JONATHAN JK

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Fuji X100 ~ Review: A Love Returned, Nostalgia Reclaimed

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Fuji X100 Review

Introduction

I really only want to write once about the amazing Fuji X100. I will satisfy that intention by approaching it from two aspects:

  • As somebody who recently moved from an SLR system; replacing his setup with just the Fuji X100 (most of the technical comparisons are against my previous Canon equipment, some might consider this the wrong approach as the Fuji X100 isn’t an SLR replacement, but it is what it is).
  • As somebody who wanted to get back to the simplicity and joy of using a rangefinder camera (this was after having previously flirted with a number of them over the years, in particular a pair of Contax G2’s).

Image by Flickr User Nokton

So you’re reading this, there is no doubt you’re already well informed about the Fuji X100. Especially if you have been a regular reader of this blog. I’ve posted so much news, reviews and general information about the Fuji X100. I’ll dispense with in-depth tests, image results, pixel peeping and weighty comparisons. You will have read them elsewhere. I’ll re-post some of the links if I feel I can’t add anything to what has already been published.

As we all know, the excitement started in September 2010 at the Photokina Trade show. When I first saw the X100, I thought it could give back to me a bit of my nostalgia for handling a film camera, while at the same time I also thought, finally this is what many photographers have been asking for; a digital sensor wrapped around the beauty and character of a rangefinder camera.

Image by Flickr User Tingan Bow

It didn’t surprise me that it would be Fuji who were bringing a digital rangefinder to market. Fujifilm were always a little different with their innovations, releasing cameras now and again that were a bit odd; making us sit up and think for a moment. They did it with the GF670 (medium format film camera) and the Fuji W1 (a 3-D camera).

Early Nostalgia

In the middle of 2008 I finally gave up on film, my impatient nature called time on it. This meant my love affair with a pair of Contax G2’s would be only fleeting. I had purchased them around the early half of the same year and it was a real shame to sell them on; having barely owned them for only a few months. It was my fault, but I could just never reconcile the act of picture taking; that depended on a decisive moment, with processing film that depended on spending many hours bringing them to life, I just considered the later act as a series of hurdles.

When it did come to processing film, I was a cheat, I would always shoot with C-41; developing colour was just so much easier. It should also be noted that it was kind of Fuji to manufacturer B&W C-41 film!

Anyway the Contax G2’s were beautiful cameras, they had a rock solid build quality, great usability, portability as well as a versatile set of interchangeable lenses (I owned four of them including the zoom lens). To top it off there was the Auto-Focus, a first for a range finder which worked fantastically.

Contax G2 by Flickr User ebelbeb

My concern with digital photography was with its lack of elegance. Sure Leica was there, keeping true to their traditions of beauty and simplicity, but also continuing to adhere to their high prices! Everything else was content with being a boring black box. My problem was how I found myself hooked on owning another capable, stylish take anywhere compact camera but with the instant nature of digital. Little did I know aesthetics and usability wouldn’t evolve in line with the breakthroughs in digital technology for a few more years to come.

In the time between 2008 and 2011, nostalgia would step aside for the Olympus e-420, and then when the quality wasn’t right, it got buried with my purchase of a Canon 5D and was almost crushed entirely when I upgraded to the twins of heft, weight but versatility; the Canon 1Ds MarkII and the Canon 1D Mark IIN.

My nostalgia survived, always hoping for a digital equivalent of the G2. A rangefinder was in my soul. The hope was reinforced as I grew tired of lugging around my Canon gear; only using them for work and never for anything casual or spontaneous. I had stopped slowly taking pictures out of love and only took pictures for work.

Small Steps

Leica

Their respect is more than earned and I can’t help mentioning Leica as they have never compromised on their vision of what a camera should be. For their entire history, they’ve always applied a level of consideration toward the art of photography above other manufacturers. But what I’ve wanted to always know: why was Leica the only manufacturer crafting digital rangefinders (1)?

Besides the oddity (and rarity) of the Epson R-D1,the rangefinder didn’t make the transition over to digital as it did with the SLR, even though those who made SLR’s also made rangefinders. Canon were responsible for the Canonet series, Nikon had the Nikon S, and there were plenty of others besides. Where was the motivation by manufacturers (2)? There was certainly an appeal and enthusiasm from photographers for a digital rangefinder.

Image by Flickr User Mario Sixtus

This quote from Seal, an Ambassador for Leica seems appropriate here.

“In my opinion the consumer doesn’t always know best, we don’t always know what we want but we sure expend a lot of energy professing we do. This is where Leica get it right, they don’t buckle under the pressure of the masses”.

How many times had we read speculation on the Internet that someone else should make their own rangefinder and establish themselves underneath the lower-mid range market that Leica clearly had no interest in. There was always the hope that if Leica were suffering financially, they could drop their prices and open themselves up to the wider market. I was certainly one of them, it is frustrating when the entry barrier is so high.

I don’t consider Leica as being perfect, but in terms of style and the user experience, they have it nailed. But I had to move on and consider something else (3).

A Market Pushed

In my opinion, the history of digital photography will credit the first 4/3rd system and the mobile phone, as the largest push the rest of the camera market needed towards; small, stylish and capable digital cameras. Ever since the introduction of digital photography and the supposed freedoms and creativity it was going to bring with it, why were we as photographers still limited to using bulky black camera bodies fashioned on film designs until only a few years ago (4)?

To be more precise but brief, the Olympus PEN and the iPhone were two fundamental steps in this new direction (5). Olympus & Panasonic proved that the versatility of an SLR system could be miniaturised effectively into a much smaller design, thereby creating a new class of product to live between SLRs and Point & Shoots.

Image by Flickr User Declencheur

The iPhone changed our relationship with and our expectations from digital photography. Apps were the defining element; disturbing traditional camera – computer – Internet relationships by taking advantage of the mobile processor and a phone network.

Anyway it’s more interesting than that (to me at least) but I’m going off my main point.

The 4/3rds system was also very close to what I was looking for. The important element Olympus/Panasonic missed out on was the viewfinder! To me a camera without a viewfinder went against the principle of picture making being an extension of one’s eye. Instead it became an extension of one’s arm.

I don’t think we’re at a stage where we are going to give the viewfinder up. If that’s what we need to do to take digital photography to the next level, then I’ll hold onto dear life my optical viewfinder equipped camera like a die-hard film enthusiast! The evolution of photography is still racing ahead, it will make another change soon I’m sure.

So while that will be explored in due course, let’s finally discuss the Fuji Finepix X100.

The Fuji Finepix X100

Japan’s newest invention certainly struck a chord when it came to market, in more ways than one; some were good, many were bad. It had all the emotional discussion of an Apple product. People around the world were talking about the hybrid viewfinder, the looks, the build quality, the image output, whether it was a rangefinder, whether it was good value for money, debating earthquakes and shipping dates along the way. Oh and the firmware.

So lets begin there and get some negative energy out of the way?

The Negatives

Firmware

The discussions in forums and from poor attention grabbing reviews over the X100 was so intense, it prompted people to declare a recall! It never needed to go that far, the firmware issues though many, weren’t that severe. As soon as the more rational among us got their hands on a X100, the consensus seemed to be that while the firmware was half baked, it wasn’t life threatening to the overall shooting experience, proving the camera wasn’t broken. It was just proof that those who shout the loudest aren’t necessarily correct or have the majority view. Those photographers enjoying their X100’s were mostly on Flickr, PhotoShelter and 500px, happily shooting away making beautiful imagery.

I think the firmware will affect different types of photographers in different ways. Problems that exist can be serious and more intense depending on one’s expectations and approach towards the X100. For me, the quirks amount to being little road bumps that need navigating around. For other photographers the quirks are more serious because they’ll be using more of the features in the camera.

Take for example the ISO settings, they are all over the place, literally and figuratively speaking. The ISO and Auto-ISO settings are in two different places in the Menu system but as I don’t use Auto-ISO, it doesn’t upset me that the menu setup for this is so poorly thought out, sure it’s maddening for others. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not trying to excuse the X100 on any faults it does have, it should behave like other cameras and the firmware should have been in the oven for longer.

I just can’t get upset by all the quirks if I never encounter them because it would be like expecting me to get upset with the purchase of a new beautiful high performance car after discovering the cup holder and the car cigarette lighter take twice as long to set up and use, but I wouldn’t ever drink or smoke in the car!

To learn about more firmware issues, head over to DPreview, they are objective and exhaustive.

Fuji have recognised there are software issues and are releasing an update to the firmware, meaning the X100 experience is set to improve, time will tell.

UPDATE: At the time of writing, Fuji have now released the 1.10 firmware. They have addressed a number (22 actually) of the quirks. I’ll only mention the ones that address those quirks I’ve already written about. DPreview will be addressing the firmware update in their updated article.

My Actual Issues with the Firmware

I don’t feel I’m adding much to all already well-explored discussion but the main issues I do encounter are to do with the ND Filter, the Silent Mode and a few other quirks with the menu. The Menu isn’t logical nor makes good use of available space. I would like to speak to the UI designers about who decided the sequence and design (this is a separate issue to the ISO settings)? I find myself repeatedly cycling through the menu looking for feature ‘x’. There doesn’t seem to be any consideration towards understanding how a photographer would go about using the menu system, two long lists of options isn’t the best solution unless some options were nestled inside others to shorten them.

With Canon cameras, the menu layout offered the various options in groups that made them smaller and easier to cycle through and select. On an Olympus camera, the main shooting controls were laid out over the screen on a flat series of tiles, navigating through them was quick, though cluttered. I’m not saying copy them exactly, but they were easier visually to navigate.

Terms like ‘Shooting Menu’ and ‘Set-Up’ aren’t exactly overly descriptive and the boundaries are blurred when some of the options you use are in the other menu!

The lack of consistency and the flaws with the menu structure will soon be learned by the user, this is why I consider those issues I have encountered as road bumps but doesn’t the unnecessary memorisation get in the way of just taking a pictures?

Neutral Density Filter

Two quirks revolve around the ND filter:

  • Placement, it’s the option I am normally having to thumb for since it resides on the second screen in the menu and I’m still constantly changing my mind as to whether it will give me more value by being assigned to the Fn button over the ISO controls, they rest on the first screen.
  • Selection (though this is a general problem with the firmware), I’m always presented with the option to turn it ‘Off’ or ‘On’ regardless if it’s already activated or not! It amounts to another button press, even assigned to the Fn button. But if I shoot Raw and press the Raw button, I’m not provided with a choice for Raw or Jpeg; the X100 just switches to Jpeg.

Silent Mode

I’ve realised both Fuji and myself have different ideas on how the silent mode should work. As it stands, anything that makes a sound is turned off, this includes flash shooting though I’m not sure is truly convenient. What bothered me more is how during playback, videos don’t play the accompanying audio. Surely if I’m reviewing what I’ve shot, I don’t care about being silent anymore?

Thankfully I have a solution as Fuji’s solution is a time wasting process : Long press the ‘BACK’ button to take the camera out of silent mode. Do what you need to do; shoot flash or review your pictures and video, then long press the ‘BACK’ to turn the silent mode back on and carry on shooting as before.

My solution around this has been to set ‘Operational Volume’ and ‘Shutter Volume’ to either low or off, instead of just placing the camera in a specific stealth mode. Now the X100 hardly makes any noises and I can exercise the options to use the built in flash and review videos however I want, without changing any further settings.

Manual Focusing

Dire.

~

Those are the biggest hurdles I personally have with the software, and while they are a little frustrating, I can quite happily shoot for a length of time and get the pictures I want before encountering them again.

Yes I’ll be another vote for a firmware update to re-assign the Raw button. I only shoot Raw so it’s effectively a no man’s land for my finger. If I can add one addition to DPreview’s list of fixes for the firmware:

  • Have ‘Image Size’ nestled inside Image Quality. Those who shoot exclusively Raw will always see ‘Image Size’ as greyed out but that space could be used by the ND Filter thereby promoting it to the first screen. Yippee!

Other Issues

I’m mentioning these other issues with the camera because I’ve read about how they seem quite serious but I haven’t found them to be, my opinion is to provide some balance.

Contrast Detection for Focusing

I can honestly state that I haven’t had a problem here, I’m not sure why other photographers are having problems and critising the X100. I even shoot in the dark. But that’s not me saying I’ve nailed the focus 100% of the time, I haven’t, sometimes I’ve tried to take a picture and it won’t confirm a focus lock. It happens with every camera, it even happened with my old Canon L glass, no big deal!

As for speed, I think it’s wonderfully capable and again no problem.

Hardware: The Issues

Battery Life

I’d say I can get through a day on a single charge, I’m okay with this. My battery saving settings are: ‘OVF POWER SAVE MODE’ and ‘QUICK START MODE’ to ‘ON’ with LCD brightness set to +1. The last two options are power drainers, the first being a power saver at the cost of a slower auto-focus.

I never expected much from the battery, if it can do 300 shots, then that’s fine as a minimum. It would be nice if the NP-95 were made in a higher capacity, that would solve the problem right there. I’m also not the kind of photographer with a trigger finger or needs to review every shot he takes, the viewfinder is hardly used. I’m also going to be less concerned than other photographers about battery life when replacement batteries are around £10 (6), I would be if I was paying £100 each for my batteries like I was with my Canon gear.

From how I’m approaching the X100, it gets off lightly as I’m making a comparison between it and my previous camera. The 1Ds/1D were heavier, batteries were more expensive and I couldn’t fit them in my pockets as easily. So I’m not going to quibble if I have to buy another couple of batteries the size of bubble gum boxes at £10 a pop because each one only lasts 300 shots, especially when I had four £100 batteries that individually were good for 500-600 shots . If you do the maths, the Fuji X100 has the advantage and lower cost of ownership.

On the issue of battery charging, three hours to charge such a tiny battery, dreadful! The larger Canon batteries took 90 minutes and I could charge two at a time.

Other than battery life, these are my other smaller issues with the X100.

  • The Fuji X100 is missing an ISO dial on the top. Look at how the dials are arranged on the Canon G12 for example. Why wasn’t a similar design incorporated into the exposure compensation dial? It would also free up the Fn button for something else.
  • This isn’t immediately an issue with the camera but £70 for the adapter ring/lens hood? Especially when light leaks appear in all sorts of various incarnations while using it! Also when the hood is attached, the lens cap doesn’t fit! The hood should be included with the camera and Fuji should have an alternative lens cap for the camera when the hood is attached.
  • I’m told the AF-C isn’t very good, but I’ve literally never ever used that type of auto-focus so I can’t comment. You’ll have to read about it elsewhere. But I do think the focus order should be switched around with AF-S on the outside instead of AF-C. That way it would provide a quicker way to change from Manual Focus and AF-S. The dial switch is also very small that you need to look at it when changing focus. (UPDATE: You notice they did change the order on the X10?)
  • On the chance I want to change the ‘AF’ point, I can’t do it while the SD card is being written to.
  • I can put the battery in the right way round, but could Fuji put an accurate battery gauge in the firmware? (Better since the update).
  • There is no + and – on the Diopter.
  • The USB/HDMI cover doesn’t snap back, that almost caught me out.
  • The battery switch doesn’t spring back into place, you have to move the switch yourself.
  • The Read/Write LED is covered by your thumb while holding the camera.
  • The battery charger design is terrible. Make sure you don’t lose the accompanying plastic unlabelled piece.
  • Give the Command Dial something to do.
  • In Video mode I can’t control the focusing in any way.

Much like the software issues, most are minor, but I have to pay attention to how I use the X100, especially with the port/battery compartments.

What Does the X100 Do Right?

Auto-Focusing

My biggest concern before buying the X100 was wondering how quick the focusing would be. This is the first camera I’ve owned that uses contrast detection. Speed tests on Youtube didn’t portray it as being that sluggish but I can’t help but admit that I was partially swayed by the majority view; that it was slow to focus. It didn’t help that DPreview’s huge writeup stated that it wasn’t ‘an especially fast camera’, and they review 100’s of cameras, creating better, more informative comparisons than I ever possibly could.

The Panasonic GF-1 is described by DPreview as being the fastest contrast focused camera, as I haven’t touched one I won’t have a frame of reference beyond online videos showing the differences between it and the X100. It wasn’t until I got my hands on one that I would truly understand how fast it actually is, now I can state that the focusing system isn’t a problem whatsoever, I love it. I don’t even have the AF-illuminator turned on, never need it.

Though Dpreview have stated the opposite, citing problems I haven’t encountered, I can’t explain why I’m so lucky. I’m just happy it works so well, beyond what I thought it could do. Until recently I also had the AF on a power saving mode that impedes performance, so I find it even odder how I’ve described how happy I have been with the focusing mechanism and I haven’t really utilised its full potential!

I also don’t find myself wishing I had that famous 1Ds series focusing back. The AF does the job and beyond what I expected.

Just a note that pre-focusing appears to work in two different but subtle ways. When pre-focusing in EVF mode, it behaves just like an SLR; with the focus staying where you last pre-focused after taking your finger off the shutter button regardless of whether you take a picture.

In OVF mode, it can’t work that way because you’re staring through the viewfinder, everything is always in focus. The changes are visually illustrated with the frame box. What happens is the frame box moves back to its original position once you lift your finger off the shutter button. The behaviour is very similar to how the Contax G2 worked. Both the G2 and the X100 (in OVF mode) won’t auto-park where you last pre-focused because of the way the viewfinders work; by correcting for parallax with each shot.

So once you pre-focus in OVF, the frame lines shift to get your focus, but re-centre to their start position. The G2 would black out everything that was on the outside of the frame box restricting your coverage in the process. In effect the viewfinder literally shrank in front of your eyes but would go back again to full coverage when I took my finger off the shutter button.

The constant re-focusing the X100 does might be the reason why photographers perceive the focus to be slow. My friend Dan from Twitter has this advice (which btw involves manual focusing):

“The other workaround is to remember that the both the home position and default AF distance in AF.S mode is 2.2m. If you are photographing in a situation of poor light and with a subject of low contrast, position yourself between 1.9m and 2.6m away and shoot. Your subject will be in focus, even at f/2.

In brighter light, when I’m shooting candids or kids, I manually select a smaller aperture and take advantage of the increased depth of field. At f/16 and at the default focussing position the X100′s focussing scale shows that the DoF is from 1.4m to 5.0m. DoF Master software calculates it to be even deeper, from 0.95m to infinity. In practice, I can usually accept 0.95m to infinity. Given the camera’s ability to take clear photos in high ISO, it’s rare that I cannot shoot daylight shots indoors or out and not be able to use hyperfocal focussing to get the shot. This is instantaneous focussing with zero lag”.

Focus Points

Cycling through them is relatively easy, I’ve learnt where I want to re-select my focus while at the same time compose a busy picture. Selecting a focus point doesn’t require a button to be pressed to confirm your selection. Instead you just move over it and forget about it like on a SLR. But pressing the MENU/OK takes you straight back to centre focus wherever the focus point was previously. I have been surprised that changing the size of an individual focus point did actually work out well when I wanted it to. It wasn’t something I was expecting to use, I tried it for a Macro shot and it worked first time.

35mm f2 Lens/Macro/Video/Panorama

I’m enjoying the restrictions of the prime lens. But the lens offers more value by being able to shoot macro, video and panoramic images, it certainly adds some flexibility to the single lens design. I’m not really a pixel peeper so I can’t say I’ve been terribly concerned about lens sharpness, viewers and clients alike have always commented on the content of my photography rather than the technical aspects, regardless of what camera I used (7). It’s certainly no Holga but I consider it to be sharp enough for my needs. I could certainly reshoot the movie Caligula (8) with this camera and be commended for the image quality as being an improvement over the camera they previously used.

DPreview state there is no advantage to shooting Raw if sharpness is your reason for using it, the detail is just as good in the Jpegs.

5fps/Buffer size

The 1Ds Mark II was 4fps and the 1D Mark IIN was 8fps, with the X100 sitting in between them for frame rate. In actual use because of the leaf shutter, the X100 is fast enough but almost quiet compared (as the video below shows). A fast SD UHS-1 card helps with write times. I tried the same card in the 1Dmk2 N and write times were actually slower than a class 10 card. I can only assume it was a compatibility issue with the newer SD spec.

The buffer of the X100 allows me to get eight Raw files captured in quick succession before it becomes unresponsive, taking 15 seconds to clear the buffer (or nine Fine jpegs in 10 seconds). DPreview mentions that write times can be improved if you turn ‘Image Review’ on. But compared to the 1Ds, this alone was an improvement. The only advantage to the 1Ds was that if the buffer was emptying itself, you could continue shooting until you hit the upper limit of the buffer again.

With the X100, it’s totally out for the count for the time it takes to empty the buffer. Other than with testing the X100, I can’t find myself filling the buffer in a normal usage scenario, so while it does place a limitation on the camera, I’ll never really encounter it.

Tip: While waiting for the buffer to clear, if you press the play button, the X100 acknowledges this action and will act on it accordingly once the buffer clears.

Aesthetics, Handling and Weight

Simply beautiful, I found myself staring at it during this review and build quality is fantastic, feeling solid and tight. Anybody coming from a previous rangefinder will feel right at home with its traditional layout and retro looks. Stamped machined metal, who does that anymore besides Apple in consumer electronics? With regard to weight, the X100 is perfectly balanced. I found the handling entirely natural, the exposure compensation dial was on the opposite side on the Contax G2 but that’s okay, the left hand has enough to do with operating the buttons running down the side.

My hands aren’t large so I haven’t had the problems with the MENU/OK button or any of the buttons on the back of the X100 that other people have.

Fellow photographer Greg Funnell (a documentary photographer) acquired an X100 only last week, check out what he’s managed to do in that time. His shooting style is apparent right away and doesn’t seem to have had any problems bringing that visual style out from the camera.

Shutter/Silent Mode

When you get round to turning off the custom sound effects, the shutter is whisper quiet and unless a person has an eagle eye; witnessing the leaf shutter in action, they won’t know you’re taking a picture. I can really sink into the background compared to before when the unnatural sound of the mirror slap on my 1Ds would on occasion give me away to other people. The Focus mechanism is also a lot more stealthy than my old Contax G2, the G2 sounded like you were revving up a midget’s motorcycle.

In some cases, the shutter is so quiet you might not realise you’ve taken a picture in OVF mode.

High ISO Noise

ISO noise is something in a different league to the 1Ds Mark II. The noise that does appear is very pleasing to my eyes, with a pattern which is more like film grain in appearance. I haven’t played with the noise reduction settings. I tend to leave it comfortably at 3200 ISO rather than take it to the Raw limit of 6400 ISO. I happily will if I thought I needed to (9).

ISO 6400, F2, 1/45, Spot metered

Click to see full size.

The OVF/EVF and Live View

So what about the world’s first hybrid viewfinder? Well it’s absolutely first class. I’m so thrilled Fuji got this right, it was essential they did. The optical coverage is a gracious 130% and I’m loving every percent of it. The white frame box appears as a digital overlay, with the overlay customised to suit how much information you want to see, I prefer the bare essentials. DPreview here explains the overlay in a much more informative way.

Having previously owned a Contax G2, I’m no stranger to how frame lines shift, reacting in basically the same way when you half press the shutter button. I remember a huge discussion on Dpreview about parallax error simply because people didn’t understand the nuances of a rangefinder type system. Near the end of the discussion it took a rifleman to neatly explain there wasn’t a problem!

Due to issues of parallax, anything up to 80cm away is too close for the OVF to be of any use, requiring the user to switch to the EVF. You might think switching views is a drag, but actually it’s very painless and hassle free, that’s because Fuji’s implementation of the EVF in the X100 is sublime and I’m somebody who has always been dead set against EVFs, they’re mostly crap after you’ve experienced a real optical viewfinder (10). Bad EVFs have that natural ability to make you think you’re staring down a long dark corridor with binoculars. Only this week I tried out a friend’s brand new Fuji HS20 to confirm my previous thoughts and I remember using a Canon G series camera in the past which wasn’t any better.

But the X100’s EVF is something different entirely. It’s a great example of an EVF done properly and the hybrid view finder is certainly one of the strengths of the X100. There is no dark corridor here, everything is bright and very clear. The field of view is smaller than the OVF but that’s natural as it can only give you the view from the sensor’s POV and just like an SLR, blacks out when taking a picture.

Since this is the first camera I’ve owned that has employed live view, it’s been another bonus and I’ve taken to it like a pigeon to a chip for framing long exposures on my tripod.

The Lens Cap

I quite like it when I can get to use it and I love the velvet interior. Unlike the lens cap on a Canon 1D series body, it doesn’t come off when travelling in my bag. Any pressure placed on the cap simply secures it even more to the camera body, it’s just a shame it doesn’t fit on the lens hood.

Image Quality

If you’re tired of reading, then I can describe it in one word: amazing. Here’s a few more words:

Jpeg – I don’t shoot jpeg, haven’t done since 2003 with my Fuji S7000. But from what I hear, out of camera jpegs are stunning for what they are. Patrick La Roque, a photographer with more knowledge than me describes his experience here.

Patrick is very positive in his write-up and he isn’t the only one talking them up. I might shoot a few myself, it would certainly give my laptop a rest, I’m not due a new one till Autumn and this one is stressing out over the large Raw files the X100 generates.

Raw – Where I do have some experience is with the raw files, and the output from the X100 is extremely good with a wide amount of flexibility in the files. Unprocessed raw files have lovely rich greens, deep blues and skin tones don’t have as much magenta in them compared to my CR2 files.

This image below was taken in the morning light just around twilight:

Unprocessed raw converted to jpeg. Shot on multi @ ISO 200, F2 at 1/140, -1/3 exposure compensation, 5100K

With the wind blowing the focus is on the flag post. Here below is the same image again with adjustments in Aperture:

Adjustments made: +0.5 to Exposure, +20.0 to Shadows, 7500K

This is totally usable, details have been recovered from the darker parts and the image doesn’t look forced for it.

Here’s another example of how much detail can be recovered without compromising image quality:

Unprocessed Raw, ISO 200, F8, 1/280, -1/3 exposure compensation

 I don’t have a flag fetish, this is purely a co-incidence. Exposure was set to average with the image above.

+2.5 exposure, +40 Shadows

Notice the detail kept in the trees? This is an exaggerated example, I would never manipulate my raw files to this degree, but it does serve my point well. Notice how there is still a variety of colour to be found in the trees and it still doesn’t look forced. I’ve read comments online about a plastic look to Fuji raw files, I can’t see it myself with the standard settings or from anybody else’s pictures I’ve seen online.

Images are amazingly well exposed, while set to Multi and Average meter modes as I’ve shown above. I always found the 1Ds was a little off and I would underexpose 2/3rds or a whole stop under to keep the detail in my skies. I don’t find myself resorting to the exposure compensation dial as much with the X100.

Spot metering works a little too well, still it’s a good chance here to emphasise how good the raw files are as I had managed to reclaim a lot of detail where I thought I had blown the detail in the highlights:

ISO 3200, f2, 0.15 sec.

I focused on the chest when everybody was swaying.

No adjustments made other than +2 to Exposure and +1.5 to Recovery.

All the different lights on the back wall have suffered; the yellow on the arches and the white pillar are obvious signs, besides it isn’t a bad effort with Aperture to correct the poor spot metering.

Raw files are roughly 20megs in size which is quite large but Fuji doesn’t compress theirs, it’s one of the reasons why the raw files are on average a similar size from my old 16MP 1Ds.

~

In summing up the image quality; the Fuji sensor inside the X100 is really something to shout about. For all the quirks in the camera, this certainly isn’t one of them, it’s probably why a lot of photographers can forgive the camera’s other faults.

Mark over at CoffeeGeek has looked at the image quality in more depth than I have and has a lot more to say about Fuji’s image quality. Check him out here in an appropriately named article: Why the Fuji X100 is a landmark camera.

Small and Light: The Other Benefits

I mentioned it earlier, one of the reasons why I bought the Fuji X100 was because I grew tired with lugging around an SLR. I wanted to go back to a lightweight camera that would scold me for not taking it everywhere. My Canon gear was just no longer fun anymore and nor was it fun for those who saw it. But why should that matter?

Well generally speaking, when it comes to skill, photography is 90% photographer and 10% camera and this is common advice we share with new photographers who want to find ways to improve at this art. It serves as an apt reminder to not get hung up on gear and to realise it is themselves they should focus on, for improving their photography. But the 90/10 rules works well when it comes to the issue of perception, with a 90%/10% split in the camera’s favour, depending on the public’s outlook where THEY get hung up on gear a photographer is using.

How people react in front of different cameras can be measured, with differing reactions that are positive and negative for the photographer. The public are generally more passive towards tourists than they are to professional photographers and let’s assume all experiences are positive ones. They’ll still be differ because of the camera.

I was asked last week by a member of the public if I wanted to be a professional photographer; I was holding the Fuji X100. Last time I used my Canon camera, I was asked by somebody else if I was a professional photographer.

In the past I’ve been stopped and asked for a copy of an image when I’ve used a compact camera. Having introduced an SLR into a similar situation, I’m regularly asked if I’ll be giving THEM money for taking the shot (with the assumption I’m going to be making money and they should receive some of it)!

So how I’m perceived is very important, interactions change because of what I’m holding up to my eye. What I’m describing in a long winded way is another benefit of the X100. My appearance to persons in public is a more amateur one, having a passive presence that is less threatening and commands less space over others which I’m enjoying!

Apart from acquiring a passive presence in my street shooting, I find myself composing my pictures with a greater care and attention. I’ve slowed down my picture taking; producing less pictures while keeping my hit rate reasonably high compared to my previous camera.

New Nostalgia (Conclusion)

If you’ve read this far, you might confuse my praise as fanboy love for Fujifilm and the X100, this isn’t entirely true. There’s certainly love written here for the X100 but I don’t share it with Fuji, this is where a fanboy and myself differ. Instead Fuji are in receivership of my admiration because of what they have brought to market. I’ve waited a long time for a camera like this, the strong demand will hopefully bring Fujifilm to release successors in the near future and convince other manufacturers to reconsider how they approach the market for small capable cameras.

I wouldn’t have really cared who brought this camera to market, whereas a fanboy most likely would. For me a touch of elegance, a decent viewfinder and reasonable size were paramount. If I wasn’t so adamant over the viewfinder I might have bought into the m4/3rds Alliance concept. When one considers their prices, they offer more value in terms of features and offer different lenses compared to the X100 but if what they evoke feels wrong, there’s no value at all to be had.

M4/3rd cameras are certainly not boring black boxes, however external viewfinders weren’t what I was looking for. Fuji haven’t been perfect, their attempt has simply been more successful in my view. My hope is that Fuji learn from revisiting the firmware with the X100, and apply all this experience to a successor. I can’t help but revisit what Seal said in this discussion:

“This is where Leica get it right, they don’t buckle under the pressure of the masses. They take the purists approach and give us the essentials of what we need to get the picture, leaving out all the other bullshit which only clutters the objective”.

An uncluttered objective with the X200 would be nice.

In summing up, apart from being limited to a single focal length, I can’t say I feel I’m missing else anything from my previous Canon gear (yet). Coming down from higher end gear, the price of the X100 was never a problem. Performance wise it actually exceeds my old 1Ds in many ways, surprising really because of its size and it illustrates of how far technology has matured since the four years the 1Ds Mark II was considered top of the line. I think we can be grateful for whatever camera we have today.

A lot of my choices stem from a space left behind by the Contax G2. The G2 had style, novel innovations and brought with it a sense of enjoyment even with the whiff of C-41 hanging in the air, the X100 carries on in a similar fashion and despite it’s binary heart beat, I’m glad it doesn’t feel like a gadget either.

The really important part is what I addressed at the very beginning of this review; the need for a capable, stylish take anywhere compact camera with the instant nature of digital, I believe I have some of that now (I did have two G2’s after all); beginning a new love affair and just like with other photographers, this is despite its flaws.

What’s Next?

Back in 2004 during the US release of the Epson R-D1, luminous-landscape.com wrote a review about this little known digital rangefinder. To those who didn’t know, THIS was the first digital rangefinder, coming out roughly two years before the Leica M8. In the review Sean Reid had written down four suggestions for any other camera maker who might want to enter the same market. I would now consider Fuji as the third such player after Leica and Epson (11).

Sean’s four suggestions were:

  • Concentrate on making a camera with a very quiet shutter.
  • Increase the accuracy of finder framing lines.
  • Continue to improve high ISO quality.
  • For the high-end digital rangefinders, make them with effective weather/dust seals.

The Fuji X100 nearly achieves all four of Sean’s criteria, certainly the first three. The Fuji X100 is the quietest camera I’ve ever used, I think the framing lines are very accurate and of course we’ve read a lot about the effort made into attaining and maintaining a high quality return on ISO sensitivity. I think with regard to weather sealing the back of the camera won’t be as impervious as the front. So I won’t be as adventurous with it as I was with my Canon gear sitting out in the rain waiting for the shot.

If I could add my own suggestion to Sean’s list.

  • Don’t compromise on size.

I’m still undecided as to whether the X100 is a little too small or I haven’t got use to how small it is. I don’t think the X100 needed to be the size it is. It could obviously be larger without a huge impact on weight or portability. Maybe some of the issues with the button size other people are experiencing is a backlash against the X100’s physical dimensions.

~

(1) Some would argue they still are the only company to make digital rangefinders and the Fuji X100 doesn’t count as one.
(2) I’m not ignoring the Epson RD-1. I recognise it was the first digital rangefinder but it wasn’t in any way a product for the masses with its $3000 price tag back in 2004.
(3) Now granted, the Fuji X100 has many flaws, but they are much much easier to swallow when price is a huge factor. The technical deficiencies with Leica systems are largely inherent to the X1 rather than the M8 or 9, though their high ISO capabilities leave a lot to be desired.
(4) I know it’s kind of contradictory that I’m discussing a camera with a retro look based on an even older design ethos, but who says this journey had ended and who said this design was an accident. It’s clear this is the direction Fuji want to go while riffing off the success of m4/3rds.
(5) Yes I’m aware cameras existed in mobile phones before the iPhone, but just like m4/3rds, the iPhone took their camera and married it to the App Store giving birth to unimaginable creativity that couldn’t be predicted.
(6) I bought an Invo8 battery from Amazon, read this blog post. I’ve been happy with them and will probably be buying another.
(7) Unless it was a Holga, all people seemed enamoured by the results shot with this camera.
(8) A reference to a comment by Newsweek magazine where it seemed like the entire movie had been photographed through a tub of vaseline.
(9) Only jpegs can do 12800 ISO.
(10) My first camera was a Fuji S7000 bridge camera and I thought it was brilliant until I used the optical viewfinder of the Pentax K1000.
(11) Epson sell an updated version of the R-D1, imaginatively named the R-D1x but it’s only available in Japan and limited in number. It also comes with a lower price tag than a Leica, but is designed around the M mount allowing the user access to the entire Leica lens range.

24 Responses

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  1. [...] just posted his review of the X100.  It is an interesting review from the perspective of someone who was both a former [...]

  2. Thank you Jonathan, for this critical extensive daily practice review with the positive and negative points.
    Very useful information and enjoyable to read.

    demian

    June 9, 2011 at 12:27

  3. Thanks for reading Demian. Are you buying one?

    jonathanjk

    June 9, 2011 at 16:28

  4. Given the complaints about the X100 menus, etc. I think it appropriate that your given film v digital benchmark is the Contax G2: the G2 being a response to the ‘flaws’ inherent within the original G1. Although a fine camera in itself, the G1 lags behind the G2 in desireability as a result. So – how long before we get the new ‘improved’ X100 – the Mk 2 version. Someone once told me “…. never buy a MK 1 version of ANYTHING – you’re the test pilot …”

    photozopia

    June 9, 2011 at 22:37

  5. It’s true what you say, but I guess I’m a willing test pilot in this case; it being the only time I’ve bought a Mark I product.

    The firmware update that is coming will hopefully fix the quirks in the camera and whenever that Mark II comes, I’m buying it as well unless there is something better. A Leica X2 with a viewfinder would be interesting. ;-)

    jonathanjk

    June 9, 2011 at 22:55

  6. Thanks for an interesting and informative read. Just a couple of points regarding your comments about the Macro and WB issues. It is the ‘review’ feature that causes the camera to lose the Macro setting; with this turned off Macro is sticky remaining on until it, or the camera, is switched off.
    It is not necessary to press OK to confirm WB; pressing the shutter button will do so, just as it will to confirm any other menu settings. The Menu/OK button only needs to be pressed to initially access the menu or to stay in the menu to change more than one feature.

    Stephen Waddington

    June 10, 2011 at 11:53

  7. Hey Stephen, thanks for taking the time to comment. Where do I change this ‘review’ feature. I haven’t been able to find it other than ‘Image Display’. Thanks for the tip regarding the shutter button with the WB as well.

    jonathanjk

    June 10, 2011 at 12:06

  8. Sorry, I should have said if ‘Image Display’ is turned off then Macro is sticky.

    Stephen Waddington

    June 10, 2011 at 13:23

  9. I love the manual focus! The trick is to focus with the AFL/AEL button first and fine tune with the manual focus ring if necessary. I use it like I use the “Snap” mode on my Ricoh GRD. Thank you for a great review! I hope they listen to your ideas!

    Niklas

    June 10, 2011 at 15:26

  10. Ah, that is helpful, makes sense now. The next quirk is how it doesn’t stay in Macro Mode when you’ve reviewed your images! I’ll still update the review though.

    jonathanjk

    June 10, 2011 at 15:42

  11. I’m a happy owner since May 28 :-)

    demian

    June 10, 2011 at 17:07

  12. Are you on flickr. Do you have pics :-)

    jonathanjk

    June 11, 2011 at 00:10

  13. [...] out this review about the eagerly anticipated Fuji X100 that is very hard to come by now a days. http://jonathanjk.com/2011/06/08/fuji-x100-review-a-love-returned-nostalgia-reclaimed/ Posted by admin on Jun 12, 2011 in Street Photogrpahy | 0 [...]

  14. [...] if you haven’t read it yet JONATHANJK  has a great — and extensive! — personal review of the X100 that’s well worth the time. I finally got around to reading it last night… Told you I [...]

  15. Dear Jonathan:

    One simple question that is still not clear to me. When you manual focus, do you see subjects come in and out of focus on the viewfinder? This is how it happens in a normal 35 mm camera, I wonder if you see that in the EV or OV? I read something about a scale, it just not clear to me.

    raul

    July 26, 2011 at 17:13

  16. WIth manual focus, you can only see things come in and out of focus in the EVF as like it is on an SLR because it’s a direct image off the sensor. The optical viewfinder won’t register that change in focus because you’re not looking through the lens as you would do also with an SLR.

    Does this help?

    jonathanjk

    July 26, 2011 at 18:29

  17. Struck a “chord”

    funkdip

    March 17, 2012 at 18:35

  18. Thanks man, much appreciated. Thank you for taking the time out to correct me.

    jonathanjk

    March 17, 2012 at 19:02

  19. Whatever, thanks for being snarky; I just thought it was a typo that you would rather not have on a public post.

    funkdip

    March 18, 2012 at 01:18

  20. No, no, no, there is no snark, I’m being genuine. I don’t understand how saying thank you is being snarky. I really mean it, you read such a long post and then decided to call me out on an error, I wish it happened more. It shows people care about what others write.

    jonathanjk

    March 18, 2012 at 09:35

  21. I’m now embarrassed, and apologize for assuming that. I greatly enjoyed your article, and how thorough and well-written it was (I even purchased an X100 after reading it–it’s amazing, I love it!). Cheers!

    funkdip

    March 20, 2012 at 02:25

  22. Hey no worries dude, thanks for coming back and thank you for buying one after reading my review, honoured. When I get the cash I want to do a X Pro 1 review as well. :-)

    jonathanjk

    March 20, 2012 at 08:18

  23. Excellent review. Thanks for wring it. I just got the X100 today.

    Todd

    July 11, 2012 at 22:51

  24. Thanks, I tried to be honest with it. Funnily enough, I just sold the X100 I reviewed! Buying the X-Pro1 soon.

    jonathanjk

    July 11, 2012 at 23:25


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