NOTE: I have written once before about this camera explaining how it shouldn’t be equated with a Leica M9. You may want to read that post for reference first.
Before I get into this review I should point out that my camera reviews are merely my reactions. If you want stats and lots of sample pics go to http://www.dpreview.com/.
With that out of the way – How would you use a $1200 digital camera with a dedicated 35mm lens? This is the first question you should ask yourself if you’re considering the Fujifilm X100. Its fixed focal length lens limits its ability to serve in all situations. It’s good for environmental portraiture but in my opinion not long enough for serious traditional portrait work. For landscapes it’s sufficient but not quite wide enough. For street photography and photojournalism, it’s perfect. So think about the use case for the camera before jumping in.
This is one popular camera. This is interesting given it’s had little actual scrutiny or availability – but for some reason, everyone wants an X100. I’ve had one for about a month and only recently have I been able to actually put it through its paces. Again, remember, this review will simply be my personal reaction to the camera.
The X100 is designed to look like a Leica rangefinder. It is well built, has an APS-C sized 12.3 MP sensor and a high quality fixed focal length lens. It brings back the aperture ring (yay!) and it provides a very different hybrid electronic viewfinder (EVF) that is perhaps the camera’s best feature.
Fuji made a great decision when they decided to keep the sensor at 12.3 MP. There is a rush to build sensors with more and more and more megapixels because marketing departments at the various camera companies have tricked people into thinking more is better. It isn’t. Fewer megapixels equal better image quality.
In my initial tests (before Fuji updated the firmware) I was getting publishable results at ISO 640 but hit or miss at ISO 800. Either they fixed this in the firmware update or my particular camera needed a boost but now, after more careful testing I’d say the camera provides publishable results at ISO 800 and maybe a tad higher. So this is good low-light performance.
I do like the feel of the camera. I generally like the choice of lens which (with the crop factor) provides the effective focal length of a 35mm lens on a full-frame sensor camera.
The Fujinon F/2 lens is fast and resolves a large amount of detail. It’s sharp and contrasty most of the time. But it’s far from perfect. It’s soft wide open and the closer you get to your subject the softer it gets. There is also some distortion wide open and close.
The movie mode is 24 FPS, 720p and stereo. It is good quality for a camera of this size. But the work you have to do to enable video is silly. Fuji needs to re-work the interface on this so that there’s a simple button to start and stop video. Another shortcoming is the lack of any option to attach an external mic. This is a serious flaw in my opinion.
The camera does a good job but underperforms unless you have very (and I do mean very) fast SD cards. You also need an extra battery. The Fuji sucks battery juice like there is no tomorrow.
In general I think this is a well-done camera. But the Fuji X100 is peculiar and is generally just a bit off to my way of thinking. Firstly, it’s just buggy. My X100 shuts off without explanation. If this were an Apple product the Apple haters would literally mount an armed assault on Cupertino for such failings. The camera’s autofocus is okay but not great – and generally slow. The menus make no sense to me and the way the camera reacts just sometimes unexpected. The menus, buttons and interface all need to be reconsidered.
Not since the introduction of the Olympus E-P2 have I seen such a cult following develop for a camera. Unfortunately, cult followers don’t always base their loyalty on facts. In the case of the Fuji X100 it’s not that they rave about a bad camera. Quite the opposite. At the end of the day it’s a very capable piece of gear. I expect that version 2.0 may well be THE camera to own in a year or two. This initial version just misses the mark here and there. But Fuji is certainly onto something. The camera is capable of delivering professional-quality results in the right hands and under the right circumstances. It’s a good solid replacement for a point and shoot or backup body for DSLR shooters. But given what you’d pay for a Nikon P7000 (my current favorite point and shoot) I wouldn’t replace the Nikon with the Fuji. The Nikon is more flexible and lots less expensive. The Fuji costs nearly four times as much! It’s a camera that fits into an odd place and because of that, it probably won’t earn a permanent place in my bag. I have other cameras at the high end that do the same job with better quality and more flexibility. I have other cameras at the low end that do a similar job with similar quality and for less money.
Positioned against the new Olympus, (Olympus PEN EP3 – due in stores soon) which is now in its third iteration, the Olympus has more options and a more mature line and I think the Fuji has a tough hill to climb. Positioned against the Leica X-1, the Fuji is a much less expensive alternative with similar results. Positioned against the myriad of sub-$500 compact/point-and-shoot cameras, the Fuji just doesn’t have enough flexibility to compete.
One more thing – The Fuji X100 is a compelling idea that you want to root for. I’ve never been so confused about a camera.
When I love a camera I give it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – For now I am giving the Fuji a RECOMMENDED. Your mileage may of course vary.