Some quick additions to the x-100 files....

I was not as clear as I should have been about the optical finder on the camera.  In the past I've been a big proponent of EVF's but I glossed over how good I think the optical finder on this camera is so let's revisit it just for a moment.  You have a choice of viewing your taking image three different ways.  The first is like a tourist:  looking at the live view on the LCD on the back.  Not ergonomic unless you are on a tripod and using a loupe.  The second is live view in the eye level electronic viewfinder.  This is kinda cool because you can see a simulation of how the camera will handle the exposure you've set as well as the
color balance and any filter settings you might have engaged.  Pretty cool feedback if you are in the learning mode.  But supposed you are in the purist mode.  Here's where the camera shines, in my estimation.   Set the camera so that you are using the optical eye level viewfinder.  Turn of the record/review on the main, rear screen.

When you bring the camera to your eye and hit the shutter button to focus you'll see a white rectangle that serves as your frame for accurate composition.  Notice that the frame moves up and down and left and right as you focus near or far.  The camera is moving the frame to compensate for parallax.  Over the the left of the finder you'll see a scale that lets you know if you've dialed in exposure compensation.  You can also move the focusing point.

Now what you have is a camera that's removed many layers of distraction.  If you practice with it for a week you'll find the technical interface disappearing and being replaced by a more intuitive sensibility.

This is the charming part of the camera that "old-timers" keep referencing.  Jan says the camera styling is like putting an old phone dial on an iPhone but I disagree.  The design of the body is echoing the time honored ergonomics of the rangefinder genus.  Form is following function.

This is what makes the x-100 unique.  If don't value this feature then the camera is probably not a strong choice for you.  But as person who's extensively used rangefinder cameras I have experienced first hand how freeing it is artistically to have your camera become, for all intents and purposes, more transparent.

Note:  After I posted this my friend (and very able photographer), Jan Klier sent me a note pleasantly disagreeing with a few things I said previously about the camera.  I figured it would add to the discussion to append Jan's reply so I asked him if I could.  He obliged.  Here's his point of view:

Hey Kirk,

Just read your follow-up blog post.

I totally get your point about the camera ergonomics being such that the camera disappears. In fact that is why I just recently bought a rangefinder for my street shooting, because I didn’t want to carry my Canon 1N around. It’s not conducive to the type of photography you want to do on the street or when you’re just out and about and want a ready-to-shoot, not overly complex camera that doesn’t grab everyone’s attention. It allows you to interact with your environment and bring the camera in when desired. The one I bought recently is a Cannonet QL17. Can’t get the mercury batteries anymore, so no AE no AF. Just purely mechanical, simple 35mm film. Requires solid technique, but not much thinking. Just what you want.

But I’m also a stickler when it comes to product design. I hate products that have crappy, thoughtless, or confused design. My iPhone analogy actually had a specific point – the other day I was listening to NPR on a story about Steve Jobs, and the fact that the four most influential innovations of the computing age are all attributed to him. He’s obsessed with product design, and rightfully so. In fact the story recalled how they went back and forth on the material choice for the box the iPhone ships in and measured how long it takes for the iPhone to sink into the box when placed, to approx 4s. It’s all about the experience. There are many features that are missing on the iPhone, but those are conscious choices and saying ‘no’ as often as saying ‘yes’ in order to have a consistent design where every minute detail is thought about and has proper intent.

That’s the aspect that I find so jarring about the X-100. There’s no clear intent, it’s a compromise that’s pleasing too many. It’s like a Samsung phone instead of an iPhone. Here’s I think how that camera could have been designed (single choice, not multiple choice):

-          Focusing on retro – people that like the styling of the old range finders, but just don’t want to bother with film: Build a camera that looks and works just like a film camera, with the one exception being the medium. Use the classic elements and design of alloy chasis, etc. Even go as far as limited ISO choices to typical film (100, 400, maybe 1600). And then just insert an SD card where the film used to be. No LCD. You can see what you got when you download the card.
-          Focusing on rangefinder ergonomics – people that like a simple camera that disappears in the background but performs superbly. Build a range finder with great LCD, digital control, ideally may be a touch screen or other advanced control. Build it solid, but use modern product design standards, such as the iPhone. No dials and levers. Just buttons (unless touch screen). Make it best possible user interface that does what range finders do – intuitive, focused on the essentials. Don’t put stupid gimmicks like video in it.

PS: The review of the X-100 on Luminous Landscape made a similar observation about the design of the backplate: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/fujifilm_x100_test_report.shtml. He called it the ‘A-Team’ for the top controls, and the ‘B-Team’ for the backplate.



Hugh said...

Transparency - about the most important thing I look for in a camera.

Got to that point years ago after using just a pair of Canon F1N bodies, 35mm/2.0 and 135/2.0 lenses, and one BW film only for about 10 years.

Not very easy to attain now with a digital camera.

Hard to explain "Zen" to anyone who didn't grow up with manual film cameras.

This might just be the 35mm lens I'm looking for. I could then manage with just the 135/2.0 glued to my 5D.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting Jan's comments. He described exactly what I've wanted in a digital camera for years. The only exception, maybe a small screen in the back for viewing files and ensuring the card is working. With film, you'd felt by the advance or that horrible strip sensation of the roll went wrong. It would suck to spend a day taking photos and discover that the card was corrupted! Still, it gives me hope to know that other photographers exist who want to think for themselves.
Anyway, I wrote down something similar as I searched for a carry-around camera. I ended up with an E-P1 which isn't perfect but which does let me adjust ISO, f-stop and use manual-only lenses.
Sadly though, I went into a local professional camera shop last week. I was surprised to see some Olympus micro 4/3 cameras and lenses behind the counter (all the window displays were Nikon and Canon). I got to talking the guy and explained how much I was enjoying the camera and he said something to the effect that yeah but most customers just want auto-everything and its hard to carry too much outside of Nikon and Canon.

ed g. said...

"No dials and levers. Just buttons (unless touch screen)." -- This, to me, sounds like ergonomics that stick the camera permanently in the foreground. Dials and levers--analog controls--become intuitive and invisible; buttons always demand attention. Note that it's the X100's dials that get the "A team" label from Luminous Landscape, not the buttons.

For the QL17, the Wein Cell PX625 zinc-air battery is a workable replacement for the mercury 625 battery. So you can have metering back if you want.

cerement said...

One industrial designer has anticipated some of Jan's comments (and has been completely overwhelmed in the process) when he showed off some concept renderings for a Holga D - a digital Holga with a full frame sensor, plain black body, no preview, and a plain piece of acrylic for a "viewfinder" ...

mbka said...

I'm between Jan and ed g. : I did get a haptic and sensual dissonance from the retro-cum-digital combination. But I did enjoy the X-100 top plate.

I second Kirk's point that the camera should not distract as much as the modern ones all do (endless time spent looking for banal adjustments in menus). One great idea in that respect was implemented on one of the recent Saab automobiles. Apparently you could switch off all indoors lights at night save the essential ones. So you'd be left with a prominently illuminated speedometer and one or two other dials but nothing else except when it becomes actionable (warning lights etc).

But really, proper thinking about use-friendly design (not just use_r_ friendly but useage friendly), is really really rare.

Jan Klier said...

@cerement - thanks for posting the link to the Holga D. Fascinating. I think the response he got speaks for itself.

@ed - fair point on the dials. I was more thinking about the specific dials that were meant to emulate classic designs. A better way of phrasing would have been to not constrain user interface elements by historic design patterns, but use whatever achieves the most effective and efficient modern user interface. The iPhone still impresses with a single button, which in its case becomes invisible in its singularity. It's not the shape that matters, but the thought that went into shaping it. As to the battery, thanks for the pointer to the zinc-air batteries, I've read about them as a possible solution. Though I'm quite happy to operate w/o AE on this camera.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk,

Love your blog but find black and grey backgrounds make it very hard to read. There is some text in blue beneath this entry and I cannot make it out.

Would it be possible to go to a more legible black text on light background?

Jeff G. Rottman said...

Kirk, I agree with Anonymous above. Your backgrounds make my eyes see horizontal lines after awhile. Very hard to read, and that blue text is impossible to read without highlighting it. Please go back to a white or very light gray background.

Bold Photography said...

For the blue text, I had to highlight it to be able to read it...

Jan is very articulate - a pleasure to read.

I'll have to live through these reviews rather vicariously...

Anonymous said...

"No dials and levers."

Aw, dials and levers are what I miss the most about old film cameras. That and a design that focused on manual focusing. I once hoped that everyone moving to digital would lead to old Leicas being abandoned or sold for a song, thinking that at last I would be able to justify owning one as a pure hobbyist. But there's still a core group of folks that refuse to move on. They're killing me with their loyalty!

ed g. said...

@Jan - I think the reason the iPhone interface works is that you're meant to look at the phone while manipulating it. That style is OK for a camera where you work through the back screen only.

But when looking through a viewfinder, I believe analog controls work much better. I put a few rolls through an old Minolta 7000 recently, which has a button-based interface. Horrid, could not tell what I was doing half the time. The simple analog controls of the Canonet are a joy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk,
Thanks for the lighter grey--so much easier to read!

kirk tuck said...

M, just listening to feedback. Glad you like it.

Anonymous said...

Content is always "king." However, I also preferred the old look of this site. Black text on a white background is sooooo much easier to read. Of course, I'll read regardless because I like what is written.

Anonymous said...

it exists Jan, its called a Leica M9 and it's over $6,000.