From the time Fujifilm announced development of the X100 at the Photokina 2010 show, anticipation has been high for this retro-looking digital equipped with an APS-C sized sensor. The camera was nearing market entry when the Japanese earthquake/tsunami disaster hit, and production was halted for a time, but we've just received a review unit to put through its paces.
For those of you unfamiliar with the X100, its design mimics a classic rangefinder camera but includes a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, 12 megapixel CMOS sensor and fixed 23mm f/2 lens that shoots at 35mm (in 35mm film equivalents) owing to the sensor's 1.5x crop factor.
A 720 HD video /capability is onboard along with a 2.8-inch LCD monitor. Fuji styles the X100 as the "professional's choice," and if that gets you wondering about shooting modes you're barking up the right tree: program auto, aperture and shutter priority, full manual. That's it. No auto as we've come to know it in compact digitals; no scene modes, no face/smile/blink detection. Suffice it to say the X100 will not be everyone's cup of tea.
But if you like the look of Leica's M8/M9/X1 rangefinder digitals, you'll probably fawn over this Fuji. If you can find one, the 10.3 megapixel M8/M8.2 goes for about $4500+. The 18 megapixel M9 will set you back about $6995. The X1 - which most closely approximates the X100's feature set with 12.2 megapixels and a fixed 24mm lens shooting at the same 35mm equivalent with its APS-C sensor - will cost you $1995. The X100 rings up a $1200 tab, which will still probably take a lot of folks' breath away, but looks positively fiscally prudent compared to even the X1.
Of course, shooting a Leica alternative works best if the image quality can favorably compare. Fuji is quick to point out that the X100 lens was designed specifically for this camera, and the sensor was "....specially customized just for this lens." With that in mind we have high hopes for image quality out of the X100, and after only a few hours of shooting at default settings things seem to be doing OK in this arena.
Some of the controls have already made an impression, and unfortunately not for the better. The exposure compensation dial atop the body near the shutter button and shutter speed dial has proven somewhat easy to inadvertently move, and when setting things like flash, macro mode or white balance via external controls, there's too brief a period to initiate the changes before the camera reverts to the original screen. And after the wonderful video capability on the Lumix G3 I just finished with, anything less than a one-button video capture process seems just too old school.
I'm also getting used to the optical viewfinder (OVF), which is the best energy-conserving option but also introduces parallax error into shots, particularly close ups. Because the viewfinder is aligned parallel to the lens but a short distance away, the view through it is not exactly the view captured through the lens. Using the electronic viewfinder (EVF) or monitor for image composition and capture cures the parallax problem since both display the view through the lens, but also cut the battery life in half.
So, thus far, a little mixed bag of emotions on the X100. Build quality is great - magnesium body castings and a pebble-grained finish that look retro yet rich, with image quality that looks good at first blush. I've had a couple control glitches that might just be me getting used to the camera, and I'll probably just bite the bullet on battery life and go with the EVF for the more accurate composition. There's a lot more shooting to do with the X100, and we'll have a complete review of this interesting new arrival from FujiFilm in the near future.