BUILD AND DESIGN
The X100 is nicely built, with cast magnesium upper deck and lower surfaces, metal controls and pebble-grained "leather-like" finish over the rest of the rectangular body. That body is not shirt-pocket portable, but a large jacket pocket will suffice.
Looking at the top of the body the shutter speed dial and shutter button transport you back to the 1960s or earlier, particularly the shutter, which is threaded to accept a standard cable release. But then you move to the rear and things like the monitor and command dial remind you this isn't your grandfather's 35mm.
Ergonomics and Controls
The right front of the camera has a slightly built-up section that helps promote a grip and the tip of the index finger of the right hand fell naturally onto the shutter button - but at the same time the first joint tended to impinge on the nearby exposure compensation dial, which seemed to get dislodged from the zero compensation setting fairly frequently. It was a somewhat annoying problem that often didn't become apparent until exposures started going out of whack, but the fix is probably to just have Fuji design a bit more resistance to turning into the dial.
External controls give the user quick access to settings like aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation through the traditional dials and aperture ring on the lens, while more the typical digital command dial and buttons call up settings like white balance, flash, single or continuous shooting rates, along with single, continuous or manual focus modes.
And speaking of manual focus, the X100 is excruciatingly slow to manual focus - you have to rotate the focus ring through a huge range of motion to go from near to far. The X100 can magnify the image on the screen to assist with establishing focus, but it doesn't change the glacial rate at which the focus ring gets there. Using manual focus for very fine adjustments in close up work with a tripod or some other form of camera support is about the only reason I'd switch out of autofocus.
I had a difficult time with the menu/OK button in the center of the command dial. Trying to push this button as often as not activated the command dial. These controls don't seem to vary much from similar controls on other compact digitals I've reviewed, but the X100 produced record numbers of inadvertent activations for me. When I used the command dial to change macro or flash settings, the subsequent screen was displayed for barely two seconds before reverting back to the original - by the time I looked at options on the second screen it was gone. Fuji needs to dial in a bit more delay on those screens.
Menus and Modes
Menus, once they're on screen, are fairly simple and intuitive, consisting of a four page shooting menu, six page setup menu and three page playback menu. The only exception is the motion panorama mode, which provides a bare-bones one page shooting menu. Motion panorama is the closest the X100 gets to a traditional compact digital auto mode, but this specialized mode has limited use and is clearly not the full auto "shoot anything" Point and Shoot mode preferred by so many.
The 2.8-inch LCD monitor on the X100 has a 460,000 dot composition and is adjustable for 11 levels of brightness. The monitor returned a low peak brightness score of 294 nits but a high contrast ratio of 980:1 in our studio tests. In the field, the monitor was fairly usable in bright conditions for image composition and capture, but there were times when it became difficult to see. The saving grace with the X100 is a quite nice viewfinder that can put those bright condition monitor blues behind you. Coverage is about 100%.
The hybrid viewfinder may be set to display as an optical viewfinder (OVF) or electronic viewfinder (EVF), and a handy lever on the front of the camera allows you to quickly toggle back and forth between the two choices. Both options provide an optical frame within the viewfinder that approximates the area of capture for image composition purposes - shooting data can be displayed in the borders around the frame without obstructing the view of the actual image.
The optical viewfinder remains in clear focus and, per Fuji, provides the lowest shutter lag times - there's apparently some additional lag induced into the shutter when the camera operates with the EVF. OVF also offers the ability to initiate a power saving mode that doubles battery life from the 300 images Fuji claims. You can customize the OVF view to include various info displays such as a histogram, electronic level or framing guide.
Images captured using the OVF can suffer from parallax error. Because the OVF is aligned parallel to the lens, but a short distance away on the camera body, the image being composed via OVF is not exactly the same being captured via the lens. Extreme close ups cause the most dramatic shift, and to minimize parallax error the camera will not focus at distances of less than 2.6 feet when being operated with OVF - the camera defaults to EVF in these cases. The further the camera is from the subject being captured, the less parallax error when using OVF. OVF coverage is about 90%. Here are two shots taken from the same spot in OVF and EVF, with focus set on the center of the globe from about 4 feet. You can see the slightly different aspect of the captures depending on which viewfinder was used.
EVF, on the other hand, provides a view through the lens of the camera and is accurate with regard to image composition and capture. EVF provides 100% coverage and the 0.47 inch monitor has a 1,440,000 dot composition. Despite better battery life performance with the OVF, I liked the EVF much better and used it for most shoots with the X100. The EVF is bright, features a diopter adjustment for eyesight and is accurate for image composition - that's good enough for me. The EVF and monitor can offer 49 focus points for composition and capture; the OVF can offer 25.
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