Fuji X100 review
- Retro styling
- DSLR-sized sensor
- Low light performance
- The expense
- No zoom
- Common image quality issues
It’s been a while since there has been buzz around a new Fujifilm camera like there is around its 12.3 megapixel FinePix X100. Perhaps even coming up to a decade, since the company launched its first digital SLR. That product strand proved short-lived, part hamstrung by close reliance on existing Nikon SLR bodies.
This fixed, non-interchangeable lens compact is however something else entirely. It’s wholly a Fuji invention, though with obvious inspiration taken from pro favourite Leica. It represents quite a departure for the brand that in recent years looked to have been concentrating on low cost, high volume products.
Aimed at the well-heeled enthusiast, the Fujifilm FinePix X100 is very much a luxury model – made obvious both by its chunkily retro magnesium alloy exterior and austerity-bucking £900 price tag. The camera it most reminds us of is the Leica X1. Set against that model, with its £1,400 asking price, the X100 seems almost reasonable.
Fujifilm FinePix X100: Controls
The X100 feels reassuringly solid when gripped but lighter than an entry-level DSLR at a 405g body-only weight. Much like the Fujifilm S2800HD, it’s too bulky to be carried in a pocket however. The rangefinder camera-style top plate controls are almost identical to the Leica X1’s. There’s a dial for adjusting shutter speed on the fly, with a choice of 30 seconds to 1/4000/sec, and a second dial for adjusting exposure compensation (a modest +/- 2EV).
Squeezed into a narrow gap between the two is a springy shutter release button, encircled by the power switch with ridged lip that falls under the forefinger. Almost overlooked next to this is a too small ‘Fn’ (function) button. This can be customized so that favourite settings, for example ISO speeds, can be reached with a single press rather than having to drill down into the menu screens. If we’ve a grumble it’s that the backplate buttons are also a little smaller and more weedy that they surely needed to be, and the thick screen surround makes it look like it should be angle adjustable - but it isn’t.
Yes, the bright f/2.0 maximum aperture, 35mm equivalent lens on the front of the X100 cannot be changed, but if you like shooting in low light and attempting portraits with a shallow depth of field you won’t want it swapped. Plus having no zoom at our disposal altered the way we shot. We slowed down and were forced into a more considered approach to framing, shuffling forward or back like Cartier-Bresson (in our dreams).
Fujifilm FinePix X100: Features
The Fujifilm FinePix X100 features a custom made APS-C sized CMOS sensor; the kind of chip traditionally used in digital SLRs rather than compacts. Hence the promise of image quality that not only potentially betters the expectations we’d normally have of a compact but, according to a breathless Fujifilm: ‘delivers the highest quality images in the company’s history.’
The X100 is further notable – and very unusual – for having and optical viewfinder plus electronic viewfinder (EVF) occupying the same space. Switching between the two compositional aids is simple, via a lever on the front of the camera, adjacent to the auto focus assistance/self timer lamp. It’s all very clever, and the EVF has an incredibly high 1,440,000-dot resolution, but if you’ve got one, why would you need the other? It comes down to personal preference we guess, and here you have the best of both worlds.
In addition the 2.8-inch, 460k-dot resolution backplate LCD screen can be used to compose shots and out of habit we found ourselves using this more. Visibility is top notch. In asking its users to twist dials and pull levers to change settings the X100 requires literally more of a hands-on approach than your typical digicam, which enthusiast photographers will relish. However, as its functionality is different to both your typical compact and DSLR, there is a period of familiarization required.
Alternatively, you can leave both the aperture ring and shutter speed dial set to ‘A’ for automatic and point and shoot to your heart’s content with impressive consistency. The results of our manual selections and those chosen by the camera for the same subject were largely indistinguishable.
Fujifilm FinePix X100: Image Quality
As Fujifilm’s company history is closely tied to ‘wet’ film, the X100’s three colour modes hark back to that era, taking their names from popular Fuji film types. You get Provia, the default camera setting that provides colours that are in our opinion a little flat, Velvia, which provides vivid blues and greens, and in our opinion is the closest to real life, and Astia, which is soft, slightly muted in appearance and makes shots look a little dated. Again, enthusiasts will love it.
To be subjective, the negatives we experienced were visible purple fringing between areas of high contrast - particularly pronounced across the Fuji range - plus occasional lens flare and burnt out highlight details. In truth such issues affect most digital compacts to a degree, but at this price, and given the pre-release hype, we expected something very close to perfection.
The positives however are that the X100 is indeed an excellent tool for lower light photography. We’d only steer clear of the very top ISO12800 equivalent setting – but even that betters what some compacts manage at the lower ISO1600. Below ISO12800, the X100’s images are virtually free of noise/grain entirely, which is quite remarkable.
On the whole we felt that while the X100’s image quality can be impressive, particularly when shooting close ups, for which photographers will be able to take full advantage of some lovely shallow depth of field effects, it is still not quite a match for the richness of colour and detail delivered by the Leica X1. However since Fuji’s version is £500 cheaper, we can live with that and the manufacturer is to be further commended for being a little loftier in its ambitions than it has been for quite some time.
Fujifilm X100 release date: Due March, potential delays due to Japan Tsunami, read Fujifilm's release here
Fujifilm X100 price: £999