We first saw the Fujifilm FinePix X100 back in March 2012 at the Photography Show in Birmingham. We heard phrases like “Hybrid viewfinder”, “first in the world”, “23mm fixed Fujinon lens”, “12.3 megapixels”, “amazing”, “APS-C CMOS sensor”, “720p video”, and “revolutionary”. It was exactly the sort of techno-babble that makes me want to jam a fork into a toaster.
We generally don’t buy into the hype associated with new cameras, but this one was different. We couldn’t get enough. Websites built specifically for the X100 started appearing all over the place - I checked x100rumors.com daily for two months, hoping each time too see some sort of indication that my interest was confirmed as justified.
So, now that we've had one for a few years, did the FinePix X100 live up to the hype and is it's successor worth the money? In a word, yes.
Style: The styling is a homage to old Pentax film cameras or even baby Leicas, leather effect/bakelite body and alloy frame. Everything you touch has that old world heavy, click about it when you rotate dials.
Lens: The X100 is equipped with a very nice fixed 23mm (35mm equivalent) Fujinon lens. It opens up to f/2, which is fantastic for photographers like oursleves that work with shallow depth of field. It’s also equipped with a built-in ND filter to allow wide open exposures in direct sunlight. The fixed nature of the lens has been slammed as a design flaw in many of the reviews we’ve encountered, but we see it as a key selling point. Not only does a fixed lens allow the camera to be much smaller, it eliminates the risk of getting sensor damage with the changing of lenses. It also simplifies the image taking process by removing focal length choice from the equation. Use the old LIFE magazine rule: get close, keep steady, get the shot.
Hybrid Viewfinder: The X100’s Hybrid Viewfinder is one of those key features that Fuji’s PR people love to talk about. The term “hybrid” refers to the existence of an optical viewfinder, which contains a prism that allows data such as meter reading, histogram, focus distance, and more to be projected onto the image, as well as an electronic viewfinder, which uses the same prism to relay image data directly from the sensor. The lever on the front of the body next to the lens facilitates easy, fast switching between the two. While it’s brilliant, we don't believe it's as revolutionary as they would have us believe, the ability to choose one over the other, on the fly, is a fantastic feature.
The electronic viewfinder (EVF): This isn’t the nicest looking image preview out there, but it is nice to have a live view of what the sensor is seeing. This is especially useful when working with a shallow depth of field or unusual lighting conditions. Most of the time however you're going to want to use the Hybrid view as it's big, bright and clear. In settings you can have the shot you've just taken, displayed on the EVF straight after taking the shot, so you never have to take the camera away from your eye.
Image quality: The image quality of the X100 is especially good. A side-by-side comparison between RAW files from our Canon 5D MKIII, both lightly processed, shows that there is in fact a quality difference (of course), but not nearly as much as one might expect. Overall, the X100 has a very usable dynamic range. It does a better job maintaining detail in shadows than highlights, so underexposing by 1/3 stop is recommended by many users. It also handles low light very well; in fact, there isn’t much of a quality difference in ISO settings until it gets up to ISO 2000. It easily out performs our Sony NEX as a compact camera. Image files are also far more universal in processing software with the X100.
Blades Opinion: This camera is a dream to operate. Shutter speed, aperture, and exposure comp adjustment are all easily adjusted without the need to look for their controls. It has the most complex, feature-rich menu system I’ve seen on a digital camera, yet it’s extremely intuitive and easy to navigate. Everything in terms of both software and hardware is where you expect to find it.
We’ve had the X100 since it's release in 2012, but it feels as though it’s been a treasured part of our collection for years. We bought it to act as an “on the go” camera: a compact, high quality device to carry when the 5D MKIII or other gear was just not practical. Little did we know that it would become a contender to be our primary camera, even for “serious” work.
The X100 offers us a moment of peace; it’s got the style and sophistication that thrills our inner camera geek, but when it’s time for the image maker to get some work done, the technology steps aside. The camera, in its elegant simplicity, doesn’t stand between the photographer and the scene.
This offering from Fujifilm is far from perfect, but we can’t imagine a better camera for your next trip despite its occasional shortfalls and the once steep £850 price tag. We still have no reservations in recommending the FinePix X100 as the perfect camera for your next trip.