Fujfilm X10 Review
by Mike Pasini and Stephanie Boozer
I've admired Fujifilm's digicams for a long time now because their cameras seem to be designed with real photographers in mind. The X-series is Fujifilm's latest concept, and at the moment there are four cameras in the series. Three resemble rangefinders from the film era, and the last is a megazoom.
The Fuji X10 is the most affordable of the rangefinder-like models, and its features include a zoom lens, real-image finder, and compact frame. It's the X for the rest of us, and as such, it's been love at first sight for many photographers.
Fujifilm says the X-series is "the skillful integration of a classic look that calls to mind analogue cameras, along with cutting-edge digital technology." The X10 provides a retro, two-handed experience. Your left hand does the zooming while your right does the rest, with a wealth of dials and external controls for quick settings changes. At the same time, the Fujifilm X10 offers the digital advantages of a big LCD on the back, lots of exposure options (including film and filter emulations), and some multi-exposure goodies. A winning combination, in short.
This marriage of new and old also has some notable issues, however. For example, the zoom lens obscures the lower right quadrant of the optical viewfinder, which only shows 85 percent of the scene. Also, early production of the Fujifilm X10 suffers from big white blobs on specular highlights in some shooting situations, a problem that the company claims has been fixed with an updated sensor. (The camera we reviewed was from the original production run.)
Nevertheless, there's a lot to like. So let's take a closer look at the X10.
Look and Feel. Fujifilm makes no bones about it. They designed a camera that looks like an old rangefinder. An expensive old rangefinder.
It has a synthetic leather wraparound on the body with die-cast magnesium alloy top and bottom plates and lots of dials up top. There's even an impressive optical viewfinder with a 20-degree viewing angle that zooms along with the lens. And to top it all off, the Shutter button will accept a screw-in mechanical release cable. You haven't lived until you've half-pressed the Shutter button with a cable release.
It isn't an ultracompact or miniature camera, by any means. It's about the size of the Nikon System 1 cameras, and just a little smaller than an Olympus PEN body (although with a significantly smaller zoom lens). Put another way, it's the size I wish the Canon G-series had been. I used a wrist strap with it and tossed it in a camera bag, but the included shoulder strap is not a bad option.
Fujifilm claims the X10 is "nearly twice as rigid as ordinary cameras" because it uses a 1.0mm aluminum sheet on the front and back body panels, compared to the usual 0.8mm sheet.
Beyond the fact that it's technically a real-image zoom camera, there a couple of other subtle design differences between the Fuji X10 and analog rangefinders of days gone by.
The first is the grip. Old cameras never had grips, presumably because they were worn like necklaces, but the Fuji X10 has a small, unobtrusive but effective one. It's complemented by a thumb grip on the back which is a bit more prominent than most, and really gives your thumb something to hang onto.
The second difference is the built-in pop-up flash. Old rangefinders didn't have onboard flash, they had hot shoes. If you prefer external flash strobes, the X10 still provides a hot shoe, though. It has four electric contacts for TTL exposures with Fujifilm EF-20 and EF-42 flashes and will operate non-dedicated flash units in manual mode.
The built-in flash forced Fujifilm's designers into a compromise, though. It occupies the top corner where analog cameras put the optical viewfinder. That's an intelligent place to locate the flash, because it's further from the lens, minimizing red-eye, while the viewfinder is closer to minimize parallax. The problem is that from the 28mm wide angle to about 45mm, you see the lens in the optical viewfinder. (At wide angle, it occupies almost 1/4 of the frame height, and about half the width.) Unless you use an underhand grip on the lens, your index finger will also block the viewfinder as you adjust the zoom.
Otherwise this is among the nicest designs for a digicam I've seen. The manual zoom is genius, and Fujifilm was particularly generous with the controls. Let's take the tour.
The front of the Fujifilm X10 hosts the lens assembly with the grip to the far left, the AF-assist lamp just above and left of the lens, and the Focus mode selector at lens right. On the metal top plate but still on the front of the camera you'll find two small holes for the stereo microphones, and the viewfinder window.
The top plate holds the pop-up flash in the front left corner, and a hot shoe in the middle. The Mode dial, Shutter button, a tiny Function button, and the EV dial are clustered at the right end. It's a very nice, optimized layout.
Sliding down the right side, you'll find two covers and an eyelet. The larger one provides access to the USB connection and the HDMI connection. The smaller one at the bottom provides access to the battery compartment for a DC coupler cable. The left side has nothing on it but the other eyelet.
On the bottom the metal tripod socket sits about a quarter of the way in from the left edge. That leaves plenty of room for the battery/memory card cover to swing open from the right side, but the off-center mount is less than ideal for panorama shooting on a tripod. A speaker is located near the hinge of the cover, where it's unlikely to be accidentally blocked.
The back panel hosts the 2.8-inch LCD, which is bordered on the left by four small buttons: Playback, Auto Exposure (Zoom In), Auto Focus (Zoom Out), and White Balance. Just above the LCD is the viewfinder with a diopter adjustment on the left, right next to the Flash popup switch. On the other side of the viewfinder is a small status indicator lamp. To the right of the LCD the large four-way navigator with its scroll wheel sits above the Display/Back button and Raw buttons. Just above it is the Auto Exposure/Auto Focus Lock button and above that the Command dial, which is left of the thumb grip. The navigator surrounds the Menu/OK button and its arrow positions double as Delete/Drive (Up), Flash (Right), Timer (Down), and Macro (Left).
Controls. You know the Fujifilm X10 is different the minute you pick it up to turn it on. It has no Power switch. Instead, you rotate the zoom lens to power the camera. (The front element doesn't rotate, so filters don't lose their orientation.) This manual lens extension makes for a fast startup. You do have to twist all the way to the click at 28mm to get the LCD to turn on, though; a timid twist often left us wondering when the camera would fire up.
You can also hold down the Playback button for a second if you just want to review pictures.
The lens cap is metal with no tether, just a felt grip on the inside barrel, and must be removed before the lens can be extended. I preferred to use the Fuji X10 from a camera bag, leaving the lens cap in the bag and carrying the X10 in my hand, so I wasn't popping the cap on and off all the time.
Using a manual zoom lens is quite a relief compared to the twitchy, imprecise motorized zooms on most digicams, and it's a stabilizing influence to have your left hand on the camera. The full zoom range is covered in less than a quarter turn of the lens, so you don't have to change your grip. In fact, you can turn the camera on and zoom out to telephoto without changing your hold on the lens.
The feel of this mechanism is rather nice. A metal cam is responsible for that, along with a silicon gasket between the lens and the body. The whole concept of using the lens as a Power switch struck me as Edsel-like at first, but in practice it works so well you wish other manufacturers would follow suit.
There's plenty to keep your right hand occupied, too: the Mode dial, the EV dial, a Command dial, the Shutter button, and all sorts of other buttons are within reach without changing your grip. The Shutter button also serves as a way to wake the Fujifilm X10 from sleep, but unlike most cameras, you have to fully depress it. A light tap would have been preferable.
The dials, which are metal, have knurled edges that make them particularly easy to control. Although I had no issues with most of the controls, I felt the EV dial was too stiff, and lacked sufficient texture to turn easily with one hand. I also found it easy to bump the four-way controller buttons while turning the scroll wheel, but thankfully its function is often duplicated by the Command dial.
One other annoyance with the Fuji X10 is that external controls sometimes don't do anything, without explanation. There's always a reason why, like raws not being possible in EXR mode, but it isn't always obvious.
The Mode dial has 11 options, including full PASM control. The EV dial ranges from +2 to -2 in one-third stop increments. Most of the buttons are pretty self-explanatory, but a few bear a little explanation:
The AFL/AEL Button locks either exposure, focus, or--if you hold the button in before pressing the Shutter button half way--locks both. Setup menu options configure the default function, and allow the button to function as a toggle.
The Function button is user defined through the Setup menu. Options include ISO, Image Size, Image Quality, Dynamic Range, Film Simulation, AF Mode, Face Detection, Face Recognition, and Intelligent Digital Zoom. Sadly, it can't be configured for aspect ratio; I found I didn't use it at all for anything.
The Raw button allows you to toggle raw capture for the next shot in Record mode. In Playback mode, it allows you to create a JPEG from a raw file in-camera.
The AF button toggles autofocus point selection with the arrow keys, making light work of focusing off-center without reframing.
The Display / Back button toggles through the available display modes. In Shooting mode, the most useful is Custom, which lets you select from a lengthy list of options: Framing Guideline, AF Distance Indicator, White Balance, Histogram, Image Size / Quality, Photometry, Film Simulation, EV, MF Distance Indicator, Aperture / Shutter / ISO, Frames Remaining, Battery Level, Flash, Dynamic Range, and--my favorite--Electronic Level.
The electronic level shows a bar across the middle of the LCD that's white when you aren't level and turns green when the camera is level. It's a great concept, made rather less useful by the half-second delay between updates. Still, it helped me quite a lot.
What I really did not like about the LCD display options is that even No Information still sneaks a status line on the bottom of the screen when you half press the Shutter. That makes composing the image very difficult (at least when the aspect ratio is the full 4:3, like the screen). My tendency was to shift the composition off center, matching what I saw on the screen. Not good.
Lens. The Fujinon 4x optical zoom ranges from 28mm to 112mm in 35mm equivalents, a healthy range if perhaps a little short.
But it's quite fast through that range, going from f/2.0 to only f/2.8. A telephoto at f/2.8 is a rare thing in this class. And it runs through f/11 at both wide angle and telephoto. The aperture is a seven-bladed design with a good array of apertures that delivers very nice bokeh.
There's a lot of glass in the lens, too -- 11 glass elements with both aspherical and extra-low dispersion elements, all with an electron beam coating to reduce flare.
There's no zoom lever or toggle; instead there's a very smooth manual zoom. You can zoom without fear of picking up motor noise while shooting movies. And you can zoom precisely (and very quickly) to compose stills. I still found it a little stiffer than I'd like--as my jerky movie clip shows--but otherwise it's a huge improvement over typical digicam zooming.
The Fuji X10 does offer a form of digital zoom, although you'd never know it looking at the camera. When available, if the Intelligent Digital Zoom is enabled in the menu system, the image is enlarged 2x while processing, and the LCD display is magnified accordingly.
It also focuses as close as one centimeter at wide angle in Super Macro mode. The standard Macro mode gives you a little more flexibility with focal length.
The Fujifilm X10 is optically stabilized, providing up to four stops more latitude in low light. The system is lens-based, and can be set to function during exposure only, or also during framing. An optional Motion option detects moving subjects and tries to raise the shutter speed as necessary.
Shutter speeds are limited by ISO, which I found a bit understated (add about 25 to the stated ISO, so ISO 100 plays more like 125). You can go as long as 30 seconds at ISO 100, though. There is no Bulb mode.
Viewfinder. The Fujifilm X10 has a glass optical viewfinder, helpful in full sun when the LCD is not readable and in darkened venues like a school auditorium where bright screens are distracting to those around you.
It's big and bright, no question. But--and here's the problem--it only shows about 85 percent of the capture. Real-image optical viewfinders aren't famous for their accuracy, though, and the Fuji X10's has slightly better coverage than most.
Like other optical viewfinders that sit close to the lens to reduce parallax, the Fuji X10's viewfinder is blocked in the lower right corner by the lens itself from 28mm to about 45mm.
There is no information provided in the optical viewfinder. To confirm focus, listen for the beep. But there's no way to check camera settings without looking at the LCD. The viewfinder is just a bright window without even any guidelines.
Sensor. Fujifilm has designed the X10 around a 2/3-inch 12 megapixel CMOS sensor that measures 8.8mm x 6.6mm. DxO Labs reports the sensor has a native resolution of 4,028 x 3,032 pixels with a pixel pitch of 3.08 microns, and captures 12 bits per pixel. Fujifilm explains that the larger than normal sensor (by compact camera standards) provides low noise at high ISO.
It's coupled with an image processor that achieves high speed shooting of seven frames per second at full resolution or 10 fps at a reduced image size.
Modes. The Fuji X10 features a full range of shooting modes, more in fact than the average digicam or dSLR. It includes the PASM modes missing on most digicams and the Scene modes often missing on dSLRs.
In PASM modes, a metering scale is displayed on the left side of the LCD when you half press the Shutter button.
PROGRAM. Unlike many cameras, the Fujifilm X10's Program mode includes a Program Shift function that lets you quickly select from a range of equivalent exposures. There is a catch, though. You have to set both ISO and Dynamic Range to a something other than Auto. That's a little of the built-in bureaucracy I was talking about.
SHUTTER PRIORITY. To control the shutter yourself, you use either the Command dial or the Scroll Wheel. The camera sets the aperture.
APERTURE PRIORITY. To control the aperture yourself--particularly useful on the X10 with its larger sensor and wide aperture range compared to typical compacts-- you use either the Command dial or the Scroll Wheel. The camera sets the shutter speed.
MANUAL. Manual mode lets you set both shutter and aperture. You press the Command dial in to toggle between them and turn it to set the value. You can use the Scroll Wheel to set the value, too, if it isn't being used for manual focus.
EXR. EXR Auto is Fujifilm's version of intelligent auto. Among the scenes EXR can detect are Portrait, Landscape, Night, Macro, Beach, Sunset, Snow, Sky, Greenery, and Sky with Greenery. Additionally EXR can, when the Shutter button is half pressed, determine whether to maximize resolution, avoid noise or extend dynamic range.
But EXR can operate in a Priority mode as well, in which you make that decision yourself through a menu setting. Resolution Priority captures full resolution images (12 megapixels in 4:3 aspect mode). You can still select D-Range settings from 100 to 400 percent plus Auto in another menu, but the camera underexposes to keep highlights and boosts shadows and mid-tones in full resolution mode, similar to dynamic range optimization systems in other cameras. High ISO & Low Noise combines adjacent pixels (pixel binning) to generate 6-megapixel images with less noise, especially at higher ISOs. D-Range Priority improves dynamic range by exposing half the pixels for a shorter period of time and using them for highlight detail, but it also generates half-size images in the process. D-Range can be set up to 1,600 percent in this mode.
AUTO. Fujifilm doesn't explain this mode except to say it's recommended for most situations. Why they would say that with EXR and Program sitting right there on the Mode dial, I have no idea. Unlike other Auto modes, though, you do retain some control over several options, and it won't select 6-megapixel EXR modes.
ADV. There are three options available in Advanced mode: Motion Panorama 360, Pro Focus, and Pro Low-Light. Each combines multiple images into a single image. In the Setup menu you can tell the Fuji X10 to save the individual images as well, a pretty cool option not available on other cameras that build an image from multiple exposures.
Motion Panorama 360 options include 120, 180, and 360 degree sweeps of the scene in either left-to-right, right-to-left, up-down or down-up direction. Once you set the options and focal length, you press the Shutter button all the way down to start recording and swing the camera in the direction you set. A progress bar indicates how far through the sequence you are. You can stop at any time by depressing the Shutter button again, but if you haven't made it at least 120 degrees, nothing gets recorded. At the full swing, the camera automatically stops recording and stitches the individual shots together for immediate full-screen playback.
Pro Focus takes up to three shots when you press the Shutter button, softening the background to the degree (1-3) you set with the one of the Command dial or Scroll wheel.
Pro Low-Light takes four handheld exposures to combine into a single image. This is similar to the Handheld Twilight modes of other cameras. My test shot here is intentionally nasty, shooting in Macro mode to test the micro-alignment of the series of images the Fujifilm X10 had to take.
SCENE. Fujifilm abbreviates this as "SP" for Scene Position. There are 16 common Scene modes available: Natural & Flash, Natural Light, Portrait, Portrait Enhancer, Landscape, Sport, Night, Night (Tripod), Fireworks, Sunset, Snow, Beach, Underwater, Party, Flower, and Text.
MOVIE. With a fast SD card, the Fujifilm X10 can take Full HD movies with stereo sound using that silent optical zoom. Normal speed 30 frames per second options include Full HD at 1,920 x 1,080, High Definition at 1,280 x 720, and Standard Definition at 640 x 480. High Speed options include 640 x 480 at 70 frames per second, 320 x 240 at 120 fps, and 320 x 112 at 200 fps.
You can record a still during normal speed Movie captures by pressing the OK button (maximum still image size is Medium). The still is saved separately from the Movie itself. There's a jump forward in the movie where the still was taken, and it seems to force a refocus right before image capture, so it's not seamless.
CUSTOM. There are two spots on the Mode dial for custom configurations: C1 and C2. You can record settings in PASM and EXR modes (except EXR Auto) to either C1 or C2, recalling them whenever you next need them.
The usefulness of this depends on if the settings you change are among those that are remembered, of course.
The configuration remembers settings for ISO, Image Size, Image Quality, Dynamic Range, Film Simulation, WB Shift, Color, Sharpness, Highlight Tone, Shadow Tone, Noise Reduction, Intelligent Digital Zoom, Face Detection, Face Recognition, AF Mode, Flash, and External Flash. It also includes Setup options for AF Illuminator and raw as well as Metering, White Balance, Bracketing, Macro, Flash mode, Program Shift, Shutter Speed, Aperture, and Display options set with the buttons.
Menu System. Well, it's just ugly. Let's get that out of the way at the start. Colors, layout, everything.
The color palette is largely monochrome, which is usually a good thing. The current selection has both a weird, unconvincing "highlight" on top, and a deep but flat "shadow" beneath, while its text is white on black (reversed from the normal display), not a highlight color. You can, however, change the background color.
The list of items is cluttered with icons, and sometimes they're pretty important. Switching ISO, for example, the icon indicates image size changes, so you really do have to pay attention. Fonts are blocky and primitive-looking, and are set in all caps. Depending on the mode, there can be quite a few screens of menu options, and they're not organized terribly logically. At least stepping through pages is done well, moving you to the top of the next screen efficiently.
There are two tabs for the three main menus displayed at any one time. The Setup menu is displayed in both the Shooting and Playback modes, each of which have their own menus.
In Program mode, the Shooting menu offers ISO, Image Size, Image Quality, Dynamic Range, Film Simulation, WB Shift, Color, Sharpness, Highlight Tone, Shadow Tone, Noise Reduction, Intelligent Digital Zoom, Advanced Anti Blur, Face Detection, AF Mode, Face Recognition, Flash Compensation, External Flash, Custom Set, and Display Custom Setting. Other modes offer a subset of those options.
In Playback mode, the Playback menu offers Photobook Assist, Image Search, Erase, Mark For Upload To, Slide Show, Raw Conversion, Red Eye Removal, Protect, Crop, Resize, Image Rotate, Copy (between internal memory and your card), Voice Memo, Erase Face Recognition, Print Order (DPOF), and Display Aspect.
The Setup Menu offers Date/Time, Time Difference, Language, Silent Mode, Reset, Format, Image Display, Frame No., Operation Volume, Shutter Volume, Shutter Sound, Playback Volume, LCD Brightness, Auto Power Off, Quick Start Mode, Fn Button, IS Mode, Red Eye Removal toggle, AF Illuminator, AE/AF Lock Mode, AE/AF Lock Button, Raw, Focus Check, Focus Control Dial, Focus Scale Units, Framing Guideline, Color Space, Save Original Image, Autorotate Playback, Background Color, Guidance Display, Video System, Custom Reset, and Power Management.
A few of these options deserves a closer look:
Aspect Ratios. There's a healthy selection of aspect ratios, which is really one of the more fun ways to enjoy your camera. Ratios available include 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, and 1:1. There's a good reason to use each one. That 4:3 is full resolution and works pretty well (with a slight crop) for 8x10 prints. The 3:2 option is your traditional 35mm ratio that fits a 4x6 print perfectly while 16:9 is perfect for your HDTV. And 1:1, the square format, is an artform all to itself, like a sonnet.
Film Simulation. One of the more intriguing options in the Menu system is Film Simulation. Options include Provia/Standard, Velvia/Vivid, Astia/Soft, Monochrome, Monochrome + Yellow Filter, Monochrome + Red Filter, Monochrome + Green Filter, Sepia.
The Monochrome options were particularly welcome. Sure, you can do this in your image editor, but it's a lot more fun to do it when your shooting the subject. Brighten your greenery with the yellow filter, darken your skies with the red filter, soften skin tones with the green filter. The Gallery has a couple of images shot with these filters.
Storage & Battery. The X10 has about 26MB of internal memory. That's enough for five large, fine images or 12 seconds of Full HD video. A 4GB SD card will hold 820 of the same high quality images or 38 minutes of Full HD video.
Fujifilm recommends a Class 4 card or better but you'll want a Class 6 card or faster to keep up with Full HD video and raw captures.
The NP-50 lithium ion battery is rated for 270 exposures with the LCD display, to CIPA testing standards. I don't take 270 shots--half with flash--when I shoot, so this wasn't an issue for me. I didn't even bother to recharge the battery between shoots and it held up just fine. Battery life is no doubt longer because of that manual zoom. The biggest draw would seem to be the LCD.
It's a 3.6 volt battery with 1,000 mAh. The included charger is a bit confusing because it can accommodate two different batteries. You pop one in sideways and the other in lengthways. Fortunately the shapes are a bit different and the contacts align differently, too, so you can't blow this, but you'll have to look every time.
An AC adapter is also available. It uses a dummy battery to make the power connection to the camera.
Fuji X10 Shooter's Report
by Mike Pasini
I liked the design of the Fujifilm X10 right out of the box. It just felt right in my hands. Initially, I was a little wary of the twist-on power scheme because it seemed doomed to fail, but the X10 isn't a plastic camera. I quickly gained confidence in it, just from the overall build quality.
My first shots, though, were big disappointments.
In bright afternoon light, I took a few photos of some Christmas ornaments hanging on the tree. Highlights were gone, although the white disc problem--detailed in the Image Quality section--wasn't yet evident. Since I usually shoot with whatever enhanced dynamic range option the camera provides (i-Contrast on Canons, D-Lighting on Nikons, for example), this was very disappointing.
But it was also a lesson. Out of the box, the Fuji X10 is a puzzle. It takes some study to configure it, let alone discover all its options.
I put my first impression away and took over 365 images and more than dozen videos over a two-month period, gradually learning how to set the camera for various situations.
That's not an appreciation for the sophistication of the X10, however, so much as a complaint about its electronic complexity. The bureaucracy. I have no problem setting a camera for aperture, shutter speed and ISO. And that should tell me all I need to know about any camera's real capabilities.
But increasingly the processing tricks built into high end digicams make that insufficient. Rarely have I seen a camera as convoluted as the Fuji X10. I had to learn how to optimize settings (even between shots) for EXR mode, for example, acquiring "knowledge" that only applies to this camera. That's working too hard.
And the persistence of the settings was another issue. If I'd forgotten to reset something as simple as Macro mode when I turned off the camera, there it was to bite me when I turned it back on. It was pretty maddening.
It's illuminating to look at a few stats from my Fujifilm X10 shooting before talking about specific experiences. So let's dive in.
Focal Lengths. A 4x zoom isn't very long these days, but the 28mm wide angle is a nice starting point. About 40% of my shots were at full wide angle or full telephoto, with a fairly even distribution in between. That suggests the zoom range is a bit truncated for my wide ranging test shooting. Would I actually have gone wider? Yep. Longer? Oh yeah.
ISO. Fujifilm makes much of the Fuji X10's low light performance, and so I left the Auto ISO setting free to range up to ISO 1,600. I really didn't use higher ISO settings except to shoot the dolls (which came out pretty well).
37 percent of my images were at the base ISO of 100, which is prone to the white disc issue described later in this review. ISO 800 was the next most common sensitivity at 21% of shots, followed by ISO 400 (18%), ISO 1,600 (11%), and ISO 200 (9%).
That's an awful lot at ISO 800. On the Fujifilm X10, 800 is the new 400, apparently.
Aperture. The Fujinon lens on the X10 is unusually fast, particularly at telephoto where the maximum aperture is still f/2.8. We're used to seeing telephotos (if of longer focal length) go down to f/5.6 or even f/6.3. So that's worth getting on your feet to clap about.
15 percent of my shots were at f/2.0, the most often used aperture. This gradually diminished through f/3.2 and picked up again at f/5.0 through f/6.4, before dropping off again at the smaller apertures.
With the widest angle focal length, 62 percent of my shots were taken at f/2.0. At the longest focal length, 32 percent of my shots were taken at f/2.8, the fast aperture available. About the same percent were taken at f/5.0 and f/5.6 combined.
So the fast telephoto aperture matters.
Shutter Speed. Shutter speeds were really pretty evenly distributed from 1/4 second through 1/1,250 second, with 1/800 used the most at just 5.4 percent.
So that's the general lay of the land. How about a few events?
First Shots. I shot some ornaments first of all. The angel illustrates the problem I had with dynamic range right out of the box. It's a little surprising to see ISO pushed up to 800 for these shots because the room was brightly lit by the afternoon sun.
Auto Dynamic Range is 400 percent on these shots, the maximum unless you switch to the EXR D-Range Priority mode.
Even some ordinary indoor shots pushed the ISO up to 400, dropping to 100 only with very bright areas in the scene. And this was all before the firmware update (detailed later), incidentally.
I did use fill flash on a wooden sculpture and that turned out nicely without using Flash Compensation, which is available on the Fujifilm X10. There are no burned out highlights and the shadow that fell on the wall from the sun has been lightened up considerably. Nicely done.
The pink wildflowers are a macro shot in the wind on Twin Peaks, no small achievement. At 1/750 second, the breeze has been tamed and f/4.0 gives enough depth of field. It's another successful shot, showing how easy it is to fall in love with the Fuji X10.
The only shot in the Gallery that shows digital zoom is part of the zoom series. That came out well, with good detail and few artifacts from upsizing the image to 4,000 x 3,000 pixels.
My problem with dynamic range continued with the rope shot. That's just too bright. It's a high contrast subject, which is what attracted me to it. But the pole looks bleached and even though there's some tonality to the highlights of the rope, detail is gone in the brightest parts. Again, Auto Dynamic Range was 400 percent.
Panoramas. There are three 360-degree panoramas in the Gallery. The first is from Noe Peak, the southern peak of Twin Peaks (which is actually slightly higher than the northern peak, Eureka Peak). It's well stitched but if you follow the horizon of the ocean, you can see the problem with shooting a handheld 360 degree panorama. It's pretty hard to keep it level without some help from a tripod, say.
The image size is 9,600 x 1,080 pixels, which is perfectly sized to fit the height of an HDTV at 1080, if your display supports panorama viewing. So even if it looks less sharp than the usual stills, it's plenty of data.
The second is from the Embarcadero, featuring the Bay Bridge.
The third, taken at Washington Square, is a bit different, stretching to 11,520 pixels with a white border top and bottom. I thought I'd used a different aspect ratio perhaps, but the images before and after that were all 4:3, so I don't know why the image is stretched; that's just the way that the Fuji X10 patched it together.
Low Light. My low light experience with the Fujifilm X10 wasn't happy. I took it to two restaurants where large parties were being held. None of those shots are in the Gallery because they were poor captures.
Too bad, too, because I had a nice sequence of the waiter clearing the table using the X10's seven fps continuous release mode.
You can forgive white balance issues (and these days with all the lighting technology that's on the loose, you should really set a custom white balance for restaurant interiors when you walk into the place). But you expect to see a fast enough shutter to get good portraits. Especially when the camera boasts about its low-light performance.
But shots taken in Program and EXR mode both were badly blurred. Unfortunately, it wasn't easy to tell this at the time. On the LCD things always look sharp enough.
There are two restaurant shots in the Gallery that were not blurred. The water glasses at John's Grill and the Maxfield Parrish painting above the bar at the Pied Piper. Neither of which moved.
The doll sequence (they don't move either) starts at ISO 12,800 but the image size is reduced to 2,048 x 1,536, so some pixel binning is enhancing the image. That's true of the ISO 6,400 shot, too, although that's larger at 2,816 x 2,112. By ISO 3,200 full resolution is restored. Color was well captured and detail (like eyebrows and cracks in the skin) are strong.
The first Advanced Pro Light (Handheld Twilight) mode shots I took turned out poorly. Completely black frames. There was early morning light and I could see the composition in the LCD, but the X10 didn't register anything.
But I did get a good Pro Light mode shot in Macro outdoors, so it can be done. I'm not sure it can be done better than a high ISO shot, though. There's a Gallery shot of the same outdoor furniture under the same light at night at ISO 800 and 1/4 second that came out -- in a single shot -- just as well.
Night Shots. I found it pretty easy to take night shots with the Fujifilm X10. I used a tripod on the city scape but not on the market or the street scene. Those are all at ISO 1,600. Lots of blown out highlights from the lamps, but no white discs.
Street Shooting. I did a lot of street shooting with the X10. It's just the right size, has a nice wide angle view (you don't even have to look at the LCD), and has enough ISO to work with an aperture that gives you some depth of field.
Autofocus blew more than a few shots, though. There are just some situations that entirely confound it. Changing zoom seems to help break the deadlock.
Still I enjoyed walking around with the lens cap off, my hand wrapped around the lens with the LCD up against my shoulder, ready to compose a shot. The Gallery street shots were all quickly done, no fuss, capturing whatever caught my eye.
Blue Sky. One of the more striking things about the outdoor daylight images is the blue sky. It's really blue. A bit more blue than it really is. You can see the effect in the windmill images and the bow and arrow sculpture.
You can also see it in the space ship shot, which makes another interesting case about the white disc problem. Specular highlights and ISO 100 but no discs.
Note that everything post-February 8th was shot with a firmware update intended to reduce the frequency of the white orb problem, discussed in the Image Quality section.
Fuji X10 Image Quality
Everybody I showed my Fujifilm X10 images loved them. Just loved them. I had nothing to do with it. JPEG color was slightly muted, but with good white balance and hue accuracy, and above-average high ISO performance for a compact. (If you're not a fan of the low default saturation, you can adjust this in the menu system, of course.)
Let's look at the usual Lab tests before discussing a couple of notable Fuji X10 issues.
The Resolution Targets show minor chromatic aberration in the corners while resolving about 1,900 to 2,000 lines of resolution, though purists may say a little less.
Blame the unusual EXR sensor design for the hedge. The Fuji X10 replaces the typical Bayer pattern sensor with a Fujifilm design in which the photo sites are aligned on the diagonal. Fuji claims similar resolution to standard 12-megapixel sensors.
The ISO 100 Still Life is sharp with good detail of the pattern in the red cloth (something we rarely see). But the "Pure Brewed" label hatching is quite strange. The horizontal lines are broken up almost as if there are verticals in it (there aren't).
The White Orbs. The Fujifilm X10 has become famous for one specific image quality issue: the so-called "white orbs" problem. These are circular white artifacts that seem to explode from bright highlights in an image shot at low ISO sensitivity.
You may be familiar with another orb problem, where dust particles near the lens in flash shots reflect light back to the sensor. It's also common in underwater photography where the water isn't as clear as the air. The Fuji X10 white spots really don't resemble that phenomenon. There's nothing three dimensional about them; they're just white circles in the image, although sometimes they are alarmingly large ones. I'll refer to them as white circles circles or discs, as Fujifilm calls them, rather than orbs.
The Fuji X10 arrived here for review shortly before Fujifilm released a firmware update that, in part, attempted to deal with the problem. Although I'd taken some photos with the Fujifilm X10 by then, I'd yet to see the problem. That changed after applying the update.
I was at the Palace of Fine Arts on a bright, sunny afternoon. Shooting west with the lagoon at my feet, the images looked good on the Fuji X10's LCD. When I reviewed them on my monitor later, I saw big white dots surrounded by smaller dots floating on the lagoon's surface near me in a couple of images. There were perhaps a dozen of them in each image.
In the illustration below, you can see the full composition and a 100 percent crop of the largest discs, which are visible in the lower right corner of the main composition. The shot was taken at ISO 100, f/4.5 and 1/350 second.
The next morning, I tried to duplicate the problem by photographing a glass carafe of water, and a wine glass with the sun directly behind them with light rays falling directly into the lens. A knife blade glinted in the sun as well. Plenty of specular highlights, but no white circles.
Miffed, I tried a different shot in the afternoon. This time it was a small window of diffused glass facing west. I got the white circles in EXR mode just where the glare of sun on the glass transitioned to the glass pattern. Then I tried Aperture Priority, going through a few apertures and again got the white discs.
I had a Nikon AW100 handy, so I took the shot with that camera too and noticed some white discs in that shot as well. But they were much smaller--negligible, really--and much fewer. If I hadn't been looking for them, I wouldn't have noticed them. That isn't true of the problem on the Fujifilm X10. Its white discs vary in size but can be quite large, like spots on the image.
The shots are not exact equivalents (focus varied on the glass, which was in the background of the shot), but they were shot at the same time from the same spot with the same crop. The Nikon crop shows what you usually see when shooting specular highlights while the Fuji X10 crop shows the unusual white discs.
I spent a few days becoming more skilled at getting the white discs into my images. Two things seemed essential: a specular highlight and ISO 100. To the extent the Dynamic Range setting affects ISO (and it does), it also factors in.
I could get a perfectly ordinary shot with normal specular highlights if the ISO were elevated. And even at ISO 100 I never saw white discs without specular highlights.
An ISO 100 shot that included a cane chair showed the problem at ISO 100. But I could easily soften the circle into a glowing highlight that was not at all objectionable simply by raising the ISO to 400.
As my sample 100 percent crops show, a specular highlight is simply a reflection that records as pure white (red, green and blue channels are clipped). A specular highlight exceeds the highlight detail in an image and can give a false meter reading. You do want it to go full white (off the right end of a histogram) because it isn't highlight detail.
The problem on the Fujifilm X10 isn't full white on specular highlights. It's that the effect isn't contained to a few pixels at the spot of the highlight. It blooms, as Fujifilm describes it. Most blooms are not sharp edged, like the Fujifilm white discs, though. And they aren't perfect circles.
In the ISO 400 image, they lose their sharp edge and bloom.
The example shot with the chair at ISO 100 was taken at f/4.5 while the ISO 400 shot was at f/5.0, not a critical difference in aperture if a wider one. So optics themselves don't seem to explain the change in the highlight. Nor could Fuji fix the problem in firmware. That points to a problem on the sensor itself.
I found that the artifacts couldn't be easily fixed with a Gaussian blur. When the problem crops up, there are simply too many artifacts, and they're too large to repair without significant effort.
Recently Fujifilm released a statement addressing the issue, and confirming that a change to the sensor hardware was required for a full fix. New production of the Fujifilm X10 is now based around this updated sensor, and the first US-market shipments of the updated cameras are set to arrive imminently.
Existing owners will apparently be able to have their cameras serviced, but no details have yet been made public.
As noted elsewhere, this review is based on a camera from the initial production run, and including the original sensor design. We've not yet had the opportunity to test the updated sensor, and so must form our conclusions based on the original sensor. Our friends over at DPReview have had some hands-on time with the updated sensor, and the initial feeling is that the problem has either been resolved or greatly alleviated, but it's too early to say whether image quality or performance in other areas has been affected in any way.
We will, of course, revisit our thoughts once an updated Fuji X10 body is made available to us.
Fuji X10 Print Quality
Good 13x19-inch prints at ISO 200 or below; up to ISO 800 shots is good for 11x14-inch prints; ISO 6,400 is realistically the maximum for prints, even at 4x6
The Fujifilm X10's ISO 100 images are usable at 16 x 20 inches, but are a little soft in some areas to support printing at this size. Prints at 13 x 19 inches are quite a bit better, with good color and detail.
ISO 200 shots are also good at 13 x 19. They're slightly softer, but not enough that they need a print size reduction.
ISO 400 images look better at 11 x 14 inches. Shadow noise is well controlled at this size, and color still looks good.
ISO 800 prints are also good at 11 x 14 inches.
ISO 1,600 images are better printed at 8x10 inches, though reds are somewhat soft.
ISO 3,200 shots look good at 5x7.
ISO 6,400 are usable at 5x7, but better at 4x6.
ISO 12,800 images are too soft for printing even at 4x6.
Overall, the Fujifilm X10 does a pretty good job for a 12.3-megapixel camera, and even its softer images look good enough for wall display.
In the Box
The retail box includes:
- The Fujifilm X10 camera
- Lens cap
- NP-50 rechargeable battery
- BC-45W battery charger
- USB cable
- Shoulder strap
- Two metal strap clips with protective covers
- Clip attaching tool
- Printed Owner's Manual
- Software CD-ROM
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Large capacity, high-speed SDHC/SDXC memory card. These days, 8GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity. Fujifilm recommends Speed Class 4 or faster for Full HD video and raw recording.
- Video cable; either USB to RCA composite for standard-definition TVs, or Mini HDMI cable for high-def displays.
- External flash strobe
- Lens hood with filter adapter
- Protective case
Fuji X10 Conclusion
Fujifilm has acknowledged that the white disc problem is a serious flaw. Although it's something that really should have been caught and corrected before the camera went into production, Fuji has shown commitment to resolving the problem, taking the unusual step of revisiting its sensor design to correct the problem. We've not yet had the opportunity to look at an updated camera, though. Given that it's possible the change that resolves the orbs problem could also potentially impact on other areas of the camera's performance, we have to review the camera we've actually seen. For now, that disqualifies the Fuji X10 as a Dave's Pick; hopefully we can revisit that decision in the future when the updated camera becomes available.
Otherwise, I really did like the form factor, general handling, and the body style with the exception of the optical viewfinder. Anything that shows you merely 85 percent of the scene isn't doing the job. You can't nail composition with that level of inaccuracy. Fortunately, the LCD does do the job, so you aren't losing much.
The Fuji X10's shooting modes had it all for me, from Program mode's options through a real Manual mode to helpful Scene modes and Fujifilm's EXR equivalent of intelligent auto. I especially liked having quick access to the Advanced modes; this sort of thing is missing on some competing cameras. Fujifilm knows what to do with a Mode dial.
Focus was rather maddening. First, it often took too long. Second, the shutter would fire even if focus hadn't been found. Image quality was very good, if not the best. There was some softness in the corners at telephoto, but otherwise the Fuji X10 is optically impressive, especially given its bright maximum aperture across the zoom range. Auto white balance was generally pretty accurate, and colors pleasing if a little muted. That's not to say it was perfect; as well as the orb problem we also noted some strange artifacts in raw files on our res target, and images seemed just slightly soft overall, strange given the above-average corner sharpness.
I feel a little about the Fujifilm X10 versus Compact System Cameras as I do about CSCs versus dSLRs. The dropoff in quality and control is outweighed by the convenience. Although you could argue that you get more control on the X10 than you do with a typical CSC.
In sum, I felt genuine unmitigated ambivalence about the Fuji X10. A pleasure to shoot with for the most part, and capable of very pleasing images, if perhaps with more blown shots than I'd expect. Unfortunately, the white disc problem means that--for now--I won't be adding it to my arsenal. When I have the chance to try an X10 with the updated sensor, that decision might well change.