Fujifilm X100 Review

 
Camera Reviews > Fujifilm Cameras > Fuji X i Review
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Fujifilm FinePix X100
Resolution: 12.30 Megapixels
Sensor size: APS-C
Lens: Non-Zoom
(35mm eq.)
Viewfinder: Hybrid / LCD
ISO: 100-12800
Shutter: 30-1/4000
Max Aperture: 2.0
Dimensions: 5.0 x 2.9 x 2.1 in.
(127 x 74 x 54 mm)
Weight: 15.9 oz (451 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $1,200
Availability: 03/2011
Manufacturer: Fujifilm
Manufacturer's page: Fujifilm FinePix X100
12.30
Megapixels
Non-Zoom
APS-C
size sensor
image of Fujifilm FinePix X100
Front side of Fujifilm FinePix X100 digital camera Back side of Fujifilm FinePix X100 digital camera Top side of Fujifilm FinePix X100 digital camera Left side of Fujifilm FinePix X100 digital camera Right side of Fujifilm FinePix X100 digital camera

X100 Review Summary: Delivering excellent image quality and a unique user experience, the Fujifilm X100 nevertheless manages to confound us with a quirky user interface and extreme lens flare wide open. Designed for a narrow market, potential buyers should consider carefully whether it fits their needs well enough to brave its sometimes difficult nature.

Pros: Superb image quality; Dazzling Hybrid Viewfinder; Traditional mechanical controls; Mostly excellent optical performance.

Cons: Quirky interface; Manual dials turn easily; Manual focus is too difficult to use; Dramatic lens flare, especially at night.

Price and availability: The Fujifilm X100 started shipping March 2011. Pricing was set at around US$1,200, and several optional accessories are available. These include a filter adapter ring which ships in a bundle with a metal lens hood, a leather "quick shot" case, and two flash strobes -- the EF-20 and EF-42, with the model numbers equating to the guide number of each strobe.

Imaging Resource rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Fujifilm X100 Review

by Shawn Barnett, Zig Weidelich, and Mike Tomkins, with Luke Smith
Review Posted: 07/13/2011

When it first debuted at Photokina 2010, I and lots of people like me were pretty excited about the Fujifilm X100, a fixed lens digital camera with a Hybrid Viewfinder. What's a hybrid viewfinder? Those who attended murmured something about a backlit color LCD overlaying an optical view. Great idea, I thought. Since then, I've heard about shortages and high demand. From the Imaging-Resource.com Lab there were rumblings of a difficult interface and annoying behavior. Both Luke, our main Lab Technician, and Rob, our SLRgear Lab Technician, had much to say about their troubles with the Fujifilm X100. DPReview, for its part, posted a list of complaints, and Fujifilm responded with a firmware update. That's when the Fujifilm X100 landed on my desk.

The Fujifilm X100 was an ordinary looking camera, if your idea of ordinary is a rangefinder from 1962, with a shimmery metal top and leather coat wrapped tightly around its waist. Dials, knobs, and switches popped out from all the right places, not quite outnumbering its 14 buttons, mostly on its back side. So few cameras these days have interesting optics, but I found myself drawn to both the lens and the optical viewfinder.

Build. Over the last 12 years, mainstream digital camera manufacturers have experimented with new forms, but ultimately settled on three major forms from the past: the SLR, the compact ultra-zoom, and the pocket camera. Though the Compact System Cameras are seizing on the pent-up demand for the return of the rangefinder, and though the Leica M9 still stands as the real thing, fans of the old Canonet-style rangefinders were longing for more, something that really looked like one of those cool, more affordable old rangefinders that they or their parents enjoyed so much in the 1960s and 1970s. For an example of a Fujica 35 ML rangefinder from 1958 that looks very similar click here. There are those who could not care less for retro, as I was told many times after admiring the retro styling of cameras like the Olympus E-P1, but the popularity of the Fujifilm X100 tells a different story. There are enough folks, apparently, who like a little retro with their single-focal-length lenses to keep Fujifilm's factory cranking out X100s.

But there's a lot more to this cam-fatale than just a pretty body, starting with that Hybrid Viewfinder. But we won't be starting there; first we have to walk around this beauty for a shameless once-over.

I was disappointed to find that the black leather wrapping was imitation, but it at least offered a grippy surface, and a look we haven't seen for awhile. A slight grip rises from the textured surface, offering just enough to remind you that you should hold on tightly as you carry this little beauty around. Compared to cameras I've reviewed recently, the Fujifilm X100 really isn't that little at all, but she's smaller and flatter than an SLR and a very different experience. Upper left of the lens is a feature that looks for all the world like an old-style spring-wound self-timer mechanism, but it's none other than the lever that switches between the Hybrid Optical Viewfinder and the Electronic Viewfinder. Though the location of this Viewfinder Selector is odd, it seems just right when you have the Fujifilm X100 in hand, peering through the viewfinder. Just right of that is the Self-timer/AF-assist lamp. Unlike most modern self-timer lamps, this one flashes white, not orange.

A small flash peeps out where normally you'd find the rangefinder window, keeping appearances. There's really no other place for it to go, of course, what with that big optical viewfinder on one side and the grip on the other. Just right of that is the Left Microphone; just left of the Viewfinder Selector is the Right Microphone, as this old looking camera is nonetheless stereo savvy.

That big glass eye is ringed by a nice old-fashioned black bezel with white letters that sometimes seem like they're stamped in as they were in days gone by, instead of pad-printed as they are now. Silver rings surround the lens, and two protrusions mark the location of the real Aperture ring. Sounds exciting, and it is. I haven't seen controls like these since the Panasonic L1; but we'll get to the good and bad of this control and that of its cousin, perched on the top soon enough.

Off to the right of the lens you catch a glimpse of the Focus mode selector, magnified upper right. A very finicky switch, it tells of the problems to come, as it's devilishly hard to set to the most commonly used setting, that of AF-S. Too often you slide right past from MF to AF-C on your way to the single-shot mode, one of only a few, but irritating physical problems with the Fujifilm X100 that can't be fixed with a firmware update.

From the upper right corner peers the optical viewfinder, but it reveals no secrets from this side, nice as it is to see on a camera of only $1,200.

The view from above reveals the Fujifilm X100's most retro features, the ones nostalgic photographers are drawn to: Actual analog controls. That Aperture ring moves in full stops, from the bonny red A for Auto to a nice black f/16, then all the way around to a bright f/2. And how many of us cut our teeth frantically turning that Shutter speed dial on the top of an old SLR or rangefinder to get just the right speed for the shot at hand? Set both to A, and you needn't worry about that match needle at all, as the camera will do it all. Set one or the other to A, and you're in either Aperture or Shutter priority. Neat as you please. Rather than having to remember to turn a physical dial to change an onscreen setting, these dials on the Fujifilm X100 put it all out front, ideal for visual thinkers.

I've always preferred exposure compensation dials on cameras, and their recent rebirth on enthusiast cameras is welcome. This one, unfortunately, is a little loose, so it's advisable to check it every so often to make sure you're not messing up your shots, especially on a sunny day when it's hard to judge what you're getting via the LCD or EVF. Indeed, I recommend checking all of the Fujifilm X100's analog dials each time you take it from a bag or case, as all these dials turn easily.

A programmable function (Fn) button is well placed on the top deck. I say it's well placed because you'll be looking there more often than on other cameras; otherwise it's hidden from the back view by the EV dial. It activates any number of oft-used settings, including ISO and Preview Depth of Field, among others. With the firmware update, you no longer have to dive into the Settings menu to change the button's function; instead you just press and hold the Fn button for three seconds and the menu comes up. That would have come in handy when I was out shooting, as I found myself changing film modes more than ISO in one particular case, but I really didn't want to have to search the menu in this unfamiliar camera while standing in the sweltering heat.

The Fujifilm X100's shutter button is ringed by a simple metal power switch. The shutter button is also threaded for a real mechanical cable release, plenty of which are still available online to help accessorize this silver and black beauty for long nights out under the stars.

The shutter button itself is more nuanced than others in recent memory. It starts out soft, where most shutters do, coming up against a firm break, but passing through that break only gets you to the half-press; it takes a second, firmer press to fire the shutter. It's more like the SLRs I use than most point and shoots, which have a soft press to activate focus and just one break to fire the shutter, but that last press has less of a clear break.

It's from the back where I was shocked out of my analog reverie, back into the digital reality. Upper left is the other side of that Hybrid Viewfinder, still revealing no secrets. To the left an analog dioptric correction dial that's sadly insufficient for my prescription (-2 to +1 m-1). To the right, a clue to the digital secret in that viewfinder: IR sensors that detect when an eye approaches.

Down the left side, four buttons, accessing Playback mode, Metering options, Focus point selection, and the button that switches between the LCD and Hybrid Viewfinder mode. The Fujifilm X100's 2.8-inch LCD has 460,000 dots, about half VGA.

Finally we got to the Command Control and the Command Dial. The Command Control is a jog dial that moves left and right, and also zooms in on either live view or playback images with an inward press. The Command Dial duplicates some of the scrolling functions of the Command Control, but allows you to move more quickly through options. But as with most dials like this, it's also a four-way navigation disk that responds to presses along the four axes, and accesses the menu with a press on the center Menu/OK button. It turns out this is another one of the X100's fickle traits, as trying to press the center button too often results in a press of one of the four other buttons. AFL/AEL and Display buttons are about where you'd expect them, and you have to love the inclusion of a RAW button, adding RAW capture to your next shot if you're only shooting JPEGs at the time.

Connectivity includes USB 2.0 and Mini HDMI ports, available behind a thick plastic door on the right of the body.

Size and Weight. With a blocky figure only a photographer could love, the Fujifilm X100 weighs in at just under a pound, or 15.9 ounces (451g). The X100's measurements tell the rest of the story: 5.0 x 2.9 x 2.1 inches (127 x 74 x 54mm). That's only a millimeter or two taller than the Olympus E-PL2, depending on how you measure. Their 74mm tall measurement looks more like 75mm on my calipers, and just shy of 76 including the hot shoe. Be sure to check out the comparison photos from the lineup below.

Storage and battery. Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, including the latest SDHC and SDXC types. About 20MB of internal memory is also available, which can store 4 Large Fine JPEGs or 1 RAW file. Running on a Fujifilm NP-95 3.6V 1800mAh lithium-ion battery, the Fujifilm X100 is expected to capture 300 shots on a charge according to CIPA testing. There's a channel into the battery compartment for a DC coupler cable, though we haven't seen an AC adapter listed anywhere. Note that one of Luke's particular complaints about the X100--a camera made for on and off tripod work--is that you can't swap cards or batteries while it's mounted on the tripod, and you can't just use a USB cable to offload JPEG+RAW pairs; instead the camera offloads two identical RAW files.

 

Fujifilm X100 Size Comparison

Fujifilm X100 vs Olympus E-PL2

Comparable in focal length and relative size, the Fujifilm X100 is just a little larger than the Olympus E-PL2 that I carry often. The X100's 23mm lens is equivalent to a 35mm, while the Olympus's 17mm lens is closer to 34mm equivalent. The E-PL2 has no optical viewfinder, but it is compatible with a very nice electronic viewfinder that slides into the hot shoe. Other similarities include the bi-level top deck and the use of a flat rear dial for quick control inputs. The price of the E-PL2 is currently less than half that of the X100, but it also supports the entire line of Micro Four Thirds lenses, and ships with a zoom lens.

 

Fujifilm X100 Basic Features

The Fujifilm X100 body has magnesium alloy panels top and bottom, and is lined with a leatherette finish in between. Top-panel dials are all made from solid metal as well, providing a feeling of quality.

On the inside, Fujifilm has adopted a custom-made 12.3 megapixel, APS-C sized CMOS image sensor, with microlens positioning fine-tuned to match the characteristics of the X100's lens, reducing the severity of vignetting. The X100's sensor is coupled to a newly developed Fujifilm EXR processor. The pairing allows ISO sensitivity from 200 to 6,400 equivalents ordinarily, expandable to ISO 100 to 12,800 equivalents. Burst shooting is possible at five frames per second. Shutter speeds in the Fujifilm X100 range from 30 to 1/4,000 second, and exposure modes include Program, Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority, and Manual.

On its front panel, the Fuji X100 offers up a fixed focal length, non-collapsing, non-interchangeable Fujinon 23mm lens with a maximum aperture of f/2. The Fujifilm X100's lens provides a field of view roughly equivalent to a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera. The design includes eight elements in six groups, with an aspheric element, a built-in 3-stop neutral density filter, and a nine-bladed iris aperture. Fujifilm's Super EBC coating is featured on the lens. The Fuji X100's lens can focus as close as ten centimeters in macro mode, and as another nice retro touch, provides an aperture ring. Focusing is achieved using contrast detection operating on data streamed from the image sensor.

As mentioned, the Fujifilm X100 provides an unusual hybrid viewfinder, as well as a traditional LCD panel. The viewfinder is an all-glass, reverse Galilean type with about 90% coverage, and approximately 0.5x magnification. It can be switched between providing a bright frame indication with parallax correction and text overlay, or a live view feed from a 1,440,000-dot electronic viewfinder. This selection is made using a physical switch on the front of the camera body. The LCD panel, meanwhile, has a 2.8-inch diagonal and 460,000 dots of resolution. Fujifilm has developed a new graphical user interface for use with the X100's EVF and LCD panel displays.

As well as still images, the Fuji X100 can record 720p (1,280 x 720 pixel) high definition movie clips, with stereo sound.

 

Shooting with the Fujifilm X100

by Shawn Barnett, with Luke Smith

I took the Fujifilm X100 out to shoot galleries expecting to have a terrible time after all I'd heard, but ended the evening quite pleased with the Fujifilm X100. It's true, it's not for everyone, nor for every scene. The lack of a zoom kills it for most, so know thyself and stay away if shooting with a single prime would frustrate you before laying down your $1,200. My biggest complaints are simple: The EV dial turns too easily, the rear Navigation cluster is way too finicky, and the camera doesn't automatically switch into Macro mode when necessary--and with a 35mm equivalent lens, it's often necessary. Finally, before the firmware update, the ISO changed every time I switched modes. That included switching into Macro mode for closer focusing. What?

That's just the beginning of the programming peculiarity in the Fujifilm X100, much of which persists after the firmware update. In a sense, it's not just the body that looks retro to the 1960s, but many of the major interface lessons over the last 10 years of the digital camera industry have also been unlearned. It's retro to multiple decades.

Thankfully, one of my chief gripes was handled with the 1.10 firmware update: that of the ISO changing with the selected mode. As Luke put it, "There will be X100s smashed on the floor in anger over this." No more, though.

Viewfinder. I still can't help but admire what the Hybrid Viewfinder tries to achieve. At its best, it gives an optical view with an LCD overlay, much like the heads-up display on the windshield of a jet. It even tries to compensate for parallax by moving the virtual image frame after it's determined the focus distance. Because it can't overcome the extreme parallax in Macro mode, it switches to EVF mode, making for much more accurate framing. The Hybrid Viewfinder is a great idea, and a handsome implementation of available technology, bringing to mind the imaginary camera viewfinders in sci-fi and spy movies.

But there are a few problems with the system for unavoidable reasons. For one, shooting out in bright light makes it harder to see the LCD overlay. Luke couldn't see it at all in some cases; I didn't encounter quite as much light, or else I could handle it better; but there was no question it was quite a bit dimmer. And that's just a fact of LCD versus Sunlight: The LCD's backlight is going to lose the fight. And after you take a shot using the hybrid optical mode, the X100 serves up the Playback image, which again looks very dark compared to the light passing through the optical viewfinder. It's jarring at first.

With subjects that are further than 20 feet away, I find the optical viewfinder itself, without the hybrid guidelines, to be a more accurate representation of what the X100 will capture, because the guidelines only show about 93% of the scene that will actually be captured. It gives you a better idea of where you should shift the image to get your subject closer to the center, but it's not an accurate representation of what you'll capture. Switching to LCD mode when Macro mode is on is really all they could do to solve that problem, though it makes macro focusing that much more difficult.

Narrow. Loved the narrow DOF, but casual portraits must be focused carefully.

Focus. Speaking of focusing, I found the manual focusing mode essentially unusable, and the lab agreed. As Luke put it, "Manual focus is nearly impossible to use due to severe lag in wired control and huge number of turns necessary to change focus. You can turn the ring, let go, and watch while it slowly continues to adjust focus step by step. Turn, let go, wait, and bzzt, bzzt, bzzt, bzzt, it has passed the focus point." Especially for Macro focusing, I found it beyond tedious, and agree that it's unusable, not just a nuisance.

Almost everyone hoping to take indoor photos of people will come away frustrated, unless they're happy with taking flash shots. I found the camera almost never focused where I wanted it to. It has a very thin depth of field at portrait distances between f/2 and f/4, and very often these distances close to where one needs to switch into Macro mode, destroying spontaneity, or else resulting in an out-of-focus shot. Most often for me, some other part of the person was in focus, while their eyes were a blur. Note that because the bokeh of the X100 is buttery smooth, it's a soft, pleasing blur that looks fine in 4x6-inch images, it's still disappointing to a portrait shooter, not to mention a Dad. You absolutely need to learn to change the AF point, which is quite easy: Just press the AF button on the left of the LCD and use the arrow keys to move it around. It's fast and obvious once you know about the problem. Just don't forget to reset it somewhere else for the next shot.

When active, the Fujifilm X100's focus scale does try to warn you that you're looking at a narrow depth of field (see image at left; you can barely see a little white left and right of the red focus distance line, indicating a very narrow depth of field). A small blue scale lines the bottom of the screen, and when focus is achieved, it shows you in white the area that will likely be in focus at the selected aperture setting. As Luke notes, however, depending on the surrounding light, the white area against the light cyan background can be very difficult to see.

Checking focus is also easy once you figure out that this aspect of the X100 is very like Nikon's implementation on their SLRs: the Zoom buttons are the AE and AF buttons on the left of the LCD.

Quiet. Easy to discount is the Fujifilm X100's extremely quiet shutter. This makes the X100 great for candid snapshots and shots of children, because it doesn't draw undue attention. It's one of the camera's most endearing features.

Stops. Like my old OM-1, only full stops are available on the physical control dials for aperture and shutter speed, but with the Fujifilm X100 there is a workaround. Before the firmware update, this workaround was only available in Manual mode: Set your whole stop and use the Command Control to adjust Aperture in 1/3 stops, or the Command Dial to adjust shutter speed in 1/3 stops. Now, after the firmware update, you can also do this in Aperture or Shutter Priority modes, using these same controls.

Another problem: The maximum shutter speed is 1/1,000 at f/2, a setting where you're likely to need a faster shutter speed, but you have to go to f/8 to reach the maximum 1/4,000 second shutter speed. Enter the Fujifilm X100's ND filter, which helps mitigate this problem. Engaging the ND filter is equal to a 3-stop reduction in light level, allowing you to shoot at f/2 outdoors, or else use a slower shutter speed, or both.

Another oddity we ran into in the lab, this time while testing the lens quality on the SLRgear side of the lab, Rob found that the aperture wouldn't actually change until the last image was written. While moving through apertures quickly, he found that the onscreen aperture indicator didn't seem to change, even though he'd been turning the aperture ring all the while between shots. Just waiting for the camera to save its images between shots, though, allows it to recognize its position and shoot the proper aperture.

As for use out in the field, I loved having the ability to physically set what aperture I wanted to shoot with. I'd have preferred 1/3 stops being built into the ring, though, as I doubt I'd often use the Command Control to bring it up to f/3.5, instead opting for the simplicity of f/4. If you're going to make it easy for me with real analog controls, make it easy--with real analog controls, not analog mixed with a digital workaround.

Shutter speeds only go down to 1/4 second on the dial, forcing you to switch to T mode for slower shutter speeds, which you access by turning the Command Dial, from 1/2 second down to 30 seconds. That's a function of the fact that the Shutter Speed dial would have to be considerably larger, or else the numbers uncomfortably small to fit all possible settings. I have less of a problem with this digital switchover, since when shooting at such slow shutter speeds, I'm obviously not in as much of a hurry.

Time for Timer. The Fujifilm X100's self-timer has us all wishing the Viewfinder Lever on the front of the camera were a self-timer lever instead. For one, the Self-timer cannot be found where it lies on just about every digital camera on the market: Under the Drive menu. The Drive menu is instead packed with several bracketing modes, Motion panorama, and Movie mode, of all things. Thankfully, Fujifilm knew we'd be upset, so it's the first item on the Menu. And here's the good news. With the 1.10 firmware, the Self-timer doesn't deactivate after each use. The original firmware turned off the Self-timer after each frame captured, making our lab shots a tedious nightmare.

Motion Panorama. The Fujifilm X100's Panorama mode comes in two flavors: 120 degree and 180 degree modes. Much like Sony's Sweep Panorama, you just press the shutter and start panning as the camera takes dozens of photos and merges them into one.

The 180-degree panorama measures 7680 x 1440.

The 120-degree panorama measures 5120 x 1440.

You'll want to make panoramas either at higher ISO, or in bright sunlight. The first set I made was near sundown, and the shutter speed was too slow to freeze my panning motion. Shots made at noon in brighter daylight were quite crisp, with only a few errors here and there, mostly in foliage, where errors are common.

Day and night movies. Click to download and view MOV files (19.4MB and 16MB respectively).

Movie. Also found under the Drive Mode menu is the Fujifilm X100's Movie mode. 720p, 24fps movies look good, with the usual focus seeking now and then. The pool shot at right illustrates why the average dad would be better off with a zoom lens camera, as I was standing on the edge of the pool and the 35mm-equivalent lens couldn't get close enough to put the viewer's focus on my son's backflip. There's also no image stabilization in the Fujifilm X100, something you don't think of on a camera with a 35mm lens, but it would still help for video.

Lens flare (more on this below) is visible in the night video, showing particularly in the street lamps both near and far, and the oncoming headlights. Note that the video was shot at twilight, not in complete darkness.

Cap. The lens cap is a complement to the design, stamped metal with a recessed Fujifilm logo. It fits onto the front of the camera via friction: soft velvet lines the inner ring, a feature that's repeated on the inside surface of the lens as well. It's a great look with a quality feel, but we question how long the velvet will last.

But here's a slick trick for you. Rangefinders are the legacy source for the laugh we get when we leave our lens caps on before taking a shot. With most digital SLRs or long zooms, the laugh is annoying because of course you can't see anything when you look through an SLR or long zoom, so you quickly figure out that the cap's still on. But with the old rangefinders, you could look through that beautiful optical viewfinder and shoot a whole roll of film--or an entire vacation--without knowing your lens cap was on, a tragedy so profound it's etched itself into the consciousness as a cliche as funny as chopping people's heads off in all your photographs due to parallax error, also caused by rangefinders and other multi-lens cameras. You'd think the X100 would have the cap problem too. But in order to prevent that unpleasant bit of nostalgia from coming back with their Hybrid Viewfinder, if the cap's on, you'll see no hybrid view. Obviously if you're in EVF or LCD mode, you'll know the cap's on, but in Hybrid Viewfinder mode, you can still see through optically, but until you remove that cap, there's no fancy LCD overlay. Nice!

Worked for me. First I checked the power, then I checked the cap. Problem solved.

Buttons and menus. As I already mentioned, the Function button's operation is made more useful because it's easier to set: just press and hold for three seconds and the menu of options comes up. Other buttons bring up menus that now stay up long enough for you to digest and select an option. You wouldn't think changing from 1.5 seconds to 2 seconds onscreen would make a difference, but it does. Unfortunately there's no fixing the mechanical Command Dial, so pressing the Menu button in the center will often result in selecting one of the other four surrounding buttons until you learn to press the Menu button with finesse. The shutter button now more quickly awakens the camera from sleep, another plus.

I also confirmed that the Hybrid OVF now properly displays a 16:9 frame rather than the 3:2 frame when that mode is selected. Hard to believe they missed that one the first time around, but it is an ambitious design, to be sure.

Optical performance. We ran the Fujifilm X100 through our SLRgear.com test suite and posted the results below. As you can see from the blur plot (click the large graphic below to open our interactive flash viewer), corners are soft at f/2, but quickly sharpen up at f/2.8 and smaller.

C. A.
Vignetting
Distortion
Blur Index

Note that these results are not calibrated for accurate comparison to other cameras or lenses, and are only of value as a comparison from one aperture to another on the Fujifilm X100. Also note that these results were obtained from uncorrected RAW files, so the chromatic aberration and vignetting reduction the Fuji X100 applies to JPEGs is not reflected here.

Also, be sure to visit our Optics, Exposure, and Performance pages for our more in-depth test results with the Fujifilm X100.

Lens flare. Cropped from the upper left corner of an image, this is the best example of the flare we found at f/2 in our night shots with the X100. Other lights in this scene have only one ghost image, but this example is remarkable for its repeating pattern. Click image to enlarge.

Flare for the Dramatic. We'd heard that the lens flare on the Fujifilm X100 might be a problem, so I made an effort to find it when I went out shooting night videos for this review. You can see it in the twilight video (above) as the cars pass in front of the camera. But it was when I shot a street scene broadside that it took on its strongest expression. Indeed, I think it's worse than we've seen. My bet is that the rear lens elements are so close to the sensor that light is reflecting back and forth between the two, creating this multi-stage reflection, seen in the crop at right, made from the upper left corner. We don't see this in cameras with greater flange-back distance, not like this. Whatever the cause, though the Fujifilm X100 is widely considered a great "street camera" you might want to forget night scenes.

Taking another look in the Hybrid Viewfinder before putting the Fujifilm X100 back in its cigar-like box, I'm struck by its beauty. The previous firmware we had since the camera arrived didn't show the histogram in the OVF mode, but after the update it did, and that completed the picture. With all the options switched on, the Fujifilm X100 offers a built-in level and all the major information you could want on an LCD display right there in the optical viewfinder, something no SLR has done with this kind of effectiveness. That's where the true breakthrough can be found on the X100. Never mind that it doesn't work perfectly at the moment; it will work for the person who takes the time to bond with the X100.

Documentary. The Fujifilm X100 reminds me of a documentary camera, one you take everywhere to record anything and everything that strikes your fancy.

Ultimately what the X100 reminds me of is what its design tries to emulate: an old camera. Not the way it looks, but the way it operates, and the positive effect it has on me. I flash back to the first cameras I owned as a teen. I used to stare into the lens and trip the shutter to see what happened. Then I'd open the camera's back and watch what happened from that side, changing apertures and shutter speeds to see how it all worked. That's just about as fun with the Fujifilm X100. Though you can't open the back, a lot of interesting things happen when you look into the lens. First, the gray leaf shutter is closed with the camera off. Turn it on, and the shutter moves out of the way, and the iris starts to open and shut partially in response to the light levels. It looks alive. Switch from the Hybrid OVF to the EVF and a little door rises inside front OVF glass. Before the firmware update, switching back to Hybrid OVF actually closed the lens shutter, but it didn't do that after; perhaps I had something else set that caused this behavior.

Narrow DOF. Here's the one human snapshot I'll post, and even this one has a sharp torso and slightly out-of-focus eyes. Nice bokeh, though.

I think one reason people desire the return of the handsome, boxy rangefinder is the implied return to simplicity. The Fujifilm X100 tries, but really doesn't succeed in creating a simple camera that just anyone could use. You'll still need a basic understanding of digital camera technology, and then you'll need to know why the three big dials have all those numbers on them, so you can reset them back to A and 0 when you accidentally move them. And then you need a more intimate understanding of the Hybrid Viewfinder and its various modes. It's not a retro camera in that sense. But those old rangefinders weren't that simple either. You had to learn how the rangefinder focusing system worked, and on some you had to learn how the external meter worked so you could make your manual exposure settings. The Fujifilm X100 is arguably for the tinkerer who likes playing with cool gadgets, not, I repeat NOT for the Luddite looking for a return to the old days.

I'm also not sure it's the right camera for the SLR owner who wants it as a hobby camera. Why? Well, I think it's a camera that you commit to. It has enough quirks that if you spend a lot of time with other cameras, you'll stumble every time you return to the X100. Its main benefits can be had by the photographer who takes the time to meld with the Fujifilm X100. Its 35mm-equivalent lens limits what you can shoot, as I've mentioned; the advantage is you always know what to expect. You'll start to see with a 35mm angle of view. You'll know when you need to move forward or backward without raising the camera to your eye. You'll be able to sense what aperture you've set without looking at the ring or the LCD. The remaining shortcomings we've found in the X100 will become endearing characteristics. That's the kind of camera you'll find in the Fujifilm X100. Like any other complicated relationship, if you commit, it could be worth the effort. Or not. That is for you to decide in advance, or find out the hard way.


Fuji X100 Image Quality Comparison

Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce a reasonable ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do at ISO 1,600. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. I also choose 1,600 because I like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Fuji X100 versus Canon T3 at ISO 1,600

Fuji X100 at ISO 1,600
Canon T3 at ISO 1,600
Up against the Canon T3, also a 12-megapixel camera, the Fujifilm X100 does pretty well. The background is smoother, the mosaic pattern is fairly true, and the red leaf pattern looks much better than it does from the T3. The X100's ISO 1,600 shot maintains a more "film-like" consistency, with fewer digital artifacts.

Fuji X100 versus Nikon D5100 at ISO 1,600

Fuji X100 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D5100 at ISO 1,600
Up against the 16-megapixel Nikon D5100, the Fujifilm X100 still looks pretty good, with less chroma noise in the shadows and a similarly film-like rendering of detail, a characteristic we've noted primarily in Nikon SLRs in the past.

Fuji X100 versus Olympus E-PL2 at ISO 1,600

Fuji X100 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-PL2 at ISO 1,600
The 12-megapixel Olympus E-PL2 does well for quite a bit less money, but you can still see more image noise in the shadows, and aspects of the mosaic image are just deleted by noise suppression. The red leaf swatch is also quite a bit blurrier than the Fuji X100's image.

Fuji X100 versus Panasonic GF2 at ISO 1,600

Fuji X100 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GF2 at ISO 1,600
The Fujifilm X100 does very well against Panasonic's GF2, which arguably looks attractive to the same market segment. At ISO 1,600, the green cast from the GF2 is disturbing, and noise suppression is hard at work in the shadows, the mosaic, and the red leaf swatch. The X100 looks very good by comparison.

Fuji X100 versus Sony NEX-C3 (prototype) at ISO 1,600

Fuji X100 at ISO 1,600
Sony NEX-C3 at ISO 1,600
Pitting the X100 against the 16-megapixel Sony NEX-C3 seems almost unfair, until you see how well the X100 does: It handles the background, the bottle, the mosaic, and the red swatch noticeably better than the NEX-C3, primarily because Sony's noise suppression is so over-zealous.


Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.

Fuji X100 versus Canon T3 at ISO 3,200

Fuji X100 at ISO 3,200
Canon T3 at ISO 3,200
At 3,200, I'm afraid it only gets worse for the T3, which struggles more with the shadows and the red leaf swatch than it does with the mosaic image, while the X100 produces a slightly softer version of the image, but still with a very faithful appearance.

Fuji X100 versus Nikon D5100 at ISO 3,200

Fuji X100 at ISO 3,200
Nikon D5100 at ISO 3,200
Renderings from the X100 and D5100 are very close at this point, while the Nikon D5100 goes for a higher-contrast rendering of the red leaf swatch (which is closer to the truth). Either interpretation is good, though.

Fuji X100 versus Olympus E-PL2 at ISO 3,200

Fuji X100 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-PL2 at ISO 3,200
The X100 pulls ahead of the Olympus E-PL2 at ISO 3,200, no question, with smoother shadows, better detail, and better color.

Fuji X100 versus Panasonic GF2 at ISO 3,200

Fuji X100 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GF2 at ISO 3,200
The X100 again renders a clearly better image than its Panasonic GF2 rival on all counts.

Fuji X100 versus Sony NEX-C3 (prototype) at ISO 3,200

Fuji X100 at ISO 3,200
Sony NEX-C3 at ISO 3,200
In another close race, the Fujifilm X100 looks quite good compared to the Sony NEX-C3, though the C3's noise suppression is a little more determined, as is its sharpening algorithm. It's a close call, though.


Detail: Fuji X100 versus Canon T3, Nikon D5100, Olympus E-PL2, Panasonic GF2, and Sony NEX-C3 (prototype)

Fuji
X100
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Canon
T3
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Nikon
D5100
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Olympus
E-PL2
ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Panasonic
GF2
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Sony
NEX-C3
ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Detail comparison. High-contrast details are often sharper as ISO rises, so they're worth a look as well. Looking at these crops at ISO 100, 3,200, and 6,400 tells an interesting story, as does the Print Quality section below: the X100 is very consistent. The GF2, for example, shows more lines inside the letters (likely due to the different aspect ratio), but its ISO 6,400 setting is quite blotchy and uneven. The Nikon D5100 and Sony NEX-C3 both win the contest, thanks partly to their higher resolution, but the X100 does quite well against other 12-megapixel sensors.

 

Fujifilm X100 Print Quality

These days, how an image looks onscreen doesn't tell you as much as printing it out, so we print our test images to see how large they can handle.

ISO 100/200 images look pretty darn good printed at 24 x 36 inches. Note that you can get away with 30 x 40 inches for wall display from ISO 100 to 400.

ISO 400/800 shots look great printed at 20 x 30 inches, no problems, with very little noticeable noise or image degradation.

ISO 1,600 shots look great at 16 x 20 inches, except for a small amount of noise apparent in some shadowy areas of our test target.

ISO 3,200 shots look a little rough at 13 x 19, and detail begins to soften more in low contrast areas, particularly reds. They look better, though, printed at 11 x 14.

ISO 6,400 images show most elements looking good at 8 x 10 inches, not bad for this ISO.

ISO 12,800 shots are a bit noisy at 5 x 7, but make for a good 4 x 6.

Overall, it's a very impressive performance from the Fujifilm X100! Image quality holds together remarkably well across a wide range of ISO settings. Even ISO 12,800 shots make a good 4 x 6 inch print.

 

Fujifilm X100 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Attractive design
  • Unique Hybrid Viewfinder floats a color LCD image over an optical view
  • Simple analog controls for major exposure options
  • Superb image quality
  • Extremely quiet shutter
  • JPEG engine does a very good job capturing most of the detail offered by the sensor
  • Excellent high ISO performance
  • Very good lens, well corrected for distortion
  • Easily programmable Function button
  • Shutter button threaded for manual cable release
  • Depth of field scale (see con at right)
  • Level indicator for straight horizon lines
  • Onscreen histogram in hybrid viewfinder as well as on LCD
  • Good dynamic range, especially in RAW files
  • Accurate color
  • D-Range works well at preserving highlights
  • Separate highlight and shadow contrast ("tone") settings
  • 5 levels of noise reduction for JPEGs
  • Multiple film simulations
  • Motion Panorama mode for easy panoramic shots
  • Camera reduces vignetting and chromatic aberration in JPEGs
  • Good burst mode speed, though see Con regarding buffer size
  • HDMI output
  • Hot shoe
  • Excellent printed performance
  • Slow startup time
  • EV dial is loose, easily changes in a camera bag or while suspended from a strap
  • Rear Command Control is difficult to use
  • AF switch is difficult to set
  • AF struggles in low light
  • Memory card slot and battery cannot be replaced while the camera is mounted on a tripod
  • LCD overlay is sometimes too dim to see in bright light
  • Aperture and Shutter speeds only adjustable in full stops via physical dials (1/3 stops are available via the Command Control)
  • Manual focus is too difficult to use
  • Limited movie mode (720p24, AE only)
  • Fixed-focal-length lens doesn't give you much flexibility
  • Slightly soft corners wide-open
  • Lens flare is particularly bad at night at wider apertures
  • No RAW support at ISO 100 or 12,800
  • Not much latitude in saturation adjustment
  • Auto WB struggles indoors
  • Multi metering tends to overexpose slightly
  • Depth of field scale is often hard to see in bright light
  • Shallow continuous mode buffers for the price
  • Sluggish buffer clearing (even with UHS card)
  • Battery life could be better
  • Documentation not very detailed

 

After all I'd heard, I expected to write a short list of complaints about the Fujifilm X100 and move on, but as soon as I started using it, I discovered what the buzz was all about. The Fujifilm X100 is not made for everyone who ever liked the look of an old camera. Neither is it made for every hobbyist who likes to tinker. A good selection of the photography-loving populace will hate it. Anyone shooting at night would do well to avoid it, as would most people shooting on a tripod in a studio. But there is a set of photographers, journalists, bloggers, and storytellers who will find the Fujifilm X100 an ideal companion.

Once you get over its nostalgic appearance--and you will have to get over it because it's not quite as good on close inspection as it seems in pictures--it's about what the Fujifilm X100 can capture that matters. Image quality, even at very high ISO, is remarkably good. Optical quality, too, really does shine.

Users will need to spend time with the Fujifilm X100. They will need to take a lot of pictures, use it often, maybe even take it with them everywhere to truly get familiar with its quirks--and its rich potential. They will also have to learn to zoom with their feet, and to be quick with the Macro button, because many of their subjects will enter into that range without their noticing. They will also have to accept that they cannot always zoom with their feet, and that they can't capture everything they see, as they might with a zoom lens.

I fear many will abandon the Fujifilm X100 in favor of cameras with more convenient optics and an easier interface, but I heartily recommend it to the photography student (one not on a budget) who wants to learn the craft of seeing in photographs.

As for what we look at here at Imaging-Resource.com, the Fujifilm X100 made us angry in the lab with its quirky interface, but its optical and image quality results were excellent, all except for the pronounced lens flare issue, and in use it was really quite fun. Operational difficulty and the unusual lens flare prevent us from giving the Fujifilm X100 our highest recommendation, but for the right person in the right circumstances, as outlined in the review, we think the Fujifilm X100 is an excellent choice, and a very fine camera.

 

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