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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:

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