it was actually slightly smaller than it had grown to be in my mind (and from viewing countless pictures of it online).

Fuji X100 hood mounted, back to back with the Zeiss Ikon 35mm film rangefinder

Check one. Small size? Yup.

I’d become a Fuji X100 enthusiast before I’d even touched one. I don’t think I’m alone here, the hype had set the bar very high for the X100, how was it to perform in real life?

Well, my secondary thoughts were of it’s beauty and tactile build that once finally touched by my own hands brought a smile to my face. I looked through the optical viewfinder, and saw a reasonably bright vision of the actual space in front of me… I panned around the room with it, and saw a world with no motion blur, no digital artifacts, just a view through clear glass.

Fuji X100 in front of the 35mm film Zeiss Ikon

Check two. Viewfinder clear and spacious.

I turned the controls on top, yes! She felt similar to my older mechanical film cameras.

Check Three. Solid construction

Then I looked at the front of the camera, removed the metal construction, felt lined lens cap, and examined the lens. Err… its glass, nothing out of the ordinary here.

Then I looked at the back of the camera… wow, what a lot of buttons. Don’t get me wrong, My Nikon D700 has lots of external controls stopping me from having to dig through menu’s to change basic settings all the time, and the Panasonic Gf-1 was the similar to some extent. This seemed like a good thing.

I loaded a charged battery in the camera before leaving the store, and attempted to find my way around the camera menu system… Oh dear.

Mr C. Aldo, shot wide open at iso 3200

How does this thing work?

The display on the back of the camera is nice and bright, with a fairly colourful menu. But somehow the camera felt awkward. I tried taking a few shots of items in the store in the manner with which I use my D700 SLR. I picked a target, put the camera in Aperture priority, easy enough, rotated the sweet aperture dial on the front of the camera, and then set about composing the shot. Argh!, how do I move the focus spot?! I tried and tried and the multi-directional keypad just wouldn’t budge the focus spot in the now nicely lit optical viewfinder. Eventually the solution was found by pressing the rear “AF” button at the same time as moving the direction pad… What! how was I supposed to do this whilst holding the camera to my face and composing a shot? It’s possible, but not easy. I tried a few other functions on the camera, decided the menu was too complex to guess how everything worked in that instant, and left the store after briefly joining a discussion with the sales assistant who commented “You are lucky to have your hands on one of them, and they are going for twice the price on Ebay”. I agreed, and left the store with a smile on my face.

In the next 24hrs, those last words from the store assistant grew louder in my head. The X100 in practice was a mixed blessing. After months of waiting for it, it seemed both wonderfully perfect in some ways, and down right annoying in others… In my main profession I’m used to finding my way around menu systems of devices of all kinds (often without a manual), but this camera was proving to be a challenge. I didn’t want to read the manual I just wanted to find out how things worked for myself, this is normally a pleasure for me (I know, I’m weird like that). Then the bad thoughts started creeping in my head, maybe this is a design too far for Fuji, maybe I’m a beta tester here, maybe I underestimated what is involved with making all this functionality come together in a harmonious design. Maybe, just maybe, I should sell the unit now and be happy with making a profit on it…

I resorted to further reading online about the camera, and found other people were also struggling with the design and interface… Oh no. Finally I came across a user online who had compiled a nifty set of tips and tricks for using the camera. I tried a few of these out and “the penny dropped”.

Toronto streets, in need of spring.

Oh yeah, this is not a Digital SLR!

Now don’t get me wrong, I still think the Fuji X100 menu system and interface is flawed in a number of ways, but once I found a way to use the centre focus point for auto focus acquisition, and holding down the shutter release partially to lock this distance and then re-composing, my troubles seemed to pass away.

With my D700 SLR, using a fast lens like an 85mm f1.4, focus especially on close subjects can be tricky, due to the tiny depth of field created by the wide aperture lens on a full frame sensor. I mitigate this issue when shooting off centre subjects, by moving the focus point around in the viewfinder to the subject, after composition. With the X100 it seems one needs to merely focus in the centre first, and then compose the shot after. The Fuji 23mm f2.0 lens generates a much deeper in focus area (compared to and 85mm f1.4 lens), and for medium distance targets and further away (ones I most often shoot with the X100), the issue is frankly, not an issue. This technique of focus acquisition is somewhat similar to using a rangefinder camera, like a Leica M8, or Zeiss Ikon. Focus, then re-compose. Not the other way around.

This is not the only way to focus this camera, but you hopefully understand how quick this technique can be when put it into practice. This is a good thing, especially when trying to capture multiple elements colliding in a scene.

Kiss me

Another technique I’ve been experimenting with is hyperfocal shooting. Setting the camera to manual focus, setting an aperture in the region of f8.0 – f16, and rotating the focus ring (on the lens), until the in-viewfinder display gives me a focus indication of a distance in front of me spanning all the way to infinity, whilst at the same time telling me my minimum distance to subject that I know I can shoot and still get a reasonably sharp image. Whilst this technique seems a little less fashionable in the world of large aperture shooting, it does give immediate shutter response allowing one to capture the decisive moment effectively (practice still required however).

Hyperfocal shooting… So what if it’s wonky! 🙂

Their are so many functions and features on this camera that I’m not going to do more than scratch the surface of what it’s capable of, meaning you’ll have to read about these elsewhere but for now, how about a few pictures I took in Buffalo whilst attending the recent McNally /Hobby “Flash Bus tour”?

Downtown Buffalo, quiet streets but beautiful old buildings… Shot at f16.0

Pavement Stars

Mixed messages

Flare can be tricky, even with the hood on.

Buffalo, some great buildings

Fast forward to today

Since the above words were written Fuji to their credit, despite horrific issues in the homeland (Earthquake, Tsunami, Nuclear fallout…), have continued to supply this camera in (small), numbers to people , and have released the first (and probably not the last), of firmware updates for the camera.

It’s still early days

The above, combined with the fact that Adobe Labs have now released an update to their photo editing software enabling RAW file editing, are the first signs that this product is on it’s way to becoming a lot more fun for me since those early experiences.

Downtown Toronto alley

I did once own a Leica M8.2, but sold it as I felt the camera was just a little to flawed for my liking, especially considering the price. Compared to my Nikon D700 the files just seemed to be quite vulnerable and intolerant of exposure errors (come on, we all make them!), and high iso settings.

A “real digital rangefinder” is probably still the ultimate way to go due to the ability to change lenses, and in the case of Leica perhaps in the pleasure of ownership, but the Fuji X100 seems to give me a lot of the rangefinder experience despite not technically being one…

And what of the X100 flaws? Well, I think this camera has a lot more going on under the casing than most rangefinders/compact cameras, and it’s because of this that the interface still suffers somewhat. With optical, digital, and rear screen view options for composition, this camera was always going to be tricky to design an interface for.

Other notable features of the camera include it’s ability to focus down to 10cm in macro mode, up to 180 degree pano-stitch feature (blended in camera), video recording at 1280 x 720 pixels (24frames / sec.) with stereo sound, in camera RAW editing, built in flash and hot shoe, very high flash sync up to 1/2000th of a second and more…

The above said, the main stand out feature of this camera is still it’s excellent glass/hybrid viewfinder with electronic bright frame data overlay. If you get a chance to try this camera, do it and see for yourself, I think you’ll be impressed.

The road ahead. Toronto sunrise

Summary

So to end this article for now, I can say I think things will get even better with future firmware updates as I know there are a lot of passionate people out there willing to supply ideas and feedback to Fuji about this camera, it’s only a matter of time and patience. I know my technique will improve with practice too.

In the meantime, this unique camera is still remarkably capable and I’m loving the combination of small size, vintage looks, with a relatively large (and capable), sensor. These coupled with the super quiet operation of its leaf shutter, and a sharp lens make for a great package…

Well done Fuji!

  1. brett maxwellbrett maxwell04-28-2011

    Thanks for the very practical review! One thing I noticed with mine is that you actually can shoot faster than 1/1000 at f2, in Manual exposure mode. The exposures all the way up to 1/4000 seem to be perfectly accurate, so I don’t know why it’s limited in the auto modes.

  2. KevinKevin04-28-2011

    Thanks Brett. Yes I know what you mean, it is rather odd. When testing for this issue (With Auto ISO control set off), it doesn’t help that when switching from Manual exposure to Auto that the ISO may not remain the same in both modes… But yes, with this design issue overcome, the camera does seem to provide a darker image at 1/4000th of a sec compared to 1/1000th in manual mode, with all other parameters fixed.
    I’m not sure if this is specifically mentioned in the manual?

  3. MichaelMichael04-29-2011

    Thanks for the interesting review. I’ve got my eye on this camera and seeing a well-written review from the city where I live doesn’t hurt! The uses you’ve put this to seem quite similar to what I’d do, which is encouraging.

  4. KevinKevin04-29-2011

    Thanks for reading it Michael, and welcome back from Japan 😉

    • MichaelMichael04-29-2011

      8)

      P.S. I found this article linked on 1001noisycameras.com. I’ve posted it to pentaxforums.com as well, where there’s a good deal of interest in this camera for sure. It seems quite a hit for old Pentax fans. Frankly, I think the X100 might be a bit too much camera for my purposes. My old X-700’s keep my occupied these days.

      • KevinKevin04-29-2011

        Thanks buddy!
        Good forum the Pentaxforums, I used to post their on a regular basis back in the day when I shot with a K10D + K20D.
        My name on there is “Lbam”, which reminds me, I wonder how the “Nifty 50mm” is getting on…

  5. Bill GordonBill Gordon04-29-2011

    Thanks for that review. I think that it will go over very well but wait until they introduce interchangeable lenses……then it will blossom!

  6. KevinKevin04-29-2011

    That would add another layer of excitement for sure!
    Remember, Fuji has a connection with Cosina of Japan with the GF670/Bessa III medium format rangefinder camera (still available new), and Cosina in conjunction with Epson produced the first (to my knowledge), digital rangefinder in the Epson RD-1 so anything is possible.
    The question is will the market support such a device ?
    The digital rangefinder market was smaller when the Epson RD-1 was released, but has as a lot more interest in it since those early days.
    The X100 design would need to change significantly to cope with interchangeable lenses (I’m referring mainly to the viewfinder), but Fuji have already come this far…
    I will add that the X100 is already quite capable with just one lens as it is. Trying it reveals the truth.

    A version (say X150), with a 50mm f1.7 equivalent lens, would be nice however 😛

  7. Victor ShumVictor Shum04-30-2011

    Great review Kevin. Now I really want the X100! But I’m not willing to pay more than the retail price. So I’ll get I’ll wait.

  8. Ren BostelaarRen Bostelaar05-02-2011

    Nice review. I haven’t seen any other X100s on the streets here in Toronto, but maybe we’ll run into each other and share a high five.

  9. KevinKevin05-02-2011

    Thanks Victor and Ren 🙂
    Ren, we can always make it happen rather than leave it to chance…

  10. eugenioeugenio05-03-2011

    HI Kevin, thanks very much for your review. I’d be grateful if you could comment on how you feel about the X100 compared to the GF1 with 20mm lens. I’m contemplating between the X100 and GF2 with 20mm lens. In terms of price, it doesn’t seem that there’s a big difference between the two.

    Between the GF1 and X100 which do you think provides better looking images. I assume the X100 is smaller than the GF1, is that correct?

    Thanks!
    Eugenio

  11. KevinKevin05-03-2011

    Hi Eugenio,
    Thanks for reading it.
    Size wise the X100 is a little larger than the Panasonic GF-1.
    The Pansonic GF-1 and GF-2 have pretty much the same image quality as each other.

    Here are the dimensions:
    Fuji X100 : 126 x 74 x 54 mm, 445g
    Pany GF-1 : 119 x 71 x 61 mm, 448g (Inc 20mm f1.7 lens)

    With the GF-2 Panasonic shaved of a few more millimetres all round at the expense of the rotating top dial. I think I’d prefer the GF-1 in terms of ergonomics, but it will be harder to find new now as I believe it’s been discontinued.

    Image quality wise, in daylight they are fairly similar. I’d say the GF-1 images have a little more bite in the centre of the image, not that the X100 lacks bite. I think the X100 files require less internal software corrections for it’s lens however, and may well be sharper on the outer parts of the image, but I’m not sure on this. On the other hand I prefer the colour rendering of the Fuji.
    When the light levels drop then the X100 definitely has an advantage in terms of noise.

    If you are unsure I’d say a used GF-1 would be much cheaper to buy than a new X100. Try it for a month and see how you get along. It’s still a classic, and VERY much a fun camera.

    • MichaelMichael05-03-2011

      Good discussion! Given all of the frustrated interest in Panasonic’s gear outside of Japan, I wonder if there’s anyone selling grey-market directly from Japan….

  12. KevinKevin05-03-2011

    Be careful of this idea… I know Nikon will not service grey market products in Canada. Meaning one would have to send one’s unit back to the country of origin to be serviced. You may speak Japanese, but I’m not sure about your average Canadian for example lol.
    Sending units abroad obviously result in a longer turn around time, and greater postage costs.

    Having said all of this, Panasonic Canada MAY service grey market products, and my argument would be invalid. Contact your local Panasonic rep is the answer 😉

  13. Patrick La RoquePatrick La Roque05-04-2011

    Great review Kevin. Funny how my review from a few weeks back pretty much echoes your own — I was even at the Flash Bus event as well, Boston though. Must be a canadian thing (!)

    Coming from SLRs I had the same initial what-the-??@@-is-this moments with the camera. But I’ve now grown to love it. Great pics btw. My review can be found here if you’re curious: http://www.laroquephoto.com/blog/2011/04/13/a-different-beast/

    Best

  14. Great review. I’m coveting and yearning. The spirit is willing but the pocket book is weak. Love the photo of my favourite corner, Brock and Dundas. See you at Pho Phuong!

  15. James EllisJames Ellis05-08-2011

    Thanks for your review, its refreshing to hear the opinions of someone with some skill with a camera. I currently own a GF-1 as my street camera and I was considering the x100 because its such a beautiful camera and I cant afford a leica M9. The pictures you took with the X100 were good but im still not convinced its better then an GF1 with 20mm lens. Your pictures with the pansonic were amazing though!

  16. KevinKevin05-08-2011

    Hey James thanks for the kind words. I see you’re another Toronto shooter 🙂
    I’ll let you into a secret, whilst I sold my GF-1 + 20mm f1.7 amongst other equipment in order to help justify the Fuji X100, I kept my Panasonic G1 plus 14-45mm zoom, and Leica M adapter… The zoom is quite sharp but the 20mm is the essential m4/3rds lens.
    For Black and whites both cameras are very capable, the Fuji just has better dynamic range.
    For Black and whites perhaps its best underexpose slightly to save highlights, and boost brightness in post process as any noise generated can simply be put down to film grain 😉
    I had a look at your street stuff, some good creative perspectives and film like colours there. Well done!
    My favorite may have been the Sepia “Green hair” here : http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrelllis/5632797123/in/photostream
    Cheers.

  17. David WegwartDavid Wegwart05-11-2011

    Hi Kevin. firstly, I am so jealous of your new toy. I have been eyeing this for some time with bated breath. Your review has tipped the balance and I might just part with the painfully large sum for a P&S (well you know what I mean). Seems this is THE camera for street work now. If you have a moment, and you know of the Panasonic LX5, would you compare this with it as much better, or should I keep working with my LX5.

    I use Nikon D700’s and D7k’s for work, but really want a rugged pocketable cam. that will do similarly to my Dslr bodies with fast glass.

    thanks again for the great review and the photos are wonderful.

  18. KevinKevin05-11-2011

    Hi David,

    Thanks for checking in and you opinion on the pictures. I checked out your work and there’s some very nice wedding photography on your blog… Good job!
    I used to own a Panasonic LX3, which was the model prior to the LX5, and prior for me to the Panasonic GF1.
    The LX5 is a great camera, more compact than the X100 but I feel the difference is not significant in order for one to carry one instead of the other 95% of the time.
    The files from the X100 are way more rugged, so if you’re a raw shooter there is no contest.
    The LX5 does have a nice zoom, that’s quite fast, but if I owned both I know which camera I’d be carrying.
    The X100 changes the whole market for those who are not scared to use a camera without picture modes, and want the best possible picture quality verses size.
    How are you finding the D7K files compared to the D700 for say landscapes?

  19. Don TDon T06-04-2011

    hey Kevin,

    I just bought this camera after my name came up on a wait list and it’s totally a love/hate relationship…for now. You mentioned that you “came across a user online who had compiled a nifty set of tips and tricks….” — care to share the link? 🙂

    thanks!

  20. KevinKevin06-04-2011

    Hey Don,
    Keep the faith, an update of the X100 firmware is due pretty soon, I’m guessing within a week or two…
    Here is the best place to go and join discussions, read opinions regarding usability etc : http://www.x100forum.com/index.php?/forum/11-recommended-updatesimprovements/
    The X100 is a game changer, and as such requires one to concentrate on the positives whilst accepting the challenges.
    Oh, and it takes very good pictures too 😉
    K.

  21. MichaelMichael06-04-2011

    Some interesting comments on that forum, to be sure: “We can be pretty sure that they are not going to fix all of the problems. There are simply too many of them. I was keeping a list until about a month ago, based on posted complaints, and there were 65 “problems” in my list then. Since then, more have been identified. Granted, there are work-arounds for many, and some are not critical, or can’t be fixed in firmware, but it is clear that Fuji is going to have to prioritize which ones they address.”

    I hope Fuji gets it right. I want the thing to be a well-deserved hit for a company that took a chance on delivering what everyone’s been saying they want.

  22. KevinKevin06-04-2011

    Which issues do you think can’t be fixed Michael? I’m not disagreeing with, but just wondering…

    • MichaelMichael06-04-2011

      My comment was aimed at the broader objective of making the camera a commercial success, not simply eliminating bugs. Though I understand the frustrations expressed in that forum; a friend in Tokyo has a Ricoh GRD that he never uses because the thing locks up frequently. I can’t afford an X-100 myself right now or I’d have jumped in already; but I’m keen to see some of the DNA from this camera make it into the general camera population. Already we’re seeing an increased interest in manual controls .. very encouraging.

  23. KevinKevin06-05-2011

    I totally agree.
    Back in the film days there were various fixed lens rangefinders available at the same time from Canon, Olympus, Yashica and more sporting 35-40mm f1.7 (approx), lenses so who knows what will happen next…

    • MichaelMichael06-06-2011

      By happy chance, I’m carrying my Olympus 35DC today. Stumbled upon the battery adapter for it on the weekend (still unpacking some gear) and I’m falling in love again.

  24. ilium007ilium00706-09-2011

    You mentioned there was a website you went to that had tips for use of the camera’s menus and modes etc. Can you share the site with us ??

  25. KevinKevin06-10-2011

    Try the X100 forum : http://www.x100forum.com.
    Happy shooting!

  26. James WongJames Wong07-21-2011

    Hi, great article. I was like you, found Gf-1 with 20mm pancake a great combo. It’s really help be get back to have fun with photography. When ever I hold a DSLR i just simply lost the excitement. But lacking a real time OVF was something I missed in GF-1 which is also why I gave leica x1 a miss. I am glad that Fuji has came out the beautiful and connects to many photographers with it’s OVF/EVF rangefinder like design!

  27. HansHans12-26-2011

    Nice article, however I am amazed at the number of people who reguard themselves as camera experts and yet have so much trouble with a new camera. I have had my x100 now for 3 weeks and have found it SO easy to operate – so simple yet so forgiving. A great camera. Maybe because mine came with 1.11 firmware – that must be the difference.

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