DCRP

Fuji FinePix X100 Review

How Does it Compare?

The Fuji FinePix X100 has been making a lot of waves in the digital photography world since it was first shown at Photokina in 2010. How could you not drool over a rangefinder-style camera with an APS-C sensor, fast prime lens, and unique hybrid viewfinder? When I got my hands on the FinePix X100, I was instantly impressed. The viewfinder and user interface took some getting used to, but once I became familiar with the camera and its quirks, I found it quite enjoyable to use. And did I mention the excellent photo quality? There is room for improvement in terms of performance, user interface, and manual control limitations, but for a first effort, Fuji has done a very good job. The pricey FinePix X100 isn't for everyone, but for those looking for a portable camera with a fast lens and D-SLR photo quality, it's not to be missed.

The FinePix X100 could easily be mistaken for a Leica M9 if you spotted it on the street. It's pretty much an exact copy of a Leica rangefinder camera, but hey, it works. The camera is made of magnesium alloy (in most areas), and has a faux leather panel on the front to make it easier to grip. Being a rangefinder-style camera, you should not be surprised to hear that the X100 has manual focus and aperture rings, as well as dials for setting the shutter speed and exposure compensation. Build quality is very good in most respects, though I don't care for the flimsy plastic door over the memory card/battery compartment, the too-small four-way controller, and the easy-to-bump power switch. I figure that a good portion of the X100's price tag is due to its fantastic F2.0, 23mm (35mm-equivalent) Fujinon lens. This lens is quite sharp, and has little in the way of distortion or purple fringing. The camera supports filters via an optional (and expensive) adapter, but conversion lenses are not available. A built-in neutral density filter will reduce the amount of light coming through the lens by three stops. The X100 has a built-in flash -- as well as a hot shoe -- and the former can be used to wirelessly control Fuji-brand flashes.

Besides the lens, the other big highlight on the FinePix X100 is its hybrid viewfinder. It can be a large optical viewfinder with a composition frame and tons of shooting data superimposed over the field-of-view or, with the flip of a switch, it can be a high resolution electronic viewfinder. When you're using the optical viewfinder, you'll be able to see all kinds of things (besides your subject), including exposure and focus meters, a live histogram, and an electronic level. Actually taking pictures does take some getting used to, as the shooting frame moves when you halfway-press the shutter release button, and even then only shows 90% of what will be captured. The viewfinder is also hard to see in low light, and when you're shooting portraits with polarized sunglasses on (sounds petty, but most sunglasses are polarized). Flip the switch on the front of the camera and the optical viewfinder becomes electronic. This EVF is one of the best I've seen, with 1.44 million dots, no rainbow effect, and good visibility in low light. As you'd expect, the EVF shows the same things as the main LCD (and has 100% frame coverage), including menus and image playback. One important thing to note is that you cannot use the optical viewfinder when taking macro photos, due to parallax error. The camera will automatically switch to the EVF as soon as you turn on macro mode. The other way in which you can take photos is via the main 2.8" LCD, which has 460,000 pixels and good outdoor and low light visibility.

The FinePix X100 is an enthusiasts camera, so you won't find any auto or scene modes here (aside from a cool panorama-creation tool). You will have plenty of manual controls, support for the RAW image format, white balance fine-tuning, and four types of bracketing (but not for white balance). Being able to adjust the aperture and shutter speed with the manual dials is great, though you will need to use the command dial to access "in-between" shutter speeds. The camera has an ISO range of 100 - 12800, though neither of those ends are available if you're shooting RAW, for some unknown reason. The user interface leaves something to be desired, as well. The menu system is essentially one huge list, which means lots of scrolling to find items buried inside it. As I mentioned, the X100 has a Motion Panorama mode, which allows you to sweep the camera from side-to-side to create 120 or 180 panoramas in seconds. Two other tools I like are the Dynamic Range setting (which reduces highlight clipping) and the in-camera RAW processing feature. The FinePix X100 can also record movies at 720p (24 frames/second) with stereo sound. Unfortunately, it's a point-and-shoot affair, with no manual controls or continuous autofocus, and recording time is limited to ten minutes per clip.

Performance is probably the X100's weak spot. Depending on the "quick start" setting, the camera can start up in under a second, or in 2.2 seconds, though the Quick Start setting only works for 20 minutes after the camera is powered off. Focusing in good light was fairly quick, though not as good as the best compact or interchangeable lens cameras. Typically, you'll have focus times of 0.3 and 0.5 seconds, though on several occasions the AF got fussy and took longer (or didn't lock focus at all). If you're in macro mode, expect focus times of around a full second, and the same goes for shooting in low light situations. Shutter lag wasn't a problem, and shot-to-shot speeds were good, with one important note. If you're shooting RAW or RAW+JPEG, you can't change any camera settings until the images are saved to the memory card. That takes 5 seconds for RAW and 7 seconds for RAW+JPEG, and that's with the fastest SDHC card money can buy. The camera's burst mode also gets mixed reviews. While you can shoot as fast as 4.8 frames/second, you're limited to eight RAW or just ten JPEG images, with the latter being especially disappointing for a camera in this price range. In addition, the camera will be locked up for 14 - 20 seconds while a RAW or RAW + JPEG burst is written to the memory card, again with a 45 MB/sec SDHC card. The X100's 300 shot per charge battery life is about average compared to similar cameras.

While I had some issues with the FinePix X100's performance, the opposite is true when it comes to photo quality: it's excellent. The X100 takes well-exposed photos, with not much in the line of highlight clipping. Should highlight clipping occur, you can reduce it using the Dynamic Range feature. Colors were pleasing, and photos were nice and sharp for the most part, with no corner blurring or vignetting. The camera captures a ton of detail, and noise does not appear until the very highest ISOs. Shooting at ISO 3200 is no problem, and even the very highest setting (ISO 12800, only available for JPEGs) is usable for small prints. Unlike most cameras I test, there's not a huge improvement to be had by shooting RAW and doing your own noise reduction, which is a testament to the quality of the JPEG engine on the X100. Purple fringing levels were low, and I didn't find redeye to be a problem either (possibly due to the available digital removal system).

There are just a few other things to mention before I wrap things up. One of the biggest things going against the FinePix X100 is its price of $1200. It's an impressive camera -- I'm just not sure if it's impressive enough to justify that price. Second, the tripod mount is not in-line with the lens, and you won't be able to access the memory card while you're using a tripod. Finally, I don't know why Fuji even bothered putting internal memory on the X100, as the 20MB that's included holds almost no photos.

All things considered, the Fuji FinePix X100 is a very impressive fixed lens camera, and I imagine that they'll sell a boatload of them, despite the price. It offers superb photo quality, good performance (in most respects), a rangefinder-style body with a one-of-a-kind viewfinder, and plenty of manual controls. The camera does have its issues, mostly related to buffer memory and the user interface, but for a first generation camera, Fuji has done a great job. Despite needing work in a few areas, the "pros" ways outweigh the "cons", making the FinePix X100 a camera I can highly recommend.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality, with very low noise levels
  • Cool rangefinder-style body, complete with manual aperture/focus rings and dials for shutter speed and exposure compensation
  • Very fast, sharp F2.0, 23mm (35mm-equivalent) lens
  • One-of-a-kind, large hybrid viewfinder can be optical (with a framing guide and tons of shooting data overlaid) or electronic (with 1.44M pixels)
  • 2.8" LCD display with 460k pixels is sharp and offers good outdoor/low light visibility (the EVF is similar)
  • Full manual controls, with RAW support and four types of bracketing
  • Handy electronic level
  • Hot shoe + wireless flash control
  • Built-in neutral density filter
  • Customizable Function button
  • Dynamic Range control reduces highlight clipping
  • Redeye not a problem, though a removal tool is available if you need it
  • In-camera RAW processing in playback mode
  • Motion Panorama feature creates decent-looking panoramas with just a "sweep" of the camera
  • Records movies at 720p (24 frames/sec) with stereo sound
  • HDMI output

What I didn't care for:

  • Expensive
  • Optical viewfinder takes getting used to due to moving frame and 90% coverage; viewfinder is hard to see in low light, or when wearing polarized sunglasses and shooting in the portrait orientation
  • Design annoyances: plasticky four-way controller is too small and easy to press the wrong direction; power switch too easy to bump
  • Buffer memory fills up quickly; long write times when RAW images are involved (and camera may be locked up during that time)
  • Autofocus could be flaky at times; focus times a little slow when in macro mode or low light situations
  • ISO 100 and 12800 not available when using RAW format
  • Camera resets many settings (e.g. macro, drive) when you enter playback mode fixed in firmware 1.1
  • User interface could use some work
  • No manual controls or continuous AF in movie mode; limited recording time
  • Flimsy door over memory card/battery compartment; can't access memory card while on tripod
  • Very little built-in memory

The FinePix X100's closest competitors are the Leica X1 and Sigma DP2s. Some interchangeable lens cameras that you may want to look at include the Olympus E-P2, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2, Samsung NX100, and the Sony Alpha NEX-5.

As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the FinePix X100 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out our gallery to see how the FinePix X100's photo quality looks!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.