Fuji X10 Review
The Fujifilm X10 is a very well designed premium compact camera. It's generally a joy to use, and it's retro-style body will certainly turn some heads. That said, it has a lengthy list of flaws; some are minor annoyances, while others make you wonder how this camera got through the testing phase. The camera itself is exceptionally well built. Its magnesium alloy body, plethora of dials, and faux rubber surfaces give it a rangefinder camera feel. The X10 is easy to hold, and while it's loaded with buttons, you wouldn't be overwhelmed. It also has a unique lens ring, which serves as the power switch in addition to its focal range adjusting duties. From a design standpoint, the only things I didn't like were the free-spinning subdial and the off-center tripod mount. The highlight of the X10 is its lens, which has a fast maximum aperture range (F2.0-F2.8) and none of the issues that come up on lesser lenses (like corner blurring or purple fringing). Combine the fast lens with the X10's sensor-shift image stabilization system, and blurry shots should be a rare occurrence. On the back of the camera you'll find a very sharp 2.8" LCD display with excellent outdoor and low light visibility, as well as an optical viewfinder. The X10 has a powerful built-in flash, as well a hot shoe for even better flash photos.
Another big feature on the X10 is its larger-than-average 2/3" EXR CMOS sensor. While I didn't see any big improvements in terms of noise and especially highlight detail on the X10, the EXR sensor does allow the user to choose between high resolution, high sensitivity, and wide dynamic range. You can let the camera choose which is best for the scene, or do it yourself. The high sensitivity & low noise EXR mode does indeed produce better-than-average low light photos, though the resolution is cut in half, to 6 Megapixel. The D-Range Priority will cut the resolution to 6 Megapixel as well as boosting the ISO as high as 400, but it works very well at reducing the highlight clipping that plagues the X10. You can also increase the dynamic range at full resolution, but only up to 400% (instead of 1600%).
So there's your point-and-shoot experience -- how about manual controls? The X10 features them all, including those for exposure, white balance, and focus (though the controls for this are clunky). There's also support for the RAW format (with a built-in editor), two customizable buttons, and two spots on the mode dial for your favorite camera settings. Do note that RAW is unavailable above ISO 3200, as the image size drops as you go above that sensitivity. The X10 also features a multi-shot low light mode, a Pro Focus mode which blurs the background for you, and an in-camera panorama feature that can cover a full 360 degrees. The Fuji X10 can record Full HD video at 1080/30p with stereo sound, continuous autofocus, and use of the image stabilizer. Video quality isn't the greatest, though, and the AF system tends to "hunt" more than I'd like. There aren't any manual controls or editing tools for movies, either.
The X10 is generally a very solid performer. The camera starts up quickly (depending on how fast you can turn the lens ring), and has impressive focus speeds, even in low light. I will point out that there were times when the AF system would fail, for no apparent reason. Shutter lag wasn't a problem, and shot-to-shot speeds were good, save for when the flash was used. The X10 has a fast burst mode, though 1) the buffer fills quickly, 2) the fastest burst rates are reserved for JPEGs only, and 3) the camera will be locked up for up to 15 seconds while the images are saved to the memory card. Speaking of delays, the X10 is more difficult to wake from sleep than most cameras -- you must hold the shutter release down for about a second. Battery life on the X10 is slightly below average among premium compacts, so picking up a spare isn't a bad idea.
That brings us to photo quality, which is the area in which the X10 needs the most improvement. On the positive side, exposure is usually accurate, colors are saturated, and purple fringing levels are low. Redeye is well-controlled, but only if the camera detects a face in the scene and uses its digital removal system. Images are a little bit soft for my taste, though that's easy enough to fix. The camera's biggest problems are jaggies, highlight clipping, and the occasional white disc/orb. Highlight clipping is shockingly bad for a camera in this price range, though if you're willing to increase the ISO sensitivity and use the DR correction feature, it becomes much more manageable. The white disc issue won't appear often, but when it does, you'll certainly notice. My view is that this is due to a flaw in the sensor design, and that it will not be fixed. The last few Fuji compacts I tested had some questionable quality control, and with the X10 I'm starting to wonder what's going on over in Japan. As I mentioned earlier, for those of you set on the X10, make sure you buy it from a store with a nice return policy, in case the white orbs (or highlight clipping) becomes unbearable.
Overall, the Fujifilm X10 is an intriguing, fun-to-use camera with a fairly long list of cons. Is it a camera I enjoyed using? Yes, quite a bit. Would I buy it? Probably not, though that's due more to the highlight clipping than the white disc issue. Should you consider it? Definitely, but check out the competition carefully.
What I liked:
- Good photo quality when using dynamic range correction
- High grade, professional quality body with rangefinder-style design and manual zoom ring
- Fast, high quality F2.0-2.8, 28 - 112 mm lens
- Sensor-shift image stabilization
- 2.8" LCD is fluid, sharp, and easy to see in all conditions
- Large optical viewfinder has 85% coverage
- EXR CMOS sensor produces better-than-average high sensitivity photos (at 6MP, though) and dramatically reduces highlight clipping (though the ISO must go up)
- Full manual controls, with RAW support (and in-camera editing), custom buttons and spots on mode dial, four types of bracketing, and more
- EXR Auto mode chooses both the scene and EXR mode for you
- Fast burst mode, though buffer fills quickly, highest speeds limited to JPEGs, and long write times
- Always handy electronic level
- Anti-redeye system does the job, as long as a face is detected
- 360 degree panorama tool
- Hot shoe for external flash
- Full HD video recording with use of optical zoom, image stabilization, and continuous AF
What I didn't care for:
- Strong highlight clipping (use the DR correction to reduce, though noise will increase)
- Unusual white disc/orb problem makes photos look awkward (to say the least)
- Some "jaggies" in photos
- EXR sensor's most useful features require drop in resolution, increase in ISO
- AF system occasional fails to lock focus, then works fine a second later; adjusting focus manually is clunky and slow
- Camera locks up for 10-15 seconds after taking bursts, or several RAW images
- Highest sensitivities at lower resolutions, RAW unavailable
- Design annoyances: subdial spins too freely, tripod mount off-center, UI getting a bit dated
- Waking camera from sleep more difficult than it should be
- Video quality isn't great; continuous AF tends to "hunt"; no manual controls or editing tools for videos
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Fuji X10 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our X10 photo gallery to see how the image quality looks!