Image courtesy of Mazda (www.mazdausa.com)
I have a friend who drives a Scion XB. It looks to me like a large breadbox on wheels. He tells me that it is the very essence of practicality and flexibility. Handles great in the snow, sublime dexterity in an urban jungle, super cheap and somehow he got a lifetime power train warranty. For a moving bread box, it’s surprisingly roomy and I didn’t mind sitting in it when we drove to get our morning Starbucks fix recently.
He also owns a Mazda Miata ragtop convertible. And though he’s of the mid-century ilk, driving the Miata makes him feel as though he’s in his early twenties, sports a dirty blond and very full coiffe (i.e., no grays and no sparse spots) and can credibly pull off the half shirt (i.e., exactly how he looked when I met him over a quarter-century ago) again. Sitting next to him makes me feel the exact same way, even though I never could quite get the half shirt look to work for me.
Steve feeds both parts of his soul: the diligently practical and the eternally yearning. Depending on his mood, the weather and the number of occupants he needs to port about, he has a choice. He wakes up in the morning, steals a peak under the blinds, takes inventory, and then heads left… or right… in his garage, and off he goes.
I asked him: If you had to choose just one…? His ensuing catatonic trance was not pretty. Luckily, he does not need to make Sophie’s choice.
My Nikon D5100 is a Scion XB. My Fujifilm X100 is a Mazda Miata. Like Steve, I wake up in the morning, gauge my mood, check in with both parts of my soul, and then grab either the Nikon or the Fuji.
But, it’s time for Sophie’s choice…
A recent discussion with Ed prompted this post. I should tell you, and perhaps frequent 2 Guys Photo readers already know this… Ed is a highly practical sort. He’s a Toyota buyer and is more prone to constantly strive to squeeze every last ounce of goodness out of his Nikon D90 kit humanly possible. He doesn’t view the fact that he’s using a prior generation digital sensor as a problem – he sees it as a challenge, a gauntlet drop calling out for proof that the latest and greatest is more a hype than a necessity. As for me, I’m a bit of a shape shifter on this point. I can run both ways. I have a London Fog raincoat in my closet that I bought in 1993 and refuse to part ways with. By the same token, if I’m not using the latest digital sensor, I get sweaty palms. I traded in my BMW for a Subaru. You get the point.
My bag contains the very highly capable Nikon D5100. And the wonderful Fujifilm X100… which I’ve written about pretty extensively here (e.g., see here). Different tools for different tasks. I’ve been seeing them as complementary. Ed’s position is that it makes no sense to have both, that the Fujifilm X100 is a mere nostalgic plaything for rich kids and not a serious photographic tool (Ed – I don’t mean to put words in your mouth… comment please…). He asked me point blank: if you had to choose just one…? And so, I’ve been thinking about it. And thinking about it. Steve’s catatonic trance comes to mind.
Here’s the deal. The X100, if you can find it, costs $1,200. The filter adapter and hood is necessary, though Fujifilm’s version is an obscene $130. I’ve found that the knock-off ebay versions for $20 are nearly as good. Because the battery life is not great, you need a second. I found the cheapo third party version stinks and so I had to spring for an original. $50. Ouch. Total cost (not including taxes) is $1,270. For about the same money (or less), you can buy a Nikon D5100 with 18-55 kit lens (not bad… but not great), the superb Nikon 35/1.8 and a nifty bouncing flash (SB400). Total cost of the Nikon kit is $1,150.
Why you want an X100:
- The APS-C sized sensor is coupled with a beautiful and bright 35mm (equivalent) lens. Image quality from this combo is exceptional.
- The silent mode is sublime. Shooting in a variety of situations is greatly enhanced when there’s no noise.
- The size and weight proposition is a delight. You can pop it in a bag or an oversized pocket. When you’re shooting in a crowd and trying to be unobtrusive, the X100 is far more stealthy than any DSLR.
- The dial and button interface is excellent. Much has been said in some internet forums about the clunky and awkward placement of these and I agree that the menu system is decidedly weird. In my experience, it’s possible to get used to all of it. Placing the X100 up to your face and being able to effortlessly adjust shutter speed, aperture, ISO (as long as you program the function button accordingly), and exposure composition are all a nice plus. This camera just simply becomes an extension of you. Corny but true. By the way, the manual focus is awful.
- It’s different. Some people love driving a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Some would never in a million years. If you’re a ‘never in a million year’ type, then you understand.
Why you don’t want an X100:
- Autofocus is ok, but not great. If you lose patience easily with a slightly sluggish autofocus response, then avoid. Repeat: avoid.
- If you’re getting this for the manual focus… don’t.
- If one focal length will drive you crazy and seems limiting, then look elsewhere.
- If you drive a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry.
Why you want a D5100:
- You like the flexibility of being able to add different lenses, want a system camera, and crave APS-C goodness in a relatively small and light package.
- The swivel screen makes composition and shooting both fun and flexible. It’s said that once you go swivel, you’ll never go back.
- You need better/faster autofocus. The D5100 is no D300s, but it’s pretty good.
- You like the cool in camera effects (HDR, miniature mode, etc.).
- You’re more comfortable with traditional DSLR shooting (and things like being able to see the shot you just took pop up in the VF and then being able to immediately jump back to optical VF mode seems like fluff).
- Video is important. D5100 vs. X100? D5100 hands down.
Why you don’t want a D5100:
- You like your camera to look and feel unique and not like a nameless, faceless mass produced hunk of plastic.
- You want more manual controls and detest having to jump into menus or info screens to make simple adjustments.
- The idea of lugging multiple lenses around with you doesn’t excite you.
After all is said and done, the X100 vs. D5100 comparison is nonsense. They are remarkably different beasts and nobody ought to seriously be considering one versus the other. Why write about this then? Because I believe that the frenzy swirling around the launch of the X100 coupled with lovestruck commentaries such as the ones I’ve written have prompted a whole slew of photographers into justifying the purchase of one by selling off cameras such as the D5100. It’s a rationalization craze out there in photodom that I’ve been reading about for the past several weeks. Justifications, such as “I love the idea of simplifying” and “the image quality gain from an X100 exceeds the loss of flexibility”, etc., etc., etc. If you’re in the midst of that spaghetti logic, I feel sorry for you. I understand… trust me.
Why not m4/3? I’ve written about that. I’m increasingly seeing that the bigger APS-C sensor makes a real difference in image quality and noise management. Why not a Sony NEX? The current lack of VF is a problem, though coming releases may be addressing that omission.
So, Ed asks me… which do I choose? Which do I choose?
My answer: the Scion. Catatonic trance to follow…
Posted by Rey