Fuji x100 :: Review
Let me get this out of the way… The Fuji x100 is the greatest digital camera ever made and may just be the greatest camera I have ever owned. You’ll have a hard damn time convincing me otherwise. I can state with confidence that this is my favorite camera I have ever owned. Period. End of story. Done. Best. Camera. EVAR. OMG. Etc. Note that I am not sponsored by Fuji, I have no relationship with Fuji, and I paid for this camera with my own money. I have nothing to gain in services, advertising, affiliations, or monetary value by writing this review.
I’ll break this down after the jump …
I had a conversation with someone on Twitter about this camera. Their statement was something along the lines of “according to the spec sheet it seems the camera is under powered and over priced.” According to the spec sheet it most certainly is. In real life shooting I could not disagree more. My reply was, “Burn the spec sheet. This camera is worth every penny.”
There are plenty of sites that will give you all the pixel peeping measurbating specs your little heart desires. There is no need for me to go that route. You can also find plenty of full res images around the web as well from this camera with more and more popping up each day. Do what I did when I was looking to buy this camera and type “Fuji x100 review” into google and have at it. What you’re going to get from me is my personal impressions of this little camera and how I have set it up and how I’m using it. I’m not going to go into discussions about 100% crops, dynamic range, write times with different SD cards, x100 vs. Canon, Nikon, Leica, Olympus, iPhone, 8×10 view camera, etc.
If you approach this camera like you approach a DSLR you will be sorely disappointed. It isn’t a DSLR and it shouldn’t be compared to one. It also isn’t a Leica M9 like a VW Beetle isn’t a Porsche 911. An M9 with a nice 35mm f2 will set you back nearly $10,000. Are you effing kidding me? Comparing it to the Leica x1 would be closer but that camera is $800 more and doesn’t have the brilliantly designed optical viewfinder the x100 has. I’ve had both in my hands and there’s no way I’d pick the Leica x1 over the Fuji X100. No way. Ever.
Let’s get into why I love this thing.
I’ve been wanting a carry with me everywhere camera for a long time. I’ve tried a number of compact models. Mostly the Canon G line with the G10 being the last compact I bought. I hate dragging a DSLR with me everywhere. I’ve tried it. I hate it. I end up just leaving it. By carry with me everywhere I mean exactly that. I, like many of you, end up shooting a billion photos with my iPhone. When Meg and I went to Italy for our belated honeymoon I packed a 5d MkII with me and took about five pictures with it because I left it in the room most of the time because I simply tired of carrying that beast around on vacation. It’s fine on a job. It sucks on a stroll with your wife. I’ve had this x100 for about four weeks now and I have not left my house once without it since. I’m just waiting for my friends and family to get used to it so they’ll stop making fun of me. I seriously love this camera and it is always on my side. It’s slung over my shoulder even as I write this review at my kitchen table.
The G9/10/12/13.6 whatever and other cameras are just fine and dandy little compact cameras. The G10 I own is much faster focusing than the x100 but on every other single thing after focusing the x100 beats it into submission. I have friends who have a number of the 4/3’s cameras like the Olympus Pen. Those are cool cameras and all but why did they decide on such a small imaging sensor? The x100 has an APS sized sensor. That’s a huge sensor for such a small camera and that was the first thing that attracted me to the x100. I think the whole 4/3’s system design is a failure based on the use of small sensors. The cameras and lenses are great but if they would have gone APS or up then I’d most likely own one of those.
The x100 has a fixed 23mm f2 lens that is sharp as a tack and gorgeous. That’s a 35mm f2 equivalent in full frame terms. There are no other lenses for the x100 as it is non-interchangeable. I’m completely fine with that. I love that range of lens for day to day shooting. My first lens back into the game was a 35mm f2 and that was my only lens for a year so I’m used to the middle wide range of glass and this little Fuji lens is specifically designed for the APS sensor living in the camera. The two are matched and they are beautiful.
As amazing as this camera is, the Fuji x100 can be a complete pain in the ass to use. It’s sort of cantankerous and slow from time to time and it has made me say some expletives. The recent firmware update has sped operations up considerably. With all the things the camera does wrong it makes up for in all the things it does oh. so. right. It’s like the thing has personality. It requires that you know what you’re doing. You have to get used to it’s quirks (menus, focusing, paralax, start up time, lock ups, etc.) to get the most out of the camera. Once I got comfortable with the camera and the quirks, then shooting with it is pure joy. That hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder is the coolest thing ever. Of all the nerdy tech stuff about the camera that is by far my favorite part of the camera. I switch back and forth between the two regularly. The optical viewfinder is fantastic. It makes the optical viewfinder on the Canon G series cameras look like a child’s toy.
Taking some personal perspective into account it is pretty easy to see how this little camera is far better than the camera I was using when I got back into the photography game. I restarted my career about eight years ago with a Nikon D100. This x100 is ten times that camera in terms of image quality and high ISO performance. ISO 1600 is a breeze and, if you nail exposure, ISO 3200 is usable. The Nikon D100 began officially sucking at anything over ISO 400. The D100 had slow write times. The x100 is faster. I only had one lens for that body. I only have one lens for the x100. The D100 cost $1,200 back then. The x100 costs $1,200 now.
So you see, the x100 is a better camera than what I got re-started with eight years ago. Moving from the D100 I went to the D70 and then to a pair of D200’s. The x100 is even superior to the D200 in terms of image quality and ISO performance. Add to the fact that it looks really amazing, is a fraction of the weight of a DSLR, and is dead quiet when shooting… this camera is continues to bring vast amounts of joy when shooting with it. Are you getting that I love this thing yet? I’ve failed to mention something else… 1000th of a second flash sync with a Pocket Wizard thanks to the leaf shutter design in the lens. Are you kidding me? Some have told me that you can push that to 4000th if you hard wire to the hot shoe. I haven’t tried that yet.
If you put an instrument of violence to my noggin and made me chose one, and only one, camera to use for the next 12 months I would undoubtedly pick the x100 over the other cameras I own. Will it be the only one I use? No. I will most likely blow this shutter out before my others cameras though.
Let me be completely clear on this point so you don’t think I’m just another Fuji fanboy. The x100 can be a complete pain in the ass of a camera. Things like… It loves to lock up on a fairly regular basis (fixed with firmware v 1.10). I find that it does this most often when I make a change to the exposure compensation dial while it is still writing a file to the card. To bring it back to life you have to take the battery out and put it back in.
Another massively annoying “feature” of this camera is focusing at close range. Anything closer than three feet and the auto focus most likely won’t focus on your subject no matter how much you try. (ETA – Firmware 1.11 has dramatically improved this!). This is where “looks like a rangefinder” vs. “is a rangefinder” comes into play. The x100 looks like a rangefinder but it isn’t actually a true rangefinder. It’s still just a “compact” camera. There are lengthy technical disscussions about it elsewhere complete with power point presentations and math. I won’t bore you with those details because they are frightfully boring but they do a good job explaining this phenomenon.
Here’s how I deal with the whole close focusing issue. As soon as I see I’m getting into that situation (subject within three feet of the camera) I click the front lever from optical viewfinder (OVF) to electronic viewfinder (EVF) while simultaneously sliding the focusing slider on the side of the camera to manual focus. I then use the AF back button to lock focus and shoot. I need some more time to see if the firmware update is going to take care of this. So far I find it working much better when in EVF mode and AF instead of OVF. (ETA – After improvements made with firmware 1.11 I find I don’t need to use the manual focusing / AF button thing. Close focusing still works best with EVF instead of OVF)
The x100 has a manual focusing ring on the lens and let me state for the record that with the first firmware it was the worst manual focusing of any camera ever made in all of the world. Whoever let this camera be released with that level of uselessness did not get the employee of the month parking spot at Fuji HQ. It took approximately 8,000,000 revolutions of the focusing ring to focus through the range of the lens. Since the 1.10 update it has improved by a factor of at least 100. I most likely will still default to using the back button AF while in manual focus mode. I really wish it had a geared focusing mechanism and not the electronic focus by wire system. Last time I checked though I have never had to build a lens apart from poking a sewing needle into a piece of tin foil so what in the hell do I know about what the designers had to deal with to make this lens the way it is? Still, the manual focus ring is pretty much worthless the way it is… or at least the way I shoot with this camera it’s useless.
Speaking of back button AF I am quite surprised to find myself using this camera in ways that are completely opposite of how I normally shoot. I’m very much a manual exposure, manual white balance selection, manual ISO, RAW file, half shutter press to focus kind of photographer. While I still use the half press shutter to focus on the x100 most of the time everything else is completely opposite of how I normally shoot. With the x100 I’m primarily shooting aperture priority, auto white balance, auto ISO, and… prepare for this… JPG only. GASP! It’s true. The Fuji x100 delivers gorgeous RAW files but I’m shooting large jpgs only. Here’s why…
Being the x100 is always on my side and I’m shooting photos of anything and everything with it, I really don’t need to instal a server farm in my house to hold all of the RAW files of every picture I make with the x100. I’ve already shot some 40 or 50 gigs of large jpgs with this thing. I can’t imagine the headaches I’d have with that many RAW files. The x100 has a convenient little RAW button on the back of the camera that allows me to press it and the next image I shoot will be a RAW file. A number of reviewers of this camera have b!tched and moaned about that little button and want Fuji to make it a programable function button. I rather like that little button and if it becomes a programable Fn button at some point I will leave it just like it is.
Even though I shoot aperture priority primarily on this camera, I’m constantly riding that exposure compensation +/- dial. I typically have the meter set to average metering and I’m learning how it interprets most scenes. I’m working on anticipating how it is going to meter and I’m dialing that +/- dial as I’m pulling the camera up to my eye. The auto ISO on this camera is fantastic. I never ever use that feature on my DSLRs but for the Fuji it’s great. I have mine set to go as high as 3200 and to jump up in ISO anytime the shutter starts to drop below 60th of a second for whatever given aperture I’m using.
I keep all the sharpening, noise reduction, contrast, etc set to standard. I use the standard color film simulation mode (Provia) and the dynamic range set to dr100. I find the dynamic range modes beyond 100 just add noise and banding in the shadows more than legitimately increase dynamic range.
Leading up to my purchase of the camera most people using it wrote in length about how poorly placed, sized, and numbered all the little tiny buttons, dials, and switches are on the back of the camera. They are tiny. And not perfectly spaced. And… It’s fine. I’m here to report that they are usable even for a stubby fat fingered guy like me. It’s a small camera. It has small buttons. You use the camera enough and you learn to deal with them and it’s not a problem.
The x100 can shoot 720p video. I’ve shot about 10 seconds of video with it. I have no idea what the quality is since I haven’t really done anything with that other than making sure the feature actually worked. It has a fairly cool in-camera one click and pan panoramic mode. I’ve used that a few times with mixed success and failure. I actually prefer using that mode for times I don’t want a perfectly stitched photo. Like this. (click for larger view)
There are a few more things I have to cover before I wrap this review. Accessories / x200 wish list / and the most important camera review photo you have to take when making a blog post like this.
• Extra Batteries and chargers – This little camera sucks through the battery in pretty quick order. I read this in all of the reviews so I went ahead and ordered three extra batteries and two extra battery chargers. I have the camera set to go into sleep mode after five minutes of non-use but every other battery saving feature is turned off because it slows the camera down a bit. The batteries weigh nothing and the aftermarket versions are cheap so I’d rather carry a few extras than turn on all the battery saving features aside from the auto off feature.
I’ve made two trips to NYC with this camera and I regularly end my day on that fourth battery. I will most likely pick up one more spare and one or two more chargers. I’d like to have as many chargers as I do batteries. The reason I have that many chargers is so that I can put them on charge over night and have them all ready to go the next day. I love that some of the reviewers of this camera complain and complain about battery life as though Fuji is violating their human rights. Buy a few extra batts and you’re good. Human rights violations avoided.
• Black Rapid Snapr – OMG. OMG. OMG. I dig Black Rapid straps but I’ve become a true believer now with their smaller version called the Snapr. It comes with the sling and a little bag. My suggestion is open the package, throw that little bag in the trash, and just use the sling. Maybe girls will keep the bag but I feel 53% less manly using that bag. The Black Rapid strap allows you to sling it over your chest and the camera slides up and down the strap. It is the best accessory I can think of for this camera. It shouldn’t even be a question whether to get it or not. I’ve spent 12 and 14 hour days on the streets with the x100 on my side and it has never been a discomfort.
• Two cheap 49mm UV filters – Get two cheap UV filters. If Fuji is guilty of any violation then it is that of price gouging on their filter ring and lens hood accessories. $150 for the two of them provided you can even find them in stock anywhere. That’s just wrong. They aren’t hand crafted by leprechauns. The front element of the x100 lens is right out there in the open. I’m the guy that loses the lens cap after five minutes of ownership. I only like lens caps when the lens is in the bag. I also hate UV filters with a passion. They regularly introduce flare and ghost reflections especially when shooting into light sources. I never use them but being as this camera is constantly in the elements I don’t want to constantly mess with the lens cap, and screwing up this lens means putting the whole camera out of commission I feel the front element warrants some sort of protecion.
So, without the overpriced filter ring on hand you need a workaround and Frankencamera the x100 a bit. You can mount a 49mm threaded filter backwards onto the lens. Take the thread cover off the lens and there are the threads. If you simply put one UV filter on the lens backwards you’ll run into issues if the lens tries to close focus because the front element will physically hit the UV filter and it will lock the camera down. So the work around is to buy two UV filters. Take a hammer to the glass of one of them and smash it out. Make sure you get all the glass shards out of it. Some of the older/nicer UV filters don’t require a hammer due to a retaining ring holding the glass in that can be removed. Newer/cheaper UV lenses have the glass glued in so you have to smash it out.
Mount the opened UV filter ring onto lens and then mount the other UV filter (with the glass) onto that and then screw the Fuji thread cover onto all of that. That smashed UV filter is just acting like a spacer. You can avoid smashing a UV filter if you get a doubled threaded 49mm adapter out there in the Internets somewhere. I picked up two used UV filters at a local camera store for less than $12. I already owned the hammer. The workaround looks like this hot mess…
As you can see, my x100 is already getting some battle scars. I expect to lose the entire finish on the thing inside of a year.
The last thing I have done to complete my x100 is to put a piece of black gaff tape on the read/write light on the back of the camera. I keep the back display off while shooting and the last thing that is a giveaway that you are operating the camera is the little LED on the back of the camera starts to light up as it writes to the card. If you want to stay as inconspicuous as possible with this camera, tape that light.
x200 Wish list ::
I really hope Fuji continues R&D on this line of cameras and I already have a wish list for what I’d personally like to see.
Full frame sensor, faster/better/stronger AF performance, weather proofing, focusing switch order to be changed to MF, continuous, single (in that specific order), and some sort of physical something done to the exposure compensation knob so that you can “feel” where it is with your thumb while shooting. I’m thinking of breaking out the Dremel on mine and grinding a notch into the dial so that I can feel when it is in the zero position.
I would also love to see an x200-w (wide) and an x200-t (tele). That would be a full frame 35mm wide camera and a full frame 85mm/100mm’ish telephoto version. I’d then ask Black Rapid to make the Snapr in their dual, cross your heart, whatever it is version and I’d sell all of my DSLRs. Probably.
Lastly. No review of a camera is complete with out all of us having a thorough discussion of pixel density while looking at a picture of a squirrel. For the best viewing conditions of the following picture, please sit in your mother’s basement and view at 400% magnification. Let the forums know of your findings immediately afterward.
Want to see more of my x100 pictures? Go through my newly activated 500px account. You can study META data there as well. Aside from a few film scans, and at the time of this writing, 97% of the images in my 500px gallery are from the x100.
With all of this said… Remember that the camera will never make you a better photographer. Ever. My deepest and sincerest apologies do go out to all of your spouses though because they aren’t going to hear the end of it until you have one in your hands. Your best bet in finding one of these hard to get cameras is to follow B&H’s twitter stream. They announce there as soon as they have them and you have to jump on it within minutes of said announcement to get one.
UPDATE – The latest firmware fix has fixed a number of issues I have with the x100. It’s still a quirky PITA at times but I still love this camera. Can’t wait to see what comes next in this line.
ANOTHER UPDATE – I recently picked up the x10 for Meg. She has been wanting a carry around camera for awhile now. I ran the x10 through it’s paces for a few days and as much as I do love the little x10, the x100 is still king. I think of it this way… The x100 is a photographer’s camera. The x10 is a photographer’s point and shoot. You can see some improvements in the x10 on things like focus and such. Hope these are steps forward for the next line of the x series.
PS – I’ve ditched Flickr for 500px. I’ll post about that if you care to know why.