Monday, 25 June 2012

Fuji X100 First Impressions

On Friday I ordered a Fuji X100, having desired one for a long time and only then possessing the means to buy one. I am terribly impatient so I chose next-day delivery, thus it arrived around midday. Hurrah!

Low Light Quality

Zoe had worked 70 hours that week so she was still in bed when the camera arrived.

Zoe on the phone to her sister

That there is ISO 3200 pushed 1 stop in Aperture. You can see the noise if you look closely.

The same day the camera arrived, we went for a visit to Zoe’s parents. Her nieces were there too, giving me plenty of opportunities to practice with my new camera since they are very photogenic. Moreover they’re quite young so they don’t sit still for long, and the house isn’t super bright so it was be a good chance to see how well the X100 copes in less than ideal conditions.

In short: it performed well. Most of the shots I attempted were successful, and of the misses, most could be put down to unfamiliarity with the camera.

Here’s Zoe showing Gabby and Izzy her iPad:

Zoe showing Gabby and Izzy her iPad

To give you an idea of the light level, this is another ISO 3200 shot (though not pushed this time) at f/2.8 and 1/90 shutter. Still fairly dark.

Forgive me if I am repeating something you may already know, but this kind of noise performance is quite new to me. My last big-sensor’d camera was a Pentax K10D, and it only goes up to ISO 1600, whereupon it’s a mess, if it can even focus at all in low light.

So X100 image quality is wonderful. You probably knew that already.


Before I got the camera I ready more or less everything I could find written about it. One thing that a number of people commented on was the lack of stiffness in the dials, the issue being how they might get moved accidentally. I don’t understand this. To me they feel just right: easy to move with just a thumb, but not loose that they’ll turn if you look at them funny. Goldilocks.

There has also been much wailing over the OK button, and on this I agree entirely: it is bad. Here is the problem:

The tiny OK button on the Fuji X100

My thumb is not pressing the button in this picture, merely resting on it. Bear in mind also that the whole ring around the button is itself clickable in four directions. I guess you could get used to it, but I plan to make my life easier by glueing half a small bead or similar to it.

The ridged ring in the picture above is part of the four-way pad control too but can also be rotated to navigate through menus and such. It is really cheap-feeling, with barely discernible detents and a generally very loose feel. I guess maybe it’d be useful for quickly spinning though the ISO menu but I’ve had the camera on Auto-ISO all the time, so I dunno; mostly I just try to avoid turning it when I’m clicking up and down in the menus, which isn’t so difficult.

Some have complained about the AF mode switch: Fuji rather foolishly put AF-S mode in the middle of the three positions and the design of the switch makes it rather fiddly to set it to the middle. This hasn’t much bothered me (yet?) because I’ve not felt the need to use anything other than single-focus mode except when I tried manual and found it pretty much as useless as everyone else.

Oh the shutter button. The half-press is light, and the full-press has a really nice click to it. The complete lack of lag after focussing feels great: click and the picture you just took appears immediately. Very satisfying. I think this might be a large part of why so many people find the act of taking pictures with the X100 so pleasurable.


I mentioned earlier I use Auto-ISO (heresy! burn the heathen!) which means the default function of the Fn button (bring up ISO menu) isn’t much use, so I changed it to toggle depth-of-field preview. I like this, especially since you can turn the aperture dial and see the results in real-time without any annoying changes in brightness.

As of firmware 1.2 the function of RAW button can also be changed to something less pointless than toggling raw/JPEG recording. I’ve set it to toggle the neutral-density filter; this comes in handy more often than you might expect, particularly given the X100’s minimum ISO of 200. Here’s a photo at f/2 on a bright sunny day:

Postbox at f/2 in the middle of the day

Only 1/400 shutter speed, instead of the unreachable 1/3200 it would otherwise have needed.

The aperture, shutter and exposure compensation dials are very handy. Being mechanical controls, you can set them without even turning the camera on, and you can tell at a glance what they’re set to. A few people have bemoaned the lack of half- or third-stop detents on the aperture and shutter dials but honestly I don’t see this as a problem, at least not for me and the way I shoot.

The shutter dial mostly sits in the A position, making the camera aperture-priority. As such, whole-stop aperture adjustments are perfectly fine, since I don’t imagine ever needing finer depth-of-field control than this provides – the difference between f/2.8 and f/4 is already fairly subtle, never mind f/2.8 and f/3.5 (one stop versus half a stop, in case you’re not familiar).

If you really do need that finer adjustment, incidentally, the rear jog-dial thing has you covered, though obviously it’s not as efficient as just using the main controls.


No article about the X100 is complete without mention of its groundbreaking hybrid electronic/optical viewfinder. I shan’t repeat what others have written, but there are a couple of things I’ll mention that I’ve not read about.

First is the EVF’s refresh rate. It’s mostly low, and I say ‘mostly’ because after you lock focus it suddenly goes lovely and fast like the rear LCD. I don’t know why it can’t be fast all the time, maybe it’s to save battery power. Maybe it says in the manual, I haven’t looked (nor needed to).

The second thing is a little more complex: the use of the EVF itself, in contrast to the OVF. In the days before digital, all viewfinders were optical of one design or another. There was no way to see what the film saw without actually developing that film, which was obviously very much not a real-time process. Hence the invention of light meters, both external and internal, to assist the photographer in setting the right aperture and shutter combination. All photography involved an element of guesswork, in other words.

Enter digital. Now we can see what the sensor is seeing, in real-time. We can see before we take the photo whether it’s too bright or too dark. This make the craft side of photography considerably easier than before, which I think is amazing. For the beginner and expert alike, the relief from worrying and guessing means more mental capacity to focus on what’s really important: the picture itself.

I am a convert, I think. I’ve not really had the camera long enough to make up my mind, but for now I’m leaning toward preferring the EVF. This surprised me, since I enjoy using the optical finder on my little Ricoh GRD3, and I’ve been using SLRs for years without live view. I think Kirk Tuck might be responsible.

Perhaps it’s just lack of practice. The OVF is certainly nice, and on a sunny day the difference in brightness between it and the electronic finder is considerable. And yet, despite the live histogram in the optical finder (!) there’s still quite the element of guesswork when it comes to avoiding small blown highlights. Who knows, maybe once I’m more familiar with the camera’s metering and imaging habits I’ll be able to trust it more and use the wonderful bright OVF worry-free.

More pictures on my flickr photostream


  1. Skimmed over the techinical bits but really just wanted to comment on the fact that you take fantastic photos. Speaking as a very unphotogenic person (my face just packs up at the mere mention of the word camera) they are just brilliant pictures, no one could look bad with you behind the camera :D

  2. Thank you :D

    And imo nobody is unphotogenic, they just aren't good at having their picture taken, often because it makes them uncomfortable, which in turn results in them looking awkward in the photo. In those sorts of situations one of the the photographer's jobs is to put the person at ease.

    It's also one of the reasons unposed pictures usually look so much better – it's actually really hard to pose without looking completely awkward.

  3. Very good article.
    I have to agree with Gemma about some people being unphotogenic. Some folks can be completely pleasing if not normal in person and yet you take a photo and something crazy happens. Complete disconnect. In my experience, these folks almost always do better in video.