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Fujifilm FinePix X100 Digital Camera Review

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Fujifilm FinePix X100 Digital Camera Review

fuji x100 front

This modern classic is a retro-styled gem. The Fuji Finepix X100 has the appearance of a ‘real’ camera. With its brown leather ER case open at the front it looks just like a high quality film camera from about half a century ago. The top and bottom plates are constructed of magnesium alloy, while the knobs on the top are beautifully knurled metal wheels that rotate comfortably, and click cleanly into their stops – and, joy of joys, the exposure can be set without even turning the camera on. It even has a little threaded hole in the centre of the shutter release to take one of those nice braided flexible shutter release cables with the metal plunger. Still got a couple of those lying around somewhere.

fuji x100 back

Hybrid Viewfinder
There is a little lever on the front of the Fuji Finepix X100 that looks very like the old clockwork self-timer switch found on film SLRs, but it isn’t. It’s actually an easily accessible switch that innovatively turns the optical viewfinder into an electronic one (EVF).

X100 viewfinder_1

But even with the optical viewfinder you still get shooting data like shutter speed, aperture, ISO and histogram overlaid on the image along with a bright outline showing what is going to appear on the final image – the brightness of this overlay varies depending on ambient light levels so it doesn’t disappear in bright sunshine. And the best thing of all about an optical viewfinder – the brighter the sunshine, the better it gets, the exact opposite of the typical compact camera LCD screen. But this optical viewfinder shows the area outside of the image too so you can see who’s about to walk into your picture and when.

The EVF is ok, it’s just that after looking through the optical viewfinder you won’t want to use it – unless you have to (see Not So Good below).

Lens

X100 f2.8, 1/250 sec, ISO200

X100 f2.8, 1/250 sec, ISO200


The lens you get with the Fuji Finepix X100 is 23mm (35mm in 35mm-speak) – a moderate wide-angle. Maximum aperture is f2 so plenty of scope here for available light photography. This lens has a built in Neutral Density (ND) filter that allows for a 3-stop exposure increase. The ND filter can be switched into the light path as desired. This is great for bright conditions when you really want to use a wide aperture to throw the background well out of focus, but there’s just too much light around. It focuses down to 10cm so it’s useful for close-up work too.

Some may see the lack of a zoom lens, or even interchangeable lenses as a real problem – especially since zooms are now ‘normal’ on compact cameras. But what Fuji have done with this fixed focal length lens is to squeeze the very best image quality from the sensor and at the same time force you to take better pictures. You will take excellent images with the Fuji Finepix X100 if you get up close and intimate. This is especially so if you use this camera for what it is best suited for, and that’s candid street photography. Getting close really lifts images away from the snapshot and towards great photography. That’s not to say you won’t enjoy taking landscapes and family portraits, but the street is where the Fuji Finepix X100 will feel most at home and where many of its design features come into their own.

Sensor
Unusually for a compact camera the Fuji Finepix X100 has an APS-C sized sensor. This is the same size sensor used by the majority of digital SLRs and along with its 12.3 megapixels means that picture quality is first class. The sensor is connected to Fuji’s brand new EXR image processor which features improved resolution, high sensitivity, low noise and increased dynamic range. Fuji states that this is the highest quality processor in any Finepix camera to date. If Cartier-Bresson were alive today, he may well have enjoyed using this camera.

Innovation
One of the really nifty aspects of the design of the f2 lens for the Fuji Finepix X100 is that the rear lens element sits just 5.6mm away from the sensor. Fuji’s incorporation of the large rear lens element into the body of the camera means that the lens itself protrudes only slightly from the body creating that beautifully slim profile. In order to achieve this slimness of lens Fuji had to redesign their sensor microlens to allow a greater angle of incidence. Clever stuff that just means the Fuji Finepix X100 looks really cool and still takes great pictures.

Usability

X100 f4, 1/15 sec, ISO200

X100 f4, 1/15 sec, ISO200

In use what I love about the Fuji Finepix X100 is the ability to set the aperture between f2 and f16 with a ring on the lens, and set the shutter speed with one of the knurled rings on the top plate.

Incidentally this aperture ring was added quite late in the design process only because Fuji listened to a group of Professional Photographers who finally managed to convince Fuji’s designers of its value. Be great if more camera manufacturers did this too. But it isn’t a mechanical ring like on older film cameras. Each aperture setting is just a switch that tells the camera what aperture to set when the shutter is pressed.

Exposure compensation can be dialled in with a knob to the right of the shutter speed dial. There’s also a great little electronic spirit level to keep those horizons straight. I’m always losing important bits off the edges of the frame because my horizons are never horizontal and I have to keep straightening them in Lightroom so this is a really useful feature. Best accessory I ever bought was a little hot-shoe spirit level I used to keep permanently attached to my Mamiya RZ67.

The lens incorporates an almost silent leaf shutter (unlike the focal plane shutters of SLRs, digital or otherwise) and with no noisy mirror to flip out of the way this camera is almost silent in operation – as long as you remember to switch off the confirmatory beeps. So silent in fact it’s a little difficult to know when you’ve taken the picture. But great if you don’t want people to know that you’re actually taking pictures.

X100 f2.8, 1/340 sec, ISO200

X100 f2.8, 1/340 sec, ISO200


The Digital Stuff

A useful range of bracketing features are available with the Fuji Finepix X100.

Exposure at up to 1 stop in 1/3 stop intervals.
I love this one – Film Simulation Bracketing so you can pretend you really are back in the old days with some good old Fuji films: Provia, Velvia, and Astia
Dynamic Range Bracketing at 100%, 200%, & 400%
And finally ISO Sensitivity Bracketing same range as Exposure.

Not so good
A lens hood is available as an optional extra. I think, for the price, this should definitely be included in the box.
Tripod bush positioned in such a way that the camera needs to be removed from the tripod in order to change batteries or memory card.
Plastic battery compartment door.
No image stabilisation, but that, and the viewfinder, may well help you to discover the art of holding a camera steady.
Want to autofocus closer than 80cm, then you need to switch to macro mode, which means you have to use the EVF and then switch back. Of course you could just switch to manual focusing…
SLR users will find auto-focusing slow. If speed is important then manual pre-focusing is the order of the day.
Because the manual focus is electronic rather than mechanical it is not as rapid to use as on a dSLR.
Write speeds are a little slow, but this is only a problem if you want to take a burst of images.

Plus points
Shutter lag almost non-existent.
Handling is a breeze, with ease of changing exposure settings while the camera is held up to your eye.
Motion panoramas – like Sony’s Cybershot.
Image quality is excellent and better than some dSLRs
Noise barely noticeable right through the ISO range from 100 – 12,800

In the box
· Fujifilm Finepix X100
· Li-ion battery NP-95
· Battery charger BC-65N
· Shoulder strap
· USB cable
· Lens cap
· Metal strap clip
· Protective cover
· Clip attaching tool
· CD-ROM (Viewer software, Raw File converter*)
· Owner’s manual
· Viewer software: Windows7/Vista/XP, Mac OS X 10.9 – 10.6, Raw file converter: Windows7/Vista/XP


Conclusion

This camera is new, innovative and a complete change in direction from more of the same – not just tweaking megapixel counts, and re-arranging button layouts to make you think that the upgrade is something much more than it is. This is a lovely camera – not perfect by any means, but something that you will feel proud to own and be seen with. Surprisingly this camera does actually live up to all the pre-launch hype. There is going to be a huge demand for this camera so place your order now.

If you hold it in your hand, you’ll want one.

Its Rivals

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Read my review


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