The Fujifilm FinePix X100 is one of those cameras that's been eagerly awaited ever since it was first announced! Officially presented at the Photokina 2010 camera and photography show, this expert compact is already worth its weight in column inches. With its Leica-style retro design, hybrid viewfinder (optical/digital) and fast, fixed -focal-length lens (equivalent to 35 mm), could this be the camera every photographer has always dreamed of? It's time to find out!
HandlingThe X100 is clearly playing on nostalgia for 35mm film cameras, with a design that's highly reminiscent of Leicas (the M6, in particular) and the Fujica V2, presented all the way back in 1964. It's therefore difficult to be objective about the X100 as you'll either instantly love or instantly hate its old-school look. On the whole though, we found most people rather liked it, and all the more so since the X100 has a high-quality metal finish and is generally nice to handle. The leatherette covering, the chunky metal control dials and the big viewfinder all make this camera stand out against the infinite number of plastic compacts manufacturers bombard us with these days. In this respect, the X100 is clearly an exceptional camera.
However, given that it costs around £1,000, we reckon we've got the right to be pretty picky when it comes to quality, and we did find a few small flaws in the camera's design. The dials, for example (speed and exposure), turn a little too freely for our liking and you can sometimes end up changing the settings by accident. The manual focusing ring is actually electronic, which means it's not as accurate as it could be, the lens cap isn't attached to the camera body, and the memory card and battery compartment (plastic cover) is located on the underside of the camera.
One of the most original features of this camera is its hybrid viewfinder. You can switch almost instantly between an optical viewfinder and an electronic viewfinder by simply sliding a switch on the front of the camera. It's a very stylish solution. The optical viewfinder is particularly clear and sharp, and the eyepiece is comfortable to use even if you're wearing glasses. Shooting information can even be displayed on the optical viewfinder, which is a real bonus. You can, for example, display a rectangular frame for lining up shots (with parallax correction), as well as handy information like the speed, battery life, a grid or a virtual spirit level. All this will give you a welcome helping hand when lining up and taking photos.
The electronic viewfinder is 100% accurate in its coverage of the field and you can check the colour reproduction too (white balance). The image displayed is relatively accurate, but is severely lacking in contrast. That said, the electronic viewfinder is particularly handy in low light, as it gives a welcome boost to the image viewed. Although this hybrid viewfinder has plenty of advantages, it also has a few key disadvantages. First of all, the optical viewfinder lacks accuracy (rectangle = 90% of field, see sidebar) and in macro mode, you'll definitely need to use the electronic viewfinder to get round parallax issues (the difference in point of view between the optical viewfinder and the lens). Also note that 'normal' focusing isn't possible at less than 80 cm from your subject, so you have no choice but to switch to macro mode (on the four-way arrow pad) for the autofocus to get back to work. Similarly, the electronic isn't as smooth as it could be in low light or with fluorescent-type lighting.
The X100 has a few customisable features (Fn button), but we would have liked a little more flexibility with, for example, adjustable RAW controls or more options for the rear thumb lever.
ResponsivenessThe X100 is a frustrating compact to use. It's very fast to focus, save pictures and take shots, but it's slow in some other crucial fields. Notably, it takes three seconds to start up even though the lens has a fixed focal length.
In burst mode, this camera can shoot 10 photos at a speed of over 5 fps without even flinching. It does, however, take a bit of a long time to save them all to the memory card (10 seconds), during which time the camera is completely out of action.
In manual focusing mode, the available depth of field in relation to the aperture and focusing distance can be displayed on screen. This is great for using the X100 in hyperfocal mode, for taking pictures almost instantly with no focusing required.
Picture QualityA 12-Megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor in a compact camera is a particularly tempting proposition, especially when the results are this impressive. With out test scene, the X100 ensures excellent image quality from 100 to 12800 ISO with a very fine grain and very subtle smoothing. Shots taken over the whole ISO range are therefore perfectly usable. This really is very good.
The lens has a particularly appealing set of tech specs too, with its generous aperture to f/2. Our enthusiasm was only hampered by slightly disappointing performances at the widest aperture, as the edges of the frame are still a little hazy. You have to close the aperture a bit to f/2.8 for the shot to gain consistency. In the middle of the frame, pictures are nice and sharp at pretty much all apertures. Note that, on the whole, a quick retouch in photo editing software will help give the pictures a little more energy and vibrancy as they're generally quite soft, a bit like the shots typically taken with basic SLRs.
Chromatic aberration is well controlled and pictures don't have any visible defects.
VideoThe video mode is hidden away at the bottom of a menu (although direct access can be assigned to the Fn button), but that doesn't mean the X100 has got something to hide. Resolution is limited to 1280 x 720 pixels, but that should be good enough for most situations. Sound is recorded in stereo and automatic focusing isn't too slow when filming.
- Great optical/electronic hybrid viewfinder
- Incredible picture quality with hardly any noise up to 12800 ISO
- Quiet and fast focusing / Snapshot mode (hyperfocal)
- Fast, fixed-focal-length lens
- Stylish retro design
- Optical viewfinder could be more accurate
- Slow to start up and save pictures to the memory card
- Macro focusing required for subjects less than 80 cm away
- No stabilisation
- More custom controls would be nice
The Fujifilm FinePix X100 has plenty of attractive features, including its retro design, excellent picture quality, hybrid viewfinder and fast autofocus. It misses out on a fifth star for the sake of a few annoying details (slow start-up, battery life etc.)