REVIEW: Fujifilm Finepix X100

"Billboard" - Fargo, ND

 

Today I am going to do something a bit different.  I have said in the past that I do not intend for this blog to be too focused on gear.  Unfortunately, the constant, unquenchable thirst for more gear to help us take better photographs usually ends up wasting away our time in a cesspool of nerdy gear forums or deep in a pit of lust for the next big thing, especially at the rate technology is moving these days.  However, it is also true that photography is more centered around equipment than, say, painting; it is one of the more technical art forms.

In this post, I will share my views on a camera that I have really enjoyed for the past several months, the Fujifilm Finepix X100 (hereafter known by its shorter name, Fuji X100, or just X100).  As an aside, this review is in no way intended to drive you to buy one, or start an Internet battle over this bit–or any other bit–of gear.  The online communities that I frequent these days have turned ever more into a polarized cesspool of rather heated rhetoric, and instead of a healthy, helpful debate we end up with an Internet-forum “scorched earth” policy, from which no one ultimately benefits.  You may be shocked to hear this, but the X100 is neither the greatest camera ever invented, nor will it eat your babies if left unsupervised.

Throughout the spring and summer of last year (2011),  there was a ton of buzz over the Fuji X100, which had seemingly come out of left field and taken the Internet forums by storm.  As has become the norm, there was an immediate, vitriolic backlash when people found out that the X100 did not contain all of their hopes and dreams, neatly wrapped around an APS-C sensor (although there were some serious issues surrounding the launch of the camera, which Fuji has since addressed with firmware updates and excellent service for problems encountered under the warranty).  The next phase brought the discussion back into the center, and people recognized what the X100 was, and what it was not.  For those of you who stumbled upon this blog mistakenly, and have no idea what I am talking about, the Fuji X100 is a fixed-lens camera, with a large sensor, an optical/electronic viewfinder, and “retro” styling.  I will shy away from the technical aspects of the camera, so if you wish to know more, you can find more than you’d ever want HERE.

"Festive Favourites" - London, England

For as long as I have been seriously interested in photography, I have enjoyed prime lenses over zoom lenses.  Prime lenses are generally smaller, lighter, and have a larger maximum aperture, all of which are big plusses for me.  I have used several fixed-lens 35mm rangefinders in the past, including the Yashica Electro 35, Olympus 35RC, Canonet 28, and the excellent Canonet QL17 G-III.  I enjoyed all of them, and what I really wanted was something similar with a digital sensor instead of film.  Although I quite like film and shoot quite a lot of it, sometimes I want the convenience of digital.  When the X100 came out, I was smitten; only the price tag held me back.  Instead, I upgraded my old Panasonic Lumix GF1  to the newer Lumix GF3, which I quite liked for its small size, good image quality, and lightning-quick AF.  Next I tried the Sony NEX-5N, which I also quite liked, especially for it’s low-light capability.  None of these other cameras was quite to my liking, and ultimately I returned them all and decided to stump up the extra cash for the X100.

As soon as I opened the box, I was in love with this camera.  I happen to quite like the way it looks (call me vain), and the way it handles (call me romantic).  It has the same feeling that I enjoyed with older film cameras: it’s built very solidly, has a good weight to it, and just feels really good in the hand.  Additionally, it has lots of dedicated manual controls on the body: a dial for the shutter speed on the top plate, an exposure compensation dial, and a real aperture ring around the lens.  Finally, it has a very nice OVF/EVF viewfinder which I find quite enjoyable to use.

Fuji X100, Optical Viewfinder Example

Once I began using the camera, I found the optical viewfinder to be a revelation.  Instead of looking at a miniature screen, you are looking through glass to see the world around you; thankfully in the 21st century, the X100 also projects information onto the viewfinder for you (focus, shutter speed, aperture, ISO) so you have all the information that you need and can focus on making images.  The X100 excels at street photography, which happens to be what I quite enjoy.  The X100 is small, and the shutter is the quietest I have ever heard–so quiet, in fact, that I am not always sure when I have taken a picture!

That said, the X100 is a quirky camera.  Many have found that its quirks are something that they cannot live with, especially for the price range that Fuji has positioned the camera in.  For a premium price, you could argue, one should get a premium camera.  While that is true, not even the indomitable Leica M9/M9-P is without problems, and at quadruple the price, no less.  The AF on the Fuji can be frustrating, especially at close distances; there are times when it tells you focus is good, only to find out later that it isn’t.  However, I have not had this happen all that often, so in practice I have not found this to be a serious issue.  The write speed can be frustrating at times: I shoot primarily in RAW, and after a series of a few shots, I have to wait a few seconds while the files write to the card.  In the meantime, the camera does not let me do anything.  In theory, this sounds worse than it really is in practice, and I can’t think of a shot that I missed because of it.

I have taken the Fuji X100 everywhere with me for the past 6 months–to school, to work, to the store, and to England–and I enjoy it now more than I did the day I got it.  I find it perfect for what my style of shooting has become, and although I find myself occasionally wishing I had a slightly longer lens to slap on the front of it, knowing that I can’t has freed me up to use the 35mm focal length to the best of my ability and forget about the camera and just focus on making photographs.

Here is a quick round-up of what I have found to be some of the pros and cons of the Fuji X100:

PROS:

  • Well-built, solid body
  • Excellent OVF/EVF (viewfinder)
  • Very sharp, fast lens
  • Near-silent shutter
  • Relatively small (compared to DSLRs, or an M9)
  • Image quality is superb, and dynamic range is very good as well

CONS:

  • Operation can be quirky (however, it is noticeably improved with the most recent firmware update, v. 1.13 in February 2012)
  • AF is not incredibly fast
  • Write speed isn’t the quickest, and the buffer might require you to wait a second (especially if you’ve just shot a series of RAW images)

When all is said and done, only you know if the X100 is right for you.  For me, the 35mm focal length is not ideal, as I find myself more of a 50mm guy.  Many people prefer 35mm, but my preference is a 50.  With the Fuji X100 being what it is, it has forced me to get closer to the action than I might otherwise have done, which is good practice and makes me a more well-rounded photographer.  I find that when I have the X100 with me, I see the world in a 35mm focal length, which I quite enjoy.  I would recommend trying the X100 out before buying.  Take a trip to your local camera store and hold it in your hands, look through the viewfinder, and see what you think of it.  In order to take good images, you have to have a certain connection with your camera; having gear is all well and good, but if you don’t connect with, or understand, your gear, then it is all for naught.  After 6 months of taking the X100 everywhere with me, I understand its strengths, weaknesses, and operational quirks, and I find that it does not in any way prevent me from realizing my vision for making photographs.  A good camera should facilitate making your vision come true–it should get out of the way and let you put your vision on to the frame.

 

"Zebra" - Fargo, ND

 

I’d love to hear what you think about the X100, so leave a comment down below.  If you liked or hated my review, if you want to see more of them or never again, or if you think I missed something–just leave a comment down below and let me know!  If you liked what you read/saw here, please feel free to re-blog, share via some social network, or consider “following” the blog by clicking the “follow” link to get notified every time there is a new post here.

If you would like to see more of my photographs with the X100, go check them out and let me know what you think!

Happy shooting, and talk to you soon,

-Trevor

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23 Comments

  1. Very nice, ‘human’ review. I currently have the x100 on loan. Yes, it’s not perfect but I can see myself falling in love with it very quickly. Your portfolio of pics are great. It would be nice if you had a ‘category link’ to pics only shot with the x100.

    Reply

    1. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I did include a link at the bottom that links to my flickr so you can see shots taken with the X100. There are quite a few there I think.

      If you shoot a lot of digital–something I do less and less of these days–then the X100 is a great camera.

      Reply

  2. I read your down-to-earth real life review of the X100 too late. I already purchased one two weeks ago. Therefor, your review did not influence me at all.

    I’m sure that’s the way you would want it!

    Nice web site.

    Reply

  3. the dynamic range of the last shot is actually quite impressive. i plan to pick one of these up tomorrow.

    thanks for the review.

    Reply

  4. Good notes on the X100 — it’s funny how often I will find myself looking at new gear that has come out aka more ways to spend money I don’t have. I do admire what the X100 has set out to do though. I think the next few years, as we see the film world really start to fade, 😦 which I’m hoping for a miracle, I think we will see a lot of these “retro” mimics starting popping up. It’s ludicrous to think these won’t catch on with film users if done properly. There’s already some really creative micro 4/3rds out there that seems to have some good initial ideas in line, as long as they follow through. As for me, I’d love to have a smaller, professionally-equipped, yet retro-styled digital camera, whether it be a rangefinder or an slr. Here’s hoping for the future

    Reply

    1. I don’t think film will disappear, but I do think it will become even more of a niche market than it already is. Thanks for your kind words 🙂

      Reply

  5. I like your review because it’s from the photographer’s point of view and not from the gadget-guy….
    thanks

    Reply

  6. […] Here is another post from my most recent trip to England (London, Norwich, and Wigan) over the holidays in late 2011 and into early 2012.  This series of shots was all taken in London, though not at the same time.  All are taken with my excellent Fuji X100, of which you can read my impressions in my review-cum-reflective essay here. […]

    Reply

  7. Hopefully one day my interest in photography will lead me to a point where I will have an interest in what style of camera, in terms of technical specs, I prefer more. I enjoyed reading the input though. Very educational and well written. Cheers!

    Reply

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