The Fuji X100 was one of the most hyped-up cameras around over the past year, and it isn’t hard to see why. Stunning good looks, a dSLR-size APS-C sensor, manual controls, and promised exceptional optics should combine to produce a mighty fine camera. There is no doubting the good looks, you don’t have to even hold one to know that it is just going to feel right in your hands, and when you do finally get your hands on it, you aren’t disappointed. It has a nice solidity to it, a nice balanced weight and all the controls feel precise. You can’t help but admire it as a work of art as much as a camera. Much like a Leica, this is a camera that inspires you to take photographs.
However, since being released some people have found it doesn’t quite live up to its promises and have complained of flaws within that perfect body. I have been using the X100 for about a month now, below are my own thoughts on the X100 as I’ve used it day to day.
I waited before buying the Fuji X100. My feeling was that it wouldn’t live up to its promises when it was eventually available in the shops. I felt it was a little too expensive to buy as (yet) another camera, and that the fixed lens would be to restrictive as a fan of the flexibility of a dSLR and CSC. I wasn’t wrong, as soon as it started to get into the hands of photographers the complaints started to appear online – an unresponsive and complex menu system, poor auto focus, even worse manual focus, very slow RAW write speeds, it seemed as though Fuji had not paid quite enough attention to how you actually use the camera. A firmware update followed soon after release (along with others over the past six months or so). I felt vindicated in not pre-ordering one.
A few months later I could resist no longer. Reviews bounced from “It’s amazing!” to “It’s awful and I’ve sold it!”. I didn’t care about the flaws, I just wanted it, to experience it for myself. I started going out all day and shooting with my NEX set to a fixed 23mm (~35mm equiv) to see if I could manage without zooming in and out – I could, if anything it was liberating. The price started to drop, and not long ago I noticed a big price drop on one sold by Amazon UK for nearly £250 less than the initial launch price. I bought it on a whim and here you’ll find out if I have regretted that decision or not!
v1.2 edit – My first X100 failed with the all too common aperture blade problem – I since bought a second one after missing the beautiful images it produced – that was just before firmware v1.2 was released. I’ve re-edited this review by adding in these red sections with updates regarding the much improved performance since releasing v1.2 firmware.
v1.2 – For full details of the v1.2 firmware update, see my quick run through here.
What can you say – it’s gorgeous! I could spend all day just looking at it, touching it, photographing it from every angle and still want to do the same the next day, and the next…! OK, The LCD on the back looks a bit like it was stuck on at the last minute when they realised it was too big to fit on the back, but that’s just being picky.
Again, not much to say – it is very solidly built, you won’t find any complaints on that side of things. It has a nice weight to it without being too heavy to carry around, its feel good quality and precise.
As far as the important controls falling to hand, it is perfect. I can’t fault it, everything you need to adjust quickly and often is right where you need it to be. The grip on the X100 is a little too thin for my own personal taste, you feel that it could slip from your grip or get knocked out of your hand quite easily. I can understand why it is like this because adding a thicker grip would add more bulk to the already quite chunky body. I don’t like to use neck straps, so I tend to hold cameras by their grip whilst I’m out and about. With this camera I definitely feel like I need a strap with it to be safe. I’ve put a wrist strap on it to safeguard it, although to date I’ve yet to actually loose my grip on it.
On the whole the controls you want to adjust are all well placed and well weighted so they aren’t easy to accidentally change without realising it. I thought the exposure compensation dial would be too prominent on the top corner, but on receiving the camera you can see that there is a deliberate bulge in the body beneath the control offering protection from straying fingers.
The only thing that doesn’t quite come up to scratch is what Fuji call the Command Control which feels a bit squidgy and loose. The Menu button in the middle of the D-pad (or should I say Command Dial – not to be confused with the Command Control of course!) isn’t the best to operate, it is too fiddly to press, but you won’t be going into the menu too often as that’s a worse experience than pressing the button!
The aperture control is where it should be, with opposing tabs either side of the lens to allow you to turn it easily, and it works well with a quality inspiring clunk between stops. Unfortunately, unless you’re using f/2, these tabs get in the way of you manual focusing because the manual focus ring is so close to the aperture ring so you knock into them constantly whilst trying to focus, but you won’t be doing any manual focusing anyway as that’s even worse than using the menu!
v1.2 – the RAW button can now be used as another programable shortcut button (along with Fn) which makes using the X100 much easier as those who like to set the ISO with the Fn button can now choose a second function – in my case ND Filter – to assign elsewhere
THAT MENU SYSTEM
It isn’t truly awful in all honesty, but it could have been a lot better with a little cohesive thought. There are a lot of options to adjust for JPEG shooters, far too many for adjusting all the pointless annoying sounds – you need only one setting for sounds “Off!” especially on a camera like this. There are a selection of dSLR style custom settings to save your favourite setup.
The annoyances start with things like the ISO settings. To change the ISO, you need to go into the Shooting menu, but you can’t set the Auto-ISO function from here, for that you need to go into the Set-up menu – why?! Why not just have Auto as one of the options at the bottom of the list of ISO ratings on the Shooting menu? There are many times where on the NEX I leave it in Auto-ISO, but for one or two shots I want to choose the ISO manually, on the NEX you simply scroll it off Auto and onto the ISO setting you want. On the X100 you have to go to the Set-up menu, disable Auto-ISO and then go into the Shooting menu and choose the ISO you want, only to then reverse the process to get it back into Auto-ISO mode. Yes, you can assign the Fn button to choose the ISO, but if it is in Auto-ISO it ignores what you choose from there!
v1.2 – Auto ISO is now in the proper place! Although sadly if you assign ISO to the Fn button, the Auto function isn’t available there, just within the menu system – still, it’s a big improvement!
The AF mode is on the 3rd page of the Shooting menu – again, why? It could have so easily been assigned to the AF button on the back and controlled in a similar way to the AE mode where you hold down the AE button and choose which option you want with the scroll wheel, speaking of which, it actually took me a trip into the manual to figure that one out as the AE mode isn’t adjustable from the menu at all. It all seems like a case of each person at Fuji being assigned a task and then all their efforts just being stuck together into the menu system at the end.
LCD, EVF and OVF
I’m probably most disappointed with the quality of the EVF, it just doesn’t have the clarity to it that others I’ve used on CSC’s have. The LCD on the back is fine, but not outstanding. The OVF is magnificent and lives up to everything I expected it to be, all the information is to hand and you have a nice bright frame to compose your photo within and can see around the frame for something that may be about to happen. It takes a while to realise that the frame in the OVF isn’t really what you’ll get in the final image, and you do learn to compensate for that – if you are really unsure, a flick of the switch on the front takes you to the EVF, which gives a 100% accurate representation of the final image. That is about as useful as the EVF gets on the X100 in my opinion, and I’m not someone who is opposed to EVF’s, in fact I actually quite like them as a whole ever since I had my Panasonic G1.
THE FOCUSING SYSTEM
Let’s get right down to it, manual focus on the X100 is one of the worst manual focusing systems on any camera ever, is so awful on the X100 that you have to wonder why they even bothered putting it on. That is a real problem for Fuji as they have targeted the X100 at the serious enthusiast/pro, who aren’t generally afraid to get down and dirty using manual focusing.
There are two main problems with the MF system. Firstly, the focusing ring seems only vaguely connected to the focusing system, leaving you wondering if you’ve actually turned it or not. The second problem is that the MF assist zoom on either the EVF or the LCD screen simply doesn’t zoom in close enough to make you aware of exactly what you’ve focused on so you’re left with just a rough idea of what is and isn’t in focus. Auto-focus is average at best. I set it side-by-side with the NEX-5N and to my surprise it locks focus in almost exactly the same time under the same conditions. I consider the AF system on the NEX to be one of it’s least favourable aspects, so that isn’t exactly a compliment, but it proved to me that my perception of the AF was tainted by what I had read.
v1.2 – the MF focusing system is improved, the lens is much more responsive to turns of the focusing ring, and it is kind-of possible to manual focus now, though still isn’t as good as others.
The X100 AF system can get itself completely lost, refusing to lock focus on anything, then other times it locks onto something easily that you wouldn’t expect it to. Normally with a contrast focus system you can point it at something that has a high level of contrast and you’re pretty sure it will lock onto it – the X100 AF seems to work using some random algorithm that decides if it is going to work or not, it is particularly bad with faces close up for some reason, given that 35mm isn’t very flattering for close up portraits, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing! In general the AF is at its worst at close range, and the only other reason you’ll need to use the EVF.
When shooting things closer than say about 1m away, you can’t ever be sure the camera has focused on what you want it to even when the green AF confirmation box is correctly over what you want to focus on in the OVF, so you really need to use the EVF to confirm correct focus on close subjects.
Having said all that, in day to day use, on the street, at home, on holiday etc, when most things are in reasonable light and at least a metre away from you, you’ll not find that you miss-focus any more often than you would with pretty much any other system. So yes, it has problems, but it isn’t the end of the world for the camera and you learn to live with it once you understand its little quirks.
v1.2 – AF is hugely improved, it is now at least on a par with a good point and shoot AF system, probably about the same as the Sony NEX range, but still not as good as the Oly E-P3 or Lumix GF3.
I have a couple of work-arounds for the X100 AF system if it is really driving you crazy that I will share in another article and post the link to later on.
You could be forgiven by now for thinking that I dislike the X100, but you’d be wrong. We haven’t got to the most important parts yet – how it handles on a day-to-day basis and the results.
IN DAILY USE
In day to day use the X100 feels the part, it feels right, it feels like a camera you make photographs with rather than take them with. It inspires you to get out there and photograph things. Everything you want it to be, everything you expect it to be, it is when you’re looking through the viewfinder and shooting.
When you’re out and about taking photos and not worrying about fighting through the menu system, or that the AF is a few milliseconds behind something else, that the ISO controls are on two different menu’s, that you can’t get into the menu system anyway because the button is too fiddly, all of those annoyances just disappear once you start taking real photos with it.
The AF system isn’t in reality that much worse than the Sony NEX or previous generation Lumix and PEN mirrorless cameras, yes it can get lost, but that’s mostly indoors taking test photos of your kids, chairs, table, anything you can find when testing it out! Once you’re out taking real photos it really isn’t that big of an issue. Of course, manual focus is all but useless for anything other than setting a pre-focus, so I’m not saying it is perfect either!
Do what you enjoy, take photographs rather than worry about the minor details and you will fall in love with this camera every time you take it out.
Simply outstanding! This is the only digital camera I’ve ever owned that on viewing my first set of shots I just thought Wow! It gives the look I love, stunningly detailed sharp images with a rich deep feel to them. The example images you see online are exactly what you’ll get straight from the camera, and that too is a first for me. Images pop and jump out of the screen at you just as you’ve always wanted. I’m not a fan of 100% pixel peeping, but if you do it, you will be amazed at what you see.
I’d had heard that is isn’t sharp at f/2, and although this isn’t where the lens is best, I do wonder what these people are comparing it to – a £10k Leica perhaps? Trust me, you won’t be disappointed! At this price, I can’t think of any digital camera that can produce comparable results in terms of image quality. Even a NEX-5N with the NEX Zeiss 24mm will cost five or six hundred pounds more than this camera and I can guarantee it won’t be any better in terms of image quality.
I shoot almost everything at between f/2,8 and f/5,6 on all of my cameras and that is the range the X100 really shines in. Leave it at f/4 and you’ll crank out images as sharp as you’ve ever seen all day every day. Chromatic aberration just doesn’t seem to exist.
Flare is well controlled, though can be deliberately provoked. There is a small amount of lens distortion, in camera shooting JPEG strangely doesn’t correct for this, but Lightroom has a profile to correct it when shooting in RAW – although you’d be hard pushed to really notice it in the first place.
High ISO performance is outstanding, I’ll quite happily use images at ISO 3200 online or for personal use with very little noise, tho they do go a bit soft at 3200 with some loss of fine detail. Stick to ISO 1600 or below and you’ll get nice clean crisp images.
JPEGs are great out of the camera and there are is a wide range of adjustments to your JPEG settings in-camera. Fuji offer film simulation modes that are supposed to replicate the results from their famous ranges of film, Provia, Astia and Velvia, along with the usual gamut of B&W/Sepia options. My personal preference for JPEG files is Astia with the colour and sharpness up a notch each from Provia (Standard). Velvia is good for some scenes, but I tend to find it doesn’t work well with portraits and you can loose detail because the contrast and colour are punched up too far for me. Better to shoot RAW or Astia and then adjust subtly in LR to your own taste.
RAW results give a little more detail in the shadows and highlights as you would expect, I see little difference in terms of sharpness, but then you have to start fiddling afterwards to get back those lovely rich colours the X100 produces in the JPEG files. It is a trade off, and a choice that you’ll make based on personal preference. Walking the streets I most often use JPEG. Shooting something specific I’ll tend to use RAW.
Check the high resolution detail of the first image of the Hotel de Ville in the samples below, look at the detail in the building close up taken in JPEG and tell me that isn’t as crisp and sharp as it gets!
This is a camera you want to love, if you can get over it’s quirkiness and some of its annoying traits you’ll love it and enjoy taking photos with it. If you can’t then you’ll end up leaving it on the shelf wishing Fuji had put as much thought into the interior as they did the exterior.
This isn’t a camera that you use in a hurry, think film, think about your shot and take it when the time is right rather than firing off at 10fps and hoping that you get one good shot somewhere in there.
I’ve regretted buying a great many cameras, but the X100 is not one of them despite its flaws. I’m looking forward to seeing where Fuji will take this new line in the future – will there be an X200, or with the recent announcement of the development of a Fuji CSC, I’m wondering if that will prove to be the natural development of the X100? Whatever happens, I’ll be first in line this time!
Use it as it is meant to be used and you’ll eventually end up realising that some of your favourite images were taken with an X100.
See my post about the X100 v1.2 firmware update – this makes the X100 far more user friendly and gives a significant boost to AF speed.
My rating for the average user 2/5 – you’re going to get frustrated.
My rating for someone who buys it for what it is 4/5 – amazing results, but could have been much better to use.
v1.2 – I’ll give it 4.5/5 now with the improvements to daily use and the much improved AF.
If you own this product, please rate it below. [kkratings]