The Fuji X100 | The Retro Camera That Took The World By Storm
A Guest Review by Daniel Go.
Once in a while big companies allow their R&D engineers a free hand to run wild and come out with a product that even the marketing department can’t argue with.
Products so well designed that it sets their targeted market on fire even before the product is released. Such was the case when Apple came out with their iPod years ago and more recently the wildly popular iPad series and the same can be said for the Fuji X100.
The engineers obviously put a lot of thought into the design of Fuji X100. The moment you see one, it tugs at your heartstrings, your sense of sentimentality. It brings back thoughts of days of old when things were simpler and functional.
The Fuji X100 was designed ground up to mimic the styling of vintage small-bodied rangefinder cameras like the Canon QL17, Olympus 35 and Yashica Electro 35GX.
This is specially true for photographers who had, in the past, used analog RF cameras and those who fancy themselves to be street shooters or photojournalists. I am neither a street photographer nor am I a photojournalist. I am simply a gadget lover with an inclination for things that are vintage or retro /retro-in-design. So the moment I saw one on the net, I dreamt of owning one.
After selling off some stuff and saving up (the price was really hefty), I spent a long time reading all the pros and cons that early adapter and reviewers were posting on the net, I took the plunge and ordered one for myself.
I am not really a technical reviewer but I will try my best to give you my thoughts about the Fuji X100. I will start first with the pros and later deal with what, IMHO, are the let downs of this tiny marvel.
Daniel Y. Go is a husband of 1 and father of 4, self-confessed camera & gadget addict from Manila, Philippines.
Photography is an outlet for him and an expression of worship, praise and thanksgiving to His Lord and Savior as a Christian.You can enjoy Daniel’s wonderful still life and art work on his websites:
Fuji X100 Key Specifications
- 12.3 Megapixel APS-C Sensor
- Contrast-Detect AF system with Electronic Manual Focus
- World’s First Hybrid (optical and electronic) Viewfinder System
- 1280 x 720 HD video with Stereo Recording
- Fixed 23mm Prime Lens with f/2 Aperture, 10cm Minimum Focus, and Build-In 3-Stop ND Filter
- Standard ISO Range of 200-6500 (100-12,800 Expandable)
- 5 FPS Continuous Shooting
- 1.4M Dot LCD
Fuji X100 Build and Ergonomics
The first thought that came to my mind when I first held the Fuji X100 in my hand is that this is one beautiful and solidly built camera.
Even the original accessories such as the Lens Hood with Adapter Ring are made of high-quality aluminum.
Nothing about the Fuji X100 feels cheap, hence its price. It was simply a stunning piece of well-crafted camera. The faux leather, magnesium alloy top and bottom, the analog dials on top, the knurled aperture ring and manual focus ring, and the hybrid viewfinder on the camera simply begs the user to pick it up and start shooting.
It simply felt right!
And start shooting I did.
The first shots I took with the Fuji X100 simply reinforced the impression that I have something special on my hands. The fixed Fujinon 23mm (field of view equivalent to a 35mm lens on full frame term) f/2.0 prime lens is sharp, contrasty and produces a wonderful bokeh.
The 35mm field-of-view (FOV) is just the right balance between a wide and normal zoom, specially for those who are used to shooting with analog rangefinders. The Fuji X100’s APS-C sized sensor (similar to those found in most DSLRs) renders fantastic skin tones, low ISO noise and beautiful colors.
The Hybrid Viewfinder
The viewfinder on the Fuji X100 is a joy to use if you prefer not to shoot holding your camera at an arm’s length looking at the LCD, which is a bit difficult in bright sunny outdoors condition but perfectly fine indoors.
The hybrid viewfinder is a technological marvel! The built-in sensor allows one to switch from the LCD to the VF by simply looking through the VF and an external switch allows one to choose between the optical VF and the EVF.
The viewfinder system does consume quite a bit of battery life, though. I advice purchasing an original Fujifilm NP-95 Battery for Fuji X-100
Fuji X100 Focus System and Menu System
The things I wish Fuji had done better are in the Fuji X100’s auto-focus system, manual focusing, its menu system, button assignments and somewhat slow operation.
Let’s start with the focusing system.
While I wasn’t expecting a blazingly fast AF system but even when compared to the Sony NEX system or the M4/3s system the AF found in the Fuji X100 is somewhat a bit behind.
Even the Panasonic Lumix LX5, a superb point and shoot, has a faster AF system than the Fuji X100.
I know I am making it sound like as if it focuses at a snail’s pace, mind you, it’s not as slow as it sounds. It is perfectly adequate but there are times when I wish it were a bit faster and more accurate.
Fuji X100 Manual Focus
Fuji X100 offers a manual focusing system disguised in a mechanical focus ting but it is a focus-by-wire system and they way Fuji implemented it, it seems like Fuji used a very long wire with it.
I’ve had a chance to try other systems’ manual focus-by-wire and they were very responsive so I was excited to try Fuji’s version of it and I am crestfallen by the manual focus–by-wire system that the Fuji X100 uses.
It seems like I need to use an infinite number of turn just to get the focus to move a tiny bit.
Sure there is the peak focusing method that you can use in conjunction with the manual focus, but surely on a camera this expensive and this well made, one would expect a much better manual focusing system, one that would truly mimic the mechanical manual focusing of the old analog cameras.
The menu system used in the Fuji X100 also is a head scratcher. No wonder I am losing my hair with all the head scratching I’ve done trying to figure out the menu system before finally getting it!
Fuji’s in the camera business long enough to design a more coherent and user-friendly menu, or they could have hired more competent menu system designers to do the Fuji X100 menu system.
One has to dig deep into the menu to access some of the basic settings needed and while we are on the menu system, I also wished that Fuji has allowed for more buttons to be assignable instead of the single Fn button.
Not everyone shoots RAW all the time and one can only wish that the RAW button could also be assigned other functions like ISO, etc.
Data Transfer Speed
Lastly, the startup and write times of the Fuji X100 is nothing to write home about, when I first got my copy, after charging the battery and popping it in and turning it on, I thought something was wrong with it because it took several seconds before it came alive.
I find this strange for a fixed prime lens equipped camera because it doesn’t need the lens to extend and retract first.
This effect is specially true if you are a Mac user and your SD card was read by a Mac system as the Mac system tends to dump many hidden temporary files into the card and these files do accumulate over time. To counter this, an in-camera reformatting of the SD card is needed to ”refresh” the card.
You also need to use the fastest SD card you can afford with the Fuji X100 because of its relatively slow write time. Luckily for me, the local Fuji dealer included a 133x SanDisk Extreme Pro 8Gb memory card which helps negate the slow write time.
Fuji X100 Colors and Image Options
Fuji even put in its 3 more popular film emulation here – Provia, Astia and Velvia, along with a nice monochrome mode. There are enough settings and adjustments in the somewhat convoluted menu system to satisfy those who like to tinker with the different shooting and color settings.
While the film emulations are good but they aren’t a 100% accurate rendition of their film namesake. The popular saying “nothing can beat the real thing” still holds true in this case. Maybe that’s because I am a somewhat avid film shooter.
Despite all these, the images output is still pleasing and stunning when who shoot it correctly.
I doubt if anyone can tell the difference between the images rendered from this camera and an APS-C sensor equipped DSLR with an equivalent 35mm FOV. Fuji was always known for their fantastic skin tone and it did not disappoint with the Fuji X100.
For skin tones, I personally haven’t shot any Caucasians with this camera but from what I’ve seen on the net, with the Fuji X100, the Caucasians stayed Caucasian and the Asians stayed Asians as far as their skin tone is concerned. So it’s fair to say that it’s accurate and pleasing.
Fuji X100 Conclusion and Verdict
I am sorry if I made it sound like the Fuji X100 is a camera to avoid with the cons I’ve listed, but believe me the pros far outweigh the cons and the complains I have (except for the high price) can easily be corrected by a firmware update.
Fuji had already updated it once which addressed previous complains which I no longer listed and I am hopeful that Fuji will come out with a new firmware update to address the complains I listed.
The Fuji X100 is not a camera for everyone.
It is a camera that needs a steeper than usual learning curve. Not everyone is comfortable shooting with just a prime lens as well.
For many who grew up using modern point & shoot cameras, they may find the fixed focal length a bit limiting. Some also have runaway expectations with the Fuji X100.
This is specially true for those who use the camera more as an accessory than a tool.
They may be put off by the lack of scene modes and other fancy shooting modes. This is also not a camera you take to the local track meet or any sports events because the Fuji X100 was simply not made for sports photography.
Just like today, more and more drivers are puttering around in an automatic transmission car, there remain manual transmission advocates who delights in the level of control they have with a stick shift vehicle.
The Fuji X100 was made more for those photographers who know what they want and know what they are doing or those who are willing to learn how to use it.
True to it’s retro look, the Fuji X100 requires a more thoughtful approach, one that forces you to slow down and pay extra attention to things that really matters to photographers, things like composition and exposure.
Once you decide that you can and is willing to work with the Fuji X100’s fixed 35mm FOV, get around its limitations and get yourself familiarized with the ins and outs of this little gem then you will be rewarded with wonderful images, which will inspire and amaze you for a long time to come.
Essential Accessories for the Fuji X100
- Fujifilm EF-20 Shoe Mount Flash
- Fujifilm NP-95 Li-Ion Battery for Fuji X-100
- B+W 49mm Clear UV Haze with Multi-Resistant Coating
- Fujifilm LC-X100 Leather Case for Fuji X100
- Fuji Lens Hood with Adapter Ring
- Rainbow Imaging Black Genuine Leather Half Case
- Anti-Fingerprint Display Protection Film (Pro Guard AF) for Fujifilm FinePix X100