Top positive review
280 people found this helpful
So Close to Perfect
on 5 April 2011
SUMMARY: An excellent camera in its own right or in a supporting role to a DSLR. If you can live with a 35mm fixed focal length, you won't get better quality images under a variety of lighting conditions from a package this small at any price. A handful of relatively minor irritations which are likely to be fixed with firmware updates do little to detract from what is a superlative photographic device - the most major of these include poor AF performance in macro mode, partial functionality lockup whilst writing to the SD card and almost unusable manual focus. If and when these are addressed with firmware updates, I'll gladly increase the score to 5*, but for now, I'm afraid I have to shave one point.
UPDATE JULY 2011: As of Firmware update 1.1, manual focus is somewhat improved, but still pretty much unusable for shooting anything moving. Focus lock-on in macro mode is still very poor in low light. Some functions are still disabled when writing to memory. Several other issues addressed. See the Fuji website for full details.
BUILD: My expectations of build quality had already been set fairly high, but on the basis of the shots I'd seen, I wasn't sure that I liked the finish of the metal body. It looked a little too much like silver paint rather than metal. However, I can assure you that in the flesh it has the obvious appearance of satin finished alloy; this is one extremely classy looking item. I know this will be important to some people. Also, despite some comments I've read about it being a bit `too light' I tend to disagree. It has a nice solid heft worthy of a quality camera. It does not in any way feel like a cheap plastic bodied item. The closest thing I can compare it to in terms of feel is my equally solid, metal-bodied Canon G9. Both in feel and looks, X100 absolutely exudes quality, and the dials and switches move with a precise `snick' noise. They are easy to turn without being too likely to be moved by accident. In terms of build quality, it has the edge over the Leica X1. I also disagree that the multi-select dial on the rear of the camera feels `cheap' - it may not be metal, but it's functional and does its job perfectly well. In the context of the overall design, it doesn't look out of place. All in all, this is an object of beauty, and can be enjoyed without even taking a shot.
OPERATION: People have complained about the operation of the manual focus dial, and I have to agree that the way it's been implemented in firmware does leave room for improvement. It's difficult to move focus quickly and precisely using the dial and because of the slight lag and the jumpy focus reaction of the lens, there does feel to be a disconnect between actually turning the focus dial and achieving focus. That said, I personally use manual focus for only two things - setting pre-focus so I can prepare to take a shot with a known range and DoF (the focus distance and DoF indicator proves very useful here) and macro shooting. For these purposes it's perfectly adequate. No doubt some will see this as a major drawback - particularly those used to shooting with genuine rangefinder cameras like the M9. You can expect that Fuji will be looking to update the firmware to modify the way this works and silence some of the critics. Manual focus ring aside, shooting with the X100 using Autofocus is extremely satisfying. It's able to achieve focus reliably in very dim lighting conditions even with the AF assist lamp disabled, and the only times I've had it struggle is in macro mode, where it can have difficulty unless there is good lighting and contrast. It is not as fast to acquire focus as a DSLR or even the latest Panasonic G series, but it is significantly faster than my Canon G9 and S95. Having 49 focus points to select from is a nice feature, but I typically use only the central one, focusing and repositioning to frame as desired. This is after all not a camera designed for shooting fast moving objects - for that purpose you really do need a DSLR, or to be using manual focus and a deep DoF. I would like to see a face detect feature added in a future firmware update. This may be seen as unnecessary by old school shooters, but it can be genuinely useful in certain circumstances.
The hybrid viewfinder is a great innovation either in optical (OVF) or electronic (EVF) mode. The EVF alters its refresh rate depending on available light, but under daylight conditions, its refresh rate is very fast with almost no lag. I love using this to shoot black and white, as it gives a great preview so you can judge and adjust your exposure for light and shadow before taking the shot. This is a big advantage over shooting with a traditional DSLR like my D700, where I need to try to visualise scenes in monochrome and think how they might look when exposed darker or lighter, only seeing the result when chimping after the fact. The X100 essentially has 'auto-chimp' where you see the image as captured in the viewfinder immediately after it's taken. This is far more efficient than having to move your eye from the eyepiece to look on the rear screen. The X100 is a splendid camera for people who want to shoot `street' in B&W, which covers a lot of enthusiast photographers and professionals. Note that the frame lines in OVF mode are not entirely accurate. It tends to capture a slightly larger area then the heads-up display border indicates. This is not a big problem - you always have the option of EVF if you need to be 100% accurate. The OVF also suffers from having the lens partially obscure the bottom right hand corner of the viewfinder very slightly when the filter adapter is attached - this is especially marked when using the optional lens hood. This is normal for this type of camera however, and remember you always have the option of switching to EVF if something in that part of the image is critical to your framing. Note that you can mount a 49mm filter on the adapter and still be able to fit and remove the hood independently.
Start-up time from cold is not particularly fast - from off to ready to shoot takes around 2.2 seconds, and the same when waking from sleep mode - however, enabling 'Quick Start' mode can compensate for this (when either powering-up or waking from 'sleep' mode), bringing the time down to 0.7 seconds. Quick-Start mode is relatively heavy on battery usage however. You may be interested to know that the NP-95 battery used in the X100 is the same as that used by several other cameras, and that reputable, branded 3rd party replacements are available at a fraction of the cost of the genuine article. My brand of choice has always been Hahnel, and I've never had a problem with them. I use their HL-F95 in my X100; these are rated at 1500mAh rather than the 1800mAh of the fuji items, but at 1/3 of the cost, this isn't such a bad trade. I would recommend against using very cheap generics - these may not have over-voltage or under-voltage protection circuits, which can make Lithium Ion batteries dangerous to charge and might result in them dying if allowed to discharge too far - though as the X100 will refuse to power-up if the battery falls below around 2.5v this is unlikely.
As has been discussed elsewhere, the shutter is totally silent in operation. If you are shooting in OVF mode, the only noise you hear is that of the viewfinder window curtain sliding up so the image can be previewed. This is practically inaudible unless you have your ear near the camera. If you are shooting in EVF mode, there is no noise at all besides the tiny whine of of the lens acquiring focus prior to the shot being captured. That, and the fact that the autofocus will operate in very dim conditions even with the AF assist light disabled makes this an ideal camera for discrete use. The only control I wish the camera had added is an ISO dial. Changing ISO is not especially hard, but a dedicated dial perhaps set into the back of the camera would have been a perfect addition.
IMAGE QUALITY: Very good with only slight peripheral softness at f2.0 and f2.8 (very few lenses are absolutely sharp wide open across the entire frame) - excellent sharpness and contrast at f4.0, f5.6 and f8.0 - good sharpness with slight loss of contrast at f11 and f16. Minimal distortion. Excellent colour and monochrome rendition. Bokeh highlights can be slightly busy, but not overly distracting. I've performed a direct comparison between the X100 and my D700 with the 35mm f/2.0 and 24-70 f2.8 and the X100 is equal to or better than either lens for resolution and sharpness across the aperture range, especially in the corners of the image. High ISO capabilities are absolutely superb, and on a par with the Nikon D7000 - almost as good as the D700, though the dynamic range is not as strong. A D700 will give you noticeably more latitude when editing levels in post. Good ability in low light is one of the key benefits of the X100, and gives it low light shooting ability above even the M9 unless you're shooting with f1.4 or f0.95 glass. Unlike my D700 I can take it with me anywhere, and it blows my G9 and my S95 out of the water in terms of image quality. I'm absolutely loving the ambient lit night shots I'm getting with this camera.
PRICE: This is where I depart from many commentators who say the X100 is overpriced - seemingly on the basis that it has only a fixed lens. I tend to disagree - this is an entirely new concept of camera which has been lavished with a large amount of original R&D effort, and this needs to be recouped. The build quality is equal to or better than the more highly priced Leica X1, and it features a built-in viewfinder and superior specifications in practically every department. It has low light capabilities the equal of the Nikon D7000, which sells for the same price as the X100 without any lens at all. Needless to say this is not a generalist camera, and as such is aimed at a very specific and select target market - that too makes it necessary to price the camera higher in order to recoup development costs. When you hold the camera in your hands and see the images it's capable of delivering and compare it to the alternatives, I think you'll agree it's worth every penny.
HIGH SPEED FLASH SYNC: Although it's probably not news to all you Strobist fans out there, the leaf shutter on the X100 makes it ideal as a high speed sync camera. What does that allow you to do? Well, it means that the entire frame is exposed simultaneously at high shutter speeds, rather than by a moving 'letterbox' strip as in most DSLRs. This in turn means that you can sync flash at up to 1/4000th of a second at f8 and below, at 1/2000th at f4 and below and at 1/1000th at any aperture and still get a decent sized 'pop' out of your flash. I've tested this myself, and it works. However, note that if you're using a wireless trigger like a Pocket Wizard rather than a hot-shoe cable (there's no PC sync socket on this camera), this limits you to around 1/1000th max because of the transmission delay. This ability to sync with flash at high speeds allows you to really make your flash-lit subject stand out in bright sunlight. It does this by severely restricting the amount of ambient light (sunlight) which lights the shot and allows the flash to dominate. It's a very 'magazine' look and well worth experimenting with if you like that kind of thing. Until now, the 'best' affordable camera body with a large sensor I know of which can do this is the Nikon D70s. No longer!
ACCESSORIES: I purchased the Fuji made brown, genuine leather case, the filter adapter and the lens hood. The case is a very nicely made item, with a good, grippy stylish brown leather shoulder strap which replaces the standard one provided with the camera. It has subtle logos pressed into the top of the case and the strap. It is pretty much required to have a strap fitted when using the case, as the popper straps which secure the camera into the bottom half of the case wrap over the strap rings. In a pinch, you could get away with having the rings fitted but not the strap. There is no tripod screw to hold it into the case, and no hole which can be used to secure the camera onto a tripod with the case fitted. The top half of the case including the leather lens cover attaches to the lower half by a pair of poppers and can be removed easily, though it doesn't fold up particularly conveniently for storage, so you may be better off just letting it hang below the camera in use as it is designed to do. It doesn't really get in the way, anyway. With its tough experior and velvety interior, the case provides good scratchproofing and a certain amount of impact protection. It may also be useful to repel the odd light shower of water, though it's clearly not designed to be waterproof. The catch which holds the top cover closed is magnetic, and has an amount of play forwards and backwards. What this means is that you can install the filter adapter and a reasonably slim filter and still use the case effectively, as the leather lens cover will slide a few millimeters forwards and still fasten securely. There is no way that you can close the cover over the camera with the optional lens hood fitted however, so you'll need to carry that in your pocket when not in use. Luckily it attaches and detaches with ease, and is very pocketable.
The filter adapter and lens hood are finished beautifully and complement the camera well. You will need to screw the filter adapter tightly onto the lens, or you'll find the twist-fit lens hood (which is itself quite a snug fit - all the better to not lose it) may cause it to unscrew on removal. The hood has a slot cut-out which helps to prevent the OVF from being too obscured when it's fitted, which is a nice touch and really makes a difference. As I mentioned before, you can leave a filter attached to the filter adapter and attach and remove the hood separately - it doesn't screw into the filter thread, but makes use of a separate bayonet style fitting also machined into the filter adapter. Note that the filter adapter *does* cast a small shadow at the bottom of the image when using the built-in flash, but shots are still usable. You may want to consider this if you plan to do a lot of flash photography with the X100 - though to do so somewhat squanders the benefits of the excellent low light abilities of the sensor. Of course, with the lens hood fitted, there is significant obscuration of the flash when in use, and this configuration cannot be recommended. Overall, these accessories are well made, though this should be weighed against their relatively high prices. If I'm honest, I feel somewhat peeved that Fuji decided not to bundle the lens adapter and hood with the camera, given the relatively high cost of the X100 and the fact that they probably cost no more than a few pounds to produce. The opportunity to drum up some extra post-sales income was obviously too tempting.
MEMORY CARDS: Given the tendency of the X100 to lock-out some features while writing to its memory card, I'd recommend using a high performance SD card to minimise write times. I use a SanDisk SDHC 8GB Extreme Pro class U1 (45MB/s), which allows the camera to complete writing appreciably faster than my previous class 6 SD card. Ultimately though, the X100 is not designed to be a rapid-fire shooter, so in practice the lockup isn't nearly as annoying as it would be if my D700 did the same thing. RAW images shot by the X100 are relatively large at around 20MB, so an 8GB card will net you about 400 frames. You'll probably need 2 or 3 batteries to shoot that many images though, depending on how much you generally chimp each shot, so an 8GB card is probably a sensible size.
Given my above stated minor reservations, this is an excellent camera and a very brave step by Fuji for which they should be congratulated. I was on the pre-order list practically from the day the price was announced, and I'd buy it again without hesitation. Being a niche market product it's certainly not for everyone, but to people like me who want the best possible high ISO performance in a genuinely pocketable package, it's the only choice. Believe me, shoot with this camera for a day or two and you will fall in love.