Sunday, June 3, 2012

Fujifilm X100

The Fujifilm X100 has been released for some time now to generally positive reviews, but took some flak for its various bugs and quirks. Now that several firmware updates have corrected most of the bugs, it’s time to reassess the main complaints, which, in my opinion, mostly derive from a lack of sustained use and knowledge of the camera.

The pics in this post are shot in JPEG, and taken straight from the camera without Photoshop editing.

Here’s the 3 main complaints I seem to hear most of the time, usually from people who just tried it in a shop.

1) The X100 is a slow camera

False : What is actually true is that, out of the box, the camera is set up to save as much power as possible, at the detriment of speed.

The first thing you should do is disable the power save options in the Menu / Set-Up
OVF Power Save Mode : OFF
Quick Start Mode : ON.

I would also suggest that you disable Auto Power Off, if you’re not afraid of wasting power. Finally you should invest in a fast card, because that’ll impact the reactivity as well (but regardless of the camera, you should buy a fast card anyway, especially in these days of HD video). Now your X100 is as responsive as any DSLR.

2) The X100 has a quirky interface

True : I wouldn’t say that the physical layout and the menus make much sense. Some functions are ineptly named. For instance, you have to press Drive while in shooting mode in order to access panorama and video modes. Overall the button layout isn’t very intuitive, past the aperture/shutter functions, and it takes more time familiarizing with the camera than it should.

To be fair though, the X100 in its current firmware state, allows the user to assign any function to the Fn and Raw buttons : thus, when you’ve customized your X100, all the basic functions are directly at your fingertips, which is more than can be said of a lot of DSLRs, not even mentioning compacts.

3) The X100 auto-focus don’t work too well

True and False : Well, the X100 doesn’t sport the best AF, that’s granted, and the manual focus isn’t very usable, because you have to turn the lens a countless time to get in focus. On the other hand, once I’ve got to know the camera and use it every day, I encountered less and less focusing problems. On the above pic, I managed to get the subject in focus while we were both walking in different directions.You have to understand anyway that it’s not an action-oriented camera. It’s more like a Leica : a reflective, conscious compositing camera.

One basic rule : if you’re shooting a close subject, always use the electronic viewfinder to focus, because the optical one will mess up 9 times out of 10. I don’t know why that is, but anyway, it takes a second to switch from one viewfinder to the other, so it isn’t much of an issue.

And don't forget that very close subjects are meant to be shot using the Macro mode.

So let’s recap what are, to me, the real pros and cons of the camera.


Great image quality : the X100 constantly delivers great shots, with plenty of detail, beautiful colors, and its JPEG processing is hardly rivaled, making use of RAW redundant. The filters are also excellent, be it the vibrant Velvia (which I think I used on the above green cart photo), or the various B&W modes.

Great at high ISO : while the maximal aperture is a conservative 2.0, this isn’t an issue since the X100 effortlessly produces noise-free images at high ISO. My own setup is auto-ISO with an upper limit of 1600, then changing aperture and speed on the fly using the physical controls. In low light conditions, you can close the aperture quite a lot, in order to sharpen the image, and still get a clean shot, as demonstrated on the Marrakech souk pictures above.

All the basic controls are at your finger tips : unlike a DSLR or other compacts, where you have to change shooting parameters through small buttons and generic-looking wheels which serve different functions  depending on the mode you're using, the X100 has film-camera-style controls for shutter speed and aperture. In that regard, it's obviously a nod to the Leica M9 and its recreation in the digital domain of the simplicity and elegance of analog photography. I can’t stress how important this is, and why it makes using the X100 a much more rewarding and fun experience than using a DSLR. It's basically the difference between a modern digital synth where nondescript buttons control various settings and an analog synth with one hardware knob per function : same result perhaps, but much more direct and intuitive.

Hybrid viewfinder : of course there’s the famous hybrid viewfinder. You get the comfort and brightness of a viewfinder, which allows you to see more of the scene than will actually be photographed, making framing more comfortable. And you also get to superimpose whichever electronic information you require, since it is customizable. The downside is that like any rangefinder-style camera, you get some parallax effects while shooting up close, because the viewfinder is on the left of the lens. When shooting up close, you might want to mentally correct the framing like you would do with a film rangefinder camera or switch to the electronic viewfinder.

Absolutely silent : the X100 shines in street photography because it’s portable, non-threatening and also virtually mute. You can of course add an electronically produced shutter sound, but I don't see why you would ever do that, since the X100 makes absolutely no noise while taking the picture.

Great looks : now design is just design, but it IS something important. Just like a beautifully crafted instrument makes you want to play it and be creative, the X100 is instantly something you want to grab and go out shooting with.

Great build: it’s solid, it’s trustworthy. In this day of smartphones and iPads, it feels like a camera. And the leather bag is pretty neat as well.


Awful manual focus : there’s a manual focus mode all right, but it’s so tedious that I don’t see why anyone would spend the time using it. What you can do is press the AFL/AEL button on the back to get instant focus and adjust with the ring. Judging from the documentation and the tutorial videos, this is supposed to be how you focus manually, but it just isn’t practical.

Confusing interface : while it’s true that one is used to its brand, Canon and Nikon, and can find it difficult to adjust to another manufacturer’s interface, I have to say that the X100’s is needlessly obscure. The Menu button is also inconvenient in use, because it’s much too flat (although like I said, you don’t need to go inside the Menu very often when the camera is all set to your liking).

A bit expensive : the X100 is something of a luxury, considering the competition. Should it be 100, 200, 300€/$ lower? Probably, but I should say that the price tag also reflects the build quality, the hybrid viewfinder and the fact that it delivers excellent photos with a special look.

All in all, I maintain that it’s an outstanding camera and a buy I don’t regret for a minute now that I know how to operate it to its full potential. So don’t listen to the bashing poured out on the web by people who only tried it in the shop or the nitpicking of some pro reviewers (I’m looking at you,, it’s a special camera and truly an instant classic.


Damien B said...

"unlike a DSLR or other compacts, where you have to change shoot parameters in menus, the X100 has a wheel for shutter speed, and a ring for aperture."

Meucheu ? J'ai toujours eu une molette pour l'ouverture et une pour la vitesse sur mes réflex numériques. Tu généralises un peu vite là :-)

khoral said...

Dont acte. J'ai modifié pour préciser ma pensée!