REVIEW: The Almighty Fuji X100

by Mike on May 3, 2011

(yes, my baby was finally strong enough to come home!)

Product: Fuji Finepix X100 Camera

Price: $1,199 for regular people, $1,900+ for idiots on eBay
Recommended Retailers: Adorama and Amazon (Just make sure that you pay the proper $1,199 price on Amazon! If another price appears, look at the right of the screen and select ‘Amazon.com’ under ‘More Buying Choices.’)

Great For: Street, travel, candid, landscapes, environmental portraiture
Not so Great For: Sports Photography
Included in Box:
Major Specs: 12 megapixel APS-C image sensor, 23mm f/2.o Fujinon lens, (equivalent to 35mm on standard 35mm format), encased in high-quality steel and leather, Hybrid viewfinder, built-in 3-stop ND filter, 720P HD video w/stereo sound, Fuji film simulations
Competing Products: Leica X1

So why the heck did I just drop $1,200 for a compact camera? The same reasons everyone else waited 4 months on a waiting list to get their hands on a Fujifilm X100:

  • small size makes it great for street photography
  • big image sensor gives DSLR-level image quality
  • top-quality Fuji lens (who do you think makes Hasselblad’s lenses?)
  • 12 megapixel files are big enough for large and vibrant prints, but won’t clog your hard drive
  • no mirror vibration makes it dead-easy to handhold at slow shutter speeds, and aids sharpness
  • high-flash sync speeds means no issues shooting with flash or fast apertures in bright light
  • it just looks so cool
  • it feels as solid as a brick

There is simply no camera on the market that offers this magic combination of features. The only exception is the Leica X1, which is 18-months older and $800 more expensive than the Fuji.Plus, I think the Fuji looks way cooler than the X1 and has a far more innovative feature set, especially the hybrid viewfinder.

Packaging

Fuji knows how to package a camera. Everything comes in this box (barrel distortion courtesy of Canon 28mm f/1.8 lens):

Inside is two smaller boxes, one for the X100, and one for all the accessories.

Here’s the X100 sitting in shiny black satin inside its fancy gift-style box:

Please note: I removed the lens cap and protective packaging. Also, the box’s frame looks scratched up here but it actually came in perfect shape – the markings are specular highlights generated by the flash I used to shoot the photo.

Overall, this is the best camera packaging job I’ve ever seen. Why? Because it’s easy to get everything neatly back into the box. This is not like the Panasonic and Canon compacts I’ve owned, where it’s nearly impossible to repack the box without having bulges stick out everywhere.

Overall, it’s a very fine package and way nicer than any $1,200 DSLR or lens you can buy.

Build Quality

The X100 feels TOUGH – all metal and leather on the outside. If somebody attacks you, crack them in the head with this camera. It won’t feel a thing.

Looks

Are you blind? This thing is BEAUTIFUL!

Controls

The X100 has a very simple control scheme similar to that of a vintage film rangefinder. You adjust aperture on the lens, and the shutter speed with a dial on the top. There is also an exposure compensation knob on the top right, and a hybrid-viewfinder activation lever on the front of the camera. The function button on top can be programmed but defaults to changing ISO.

Here’s the camera from top view:

 

On the back are all the usual digital control options – playback, AEL, macro/flash controls, white balance, viewfinder mode, and a button to activate RAW shooting:

Optical Viewfinder

The optical viewfinder is pretty big and bright. It’s definitely a step up from consumer DSLR’s like the Canon Rebel series and the lower-end Nikon’s. It appears to be roughly the size of the viewfinders in my full-frame 35mm film cameras.

What’s really cool is that the frame layout in the middle of the viewfinder allows you to see what’s about to come into the frame. So you can anticipate, not just react. This is freaking BRILLIANT for street and candid photography.

Here’s what the viewfinder looks like:

On top of all this, you can actually view the camera’s menus inside the electronic viewfinder, and preview images you’ve just shot. Cool!

 

Electronic Viewfinder

If you pull the lever on the front of the X100, you’ll see an  electronic viewfinder magically appear in inside the regular viewfinder. This allows you to perfectly preview exposure, color, white balance, depth-of-field, etc.

It updates pretty quickly to track what’s happening in front of the camera.

Sharpness

I’m finding exactly the same results as all other reviewers. It’s sharp at all apertures. It’s maybe a tad softer at f/2, but even that is pretty good.

And remember, the X100 does not have a mirror-slapping around like DSLR, so it’s REALLY easy to handhold at slow shutter speeds.

High ISO Performance

I’m loving the X100’s ability to generate clean, detailed images at high ISO settings.

Here’s a live music shot at ISO 2000, straight out of camera:

ISO 2000, f/2.8 at 1/70s

Here’s a polar bear at ISO 3200:

 

This looks pretty damn good to me. There’s a little noise if you’re pixel peeping but it’s more than manageable. Detail retention, contrast, and color saturation are all just fine. I’d be more than comfortable making 8×10 prints at ISO3200, and it actually looks way better in Aperture 3 than it does on the blog. (note to self – reexamine output settings)

And now, here’s a sweet Italian sausage at ISO 6400:

ISO 6400, f/8 at 1.80s, Sweet Italian Sausage

Again – pretty damn clean, and the noise itself isn’t harsh. It’s more like print film.

Image Stabilization

The 23mm lens (equivalent to 35mm) is pretty wide, and the camera doesn’t vibrate at all since there’s no mirror slapping around. I’m getting consistently sharp images at 1/8s. Image stabilization would be nice but it’s not at all necessary with the X100.

Handling/Ease of Use

The X100 is super-easy to use. Every important setting is easy to access, and there just aren’t a lot of things with which to screw around.

Color Rendition

Vibrant but natural – just look at these beautiful colors!

ISO 400, F/2.8 at 1/160s

ISO 400, f/4 at 1/240s

ISO 400, F/5.6 at 1/400s

Film Modes and Macro Shooting

The X100 Features three modes that emulate famous Fuji film types. You can even bracket to get the same shots in all film modes. That’s what I did for this flower shot, which was taken at ISO 200, f/5.6, at 1/40s, in the camera’s macro mode.

Here’s Fuji Provia:

Here’s Fuji Velvia for my homeboy Ken Rockwell:

And here’s Fuji Astia:

Do they look exactly like the real Provia, Velvia, and Astia films? I don’t know, but they each look nice in their own way. I’ll stick to plain old color most of the time, but these options can be fun to have sometimes. There’s also a black & white mode.

Here’s another macro flower shot, which also shows the shallow depth-of-field you can get with the lens if you close your distance to subject:

ISO 400, F/4 at 1/900s

Off-Camera Flash/Strobist Stuff

The X100 is brilliant for off-camera flash. I had no problems getting an external  flash sync to sync at 1/4000s. I used a Lumopro LP160 flash that I connected to the camera’s hotshoe with a sync cable and Nikon As15 adapter.

This is an ugly image due to underexposure and a subsequent exposure boost in Aperture, but it proves that syncing flash at 1/4000s works just fine:

1/4000s at f/5.6, ISO 800

This blows away any DSLR on the planet, the best of which top out at 1/250s. The on-board flash works just as well at 1/4000s.

And here’s an outdoor off-camera flash shot taken at 1/500s:

ISO 400, f/5.6 at 1/500s

And another taken at 1/250s (LOVE the blue sky in this shot):

ISO 200, f/5.6 at 1/250s

Plus, since the X100 has a built-in three-top neutral-density filter, you should be able to shoot wide open with flash in bright sunlight – AMAZING! This is a brilliant camera for off-camera flash.

Street Photography Use

The X100 is an incredible street camera. It’s really small, light, and doesn’t draw much attention to itself.

The X100 has a quiet mode to eliminate all beeps and shutter sounds – VERY convenient for street and candid photography. I was standing just a few feet from this guy and he had NO idea I was shooting him:

This girl also didn’t notice me just standing around with my camera waiting for a moment:

ISO 200, f/8 at 1/800s

 

Environmental Portraits

A 35mm lens won’t cut it for headshots, but the X100 is a great environmental-portrait machine:

ISO 800, f/2.8 at 1/60s

Autofocus Performance

The X100’s autofocus performance isn’t spectacular, but it’s not bad. It won’t give you the hyper-speed of a Nikon D3S, but it is very accurate. There is some occasional hunting if you’re within a meter of your subject, but if that happens, you just switch to macro. I saw few if any outright autofocus misses. Any blur I saw in my images was from my own errors.

This is NOT a sports camera by any stretch of the imagination.

Metering Performance

The metering is very accurate. It’s even better than the highly-accurate meter found in the Panasonic LX5, and it blows away my Canon DSLR’s, which chronically underexpose images.

I haven’t seen an improperly exposed image yet and I’ve been shooting on aperture priority the whole time, dialing 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop in here and there.

More Images

 

ISO 400, f/2.8 at 1/550s

ISO 1600, f/2.8 at 1/85s, B&W via Silver Efex Pro

 

ISO1600, f/16 at 1/3s

ISO 800, f/4 at 1/13s, B&W via Silver Efex Pro

ISO400, f/5.6 at 1/250s

 

ISO200, f/8 at 1/600s, B&W via Silver Efex Pro

ISO200, f/4 at 1/100s

ISO400, f/2.8 at 1/250s

Conclusion

I am finding the X100 to be a joy to use and I highly recommend if. It does exactly what it’s supposed to do – offer stellar image quality in a highly-compact and easy-to-use package. It’s easily the best camera I’ve ever owned.

And you know what? It’s fun. It brings back the joy of just going out and exploring your environment with a camera that doesn’t draw attention to itself, and which is light enough to carry all day long.

If you’re interested in buying one, I highly recommend Amazon for its quick shipping (don’t bother with two-day shipping, the free option is fine) and super-friendly return policies.

Alternately, you can order from Adorama or NYC-based electronics giant J&R.

 

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