The Fuji FinePix X100 packs a lot of punch for a high-end compact digital when considering overall image quality and precision. We were impressed with its speed and accuracy, especially when shooting in the street. Secondary to its fine image-making potential, it easily ranks as one of the most beautiful and aesthetically pleasing cameras on the market, a sure score for artsy photography enthusiasts and anyone who appreciates good design. (There’s even a gorgeous, old-fashioned, and highly recommended protective leather case that you can buy that looks and fits just like the 35mm cameras from yesteryear, though it doesn’t come standard.)
The main reason for the Fuji X100’s high quality image-making ability lies in the fact that it contains a custom designed APS-C size CMOS 12.3-megapixel sensor designed to work perfectly with its fixed-focal length 23mm F2 lens (equivalent to 35mm lens on a 35mm film camera). Fuji has hyped this camera to the extreme and hails its image sensor as “ten times the [light] sensitivity of a typical compact.” We agree (and enjoyed low-noise images up to 12800 ISO) but this camera is not for those who are impatient or who can’t be bothered reading a manual. To really get it to sing, you’re going to need to spend some time getting familiar with its menus, options, and other nuances.
For starters, obtaining great detail in low-light situations is easy with the X100, but some compact digital users who are accustomed to zoom lenses might immediately miss having the versatility that comes with the ability to zero in on a subject, especially if you’re more than a few feet away. We were also skeptical about the camera’s prime lens, too, that is until we put it to the test.
Basically, we shot with mad oblivion—from the hip, blind, at moving and stationary subjects, and while walking at a fast pace. The X100 outperformed even our high expectations in terms of its detail, color accuracy and tonality, velvety skin tones, low noise, and ability to freeze action. Missing the zoom became less of a problem once we examined the images at home on a large monitor. As previously mentioned, the detail, color, and true-to-life accuracy was exquisite, even with moving subjects, which speaks miles about the quality and speed of the lens and Fuji’s newly developed EXR processor. To better compose shots, we were perfectly happy adjusting and cropping later and still yielded amazing results.
If you’re switching to Fuji from being a longtime Canon or Nikon user, expect a bit of a learning curve. It does take some adjustment time to get familiar with Fuji’s unique button arrangement, viewfinder, and menu toggling. While designed to appear like a classic 35mm camera similar in style and layout to the much older Leicas, the Fuji FinePix X100 is very much a state of the art digital, though we did find its menus somewhat challenging to navigate. While you can set the shutter and aperture without ever powering up, if you fail to read the manual you may not notice that you cannot shoot any close-ups — anything closer than two feet from the lens — without making an electronic menu switch to macro (and it takes a while to determine how to do so). Gone are the (agreeably ridiculous) image icons, though it takes a moment to customize your desired settings. One great feature, however, is that the camera retains those same settings even after you power down, a real plus to those of you who prefer shooting with finely tuned shutter speeds or at a specific aperture. Another departure from typical DSLRs is the X100’s unique Reverse Galilean viewfinder, named for the Renaissance astronomer Galileo Galilei since it’s assembled like a telescope. While it might afford better clarity, we were not accustomed to the ten percent reduction from typical DSLRs and needed to become familiar with the moderate shift in framing.
Despite the slight departures from most other DSLRs, the Fuji FinePix X100 is a performance giant in a compact, slim and lightweight design. Like other high-end cameras it enables photographers the ability to shoot and save files in RAW or JPEG formats, choose from a variety of beautiful filters that mimic the look of film (PROVIA, Standard, Velvia, Vivid, ASTIA, Soft), as well as shoot video at 24 frames per second (a maximum of ten minutes at a clip) with stereo sound recording. Another bonus is X100’s fun panoramic feature, which captures images in 360 degrees and automatically stitches them together in a seamless photograph instantaneously.
Plenty of thought went into X100’s design and technical specifications and there is a lot to praise. We love the auto focus (single shot or continuous) and bracketing features, four in all, enabling you to automatically shift exposures according to filter type, F-stop, ISO sensitivity, and dynamic range. It also affords options for continuous shooting, nine presets for white balance (enabling the best performance under all types of lighting) and its generous 2.8-inch rear monitor for reviewing images (and zooming into them to ensure that you achieved proper focus).
Our criticisms are few, though as important as any aforementioned praise. One worth mentioning is the X100’s manual focusing feature that seems impossible to properly gauge with any exactitude. This is definitely an area where Fuji needs to return to the table when designing future models. Another is the simply awful neck strap, which is easily remedied.
All in all, the Fuji X100 is a champion. If making the finest images is your number one priority, it’s hard to find fault here, though for the extra money you may be just as satisfied with the less expensive companion camera to this one, Fuji’s FinePix X10, which not only has an adequate zoom (112mm telephoto) but also shoots in 28mm wide angle and has essentially the same number of megapixels. Be sure to compare both cameras before buying to see which one best fits your needs.