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FoCal by Reikan

Here’s one for the photographers. Recently I’ve started making use of a piece of software called FoCal. It’s an effective solution for automating the lens alignment process. It’s bloody clever and really speeds up the process. I’ve put together some thoughts in the form of a video. It’s a big longer than I intended, so apologies if I waffle on, but hopefully it’s of some interest.


The Next Canon 5D - 5DIII/5DX?


Tis the season for camera releases. The Nikon D800/E’s have been announced, the Olympus OM-D has been unveiled and the Fuji X-Pro1 is just around the corner. As for Canon, the rumour mill is in overdrive. The 5DII is a three year old camera and despite still being a great body, it’s beginning to look a little long in the tooth as technology marches on. Things got kicked up a gear in late January when photographer Stephen Oachs posted some images, and accompanying story, of an unreleased Canon camera body in the wild. Based on the lack of an integrated grip this camera was clearly not a 1-Series so the next possibility was either a 7D or 5DII successor. Regardless of whatever camera it was that Stephen saw, it seems likely, given the weight of rumour, that a Canon 5D successor is around the corner in one guise or another.

Today, Canon Rumors posted a CR3 rumour with the below specs:

  • 22 Megapixel
  • 61pt Auto Focus
  • 100% Viewfinder
  • 3.2” LCD
  • Dual CF/SD Card Slots
  • $3500 Approx
  • Announcement on 27th or 28th February

A CR3 rumour is their highest level of certainty and although I’ll not personally call it a certainty until Canon officially launches a new camera, I thought I’d take a moment to weigh in on what I hope for from a 5DII successor and how I interpret the specs that are being reported. Consider this less a rumour piece, and more a discussion of what I want in a great wedding camera.

First off, let me say this. The Canon 5DII is a much maligned camera in some quarters, mainly when compared to other models, but I’ll go so far as to say this: It is the single best camera I have ever used. This may not be something that I can state definitively, but from my point of view it works tremendously well. It produces gorgeous images, I know how to get the best from it and in terms of ergonomics I find it works really well. I also have very few serious nits about working with the camera in a professional situation. That said, I look across the fence from time to time and I see Nikon users who have better AF, considerably better ISO performance and I know that while the 5DII rocks, the technology available today makes a better camera than the 5DII perfectly possible. To that end, here’s my analysis of the rumoured specs.

- 22 Megapixel is just fine for me. More would be nice but not MUCH more and certainly not at the expense of high ISO performance. The newly released D800 produces 36mp images at or above the 50MB mark. At a wedding where I might shoot upwards of 1500 frames, that has a huge impact on storage capacity. One card that Canon holds that Nikon doesn’t is their proprietary sRAW and mRAW formats. These allow for full sensor images but the camera saves a lower res image than the full resolution available. If Canon brought 36mp to the table, I’d be happy, providing the option is there to shoot at 22mp or so using an sRaw format. At the end of the day, 22mp is a sweet spot for me. It allows for full page Folio Album spreads at high res, provides plenty of cropability when needed but isn’t excessively large in terms of file size.

- The new AF is something people are going wild for. When I first started longing for a Nikon beating camera body from Canon, my main desire was more ISO performance. That has now changed somewhat and AF is at least of equal priority in my mind. The 5DII AF gets a really bad rep which is at times undeserved. The centre point works well and is perfectly up to the task of most work. Where the system falls down is the lack of decent off-centre focus points. This makes life really tricking when shooting things like a bride walking down an aisle because it ends up being central composition or nothing. The outer points on the 5DII simply do not offer the accuracy I require.

A lot of stock seems to be placed in the number of AF points available. Personally I am less bothered by the number than I am by their accuracy, and tenacity at holding on, and the spread of points available. Digital SLR’s all suffer from over-centralised focus points. I’d be overjoyed to be offered 9 high performance AF points. One centrally and then 8 forming a box around that centre point placed halfway between the sensor centre and the frame edge. Give me that. Make them work. I’d be in heaven.

Another area that gets a lot of press is which current Canon camera the 5DIII/X will steal it’s AF unit from. Frankly, I don’t care. Just make it modern, non-crippled and tenacious. And give me those outer points!

- ISO isn’t mentioned in the above specs and it has me slightly concerned. Improved AF I hanker after, but greater ISO performance I positively crave. I use my 5DII all the way up to ISO6400 and I use it up there all the time. The UK is a dark country at times and we’ve got a lot of old buildings with small windows. While the 5DII does a good job up to 6400 beyond that the 5DII falls apart. 12,800 is a mess and I try to avoid using it if I possibly can. Now, before we go any further, go check out these images over at Rob Galbraith’s site of the Nikon D3s at ISO12,800. Image 1. Image 2. IMHO these are seriously impressive displays of the lead Nikon has developed in this area. By comparison, at the same ISO level, my 5DII is banded and ugly. To be fair, it’s a much older camera, but nonetheless the difference is stark.

When the 5DII was released it was Canon’s best camera as far as ISO performance goes. Canon sells a lot of cameras to the wedding photography market and given that, I call for it to be the top performing camera in this area again. I fear that Canon will hold back on the 5DIII’s ISO performance to differentiate it from the 1DX but I consider this a real shame. High ISO performance is a crucial factor in a good wedding body and I’ll be gutted if I see a camera launched that’s intentionally crippled.

- Dual CF/SD slots are partly great, partly crap. Dual slots? Huzzah! Multiple formats? Boo. I don’t get why camera manufacturers insist on this approach. Multiple formats simply complicates things. It requires keeping track of two full vs empty card ‘pipelines’, forces me to go and buy a bunch more cards and also introduces a much smaller, much more fiddly card into my workflow. Annoying.

- Price. This seems a little high. Canon will make a killing either way, but bringing the price down beneath 3k US would be pretty special.

So, there’s my thoughts on the camera we’re likely to see. Now it’s time to play wishing-well and speculate on some things that I’d like to see but that probably won’t happen:

  • An option to allow for permanently illuminated AF points. While shooting a pitch black dance floor in AF Servo mode, sometimes it can be hard to figure out exactly what your AF point is resting on. Frankly, when it’s that dark it’s improbable that the AF is going to lock on anyway, but it’d be great to be able to turn the red illumination on full-time to make it easier to spot the live AF point.
  • Proper Auto-ISO. An Auto ISO system that allowed for the setting of maximum/minimum shutter speed and aperture would be hugely welcome.
  • An integrated AF illuminator would be a blessing also. Often I want to shoot a dance floor by ambient light or using off camera strobes. The camera can handle the light conditions but the AF tracking is poor as the contrast available is limited/moving. I could pop a 580EXII on the hotshot but I’d rather have a radio trigger on there. Some sort of full-time tracking support for AF Servo as well as One Shot would seriously rock.
  • A more ergonomic grip. I shoot my 5DII’s with grips all the time, mostly because I prefer the balance and I can’t shoot straight verticals without them! As I said above, I really like the ergonomics of the 5DII - it’s one of the things that’s kept me with Canon over Nikon as it happens - but the grip/body integration could use improvement. At present, it’s a bit of a block, some sculpting here wouldn’t go amiss.
  • Integrated flash commander, preferably via some sort of radio. This is rumoured to be in a new 590EX speedlite, so hopefully we’ll see it in the 5D replacement as well.
  • Wi-Fi connectivity. This’ll never happen. Canon are far too entrenched in the business model of making shed loads of money selling overpriced WFT grips. Nonetheless it’d be nice!
  • Shorter mirror black out. Many people say that the 5DII can’t be used for sport photography. They’re wrong. I’ve used it very successfully, but the mirror blackout does make it tricky at times.
  • Faster fps. See above!
  • Locking Mode selector switch. This was added as a retrofitted upgrade for the 5DII, I hope it’ll be standard issue on the new model. Nothing worse than bringing the camera up to the eye only to find it’s entered green square mode.
  • Get rid of the stupid two-stage ‘on’ switch. I always want to use the thumbwheel. ALWAYS. Stop offering me the option to turn it off by mistake. This is probably my number one reason for poorly exposed shots.
  • Please don’t depart too heavily from the 5DII in terms of interface and usage. I don’t have to think when I pick up my 5DII, please don’t change that!

That’s all I can think of for now. Cameras are constantly evolving, but hopefully the next iteration of the 5D line will make me want to upgrade rather than jump ship/consider a 1DX/commit sepuku. Delete as appropriate.

Keep your fingers crossed, I’m ready to spend and I’m hoping the 5DIII isn’t too far away. I’ve been waiting long enough!


Why I Love Apple - An Email from Tim Cook

Anyone who knows me even a little bit is well aware of the fact that I’m an Apple fan through and through. I try and steer clear of the term ‘fanboi’ because that suggests an unwillingness to fairly evaluate and critique where necessary. My Dad had some of the early Macs back in the 80’s and ever since I’ve been surrounded by all sorts of Apple gear. It’s served me really really well for the most part and I’ve built a genuine affection for the goods and services of the partially nibbled pomaceous fruit company.

When Steve Jobs died last year I was genuinely gutted. Like lots of people I felt this really unusual grief for someone that I’d never personally met and wasn’t related to in any way. Nonetheless the feeling was profound. I came to the personal conclusion that in a way I did know Steve Jobs. He’d been ‘broadcast’ into my home over many years of keynotes, the products that he envisioned have sat on my assorted desks and his demeanour and personality was familiar in a way that few CEO’s ever are. I’m still planning to have a Steve Jobs party one day in celebration of his life. I need to find some more geeky friends to attend. Anyway, he’s been succeeded by Tim Cook a less well known guy, but someone who I have a lot of faith in.

Yesterday I saw the news that Apple were replacing Ron Johnson as Senior VP of Retail with former Dixons Retail CEO John Browett. As a UK consumer this appointment surprised me as Dixons have far from a healthy reputation in the UK. Having read a glut of equally concerned responses over at MacRumors, largely from UK forum members who have a familiarity with Dixons, I thought it might be worth writing an email to new Apple CEO Tim Cook to ask for reassurance! Steve Jobs used to be famous for writing brief, terse replies to personal communications and his email address was far from a secret. I’d never tried when Steve was CEO, but I figured the same approach might work with Tim. I duly fired off an email and was excited to receive a short, polite and reassuring reply some hours later. Impressed? You bet.

It’s hard to be sure as to whether the writer of the email was Tim Cook himself or simply someone writing on his behalf but the sense of communication between consumer and upper level management was striking. I felt like I’d voiced a reasonable concern and received a fair answer. I’m not convinced yet, but that’s not the point, the CEO, or at least someone in his office (I highly doubt that Tim Cook has outsourced this stuff to Siri) took the time to reply. It’s impossible to know, but I’m willing to bet it was the man himself. There’s little point the email claiming to come from Tim Cook if it presents the possibility of him being caught on the hop without direct knowledge of the communication if a chance face to face was to occur. What if I’d been a journalist with a national paper? All this things combine for me to suggest that the actual CEO took an actual few minutes from his actual day to email actual me.

That, my friends, is any impressive commitment to client communication. It all goes into why I love Apple. In a world fascinated with doing the bare minimum, where pride in your work is a decreasingly common thing Apple is a firm that stands out for its determination to go the extra mile. Be it in custom milling laptop chassis from blocks of aluminium, having world-class retail stores or simply taking two minutes to reply directly to your customers. I don’t think everything Apple have done in the past 10 years has been spot on, but I do applaud the passion and commitment behind it.

Cheers for your email Tim!


P.S. Slightly confused by the time stamps here. I definitely wrote this email yesterday mid morning rather than at 4am! Time to look at my system clock!


X100 - Initial RAW's

Adobe, thank god, have finally released RAW support for the X100 in Lightroom 3.4. I've been fairly busy recently, but I've managed to get stuck in to a few pictures and have a bit of a play with the X100's RAW output. Most of these shots are either very casual personal images or things I've shot while doing recces at wedding venues. I'm afraid the content isn't terribly exciting, but hopefully there's a fair bit of variety to show you what the X100 can do. These images were all shot and then edited using my usual workflow in the Lightroom, nothing is SOC but then again nothing has been pushed all that far. In other words, normal usage.

For what it's worth, my experience is that the X100 RAW's are much nicer than the JPEG output. This may simply be because I spend more time with RAW's or it may be because I haven't set the camera up to get the best out of the JPEG's, but there's no denying it, to my eye, the RAW output provides more balanced colours and a more natural, real looking image. With RAW and LR support in place, I am really enjoying this camera. More to come, but for now, take a look at these. Oh, and, for the record, the sky in the first image was pretty much like this. Post production minimal!


X100 - Spring Sunshine

I've been carrying the X100 nearly everywhere I go and I am beginning to build up a more balanced view of my likes and dislikes. I'm still holding out on Adobe to sort out their RAW support (soon please!) but RAW files aside I feel informed enough now to write a proper review. I'll be doing that just as soon as I've worked some RAW's through Lightroom.

These images are another disparate series taken over the last week or so. As a go-everywhere camera I'm finding that it tends to be used in short bursts and therefore I am not producing the volume of images I might do if shooting with my 5DII. This might seem obvious, but it's not something that really crossed my mind until I actually started using the camera. On the one hand it results in interesting imports - a variety of photos from a variety of locations - but on the other hand it means it's taking longer to get a feel for the nuances of the camera in terms of knowing how it's likely to respond to a variety of lighting situations.

Anyway, here's the latest series, a selection from Bournemouth, the New Forest, Virginia Water, a sunny drive towards Chichester and catching up with friends over a game of perudo.


X100 - Out And About

I've had my Fuji X100 for a couple of weeks now. I'm not using it as much as I will be in the future because as of yet Lightroom doesn't support the camera's RAW output. For the time being, I've taken to shooting in JPEG, something I haven't done for a long time, so I can bung the pictures directly into Lightroom and avoid the Silkypix software.

The below are mostly a disparate selection of snapshots, images snapped on walks and so forth, but there are a few that I'm quite liking. I thought I'd share them with you.


X100 - Initial Review

I've been a Fuji X100 owner for shortly over 12 hours and to be honest, my opinion is still very much incomplete and somewhat unformed. I've been shooting sport today which doesn't really lend itself to putting the X100 through it's paces, and though I shot a few candids following the game, the team I was photographing had just suffered a semi-final cup loss so headed for the changing room almost immediately. Because of that, some of the images below are incredibly dry and unexciting. My apologies for that. I'll be shooting some more interesting subjects soon.

Before getting into the details of what I've discovered so far, a caveat. I knew going into the 'X100 Experiment' that as a very early adopter I would have to put up with a period during which Lightroom and the X100 would not want to talk to one another. What I hadn't banked on was just how spoilt I have been by Lightroom. The catchily named 'RAW FILE CONVERTER EX powered by Silkypix' - the simply appalling bundled software that is required to handle the X100's .RAF files - is not only abysmal, but to some extent stands between me and a true understanding of what the X100 can and can't do. I know how to edit a file in LR, I know how to get the best out of it. I haven't a clue in the bundled abomination mentioned above. I'm not sure anyone does. It's slow, unresponsive and Mac Paint on my Mac Plus is capable of doing more advanced work. Anyway, whinging and excuses aside, lets get on. It should be noted that the files shown were all shot in RAW (.RAF) mode, were then opened in RAW File Converter EX, given any minor adjustments that were required and then exported to 16bit TIFF and imported into Lightroom. The black and white image was created in LR from the resultant TIFF.

Ok. What's the dealio?

In the hand, the camera is a real joy. EV, aperture ring, focus ring, shutter etc, all fall neatly to hand. I'm a photographer someone ingrained in the Canon EOS system, and picking up the Fuji was an exercise not dissimilar to trying to speak a foreign language. Initially it all felt very unfamiliar and I did a lot of thinking and making noises of the sort that go 'um' and 'err'. That said, this is very much a function of my considerably familiarity with the 5DII and similar cameras. After a short amount of time spent with the X100, everything was beginning to feel much more normal and reasonably intuitive. It still feels like a first date, but that's to be expected.

Build quality seems really good and the primary controls have a great tactility to them. The camera feels pretty solid and I have real faith in the main controls (aperture ring/shutter dial/EV dial etc). The same can't be said for the secondary controls. They're not bad, but they don't inspire the same confidence as the primary controls. The menu/D-Pad controller on the back is a case in point. It's a bit plasticy and the tactile feedback is poor. Basically, you have a Menu/Ok button in the middle of the setup, then a circular directional pad around that and then a rotating control wheel a la Canon SLR's around that. To add to the complexity, surrounding all this, there is another plastic piece which holds the icons that tell the user what each directional press does. I tried pressing this a few times, but it's immovable and not a button itself. It all feels quite cluttered and I found myself mashing around a little bit with my fingers rather than pressing cleanly and accurately. The whole thing works, but it doesn't leave you smiling. A stark difference from the top plate controls which click through their increments in a manner that suggests Fuji probably hired a man named Klaus to design them.

There is a focus mode selector switch on the left hand side of the camera. This is also quite plasticy and the feedback when switching between modes isn't very definitive. That said, they all do a job and I haven't had any real problems yet.

As I've said, the camera feels pretty solid, but it doesn't have the heft I was hoping for. It doesn't feel lightweight, but it doesn't feel like a brick either. I kind of wish they'd found somewhere to put some lead in the thing to make it a little more weighty. I don't want to overemphasise this, it's not bad at all, but I was hoping for something that felt like a small ingot.

The focus ring is really great. Very nicely damped. It's electro-mechanical so you can choose your direction of focus, but it feels quite connected and extremely grounded.

As for the viewfinder, well it's both a thing of beauty and amazingly clever and such a departure from other cameras, that I'm used to, that I'm still getting my head round it. The optical viewfinder mode is very bright and presents you with all your primary shooting data. It allows you to see the frame lines and view beyond the frame. What it won't do is offer you any feedback during manual focus. This is pretty obvious, but it's worth pointing out. A well placed toggle on the front of the camera lets you change from the OVF to the EVF which by contrast appears very much like a screen. The resolution isn't bad, but you know you're looking at something 'projected' rather than something real. Here, when using MF mode, it's fairly easy to focus by eye. If you need to refine focus, a tap on the jog button on the top rear right of the camera zooms you in. I found it quite effective and intuitive.

That said, MF is slow! It's great for making fine adjustments, but changing focus from something close to something far away is a slow business and takes a lot of movement of the focus ring. Given that the ring is electro-mechanical, it'd be really nice to see a firmware update allow the user to change the speed of focus. I've not had time to pick the manual up yet, nor dig through the settings menu, so for all I know that feature might already be present.

One thing I'm not hugely taken with is the LCD screen. It's large, but I find it a bit washed out when reviewing images. This may be because I initially used it in quite bright, flat lighting, but compared to the screen on a 5DII it's simply not as good. I've just shot another image, while writing this, to review my viewpoint. Indoors, I'm quite liking the screen. Call me undecided on this point for now, time will tell.

So, what about the pictures? Well, as I said, it's hard to be truly objective at this point. I'm not going to draw any real conclusions here until I've shot some more pictures and I've bunged them through Lightroom. However, I do have some initial observations.

1/45th f/5.6 ISO 800

In strong/reasonably dramatic light the X100 shows quite a bit of potential. The picture of the fruit bowl may be dull and simple and far from a good image but it's done the job well and shows plenty of detail. This was shot at ISO 800, and from what I can make out, while the X100 isn't going to rival a full-frame SLR, the results are really really impressive in terms of high ISO. There's definitely detail lost at high ISO if you look at 100%, but viewed at normal res, the big picture is astonishing for this class of camera. The X100 destroys my 20D at ISO 3200. I know it's a similar size sensor, and a new camera vs. quite an old one, but I'm amazed nonetheless.

Colour and dynamic range in less than easy light I am currently somewhat unsure about. It's hard to tell when you're using such an atrocious piece of software to initially review files, but colours in flatter or brighter light seem to tend towards being somewhat muted and a little bit over vibrant, particularly in the blue channel. As someone who didn't really have experience shooting film prior to the digital age, I can't really comment on whether this is a Fuji look, but it's one that I want to stick into Lightroom and adjust a bit. It's by no means painful, but the results I am seeing at this stage, are ones I often want to tweak. They need a bit of a blacks punch and colour normalised a touch.

1/100th f/2.8 ISO 200

I should also note that the colour image of my Mum further down the page was shot under fairly torturous light conditions. Lots of mixed sources, including some fluorescents that are very yellowy indeed. I always struggle with the WB in my Mum's kitchen regardless of the camera, even a custom WB taken from a grey card only got me so close. I'd have gone elsewhere but it was dark and the options were limited by that stage in the day!

While shooting at the rugby today, I noticed the X100 do some faintly nasty things with highlights and highlight rolloff in the sky. The image looked a bit like a JPG that had been pushed too far in post and I have to say this is my biggest concern at this point. It may simply be an affect of a dodgy post-camera process, but it'd be reassuring to see a bright sky handled a little better. See the wider image of the team huddle further down the page for the effect I mentioned.

As for detail, there's plenty, certainly enough for what I'm looking for. Images come out of camera needing a bit of sharpening, but nothing that is unusual or out of the norm.

1/70th f/2 ISO 800

At this point, my feeling is quite mixed bag. It's got a lot to recommend it, and the design is mostly excellent. Will it take nice images? It's hard to know, but I'm hopeful that once I've learnt how to work the files, there's some real potential here. The big question surrounds colour and dynamic range. More testing is necessary in this department, at this stage it's really not fair to draw any hard conclusions - I've shot less than 50 images.

Those are my initial thoughts for the time being. I hope they were both interesting and useful, I'll be posting something more conclusive in coming weeks. I'm far more interested in real-world performance than photographs of walls, so only time will tell. As I use the X100 in the field I'm sure my opinion will crystallise. For now, I'm just glad to have the camera and to be able to tote it round easily. It's a helluva lot more convenient than a gripped 5DII and a stable of lenses.

Please feel free to ask any burning questions you may have in the comments. I will do my best to answer them if I possibly can. Please note that some of the images were shot with unusual exposure settings, simply to test ISO/shutter/aperture etc etc. Finally, I've uploaded full-res JPG's of the 9 samples shown here. If you'd like to download them, please do. They can be accessed here. They're uploading now and should all be available shortly.


1/10th f/2 ISO 3200

1/320th f/2.8 ISO 800

1/600th f/2.8 ISO 800

1/60th f/2 ISO 800

1/20th f/2.0 ISO 800

1/50th f/2.0 ISO 800


Fuji X100 Unboxing

My Fuji Finepix X100 arrived by courier this morning. Many thanks to Park Cameras for fulfilling my pre-order so quickly. I have shot a few images today and will be posting an 'initial thoughts' piece later tonight, but for now, I thought I'd post a video that I recorded this morning.

Fuji Finepix X100 from Tony Hart on Vimeo.


Fuji Finepix X100

Back in September 2010 a camera was announced at Photokina that I've hankered after ever since. It's not been released yet and there's still a month or two to go until it is, but the urge to shoot with it grows pretty much every day. The camera in question is the Fuji Finepix X100. People are oohing and ahhing about the looks, and don't get me wrong, I'm one of them, but the real reason I have such high hopes for this camera and already have a real love-at-first-sight complex for it is because it fills a hole in my camera arsenal that I identified long before the X100 was even a twinkle in the engineer's eye.

As a photographer I always like to be ready, with a camera to hand. You never know when a great image will present itself and sod's law pretty much states it's bound to be when you're farthest from your camera. I've tried many times to get into a routine of never leaving the house without my Canon 5DII. For work purposes I shoot the 5DII with the battery grip attached. It's not a small camera at the best of times, and with the grip secured, it's also quite heavy. I've tried keeping the grip off the camera, but with work commitments this inevitably creates lots of assembling and dismantling and the risk of mistakenly going to a job sans grip.

Next is the issue of lens selection. I mainly shoot primes and the 35L is an outstanding walk around lens, but it's also quite big. Much bigger than my 50 f/1.4 and similar in size to the more versatile but less capable 17-40L. Even when I get the combination right and have the 35L mated to an ungripped 5DII we're looking at a fairly big, heavy and unwieldy camera. Worst of all, I always fear the possibility of damaging key components of my professional kit. I've got a full selection of backup gear, but it's always a hassle having to send the gear that earns me a living to Canon for repair, and when I want to takeoff in a hurry, the 5DII + 35L combo is not the ideal solution. Truth be told, most of the time the 5DII + 35L stays put when I'm leaving in a hurry. There's too much fiddling, too much selecting components and too much decision making. When it does come with me I end up bringing 3 lenses 'just in case". Because I can.

What I've yearned for for some years now is a smallish, lightweight camera with a great lens and a great sensor that'll produce 90% of the image quality of the 5DII, without the hassle and with immediate ready-to-go-ness. Ideally I'd like a useable focal length, and, originally I thought, an interchangeable lens. Over the years there have been a range of 'nearly there' solutions. Those cameras that mostly fit the bill but are prohibitively expensive (Leica M8 & M9), those cameras that had potential but lacked usability (Sigma DP1, DP2 etc), those cameras that didn't offer high enough IQ (Canon G10/11/12 and Ricoh GRII) and those cameras that weren't different enough from an SLR setup (Panasonic GF1 & Olympus EP1) to justify the investment.

I began to wonder if maybe I just wanted a higher end point and shoot. Eventually however, I always conceded that a P&S didn't offer the IQ that I was looking for. I can deal with a step down from the 5DII, but every point and shoot I looked at offered a drastic reduction in image quality, particularly in low light - a condition I shoot in a lot. Above and beyond that I NEED a viewfinder. I can't compose properly holding the camera at arms length and viewfinders in the land of P&S are becoming a rarer and rarer commodity.

Step forward the Fuji X100. The moment I saw this camera I was excited from an aesthetic standpoint. The more I read, the more it started to sound like this mythic camera I'd envisaged for so long. Relatively small and lightweight, big sensor, single choice of lens with a great focal length, optical viewfinder, fast optics. I'd always thought I wanted a camera with interchangeable lenses. In reality I want one good focal length. I don't want to be changing lenses the whole time, indeed I don't even want to be given the option. The option means time making decisions, the option means slowing down, the option means leaving it behind to save having to make those decisions. The X100 takes the decision making process away from me. Either I like the focal length or I lump it. Oh... and I LOVE the focal length. 35mm is God's own FL in my view. Not too narrow, not too wide - incredibly versatile.

So what else do I love about the Fuji Finepix X100? Most things actually. It's got a viewfinder! Woohoo! It's optical. Cue double joy. Most people are banging on about the X100's innovative hybrid viewfinder which pairs a true optical viewfinder with a metadata enhanced EVF you can change to at the flick of a switch. This looks very cool, but is a bonus to me. Mostly I'm just happy with an optical viewfinder; something I can look through to compose properly. On the subject of the hybrid viewfinder, it reminds me a little of the hybrid EVF I had on my first ever digital camera, a Konica Minolta Z1. You could either compose on the back of the camera, or, flip a switch and the image would be projected into an EVF that you could raise your eye too. The X100 goes a few steps beyond this, but I find the parallel nostalgic if nothing else.

The X100 is a camera thought out and designed by photographers. Aperture, shutterspeed and EC will all be controlled by wheels on the camera. No digging through menu's to access these primary functions. The camera also includes an integrated neutral density filter within the lens assembly. Too much light? Just flick the ND filter into place for a 3-stop reduction in perceived light and keep shooting wide open at f/2. Good times. This is simply a genius feature and one I've wondered about many times in the past. It's great to see the X100 implement this technology. I'm sure I'm going to make a lot of use of it. My laundry list of X100 delights also includes the short physical length of the lens, the 9 blade aperture diaphragm and of course the drop dead gorgeous looks. My one gripe so far is a focus by wire system which decouples the user from the mechanics of the focus ring. Basically, you turn the focus ring, the camera will digitise this input and then use servos to relay your turning force to the actual mechanics that focus the lens. It remains to be seen why Fuji have done this - I suspect it's to avoid having to find a way to satisfactorily dampen the focus ring without adding bulk. In practice it may work out to be a non-issue. Only time will tell and for now it's a long long way from being a deal breaker.

The X100 holds the promise of a camera that will make me take more photos. I hope it'll become my constant companion and mean that I have a quality photographic tool on me at nearly all times. Technically it's potential is enormous, but for me personally, the real excitement will be in the using. I want to shoot more and in a greater variety of situations, A 'proper' go anywhere camera capable of producing a quality image at a price that doesn't require a house remortgage. An exciting prospect!

I'm not sure there's any item I've ever wanted more than the Fuji Finepix X100, and that includes all things made by Apple. For me, that's quite an admission. I hope the shipping product lives up to expectations. If Fuji get the lens and image quality right they'll have an instant classic on their hands. Safe to say, when it's launched, I'll be the first in line.

If you're interested in reading more about the X100, take a look at Fuji's X100 site here: