Fuji FinePix X100 Review
Look and Feel
I imagine that most people would ask how you're enjoying your Leica when they first set their eyes on the FinePix X100 -- the resemblance is uncanny. The X100 has a silver magnesium alloy body with black leather (well, faux leather) accents, numerous dials, and a huge optical viewfinder. It even has the "image field selector" switch found on Leica cameras, except here it switches the viewfinder between optical and electronic.
For the most part, build quality on the X100 is very good. The body is a solid chunk of metal, and the dials feel just right. That said, the door over the battery/memory card is pretty flimsy, and the four-way controller is too small and plasticky for my tastes. I also found that the power button is way too easy to accidentally bump. Being a fairly large and heavy camera, I found it most comfortable to hold the X100 with both hands.
Now let's see how the FinePix X100 compares to the group of cameras I listed back in the battery section in terms of size and weight:
Of the three fixed-lens cameras, the FinePix X100 is by far the largest and heaviest. If you add in the interchangeable lens cameras (with their available pancake lenses), the FinePix X100 and Samsung NX100 are about the same size. The X100 is most certainly not a pocket camera, but it travels well over your shoulder or in a small camera case.
Ready to tour this unique camera? I know I am -- so let's begin!
One of the highlights of the FinePix X100 is its F2.0, fixed focal length Fujinon lens. The focal length of this lens is 23mm, which is equivalent to 35mm. The X100 does not have image stabilization, though the fast lens negates the need for it in most situations. While the lens itself is not threaded, you can add 49mm filters or a lens hood by picking up the adapter ring listed in the previous section. Conversion lenses are not offered. While you can't see them here, there are both manual focus and aperture rings around the lens -- more on those in a bit.
Behind the lens is a 12.3 Megapixel CMOS sensor, which Fuji designed specifically for the X100's lens. It's an APS-C-sized sensor, making it the same size as what's in most digital SLRs, and larger than Micro Four Thirds (and huge compared to what's in most point-and-shoots).
At the top-center of the photo is the X100's built-in flash. The working range of the flash is 0.5 - 9.0 meters at ISO 1600. Since Fuji is using ISO 1600 rather than Auto ISO like most manufacturers, so it's hard to say how the X100's flash strength compares to other cameras. If you want more flash power and a reduced likelihood of redeye, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see momentarily.
What are all those things around the flash? The two small holes make up the stereo microphone, while the larger circle is the AF illuminator. The Leica-style style next to the AF-assist lamp is used to toggle between the optical and electronic viewfinder. And speaking of which, that large box over on the top-right of the photo is the X100's impressive hybrid viewfinder, which I'll explain in detail in just a moment.
Before we can talk about the X100's amazing viewfinder, I first need to tell you about its much more ordinary LCD. This screen is 2.8" in size, and has 460,000 pixels, so everything is nice and sharp. Outdoor visibility is good, though I've seen better. In low light the live view brightens up nicely, so you can still see your subject.
A simulated view through the optical viewfinder, complete with framing guide and a live histogram
Image courtesy of Fujifilm
Now it's time to tell you about the X100's hybrid viewfinder, which is really one of a kind. It can serve as a large optical viewfinder (with a magnification of 0.5x) or a super-sharp electronic viewfinder. And it's not just any optical viewfinder -- you get the added bonus of having a framing guide, exposure info, and even a live histogram and electronic level superimposed over the scene. The viewfinder is quite different than what you're probably used to, and it takes some time to get familiar with it. The framing guide takes up only a portion of the viewfinder (see screenshot), and when you halfway press the button, it will actually move, correcting for parallax error. This framing guide only shows 90% of what is actually captured, so keep that in mind. It's also worth mentioning that you cannot use the optical viewfinder when in macro mode-- it will switch to the EVF when you turn that feature on. I found the viewfinder to be very dark in low light situations, requiring a switch to the electronic viewfinder or LCD.
The view on the EVF and LCD can include shooting data, a composition grid, live histogram, and electronic level
To get to the aforementioned electronic viewfinder (EVF), just flip the switch on the front of the camera. The viewfinder instantly transforms into an ultra-sharp display with 1.44 million dots (480,000 pixels). Now you can see the same things that you would if using the main LCD, complete with 100% coverage. The quality of the screen is very good, with none of the "rainbow effect" that I've seen on other high res EVFs lately. Both outdoor and low light visibility were fairly good.
Hybrid viewfinder cutaway courtesy of Fujifilm
So how does it all work? There's a prism in front of the eyepiece (which is in the back of this diagram) that splits the light between the optical image and the EVF that's buried inside the camera. When you're using the optical viewfinder, the EVF is used to produce the frame guide and shooting information overlay. When you switch to the full-time EVF, a door closes over the viewfinder window, so only the image from the tiny LCD panel is reaching your eye. It works exceptionally well, and the only real complaint I have is that you can't see the OVF shooting info or anything on the EVF when shooting in the portrait orientation if you're wearing polarized sunglasses (as I do). Something else I would've liked to have seen is a "play on LCD" option, so photos you took through the viewfinder will be shown on the main LCD after they're taken (as opposed to on the EVF).
The FinePix X100 has an eye sensor that automatically activates the viewfinder when you put your eye to it. You can toggle what information is displayed on it by pressing the Display button located to the lower-right of the main LCD. To focus what you're looking at through the viewfinder, you can use the diopter correction wheel located on its left side.
When you're shooting with the viewfinder, you have the option of having the main LCD display current exposure and camera settings. You can't adjust anything here -- it's for viewing only.
Alright, enough about the viewfinder -- let's continue the tour now, with a look at the buttons on the left side of the LCD. They include:
- Playback mode
- AE [metering] mode (Multi, spot, average)
- AF point select - lets you pick one of 49 points in the frame on which to focus
- View mode (Auto, viewfinder only, LCD only)
The AE/AF buttons are also used for zooming in or out of photos while in playback mode.
Jumping to the upper-right of the LCD now, you'll find the "command control", which doesn't do a whole lot, to be honest. In record mode, it can be used to select menu options (it does the same thing as the left/right directions on the four-way controller), adjust the focus point size, and enlarge the frame when manually focusing. In playback mode this controller will move between the various shooting data screens.
Moving downward, we find the AE/AF lock button, followed by the combination four-way controller and command dial. The four-way controller is way too tight (not to mention plasticky), making it really easy to accidentally press in the wrong direction. For example, when trying to enter the main menu, quite often I got the drive menu instead. Both the four-way controller and scroll wheel are used for navigating menus and reviewing photos you've taken, with the former also handling the following:
- Up - Drive (Still image, burst mode, AE bracketing, ISO bracketing, Film Simulation bracketing, dynamic range bracketing, Motion Panorama, movie mode)
- Down - White balance (Auto, custom, color temperature, sunlight, shade, daylight fluorescent, warm white fluorescent, cool white fluorescent, incandescent, underwater)
- Left - Macro (on/off)
- Right - Flash setting (Auto, forced flash, suppressed flash, slow synchro) - redeye reduction is turned on via the setup menu
- Center - Menu/OK
There's a lot to talk about before we can move on.
The drive menu not only handles things like continuous shooting and bracketing -- it's also how you'll get to the cameras Motion Panorama and movie mode features. The X100 can shoot at 3 or 5 frames/second in its burst mode, and here's what kind of real world performance I was able to get out of it:
The X100 performs pretty much as advertised, though I couldn't quite hit the 5 fps mark, and that's with a very fast memory card. The number of RAW and RAW+JPEG photos you can take in a burst is okay, but the limit of just ten JPEGs is disappointing for a camera in this price range. I should add that it takes 14 and 20 seconds to save a set of RAW and RAW+JPEG images to the memory card, respectively.
There are four different bracketing modes on the FinePix X100. You can bracket for exposure or ISO (both 3 shots), Film Simulation (three shots using standard, vivid, and soft settings), and dynamic range (3 shots at 100%, 200%, and 400% DR). One thing you can't bracket for, unfortunately, is white balance.
Also buried in the Drive menu is the camera's Motion Panorama function, which lets you "sweep" the camera from side-to-side (or any direction), with the result being a single image covering 120 or 180 degrees. The results were just okay -- the image starts off sharp and gets softer in the areas that were stitched together (see example above).
White balance fine-tuning
As for white balance, the X100 has the usual presets, a custom mode (where you can use a white or gray card), plus the ability to set the color temperature (2000K - 10000K). While you can't bracket for white balance, you can fine-tune it in the red-cyan or blue-yellow directions. I am intrigued by the underwater white balance option -- perhaps an underwater housing is in the works?
The final things to see on the back of the camera include the Display/Back button, used for toggling the info shown on the LCD and backing out of menus, and a button that lets you quickly switch to the RAW format when taking pictures, or post-process these files in playback mode.
The first things I want to point out on the top of the FinePix X100 are the two rings around the lens. The upper ring is for manually focusing (it's an electronic system, not mechanical), while the lower ring is for adjusting the aperture. The "A" position on the aperture ring is for automatic control, and you can set it yourself as well, with a range of F2 to F16.
Under the lens is the camera's hot shoe. It'll work best with the two Fuji flashes I mentioned earlier, as they'll sync with the cameras TTL metering system. Fuji provides very little information about what features on their flashes are supported on the X100, but it appears that high speed flash sync does work, possibly at 1/2000 sec. You can also use the camera's built-in flash to control the two Fuji flashes wirelessly. If you're using a third party flash, be prepared to set its exposure manually.
Next up is the manual shutter speed dial. No more endless button-pressing to set the shutter speed -- it doesn't get any easier than this. You can also select from time (T) and bulb (B) modes. The former lets you preset your shutter speed from 30 - 1/2 sec (using the command dial), while the latter will keep the shutter open for as long as the shutter release is pressed. A remote shutter release is highly recommended. By the way, you can also use the command dial or command control to fine-tune the selected shutter speed or aperture, even when you've manually selected a value. If both aperture and shutter speed are set to auto, then these same controls can be used to move through various exposure combinations (this is known as Program Shift).
Next up is the power switch, which has the shutter release button inside it. The power switch is way too easy to flip, and I found myself turning the camera on or off accidentally quite frequently. The shutter release button has threads, to which you can attach a third party remote shutter release.
Just to the right of the power switch is the customizable Function (Fn) button, with the manual exposure compensation dial below it. By default, the Fn button adjusts the ISO, and I'll tell you what else it can do later in the review. The exposure compensation button was also pretty easy to accidentally turn. I think some of these dials need to be sturdier, or at least offer some kind of locking mechanism.
The only thing to see on this side of the FinePix X100 is its focus mode switch. You can choose from manual, single, or continuous AF. In manual focus mode you'll use that fly-by-wire focus ring around the lens to set the focus distance. The center of the frame can be enlarged by using the command control, and a guide showing the current focus distance is displayed at the bottom of the LCD or viewfinder.
The single AF mode locks the focus when you press the shutter release button halfway. The continuous AF mode is always trying to focus, which reduces focus times, though it's at the expense of battery life.
On the opposite side of the camera, under a plastic cover of average quality, are the camera's I/O ports. The top port is for USB output (too bad its proprietary), while the one on the bottom is a standard mini-HDMI port. Do note that HDMI is the only way in which you can connect the camera to a television -- there's no composite A/V out support on this camera.
That little square at the very bottom of the photo is through which you'd theoretically thread the power cord for an AC adapter, if one existed.
Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the FinePix X100. Here you'll find the speaker, the off-center metal tripod mount, and the battery/memory card compartment. The plastic door over the battery/memory compartment is surprisingly flimsy considering the price of the camera, and you won't be able to get at what's inside it while the camera is on a tripod.
The include NP-95 li-ion battery can be seen at right.