24 Hours with the Fuji x100

This is not a review. This is simply a hands-on account of the Fuji x100 based on my very limited use during the first 24 hours using this camera. I am willing to lay all the chips on the line right from the start and go ahead and say that this just may be the most fun digital camera I have ever used. Period. I’ll tell you why after the jump, along with plenty of snaps from my first few hours using this camera.

There are plenty of other sites that will give a full-on technical reviews of this camera, complete with histograms, RAW files, resolution tests, and the works. If that’s what you’re after, go ahead and close this window now, head on over to Google, and have at it ’cause you’re not gonna get it here. If you want a little advice though: dump all the tests and pixel-peeping out the window, get your hands on one of these for a day or two, and see if your entire approach to digital photography changes. Yeah, it could happen.

1/60 sec at f/11, ISO 320

I come from a background heavy in film photography, my first camera being an old beat up Canon AE-1. From there, I have used a multitude of 35mm SLRs, Range finders, TLRs, and then moved to medium format with Hasselblad and Mamiya before digital started to take over the entire photo industry… I bought a Canon 5d not long after it was released and while I have made some amazing photos with that camera, I was never fully satisfied with the overall quality from the photos even when attached to L-series glass… I have used a Nikon D700 from time to time, and the newer Canon 5d Mark II, also with amazing results, but still, I always felt there was something missing… Until now. Will the x100 replace my Canon 5d MkII for commercial assignments? No way. Will I ever carry my 5d with me for general travel, street, or personal photography? Probably not.

The Fuji x100 after only 24 hours in my hands has far surpassed my expectations, and so far has taken consecutively great images. That’s not to say that the x100 will knock it home every time you click the shutter, but I can carry this camera with confidence knowing that barring user error, it will get the shot I want when I want it. I didn’t waste any time putting this thing through the runs, low light, bright light, back light, high ISO, wide open, stopped down, etc., and I can say with confidence that the Fuji x100 met or surpassed my expectations in nearly every case. This is not an SLR. It has it’s limitations. If you pick it up expecting an SLR, you will be disappointed. If on the other hand, you pick it up expecting an extremely versatile, compact, and lightweight (relative to my 5d Mk II/lens/tripod) photographic tool with incredible image quality… You might find yourself in photographer’s heaven.

1/60 sec at f/2.8, ISO 800

I have been wanting a smaller lighter weight carry-everywhere camera for a long time. The problem is, I am sucker for quality over almost every other factor which means I was almost always leaving home with my 5d kit, with one or two lenses, an a heavy Gitzo tripod, and a shutter release. I hate it, but I can’t help it. The x100 is small enough that it’s easy to bring with you anywhere, light enough that it won’t break your back on vacation, and the image quality rivals anything I have seen from my 5d or 5d2 even with L-series glass. The deal breaker: the x100 is also incredibly inconspicuous, silent, and is incredibly fun to use. In just a few hours using thing thing I felt like I was seeing my town in a whole new way. All my test shots in this post were taken within a few blocks of my home, nothing special, things I see every day. The thing is, I was able to see them, and even more importantly, capture them, in a whole new way.

1/60 sec at f/8, ISO 640

1/60 sec at f/8, ISO 640

The build quality seems to be very good, and from the moment I picked up the camera, it just felt right in the hand- all the buyers angst began to vanish, and I couldn’t wait to get outside to see what it could really do. It’s heavy enough to feel like a quality instrument, yet light enough that you won’t even notice it around your neck all day. It looks great, it’s dead silent (I put mine in silent mode right away), and takes GREAT photos. It is after all, just about the photos right?

The x100 has a fixed 23mm f2 lens which is super sharp, and is supposedly matched to the APS sensor; Technical gibberish aside, I can say in real-world use they are a GORGEOUS combination. That’s a 35mm equivalent in full frame terms, and even though there are no other lenses for the x100 (non-interchangeable) I did not find that to be a disadvantage at all. I am quite comfortable in general shooting with middle wide-angle lenses and would estimate even with the 24-105 L zoom lens on my Canon, I did 90% of my shooting at the far wide end of that lens… I definitely don’t miss the bulk and weight for the very few shots I might want a bit of a zoom. For those 10% of the shots I might need to zoom… I just have to move my feet a little bit instead of my lens!

1/60 sec at f/2.0, ISO 2500 – Handheld at dusk

As great as the lens itself and overall image quality are, it’s true that at times the camera can be a complete pain to use. In particular the manual focus on the lens in it’s current state (firmware 1.11) is utterly useless. You’re looking at about 9,000 turns of the manual focus ring to bring this thing from minimum focus to infinity. In addition, the auto-focus is not particular fast, and would not be suitable for fast-moving subjects (like sports or kids), and it does seem to have a little trouble focusing on subjects less than about one meter away- The partial remedy to that seems to be that when you are able to anticipate your subject coming to within that range, hit the manual focus switch on the side of the camera, and then use the Autofocus button on the back of the camera to lock focus and shoot- This works but is not an ideal solution… All that aside, I never found that I was missing shots due to slow-focusing or inability to focus, even in very low light.

I am typically a very manual focus, manual exposure, manual ISO type of photographer, so I was very surprised to find one of my favorite features of the x100 was the “ISO Ceiling Setting & Minimum Shutter Speed Limit”. This allows one to set a minimum shutter speed at which the camera will bump the ISO automatically when the appropriate exposure is not possible. In practice, this works flawlessly, especially considering that photos look great even up to ISO 1600 and are perfectly usable when properly exposed even at ISO 3200. What this means in terms of everyday shooting is that the photographer now has one less thing to worry about and can concentrate solely on aperture and shutter speed to get exactly the shot desired in a given situation.

1/60 sec at f/2.0, ISO 2500 – Handheld at dusk

High ISO performance is far better than my 5d, and at least as good as the 5d2 in my experience (if not better, especially at ISO 1600 and 3200)… Both these cameras are a few years old now, but were both praised at the time of release for high-ISO performance and were (until now) my go-to camera for night work. I have the feeling this may change with the Fuji x100. I found that until well after dark (in the city) I was able to hand-hold shots in much darker situations than I would ever have dreamed of with my 5d… The ability to work hand-held in low-light situations, without the need to drag a heavy tripod around is certainly a big bonus. For serious night work, of course the tripod will still be necessary, and I am looking forward to giving a full review of the camera’s performance in a variety of low-light and night situations, stopped down and at low ISO settings…

The photos I happened to take during my little trial period were ALL handheld, simply because I didn’t have my tripod with me, which also means that they are mostly shot wide-open (for better or worse)- That’s not to say they are not sharp. Even at f/2.0-2.8, the photos (even hand-held at ISO 3200) are certainly of useable quality even when noise may be apparent. Without a doubt, stopped-down with at lower ISO on a tripod, one would be able to make some extraordinarily clean, sharp, images with very accurate colors.

Here’s a selection of high ISO (3200), wide-open shots- All more-or-less straight from camera to get an idea of what this thing is capable of in dark situations (Shot in RAW, imported to Lightroom as DNG, exported with no adjustments applied, screen-sharpened):

1/8 sec at f/2.0, ISO 3200

1/15 sec at f/2.0, ISO 3200

1/20 sec at f/2.0, ISO 3200

1/10 sec at f/2.0, ISO 3200 – HANDHELD! and it’s sharp, even at 100%

I guess at this point you’re probably getting the idea that I am falling fast for this camera… Which is certainly true! It’s too soon to tell just what place the x100 will eventually have in my overall workflow, but it certainly has a long enough list of strong points. That’s not to say it’s not without its quirks (or depending on your personality, things which make you want to scream dirty words in public places), which I will try to address shortly here:

Battery drain: In my first day using this camera, this was probably my biggest disappointment. I am used to either SLRs with long battery life (I usually went days without charging the battery on my 5d) of fully manual cameras that last for months! I only got about 200 shots off before the battery indicator began to blink red and the camera almost IMMEDIATELY shut down. Not much warning. Needless to say, you will need a spare battery (or three) for a full day of shooting (luckily cheap aftermarket batteries are readily available).

Menus/Usability: Leading up to buying this camera, I read plenty of reviews complaining about the horrible menu access of the Fuji x100. I have to admit, I found this to be entirely a NON-ISSUE, and don’t really see what all the fuss was about. OK, in about the first five minutes, it was a little… Shall we say, different? But basically, you can spend about ten minutes setting every thing up exactly how you wish before going out, and then NEVER have to enter the menu again during shooting. SHOOT RAW folks, and get all the quality you can out of this camera, and you can FORGET ABOUT ALL THE “FILM SIMULATION MODES”, etc. If you shoot RAW, and use the “ISO Ceiling Setting”, you can then assign the Function (Fn) button to access the ND filter, and more or less forget those menus even exist. There’s no reason not to… One less thing to worry about, which means more time to focus on making great photos… I’m not saying there’s not some definite room for improvement from Fuji for the next firmware update, but if you simply take some time to know and understand the gear you are using (including it’s faults and shortcomings), it will be much less of a problem to anticipate, and to work around any limitations that may exist.

Slow write speeds: Many users reported experiencing slow write speeds with this camera. I use a 16GB SanDisk Extreme Pro (this one) which is rated at 95MB/s. I have absolutely no problems with startup or write times shooting in RAW with this card. According to SanDisk, these cards are also heat, water, x-ray, and shock resistant… They are also available in 32GB format, but I can shoot about 950 RAW photos with the 16GB version, which suits me just fine. Highly recommended for anyone experiencing slow startup or write times with the x100. This was a non-issue for me during testing thanks to this card, even shooting RAW bursts at 5fps. *For some reason, the SD card seems to need to be formatted each time you put it back in the camera after using in the computer to transfer files or there is a definite difference in speed… This is certainly strange and quirky annoyance.

Manual Focus: Already discussed above, 99% useless in its current state, which is unfortunate. Hopefully this is something that will be adress with firmware updates sooner than later.

RAW Button: Seriously? Hey, Fuji- Let’s make this one programmable in the next firmware update, OK? This might appeal to those you shoot primarily JPEG, but for me, it’s a waste of a perfectly good button that could perform a more useful function, eg. ISO selection or ND filter on/off.

1/40 sec at f/2.0, ISO 3200 – Lit by candlelight!

So… Conclusions??

Nope. Ask me again in a few weeks, and maybe I will be able to provide a more thorough overview, and will have a better idea of just what the x100 can and can not do… It’s a great little camera, not without it’s shortcomings, but capable of making incredibly high quality photos. I can say however that I expect there to be many more images from this camera featured on Reciprocity Images in the future.

The Fuji x100 is not magic. It won’t make you a better photographer. It can’t catch a sharp photo of Big Foot. In the end, it’s just another tool in the bag; one with specific strong and weak points, but in my very limited experience a very versatile tool that can get out of the way, and open doors to new photographic potential in many situations.