Testing the X100 – Part 1 (The Camera)

September 19, 2011  •  Leave a Comment

I’ve built up quite a collection of decent photographic equipment based around DSLRs which gives me a massive amount of flexibility for all sorts of photography – portraits, landscapes, macro, sports etc.  Recently, though, the development of smaller decent quality cameras has made me seriously think about how nice it would be to have the flexibility of a DSLR but without the bulk and weight to lug around.

Enter the X100 – with an APS-C sensor (same size as lots of cameras, including my Canon EOS 7D), highly regarded f/2 35mm equivalent lens (which is my favourite focal length – my 35mm prime is almost never off my 5Dmk2) and a hybrid viewfinder which sounds brilliant, it’s definitely worth a look.  My friend Graham Fry was kind enough to lend me his X100 so I could have a chance to decide whether it would work for me…

So, this “review” is my attempt to look at what I like and dislike about the X100 having spent the last few months really interested in it, and the last few weeks with the possibility to be able to afford one.

This first part is a look at the camera itself.  There are plenty of “on-white” shots of the camera, so I opted to just enjoy myself with these photos – armed with a marble slate, two flashes, a reflector and my 100L macro lens on my Canon 7D :)

The camera is beautiful.  Personally, I’ve always been more inspired by functional, engineering focussed devices (not just cameras), but there’s something about the X100 that satisfies both engineering precision and art.  It feels really well built – all the controls are smooth and consistent, the dials are etched rather than printed and it’s just solid and has a great feel in the hand.

And it’s rangefinder looks (no, it’s not a rangefinder – that’s the first comment in every other review!) make it a compact but beautiful bit of kit.

I haven’t tried a flash on the X100, but it looks like a bog standard flash hotshoe.  I don’t see any reason why I couldn’t stick my RF602 transmitter on the top, and have a couple of flashes on receivers and do all sorts of exciting things :)

All writing on the body is etched and coloured (generally black).  Even under a macro lens, you can see it’s been done with care.  It’s a pricey camera, but every detail – even down to the writing on the body – appears to have been specified with quality first, price second.

So… A full frontal shot ;)  Graham’s camera has a Leicatime leather half-case with a leather strap, which is what you can see on this body (it’s not the standard strap for the camera).

A top shot:

And a bit of detail on the lens.  It’s an f/2 lens that’s equivalent to 35mm on a full-frame body.  It’s not removable (despite having a what looks like a part number on it) – on the down side, you’re stuck with a single focal length (which in my view is also an upside), but a real positive is you don’t have to worry about sensor dust with this camera.  The aperture ring has a lovely feel – it clicks into place at each setting, and has 2 raised lugs so your fingers have something to grip.  The whole lens – including front mount for the hood – is made of metal (aluminium, I think), and is just another example of the quality of the camera.

Graham has the lens hood too – another machined piece of aluminium which matches the camera beautifully:

And it fits on the camera nicely.  Just to compare, I have the Canon 35 f.4L lens.  That lens costs more than the X100 to buy…  but the plastic lens hood which mounts on the plastic front mount doesn’t fit properly, so it’s always a pain to get on and off.  The X100 hood just slides on and round and gently clicks into place.

Now to the connectors… why, Fuji… why?!!  There are 2 official standard of USB connector – the big one (A and B), and microUSB (the one in the middle – mini B – was never actually formalised by the USB body).  In this day and age when companies are really trying to standardise on connectors (ignore Apple – they make their own rules and I refuse to waste energy commenting on them), do Fuji have to have a custom connector?  It means when you lose or break the cable, or want a couple in different locations it just becomes a pain!

Having said that, with my Canon DSLRs, I remove the cards and insert them into a card reader to get the photos from the camera, and if I owned an X100 I’d most likely remove the SD card to download images, so the issue with the cable is probably not something to get too grumpy about.

On the opposite side of the camera is the Autofocus mode switch – Manual, Single AF and Continuous AF:

The back of the camera has the obvious bits and bobs.  A viewfinder with diopter adjustment – the two squares to the right are the IR transmitter and receiver to detect when you eye is up to the viewfinder, so the viewfinder can switch to the EVF when you put your eye up to the window.  The black dial on the back allows changing of parameters (in my testing, I only managed to get it to change the aperture in Av mode which duplicates the aperture ring on the lens, but I’m sure it does lots more too).

The buttons on the back are for playback (reviewing the images you’ve taken), auto exposure, AF point adjustment, View Mode (changes whether the viewfinders shows optical, eye-detect EVF or permanent EVF).  The AFL/AEL button seems to trigger the AF without having to half-press the shutter button (much like the AF-ON button on the back of Canon cameras).

The dial on the back is a combination of a 4-way controller and a rotary dial, and lets you change most of the settings.  The centre point is the OK button, which I found far too small for my fingers – every time I pressed it I couldn’t help but press one of the 4 direction buttons as well which generally changed what I was trying to do!  I guess it’s just something you get used to.

The bottom of the camera has a standard tripod mount and the door to the battery compartment which also houses the SD card.

 

First Thoughts

I’ve had a little over 2 hours of quality time with the camera, and taken around 80 shots so far.  I’m trying to take a variety of shots, but I was also trying to focus on my main use for this type of camera which would be general family/people shots, often with fast-moving kids.

It’s a lot smaller than a DSLR (obviously!), and I found the buttons and dials all a bit close together, but that’s just a transitional thing coming from a bigger camera body and I’m sure I’d get used to them.  I do love the feel of the controls – everything is just so precise and well put together.

I must admit, my first hour or so I wasn’t really getting on with it.  I tend to be very quick with the DSLR – off-centre focus points, lift the camera, quick focus (fraction of a second) and take the shot.  That just doesn’t work with the X100 – the contrast detect AF is considerably slower than the phase detect of a conventional DSLR and I found that by the time I had achieved focus, the moment was gone.  The problem with contrast detect is that if the subject moves moderately fast, the AF system cannot lock as the focus point keeps changing.  So I was finding that with real situations where people were not posed, I couldn’t generally get AF lock to take the picture.  I did have a brief play with manual focus, but I couldn’t figure out how to get a zoomed view in the EVF to verify the focus, so that’s something I intend to try tomorrow.

My son (who’s 2 and a half) is mad on trains so I took him to Poole to have a look at the trains at level crossing (he’s never seen a crossing like that before).  I had some good opportunities for shots, and I got a couple that I was really pleased with.  The situation was generally different – he was static waiting for trains to come past so I had a much better opportunity to focus.

Just as I was starting to get into shooting with the camera, the battery ran out :(  To be fair, I’m not sure if it was fully charged when I picked it up from Graham, and on swapping the battery over I noticed it was a compatible rather than an original – I wouldn’t be surprised if the life is a bit shorter with that battery (I’d hope you get more than 80 shots from a charge!!)

One thing I can’t really fault is image quality.  It’s great – exactly what I’d hoped for from an APS-C sensor with a decent lens on the front.  I think you’d be hard pressed to see any significant difference between the images from the X100 and an equivalent megapixel DSLR image.

I’ve already started on a second post which will have further thoughts on my use of the camera and lots of images.  I gave it a quick whirl at 11pm last night and I was pretty impressed with what I saw (even the AF lock, which in low light high contrast situations seemed more reliable than a DSLR!), and I will have more of a play today and get together some final thoughts in a day or two.

Click here for Part Two.


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