Honestly my wife is on the verge of killing me. Okay maybe its not that bad but truthfully, expensive hobbies are very difficult to resist in Japan. Last summer I began complimenting my desire for premium golf clubs by getting into cameras. I purchased my first ever interchangeable lens camera in the Sony Nex-5 and went on to also own the Panasonic GF-1, Olympus E-PL1, Sony a33 and now yes, I had to get it, the Fujifilm X100. The X100 has been a very hot topic since it was announced back in September of last year. When it finally got released in Japan before the rest of the world, demand was high even though there were very mixed reviews. It was pretty darn hard to find any shop here that had stock. Then the unthinkable happened and Japan was devastated by that monster earthquake and tsunami which completely halted production of the X100 at Fujifilm's Sendai plant.
Towards the end of March, Fuji announced that it would begin shipping newly manufactured cameras to shops around Japan starting April 1st so at that time I put my order in on Rakuten. This was even after reading the first wave of reviews, some very positive and some very negative and many pointing out obvious issues, both technically and functionally with the X100. The truth is every camera, especially new ones have quirks and bugs and issues. There is no such thing as the perfect camera. In the end the camera is just a tool in a photographers hands. Different cameras certainly offer different designs, technologies and features and when it comes down to decision time, a photographer hopefully chooses the camera that best suits his or her style and skill level, and allows them to capture the images they see and visualize. It sure sounds a lot like golf clubs. Everyone always wants the "best" club, but really there is no such thing, just the best club for for each specific player or in the case of this post, the best camera.
Fuji X100 in the hands of an amateur
I am what you call an enthusiast and by no means a pro photographer, or even a good one at that. I am still learning and while I am lucky enough to take some okay looking photos, I sure take a lot of bad ones too. I have learned pretty much everything from the internet including sites like DP Review, GetDPI and Steve Huff's blog which I have always read before purchasing every camera in the last 12 months (in fact he just posted his X100 review as well). I love gadgets and technology so while I do pay attention to all those fancy specs and features, in the end the bottom line is the camera needs to help me produce some good quality pictures.
Fujifilm X100 Promotional Video
I won't get into all the specifications and technical details about the camera. It's easy enough to read the specs off the Fujifilm site or for those who want a quick rundown on the features of the X100, you can watch this promotional video above. For my review I'm just going to cover some basic features and functions as well as post some pictures. Think of it as the opinions of an enthusiastic photo newbie. (^_^)
X100 Looks and feels great...
One of the first things that drew me and probably most others to the X100 was the look of the camera. It's retro styling is very attractive and its workmanship and finish is equally attractive. The Magnesium Alloy Body feels solid in my hands and dials nice and firm. The GF-1 which is now the wife's camera, feels very plasticky next to the X100 (then again the X100 does cost twice as much new). While most DSLR owners and even Micro Four Thirds owners will be used to a dial that has AUTO P A S M on them, the X100 instead uses a dial for shutter speed, another for exposure compensation and of course the aperture ring on the fixed f2 Fujinon lens. Turn the shutter dial to A and the camera will automatically set the right shutter speed based on the aperture you choose, in other words aperture priority mode. Turn the aperture ring to A and manually setting the shutter speed dial has the camera in shutter priority mode. Turn both to A and you have the camera in Auto. I pretty much shoot in aperture priority mode and leave the camera to decide the right shutter speed.
As for other basic settings on the camera, there is a switch on the side of the camera for setting the type of focus desired. There is Manual Focus, Auto Focus Spot and Auto Focus Continuous. I am not very good at manual focus so I usually leave it on AF-Spot. Plus manually focusing with the X100 is slow and cumbersome. I have not experimented much with AF-Continuous.
Auto ISO feature...
Another important setting is ISO and one negative of the X100 is you can't change the ISO setting without digging down several levels of menus. There is a Fn button which is a customizable but this Fn button is the ONLY customizable button right now (and I use it for the ND Filter which I will get into later). So what I did was use the X100's auto ISO feature. It works pretty good allowing you to set the max ISO and minimum shutter speed. I have it set to go as high as 3200 ISO and keeping a minimum 1/40 sec shutter speed pretty much guaranteeing me shake free images. So in other words the X100 will automatically choose ISO keeping the shutter speed at 1/40 sec or faster. If there is not enough light it will drop below 1/40 sec and still let you take the picture at the max ISO you specified. There is no image stabilization on the X100 and sadly my hands aren't as steady as some so 1/40 has served me well.
Fujinon f2 23mm fixed lens...
Besides the camera's styling another big draw is Fujinon fixed lens and APS-C 12.3 megapixel sensor. Over the past year I've become so used to changing lenses and being able to use different focal lengths with all my other cameras that having a the fixed lens on the X100 worried me. However it turns out I was worrying for nothing. The 23mm f2 lens which works out to a 35mm view with the sensors 1.5x crop factor has actually been more versatile than I expected. But what's best is that having a fixed lens requires the photographer to get more involved and more creative when it comes to the composition of a photo. The fixed lens forces me to move and get into position and try different angles and points of view. This is a good thing as it makes me think and I believe my ability to compose a photo has improved because of this.
Fast and great IQ
As for the lens itself, its awesome. Coupled with the APS-C CMOS sensor I've been very happy with the image quality it produces and at the end of the day that's what counts. I've come to really like fast lenses that produce shallow depth of field and the f2 while not the fastest is fast enough to produce nice bokeh and shoot in lower light (plus high ISO is damn good on the X100). f2 can be a bit soft but without zooming in and pixel peeping it certainly has acceptable sharpness. Turn the aperture to f4 and the picture becomes very sharp. f4 for me is the sweet spot and I love shooting there and probably 50% of the photos I take are with that aperture. I find the camera and lens sharper than any of the cameras I have owned before.
So far I've taken all my photos with the X100 at default sharpness, noise reduction and contrast settings. Until recently there was no support for the X100's raw files so most were shot in jpeg fine and exported from Lightroom then resized for this review.
f4 at 35mm still gives a nice combination of sharpess and bokeh as well. Below is a 100% crop of the focused area from the image above:
Why a dedicated raw button?
Now that raw support is available I will pretty much shoot in raw all the time which brings me to another strange design quirk from Fuji. They actually placed a dedicated raw button on the back of the camera. Honestly, I have not touched this button even once. I wish it were another customizable button instead which I am sure it will become once Fuji releases a real firmware update for the X100. Switching your camera between raw and jpeg or both probably doesn't require a dedicated button at least for me. So the images I shot below to demonstrate the sharpness at f2 f4 and f8 were all done in Jpeg and would probably look even better if I had shot them in raw (shot these before raw support was available). I said f4 was sharp above but f8 looks razor sharp! When directly comparing f2 next to the same f4 image, f2 certainly looks soft.
X100 Film Simulation Modes
The X100 also offers different film simulation modes including Provia, Velvia, Astia, Monochome and Sepia. I do use these modes and especially love the vivid colors that the Velvia mode produces. Some examples of Velvia, Monochrome and Sepia here:
Built in ND Filter
As I quickly touched on above, the X100 also has a built in ND filter. A natural density filter reduces the amount of light that passes through the lens. This is especially useful if you want to shoot wide open outdoors in bright sun and you hit your shutter speed ceiling (in the case of the X100 this means 1/1000 at f2 and 1/2000 at f4 thanks to the type of shutter it uses). The X100's ND Filter is equivalent to an f-stop reduction of 3 stops which also allows you to create motion blur effect (like flowing water in the image below). I love the ND filter which is why I have the Function button set to turn it on and off.
Hybrid viewfinder is wonderful...
I love the viewfinder. The X100 has a hybrid viewfinder with the ability to switch between an optical viewfinder and an electronic viewfinder both with customizable info overlay. The viewfinder is bright and large and very useful. It is not however without its quirks. In OVF mode, I do miss focus as I can't change the size of the AF box (though you can move it around to 49 different points). The box is larger so it has a hard time pinpointing smaller objects. This is less noticeable in the EVF but then in the EVF a slight lag is noticeable when panning. I'm also glad to note, that while some earlier production cameras had an OVF tilt problem, the new ones after April 1st including mine don't seem to have this issue.
Unrivaled High ISO Performance!
Very happy with high ISO performance. I thought the Nex-5 and Sony SLT had minimal noise at high ISO but the X100 has them beat by a long shot. Anything at 6400 and below is acceptable and certainly printable. The GF-1 is as noisy at ISO 1600 as the X100 is at ISO6400. Speaking of the GF-1 here's a picture at ISO6400 (taken again in jpeg fine).
Did I mention I love the colors it produces?
Now for some of the things I dislike:
Minimum focus.... baaah!
The minimum focus distance is not very minimal. With a minimum focus distance of 80cm, I find I have to turn on Macro mode a lot, especially if I use the camera to take pictures of golf clubs at arms length... (unfortunately my arms are short). Perhaps there is something I don't know but the camera also doesn't stay in Macro mode and reverts back to Macro off after a certain short period of time meaning I need to keep changing it back to Macro.
Menu system - but I will live with it hoping it can be improved with a firmware update. There certainly can be a lot of digging into the menus which will hopefully be solved by more custom buttons.
Must use a proprietary adapter for filters and hood.
When I use the hood I can't use a lens cap. Apparently I can buy an aftermarket lens cap that will work.
Yikes... it can be slow.
Camera is all around kinda slow. Turning it on is slow, focusing "can" be slow, writing to the memory card is slow. I was certainly hoping for faster performance all around here. I can live with the slow turn on but in low light or without sufficient contrast, the X100 has trouble locking focus. Even in bright light I have struggled with moving subjects like people and animals. You can forget slow memory cards on the X100, get the fastest card you can, at least a class 10 and preferably a new one with UHS-I standard.
Is it a keeper? YES!
In the end, while not without its quirks or issues, the X100 is an awesome camera. It is built wonderfully, has great technology, and most importantly is fun to use and takes great pictures. I find myself taking it with me everywhere I go as it's a great size, can do video if you need it (720p 24fps) and has panorama shooting as well. The shutter can be set to completely silent or very quiet which is great for street photography.
Fuji says the X100 is the professional choice but truthfully even in the hands of an amateur or hobbyist like myself, the X100 is a very capable photographic tool. As a matter of a fact I feel I have learned more about photography using it. The X100 has the ability to render sharp, contrasty, colorful and artistic images. Its just up to the user to look through the viewfinder, compose and shoot. I've done that and been pretty impressed with the results. Not bad for an amateur... it must be the camera!