No camera maker worth its salt is without an expert compact these days. While Canon and Panasonic were for a long time the only brands in the market, other firms are now joining the party, including Fujifilm with the FinePix X10. This camera has all the features you'd expect to find in an expert compact, including loads of controls for direct access to advanced settings, a relatively compact design, good grip, an optical viewfinder and a fast lens (f/2.8 at the max. zoom setting). To that, Fuji has added a few of its own in-house specialities, namely a manual zoom function (already seen in the brand's high-end bridges) and an EXR sensor.
Clunk—that's the noise the X10 makes when you plonk it on the table. In fact, it's more like CLUNK.
Expert compacts—especially more classic, old-school models—are generally heavy, robust and yet still reasonably compact compared with an SLR. The hefty build is something we really felt in the X10, as although it's not the heaviest model out there (it's actually lighter than its main rivals, the Canon G12 and the Nikon P7100), but the body and, in particular, the entirely metal sole-plate give the camera somewhat indestructible feel—more so than competitor models, in any case. This impression is driven home further by the metal lens barrel, complete with mechanical control ring that doubles up as an on/off switch—a practical and pleasant addition.
We've just got two complaints about the X10's build. first of all, the clickable thumb-wheel is certainly practical but the plastic feels sub-standard. Second, the wheel around the four-way arrows is too loose, spinning around too easily and sometimes accidentally. Proper connection port covers would have been nice too, instead of the half-hearted plugs held on with flimsy bits of rubber.
Unlike the G12 and P7100, Fuji's X10 doesn't have a swivel or tilt screen. That's not to say it's a write-off though, as this LCD boasts excellent viewing angles and gives pleasant onscreen images that are relatively accurate. The colour temperature and gamma (grey scale) are perfectly calibrated while both its competitors have a cool overtone and excessive contrast levels. Colour reproduction is on the better side of average (average deltaE = 5), and regular tones are actually reproduced very well—it's only highly saturated shades that let the side down.
We're not quite so enthusiastic about the optical viewfinder, which displays no image information (although you can see the autofocus light from the corner of your eye). Plus, rainbow effects are visible in the corners, the lens is in sight at wide-angle settings, and as the viewfinder zooms with the lens, it can be hard to find a diopter setting that gives sharp results at all focal distances. Scene coverage leaves something to be desired too ...
That said, it's still a fair bit better than the minuscule viewfinders seen in the G12 and the P7100. In fact, the viewfinders in current expert compacts are so poor that the barely passable X10 viewfinder is probably the best of the bunch right now.
Like other Fuji cameras on the market at the moment, you may need to have a quick look at the instructions to get your head around all of the X10's functions. However, Fuji's EXR modes make a nice addition, particularly the function for boosting dynamic range, which can help prevent bright, light tones from being overexposed. However, we still don't really understand why these functions aren't available in manual mode.
All in all, the X10 is a nice camera to use and it has loads of settings and physical controls. In fact, we found we only needed to go into the menus occasionally.
Out of the box, the X10 is a little slow to start up, taking 2.6 seconds to warm up after you switch the lens ring from 'OFF' to '28 mm'. However, if you switch on the Quick Start option in the menu, the X10 gains a second, starting up in 1.6 seconds. That makes the X10 fairly snappy for a compact. The inevitable downside is that the camera actually stays on standby, rather than switching off completely when set to Quick Start mode. That obviously uses more power but the difference in battery life isn't really all that significant (battery life is still too low, even in the slow start-up mode!).
Once it's up and running, the X10 is on the better side of average, with an autofocus that works in under half a second in good light, and which is still pretty fast in low light. It saves photos quickly too, as you'll barely have to wait a second before taking another shot, even in RAW mode. Note, however, that most settings freeze until a photo has finished saving (approximately 2.5 seconds with a good memory card) so you can only take a second photo quickly if you keep the same settings.
The continuous shooting mode is good, snapping six to seven frames per second. The only downside is the slightly disappointing buffer memory that can only hold six RAW shots or seven Jpegs.
The Fuji X10 should have all it takes to deliver great picture quality. On the one hand, the 28-112 mm lens is very fast (f/2 in wide-angle and f/2.8 in telephoto) and, on the other hand, it has a new and considerably less pixel-dense sensor than the firm's consumer compacts. In fact, the X10 comes with a 2/3" 12-Megapixel sensor instead of a 1/2" 16-Megapixel sensor, giving a density of 21 MP/cm² compared with 52 MP/cm².
The results above confirm what we suspected—picture quality is very good. Some noise is visible on shots viewed at 100% size from 200 ISO, but it's really not a problem. As the ISO settings rise picture quality barely flinches, and at 800 ISO shots are still impeccable. At 1600 ISO some quality is lost, but the pictures are still perfectly usable. At 3200 ISO things get a little more troublesome, however.
The X10 takes very similar pictures to the Canon S100 that uses a CMOS sensor with the same resolution and which is just a tiny bit smaller in size. Anyone expecting Fuji's sensor to be a game-changer will no doubt be disappointed, but with such similar specs it's no surprise to see it on par with Canon's latest expert compact.
The X10 lens can't really be compared with the P7100 and G12 lenses, as these have much more powerful zooms and they aren't as fast. We therefore found it more logical to compare the X10 lens with fast lenses like those in the Olympus XZ-1, Panasonic LX5 and Samsung EX1.
At 28 mm the X10 lens holds its own. While Panasonic's LX5 gives more flattering Jpegs, the actual resolution is barely any lower. At f/2 sharpness could be better, but from f/2.8 it's excellent across the whole frame. Diffraction starts to limit resolution from f/5.6, but isn't really visible until f/8. We wouldn't recommend f/11 for prints 8" x 10" (20 x 27 cm) or larger, however. At 112 mm, it's a similar story, except that aperture is limited to f/2.8. It's therefore at the widest aperture settings that you'll get the best results, and these are really rather good, even if the LX5 is still the best of the bunch as far as we're concerned.
We noticed a slight blip in the demosaicing in this camera, as default Jpegs can sometimes suffer from aliasing and moiré effects on finer lines. Note, however, that this pretty much only happens when you're shooting test cards and isn't likely to be a problem in day-to-day situations.
The good news is that X10 films 1080p video with stereo sound. Audio quality is pretty good, although it's still no match for a stand-alone camcorder. Distinct noises are captured and reproduced well and voices are reasonably clear. In very quiet scenes, you can sometimes hear the noise of the autofocus working, but you won't notice it in unless you're filming a silent scene.
The X10 does tend to overexpose bright, light shades but the overall exposure is pretty neutral, which means that darker areas of the image aren't flooded or blocked together. However, what we really found surprising about the X10 was that aliasing effects are clearly visible on diagonal lines or curves that are almost horizontal. This is particularly visible in the decorations on the music box in our test scene (see above) and gives the impression that video resolution is lower than it actually is. This could be explained by rather heavy-handed compression, as in the X10 a one minute video is just 106 MB in size, while it would be 250 MB in the Canon S100!
Note too that the X10 doesn't have a video-record button, which means you have to switch to the video setting on the mode selection dial each time you want to film something. Annoying!