When I show people my Fujifilm X100 the first thing they ask is “do I have to look though the viewfinder?”. The second thing they ask is “how do I zoom?”. I fear for the future of humanity.
What Fuji have done with the X100 is basically take a DSLR quality imaging sensor and matched it to a fixed focal length 35mm equivalent lens (f2.0 no less!) and put them in a magnesium alloy rangefinder style body that is about the same size as an Olympus Trip 35.
It appears to be aimed at people who know what they want.
Mine was an impulse buy.
I had watched a few youtube reviews and read some very positive blog write-ups, but I am not a street photographer so I didn’t think it had anything to offer me. Oh how wrong I was. For some back story I have tried high end compact cameras before such as the Canon G9, and I still have an Olympus PEN, but they have always disappointed and I was never happy relying on them without taking a DSLR along, which kind of defeated the point.
However, the X100 seemed like a perfect one camera option for travelling light and leaving the big guns at home once in a while.
The camera layout will be familiar to anyone who knows manual focus film SLRs. There is an aperture ring around the lens barrel and a shutter speed dial on the top of the camera. Setting the shutter speed dial to ‘A’ puts it in aperture priority and vice versa, with both set to ‘A’ you get full program mode. On the top plate is the shutter release, an exposure compensation dial, and a programmable function button. There is also a focus mode switch on the left side of the body.
Sure it has an LCD screen on the back with various other buttons around it, but that’s not really a key part of the X100 experience. The centrepiece of the camera is the viewfinder (as it should be!) which is switched between pure optical and through the lens electronic operation with the red tipped lever on the front of the camera. The optical viewfinder is simply brilliant, with a simple overlaid frameline and basic exposure information along the bottom. To my eye it is significantly bigger and brighter than my Nikon D300 and a match for my older 35mm SLRs. The electronic option gives you the direct view through the lens and gives an indication of the precise framing, dynamic range and colour balance of the final image.
The pure technical capabilities of this camera have been written about by a lot of knowledgeable people already and all I really want to add it that I set my ISO and dynamic range controls to auto and the camera does a great job of keeping out of my way while also producing nice clean and balanced images.
My interest lies more in the experience of using the camera.
I took the camera to London with me to see what I could find that interested me. I have always had an affinity with the Underground and previously shot quite a bit of film down there during my travels, so it felt like a good place to start.
It’s a great camera for this kind of thing, very discrete so I didn’t feel self-concious as I often do when photographing in public. It is a quick and responsive camera and very intuitive for adjusting settings before lifting it to your eye. I used to shoot ISO 800 or 1600 film to compensate for the low light and the X100 generally did the same, but with decent results, lots of dynamic range and very little noise or grain to the images.
The viewfinder is excellent in both dark and bright conditions, with the information displayed adjusting to keep it from distracting you. I found it easy to frame and shoot very quickly, without having to hold the camera to my eye for very long and people generally took no interest in what I was doing.
Out in the bright sunshine the wide dynamic range of the camera was most pleasing. Gone is the disappointment I’ve previously felt when the camera can’t see exactly what I can and instead I got some nice results that inspired confidence enough to limit the number of shots I was taking and adopt a film shooting type of approach.
Overall it was a lot of fun. A camera that allowed me to capture some nice images without detracting from the experience of being there. I often spend too much time worrying about if I have the right lens on or what ISO I can get away with, all to the detriment of my images and my enjoyment of actually being there doing something. I found the X100 freed me from that as it takes away the multiple choice questions before every press of the shutter and forces you to just get on with it.
I said this was an impulse buy, and I think it was spurred on by rumours Fuji was discontinuing this camera, likely for a replacement at the upcoming Photokina event. For most people this would be a sign to wait for bigger, better, newer, more, etc. But for me it meant I should get one now while I still could (I think split 50:50 between ‘because it has money off’ and ‘because they might ruin it with the next one’).
To me this camera represents a perfect combination of the look, feel and handling of the older film SLR cameras that I love so much with the image quality and convenience of a modern DSLR (while being smaller and lighter than both!). I have not used a digital camera before that has done such a good job of stepping back and letting me get on with taking pictures. Sure the camera has limitations and constraints but the boxes they did tick on the features list perfectly match the way I do photography.
And yes, seriously, you can’t zoom.