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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

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