Xploring the X100
[written by KopiOkaya and edited by Bluffname]
(All photos and videos by KopiOkaya unless stated otherwise)
NOTE: Review set using firmware version 1.01
First, I would like to thank Rosemary and Geraldine of Fujifilm Singapore for loaning F.U.N. the FinePix X100 for this review. I would also like to thank Excelglsi and Dricas_007 for their valuable feedback.
The gorgeous X100…
[click on images to enlarge]
The Fujifilm FinePix X100 is quite simply the most talked-about camera of 2010/11. Rumors started brewing on the Internet during the third-quarter of 2010. This was followed by the official press release from Fujifilm and the launch of the “X100 development” mini-website and finally, the official launch of the camera in February 2011. Throughout, the excitement never stopped.
The launch, however, was not smooth-sailing. Production of X100 was briefly disrupted by the March 11 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami. Demand for the camera was overwhelming then and Fujifilm in Japan could not churn out enough X100s to meet orders worldwide. At one stage, the camera was sold for as high as US$2,000 on eBay, a premium of US$700 over the recommended retail price. Yet, photo enthusiasts and die-hard fans were willing to pay. Those people who pre-ordered the X100 were disappointed. Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait long. New shipments arrived quickly and people were happy once again. It was amazing how quickly Fujifilm delivered pre-orders even after the massive natural disaster. The resilience of the Japanese people behind this effort is unbelievable.
Is the X100 worth the wait and even the price premium?
Before I give my frank and unbiased opinions, let me clarify that even though I have the tendency to expect a FinePix camera to inherit certain characteristics that are unique to Fujiflm, I do understand that the X100 is unlike anything Fujifilm had created in the past.
The X100 body is modeled after a vintage rangefinder. Its heart is an all-new APS-C CMOS sensor with EXR processor. Its left eye is a newly-developed 23mm F2 fixed focal length lens with Super EBC coating and its right eye is the world’s first Hybrid Viewfinder which switches instantaneously between optical viewfinder (OVF) and electronic viewfinder (EVF). Many of these features and technology are new to Fujifilm.
The X100 body
The die-cast magnesium alloy body has a nice finishing touch that resembles classic rangefinder cameras such as the Leica M series. However, rangefinder enthusiasts will be disappointed to know that the X100 handles and operates much like a conventional point-and-shoot camera. If you are thinking to buy the X100 and expecting it to operate like a rangefinder, think again. The X100 may not be what you are looking for.
Fellow F.U.N. member Excelglsi, who owns a Leica M6 rangefinder camera, has highlighted a few relevant points which I hope Fujifilm will use as reference when designing the next X-series camera.
- The focus selection switch on the X100 looks out-of-place and less than “retro”. He suggested using a level switch instead.
- In terms of ergonomics, the camera lacks a firm grip and the synthetic leather is slippery when handled with sweaty palms. A hand grip will be a good add-on. However, the hand grip must not obstruct the battery compartment to allow quick battery change. The base plate with a tripod mount is ideal.
- The focusing ring is a bit too narrow. People with chubby fingers may accidentally rotate the aperture ring during manual focusing.
- Manual focus is useless. It takes three full rotations to focus from minimum to infinity. And once within focus, the camera does not assist with fine focus. A shorter throw will allow much faster focusing, and some sort of focusing aid or magnified view (like that found on the Sony NEX cameras) will be helpful.
- The flash terminal could do with a simple hot shoe cover for protection.
- It would be good to have the camera available in both silver-black and all-black finishing.
Dricas_007, a F.U.N. member who purchased the X100, further brought these points to my attention:
- The average battery life is about 180+ pictures per charge. Longer battery life is most preferred.
- The shoulder strap began to fray after just a few days of use.
- The focusing hunts when shooting video.
Here is an excellent X100 video by MrAndrewgraphy.[video: MrAndrewgraphy]
- The lens cap is clumsy to use and there should be a strap attached to the camera so that it does not drop.
Operating the X100
Personally, I find the camera a joy to use. Many people have complain on Internet camera forums about its less-than-friendly interface and menu. However, I think most existing FinePix users will adapt easily to the X100. In fact, I find the menu more straightforward and easier to navigate than those of the S5 Pro and other FinePix prosumer models. Having said this, there are several glitches which, hopefully, Fujifilm will resolve with the next firmware upgrade. By the way, the X100 I am reviewing is installed with firmware version 1.01.
- The camera freezes after going into standby. To reactivate, you will need to switch off and on again. Most of the time, the camera will work but at times when it fails, a battery pull is required. This is really annoying. In most cameras, a half-pressed shutter is enough to wake it up from sleep. I understand the X100 isn’t meant to replace a pro camera in terms of continuous shooting for photojournalists in a battlefield, but still… such a fault should not be found in a camera that costs S$1,699 (about US$1,300).
- When the subject is close (less than 2.5 ft), one has to continually switch to macro mode.
- Macro mode deactivates itself when switching between shooting modes and when the camera goes into standby.
- One of the selling points of the X100 is that it has an optical viewfinder. Yet I find it virtually useless as it is very difficult to tell if the subject is in focus. In the end, I just used the electronic viewfinder.
- When using the optical viewfinder in spot focus mode, it cannot be set to stay in the center or be fixed anywhere. It goes into auto find focus mode and decides what to focus on. There is no way to turn this off.
- One of the reasons why photographers prefer an optical viewfinder is that they can keep the subject in view while tripping the shutter. However when using either viewfinder mode, the X100 automatically goes into instant preview after every shot. This may be useful to those who like to look at each and every shot taken. But to others, it is disruptive and distracting. Again, there is no way to turn this feature off.
- The front window of the viewfinder is a fingerprint magnet. Users find themselves touching the front window too often, resulting in a fuzzy view.
- Slow write speed. Fujifilm has included a Class 6 Fujifilm brand SD card (made by Transcend) as a standard free gift. Yet, many people are still encountering slow write speeds. Tests done by some local X100 users show that Kingston brand SD card gives the slowest write speeds. I personally have tried Sandisk and Lexar SD cards (both Class 4) and find their read/write speeds reasonable – at least fast enough for me to take the next shot before the internal buffer is full.
- There needs to be a quicker and simpler way to toggle between auto and manual ISO via the “Fn” button.
- The Motion Panorama feature of the X100 gives inconsistent results. Nonetheless, using a tripod helps.
The Motion Panorama function of the X100 is not perfect. Many times, I have badly stitched pictures such as these…
If properly done, the picture will come out properly joined and sharp such as these…
- The X100 design team must have forgotten about the external flash when deciding on the placement of the shutter dial. Once the Fujifilm EF-20 flash is mounted, it becomes almost impossible to turn the shutter speed dial. Ideally, there should be a 1 cm allowance between the hot shoe and the shutter speed dial.
- Finally, although this is not a major flaw, the retaining clip on the BC-65N battery charger dislodges easily and can go missing if one is not careful. A lost retaining clip means either replacing a new charger or stuffing the gap with a lump of Blu-Tack – which can be a fire hazard!
ADDENDUM (7/11/2011): The retaining clip can be ordered from Fujifilm Service Centre as a special-order part called a “Charger Adapter,” Fuji part number ZP01729-100.
Enough of rantings… For now, you shall hear fewer complaints from me as I focus on the areas in which the X100 really excels – image quality.
Fujifilm’s decision to switch from SuperCCD to CMOS sensors had raised many eyebrows. Many Fuji fans felt this was “suicidal” as Fujifilm SuperCCD sensors produce some of the best colors ever seen in digital cameras.
We know now this concern is redundant. With more than seven decades of experience in the research and manufacture of photographic films, we can rest assured that Fujifilm will get the colors right. Coupled with their latest EXR Processor, the X100 is able to produce truly exceptional images, minus the hassle of switching between various EXR modes (unlike the FinePix EXR compact cameras).
When the X100 is set to Program, Aperture priority or Shutter priority mode, its EXR processor is able to adapt itself quickly to perform complex image correction and processing based on the scene and lighting condition. The images from the X100 are testaments to this highly-innovative technology, resulting in a well-balanced tonality in highlights and shadow, astounding clarity and high definition, and low noise with exceptional color fidelity.
Here is my opinion of the image quality of the X100:
- At default settings, the straight-out-of-camera JPEGs may look washed-out, flat and the colors muted. But when set correctly, the colors are vivid and vibrant. Otherwise, just shoot RAW.
[Munsell Color Chart comparison]
[Kodak Gray Scale comparison]
- Auto white balance is precise with both indoor and outdoor conditions.
Accurate auto white balance indoors and outdoors
- High ISO noise is the lowest among past and present FinePix models. And yes, it includes the “King of High ISO”, the Finepix F31fd. It is not the absolute best and there are cameras with better noise performance but their colors may not be as good as the X100’s.
TK Foto’s Black Box V2.0* Test – FinePix F31fd
* TK Foto’s Black Box V2.0 is a custom-made black box (made from a shoe box) to simulate very low light shooting condition. Contents inside the box are hardly visible with naked eyes.
The X100 RAW files contain sufficient image data to bring back details from underexposed pictures such as this…
After recovery (using Adobe Lightroom 3)
- Skin tones, however, look smudged compared to Fujifilm S5 Pro.
“Fujifilm” skin tone no more…
- Highlight recovery loses out to the S5 Pro, which is able to recover extremely over-exposed images.
FinePix S5 Pro
When the development of X100 was announced last year, many people wondered why it only has a fixed lens? And why fix at 35mm (135 format equivalent)?
Fujifilm claims that a fixed 35mm f2 lens gives the best image quality without compromise. In the late 1960s to 1970, ultra wideangle lenses weren’t common and were pricey if available. Back then, the 35mm prime lenses was a favorite of many photojournalists. To them, this focal length offers the best flexibility for a broad range of subjects, scenes and applications.
Here is how I find the lens on the X100:
- I compared the X100 with Nikon’s top-of-line ultra wideangle zoom lens, the AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8G ED (mounted on a S5 Pro). This fantastic lens retails for around S$2,600 (US$2,000). I find the X100 lens to be as good as the Nikkor. Distortion is very well-controlled with outstanding edge-to-edge sharpness.
- Bokeh (out-of-focus area) is smooth, soft and non-distracting.
Bokeh at f2.0
- Flare control is exceptional thanks to Fujifilm’s legendary Super EBC coating.
The lens has one of the best flare control I have seen
- However, very minor purple fringing could be detected at larger apertures (f4 and below).
The X100 doesn’t have many rivals except the Leica X1. Physical-wise, both cameras are quite similar.
[photo: Fujifilm Corporation]
[photo: Leica Camera AG]
The Leica X1 looks thicker due to its protruding lens. Its layout is simpler and placement of hot shoe is farther from the shutter dial. The X1 does not have a built-in optical viewfinder (it is available as an accessory), which is why so many people prefer the X100 to the X1.
Barely two years ago, there was much speculation and escalated rumor about a possible new DSLR to replace the aging Fujifilm S5 Pro. Today, the success of the X100 proves that Fujifilm has found itself a new comfort zone to stay in, develop and grow.
That comfort zone is the rangefinder camera. Since the film era, this segment has always been dominated by Leica, which is beyond the reach of most photographers. With the X100, photographers now can experience the advantages and joy of using a rangefinder camera. Yet, they can still hold on to their DSLRs for more serious work. This is where the FinePix X-series fits in nicely. I have talked to Fujifilm staff and they say the company’s Research and Development team has already gone back to the drawing board to develop a successor to the X100. Also, a wide range of accessories will be added so that users can customize their camera further.
For now, here is what I think will be good improvements to the X100:
- An interchangeable lens system
- Parallax correction in the optical viewfinder
- A lens with shorter and less turns for fast focusing
- Focus aid or magnified view to assist fine focusing
- Improved video mode
- Longer battery life
- Redesign the battery charger
- Practical yet secure lens cap
- One centimeter (1 cm) allowance between the hot shoe terminal and the shutter dial
- Hot shoe terminal cover
- A better shoulder strap
- Matching hand grip without sacrificing tripod mount and the ease of changing battery
- Available in silver-black and all-black finishing
It is great that X100 accepts standard 1/8″ threaded cable release cord. Many cameras nowadays use proprietary remote cord or wireless remote, which are expensive and impractical.
A built-in 3-stop ND filter that works!!! Just turn it on in the menu when needed. It is extremely handy in bright situations or where a slower shutter speed or larger aperture is preferred.
The Fujifilm FinePix X100 is one of the most astonishing, attractive and well-received cameras of recent times, offering a good mixture of intuitive handling, exceptional image quality, and a state-of-the-art viewfinder.
Nonetheless, this camera is not for everybody. Its retro body and 35mm fixed lens is oriented towards street photography and the X100 is not a versatile camera. Other drawbacks include slightly sluggish auto-focusing, slow read/write speeds, mediocre video mode and a steep price-tag, These will make a lot of people think twice before buying. Most people I know who bought the X100, however, are pleased that it really does live up to their expectations.
The X100 truly excels in the images that it produces. Noise is almost absent throughout the ISO range from 100 to 12,800. The high dynamic range helps to enhance and balance contrast and detail. The 23mm fixed lens offers edge-to-edge sharpness, and the f2 maximum aperture makes it easy to throw the background out of focus beautifully.
If you are looking for a compact, quiet, well-built camera that takes great pictures – and you don’t mind paying a premium price – the Fujifilm FinePix X100 is worth serious consideration.
FinePix X100 firmware update follow-ups:
FinePix X100 Firmware Update Ver.1.10
The firmware update Ver.1.10 incorporates the following issues:
1. The following functions can be rocked during shooting by holding down [MENU / OK] button over 3 sec.
DRIVE / Flash / White balance / Macro (set on the Command Dial – 4 direction key)
2. “CORRECTED AF FRAME” menu is added in “SET-UP” menu (the last line on menu page 6) to display additional AF frame (corrected AF frame for reducing parallax) which can be effectively used for macro shots. (Factory default value is set to “OFF”)
3. Adjustment in 1/3 step increment for shutter speed or aperture setting is enabled in Shutter-Priority AE and Aperture-Priority AE mode, on top of those in Manual Exposure mode.
Shutter-Priority AE : Adjustment is controlled by rotating the command dial
Aperture-Priority AE : Adjustment is controlled by moving left / right on the command control lever
4. In the post-view mode (display after shooting), focused area is magnified in the LCD (EVF) display when the command control lever is pressed.
Cf. “IMAGE DISP.” Setting must be set to “CONTINUOUS”,
5. Setting of the role for “Fn” button is enabled by holding down “Fn” button over 3 sec.
6. Actual ISO sensitivity for shooting is displayed just after pressing shutter button halfway, when “ISO AUTO CONTROLL” is set to ON.
7. When “eye sensor” is activated by pressing “VIEW MODE” button, “EYE SENSOR” is displayed on EVF / OVF or LCD just a while to notice the status.
8. Macro mode ISO sensitivity, Drive mode, Dynamic range, Self-timer mode, flash mode is maintained even if shutter speed setting or aperture setting is changed. Also, even after changing viewing mode into shooting mode or turning of the camera, these values are maintained.
9. The size of focus frame set through viewing EVF / LCD is maintained even after changing display mode between OVF and EVF (LCD).
10. When “SHUTTER SOUND” is chosen, each shutter sound is performed in each menu setting.
11. In viewing mode, the last viewed shot is maintained as even after changing into shooting mode.
Cf. After another image is shot after viewing former image, memory of viewing the image is cancelled and the last shot is displayed as the latest image.
12. When the aspect ration of the image size is set to 16:9, the line of bright frame line on OVF is displayed with aspect ratio 16:9.
13. Viewing mode with Photo Information on EVF / LCD is maintained even if another image is shot. On top of this issue, deleting picture directly is enabled even in viewing with Photo information by pressing the command dial up, or MENU operation is also enabled.
14. Occasionally, preview image on EVF / LCD after pressing the shutter halfway might be darker than live view, according to aperture setting or brightness of shooting target. This phenomenon is improved.
15. When “DISP. CUSTOM SETTING” is set to OVF or EVF / LCD, the setting value is maintained even after customizing the menu.
16. Even for only RAW data recording mode, “RED EYE REMOVAL” setting is selectable among ON or OFF.
17. In MF (manual focus) setting with OVF mode, OVF viewing is activated after pressing shutter half way, even if “FOCUS CHECK” (magnifying center of the image) is displayed in EVF by pressing the center of the command control lever.
18. Displaying period after pressing each command dial (Macro / Flash) is prolonged from 1.5 sec into 2.0 sec for confirming correctly.
20. For resuming from AUTO POWER OFF setting, the shutter release button was required to hold down halfway for a few second. For quicker operation, resuming is activated by just pressing the button.
21. Image quality captured by Velvia / ASTIA mode is improved on mainly shadow tone (dark area), when dynamic range is set to 200% or 400%.
22. When “OVF POWER SAVE MODE” is set to ON and “Fn” button is set to “MOVIE RECORDING”, the camera may be unstable occasionally. This phenomenon is improved.
23. Histogram display on OVF during exposure compensation is improved.