I could just as well have entitled this post: “Further Impressions of the Fujifilm X100“, having providing some initial thoughts here. In that earlier piece, I revealed my mixed emotions (if you haven’t read it, you’ll note that I used the words ‘love’ and ‘hate’ repeatedly) as well as the fact that the beautiful, metal clad body brought me back to my fondest memories of a Petri rangefinder and later Contax G series camera. The optical viewfinder… magical. The image quality… superb. But, weird interface issues and sluggish autofocus kept me from being a truly happy camper.
But now, after an extended time using the camera (taming the beast might have been a better and more accurate phrase), I thought I’d provide some additional thoughts.
First though, why did I buy it and what was I hoping to accomplish that my DSLR rig and/or higher end compacts couldn’t? In short: handle street photography. First, a confession. Street photography is my personal waterloo. Street photography glares at my photographic quest and chuckles. Trying to capture, quickly and unobtrusively, life on the street in ways that are interesting is not something I’ve been comfortable trying. I too often feel like a criminal, a pervert with prying eyes, a voyeur whose very presence invites concern, anxiety. Why not load a big tele lens onto my DSLR and head out into the city? That way I won’t even be noticed… I thought.
But unfortunately, my own personal experiences suggest that such a set-up is even more intrusive and calls out for more scrutiny. Who is that dude with the spy camera hiding behind the car and taking pictures of my kids? Yeah, no thanks.
The experts suggest that smaller, quicker, more rangefinder-esque gear is what’s called for. They talk about Cartier-Bresson, Leicas and the need to swoop in quickly with a barely noticeable camera, preferably one that’s silent and fitted with a wide enough lens to allow you to be in close. Enter the X100… the very highly anticipated, debated, loved and loathed camera that aims to be all that in a modern and appealing package and seeks to blend the best of retro with the best of cutting edge.
So, how’s it been going? Actually, rather quite well. No idea whether the achieved photo quality demonstrates that in convincing fashion, but I’m actually gaining confidence, even with the X100’s widish 35mm (equivalent) fixed lens… which demands that you engage, get closer. No wallflower photography here. In and out. Put the camera up to your face, focus quick, compose instantly and move on.
Yesterday, at Penn Station in New York City, I was looking through the optical viewfinder of the X100 and a man with two young children quickly grabbed them and moved behind a large sign. There’s no doubt in my mind that he was concerned that I was there and peering though a camera in the direction of his kids. I tried to assuage his fears by popping the lens cap on front and turning my attention to the many emails sitting in my iPhone inbox… but it was to no avail. He anxiously looked in my direction for the remainder of the time there. So despite my growing confidence, I’m still acutely aware (particularly in this era) that persons who essentially invade another’s private space are looked upon with suspicion. I get that.
About the camera? Some of the things that bugged me initially still do. Some much less so. And I do still have a few niggles, annoyances. Fujifilm has stated that a firmware update (or two) are coming soon, calming the fears of pundits who cited Fujifilm’s poor track record of supporting product launches with software updates. I expect that some of the frustrations will be solved, but others will no doubt require hardware revisions too. The X200 is going to be amazing.
What I’m loving:
It’s just plain fun holding the X100. The cold metal feel in your hands constantly provides a subtle tactile message that you’re not holding onto something that was extruded out of a moulding machine. Some might deem this a curious characteristic and one completely unrelated to the photographic process. To them I’d say: you’re right… and if I have to explain this to you, you’ll not likely ever understand.
The high ISO capabilities are fantastic, capitalizing on the larger APS-C sensor and demonstrating the importance and real benefits over compact cameras and even micro 4/3s cams. The Auto ISO seems to love jumping up into the higher ranges when there’s still plenty of room to lower shutter speed or even open up the aperture. This worried me at first, and sometimes still does, but the X100 seems to eat up ISO 1600 and even 3200 with aplomb.
The lens is, simply put, sah-weet. I had stated in my earlier review that it’s necessary to open up the aperture a bit to gain maximum sharpness, particularly in macro. I’ve had many good results at f2.8 and even 2.0, so perhaps that was overstated. About walking around with a fixed lens camera? Rarely a problem. I’ve been cropping with success, so tele range hasn’t often been an issue. I do sometimes wish for wider, but that’s a tradeoff issue. Can’t have it all, right?
Sweep panorama is fun and it works. In fact, it works really well if the situation is right (don’t try it with moving people or cars). And the dynamic range options also seem to work. You can definitely gain more DR out of a scene by upping these settings.
The various film modes? Don’t use them as I’d rather play around in post.
Also, the optical viewfinder is genius. It’s pure pleasure and, I expect, the reason that the X100 will be remembered as groundbreaking. Expect others to follow suit as photographers won’t put up with poor EVF implementations in the future, certainly not after seeing the X100 in action.
The overall size is just right. As I walked around the streets of Manhattan over the past few days, there were a few instances when I wished I had my DSLR. But far more often, I found myself delighted that I had only the small and supremely lightweight X100 around my shoulders. A super grab-and-go cam.
I love (love, love, love) silent mode. Pressing and holding the Disp/Back button toggles silent mode (also shutting off flash and AF assist lights). I’ve been in a variety of settings where the noise and lights would have annoyed or worse, prevented shots. Additionally, the whole street photog dynamic calls for stealth and being able to instantly quiet the camera truly came in handy. And because I keep flash on in normal mode and it’s kept off in silent mode, I’ve also been using the toggle as a quick flash on/off button. Sure, you can do that with the flash button, but you also have to toggle through slow synch mode and just simply using Disp/Back has been quicker.
What about the frustrations?
First on the list is the goofy Auto ISO implementation. Selecting Auto is in a completely different place from the ISO range selections themselves. Want to use Auto ISO? Go into the menu and hit the buttons a half dozen times or more to make the selection. Rather handle it yourself? Shut off Auto ISO and then use the Fn button (programmable to other uses too). These should be together.
The rear jog button is underutilized. I’ve been afraid of pushing it during shooting, fearing I’d be changing something or other… but now I don’t worry about it.
Here’s a fix for both of these items: allow the jog button to be configurable to ISO mode. Press it in to activate it. Shift left or right to move through ISO selections, the first of which could be Auto mode. Then, the Fn button could be used for the helpful neutral density filter. Please, Fujifilm. Please.
Battery life? Stinks. I bought a second third party battery with a lower than recommended power output. Mistake. But even the manufacturer’s supplied battery is weak. I’m thinking of ponying up for a few original battery cells, otherwise I’m sure I’ll be out and about and left with a dead shooter.
The autofocus, which I commented on in my original review, is not great. And the manual focus capabilities and assist are purely pathetic. There’s no other way to describe it. But, here’s the thing: I’m getting used to it and it’s not annoying me as much. I use AF-C (continuous) mode quite a bit more as it’s speedier, though focus and recompose is rendered impossible. Pressing the AF button in AF-S mode and quickly moving the focus point in both EVF and OVF modes is simple and quick. I like it.
The weird non-sticky menu settings? Getting used to them too. Remembering what sticks and what doesn’t is something I’m just dealing with. I do hope, however, that Fujifilm creates more customization options here.
Much has been said about the finicky d-pad on the rear and the undersized OK button. I don’t have a problem with it and never did. I consider my hands to be in about the medium range and don’t mind using more of a pointing rather than swatting motion with my index finger. Just hasn’t been a problem.
And while the build quality is superb, some of the plastic components do seem out of place. The AF button on the side seems to have weaker detents in the selection mechanism. Moving from AF-C to S to MF is starting to feel a bit imprecise. I’m hoping that will hold up over time.
There’s probably more to say here, so expect future user reports and photos. And I have used the camera for purposes other than street photography. More to come…
Posted by Rey