Fujifilm FinePix X100 at a glance:
- 12.3-million-pixel APS-C CMOS sensor
- EXR processor
- 23mm f/2 fixed lens (35mm equivalent)
- Hybrid viewfinder with electronic brightframe display
- 2.8in, 460,000-dot LCD
- 256-zone TTL metering
- 720p HD video capture
- Street price around £999
Fujifilm FinePix X100 review – Introduction
Back in September 2010, Fujifilm unveiled the prototype of its new flagship compact camera. The styling was reminiscent of an old rangefinder, while internally it was said to feature an APS-C-size sensor. This combination of classic looks and potential for DSLR-quality images was a surefire winner, and without knowing much more photo enthusiasts the world over needed one.
Now, more than six months on, the Fuji FinePix X100 has finally arrived and, judging by the interest at this year’s Focus on Imaging trade show, the excitement is still palpable. The first shipment is all but sold and, due to the current situation in Japan, it may be some time before any more arrive. As the excitement subdues, however, we can look at the performance of the camera, from its handling to its image quality, and judge objectively whether it merits its £1,000 price tag.
Natural comparisons can be made between the Fuji FinePix X100 and the Leica X1, and even the M9, although it is also worth noting its features and performance against the recent spate of compact system cameras (CSCs), particularly the APS-C-format models from Samsung and Sony.
Aside from its looks, the Fuji FinePix X100 has plenty to please the photo enthusiast, from the Fujifilm-branded film effects to the hybrid viewfinder with the impressive-sounding, reverse-Galilean optical viewfinder, capable of either a full electronic or a standard optical view.
There is also the new combination of high-sensitivity CMOS sensor and EXR processor to consider that, with the fixed-focal-length lens, should be able to produce impressive results in terms of resolution, sensitivity and dynamic range.
Fujifilm has been known for its unique sensor designs and most recently for its EXR system. Although the X100 doesn’t use an EXR-based sensor, the technology has been included by combining a more standard-design CMOS sensor with an EXR processor. The CMOS sensor has a 12.3-million-pixel effective resolution and, impressively for a fixed-lens camera, it is APS-C-sized. It outputs at 4288×2848 pixels, or 4288×2416 pixels in 16:9 aspect ratio in JPEG or its native RAF raw format, with options for combined raw and JPEG shooting, plus small and medium JPEG sizes. This gives a roughly 9x14in print at 300ppi without interpolation. Video is captured in 720p HD (1080×720 pixels) at 24fps, saved in MOV format with H.264 compression.
The EXR processor is newly developed for use with high-sensitivity CMOS sensors and offers an ISO range of 200-6400, expandable to ISO 100 and 12,800 for JPEG shooting but not in raw. The X100 has a fixed lens so the sensor and processor have been optimised to deliver the best results from it. The lens is a fixed-focus 23mm f/2 Fujinon, which is the equivalent of 35mm (on 35mm format) due to the APS-C sensor size, made up of eight elements in six groups and a nine-blade aperture. There is no stabilisation present in either the lens or the sensor design, which is a rarity, but due to the wide and fast lens this is not a real issue.
Many have commented that the X100 would have been a great opportunity for Fujifilm to make use of the micro four thirds-standard mount. However, that would have meant using a smaller sensor and therefore the loss of one of the camera’s key elements. Perhaps if the X100 is a success we will see a future model with a removable lens or an alternative-length fixed optic.
The metering is a 256-zone system with multi, spot and average settings. Exposure compensation is slightly limited at ±2EV in 1⁄3 intervals, while bracketing is available for exposure and also for ISO, dynamic range and film simulation mode.
Focusing is contrast-based with a choice of 49 selectable points or multi-point to allow the camera to autoselect. For low-light shooting there is an AF lamp and also a choice of single, continuous and manual focusing, with a manual focus ring around the lens barrel, although it uses an electronic connection to actually adjust the focus.
The X100 does feature the full array of exposure modes, including program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual, but due to the ‘traditional’ placing of the shutter and aperture controls it may not be immediately obvious. Both the shutter dial on the top of the camera and the aperture ring around the lens barrel feature an auto setting. When both are set to auto the camera operates in program mode; with one set it performs either aperture or shutter priority.
There are no scene modes here, but there is a set of film simulation modes. These modes adjust the colour of the image, with a choice of Provia, Velvia and Astia effects to match the colours of the corresponding Fuji films, plus monochrome modes with a choice of red, green and yellow filters, and a sepia mode. These can be set for JPEG shooting or applied post-capture using the in-camera raw conversion. Raw files shot in film simulation mode will retain the effect in the preview, but will need to have it reapplied if processed in the provided Silkypix software.
A handy method is to shoot in a combination of raw and JPEG with the simulation mode on. In this way you get a processed JPEG and an original raw file, should you decide against or want to change the effect. In the menu there is also the ability to control the dynamic range, with a choice of 100%, 200% and 400%. However, an ISO of 800-6400 is required to use the 400% setting, and ISO 400-6400 to use the 200% setting. For bright conditions or creative work the camera features a built-in ND filter that reduces the exposure by 3EV. Although the shutter dial shows a maximum of 1/4000sec, this is only achievable at apertures of f/8 and above. Due to the distance the leaf shutter has to cover, a maximum of just 1/1000sec is possible for the larger apertures.
Despite its looks the X100 even includes a built-in flash, although a low-powered one, which Fujifilm quotes as having a coverage of 9m @ ISO 1600, which equates roughly to a guide number of 2m @ ISO 100. It does provide slow sync and redeye reduction, and is handy for fill-in or close-up work. There is also a hotshoe mount, which is designed for one of the two new Fujifilm EF-20 (GN 20 @ ISO 100) and EF-42 (GN 42 @ ISO 100) external flashguns. Other accessories include a lens hood to allow 49mm thread filters to be attached and a leather quick-shot case.
The camera uses SD cards and is compatible with SDHC and SDXC types for larger storage. For continuous shooting the X100 allows a 5fps or 3fps burst of up to ten JPEG images or eight raw images. Individually, the write times appear fairly slow: using a SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC card, it takes around 2secs for a JPEG and up to 5secs for raw+JPEG. The camera is completely locked down during writing, with no access to the menu or focusing. There can also be a delay in waking the camera when it has been inactive for a preset amount of time. Even with fast start-up selected, it can take 2-3secs to power back up. This time is reduced, however, by formatting the card.
Features in use: Hybrid viewfinder
The hybrid viewfinder is a unique feature and one that has made this camera such a talking point. It allows users to choose between a traditional optical view and a modern electronic view. Many users are put off bridge cameras and compact system cameras by their use of electronic viewfinders, but with this system they will have the option of using an optical view.
The benefits of the electronic view are the ability to see the scene as it will appear in the final image, from the exposure, colour effects and even the composition, as it allows a 100% view. The downside, however, is the artificial nature of this view, the lag (however slight) and that the image you see is darker than an optical view. The optical view here is not through the lens so although it is nice and bright, it is not as accurate, even with the digital framing marks. It also offers little warning of a wrongly metered or exposed scene.
You can swap easily between the two modes by pulling a lever on the front, which looks like an old self-timer switch. The system works much like a brightframe viewfinder. However, instead of the brightframe projecting cropping marks, the parallax mirror projects a digital image into the viewfinder. For the optical viewing mode this is the framing points and the shooting information. But when the lever is pulled and it swaps to the electronic viewfinder, a shutter comes over the front of the viewfinder window and the full image is projected into the view from the sensor.
Build and Handling
The X100 is relatively large by compact standards and compares more naturally with a compact system camera. The size is down to the restrictions of space to fit the large APS-C sensor on board, but also because if the camera were any smaller it wouldn’t have the same authority. With its current size it compares to an old rangefinder, although it is still significantly smaller and lighter than the recent Leica M9. The body is solid, weighing 445g with battery, and features die-cast, magnesium-alloy top and bottom panels. Dials on the top and front are metal, but revert to plastic for the back panel and the focus mode selector on the side.
The camera is generally flat and therefore has no pronounced grip. There is a small ridge on the front and the textured plastic material of the main section allows you to keep a fairly secure hold, although using one-hand is not recommended. The lens is quite small and stubby, so you need to take care not to let your fingers cover it when adjusting the aperture. Being a sealed unit, there is less concern about dust getting on the sensor, hence no dust-reduction system in operation. The dials on the top of the camera are large but reassuringly stiff to turn, but due to their protrusions they are still easily knocked and moved when taking the camera out of a pocket or bag and this can easily go unnoticed until after you have taken a shot. Some form of push-button lock would be handy, especially on the exposure-compensation dial, as it sits right on the edge of the body. It is a shame the buttons on the back weren’t kept to the same style as the dials on the top but the main buttons are still functional.
The main let-down here is the multi-directional, rotating D-pad. Although I freely admit that I never really got on well with these controls, this one is extra fiddly, with the central Menu/OK button requiring the use of a fingernail to press it due to its size and the fact it is hardly raised from the surrounding panel. There is also no dedicated ISO button – it can be chosen as a use for the function button, but this then means accessing the menu for the film-simulation modes. Changing the autofocus point is also a more complicated process than it should be, requiring a holding down of the AF while changing the point on the D-pad.
White balance and Colour
The film simulation modes allow you to recreate classic Fujifilm looks, and although not that different from standard colour modes, they are fun to use
The white balance offers a choice of seven presets and an auto setting. There is also a manual Kelvin value selection and a custom setting. The auto white balance (AWB) setting produces very natural colours and doesn’t try to overcompensate – evening colours remain slightly cool, and tungsten lighting retains a warmer glow. For complete neutrality the presets cover all the main requirements, and there’s even an underwater setting for shooting in aquariums or perhaps as a hint that an underwater case might be made available.
The JPEG images from the X100 are very natural in their colouring, much like the processing you would expect from a high-end camera. Of course, should you wish to produce more images with greater impact straight from the camera, there is the range of film-simulation modes. Film simulation isn’t a new thing; in fact, it has been present on many Fuji cameras. However, it seems more relevant here. Fujifilm has a selection of well-known film brands and being able to recreate them in such a traditional-looking product is very satisfying.
Although the colours achieved by the branded film modes are not a million miles from the more standard vivid, soft focus and standard colour settings found on most advanced cameras, they do seem to replicate their film types admirably. The monochrome modes are also very useful, thanks in part to the choice of coloured filters that can be applied. Again, this is nothing new for an advanced compact, bridge or DSLR, but shooting in black & white suits this camera and its documentary-style abilities.
The monochrome film modes are great for documentary or city shots such as this one 1/110sec at f/11, ISO 200
Average metering setting works well for landscapes, maintaining highlight detail. This scene needed just a slight curves boost to bring out the shadows f/11, 1/280sec, ISO 200
The 256-zone metering system copes well with a range of scenes. I found the multi and average modes useful for different types of scene; the average tended to give the more even exposure, while the multi setting often required a negative exposure compensation of around 2⁄3 stop to avoid losing any highlight detail. Using the multi setting, there was a significant change in the exposure as the horizon was raised and lowered in the frame, showing a definite tipping point when the priority switches between sky and foreground. The spot metering is also a handy addition and appears to provide around a standard 2.5% coverage. The EXR expansion settings seem to provide greater detail in the shadow areas, but only a slight change in the highlights.
The wide aperture range and large sensor allow an impressive control over the depth of field
The autofocus system is contrast-detection-based but benefits from being optimised for use with just the one lens – and a nice, wide, bright lens, at that. In regular lighting it is quick and accurate at finding focus and is certainly better than many advanced compacts on the market. For its documentary-style shooting, low light is an area in which the X100 should excel but, although the AF illuminator helps, in difficult light the camera struggles and fails to find focus where an entry-level DSLR wouldn’t have had an issue.
For such a wide lens it has a long minimum focus distance of 80cm. Although the lens will go down to 10cm it requires you to switch on the macro mode but, when cameras such as the Canon PowerShot G12 offer focusing down to 1cm, even this seems somewhat limiting. Using the manual focus feels a little disconnected from the lens due to the electronic control of the ring, and when in the macro focal lengths it takes an extremely exaggerated amount of turning to get down to the closest focus distances.
Noise, Resolution and Sensitivity
The 35mm equivalent view from the lens is wide enough to take in a range of subjects, from macro and portraits through to buildings and cityscapes, and delivers impressive sharpness
The quality of the image, in terms of noise and resolution, is perhaps this camera’s biggest sell, and ensuring that Fuji had got it right could have been one of the reasons this camera has taken as long as it has to come to market. The pairing of the lens with the sensor is intended to allow the X100 to control the distortions and aberrations more effectively and produce great-looking images.
The good news is that it doesn’t disappoint. Detail is impressive, reaching up to 24 on our chart from the raw file, and 22 from the JPEG. This is what we would expect from a DSLR with a 12-million-pixel sensor; however, both the Samsung NX100 and Sony NEX-5 offer more than 14 million pixels and have very similar resolving capabilities. At higher ISO values the resolution holds very well, remaining at 20 at ISO 6400. It seems slightly odd that neither the low ISO 100 nor high ISO 12,800 values can be accessed in raw mode, and it means we can’t see just how much noise is present, but the processing has certainly done a good job as the images still look very impressive and keep a resolution value of above 18.
In the JPEG files there are signs of luminance noise creeping into images from ISO 800, and becoming more pronounced at ISO 6400. From the raw images we can see that colour noise is present at ISO 3200 but the processing in the raw software, as with the JPEGs, has no problem removing it.
Resolution charts: These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Fujifilm X100. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.
Although we don’t currently have the hard data on the dynamic range values for the X100, its performance appears to be on a par with many of the entry-level DSLRs we have tested, suggesting a dynamic range of around 11EV. The EXR expansion modes allow this to be optimised. This performance certainly shows the benefit of using such a large sensor and is far better than most compact cameras could produce.
A low-light shot taken handheld at dusk. The image still shows impressive levels of detail with a full range of tones 1/55sec at f/5, ISO 3200, AWB
Viewfinder, LCD, Live View and Video
The X100’s viewfinder system is a clever design and will give the makers of mirrorless cameras something to think about. However, it has some flaws. The viewfinder is activated with an eye sensor, although the correct view mode must first be chosen and it is not immediately obvious if you’re not in the right one. When using the optical view, the electronic crop marks provide a less than accurate composition, which can cause objects to creep into your frame that you thought you had avoided. The full electronic view is then the natural choice for accuracy as not only does it give 100% coverage but it also allows you to see a scene as it will be saved, including any film-simulation effects. In bright conditions, however, I found it difficult to see clearly so I swapped back to the brighter optical view or the rear screen.
The LCD screen, although not the largest at 2.8in, is still a decent size and offers a crisp resolution and an impressive angle of view, making it easy to use even from extreme angles. However, there isn’t an auto brightness sensor and it is necessary to increase the screen brightness for outside viewing. Due to the camera’s size and shape, more than the viewfinder itself, I often used the rear LCD screen for composition out of habit. This is very effective and has little effect on the process – aside from slight stability issues. It also allows more covert street photography to be taken without attracting attention by holding a camera to your eye.
Although video was never going to be a priority for the X100, its abilities seem slightly basic by today’s standards. While the MOV (H.264) format means decent compression, it only offers 720p resolution at a single, though filmic 24fps. Its clip length is also limited to 10mins, which has now been surpassed by most advanced cameras.
Like most photographers who saw the early prototypes of the X100, I couldn’t wait to use it and even considered buying one. Having now spent some time with the camera, it certainly has its charm and has more than proved itself on its image quality. However, the general handling is not quite as flawless as I had hoped. The novelty of the viewfinder does wear off, although if I had to choose between losing the optical or EVF functionality I’m not sure I’d want either to go as both came in useful at some point.
For anyone with a real love of cameras, you can’t help but enjoy shooting with the X100 and it is ideal for street photography, travel or documentary-style shooting. For a fixed-lens camera it is quite expensive, but those looking for similar features will most likely be considering a compact system camera, so we have tested the X100 as one here.
I think, perhaps, in the spirit of commercialism, there is room for two additional cameras in this form: one, lower priced, with possibly a standard EVF, a smaller body and smaller sensor; and one larger, premium model with a bigger, fully metal body, a full-frame sensor and removable lens.
Fujifilm FinePix X100: Focal points
The X100 features a standard hotshoe to allow the attachment of one of two Fujifilm external flashguns
The hybrid viewfinder allows an optical view or, at the flick of a switch, a full electronic view from the sensor
Shutter control dial
The shutter control sits on its own metal dial on the top plate, with an A setting to allow for aperture priority or program operation
The multi-directional pad also features a rotating outer ring and central menu/OK button
Fixed 23mm f/2 lens
The lens is a fixed-focus Fujinon f/2 unit with a 35mm equivalent focal length. It features a manual aperture ring and electronically controlled focus ring
EXR dynamic range
The dynamic range can be boosted to bring more detail to the highlights and shadows with the increased 200% or 400% settings, but these require a minimum of ISO 400 to use
Uniquely for a compact, fixed-lens camera, the X100 features an APS-C-sized sensor that is more commonly found in DSLR and some compact system cameras
The X100 allows 12-bit raw capture in its native RAF raw format and comes with Silkypix raw processing software for extensive development options
The X100 is never going to be a mainstream camera, so it competes most with cameras that are as much icons of design as photographic tools – those such as the Leica X1, which is around £400 more expensive. The X1 shares a fixed 35mm equivalent lens but has an f/2.8 aperture. It lacks a viewfinder and the ISO range of the X100, but the red dot of the Leica symbol is often a swaying factor for many camera fans.
For practical use the X100 must be compared to a compact system camera. The Samsung NX100, for example, also offers an APS-C sensor and full manual control. Although it doesn’t have the classic design or metal bodywork, it is slightly smaller than the X100, offers the ability to change the lens and costs nearly £700 less.