Kirk Tuck Spends Some Quality Time With The Fuji X100.

I've just had my hands on the X-100 for a few days so this is not intended to be an exhaustive review.  Nothing in depth.  Just a general appraisal that may be followed by a more finicky look.....

I first saw the X-100 in person at lunch on Weds.  Will and I were having Vietnamese BBQ sandwiches at a food trailer called, Lulu B's, on South Lamar.  We sat at a little metal table under the canopy of a giant oak tree and drank Mexican Cokes.  We do things like that here in Austin.  I'd dragged along my latest crush, a massive Canon 1dmk2N and Will brought his new squeeze, the supple, subtle Fuji X-100.

First impressions?  Styled like my old Leica M3,  silent shutter,  very nice EVF and lighter than it looks.  Now I'm a sucker for heft but I have to admit that, as I get older and spend more quality time in the Texas heat (will it hit 100F today?  Will it ever rain again?) I'm starting to believe that we can offset whatever inertial dampening benefit we get from heavy metal cameras with well done, in body image stabilization.  And that's not on the check list for the X-100 (which I will just refer to as "the Fuji" for the rest of this Sunday afternoon keyboard ramble) but with a wide angle lens in the mix it's not as crucial as it might be for a slow zoom.

 In many ways this camera is just what a legion of art-inclined photographers have been begging for since the beginning of the digital era:  the exact equivalent of a Leica rangefinder with a brilliant 35mm focal length lens (in "film talk" equivalents) and hands-on controls for the primary, important stuff.  Throw in small, light and relatively affordable and I'm sold.

Let's get the big stuff out of the way first.  The images out of the camera are very good.  Close to M9 and Summilux good.  And that's about as good as it currently gets for light and portable cameras.  I haven't done exhaustive tests but up to 1200 ISO and down to 200 ISO this camera just flat out rocks.

External dials:  Back when Rollei introduced the first modern 120mm medium format film camera they did something simple and novel and fun.  They gave us an aperture ring around the lens that also had an "A" setting on it.  They gave us a shutter speed dial that had all the usual shutter speeds (and electronically controlled in 1/3rd stops, no less) and the shutter control also had an "A" setting on it.  If you wanted to switch to "shutter priority" you chose a shutter speed and then set your aperture ring to "A" letting the camera select the aperture.  If you wanted aperture priority you set the shutter speed ring to "A" and you chose the aperture, allowing the camera to select whatever shutter speed it deemed necessary.  And.....wait for it......if you wanted programmed exposure  (in those few cases when you wanted to hand the camera to a small child or your grandmother so they could get a shot) you would set both controls to "A" and you'd be sporting a mighty heavy and sophisticated "point and shoot" camera.

That's how the dials work on the Fuji.  And that means you don't have an annoying dial with M/S/A/P/little duck/Clouds/Fireworks, etc. taking up valuable camera top real estate.  Amazingly simple and you'll master the rythme of that in minutes.

From the other end of the spectrum (well, maybe in the middle) Canon got lots of kudos when they introduced the G10 for having a separate, external, dedicated knob for exposure compensation.  Also present and most appreciated on the x-100.  Set up the camera menu for the settings you want and you're ready to head out and do some fun, candid, street photography while channeling the HCB look.  And you could do a lot worse than that.  While the menus are different than my previous S5's or anything from Canon and Nikon the controls themselves are really straightforward so if you're just shooting away in raw and doing all the image tweaks in PS you'll be ready to go after a fairly quick browsing of the manual.  The one thing you'll need to study is how to toggle back and forth between the eye level EVF and the screen on the back of the camera.

Ergonomic answers.  Took me ten minutes to make the grip and the hold all mine.  The camera feels very good in hand but my one complaint is the quick review.  I'm used to shooting at eye level and then looking at the screen on the back to judge the shots.  When you use the EVF on the Fuji and you have it set for instant image review the electronic finder stops showing you what you're pointing the camera at and shows you your last shot.  You'll want to turn off the review for serious, continuous shooting.

Another point I need to make about the set up is about the histogram.  You should be able to set the camera so that every time you review the shot the screen comes up with your preferred information on it.  In my case that would include a histogram.  Unless I'm dumber than dirt and haven't  found the right setting yet, you have to toggle thru the information choices to the fourth item before you get a histogram and it's not sticky.  You'll need to do this each time you need a histogram.

Worst feature of the camera?  The video tease.  Yes, there is HD video (of the 720 variety) but no, you'll never want to use it.  Unless aliens land in front of you and bribe Barack O'Bama at raygun point to have  tea with Sarah Palin......   Here's why:  It's totally automatic.  No audio level controls, totally auto exposure and totally auto ISO.  Even totally auto autofocus.  Just not professionally usable.  But then you really won't be lining up to buy this camera if your number one priority is video.  For that you'll want a Canon 60D or a Panasonic GH-2.

Now let's talk about the big ass elephant in the room, the price.  Would we all like this camera to be $495?  You bet.  Is $1200 out of whack?  Nope.  The camera has a lens that is on par with stratospheric lense like the Leica Summi series lenses in the equiv. focal ranges.  It has a much bigger sensor than any of the cult series pocket cameras like the G-12, S-95, Olympus ZX-1, etc.  That means its image quality is going to be on par with good DSLR's and it's noise performance as well.  But the added benefit is the design.  Isn't that getting to be more and more the case with better products?  We're finally acknowledging the important role of good design as a metric in hand tools and appliances.  And this camera has handling design in spades.

The settings you might be looking for to add nuance to your photos might be hidden in some menu pages but the actual "hands on" shooting controls are right where they should be and the handling is good.  The EVF is not quite up to the electronic viewfinder for the Olympus Pen cameras but then nothing else on the market is either.  There's a little jitter as you pan with the EVF in use but it's nice to see a reasonably accurate approximation of what you'll end up with.  If the jitter annoys you it's always easy to turn off the electronics and use the finder as a direct optical finder.  You'll lose the on screen menu items and focus points, etc. but you'll get a clear, uncluttered and direct view of your subject.

Is this camera a great all around camera?  Can you recommend it to your mom?  Not likely.  It's actually aimed at advanced hobbyist, professionals and artists who depend on being able to gracefully immerse themselves in a scene, shoot inconspicuously and come away with great medium wide angle shots.  If you shoot sports don't even consider it.  If you are into conventional portraits, take a pass.

But if you dragged a Leica M2 and a 35mm Summicron with you as you back-packed thru Europe in the 1970's and you've been looking for the same experience ever since electrical engineers killed true photography (just kidding???) then this is certain to be near the top of your list.

Faster and much better in the hand than its $2,000 Leica rival, the X-1 and light years ahead of the Canon G's and their friends, it's actually in a class by itself.  Know what you are buying and why and you'll be almost guaranteed to like it.  Buy it because you are bored with your DSLR and your huge collection of zoom lenses and I can almost guarantee you'll go one of two ways.....either you'll grow to hate its formalist restrictions and turn it back into your dealer or.....you'll learn the incredible value of a minimalist approach to core photography and you'll never turn back.

It's the camera most of us wanted.

How about me?  Will I buy one after testing Will's for these past few days, and in light of all the nice things I've said about the camera above?  Sadly, it's probably a big no.  And not because of any faults of the camera.  I don't like shooting wide.  I don't really need the context of all the stuff in the background for the work I like to do.  I love the 50mm focal length and I'll wait (probably forever) for a camera maker like Fuji to come out with a version that has a 45 or 50mm lens welded onto the front.

When I pack for work I take long lenses, sometimes even two versions of my favorite focal length, the 85mm.  I always pack and almost always use my Zeiss 50mm but my Zeiss 35mm keeps the stuff in my camera bag company more often than not.  If I want to go wide I want a 21.  If I want longer I grab the 50.  I've spent decades trying to learn to love the 35mm focal length and I'm giving up.  But that's just me.

My final advice?  If you are already a Leica user you'll love this camera.  If you've never used rangefinder style cameras you NEED to go to the camera store and handle the camera.  That's the quickest way to know whether it's for you.  Really.



Jan Klier said...

By the sounds of it a very interesting camera. But personally, I find it somewhat confused and unattractive.

If you really value the old range-finder cameras (I do), then why not stick with them? Get an old Leica M2 or a Canon if you're more budget minded. Shoot film.

If on the other side, you want to take advantage of new workflows and features, need something digital, then there's lots to choose from that fits the personal style as well.

This is almost like taking an iPhone and putting a rotary dial cover on it for the heck of it.

kirk tuck said...

Hmmm. I'll disagree with that. I think you can want the handling of a rangefinder style camera and the cost savings and convenience of a digital camera at the same time. The equivalent handling is a Leica or a Contax G2 but now there's only Leica as another choice in this segment. You could get an M9 and a 35 of some sort but you'd have spent enough to get six or seven of these cameras. The closest relative from the film days, now that I think about it, was the Konica Hexar.

You are right about one thing without a doubt, it's all up to personal style and personal choice. And I would add, what your hands are used to.

As to the iPhone analogy I call foul. So is a D3x really just an F4 stripped down with racing strips?

obakesan said...


if you need inertia, then screw something heavy onto the base .. you know there's already a tripod mount for that. Otherwise I happen to like stuff like my olde Pentax MX which was small when I wanted that or I could screw on a motor winder and get that 'heft' when needed.

my own testing however found that I could take better hand held shots with my first IXUS 200 in low light than I ever could with an EOS 1D (which really did have heft)

Damen said...

Ah, Kirk - one day after a read your "Eyeore street shoot" article and you have to do THIS to me - an article on one of the (my and everyone else's it seems) most lusted after cameras in recent memory - and one for which I've read probably about 30 reviews already due to excitement !!
2 things to advise; unfortunately in-body (or lens for that matter) stabilization is NOT on the check list for the Fuji, and a histogram option is available on a permanent basis - though this is by (optionally) placing it into the viewfinder DURING the photo taking process rather than an onscreen overlay upon reviewing the already taken photo (it is also not an RGB Histogram - Luminance only I'm afraid, but this is better than what the Leica M2 offers in this respect ... ahem !).
One thing that I don't think you've tested yet (may not interest you even), is that the Fuji is extraordinary up to 6,400 iso/asa. Technically the sensor only goes up to 1,000 ASA analogue amplification, before simply underexposing the photo and telling the (RAW) developer to adjust exposure accordingly, but one can't argue with the amazing results ... which are as good as a Nikon D7000. For nighttime walk-around photography this camera seems pretty much un-paralled. I just wish people would make a camera with a fixed-lens like this in 2 versions - for me, a 90mm lens would be ideal (though I'd prefer a 50 to 35 too).

Damen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Damen said...

PS - Jan, I think you may be missing the point of this camera which is that it is incredibly simplistic to say that if you want a "rangefinder feel" you should shoot film ... because there are certainly valid reasons for wanting to shoot digital (which I won't list interminably here).
You then say that if you want to shoot digital there are "lots to choose from that fits the personal style as well", which is, quite frankly, incorrect - if one is looking for a digital rangefinder-style experience (Leica M9, Epson 1dx or whatever that unobtanium model is called, MAYBE some of the M4/3rds cameras if you are willing to accept a non-optical viewfinder). Indeed the very POINT of the Fuji (and why there is such interest in it) is that it is a (relatively) affordable, DIGITAL camera in the "style" or philosophy of an old rangefinder. That is entirely its raison d'être and it stands relatively unopposed (there are certainly NOT "lots to choose from") in the market place!

kirk tuck said...

Damen, Good catch on the IS. Thanks. Agree with all the above. Especially happy to hear that I'm not the only one who wants a 50mm equv.

Jan Klier said...

I may have oversimplified the statement of lots to choose from for your personal style. I think there are two things to this camera - the range finder design + technical specs, and the industrial retro design w/ a huge LCD on the back. If in fact the tech specs are what appeal to you, then by all means this may be a great camera.

The thing that puts me off is the goofy cross-over of retro and digital. It may be quite possible to create a retro-styled digital version of a range finder, but then it should have skipped the LCD and stuck to the traditional controls. Yes, maybe you wouldn't see the image until you downloaded the card, but that would be a more considerate industrial design that gives you the convenience of digital but the handling of traditional. Or admit that this is a modern camera and style it as a range finder with 21st century aesthetics.

obakesan said...

re: a 50mm equivalent. My earliest rangefinder was a Aries Viscount with a fixed 50mm f1.7 lens. Contray to common thought it took stunning images which I lamented after buying my first SLR with a 35-70 zoom. I realised it was the shallow DoF that I got with 50mm view *and* f1.7

Somehow the 24mm f2.8 on the 4/3 format look just as 'samey' as anything from my early zooms.

I feel that's why I love the "look" you get from a 50's press camera with a 150mm lens @ f5.6

calvininjax said...

"I love the 50mm focal length and I'll wait (probably forever) for a camera maker like Fuji to come out with a version that has a 45 or 50mm lens welded onto the front."

I believe it already exists, Kirk, in the shape of the Ricoh GXR A12 50mm.

François said...

Love that picture of the X100 : deadly focus point and grain, creamy blue, warm brown and blurry red stains in the background.
Fuji should have called you for the ads !

What was it shot with ?

Dave Jenkins said...

+1 on the 35mm focal length. My Canon 35 f2 rode around in my camera bag for about 17 years until I sold it last year. I read about the virtues of the 35mm in the hands of other photographers for many, many years, but it just didn't work that way for me. Always too long or too short. I still have a 35mm PC Nikkor, but that's a specialized tool for a specific use.

In a similar vein, I tried for 40 years (really!) to make myself into a rangefinder shooter because I believed all the things written about how great the rangefinder approach to photography is. (Your article some years ago about shooting Leicas was one of the best.) I still believe all the things I read, but I also believe, with great reluctance, that there is such a thing as a rangefinder temperament, and I finally faced the reality that I am not and never will be a rangefinder shooter.

Consequently, I sold my last Leica, a treasured M3 with 50mm Summicron just before Christmas. It was part of a world to which I don't belong and which I leave with some sadness.

In my heart I’m a globe-trotting, Leica-toting, black & white documenterian of the human condition. Well, I have done the globe-trotting documentation, but it was with a bag of Olympus OMs, because in reality I am an SLR-shooting, zoom lens, color photographer whose style (I flatter myself) probably most resembles that of Sam Abell.

Sorry for hijacking your thread. Looks like its time to start my own blog.

Anonymous said...

The consumer point & shoot compact cameras I used on vacations back in the day always had a 35mm lens, but the length always seemed like a compromise. Never wide enough, and never quite tight enough. I'm surprised they used it on a camera targeting the SLR market. I'm tempted by this, though.

Bold Photography said...

Your thought on the 35mm is echoing mine-- I've been thinking that the 21mm is the way to go for a while.. it's just a matter now of finding an excuse to get one.

mbka said...

I'd have to echo Jan Klier and Dave Jenkins. I had the X-100 in hand in store and from the start I really tried to like it - fantastic reviews, samples, and specs just what I wanted. I even like 35 mm (I still have a Yashica T4 and loved to use it in film days). But I was taken aback by a few things on the X-100 - my eyeglasses bumping into the metal viewfinder area in the back, the bakelite like appearance-cum-LCD of the back cladding, the one-step-too-cute lens hood thingy, ... I don't know, am I too earnest for this maybe?

Basically the X-100 does what I always wanted but since electrical engineers killed true photography (joke, again?) I haven't really got my photographic mojo back and the X-100 also failed this test. Maybe I am also not a rangefinder type. The split beam focusing of the M series film Leicas impressed me mightily but I never took a worthwhile picture with one of those either, whenever I borrowed one. I don't know why the T4 worked for me. The rounded edges? My film cameras were Minolta SLRs mostly, the non AF no motor kind, and the last was a Contax S2b.

Maybe my last resort is a digital "full frame" , "professional" tank (haha, the day has come where 35 mm format is "full flavor") that weighs a ton. The kind I always wanted to avoid, right down to starting a u4/3 system with my G1. Super functional, can't exist without articulated screen anymore - but mojo still not quite there. Maybe I'm fated to FF SLR. My resistance is weakening. The x-100 also couldn't lure me enough away from the FF siren song. Maybe it will get me.

Laurence Smith said...

I'm really critical of cameras that I buy, and often act like a fickle "barter and trade" idiot by purchasing a camera and selling it a couple of weeks later. I know...a self-imposed money drain. I've had the X100 for 5 weeks now, and frankly I'm ecstatic about it. Perhaps it's because I've never had a rangefinder camera and I have nothing to compare it to. A few things that I have been amazed about: Quality at ISO5000, macro ability, film emulation choices, and the nce EVF with information that I can customize. But my biggest brain-pleaser is that I feel a lot of freedom in shooting this little jewel. I'm so used to my Pentax 645 and the always-present diabolical tripod, that I almost felt I was missing something with the X100. And actually, I was...weight. So that brings me to my original reason to try it out, which is to see how well it works so that I might have a lighter camera for my trips into the local Olympic Mountains. I'm pretty much a landscape guy, and the 35 equivalent is nice for that. So, I'm anticipating a huge drop in my pack weight. Since in approaching my middle 60s, it means a lot. But now comes the fickleness to haunt me again. Don't tell anyone, but now I'm considering taking BOTH the Pentax 645 and the Fuji X100 on my annual 10-12 day solo mountain meadow ramble in August. So, I shatter my own "weight-dream" (pun sort of intended), only to find out that this is a truly fine camera that does everything I want with simplicity and quality. I hope I don't sell it off anytime soon. Ha!

Bob said...

Great review!

Funny how one man's perfect lens is another's bag filler. I've never warmed up to the 50mm, and the 35mm is my "normal" lens. I've tried, really tried, Kirk, but no go for me re: 50mm.

However, I'm planning to reuse my 50 on a DX Nikon, resulting in a 75mm FOV, along with the X100 (when it finally arrives). Two cameras, each with fast primes (35 and 75), no lens swapping, no big-a** zooms. Kinda like an old-school PJ setup.

cosinaphile said...

great review , ive put a link on a thread at
e-p1.net where micro 4\3rds is mostly discussed , one of our members just got it and the debate rages

i for one will be getting an x 100 and hope fuji allows their concept to evolve into an interchangable lens machine like the contax g series

Photography Indonesia said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)