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Fujifilm FinePix X100 Review
by Jim Keenan -  6/2/2011

The development of the FinePix X100 was announced by Fujifilm at the Photokina show in September 2010, and the camera seems to have generated considerable interest ever since. The formal announcement of its commercial release, slated for March, came on February 8, 2011. The Japanese earthquake/tsunami caused an interruption in production of the camera for a time, and even now the X100 can be hard to find.

Fujifilm FinePix X100


Consider the two large and reputable New York vendors, Adorama and B&H Photo: as this is being written, Adorama's site says demand is high, supplies are limited and irregular and they are refusing to accept new orders for the X100 at present. B&H says simply that the camera is "temporarily unavailable." E-Bay seems to have no shortage of cameras, but you'll pay a premium of at least $100 over the $1200 MSRP at that site. What's all of the hubbub about with the X100 anyway?

First of all, it's "cute," at least according to my wife. More objectively, the camera resembles a classic rangefinder design, similar to the Leica M8/M9/X1 families of digitals. There's a fixed 23mm f/2 lens that shoots like a 35mm (in 35mm film equivalents) owing to the camera's APS-C CMOS sensor. Here's that view:

Fujifilm X100 Fujifilm X100

According to Fuji, the lens was developed specifically for the X100 and the sensor was specially customized to match up with the lens performance characteristics. Sensor resolution is 12.3 megapixels and the nominal ISO sensitivity range is 200 - 6400; that range can be extended to 100 and 12800 at the extreme ends, respectively. A newly-designed EXR processor promises "...improved high resolution, high sensitivity, low noise and wide dynamic range technologies," along with "...more rapid signal processing response."

The camera's viewfinder is a hybrid, allowing use as either an optical or electronic viewfinder. The 2.8-inch LCD monitor can be used for image composition or capture, and there's an eye sensor that allows the camera to be set up to switch to the viewfinder when you raise it to your eye, and back to the monitor when you take it away.

Video capability is 720 HD, a bit surprising with everyone pushing on to 1080, and the closest you'll get to a full auto shooting mode is motion panorama. No scene modes, no face/blink/smile detection, no stabilization. Fuji styles the X100 as the "professional's choice," and while prospective users need not be professionals to appreciate the X100, folks looking for a typical compact digital full auto experience should probably look elsewhere. You can shoot JPEG, RAW or JPEG and RAW simultaneously, and there's an in-camera RAW converter that will produce JPEGs should you opt to save memory by not shooting the dual file.

The camera utilizes SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media and Fuji includes a battery and charger, camera strap and clips, USB cable, lens cap, CD-ROM software and printed user's manual with each camera. A lens hood and adapter ring to permit the use of 49mm filters are available as accessories.

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.

Fujifilm FinePix X100

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.

Fujifilm FinePix X100

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.

Fujifilm FinePix X100

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.

Fujifilm FinePix X100

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.

Display/Viewfinder
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.

Fujifilm X100
Optical Viewfinder
Fujifilm X100
Electronic Viewfinder

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.

PERFORMANCE
One interesting aspect of the X100 is the battery, which, while asymmetrical in shape, fits easily into the battery compartment either the right way or all three wrong ways. The right way is with the curved edge of the battery matching the curved edge of the compartment, but the X100 will happily accept the battery with the straight edge on the curved side of the compartment, or with the battery contacts facing the battery door as well.

Fujifilm FinePix X100

If your X100 refuses to come to life after popping in a fresh battery, make sure you've got the battery in correctly before calling Fuji for warranty service. I've got the battery in the right way now, so let's go shoot!

Shooting Performance
The first thing the X100 requires is that you wait a bit until it powers up - the camera takes about 2.2 seconds to present a focus icon. There is a quick start option that reduces that time to about 0.7 seconds, but the catch is that if the camera has been off for over 20 minutes the full 2.2 second startup time is required. Quick start also increases the drain on the battery, shortening life compared to the normal startup procedure.

With the normal startup, I was able to get off a first shot in about 3 to 3.25 seconds. Single shot-to-shot times ran about three seconds, with the major culprit here being the X100's write times with a class 10 SDHC memory card and JPEG fine quality captures. In fact, X100 write times across the spectrum are nothing to write home about. Change that single JPEG file to RAW and the write time went to five seconds. A single JPEG/RAW combo capture? Nine seconds.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix P7000 0.01
Fujifilm FinePix X100 0.01
Olympus X-Z1 0.01
Canon PowerShot G12 0.04

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix P7000 0.24
Olympus X-Z1 0.45
Canon PowerShot G12 0.50
Fujifilm FinePix X100 0.68

Continuous Shooting
Camera Frames Framerate*
Fujifilm FinePix X100 10 5.2 fps
Canon PowerShot G12 2.1 fps
Olympus X-Z1 2.0 fps
Nikon Coolpix P7000 26 1.5 fps

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

The camera made its advertised 5 fps continuous shooting rate for 10 JPEGS (8 if you're shooting RAW), but the write time after that 10 shot JPEG burst was 20 seconds. Make that burst in RAW and you're on the sidelines for a bit over 30 seconds as the X100 catches up. Does anyone even dare to speculate how long a burst of JPEG fine/RAW would take? For the record, you get the same 8 shot burst, but write time jumps to about 46 seconds. While the camera is writing, be it a single capture or burst, you can't abort the write process to take another shot.

AF acquisition time was not spectacular in our studio tests, coming in at 0.68 seconds. In the field the X100 at times seemed fairly quick - certainly quicker than the studio time - while on others it felt more like our studio time.

When using the OVF for burst shooting the image remains constant so tracking a moving subject is easy. Using the EVF or monitor results in a brief blackout after the initial shot, then a millisecond delay before subsequent shots are displayed, so tracking fast-moving subjects can be more of a challenge.

The X100's built-in flash has a range of about 29 feet at ISO 1600, but drop down to 200 ISO and you're dealing with about a four foot range. Suffice it to say the built-in flash is low powered, which probably accounts for recycle times in the three second range. The X100 has a hot shoe, so if flash is your thing mount one externally and have at it.

There's no stabilization to be had with the X100, so let's talk about a shooting philosophy with regard to minimum shutter speed if you're going to shoot hand-held. We're talking about a speed designed to cancel out camera shake produced by hand holding, not necessarily stop action or produce any other creative effect you might want.

The general rule of thumb for hand holding is the shutter speed needs to be the lens focal length you're shooting at expressed as a fraction. For the X100 at its 35mm focal length (use the 35mm equivalent, not the 23mm design length of the lens), we'd like to have at least 1/35th of a second. A 100mm lens would be 1/100th of a second; a 500mm 1/500th of a second.

If you refer to the shutter speed dial on the X100, there's a "30" which represents 1/30th of a second and a "60" for 1/60th of a second, but no "35". Does that mean the X100 can't shoot at 1/35th of a second? No, it only means you can't set a shutter speed of 1/35th of a second via the shutter speed dial. The general rule is just that - general - and many folks will be able to successfully hand hold at 1/30th of a second or lower before camera shake becomes a problem. Others will not, and will need to go to 1/60th of a second, or even more.

Either way, using the shutter priority shooting mode that allows you to set shutter speed is a quick way to make sure you've enough speed to hopefully dampen out shake. Aperture priority, program auto and manual can all accomplish the same result, so the bottom line is not the actual shooting mode, but rather that whichever mode you use produces enough shutter speed to cancel out camera shake.

Finally, the motion panorama shooting mode is one of the better ones I've encountered. First try was perfect, hand held. Here's a couple of examples.

Fujifilm X100 Sample Image Fujifilm X100 Sample Image

Lens Performance
Specifically developed for the X100, the Fujinon Super EBC f/2 lens does a very good job of image capture from a quality standpoint. There's a tiny bit of barrel distortion present (and I'm on the fence that it might actually be a tiny bit of moustache distortion instead), but whichever it is the lens is fairly distortion free, with straight lines near the edges of the frame being very minimally impacted.

Fujifilm X100 Sample Image

The lens has consistent sharpness across the frame, possibly just a bit soft in the corners, but very good overall. Chromic aberration (purple fringing) was virtually absent - what examples I did find took extreme magnifications to discern and really were not an issue in anything less than extreme pixel-peeping.

While optical performance is quite good, the lens design is also responsible for hamstringing the X100 with regard to certain combinations of aperture and shutter speeds. The X100 shutter is part of the lens's internal workings, and this means fast shutter speeds may not be available at large apertures. For example, a shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second is not available at f/2 through f/5.6; 1/2000th is unavailable at f/2 and f/2.8 - you have to go to 1/1000th of a second or slower before the X100 will shoot at all lens apertures.

Fuji has built in a work-around for this design characteristic, however. There's a neutral density filter built into the X100 lens that can be enabled to provide 3 EV (or stops for you film folks) of exposure reduction to allow slower shutter speeds and wider apertures should you so desire. This sheet-type filter retracts when disabled.

Video Quality
The 720 HD video of the X100 is quite good as 720 HD goes - the camera defaults into AF-C (continuous autofocus) when movie capture is initiated and the camera is pretty good about holding focus as subject distances vary. Sound is recorded in stereo. Movie length is the shorter of 10 minutes or memory capacity exhaustion. Focus, exposure and white balance are adjusted automatically during recording and the camera audio may record lens or other camera noise as well as wind noise. There is no wind cut feature.

The X100's CMOS sensor can be susceptible to rolling shutter effect when panning during video capture, but the pan speed needs to be fairly fast (much faster than would ordinarily be employed) to bring the effect to objectionable levels. Fuji recommends a class 4 or faster memory card for video capture.

Download Fujifilm FinePix X100 Sample Video

Video recording is a matter of accessing the drive options via the control dial, selecting movie and pushing "OK". The camera will switch to the EVF if the OVF had been selected and select continuous AF as well; a full push of the shutter button commences capture and a second full push stops it. Not overly onerous, but a far cry from the excellent one-push video capture modes appearing in some cameras.

Image Quality
Default still image quality out of the X100 is very good, with accurate color rendition and pleasing sharpness.

Fujifilm X100 Sample Image Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image Fujifilm X100 Sample Image

And if it doesn't meet with your approval, the X100 offers myriad settings to produce images that should satisfy the fussiest user. Sharpening, for example, offers five settings: standard, which is the default, and two steps softer and harder. Here's a look at the default and hard settings - at first blush they look quite similar, but on closer examination there's an additional bit of crispness to the hard setting missing from the default.

Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
Default Sharpening
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
Hard Sharpening

The camera's basic color palette is called "film simulation" and offers standard, vivid and soft color options based on the look of three Fuji films: Provia, Velvia and Astia. There is also monochrome, monochrome with yellow, red or green filters, and sepia. Here are the three colors, along with the monochrome and monochrome/red filter options.

Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
Standard
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
Vivid
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
Soft
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
Monochrome
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
Monochrome-red

Can't decide which color setting you like best? Set the X100 to "film simulation bracket" and take single photos which the camera then processes to create copies in the standard, vivid and soft settings. You can also set the camera to bracket auto exposure, ISO and dynamic range. Here are shots in the mission chapel - the first is an aperture priority at 200 ISO, then dynamic range bracketing shots at 100, 200 and 400% levels.

Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
Aperture Priority
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
Dynamic Range 100%
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
Dynamic Range 200%
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
Dynamic Range 400%

The major difference in the shots was that DRB increased ISO to 800 and shot a much shorter shutter speed than the aperture priority shot. The histograms on all four shots are quite similar, with minor differences in light distribution. DRB 400 clipped highlights a little less than the others, and all were about equal in preserving shadow detail.

Multi metering for exposure calculation is the default method, using a 256-zone TTL (through the lens) system that is recommended for most situations. This method was used for most shots in the review and did a fairly good job overall, but on occasion the camera would lose some highlights in high contrast scenes. There are also spot and average metering options on tap.

Auto white balance was used for all shots in the review and did a good job in most conditions, including our studio fluorescents. The X100 shot warm in auto WB with incandescent lighting. In addition to auto there are custom, Kelvin temperature, direct sunlight, shade, three fluorescent settings, incandescent and an underwater setting that reduces the blue cast typically associated shooting underwater without flash.

Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

Cropped sensor DSLRs of the latest generation have shown some significant ISO noise improvement over their predecessors in low light conditions, and with the X100 packing a DSLR style APS-C sensor you'd expect it to perform pretty well in the low light arena. Your expectations have been met.

The X100 has a nominal 200-6400 ISO sensitivity range, with extensions to 100 and 12800 available. There's really nothing to be gained by shooting at 100 on the low end, so we didn't. But you might come upon a scene where 12800 is the only way to get the shot, so we did take a look at that sensitivity. ISO 200, 400 and 800 are really hard to tell apart - 1600 is the level at which some deterioration becomes more easily visible, but even then it's pretty mild.

Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
ISO 200
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
ISO 400
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
ISO 800
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
ISO 6400
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
ISO 6400, 100% crop
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
ISO 12800
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
ISO 12800, 100% crop

ISO 3200 shows a more marked decline over 1600, but it's still quite good and I'd shoot it without hesitation if the situation required. ISO 6400 is the clearly the most dramatic drop off to this point, with noise on the increase accompanied by increased smudging and loss of fine details. This sensitivity is best left for small print/internet work. ISO 12800 is worse still, with only the grossest of details holding up - clearly the choice of last resort.

I've had the opportunity to review the Nikon D7000 and Canon 60D DSLRs for this site and their APS-C sensors have had the best cropped sensor low light performance I've had my hands on. The X100 looks very competitive to my eye, certainly through 1600 ISO. The Fuji seems to take a slightly different tack than the Nikon when ISO hits 3200 - there seems to be more noise reduction at work in the Fuji, which produces a smoother looking file at the expense of fine detail.

The Nikon looks grainier, but sharper with better fine detail. Some of that may be due to the 16.2 megapixel resolution of the D7000 versus 12.3 in the Fuji, but it also shows the high bar set by the best cropped-sensor equipment today in the low light arena.

Additional Sample Images
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image Fujifilm X100 Sample Image
Fujifilm X100 Sample Image Fujifilm X100 Sample Image

CONCLUSIONS
The Fujifilm X100 is here, offering DSLR-like image quality and noise performance in a decidedly un-DSLR-like package. The classic rangefinder look is smart and relatively compact, at least compared to the typical DSLR. Materials, fit and finish are quite good. The camera packs some interesting touches, like the hybrid viewfinder arrangement, and a wide range of settings and image adjustment tools set this camera up to appeal to serious shooters who aren't looking to just point and shoot.


Image quality and the ability to extensively customize image parameters make this an easy camera to like, but I found the experience tainted by the controls, and to a lesser extent some menu operations. The control dial/OK button is the major source of my displeasure - I just can't seem to consistently get the input I want to make without suffering through a number of inadvertent activations first. The design of these controls looks no different than those on many digitals, but I've never had the problems I'm experiencing with the X100. Maybe increase the height of the OK button so the finger is less apt to hit the control dial as well?

And once I did get to the menus via the control dial, the secondary screens reverted to the primary screen within a couple seconds - practically before you could sort out the options and start to select one. Software fix, anyone?
Shutter lag is good, AF time is so-so, write times are slow, manual focus is really slow and I still like this camera. Funny how a dose of very good image quality cures a lot of ills. The X100 isn't perfect, but it's a very good start and if Fuji makes some fixes to the basic platform it won't take another natural disaster to make these cameras hard to find.

Pros:

Cons: