I promised you a hands-on preview of the Fujifilm X100, and here it is, albeit a tad late. Why the tardiness? Well, As you know I wrote a hands-on preview of the same camera a week ago, in Norwegian. It was the first in the world to include sample shots, and as a result of that the world went bat-shit crazy. Hence, I’ve been quite busy lately. Too busy, unfortunately, to sit my ass down and write this.
Another effect of the past week’s craziness, is that you won’t see any sample shots here. Fujifilm asked us politely if we could be so kind as to remove the sample shots from the Norwegian article, and we agreed. I still have the files, but it doesn’t seem right to post them here after agreeing to remove them from the Norwegian article. I’m sure you agree.
So, to the point: Was the X100 any good?
Yes, in short, I think so.
Want some nuance? Well then, read on, MacDuff!
SIZE & WEIGHT
The Fujifilm X100 weighs about 450 grams, including battery and memory card (and lens, obviously). That’s just about a pound for those of you who don’t do metric. To put it in context, it’s just over half of a canon EOS 50D or a Nikon D7000, or if you prefer, a bit less t
han half a D300. More useful, though, is a comparison to the Olympus E-P2 with a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7, and the weight is just about the same as that very interesting combination. Near enough so you wouldn’t notice the difference, anyway.
Size wise, the X100 is larger than you’d think from looking at the pictures, but not in any way near the Leica M9 in size, thankfully. It’s significantly larger than comparable (well, -ish) compact cameras, but once again not too far from the more useful comparison to the Oly/Pana-combo, or for that matter, Samsung’s NX100.
The weight and build makes the X100 feel substantial in your hand, but not overly heavy. The top and bottom plates are constructed of molded light-weight metal, probably some sort of magnesium alloy, and consequently it feels (and probably IS) very solid, and the faux-leather grip has decent friction and I suspect it wouldn’t be slippery even when wet.
In my experience, a camera like this shouldn’t be too light – it ruins the balance – so I was quite happy whan I first felt the X100 in my hands. The balance is great, and it feels just like the tool that it is supposed to be, rather than a plastic plaything.
And I get the distinct impression that it is as a photographic tool that Fujifilm’s engineers and designers have thought of this camera too. It is practically stripped of useless and unneccesary buttons and levers and design-flim-flam that most modern cameras have tacked onto them by the marketing department, and this leaves room for some wonderfully thought-through stuff.
For instance, the knob for selecting the shutter speeds is easily operated with your thumb, and you don’t need to take your eye off the viewfinder to do it. Next time you’re in a camera store, try a few cameras and see just how many of them let you do that! I promise you it’s not as many as you think.
The knob for selecting exposure compensation (+/- 2 EV in 1/3 EV steps) is just next door, but in a slightly less prime piece of real-estate. It, too, is easily operated with your thumb without forcing your eye from the viewfinder, but unfortunately it is equally easily operated by your jacket, your bag, your arm or your chair. Apart from the stops at 1/3 EV intervals, there is no sort of lock at all on it, and it will very easily get knocked and set to soemthing you don’t want. Hence you should make a habit of checking it whenever you use the camera, which is an annoying habit to have to have with a camera like this.
It’s probably way too late for this suggestion to have any effect on the final X100, but just in case Fujifilms design crew read this, here’s an idea: How about some sort of physical connection between the rotating on/off-switch and the exposure compensation dial, so it doesn’t get knocked about when the camera is not in use? Ideally I’d also like to be able to feel in my thumb when the dial reaches the 0 setting, maybe through a slightly more robust click stop here than the rest?
By the way, there are no stops between the marked setting on either dial, but the camera’s auto exposure is capabale of selecting shutter speeds that are between the full values. In manual mode, however, only full EV steps are available to you. Same with shutter speeds in shutter priority mode, and aperture settings in aperture priority mode.
I don’t really mind this too much. People who buy the X100 should know enough to expose properly in manual mode, and to shoot RAW besides. A fraction of an EV off ideal exposure isn’t very important when it comes to that.
The screen is decent, but nothing special, compared to other cameras. Surrounding it are most of the X100s other controls, and most of these buttons should be familiar to anybody who have used a digital camera before.
On the back of the camera, top right, there is a jog dial. I have no idea what it does, as it did absolutely nothing, in any context, on the sample camera that I borrowed. I know what I’d LIKE it to do, though:
1) Zooming. The X100 can zoom in and out on shots already taken, as any other camera, but this is done through two buttons on the left. I found that counter-intuitive and akward to do “on the fly”, and I wish there was some other simple solution which let you do this with your right hand. The jog dial would be ideal.
2) Focusing. Sure, you can fokus with the focusing ring on the lens, but not everybody prefer to do it that way, and as the ring is electronically coupled to the focusing mechanism anyway, why not allow focusing with the jog dial as an option?
3) Zooming. No, I’m not repeating myself. When recording video, the X100 can maintain full resolution and still zoom in digitally, by cropping the sensor electronically until only the middle area of the sensor is used. resolution won’t suffer until you zoom far enough in that the video resolution is higher than that of the sensor area in use.
Most of the controls I haven’t mentioned yet are pretty ordinary and so not really worth mentioning, with three notable exceptions: The Fn-button next to the shutter release button (which, by the way, can accomodate an ordinary screw-in cable release), the AF-selection button on the left hand side, and the RAW-button on the bottom right of the back.
The Fn-button can be configured to do a number of things, depending on preference, such as ISO-selection (the default), image size, image quality, dynamic range, film simulation, ND-filter, AF settings, video recording, or DOF-preview.
The AF-selection button has three settings, with MF as the top one, AF-S in the middle, and AF-C on the bottom. I’m not so sure that is a wise choice. When you’re in a hurry, you might not have time to carefully fiddle with a switch in order to set the camera to AF-S. It’s far easier just to slam the switch all the way in one direction, and not have to wory about stopping it in the middle. Personally I’d prefer to have the two AF-settings at either end, and MF in the middle. Not only will most people who use MF when they’re in a hurry routinely leave the camera in that setting, but should the need arise, I suspect it should be very easy to override the AF with the camera’s focusing ring. Note that this is speculation only, since MF did not work on the sample X100 I had. There is a possibility that the camera was permanently set to AF-C, but it’s difficult to tell.
The RAW-button on the lower right seems a bit misplaced. A camera in this class shouldn’t need one, beyond what the Fn-button could be made to cover, and a separate buttom for RAW-selection seems a bit weird. I shoot JPG+RAW practically without exception, memory cards and storage space being relatively cheap and getting cheaper by the minute, and I suspect very few buyers of X100 will have a real need of this button. Unless it is programmable and customizable that is. Fujifilm, you know what to do!
The menus in the sample camera were decidedly sluggish, and there was a slight feel of the camera thinking before a shot was taken. In a camera as typically suited for candid street shooting as the X100 seems to be, I’d like lightning-fast shutter delay. It’s not quite there yet, but it might very well get there. This is one of those things that just can’t be said for sure based on a VERY early version of the camera.
The X100′s lens is a 23 mm f/2.0 which is not interchangeable, but I’m told both wide-angle and telephoto adapters will become available. I’m not too thrilled about that, as I tend to dislike what these extra lenses usually do to a camera’s image quality, but as I prefer moderate tele to wide-angle, the 23 mm is a bit wide for my tastes. I might have to use a tele adapter myself, but most people seem to be happy about the 23 mm, which with the 1,5x crop factor is roughly equivalent to a 35mm lens on a fullframe body.
The lens is not very long, and looks like a typical “pancake” lens, but surprisingly it still isn’t a nightmare to use. The focusing ring is a tad narrower than I’d like, but it’s good enough, and comfortably textured for a firm grip, and as such is also recognisable by touch. The aperture ring is also quite narrow, but has two grip extensions on the side, also textured for a comfortable grip, and this makes it equally easily identifiable by touch. Held correctly, you should have all the essential controls of the X100 at your fingertips, and your eye to the viewfinder, without any problems. This is how a PROPER photographic tool is built!
Hardly noticeable, on the tip of the lens, is a removable ring which gives access to the threads for optical accessories such as filters and lens adapters. It is well built and looks good. I wouldn’t even have seen it was there if I didn’t known already.
The sample camera’s autofocus isn’t too bad, but I don’t think it’s quite as fast as the 0,16 seconds that Fujifilm has promised in the final article. Still, I expect a huge improvement in this before X100 is released to market.
As it was, the AF went hunting for focus every now and again, particularly in dark conditions and with low-contrast subjects, but that is to be expected in just about any camera with contrast-based AF, and especially in a pre-production sample like this one.
Optically, I’m not sure the lens on the sample camera was representative, but Fujifilm’s people didn’t say anything about it, so I have to assume that it was. It was sharp enough in the centre, but on some shots it seemed softish in the corners, even when stopped down to f/5.6. Far from all, however, and more so in the hand-held shots than in those shot with a tripod, which leads me to believe that the fault may be mine and not the camera’s.
I have only examined JPG from the X100, though I still have the RAW files. There is as yet no RAW converter that fully supports the X100 RAW-files, however, so I’ll stick to the JPGs. As I said, I don’t feel I can publish them, but there is nothing to say that I cannot make observations based on these files, so that is what I’ll do.
Resolution of detail was decent, though I suspect the RAW files will have a lot more to offer in that department. In general, the more advanced the target user for a camera is, the softer the JPG-files tend to be, probably because a larger portion of the users will want to have the best possible starting point for their post-processing. Also, it’s likely that the X100 offers custom settings for this. In any case, for a 12 mp camera, the X100 had good resolution of detail and blew such golden oldies as the Nikon D90 and D300 right out of the water. As well it should, considering the difference in age and price. More surprising, the X100 in its pre-production incarnation could even hold its own against the Nikon D7000, despite the latter’s four extra megapixels. Impressive!
ISO performance was excellent too, and loss of detail due to noise reduction doesn’t really become obvious until 3200 ISO, and at a pinch even 6400 ISO can be usable. 12800 ISO, however, is offered as an uncalibrated extension, and should only be used in dire emergencies.
Dynamic range seems decent enough, though it’s impossible to tell from a JPG-file that has been subjected to in-camera NR. Still, X100 offers Fujifilms usual 200% and 400% DR extension, which I assume means they have high hopes for this aspect of the X100, considering that only the camera’s processor and not the chip itself is of their famous EXR-type.
Colour reproduction seems to be acceptable, at least up to and including 3200 ISO, but any higher than that and saturation goes through the floor. Maybe that can be compensated for in RAW-processing, but time will have to show on that one.
The viewfinder is by far my greatest reason to be interested in this camera. The X100 has few, if any, real competitors when it comes to this, and it is in this respect a unique camera, at least until Fujifilm lanches a successor, but that will most likely take years.
In short, you can choose between composing your shot on the screen, like with most compacts, or in the viewfinder. If you choose the latter, you can choose between an electronic viewfinder, or an optical one. The electronic viewfinder will give you exposure preview and such, and will show you exactly what the camera chip “sees” – after all that’s where the image comes from. The optical one, though, is the one I’m personally drooling over. Through it, you will see MORE than the camera chip does, and hence you’ll be able to compose your candid shot exactly right, because you can see the subject BEFORE it enters the frame, just like with Leica’s M-cameras.
That in and of itself wouldn’t be revolutionary, to say the least, but Fujifilm has gone one further and combined the optical viewfinder with the electronic one, which opens up a lot of possibilities. Exposure information is electronically projected into the optical viewfinder, as are the composition frames and the focusing indocator. You can even see a superimposed exposure-preview of your shot, by depressing the shutter release half-way.
Sadly, that last part didn’t function properly in the sample camera I was allowed to use. Once the superimposed image was there, it stayed there, and any attempt to dislodge it through button-pressing or lever-moving ended invariably in the camera crashing and needing a hard reboot.
EDIT: This shot show you the information layout possible in the viewfinder:
It is hard, based on the prototype, to estimate how certain aspects of the viewfinder will function in the final product. Personally, I hope it will be very flexible and customisable, as I’m not too keen on the superimposed exposure-preview. It gives me an unccomfortable kind of double-vision that I fear will be confusing and distracting at a time when I need to keep my mind on composing the shot.
Again, this depends on the final firmware, like so much else.
Physically, though, the X100s OVF was a dream to use. It is large and bright and just what I’ve been looking for since I sold my Leica M6 ages ago. In certain lighting conditions it was possible to see a slight darkening of the viewfinder where the LCD for projecting data onto it lies, but only very slightly, and I had to look for it to find it. The day this becomes a problem, I’ll eat my socks.
$1200 or €1000 may appear steep, but considering what you get, it isn’t as bad as you might think. The closest competitor I can think of would be the Olympus E-P2 with Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 and electronic viewfinder that I mentioned earlier, and that would run you 10% more than the x100. In addition you’ll get a sensor chip that’s twice the size, and an unparallelled optical viewfinder. Not a bargain, exactly, but certainly not as pricy as many people seem to think.
I’m still undecided on buying an X100 when it arrives. I now know a little more about it, but not enough to be able to say that I will buy one for sure. There is too much that still depends on the final firmware, and what options and custom settings it will offer. Physically, though, and in terms of image quality, I’m not worried about the X100 in the least. Sure, there are a few things I’d like Fujifilm to do differently, but none are showstoppers as far as I am concerned.