Fuji X10 Review
Design & Features
If there's one thing you can say about all of Fuji's X-series camera, it's that's the build quality is extremely high. And that the camera is made in Japan (Fuji makes that very obvious). The X10 features a magnesium allow body, with a sort of faux leather rubberized finish on the front and back. The camera is super-easy to hold with one hand, but since the zoom is operated manually, your left hand will be involved, as well.
If you like buttons, dials, and switches, then you'll love the X10. I'd definitely say that it has "button clutter", though thankfully most everything handles just one function. I'm a fan of the dedicated exposure compensation dial on the top of the camera, as well as the buttons for white balance and RAW on the back. One control I don't care for is the four-way controller / scroll wheel combination on the back of the camera. First, it feels cheap compared the rest of the camera. The scroll dial spins too freely, making precise adjustments difficult, since you can't feel it "click" as you adjust things like shutter speed. I'm not entirely sold on the "lens ring as power switch", either.
Let's take a look at how the Fujifilm X10 compares to similar cameras in terms of size and weight:
As you can see, the X10 is the second largest camera in the group, with only the new PowerShot G1 X (which has an even larger sensor than the X10) coming in ahead of it. The X10 isn't what I'd call a "jeans pocket" camera, but it will travel in larger pockets or over your shoulder with ease.
Let's take a tour of the Fuji X10 now!
One of the highlights of the Fuji X10 is its lens. This F2.0-2.8 lens is somewhat unique in that it's stays "fast" across the 28 - 112 mm focal range. Some of the competition's lenses get slow quickly -- like the Nikon P310, which goes from F1.8 - F4.9 -- while the Canon G1 X is slow to begin with. What all this "speed" stuff means is that the X10's 4X zoom lens brings in more light than a typical fixed-lens camera, and does so at all focal lengths.
The lens is operating mechanically, with the power switch tied right into the zoom ring. Thus, when you want to turn on the camera, you rotate the zoom ring to the 28mm position, and you're ready to go. That said, I found myself longing for a more traditional power switch.
You'd expect a premium compact like the X10 to have image stabilization, and it does indeed use a system of the lens-shift variety. What this means is a lower likelihood of blurry photos, and shake-free videos.
Another big part of the X10 is its 2/3" EXR CMOS sensor, which is about 50% larger than what you'd find on a typical compact camera (though not as large as the giant 1.5" sensor in the PowerShot G1 X). Having a larger sensor means that more light is collected, thus improving resolution and sensitivity. The EXR sensor's unique pixel arrangement also allows it to prioritize high resolution, wide dynamic range, or high sensitivity & low light, though not all at the same time. I'll have more on this subject after the tour.
To the right of the lens is a switch for setting the focus mode. You can choose from single or continuous AF, or go manual. Unfortunately, the X10 lacks a manual focus ring, so you'll be using the scroll wheel on the back of the camera, which was very slow in making adjustments.
Directly above that switch is the camera's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The working range of the flash is 0.5 - 7.0 m at wide-angle and 0.8 - 5.0 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO ), which is quite good.
Other items of note on the front of the camera include an AF-assist lamp, stereo microphone, and the optical viewfinder.
While your eyes may first jump to the optical viewfinder, I first want to talk about the X10's LCD display. This screen isn't the largest out there, but I think most folks won't notice the difference between the 2.8-inch display here, and the 3-inch ones on other cameras. The screen is very sharp, with 460,000 pixels, and outdoor visibility is excellent. In low light, the view on the LCD brightens up very nicely, so you still see your subject.
Now onto that viewfinder, which has become such a rarity on compact cameras these days. It's big, bright, and shows 85% of the frame. Something else you'll see is the lens blocking a small portion of the frame (lower-right side) when you're at the its wide end. The viewfinder is set back nicely from the camera, so your nose won't smudge the LCD when you're using it. You can adjust the focus by using the diopter correction wheel to its left.
To the left of the viewfinder is the flash release button. Below that we have buttons for entering playback mode, and adjusting the metering, AF, or white balance setting.
Toward the top-right of the camera is the main command dial, which you'll use for adjusting things like shutter speed and aperture. Under that we have buttons for AE/AF Lock, toggling what's on the LCD (and backing out of menus), and quickly switching to the RAW format. As of firmware 1.03, the RAW button's function can be customized, much like that of the Fn button that you'll see on the next tab.
In the middle of those buttons is the four-way controller, which has the secondary dial (what I'm calling the scroll wheel) wrapped around it. I already told you that I'm not a fan of the feel of the dial, but I haven't said much about what it does. It too is used for adjusting manual exposure settings (as well as focus), and it also handles menu navigation and image playback. The four-way controller has direct buttons for drive mode, and macro, flash, and self-timer settings.
The first thing I want to point out here is that Fuji has left enough room for your fingers when the flash is popped up.
Speaking of flashes, if you want to use a more powerful one, just attach it to the hot shoe that you see in the middle of the photo. If you are using one of the two Fujifilm-branded external flashes that I mentioned earlier, then everything should work automatically. Fuji is pretty vague about flash sync speeds. It seems that the Fuji-branded flashes can be used at 1/4000 sec. If you're using a non-Fuji flash, plan on adjusting exposure manually, though I'm not sure what the x-sync speed actually is.
To the right of the hot shoe is the mode dial, and I'll tell you about the items you'll find there after this tour. Continuing to the right we have the exposure compensation dial, shutter release button (which supports a screw-in remote release), and a customizable Function button.
The only thing to see here is the lens in the "off" position. You can see the focal length markings on the lens, which is a nice touch.
On the opposite side of the camera are the I/O ports, which are kept under a plastic cover. The ports here include USB + A/V output and mini-HDMI. The optional AC adapter (if you can find all the parts) feeds through that slot at the base of the camera body.
The lens is at the full telephoto position here.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount, which is strangely not in line with the lens. The only other thing to see is the battery/memory card compartment, which is protected by a reinforced plastic door of decent quality. Since the tripod mount is so far away, you will be able to access the memory card or battery while the camera is on a tripod.
The included NP-50 battery can be seen at right.
|The display in live view mode is totally customizable. Here you can see that I have the live histogram and electronic level turned on||If you're shooting with the optical viewfinder, an info screen can be shown on the LCD instead of the live view|
I'm going to begin my discussion of the X10's features by talking about the options found on the mode dial. They include:
There are two auto modes on the Fuji X10, and I'm not quite sure why. The regular Auto mode is almost completely locked down, and you don't get to take advantage of the camera's EXR sensor, since it always shoots at high resolution in this mode. So, I'd recommend that my point-and-shoot readers set their mode dials to EXR mode instead. There, the camera will select both the EXR and scene mode automatically. Something else available in EXR mode is Advanced Anti Blur, which combines a series of exposures into a single, blur-free image. I'd show you an example, but you can't actually force the camera to use that feature.
EXR mode menu
If you want to pick the EXR mode yourself, EXR mode is the place to do it. You can choose from three modes:
- Resolution priority: this is the default mode, with the camera saving photos at 12 Megapixel
- High ISO & Low Noise: the camera combines adjacent pixels to double the amount of light captured, which greatly improves high ISO performance. resolution is cut to 6 Megapixel, though
- D-Range priority: the camera uses the adjacent pixel layout to take two exposures, which are combined into a single image with improved dynamic range
If you want a nice illustration of how all this stuff works, check out this page on Fuji's site. Now, here are some real world examples of the High ISO and D-Range Priority features:
|ISO 400||ISO 1600|
While the X10 already performs pretty well through ISO 400, you'll want to use the High ISO & Low Noise mode for best results at sensitivities above that. The most impressive photo above is the ISO 1600 of my trusty sidekick Flame. If you view it at 100%, you'll see plenty of noise, but 1) it looks great when printed at smaller sizes or downsized for web viewing and 2) most compact cameras couldn't produce something of this quality at ISO 1600. The downside of this mode is that the resolution is cut to 6 Megapixel, which reduces your maximum print sizes from enormous to large. The High ISO mode is only available in EXR mode (which is totally point-and-shoot), though you can achieve similar results by just setting the image quality to medium in the other shooting modes, or downsizing in Photoshop.
If there's one thing the X10 does frequently, it's clip highlights. Fortunately, you have a weapon against this annoyance: the dynamic range compensation feature. You can use it in any shooting mode, but if you want the 800% and 1600% options, you need to be in EXR D-Range Priority mode, which will drop the resolution to 6 Megapixel. In either case, you'll want to have the ISO set to Auto (400) so the camera can use the full range of DR correction. Below is an example of how well it can work:
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The image I selected to be the default in the above comparison was taken with the DR Correction set to Auto -- you can see that it does a pretty good job. However, if you're trying to minimize noise and have the ISO fixed to 100, you'll be stuck with the DR 100% setting, which has strong highlight clipping on both the arches and the opposite wall. Once you get to 200%, things look a lot better, and things continue to improve as the DR correction level goes up. If you want good overall DR correction then I'd stick with the Auto DR mode, but remember that this requires the ISO to be set to something above 100 so the camera can work its magic. The best option, as I mentioned above, is to use Auto ISO (400). You will get more noise in your photos, but it should not be a huge issue, at least when shooting at 6 Megapixel. At the full 12 Megapixel resolution, noise will be more obvious.
Some other point-and-shoot features are found (ironically) at the Advanced spot on the mode dial. There you'll find:
- Motion Panorama 360: pan the camera around and it'll automatically stitch together a panorama ranging from 120 to 360 degrees
- Pro Focus: the camera combines three exposures into a single image, with the subject sharp and the background blurred; in the past I've found it very difficult to actually get this feature to work.
- Pro Low Light: the camera combines four exposures into a single image, reducing noise and blur
Below are examples of two of these features:
As you'd expect from a camera in this class, the X10 has plenty of manual controls, as well. You can adjust the shutter speed and aperture (of course), though do note that the full shutter speed range is only available in full "M" mode. There's also manual white balance control, four types of bracketing, and support for the RAW format. And that's in addition to the custom button and spots on the mode dial. One thing I should point out about the X10's RAW support is that you cannot use it above ISO 3200, which is arguably when you'll need it the most, at least if noise is your main concern.
White balance fine-tuning
Now I'd like to provide more detail on two options that are controlled by buttons on the back of the camera. First up is white balance, where you can choose from the usual presets, use a white or gray card to set the white point, or set the color temperature. There's also an underwater option, which is interesting, considering that there's no housing available for the camera. White balance can be fine-tuned in the red-cyan or blue-yellow directions, and you can also bracket for it.
The other thing I wanted to mention are the drive options. Here you'll find:
- Top (burst mode): details in next section
- Best Frame capture: takes a burst of photos, with a pre-shot buffering feature, which is adjustable; in other words, the camera will save photos before and after the shutter release was fully pressed
- AE bracketing: camera takes three shots in a row, each at a different exposure value; the interval between each shot can be ±1/3, ±2/3, or ±1EV
- ISO bracketing: similar to above, but with ISO sensitivity; camera will never drop below ISO 200 or go above ISO 1600
- Film Simulation bracketing: camera takes one photo at Provia/Standard, a second at Velvia/Vivid, and a third at Astia/Soft; more on Film Simulation modes later
- Dynamic Range bracketing: camera takes on photo at 100% DR, a second at 200%, and a third at 400%; the ISO will be set to 400 when using this feature
Now it's time to talk about some of the interesting options that you'll find in the Fuji X10's menu system. The menu system itself looks dated, but it's easy enough to work with. While help screens would be nice, I don't think the X10's target audience really needs them.
- ISO sensitivity: choose from regular Auto, Auto with an upper limit (ranging from 400 to 3200), or a fixed value from 100 to 12800 (with lots of stops in-between)
- Image size/aspect ratio: you've got large, medium, and small, with four aspect ratios to choose from (4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1)
- Dynamic range: choose from Auto (100% - 400%) or manual (100% to 1600%); the top two settings are only available in the D-Range Priority EXR mode; the ISO will be boosted if you use high DR settings
- Film Simulation mode: simulates different types of film (in case the name didn't give it away); select from Provia/standard, Velvia/vivid, Astia/soft, monochrome, monochrome+yellow/red/green, sepia)
- WB shift: fine-tune white balance in the red-cyan or blue-yellow direction (described earlier)
- Sharpness/highlight tone/shadow tone/noise reduction: adjust these from low to high (5 steps total)
- Intelligent Digital Zoom: boosts the focal range by 2 times, with a minimal loss in image quality; this feature is showing up on more and more cameras
- Advanced Anti Blur: available only in EXR Auto mode, this will take several exposures in a row and combine them into a blur-free image (in theory) with less noise than you'd get otherwise
- Face detection/recognition: naturally, the X10 can detect faces; the camera can also learn to recognize faces, and you can attach a name, relationship, and birthday to up to eight people; recognized faces get focus priority when they appear in the scene
- External flash: use this when a non-Fujifilm external flash is attached; if the built-in flash is popped-up, it will fire once to signal a remote slave flash
- Custom set: save your favorite settings to the two "C" spots on the mode dial
- Display custom setting: choose what's shown on the LCD when its in the custom mode (which you reach by pressing the Disp button a few times); options include guidelines, AF/MF distance indicators, a live histogram, and an electronic level
- Quick Start mode: this one and all that follow are on the setup tab; reduces startup time at the expense of battery life
- Function button: here you can define what the custom Fn button handles; by default, it's the ISO sensitivity, and plenty of other choices are available. Firmware update 1.03 added this functionality to the RAW button as well.
- Dual IS mode: choose from continuous+motion, continuous, shooting+motion, shooting only; the "motion" part means that the camera will boost the ISO to freeze moving subjects -- if you're using a fixed ISO, then that feature won't do anything
- Redeye removal: digitally removes any redeye found in a photo you've just taken; only works with face detection on
- RAW: while this option is buried in the setup menu, you can also turn it on by using the button on the back of the camera; choose from RAW or RAW+JPEG; you cannot shoot RAW in the auto shooting modes, which includes EXR mode, nor can you use it above ISO 3200. A RAW image is about 19MB in size.
Now onto movie mode. The X10 can record Full HD videos at 1920 x 1080 (30 frames/second) with stereo sound, using the H.264 codec. You can keep recording until the elapsed time reaches 30 minutes. If you don't need 1080p video, you can also record at 720p or 640 x 480, as well.
As you'd expect, you can use the optical zoom while filming a movie, and the X10 will keep everything in focus (though refocusing is sluggish at times). The image stabilizer is available, as well.
If you're looking for manual controls in movie mode, you won't find them on the X10. About the only thing you can adjust is the Film Simulation mode. You can take a 6 Megapixel still image while you're recording a movie by pressing the OK button.
A high speed movie mode is also available on the X10. Choose from 70, 120, or 200 frames/second, with the resolution declining as the frame rate goes up (640 x 480, 320 x 240, and 320 x 112, respectively). Movies recorded in high speed mode are played back at normal speed, which produces a slow motion effect.
Below are two separate videos that I spliced together. They're taken at the Full HD (1080/30p) setting.
Anyone else notice the jaggies and compression artifacts in that sample? I also found that the continuous AF tends to "hunt" a lot, which makes your movies look awfully strange.
|Playback menu||In-camera RAW editing|
The X10 has a pretty good playback mode. Image editing tools include redeye removal, image rotating/cropping/resizing, and RAW conversion. The RAW conversion tool sounds pretty neat, but it returned a "write error" on several occasions. You can filter your photos by date, category, faces, favorites, file format, and more, and tag them for uploading to Facebook or YouTube. The camera can also create photo books, which can be viewed on the camera or in MyFinePix Studio.
There are, unfortunately, no video editing tools on the Fuji X10 -- not even a basic trimming tool.
By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos. However, if you press the display button, you'll get a lot more, including a histogram and a display of over/underexposed areas of your photo. Use the main dial and you can see even more shooting information.
As you'd expect from a camera in this price range, there's no delay between photos. You can move through images slowly with the four-way controller, or really book it by using the subdial.