Four years ago, at Photokina 2010, Fujifilm surprised many in the world of photography by announcing a premium compact camera with an SLR-sized APS-C sensor, fixed lens, traditional analogue control dials, and an innovative hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, all wrapped up in a classic rangefinder-style design.

Many observers were sceptical whether the company – which at that point was an enthusiastic maker of mostly undistinguished zoom compact cameras – could pull off such an ambitious project. When the camera finally appeared in the flesh in March 2011, it became clear that the answer was a strongly qualified ‘yes’; in its original incarnation the Finepix X100 was as exasperating to shoot with as it was pretty to behold.

But Fujifilm stuck to its guns, actually listened to all the feedback (both negative and positive), and set about releasing a series of extensive firmware updates that addressed most of the camera’s problems, transforming its performance.

When the second-generation X100S appeared a couple of years later with a new sensor and processor, and substantially improved operational speed, it instantly became one of the most desirable models on the market.

The company’s simultaneous development of its X-system compact system cameras has also paid dividends – the high-end SLR-style X-T1 is without doubt one of the biggest hits of the year so far.

The Fujifilm X-T1, released earlier this year, has proven popular

Fujifilm’s just-announced third generation X100T, suffixed ‘T’ for ‘Third’, retains all of the X100S’s essential imaging components, but updates the viewfinder and adds a raft of usability improvements. So there’s no increase in resolution; Fujifilm is sticking with its tried-and-tested 16-million-pixel sensor X-Trans CMOS II, that uses a unique colour filter array and incorporates phase detection elements for autofocus. The familiar Fujinon 23mm f/2 lens offer an moderate wideangle view equivalent to a 35mm optic on full frame, and image processing is via the company’s EXR Processor II.

This all means that in terms of image quality, the X100T should be identical to the ‘S’. So what, exactly, is the point?

‘Advanced Hybrid Viewfinder’ with manual focus aids

One thing that has changed on the X100T is the viewfinder, which now includes a feature Fujifilm is calling an ‘electronic rangefinder’. For those unfamiliar with the cameras, the X100 series uses a ‘hybrid’ viewfinder, that combines a traditional direct vision optical viewfinder with an electronic viewfinder panel.

Cleverly, the EVF can be used to project framelines and a wide range of exposure information into the optical viewfinder. Previously though, there was no way to focus manually in the optical viewfinder except by using a focus distance scale, which with the best will in the world, can never be very precise. The X100T’s ‘Advanced Hybrid Viewfinder’ aims to fix this.

Fans of traditional film rangefinders may be disappointed to hear that the electronic rangefinder doesn’t attempt to minic a central coincident image patch, whereby bringing a second semi-transparent image in the centre of the viewfinder into alignment with the main subject ensures correct focus. Instead, the X100T blanks off the lower-right corner of its optical viewfinder, and projects into it a magnified electronic viewfinder display of the subject, allowing precise focusing.

Fujifilm demonstrates the functionality of the hybrid viewfinder

This brings several advantages – the focus region can be moved around the frame to deal with off-centre subjects, and the electronic view can be magnified to various degrees, and combined with a focus peaking display. Alternatively Fujifilm’s unique Digital Split Image display can be used, which provides an experience somewhat similar to the split-prism focusing aids that were once common in manual focus SLRs.

This addresses one of the main bugbears users had with the X100’s optical finder, and another change deals with a second. The X100T adds real-time parallax correction of the image framelines during manual focusing, as opposed to the X100 and X100S, which only showed corrected framelines when the shutter button was half-pressed. It’s a small difference, but one that should improve the shooting experience for MF users.

Control changes

The other main changes to the X100T lie in its physical controls. The aperture ring now works in third-stop increments rather than whole stops, making fine exposure adjustments much easier. The exposure compensation dial gains an expanded range of +/-3 EV, to match Fujifilm’s recent X-system models such as the X-E2 and X-T1.

The rear of camera controls are also significantly revised, with a vastly improved four-way controller and rear dial that brings the X100T into line with the X-E2; no fewer than seven of the buttons can be re-assigned by the user, too. Finally the LCD has been updated, with a 3-inch 1.04M dot unit replacing the old 2.8″ 480k dot panel. This should give a better experience both when reviewing images, and using the rear screen for shooting.

The rear controls on the Fuji X-E2, from which the X100T has taken a few cues

Built-in Wi-Fi

As is now de rigueur, the X100T includes built-in Wi-Fi for connection to a smartphone or tablet, allowing either remote control of the camera or image transfer to the smart device for easy sharing. This is one of those features that, once you start using it, quickly becomes extremely useful, and Fujfilm’s implementation is well-featured and relatively easy to use.

Electronic shutter

One intriguing new feature is the X100T’s electronic shutter, which allows speeds up to a staggering 1/32000 sec. The main advantage comes with shooting at large apertures in bright light, which on the previous models required the user to engage the camera’s built-in neutral density filter. In contrast, the X100T should allow seamless shooting wide open at f/2 for shallow depth of field in full sunlight. The electronic shutter is also completely silent, which would be a big advantage were the X100T’s lens shutter not already barely audible.

‘Classic Chrome’ Film Simulation

One of Fujifilm’s biggest selling points has been its ‘Film Simulation’ colour modes. These draw on the company’s long experience with film to provide a variety of palettes designed for different types of photography, which give generally attractive and realistic results. ‘Classic chrome’ is a new addition to this list which emulates the look of classic slide film; Fujifilm says it will deliver ‘muted tones and deep colours’, and we’re looking forward to seeing how this looks in practice. Seasoned observers may find it curious that having previously named its film modes after its own emulsions (Velvia, Provia and Astia), Classic Chrome sounds so generic in comparison.

Improved movie mode (sort of)

The X100T adds a full set of manual exposure controls when shooting video, which counts as a distinct improvement over previous models. Additionally it gains a raft of additional framerate options, up to 60fps, with a 36Mbps bit-rate promising improved quality. It’s now also possible to record movies using the optical (rather than electronic) viewfinder.

This is all great, but the X100T still lacks any form of image stabilisation while shooting video, meaning that your footage will end up shakey unless you shoot from a tripod or invest in a stabilising rig (which rather runs against the basic X100-series concept of the discreet hand-held camera). It also remains to be seen whether Fujifilm has managed to improve on the rather unimpressive quality of footage that we’ve seen so far from the X-Trans CMOS sensor.

Summary: from revolution to evolution

The original X100 turned out to be an iconic, perhaps even revolutionary product that was equally at home in the hands of a model in a fashion commercial as it was in the hands of the photographer doing the shooting.

The X100S was a big step forward in terms of speed and image quality, and with the X100T, Fujifilm has taken the opportunity to hone the controls and usability based on everything it has learned from its X-system CSC models. The result is a camera which looks very desirable indeed. We suspect that some people may be disappointed by Fujifilm’s failure to increase the sensor resolution when 24-million-pixel sensors are starting to become standard, but let’s not forget that the X100S is already fully capable of making stunning A3 prints.

Does the X100T offer enough to tempt existing owners to upgrade? Probably not for X100S users, but that really reflects the maturity of the camera market as a whole; updated models now rarely offer huge steps up in terms of features or image quality. But X100 owners who held off upgrading to an ‘S’ will surely look on it with a great deal of desire.

For other enthusiasts, the X100T is the latest iteration of a line that even now is without any direct peer. It offers SLR-level image quality in a more portable package, combined with inutitive analogue controls and classic good looks, along with its still-unrivalled hybrid viewfinder. Indeed it’s surprising that Fujifilm hasn’t yet really been challenged by other manufacturers in this clearly lucrative niche.

The X100T could argably be seen as the culmination of Fujifilm’s re-invention of itself; because the company has been so prepared to listen and so responsive to customer feedback, it’s almost run out of big things to change. Instead it continues to refine an already-excellent camera to make it even more attractive to photographers as a real, practical tool. There aren’t so many cameras that cynical, seasoned reviewers like us really look forward to getting their hands on to test out properly, but the X100T certainly looks like it’s going to be one of them.