Fujifilm FinePix X100 £999
21st Mar 2011 | 12:07
With its hybrid viewfinder and retro styling, is the Fuji X100 the ultimate enthusiast compact?
Fuji X100: Overview
Fuji X100: Overview
In the decade or so that digital cameras have been widely available, manufacturers have always looked to the design of classic cameras for inspiration. Olympus's recent PEN series harks back to the film models of the same name, while Leica's M range continues with a design long established in the analogue world.
Update: See our video review below
Fujifilm's X100, then, appears as just another retro-styled contender in the large-sensor/compact-body market, but its marriage of old-fashioned styling with new and innovative technology has, nevertheless, been met with an unprecedented response.
The reception seems to have taken even Fujifilm by surprise, with the company recently reporting that high demand had pushed shipments of the camera back until April – but with a price tag of a penny under £1000, is the Fuji X100 overblown and overpriced? Or can such a camera really be worth its asking price?
Fuji X100: Features
Fuji X100: Features
While the Fuji X100's design has charmed many, it's its core feature set which has attracted considerable interest - notably, its hybrid viewfinder which stands out as the camera's main attraction. Fujifilm goes in to great detail about the concept and technology behind the viewfinder on its website, but its intention is essentially to bring back a bright and usable viewfinder into a compact camera, the kind that many seasoned photographers would have once been accustomed to using.
The hybrid viewfinder combines a reverse-Galilean optical finder, constructed using high-refractive index glass and coatings to prevent ghosting, with a 1,440,000dot electronic display. The user may choose one or the other depending on their preference and shooting conditions, or alternatively combine the two so the display of the latter is overlaid on the former.
A remote sensor to its side can sense when the viewfinder or the LCD are being used, switching the display accordingly, and as the optical finder is essentially just looking straight through the camera the frame within it shifts a little south-easterly to compensate for parallax error upon focusing.
A small lever on the front of the camera allows the user to switch between the three options, while a range of customisations allow the display information to be tailored to the user's liking. These options include framing guidelines, a histogram preview and an electronic level facility, as well as the more standard exposure information. In terms of its coverage, the optical finder provides a 90% field of view with a 0.5x magnification, while the electronic version displays 100% of the frame.
The optical viewfinder boasts excellent clarity, with all exposure information clear and contrasty, while it alternates quickly between its three modes once the lever on the front is nudged to the side. Just as impressive is the time it takes for an image to pop up post-capture, in tandem with the user releasing their finger from the shutter release button.
Being able to instantly switch between optical and electronic types is particularly useful in darker conditions, where light levels render the optical viewfinder largely unusable; here, the electronic feed maintains the good contrast and brightness as it does in better light, and manages to do so with remarkably little noise.
A little of the lens barrel is visible at the base of the viewfinder, although as this doesn't appear in images it's little more than a minor annoyance. Slightly more annoying, however, is the distortion which affects both the optical and electronic finders. The optical type appears to suffer from some barrel distortion which makes it difficult to accurately compose images, and those verified for levelness with the virtual horizon feature appear uneven on the LCD screen.
While some issues with distortion may be expected, it's possible that the viewfinder on our particular review sample was simply misaligned - we will update this section of the review once we know.
The camera's optic is a Fujinon 23mm lens, with a wide aperture of f/2. In front of the camera's sensor it provides a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 35mm, and incorporates a 3-stop ND filter for long exposures as well as a double-sided aspheric lens and high-refractive-index elements.
The construction also accommodates a nine-bladed diaphragm for circular bokeh and a four-bladed shutter, the latter allowing for a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000sec at f/8 and smaller apertures. Macro shooting is also possible from a minimum distance of 10cm away from the subject.
The sensor, meanwhile, is a 12.3MP CMOS device, boasting the same APS-C dimensions those inside many DSLRs and certain compact system cameras. Fujifilm claims to have tailored the sensor's microlens array to the camera's fixed optic, so that peripheral light rays better reach the sensor around the edges to reduce any corner shading.
The chip works in tandem with Fujifilm's EXR processing engine, which allows for a standard sensitivity span of ISO 200-6400 and extension settings of ISO 100 and ISO 12,800 should you need them; combined with the wide aperture of the lens, this should make the camera eminently usable across a range of shooting conditions.
Raw images are stored in Fujifim's proprietry .RAF format, which can be viewed and processed using the Silkypix Developer Studio 3.1 SE software supplied with the camera (and no doubt by a future version of Adobe's Camera Raw program). Should you want more immediate control over raw files, a full complement of raw processing tools are included inside the camera, among them noise reduction, film simulation, dynamic range adjustment and white balance.
While it's a pity this function doesn't offer immediate previews of any changes you may wish to make, you can alter a number of settings at a time before simultaneously applying all changes to a raw file.
The sensor and processor also facilitate HD video recording. Videos are recorded to a maximum 1280x720 resolution at 24fps, and are complemented with stereo sound recording as standard, while autofocus during recording is also possible. The camera compresses all movies using the H.264 codec before storing them in the .MOV format, and clips are limited to 10 minutes at a time.
There's no sign of a mic port should you wish to improve on the quality of the camera's microphones, but there is an HDMI mini port around the side of the camera, in addition to the standard USB 2.0, for transferring both images and videos.
In terms of metering control, the X100 sees the standard multi, average and spot patterns teamed with dynamic range adjustment over three levels and toning options for both shadows and highlights. Control over exposure is through the usual PASM quartet of options, although not quite in the same user-friendly way as on a DSLR.
Instead, either the shutter speed dial or aperture dial can be set to an 'A' setting, which puts that particular control in an automated mode so the other may be regulated, or both may be turned to their 'A' modes which places the camera into a Program mode.
When neither is set to their 'A' settings the user is free to change both aperture and shutter speed, thus providing fully manual control to complete the foursome. For exposures longer than 1/2sec the shutter release needs to be turned to a 'T' setting, before the dial on the rear of the camera is adjusted to the desired duration, while a bulb mode is also to hand for exposures longer than 30sec.
Fujifilm has also equipped the camera with a small exposure compensation dial, which sits on the top plate and provides adjustment over a range of +/-2EV.
Some 49 AF points arranged in a 7x7 formation are available when the camera is used with either its LCD screen or electronic viewfinder - easily covering all but the most peripheral details - and with the optical finder one of 25 points may be selected.
A small switch on the camera's side allows focusing to be quickly changed between standard, continuous and manual modes, with manual focusing carried out by a ring around the camera's objective - here, focus is driven electronically as the ring is turned, with a distance/depth of field scale provided for guidance.
The X100 may be just the latest in a long list of Fujifilm camera's to be complete with its Film Simulation modes, but given the camera's target market it's perhaps the most suitable home for them. The Standard, Vivid and Soft options mimic the characteristics of Fuji's Provia, Velvia and Astia emulsions respectively, while sepia and monochrome options are included alongside. The set is rounded off with three further monochrome flavours, each complemented by the effects of either a yellow, green or red colour filter.
The rear of the camera is largely occupied by a 2.8in LCD screen, which is sized to the 3:2 aspect ratio and displays images at a resolution of 460,000 dots. It's size falls a little short of the 3 inches we're now used to seeing on many other models, but considering the space taken up by the camera's viewfinder this is understandable.
In use, it produces bright and contrasty images, and retains a reasonable viewing angle when tilted. It's limitations only really make themselves known when the camera is held at an unorthodox angle – such as at ground level – in brighter conditions.
The camera supports the full SD, SDHC and SDXC trio of memory card formats, and offers an additional 20MB of internal memory for an extra few frames. Power comes through a standard rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which claims to run for approximately 300 frames, but oddly it doesn't quite fit the charger with which it's supplied; a small wedge of card takes care of this. Both are accessed via a door on the base of the model, next to which sits a standard tripod thread and a speaker.
Fuji X100: Build Quality and handling
Fuji X100: Build Quality and handling
The X100's exemplary build quality makes itself known as soon as the camera is picked up. It's perhaps not quite as heavy as expected, but it's genuinely difficult to find anywhere where Fujifilm may have cut any corners. The casing is constructed from a study magnesium alloy, with metal dials on the top plate and a leather-like finish around the main body.
Neither the camera's front nor the top-plate suggest that the X100 is even a vaguely recent model, and it's only when the camera is viewed from the other side that the LCD screen and controls give the game away. Even the shutter release has been threaded to allow for mechanical releases to be used, but sadly this hasn't been complemented with the more modern alternative of wireless remote control.
The X100's buttons are all plastic, but even they have a feeling of quality over those on cheaper models, and all travel well when pressed with a satisfying click. The four on the left hand side of the rear are not only generously sized but well-labeled and spaced sufficiently apart from each other, while those on the right hand side of the LCD are a shade smaller but all are equally well-labeled and each is smartly framed.
Only the Fn button on the top plate, which can be programmed to activate a setting of the user's choosing, is much smaller, but sitting proudly from the top plate it can still be accessed with the same ease as all the others.
The dial which encircles the menu button has a diameter just smaller than that of a five pence piece, and is fitted with the same four-way direct controls as many other cameras, with the left, bottom and right buttons controls accessing macro, white balance and flash options respectively. The top control brings up a variety of drive and bracketing options (including the useful ISO bracketing), as well as a Motion Panorama mode and the movie function.
When browsing through menu options the dial can either be pressed for navigation, or alternatively turned to speed through a list of options. The same applies to reviewing images, where rotating the dial zooms through images at high speed.
The dial itself, however, is relatively slack, and together with the small menu button and the close proximity of the two makes for a somewhat uncomfortable user experience. It's far too easy to press the menu pad while trying to simply press the button in its centre, and the dial's looseness means it often moves from beneath your finger.
This trait also affects the exposure compensation dial, located right at the edge of the top plate, which moves a little too freely for it to always remain in place as it is taken out of camera bag or pocket. There's less chance of it being accidentally knocked out of place while the camera is operated, though, and its looseness does allow it to be rotated easily.
The indicator lamp positioned to the right of the thumb-rest space helpfully blinks if it can't focus on the subject, or if it deems the exposure settings to be in some way inappropriate – such as if the scene exceeds the camera's maximum shutter speed. Although the lamp itself is bright, it sits right next to the space where the thumb falls and so it can sometimes be inadvertently obstructed.
Worse still, when turned to the portrait orientation it's almost impossible to handle the camera naturally without completely covering it up. There seems to be no good reason why this couldn't have been positioned elsewhere – further towards the LCD screen, for example – although presumably it is where it is to provide a balanced composition with the rest of the rear's control and functions.
The fixed lens only protrudes around 18mm out from the camera's body, which bodes well for pocketability, and with a non-collapsible design it never ventures further then the rim of its barrel. Such a shallow optic does necessitate a shallow focusing ring, though, which in itself isn't too great an issue, but it's difficult to turn without running into the two protrusions from the aperture ring behind it.
This is particularly a problem when shooting at the middlemost apertures, where these are positioned to the left and right hand sides of the optic. It also takes a surprisingly long time for the camera to move through its focus range while manually focusing, although, of course, if you tend to stick to autofocus none of this should be a concern.
Those not used to using an aperture ring should find themselves operating it instinctively after a while – when the viewfinder is being used the user's left hand is likely to be holding it anyway. With a relatively small body it's actually far easier to have this controlled by the user's left hand than through the command control on the right, as using the right hand to change options while the user's face is pressed against the camera can be cramped and awkward.
The ring turns well and stops positively at each aperture, and is perhaps one of camera's more pleasing aspects in terms of its operation. Another is the large, comfortable shutter release button, which makes it very clear when it's half depressed.
All options contained with the X100's shooting menu system are divided into two categories: shooting and set-up. Both menus list options logically and in order of importance, and all are clearly defined in black text on a grey background.
Shooting menu options begin with the self-timer, sensitivity and image size and culminate in settings for custom options, while the set-up menu is constructed on a similar idea, and includes all custom settings. When playing back images, a few smart features become available.
You can, for example, compile images into a digital photobook before setting them to a slideshow, and also browse for images by date, face, or by favourites. Once the user acquaints themselves with the structure of the menu system, the click-and-rotate method of operating the mode dial becomes second nature.
Fuji X100: Performance
Fuji X100: Performance
The camera starts up in just under a second or so, although it takes just a touch longer for the LCD screen to fully come to life. It manages to meet its promised burst depths for both Raw and JPEG images (as well as the two together), but during the test it just came under its 5fps maximum rate with a Class 10 SDHC card.
With regards to processing times, a burst of eight raw images averages around 24 seconds, while eight simultaneous raw and JPEGs increases this by between ten to fifteen seconds.
Predictably, the situation is much better with fine JPEG files, with a 10-shot burst clearing out to the card in as little as 13 seconds but typically taking just a few seconds longer. Should you use the burst mode with some frequency, you may also be pleased to discover a neat playback option which displays image bursts in a flip-book fashion.
Apart from when in a burst mode, it's possible to continue taking images while the camera is writing images to the card, although practically nothing can be accessed or changed while this happens. You can't, for example, switch focusing points - although, for whatever reason, you can still bring up the focusing point as if you were about to change it - neither can you enter the menu system or the option assigned to the Fn button.
Considering that simultaneous raw and JPEG captures can take around four seconds to be fully written to the card, and raw images alone averaging only about a second less, this wait can be frustrating. It is, however, still possible to change all manual controls (aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation), and as the camera seems willing to continue metering and focus, images may still be captured while this happens with some degree of control.
As with the majority of AF systems on compact cameras the X100's AF points are boxes rather than points, the kind which can often be too large to place accurately over smaller subjects. The X100 provides a solution to this by allowing its focusing box to be adjusted over five sizes, so that the smaller variety actually resembles a fine AF point.
This flexibility is welcome, particularly as its possible to focus on a smaller subject centrally-placed in the frame, only for the camera to miss it completely and focus instead on what's around it.
For a contrast-detection system, focusing speed is reasonably prompt - not quite up there with a pro-DSLR body and lens combination, but really not that far behind either – and both shutter lag and noise are practically non-existent. The optical viewfinder, however, is limiting in that it can't focus closer than 80cm. Using the electronic viewfinder reduces this drastically to 35cm in standard mode, and the macro mode closer still to 10cm.
Although there are number of minor issues with image quality (discussed below), the overall standard is still high. In typical conditions the metering system produces balanced exposures, with highlights just occasionally blowing out.
Most of the time, and in contrast to a number of other cameras which attempt to identify a scene and expose more intuitively for the main subject, the camera opts for a slight underexposure when faced with large, bright areas, such as when shooting on an overcast day.
This means that without any intervention such images are perhaps a little less print ready than the user may like, but this predictable behaviour is useful with exposure compensation and dynamic range options falling close to hand.
The camera's auto white balance system follows the metering system's accuracy, with perfectly sound judgement in a range of lighting conditions. Even shooting at a train station at night, lit with a variety of artificial lights, didn't prove to be beyond the system's capabilities.
The only noticeable errors come with occasional colder-than-expected casts in cloudy conditions, and slightly warm results under certain fluorescent sources, but such occasional mistakes are by no means unusual.
With colour, the default Standard option is relatively neutral and not too dissimilar from camera's raw output, while the Soft option increases saturation a little to give images a little more pep. The Vivid colour mode clearly isn't suitable for all subjects, but when used correctly it manages to provide images with a deep richness and vibrancy.
The camera's EXR processing engine also does a superb job to create colourful and contrasty JPEGs, and squeezes out a high level of detail from raw files. In raw images noise rises steadily through the sensitivity range until around ISO 1600, past which point coloured speckling becomes more apparent over shadows and midtone areas.
The in-camera noise reduction options do well to process out noise from high-sensitivity JPEGs, with the majority of chroma noise disappearing at the 'low' option, leaving the further four settings to handle the remaining texture.
This happens gradually with each option, and together with the boost to contrast and sharpness over raw files even those treated with all but the stronger applications emerge better than expected.
Slight banding is visible at the ISO 12,800 extension meaning that it should only really be reserved for emergencies, while certain images - particularly those shot at night - display a variety of noise commonly referred to as salt-and-pepper noise, only here without the salt; this manifests itself as small random black spots, particularly noticeable in flat areas with little detail.
Examining the camera's JPEG shows the EXR processing engine applies a slight correction for distortion as standard, although raw files show little barrel distortion to begin with.
There is, however, a slight waviness in images, which becomes apparent when shooting straight lines and edges, particularly towards the edge of the frame where lines tend to tail off. The most likely cause of this is the double-sided aspheric element within the objective's construction, though it's worth noting that that this effect is slight and for most subjects probably won't make itself known.
Those wanting to use the camera for architecture, for example, should nevertheless be aware of this, as its not particular easy to correct in post-production. Any affected edges may be rectified by composing the image with a little extraneous detail around the sides of the frame, which can be subsequently cropped out in post-production.
Fujifilm has stated that its priority for the camera's optic was for particularly sharp results from around f/2.8-4 onwards, where it would be more likely used than the maximum aperture of f/2.
Testing the camera in controlled conditions shows sharpness to improve markedly at f/2.8 and even more so at f/4, which continues up until f/11 with diffraction setting in at f/16. Just as impressive is the lens's control over chromatic aberrations, which are surprisingly absent in both raw and JPEG images.
On occasion minor traces of purple fringing can be seen across certain areas, although not to any objectionable level, while bokeh is nice and round - not always quite as circular as promised although admittedly this does depend on the aperture used and the scene being shot.
There is a touch of vignetting at the maximum aperture of f/2, but this disappears as the lens is stopped down and, in fairness, isn't particularly bothersome to being with.
Finally, the video mode does a reasonably good job of capturing detailed movies, although the lack of control and the few options available does make it seem as though the feature is little more than just an additional extra. Exposure is adjusted discreetly as the scene changes, and only a little clicking can be heard from the lens as it focuses during recording.
It's a pity that the only option for audio recording comes through the camera's in-built microphones as its quality, while perfectly decent, could definitely be improved. Movies also remain free from any unsightly artefacts, with the exception of certain detailed areas, as well as darker patches which are affected by a little noise patterning.
Fuji X100: Image quality and resolution
Fuji X100: Image quality and resolution
To test the FujiX100 image quality, we shot our resolution chart with the X100's 23mm f/2 lens. If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Fuji X100 is capable of resolving up to nearly 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files. Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 200 (Click here to see full size version)
ISO 250 (Click here to see full size version)
ISO 320 (Click here to see full size version)
ISO 400 (Click here to see full size version)
ISO 500 (Click here to see full size version)
ISO 640 (Click here to see full size version)
ISO 800 (Click here to see full size version)
ISO 1250 (Click here to see full size version)
ISO 1600 (Click here to see full size version)
ISO 2000 (Click here to see full size version)
ISO 2500 (Click here to see full size version)
ISO 3200 (Click here to see full size version)
ISO 4000 (Click here to see full size version)
ISO 5000 (Click here to see full size version)
ISO 6400 (Click here to see full size version)
Fuji X100: Sample photos
Fuji X100: Sample photos
30secs at f/11, ISO 200 (Click here to see full size version)
1/60sec at f/2.8, ISO 1600 (Click here to see full size version)
1/750sec at f/2, ISO 200 (Click here to see full size version)
1/1250sec at f/2.8, ISO 400 (Click here to see full size version)
1/640sec at f/4, ISO 200 (Click here to see full size version)
1/210sec at f/8, ISO200 – Black & White with Red filter (Click here to see full size version)
1/550sec at f/2, ISO200 (Click here to see the full size version)
1/900sec at f/5.6, ISO 200 (Click here to see the full size version)
1/300sec at f/4, ISO 200 (Click here to see full size version)
Raw vs JPEG
1/1200sec at f/4, ISO 200
1/400sec at f/5.6, ISO 3200
ISO 3200 JPEG with Standard noise reduction (Click here to see full size version)
ISO 3200 Raw file without noise reduction (Click here to see full size version)
Fuji X100: Specs
Fuji X100: Specs
23.6mm◊15.8mm APS-C CMOS sensor, 12.3MP effective
Fujinon 23mm f/2 (35mm equivalent focal length of 35mm)
Focal length conversion
SD, SDHC, SDXC, 20MB internal memory
Optical: Reverse Galilean optical viewfinder with bright frame display, 90% frame coverage and approx. 0.5x magnification / Electronic: 0.47in display with 1,440,000 dots, approx. 100% frame coverage and 15mm eye-point
1280x720 (HD) at 24fps, H.264 codec and stereo sound
ISO 200-6400 (expendable to ISO 100 and ISO 12,800)
TTL contrast-AF detect, Single AF / Continuous AF/MF (with distance indicator), Area / Multi pattern
Max burst rate
5fps up to 10 JPEG / 8 Raw and JPEG / 8 Raw
LCD screen size
2.8in TFT, 460,000 dots
30sec – 1/4000sec (1/1000sec at f/2 and 1/4000sec at f/8 or smaller aperture)
Approx. 405g (without battery, memory card and accessories) / approx 445g (with battery, memory card and accessories)
126.5 x 74.4 x 53.9mm
NP-95 rechargeable battery (supplied)
Fuji X100: Verdict
Fuji X100: Verdict
It's clear that Fujifilm has put a tremendous amount of thought into the X100 and in many ways it's exactly what many people want: a small-form, large-sensor camera, with a fast optic and all encased in a beautiful and solidly-built body.
Whereas similar models have essentially been digital cameras with the influence of a classic design, the X100 turns things the other way round and has the design very much as the priority.
That's not to say that what's on the inside is in any way substandard, but much of the draw of the X100 is its undoubtedly its aesthetic quality and superior craftsmanship.
Its design is, however, also behind many of its operation issues; the exposure compensation dial which all too easily turns out of position; the loose menu pad dial and small menu button; the indicator lamp which is easily obstructed by the thumb. None of these issues are significant enough in themselves, but collectively they make for an often-frustrating user experience.
A camera such as the X100 always arrives with the task of proving its performance can match the furore surrounding its announcement, and it wouldn't be the first of its kind to fail to deliver what it promises.
Fortunately the X100 does deliver, with overall superb image quality in a range of conditions and a usefully fast optic which can be used to create particularly shallow depth of field.
Although many users will no doubt be shooting raw files with the intention of polishing them up later, the quality of JPEGs straight out of the camera is so good that for all but the most critical work they may suffice. Detail is high, colour is excellent and the camera does a sterling job to retain quality from noise-reduced files shot at higher sensitivities (at less intensive noise-reduction settings).
In terms of competitors, the X100 goes up against the excellent Ricoh GXR with A12 28mm (the GXR system doesn't, as of yet, offer a 35-mm equivalent lens unit) and the yet-to-be reviewed Lecia X1.
Price-wise it's decidedly closer to the former, although its design is likely to appeal more towards those drawn to the latter. In either case it has the advantage of its built-in hybrid viewfinder over the two (which, incidentally, is something we're unlikely to see the last of here).
You're very much paying for the quality of the camera's construction, though, and it's worth remembering the cheaper but highly regarded compact system options from the likes of Panasonic and Sony. With a number of pancake lenses available they are even more pocketable than the X100, yet still capable of producing high-quality results. Their benefit of interchangeable lenses may also make them a more practical alternative for those with any venerable optics they would be keen to use again.
Many will be drawn to the Fuji X100's classic design, but we were equally impressed with its image quality and performance at higher ISOs.
The price. It must be said. Fujifilm spared no expense in its high-quality design, but this cost is being passed on to you with the Fuji X100 price tag set at just under £1000.
In summary, the Fuji X100 is a well-crafted camera with a range of useful functionality and excellent image quality. It's only really let down by slow writing times and minor operation issues, but otherwise it truly delivers.