Hands-On Review of the Fujifilm FinePix X100
The buildup leading to the Fujifilm FinePix X100’s debut was the antithesis of the whispered prequels leading to new product announcements from Apple. Not only were detailed rumors, illustrations and photographs showing up all over the Internet, but the source of most of the hubbub was a lavishly seductive website strategically built by Fujifilm to both tease and educate the world about its forthcoming baby. Heck, they did everything but throw a baby shower.
The Fujifilm FinePix X100 is a special camera for a few reasons. The X100 is the first “serious” digital camera to wear the Fujifilm nameplate since Fujifilm’s S-series Pro cameras, which were essentially Nikon DSLRs retrofitted with very capable Fujifilm Super CCD imaging sensors. But unlike Fujifilm’s S1, S2, S3 and S5 Pro-series DSLRs, the X100 is the first original professional camera design from Fujifilm since its quirky but oh-so-original film cameras that over the years have included 645-folding cameras, 645 AF “point and shoots,” 6 x 7cm and 6 x 9cm rangefinder cameras, 617 panorama cameras and a 6 x 8cm studio camera. And in case you forgot, Fujifilm was also responsible for designing and building Hasselblad’s 35mm-based XPan panorama camera and medium format H series cameras and lenses.
Along with an eye-catching retro look (more on this later), the X100 features a 12.3MP APS-C format CMOS sensor and a fixed—and fast—23mm f/2.0 (35mm equivalent) Fujinon lens, that together allow you to capture truly sharp JPEG and RAW stills and 720p (H.264) video clips at distances as close as 4” from the lens, and at ISO ranges expandable to 12800. The 23mm Fujinon’s nine-bladed aperture diaphragm makes for pleasing, if not perfectly circular specular highlights, or bokeh, and sun-flare renditions.
For composing and reviewing your stills and video, you have a choice of a traditional 2.8” (460,000-dot) TFT LCD, or the X100’s crown jewel, a hybrid optical/EVF (electronic view finder) that allows you to flip easily and seamlessly between a traditional glass viewfinder experience and a 1,440,000-dot, high-def electronic viewfinder, each of which delivers an equally agreeable shooting experience.
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Anyone who’s used a rangefinder camera (or any camera with an optical finder mounted on the hot shoe) will feel quite at home using the X100’s optical finder. As with most rangefinders, the image you see in the optical finder is wider than the 62° FOV of the camera’s 23mm lens, with brightlines that conservatively outline approximately 90% of the live area captured by that 23mm lens.
The Fujifilm FinePix X100’s unique hybrid viewfinder is a combination of a traditional all-glass reverse-Galilean viewfinder (0.5 x magnifications) that with the flip of a switch becomes a high-resolution liquid crystal display panel that offers a sharp rendition of 100% of the total viewing area, including your shutter speed, aperture, ISO, White Balance and any exposure compensation you might have dialed in. Any white balance changes you make are also instantly reflected when using either the EVF or LCD. What’s particularly inviting about the X100’s optical finder is that you have the option of viewing through glass while retaining the feature of superimposing exposure data unobtrusively along the periphery of the viewing field, as well as gridlines and a horizon-line indicator, if that suits your fancy.
It’s also possible to zoom in for fine focusing and reviewing previously-captured imagery without taking your eye from the finder. The same zoom function can be applied to the camera’s LCD, which is especially handy when focusing the lens manually while holding the camera at angles beyond normal eye-to-finder distances.
Fujinon lenses have long been considered among the finest optics in the industry, and the 23mm f/2 (35mm equivalent) lens found on the X100 is no exception. Though there was a bit of visible distortion in images containing distortion-bearing reference points, there didn’t seem to be any vignetting even when shooting at the widest apertures, and the color, contrast and tonal qualities produced by the X100’s imaging sensor and dedicated lens proved to be extremely satisfying.
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Though the Fujifilm FinePix X100 has a fixed, Fujinon 23mm f/2.0 (35mm equivalent) semi-wide-angle lens, you’re not trapped within the confines of the lens’s 62-degree FOV thanks to the X100’s “Motion Panorama,” which allows you to capture 120° or 180° panoramic images in-camera by simply applying the setting, pressing the shutter button, and “sweeping” the camera along the path indicated on either of the camera’s LCD or EVF. With the exception of images containing repeat patterns or linear horizon lines, the X100 does a decent job of stitching dozens of rapidly-captured images and combining them into a single image measuring up to 7680 x 2160.
Click image to see panoramic variation
The same technologies that allow for the camera’s Motion Panorama mode also allow you to capture a sequence of up to 10 full-frame JPEGs (or 8 RAW files) at a choice of three or five frames per second. Do be advised, however, when shooting high-res sequences you can expect to wait about 17 seconds for the camera to process all 10 frames’ worth of data before you can begin shooting again when using a Fujifilm Ultra-Performance SDHC memory card, or about 10-11 seconds for JPEGs and about 13-14 seconds when using a faster SDHC US-1 memory card.
Stylistically, the Fujifilm X100 takes a number of design cues from classic rangefinders including Leica M’s, Nikon S-series rangefinders, the Contax G2, and a short list of compact 35mm consumer rangefinders from Canon, Olympus and others that have appeared over the years. Conceptually and spiritually, the X100 also gives a tip of the hat to the Konica Hexar, a lightweight, deadly-quiet film camera originally designed back in the early 90s for Leica. The Hexar, which ultimately appeared wearing a Konica nameplate, featured a darn-sharp Japanese knockoff of the 35mm f/2 Summicron and quickly became the darling of street shooters and hipsters alike back when the term hipster connoted more than free-range whiskers, skinny jeans and a stingy-brim hat.
The f-stop ring on the X100, which hugs the perimeter of what we’d normally call the lens mount, is reminiscent of the similarly located shutter-speed dial on the Nikkormat FTn, the kid brother of Nikon’s 1970s workhorse, the Nikon F2. The aperture ring has black, easy-to-read engraved f/stops ranging from f/2 to f/16 for shooting in Aperture-Priority and Manual mode, along with a red “A” for shooting in Shutter Priority or Program mode. A traditional, analog style shutter speed dial allows you to set your shutter speeds (4 seconds through 1/400th-second + Bulb and Time) and another red ‘A,’ this one for shooting in Program and Aperture-priority. Both shutter speeds and aperture settings can be set in full or 1/3rd-stop increments. And because the exposure controls are old-world analog, you can pre-set or double-check your exposure settings even when the camera is in the Off position.
The Fujifilm X100 has a solid look, and more importantly, when you pick it up you’re not disappointed. The camera’s all-metal chassis has a solid, pleasantly hefty feel, and the black, faux-leather textured covering that wraps the camera body offers a secure gripping surface. The only plastic-y parts are the camera’s battery/memory card door and the round control dial that sits flush against the rear body panel.
A nice stylistic touch is the Fujinon Lens System logo on the camera’s top deck, which is a wink and a nod to the Zeiss, Leitz and Nippon Kogaku logos found on the vintage Contax, Leica and Nikon rangefinders to which the Fujifilm X100 harks back.
While the look and feel of the X100 is quite satisfying to the senses, I did have a few gripes with Fujifilm’s new camera, chief among them having to do with the size and placement of the “Menu/OK” button. Located at the center of the rear control wheel, the button was far too small for my average-size fingertips, which made selecting menu items and deleting image files a fat-fingered affair. When it takes you five or six tries to delete an image, the process can test the patience of the calmest of us.
It’s also recommended you read the manual before going too far because as plug-and-play as the camera is to use, a few of the camera processes are less than obvious in terms of how they function, and how to find them in the first place.
As you’d expect from a camera designed for photo enthusiasts, the Fujifilm FinePix X100 allows manual focus, and here I suffered a workflow kink that had me somewhat piqued. When you flip the AF-S/AF-C/MF switch to Manual Focus mode, the knurled, free-spinning focus ring that encircles the lens barrel engages the internal manual focusing linkage, which enables you to focus as you please. The downside of the X100’s manual focusing flow is that without pressing the handy quick-zoom button located behind and below the shutter speed dial, it’s hard to determine when you’re in sharp focus, and the fact there are no stops on either end of the focusing scale doesn’t make things any easier – the focusing ring just spins and spins regardless of which way you turn it. But like the other few quirky parts of the X100, once you figure things out, it’s a smooth ride.
A nice creative feature built into the X100 is a selection of film-simulation modes, which tune the color and contrast levels of your image files to match the image qualities of Fujifilm’s transparency films Provia (Neutral), Velvia (Vivid) and Astia (soft-toned). There’s also a choice of monochrome settings including straight monochrome and sepia, as well as monochrome with tone emulators for red, yellow and green filters.
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Photographs by Allan Weitz © 2011. May not be reproduced without permission.
With a selling price of around $1,200, the Fujifilm FinePix X100 may not be best first choice for someone looking to step up from a point and shoot or superzoom, mostly because for the same hunk of cash you can pick up any number of two-lens, entry-level DSLR starter kits or any number of equally able mirrorless APS-C / Four Third-format camera systems.
But for shooters comfortably ensconced in the more conventional tools of the trade—not to mention those who wish to own a camera that both handles and resembles you-know-who’s far pricier digital rangefinder for thousands less—the Fujifilm FinePix X100 makes an excellent addition to anybody’s camera arsenal.