The Fujifilm X100 as Street Cam

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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17 Responses to The Fujifilm X100 as Street Cam

  1. You’ve got some nice images there. The one of the guy in the magazine stand is very good. It seems your making adjustments to your comfort level with the camera and the street.
    You doing good… Shooter

  2. Prentis Drew says:

    Right! The X200 will be a killer assuming Fuji listens to the considerable feedback they have been getting. Then I’ll be unable to resist getting one.

    I understand your timidity with shooting strangers, particularly when children are involved. I think we all share this feeling. Frankly street photographs sometimes make me wonder what’s the point. (Your shot of the girl in the flowing dress and the guy checking her out tells a story and that, I think is the point.) But I am more interested in how the X100 (or its successor) stands up as a travel camera. I’m not too hot about taking my DSLR with lenses overseas again…too much to drag along. On the other hand I don’t want to return with a mediocre bunch of images from a less than capable compact camera. So I will be very interested in your “other than street photography” future posts. Your newsstand and fruit stand shots give me a hint. Very nice.

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Prentis – thanks for your comments. As a travel kit, I expect a m4/3 set-up will be more capable as it will allow for wide angle and some tele. I’m not certain I’d bring only an X100 on vacation.

      Rey

  3. Ray says:

    Rey – some nice shots. Stick with it. I’ve been playing at street shooting for about a year now and my level of comfort and consciousness about what I’m doing are miles ahead of where I was in those first few months. The X100 is a good capable street camera but I don’t think its a holy grail (although it may be in low light). As much as I like the OVF, there are times on the street where I’d rather not lift the camera to my face. I’ve done some shooting from the hip with it and done alright, but there are better cameras for that kind of shooting – the Nex with its flip up screen, the LX5 or GRD3 for their enormous DOF and ability to shoot from the hip and KNOW you’re going to be OK on focus, etc. The X100 is its own kind of fun and I’m loving it, but my X100 street shots don’t look very different from my other ones. So the key is just doing a lot of if and figuring out what’s working and what’s not. You’re clearly off to a good start!

    -Ray

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Thanks, Ray. The shoot from the hip style is less invasive and intimidating to subjects. Hence the NEX. I’ll be curious to see what the next generation of NEX cameras brings, particularly the higher end 5 replacement. Wish there was some sort of way to get an EVF on there and I’d be sold.

      Rey

  4. themaclady says:

    I agree with you on most points. Overall I love the Fujifilm X100 camera. I have shot everything in small cameras from old Contax T’s and G’s, film Leica Ms through M4/3 and digital Leica M. Though I have been getting 200-300 shots on average over the past 6 weeks that I have had the camera I have 3 batteries 2 Fuji and 1 third party. What drives me mad is the wake from sleep time, it’s maddening. Overall it’s a great camera the size and weight, lens quality, high ISO performance, silent mode, hybrid VF and level are some of my favorite aspects. Hopefully the upcoming firmware update will improve what is a great start.

    • Ray says:

      Don’t let the X100 go to sleep – its notorious for not liking to wake up. Just carry an extra couple of batteries and turn off all of the power saving features and turn ON quick startup and the camera will be much more responsive. Under the sleep option, set it for ‘never’ and just turn the camera off if you’re not shooting for a while and when you turn it back on, it will be ready to shoot by the time you get it to your eye.

  5. themaclady says:

    I forgot to say… Usually I like B&W street photography but I really enjoy your color work here, the newsstand and long exposure bike shot are really nice.

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Thanks for your comments. There’s something about b&w and street photography that goes together like chocolate and peanut butter. But you’re right, I think those shots work better in color.

      Rey

      • themaclady says:

        My first couple weeks with the X100 were in Venice, Italy. I was shooting all day often from 5:30 AM-11:00 PM so I would have been out of batteries by noon if I didn’t let it sleep, but under normal circumstances I will turn it off but it should not be as bad as it is regardless.

        • Prentis says:

          Was it your only camera on that trip? Rey seems to think the X100 wouldn’t make a very good travel camera, mostly because of the fixed lens. Would you agree?

          • 2guysphoto says:

            themaclady – thanks for your comments. I’d be interested in seeing your Venice (one of my favorite spots on the planet) shots and would like to echo Prentis’ question: what did you think of traveling only with the X100?

            Rey

  6. Interesting perspective on what it feels like to shoot on the street. As a woman and as a mom with 2 or 3 kids in tow a good bit of the time, I find I can get away wtih a lot more than it seems you can. Still, I’m quite shy but more bold with the camera to hide behind. I enjoyed hearing about your additional experiences with the X100 and look forward to future posts on it. Definitely some great shots in this post!

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Thank you, Maryann. Have you tried street photography?

      Rey

      • Probably not by your definition. But I take shots at museums, the beach, Wal-Mart, the parkng lots of various businesses, playgrounds around town, and lots of other places where I am getting people besides just family in the shots. I don’t live in a big city (even Raleigh is a solid 30 minutes away), but if I did I’d be wandering the streets like I wander the local corn field looking for shots:-)

        • 2guysphoto says:

          Maryann – beach, Wal-Mart, parking lots, etc. all qualify as “street photography” in my book. Not streets per se, but real world situations where people are in their respective environments, interacting, living life. Good subject matter.

          Now about the corn field shots…

          Rey

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