Published February 23rd 2013

I love (and I loathe) the Fuji X100

There's no doubt that the Fuji X100 is a fantastic camera, and I use mine all the time and love it. But man, there's a bunch of Fuji engineers who deserve a severe spanking!

The Fuji X100 with a neat Gordy leather strap
[Martin Joergensen, Nikon D5100, Nikkor 40 mm f/2.8 macro]

I bought a used Fuji X100 recently. It's not a cheap camera in the shops and it isn't cheap used either. As a matter of fact you can get a good SLR and a decent lens for less than it costs (I just did, and bought a Nikon D5100, but that's another story). Since I wanted the limited edition black model, I got to pay even more than the standard price of the über retro silver and black model. But I tell you: it's worth the price!
I know this is not news, and I'm certainly not the first to draw this conclusion, but still. Here's my take on the Fujifilm X100.

Withering flowers on my dining table
[Martin Joergensen, Fuji X100]

What's to love?

There's a lot to like in the Fuji X100. When the camera came out in 2011 it stirred a lot of commotion, and immediately made headlines. The whole concept broke with what most manufacturers were doing with compacts, semi-compacts and mirrorless cameras – some known as EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens).
The market was (and is) full of modernistic, futuristic cameras like Sony's NEX and the Nikon 1 series. Even the grandfather of all compacts, Leica, had adapted their design and made cameras that have fewer external controls and a smoother, more geometrical design. In the flurry of smooth bodies with few buttons and no dials, there was the Fuji, looking like something taken out of dad's or granddad's cabinet, designed like a 1950's camera, dials, optical viewfinder, leather cover - and with a large sensor and a stunning image quality added to the package.
Lots of people liked the camera, and I was definitely tempted, but also deferred by the high price.

Boats in the harbor near my home in very low light
[Martin Joergensen, Fuji X100]

Let the love grow!

Once I had the camera in my hands, I could clearly see why people loved it. The feeling is so old school. Metal and artificial leather, dials, an optical viewfinder and a shape that looks and feels like the cameras of yore. I know it's almost a gimmick, but the fact that the shutter button has a thread for an old fashioned cable release is just a really neat detail. Kitchy, I know, but neat.
The lens is a 35 mm equivalent. It's not interchangeable, so you get what you see. But the quality is excellent and it's bright.
And after shooting just a few pictures and working on them in Lightroom, the next thing was obvious: image quality is good. Like in really good.
Colors are good. Like in really good.
High ISO is good. Like in really good.
Noise is well controlled. It's there, but it's “nice”. Like the Nikon D3 or the D700, the high ISO images are really useful, with or without further noise reduction.

What's to loathe?

As much as I love the general design, the viewfinder and the image quality, just as much do I downright hate the menu system, the general interface, the button design and labels, manual focus and a few other things.
Let me give you and example: the camera has a silent mode. Silent means no sound, right? Yes, it does, but in Fuji lingo it also means no light, so when you turn on silent mode in the menu system, the camera doesn't flash or turn on the AF help light. You can't turn on the flash in any way before turning off silent mode! So in order to get a silent camera, you turn off each sound individually and keep your fingers from silent mode, which should have been named discrete mode - and of course should allow for manual override of individual functions like the flash at any time!
Another example of a Fuji engineer brain hemorrhage is the manual focus. There's a mechanical manual focus ring on the lens. Good grip, smooth operation. So far so good. But it takes several revolutions to go through the whole focus range from about a meter to eternity. Totally useless – especially when you combine it with inadequate focus aides in the viewfinder. I keep AF on at all times.
There's also a control wheel a la Canon on the backside of the camera. Too small and very annoying with a too small and all too recessed OK button in the center.
Add an external flash to the flash shoe, and you'd expect it to pop when you turn on flash, right? No! You have to go into the menu system and select external flash. For crissake! I mounted a flash. Just fire it, allright? And once it's set to external flash, there's no deselecting it if you in the meantime changed the drive mode to multiple shots rather than single. What!?
And the idiosyncrasies are many, many more, and considering all the really neat touches and facilities, why, oh why, didn't Fuji get some one with some camera sense to design or at least review the design?

why, oh why, didn't Fuji get some one with some camera sense to design or at least review the design?

EVF/OVF

One of the strokes of genius of the X100 is the combined old fashioned optical viewfinder (OVF) and modern electronic viewfinder (EVF). The optical one has an electronic overlay and an indication of the frame (useful due to the parallax displacement that happens).
But at the flip of a switch, the viewfinder turns purely electronic, and you see exactly what you get. You can of course also use the backside LCD as a viewfinder as on the vast majority of modern compact cameras.
I use the optical viewfinder 95% of the time and love its brightness and information overlay.

A nice evening with friends, flies and lies
My wife on the couch

Danish State Radio concert hall - a lot of wood and not so much light
[Martin Joergensen, Fuji X100]

In use

The camera is quite responsive. AF isn't blitz fast, but fast enough for my daily use. There's no shutter lag, and the camera is dead silent when it shoots, which makes it a perfect incognito camera and great to use in places where you need to be discrete.
Its appearance just emphasizes its desecration, and it's a great camera for shooting people with its very unobtrusive look.
Since it also performs well in dim light, it makes for a great party and event documentation camera, and the 35mm f/2 lens just adds to this impression, delivering great people photos with nice, crispy sharpness and shallow depth of field if you want it.
And there's of course the feeling... hard to put to words, but it is certainly a very nice camera to hold and to handle. I like the retro feeling and the heavy, sturdy build quality. There are design flaws like the large and all too bright LED showing that the camera is working, but I can forgive them.

A camera love

I've had the X100 for a month or so, and I must admit that apart from some studio sessions shooting flies and stuff for my fly-fishing web site, I have shot with nothing else.
The X100 has simply grown on me. I knew I'd like it already from reading about it, but it's really a very nice camera and I have had a much easier time getting along with it's quirks than I feared.
And it produces some really excellent images!

Update October 2013
Fuji just issued a firmware update that improves the X100 quite a bit, increasing AF speed, adding focus peaking (focus help in the electronic viewfinder) and a few other odds and ends and not least a normal manual focusing ratio, making the manual focus ring on the lens usable. A handful of nice improvements that make a very good camera even better.

Gear mentioned: