May 11, 2011

initial impression: Fuji X100 – not quite the review yet

The Fuji X100 (vendor) must be one of the most eagerly awaited cameras in recent times. The camera just looks beautiful. Retro-cool. With initial reports being mostly very favorable, I was quite keen to get my hands on one of these. My X100 arrived last week, just before I was to leave for the After Dark Photography Education workshops in Cincinnati, OH. What better time to geek out over a camera with gorgeous models around and so much opportunity to play with photo gear and lightning techniques.

The photograph above of Alyssa, (one of our models), was lit by LED video light. Now, when using video lights for photography, you’re dealing with wide apertures and high ISOs. An immediate challenge for a camera. And the Fuji X100 excelled. The image above was from the in-camera JPG, with the color balance tweaked slighting in Photoshop. The image was also slightly straightened.

camera settings: 1/60 @ f2 @ 1000 ISO … manual exposure mode

Now before I show the 100% crop of the shadow areas in that image, here is the camera itself:


Clearly designed with an eye on the classic cameras, the Fuji just looks beautiful. But the camera’s looks wouldn’t mean much if the image quality doesn’t hold up.

 

image quality of the Fuji X100

For an overview of the camera’s specifications, the best place would be Fuji’s official site. What is important to note here, is that the Fuji X100 is a 12 megapixel rangefinder-styled digital camera, with an APS-C size sensor. So you wouldn’t expect digital noise to be as well-controlled as it is.

Looking again at the image at the top:

From the area below her left elbow (camera right) – 1000 ISO
(not sharpened in Photoshop)

But this in itself wouldn’t be impressive if the low level of digital noise was achieved at the cost of detail. Now, this isn’t a proper review yet, so there aren’t comparative images yet, but the next image should give you an idea of the amount of detail this camera can capture. This next image was shot at 800 ISO. (Close enough to 1000 ISO to still give you an idea of the way the noise is controlled vs potential reduction in detail.)

Also shot at the After Dark workshops, I bumped into the group that my buddy Chuck Arlund was leading around the plaza in Cincinnati. He had somehow convinced a model to get into the fountain. Using only the available light at the fountain

camera settings: 1/125 @ f2 @ 800 ISO  … manual exposure mode.
Available light only.

A 100% crop of the statue under the fountain:  (not sharpened in Photoshop)

The detail is there! With a further in-depth review, we’ll definitely have a look at how the camera performs at higher ISOs than merely 800 and 1000 ISO. With the initial images I shot with the X100, I am quite happy with the image quality.

 

controls, operation & handling of the Fuji X100

Here I have to confess two things immediately:

– I have no experience of range-finder cameras aside from briefly playing with Leicas that friends owned. But I never shot with one. So, no experience of rangefinders. But then, the Fuji X100 isn’t a range-finder camera. It is styled like one.

– At this point I haven’t read the manual yet. I’ve been too busy to sit down with the manual and figure the camera out from start-to-end before using it. I’ve also been too excited about the camera to not just go out and just use it. I also think it might be easier to read and understand the manual when there is some familiarity with the camera already. So, I’ll get there.

But in the meantime, I have used the camera already.

So for all that, being a complete noob with rangefinders in general and the Fuji X100 specifically, I found the camera easy to understand. I am sure there will be more details and functions that will be revealed once I delve deeper and properly into it. But for now, the camera isn’t a mysterious awkward camera. The operation and the menu is simple enough to decipher from just placing your fingers on it.

So how does the camera feel? Surprisingly light. From the metal used in building the camera, you’d expect something more hefty, but the Fuji X100 is both light and fairly compact. (And have I mentioned yet that it looks beautiful and elegant?)

The shutter dial and aperture dial and exposure compensation dials, all feel solid with a silky movement. This camera quietly tells you that it is a quality machine when you handle it. It feels good to hold and use. Even the lens cup comes off with a soft gliding movement.

I should also mention that the Fuji X100 has a fixed 23mm f2 lens, which is the equivalent of a 35mm f2 lens when compared to a 35mm or full-frame digital camera.

What I will have to adapt to in using this camera, is that the X100 isn’t a Nikon D3. The Nikon D3 is a fast, responsive brute of a machine. The X100 needs a more considered approach to taking a photograph. The simple act of looking through the viewfinder to the side of the camera is quite different than looking through the viewfinder of an SLR. The controls are also different than a DSLR. I am used to having the ISO selection immediately available. For me, choosing the ISO is as much part of exposure metering as is it is to change the aperture or shutter speed. With the Fuji X100, I changed the Fn button to bring up the ISO so I didn’t have to go through the menu to find it first.

Now, much mention has been made of the Hybrid viewfinder of the X100.
To quote from Fuji’s site:

The Hybrid Viewfinder combines the window-type “bright frame” optical viewfinder found in high-end film cameras, such as 35mm or medium-format cameras; and the electronic viewfinder system incorporated in fixed single lens or mirror-less digital cameras.

You have the choice of the electronic viewfinder (which I dislike a lot in every camera that I’ve encountered it), and the optical viewfinder. What you do need to actually see for yourself, is how bright this viewfinder is. Even better, it has all the info you need .. aperture, ISO, metering display … and best of all, a histogram overlay in the one corner.

Every photographer that I’ve shown the camera to, has responded with an “oh wow!” or “holy crap!” when they look through the viewfinder. Reading about it on a website or on a brochure doesn’t quite describe how impressive it is when you actually use it. Fuji really did their home-work on this.

Better yet, it is possible to set the View Mode of the camera, so that the live preview can be seen on the back of the camera (like pretty much all compact cameras behave) … but the moment you lift the camera to your eye, the camera senses it, and moves the display inside the viewfinder. So the camera (for one of the View Modes), will do that – flip between LCD preview on the back, and the view inside the viewfinder. Elegant!

So far I really like the camera. It does have a few quirks which I’ll get to with the proper review. (I also need to familiarize myself properly with the camera.)
You may well ask why I bought the Fuji X100 and what I might use it for. Since Fuji is billing this as The Professional’s Choice, one may well wonder where the Fuji X100 would fit in with a working professional’s kit. Here I can only answer for myself – currently I shoot with Nikon D3 bodies, and I would not want to hamper myself in any way during a paid shoot or event, by using a camera that is less responsive or is limited to only one fixed lens.

For my personal photography, I wanted a camera that is a point-and-shoot, but without being too simplified that I have no control over it. I also wanted image quality that wouldn’t fall down entirely in comparison to a camera like the Nikon D3. And this is where the Fuji X100 fits in perfectly. It is small enough to be  walk-around camera. It has superb image quality (going by the first images I’ve taken with it.) And then it offers something that most smaller cameras don’t have – a classic elegance and stylishness that was meant to appeal to the serious photographer and connoisseur. The Professional’s Choice.

But we’ll come back to all this with a more complete review of a camera that is destined to become a modern classic.

 

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{ 21 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Anthony May 11, 2011 at 8:09 am

I’m looking forward to seeing your more detailed review. This camera sounds very nice. Please comment on shutter lag in your review – that always seems to be a problem with these smaller cameras.

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2 Neil vN May 11, 2011 at 8:15 am

Anthony, there is no shutter lag once it acquires focus. And the AF is quick. This is NOT a point & shoot.

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3 briand May 11, 2011 at 8:20 am

the design is gorgeous, but it’s very pricey :(

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4 Rich Poinvil May 11, 2011 at 11:33 am

I would pay a pricey price for a small camera with no shutter lag.

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5 ivan May 11, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Yes, this is very cool camera ,the high ISO output is impressive.
But there is an unlogical settings limitation :
1/1000s at f/2 – f/3.5
1/2000s at f/4 – f/7.1
1/4000s at f/8 – f/16 ……” in P,A,S mode

1/1000 is the shortest time an f/2 – f/3,5 !!!
And by f/8 – f/16 you can use 1/4000 !!! :-)
1/4000 i need at f/2 end not at f/16 :-)

In manual mode is possible use 1/4000 by f/2 .

Why,why,why ? I know,that X100 has ND filter ,but the settings should by reverse .

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6 Arnold Gallardo May 11, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Great camera for doing a ‘Garry Winogrand’!!! :)Nice review Neil… reminds me of the old NIkon 35Ti and Leica M6’s.

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7 Rod May 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Waiting for my review X100 to turn up tomorrow, can’t wait to get my hands on it.

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8 Pasquier May 12, 2011 at 2:33 am

Neil,
haven’t had a chance to get my hands on one of these yet – all are currently sold out – but your comments sound so positive – that I’m really looking forward to it.
Cheers, P:)

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9 Niall May 13, 2011 at 3:53 am

@ivan
These are absolutely normal limits for a leaf-type shutter. Look it up!
The blades need to cover more distance at f/2 than f/8 so physically this makes perfect sense. (it’s on page 27 of the manual).
I’m still impatient for mine to arrive, and Neil you have made it even more difficult to wait.

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10 Sheri J May 13, 2011 at 8:44 am

I was very impressed by the results from the fountain image, looking forward to more of your feedback about it and maybe someday I might get the pleasure of trying one out :)

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11 Bogdan May 13, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Damn it! I’m desperately trying to AVOID buying this thing.
Neil, you’re not helping (as usual) :-)

Cheers!

Bogdan

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12 Jan May 15, 2011 at 4:31 am

Looking forward to read more about it. X100 is the camera I have dream of in the time i bought LX3.

What is not clear to me is if its a real range finder or some kind of AF camera. Offical site says it is AF camera as well as range finder system. I am a bit confused. Phase detect AF system is the thing I miss the most on compact cameras. How is the focusing with X100?

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13 Neil vN May 15, 2011 at 11:32 am

Jan … the Fuji X100 is “rangefinder styled”. It looks like a range-finder. But it really is a a compact camera with AF. You do look through the viewfinder on the side just like a range-finder. But the AF is “TTL contrast AF” according to the literature.

The focusing is pretty good. In good light it acquires focus quite fast. Not nikon D3 fast, but nowhere near as slow as point-and-shoot cameras. The Fuji X100 isn’t a point-and-shoot camera though. The image quality and build certainly places it far ahead of point-and-shoots. It really is an enthusiast’s camera.

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14 Neil vN May 15, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Another image shot at After Dark, with the light from that ring-light.
This is the out-of-camera JPG from the Fuji X100, shot at 1/500 @ f4 @ 800 ISO
(I used the healing brush lightly on a few skin blemishes.)

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15 Ron May 16, 2011 at 8:25 am

The X100 is a fine camera, but not as good as the Leica X1, its main competitor.

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16 Neil vN May 18, 2011 at 11:42 am

DP Review just posted their full review on the Fuji X100, and they have comparison images with various cameras there. It would appear that the Fuji X100 beats out the Leica X1 easily when it comes to high-ISO noise. The X100 even beats the Nikon D7000.

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17 Neil vN May 20, 2011 at 4:45 am

Ha! my buddy Kevin Foche snagged this video clip of me without me realizing it. I was hovering around his setup at After Dark, taking photos with my Fuji X100.

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18 Neil vN May 22, 2011 at 5:38 pm
19 nick Alamanos February 20, 2012 at 11:32 am

Thanks for the review, I’ve been reading up on this camera, I think it will compliment my canon rig during wedding shoots. Just can’t seem to find one in Montreal, they sell out as fast as they come in.

Nice work by the way.

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20 jeff whitfield December 14, 2012 at 2:14 am

Hi Could you tell me what film simulation mode you used for the wedding pics with the x100. Ws it the default setting provia or was it velvia or astia and also what monochrome setting would you use for out of camera jpegs?
Thanks Jeff

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21 Neil vN December 14, 2012 at 4:12 am

Jeff, I don’t quite remember. It’s most probably the standard setting since I do shoot in RAW, which would allow me to tweak the images the way I want to.

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