Fuji FX 100 Review

 

When I first heard about the Fuji FX100 I was intrigued, the style, the specs and the apparent phenomenal picture quality all in a lightweight (though expensive) package.  With a month long trip though China coming up I couldn’t help but wonder how well something like that would do.  It seemed like the perfect travel camera.  Would it have what it took to be the main camera or would its limitations of speed, focal length and battery life be too restricting.

Fuji x100  F9  1/100th  ISO 100

 

When I first heard about the Fuji FX100 I was intrigued, the style, the specs and the apparent phenomenal picture quality all in a lightweight (though expensive) package.  With a month long trip though China coming up I couldn’t help but wonder how well something like that would do.  It seemed like the perfect travel camera.  Would it have what it took to be the main camera or would its limitations of speed, focal length and battery life be too restricting.

For me it was more of an academic question, however when my friend Steve got his FX100 and agreed to lend it to me for the trip it became world of new possibilities came up.  I decided I was going to do a shootout.  My Nikon D300 SLR and the Fuji to see which would come out on top.  The timing was good in that he was able to deliver the camera to me after installing the initial firmware update which fixed many issues users had reported.  Because I got the camera only a few days before the trip I didn’t really have a chance to get to know it before putting it in use.

I should note at this point that the type of trip I was taking, the whirlwind tour of China with my wife and two young children that needed serious looking after was not the best kind of trip for this type of camera.  As I will get into later this camera does its best if you have a little bit of time to think about and compose your shot.  This trip was more like frantically running to not get thrown off the treadmill.  Many times it was used more like a point and shoot than the excellent composed picture taker that it is.

 

Initial Impressions

When I first got the camera in Austin I was surprised by the size and the weight.  When camera companies show off their goods they always find some dude with huge hands to make it seem as small as possible.  It was a bit bigger than I expected.  This wasn’t really a problem and the size combined with the excellent weight and build quality produces an exceptionally stable shooting platform. 

The design, coupled with the wide angle lens allowed me to get reasonably sharp handheld pictures at 1/8 second handheld.  A shutter speed that almost always produced blurry disappointment with my SLR.  The all metal construction, quality of the finish and overall style exude a level of quality and confidence seldom found in today’s plastic wonders.  You get the impression that 50 years from now this camera will still be working.

 

The design, coupled with the wide angle lens allowed me to get reasonably sharp handheld pictures at 1/8 second handheld.  A shutter speed that almost always produced blurry disappointment with my SLR.  The all metal construction, quality of the finish and overall style exude a level of quality and confidence seldom found in today’s plastic wonders.  You get the impression that 50 years from now this camera will still be working.

Fuji x100  F8  1/500th  ISO 250

 

Performance

The real question we all have is does it take good pictures?  What are its strengths, what are its weaknesses and how does it measure up in actual use vs. just statistics.  I used the camera for a month in a wide variety of circumstances and I had the following conclusions.

 

Picture Quality

Picture quality out of this camera is absolutely amazing.  The sharpness and clarity are in the “have to be seen to be believed” category.  Fuji really pulled out all the stops on this one.  I figure it had a lot to do with having a fixed lens and single focal length.  It allowed them to optimize the camera and the lens to each other to the highest degree.  I don’t think it would be overreaching to say that you can’t get a better image at 35mm out of any DSLR and lens on the market today.

 

Picture quality out of this camera is absolutely amazing.  The sharpness and clarity are in the “have to be seen to be believed” category.  Fuji really pulled out all the stops on this one.  I figure it had a lot to do with having a fixed lens and single focal length.  It allowed them to optimize the camera and the lens to each other to the highest degree.  I don’t think it would be overreaching to say that you can’t get a better image at 35mm out of any DSLR and lens on the market today.

 

Sharpness

Half of what makes these images amazing is the sharpness.  They are just super tack sharp.  What’s more is that they are sharp across a wide F-stop range.  With traditional lenses you need to worry about the sweet spot and make judgments about sharpness vs focal length vs available light.  This camera is a game changer in that respect.  It is so sharp across the entire range that you don’t think about F-stop vs sharpness, just use the F-stop that gives you the desired DOF or handles the light that you have available.  While F8 might be a little bit sharper than F2.0 the sharpness you get at F2.0 is already so good your not going to notice the difference in actual use.

Aside from the quality of the mind blowing, freckle spotting, hair counting sharpness what makes the camera amazing is how EASY it is to get sharp images.  With other systems to get super sharp images you need an expensive body, top quality lens, good support, a cooperative subject and great lighting.  If you had all that, used the right technique and had a bit of luck and effort you could get super sharp images.  With this camera you just have to make sure to hold it steady, don’t squeeze too hard and get the focal point right.  It goes from something requiring a lot of work and effort to a nearly effortless exercise.

 

Half of what makes these images amazing is the sharpness.  They are just super tack sharp.  What’s more is that they are sharp across a wide F-stop range.  With traditional lenses you need to worry about the sweet spot and make judgments about sharpness vs focal length vs available light.  This camera is a game changer in that respect.  It is so sharp across the entire range that you don’t think about F-stop vs sharpness, just use the F-stop that gives you the desired DOF or handles the light that you have available.  While F8 might be a little bit sharper than F2.0 the sharpness you get at F2.0 is already so good your not going to notice the difference in actual use.

Fuji x100 F5.6  1/320th  ISO 200

 

Noise/ISO

The second half of what makes the images from this camera outstanding is how clean they are, even at higher ISO’s.  When jacking up the ISO of an image to compensate for low light there is usually a cost associated with it.  Sharpness, color, detail and vibrance all take a hit to some degree.  While this is still true with the Fuji the “cost” is so low you can use higher ISO’s with near reckless abandon.  With a touch of noise reduction you can still get very sharp, clear images up to ISO 3200.  Going to ISO 6400 will produce some notable degradation but you can still get nice usable images though they lack the pop of the cleaner shots.  Being able to go to ISO 3200 has been really nice.  You can leave AUTO ISO on, set the max at 3200 and start banging away.

 

The second half of what makes the images from this camera outstanding is how clean they are, even at higher ISO’s.  When jacking up the ISO of an image to compensate for low light there is usually a cost associated with it.  Sharpness, color, detail and vibrance all take a hit to some degree.  While this is still true with the Fuji the “cost” is so low you can use higher ISO’s with near reckless abandon.  With a touch of noise reduction you can still get very sharp, clear images up to ISO 3200.  Going to ISO 6400 will produce some notable degradation but you can still get nice usable images though they lack the pop of the cleaner shots.  Being able to go to ISO 3200 has been really nice.  You can leave AUTO ISO on, set the max at 3200 and start banging away.

Fuji x100  F2  1/30th  ISO 3200

 

Exposure

Overall the Fuji does a good job of exposure, though this is one area where the DSLRs and their evaluative metering do seem to pull ahead.  By and large the Fuji seems to overexpose a little bit compared to other cameras.  If you look at the histogram it usually takes the bights right to the limit.

Also when the light gets low (like dark room) it tends to overcompensate a little bit.  When taking pictures of street lit scenes what came out of the camera what a full stop overexposed from what I saw with my eyes.  Fixing it was easy enough as I could just dial in -1 EV and shoot again.  That gave optimally exposed images when looking at a mix of highlight and shadow detail.  If you are shooting RAW and forgot to dial in the EV correction don’t sweat it.  The files have enough latitude to compensate.  If you were shooting JPG though you will need to be diligent.

 

Dynamic Range

The dynamic range (how much highlight detail and shadow detail are contained in the file) is quite impressive.  Dynamic range manifests itself in several ways. First is the way the images look, especially around the highlights.  Taking pictures of clouds is a good test, look at the subtle shading.  Pictures that have both dark and strong sunlight is another way to see the dynamic range.  Can it capture the shadow detail without blowing the highlights.  I’m happy to report the Dynamic Range on this camera is excellent as you can see from the sample images.

 

The dynamic range (how much highlight detail and shadow detail are contained in the file) is quite impressive.  Dynamic range manifests itself in several ways. First is the way the images look, especially around the highlights.  Taking pictures of clouds is a good test, look at the subtle shading.  Pictures that have both dark and strong sunlight is another way to see the dynamic range.  Can it capture the shadow detail without blowing the highlights.  I’m happy to report the Dynamic Range on this camera is excellent as you can see from the sample images.

Fuji x100  F11  1/500th  ISO 200

 

Another area that dynamic range shows up is when you go to process the files.  How much processing and the file take before it starts to fall apart.  Compared to my Nikon files these Fuji files are amazing.  I can push/pull them about 1.5 to 2 stops of exposure and still get perfect files.  This is good given the cameras tendency to overexpose in some situations.  Even if you blow the exposure by a stop you can pull it back and move on.

Below are some examples of how good it is.

The first image was the base exposure.  Too hot

 

The first image was the base exposure.  Too hot

Fuji x100  F2  1/60th  ISO 400

 

The second image is the same scene retook with a -1EV

 

The second image is the same scene retook with a -1EV

Fuji x100  F2  1/120th  ISO 200

 

The third image is the first image processed out with -1EV.

 

The third image is the first image processed out with -1EV.

Fuji x100  F2  1/60th  ISO 400

 

And to give an idea of the latitude you have with exposure here is a crop where the previously blown highlights have been pulled down -2EV to give you an idea of what is recoverable.

 

And to give an idea of the latitude you have with exposure here is a crop where the previously blown highlights have been pulled down -2EV to give you an idea of what is recoverable.

Fuji x100  F2  1/60th  ISO 400

 

Focus

The performance of the autofocus is one area that I was sorely disappointed and wanted to give Fuji a bitch slap because their really is no excuse for it.

Auto focus had three major issues.

First is that it was unable to “lock on” to a wide variety of objects including faces under some lighting conditions.  What I was trying to lock onto was not exceptionally difficult and each time I was able to pull out my DSLR or even a cheap $130 point and shoot and lock on and focus on the same object or same scene with no problem whatsoever.  With the Fuji I was stuck hunting around for high contrast points in the scene hoping to get a lock.  Why is Fuji’s most modern camera easily trounced by a point and shoot?  I don’t know, maybe they crippled it intentionally to improve it for the next version?  I find it highly odd that when you use the redeye reduction feature that you can have a pain of a time trying to get the initial focus but after you take the picture the camera can quickly and without error automatically detect every face in the picture and check it and reduce redeye.  It even detects faces where there was no redeye.

The second big issue with focus was focus accuracy.  Unless the ENTIRE focus indicator square was over the target there was no guarantee it wasn’t going to lock onto the background.

 

The second big issue with focus was focus accuracy.  Unless the ENTIRE focus indicator square was over the target there was no guarantee it wasn’t going to lock onto the background.

Fuji x100  F2  1/60th  ISO 1250

 

This was very frustrating because you go to take a picture and snap, you get awesome sharpness of the back wall but your subjects face sucks.  I even sat down and tested this at one point and found that if the bottom left corner of the focus indicator was off the subject but the other 95% was on focus was erratic, sometimes it locked onto something in the mid ground, sometimes the background.  Once again I found my point and shoot camera was more reliable when it came to focusing on the subject.  I tried changing focus modes to let the camera pick the focal point but that was even more of a disaster.

Fuji x100 F2  1/60th  ISO 1250

 

This was very frustrating because you go to take a picture and snap, you get awesome sharpness of the back wall but your subjects face sucks.  I even sat down and tested this at one point and found that if the bottom left corner of the focus indicator was off the subject but the other 95% was on focus was erratic, sometimes it locked onto something in the mid ground, sometimes the background.  Once again I found my point and shoot camera was more reliable when it came to focusing on the subject.  I tried changing focus modes to let the camera pick the focal point but that was even more of a disaster.

If I was trying to lock onto something that was less than an arms length away I almost always had to go into Macro Mode.  This was annoying and the focus speed was very slow.  This combination might be a deal killer if I was trying to photograph toddlers.  You have to get that close to them based on their size but they will never stand still long enough to lock onto in Macro Mode.  For whatever reason macro mode seemed to not have as many issues locking onto things and didn’t pick up the background the way regular mode did.

The third issue I had with focus was focal speed.  The time it took to lock onto the subject.  This was not as bad as the other two issues but it was certainly not very speedy, once again its performance was on par or even sub par compared to point and shoots.  This also means that for sports or moving targets you’re going to have a large percentage of out of focus shots.

When you combine this slower focus time with the speed it takes to either turn on or wake up from power saving mode you are really dealing with point and shoot level performance at best.  So if going from not on to taking the shot quickly is important the FX100 is not the ideal choice, stick with an SLR that powers up faster than you can move your finger onto the button.

I tried a workaround for some situations where I knew that my subject was going to be in the distance.  I locked the camera on manual focus and infinity.  That only partially worked, there seemed to be many different things that would “reset” the focus at 15 feet for some reason.

 

Fixed Focal Length

Another feature of this camera is the fixed focal length.  It is a 23mm lens that when the sensor crop factor is applied works out to 35mm in the full frame perspective.  This is wide but not ultra wide.  This limitation was my biggest concern and misgiving about the camera.  What if I wanted wider or longer focal lengths?

Well for starters for general travel, walking around the street our touring 35mm is an excellent focal length.  When I looked at the EXIF of my previous journeys a large percentage of the shots were somewhere around 35mm length, many wider, some longer.

 

Well for starters for general travel, walking around the street our touring 35mm is an excellent focal length.  When I looked at the EXIF of my previous journeys a large percentage of the shots were somewhere around 35mm length, many wider, some longer.

Fuji x100  F8  1/1000th  ISO 1250

 

What I found in practice was that while the 35mm focal length was limiting I was still able to get shots that achieved most of my photographic goals.  If I only had the Fuji and not the Nikon I would have taken fewer pictures, and there are some shots that I certainly would have missed due to not having the correct focal length.  But on balance I could have lived without those shots and still considered the trip a photographic success.  I suspect that had this been a real photo safari where I had time to hunt and compose as opposed to grab what I could passing through that I would have found this restriction even less limiting.  There are good shots to be had out there at 35mm, you just have to look for them.

 

What I found in practice was that while the 35mm focal length was limiting I was still able to get shots that achieved most of my photographic goals.  If I only had the Fuji and not the Nikon I would have taken fewer pictures, and there are some shots that I certainly would have missed due to not having the correct focal length.  But on balance I could have lived without those shots and still considered the trip a photographic success.  I suspect that had this been a real photo safari where I had time to hunt and compose as opposed to grab what I could passing through that I would have found this restriction even less limiting.  There are good shots to be had out there at 35mm, you just have to look for them.

Fuji x100  F8  1/60th  ISO 200

 

Perspective

Aside from the field of view you will get the usual perspective distortion associated with a wide focal length.  Items close in the center tend to be exaggerated, while other stuff in the back and edges gets a little minimized.  To some degree this does leave a lot of your pictures looking “the same” when they are closer up.

 

Aside from the field of view you will get the usual perspective distortion associated with a wide focal length.  Items close in the center tend to be exaggerated, while other stuff in the back and edges gets a little minimized.  To some degree this does leave a lot of your pictures looking “the same” when they are closer up.

Fuji x100  F8  1/320th  ISO 200

 

Pictures farther off at infinity just look “normal.”

 

Pictures farther off at infinity just look “normal.”

Fuji x100  F8  1/340th  ISO 200

 

For taking pictures of food it is a mixed bag.  I prefer a more normal perspective.

 

For taking pictures of food it is a mixed bag.  I prefer a more normal perspective.

Fuji x100  F5.6  1/25th  ISO 3200

 

Though the close up detail is.. well.. delicious.

 

Though the close up detail is.. well.. delicious.

Fuji x100  F5.6  1/25th  ISO 3200

 

You’ll also have to into macro mode to snap your food shots.

 

You’ll also have to into macro mode to snap your food shots.

Fuji x100  F2.5  1/80th  ISO 1600

 

Metering

There are three different meter modes, spot, area and multi.  I’ve been using multi which is presumably something like the Matrix metering.  It seems unusually sensitive to the luminosity of the subject underneath the sensor, seems to be weighted more in its metering calculations.  This can cause a bit of an issue with the afore mentioned focus issue where you move off your prime subject to get a focus lock, then move back.  It also seems to do an exposure lock when you do a focus lock (this is probably a setting somewhere). The net result is you can have less than optimal exposure by focusing on nearby objects.

In the first shot I metered for the scene in general and it overexposed quite a bit for my taste.  About 1.5 stops.

 

In the first shot I metered for the scene in general and it overexposed quite a bit for my taste.  About 1.5 stops.

Fuji x100  F2.5  1/80th  ISO 1600

 

I metered off the umbrellas as they were the subject and got better results.

 

I metered off the umbrellas as they were the subject and got better results.

Fuji x100  F8  1/480th  ISO 200

 

Just to check out the dynamic range I went back to the overexposed image and brought it down 1.5 stops in Lightroom.  Very impressive.

 

Just to check out the dynamic range I went back to the overexposed image and brought it down 1.5 stops in Lightroom.  Very impressive.

Fuji x100  F2.8  1/1250th  ISO 200

 

The solution is to press the AE button after you do your main framing, then go down and get your focus lock, reframe and take the picture.  Again workable if you’ve got a little time but if you’re snapping away you may get something you were not expecting.

Of course if you shooting raw you’ve got more than enough latitude to correct any minor exposure issues this may cause you.

 

Controls

The controls and performance of the controls were another area that was a mixed bag.  Overall I don’t have any issue with the layout of the controls and buttons.  The Rangefinder/OVF switch is a nice touch.  The knobs are very retro and it is really easy to go from Av mode to Manual mode.  The main issues I had with the controls related to them being too sensitive.  The EV knob needs to be more heavily di-tinted.  As it is know a casual brush against your hand or your jacket and knock your EV of by over a stop because the pressure to rotate it is so light.  If you’re shooting raw its usually not a huge issue as you can recover.  But if your doing JPG your hosed.

Underexposed Food Because of a brush with the EV wheel.

 

Underexposed Food Because of a brush with the EV wheel.

Fuji x100  F2.8  1/30th  ISO 500

 

Corrected in RAW, good as perfectly exposed!

 

Corrected in RAW, good as perfectly exposed!

Fuji x100  F2.8  1/30th  ISO 500

 

Also the controls on the back with the rotation while needs stiffening up as well.  There were times when I went into the menu, made my selection by rotating or pressing the wheel to what I wanted and the act of taking my finger off the wheel or pressing the center button changed my selection (just before hitting confirm).  This was more of an annoyance but a fixable one.

Sometimes under heavy use (lots of switching) the responsiveness of the controls seemed sluggish.  But I really didn’t pay that much attention other than sometimes the OVF/EFV switch didn’t seem to work.  There were a few other issues but I should probably read the manual first to see how they are supposed to work before I knock them.

The menu system is fairly straightforward, though putting Auto ISO on the functional menu vs. shooting menu was annoying, that and macro mode were about the only times I had to go into the menus.  Macro mode had a key shortcut.  But for whatever reason you HAVE to use the control wheel and select macro.  I wish it was like the flash where pushing the button multiple times cycles through all the options.

 

Viewfinders

The FX100 is a rangefinder type camera, which up until now I really hadn’t used that much (I had a 35mm rangefinder point and shoot in my youth). So going to it after DSLR’s was an interesting experience.  The Fuji is unique in that you can compose your shot using the optical viewfinder (OVF) which superimposes framing and shooting information into the viewfinder.

With the flick of the front switch you and go to the best Electronic Viewfinder I have ever used.  The sharpness and brightness is great, though the color is way off in the yellows.

You can push a button a couple of times and compose using the back LCD screen like a conventional PNS.  In the course of the trip I found all three to b useful.  Most of the time I was in OFV mode, to save battery power.  The electronic level was a nice touch.  When I would snap a picture I had it set to review in the viewfinder for 1.5 seconds.  This let me get a rough idea to quickly check if there were any errors and if needed snap again.  Sometimes due to the parallax issues some junk would find its way into the bottom or side of my picture.  When that happened I would flick over to EFV and compose with confidence.

Finally when doing macro work I would use the LCD.  The LCD mode also came in handy when giving the camera to other people to take your picture with.  At first they didn’t know where to look and didn’t understand its only going to take a picture of what’s in the gridlines, not the viewfinder.  After having my head chopped in half a couple of times I made it a point to turn the camera over to LCD composition mode which everyone seemed to know how to use.

 

Finally when doing macro work I would use the LCD.  The LCD mode also came in handy when giving the camera to other people to take your picture with.  At first they didn’t know where to look and didn’t understand its only going to take a picture of what’s in the gridlines, not the viewfinder.  After having my head chopped in half a couple of times I made it a point to turn the camera over to LCD composition mode which everyone seemed to know how to use.

Fuji x100  F8  1/320th  ISO 200

 

Specific Shooting Situations

I’ve covered what I observed in my general shooting experience, however there are some specific shooting situations I faced that I would like to go into more detail about.

 

Low Light Indoors

One of the super strengths of this camera is its ability to handle low light.  The fast F2.0 lens and clean high ISO images give unrivaled possibilities.  It is truly new territory for a small camera.

When people ask me what camera they should buy the most common point of dissatisfaction with what they have is that indoor party pictures look terrible.  Usually flash is required and the background is horribly underexposed because of it.

With the Fuji it’s a whole new day.  It’s got enough sensitivity to handle almost any light people dwell in.  Rather than looking for the brightest light available you start looking for the most consistent light.  As long as it’s even with no bright spots in the background you get excellent results.  You don’t need the flash.  I got many comments by people who were surprised that I didn’t use a flash for their picture.

This picture was taken in some truly horrible light, dim and drained.  With any other camera I wouldn’t have even considered it or I’d be looking for walls to bounce the flash off, but with the Fuji it was no problem.

 

This picture was taken in some truly horrible light, dim and drained.  With any other camera I wouldn’t have even considered it or I’d be looking for walls to bounce the flash off, but with the Fuji it was no problem.

Fuji x100  F2  1/40th  ISO 3200

 

This shot was taken in what was perhaps the most horrid dim-mixed lighting condition I saw on the trip.

While it was amazing it wasn’t perfect.  There were two issues related to indoor light, one was the previously mentioned focus issue, as the light went down it struggled.  Not anything that couldn’t be worked around but annoying.  The second issue is that as the light drops it has a tendency to overexpose, perhaps trying to compensate for what it perceives as a stronger background light.  It was very common to dial in some negative EV when shooting in poor light.

In addition to taking good pictures of people indoors it works great in another area commonly associated with insufficient light, temples.  For whatever reason the big Buddha at temples are seldom well lit.  With other cameras it meant going tripod or flash, which is generally frowned upon.  The Fuji could do it in ambient light no problem as long as you kept bright windows out of the composition.

 

In addition to taking good pictures of people indoors it works great in another area commonly associated with insufficient light, temples.  For whatever reason the big Buddha at temples are seldom well lit.  With other cameras it meant going tripod or flash, which is generally frowned upon.  The Fuji could do it in ambient light no problem as long as you kept bright windows out of the composition.

Fuji x100  F2  1/45th  ISO 3200

 

In Southern China pictures of the idols in the main temple are generally prohibited.  I didn’t try but if I wanted to the Fuji would have been excellent for a covert shot.  Small, unassuming, quiet and able to get it without a flash.

 

In Southern China pictures of the idols in the main temple are generally prohibited.  I didn’t try but if I wanted to the Fuji would have been excellent for a covert shot.  Small, unassuming, quiet and able to get it without a flash.

Fuji x100  F2  1/60th  ISO 2500

 

On the Street

It could be argued this cameras greatest strength is well composed landscape photography.  This might be true but its abilities as a street camera is not far behind.  I was really concerned the fixed 35mm focal length was going to be an issue (not wide enough) but I had no problem getting what I wanted with it.

 

It could be argued this cameras greatest strength is well composed landscape photography.  This might be true but its abilities as a street camera is not far behind.  I was really concerned the fixed 35mm focal length was going to be an issue (not wide enough) but I had no problem getting what I wanted with it.

Fuji x100  F5.6  1/60th  ISO 400

 

Once you’re past that focal length issue its size and unassuming shape are great for just walking around.  You’re not hauling a bunch of stuff and big imposing lenses that alter people’s behavior.

 

Once you’re past that focal length issue its size and unassuming shape are great for just walking around.  You’re not hauling a bunch of stuff and big imposing lenses that alter people’s behavior.

Fuji x100  F4  1/110th  ISO 200

 

With the camera in its case it doesn’t attract the attention larger bodies do.  It’s also very quiet (unlikely to be heard over the noise of the street). Review the shots in the EVF and nobody knows you even took a photo, they think your still looking.  The shape and feel round it out with excellent handling.

 

With the camera in its case it doesn’t attract the attention larger bodies do.  It’s also very quiet (unlikely to be heard over the noise of the street).  Review the shots in the EVF and nobody knows you even took a photo, they think your still looking.  The shape and feel round it out with excellent handling.

Fuji x100 F5.6  1/90th  ISO 200

 

When I wandered around the streets of China it was my constant companion, if I was going to do some heavy duty shooting I’d bring the Nikon along but for the trip to the store or restaurant I just brought the Fuji.  It’s big enough to remind you it’s there, but not so large as to get in the way.  When I ran into situations where I really didn’t want to have the camera out it was small enough to stuff in a cargo pocket.

 

When I wandered around the streets of China it was my constant companion, if I was going to do some heavy duty shooting I’d bring the Nikon along but for the trip to the store or restaurant I just brought the Fuji.  It’s big enough to remind you it’s there, but not so large as to get in the way.  When I ran into situations where I really didn’t want to have the camera out it was small enough to stuff in a cargo pocket.

Fuji x100  F8  1/60th  ISO 2000

 

As much fun as it was on the streets during the day it really shined at night.  It just produces wonderfully clean, crisp, sharp images.  Low light was no problem and it captured neon with ease.  I could get the shutter speed fast enough so that slowly moving people were not a blurry mess.  The 35mm focal length became even more adequate as at night you tend to shoot wider and closer. Nothing like it out there.

 

As much fun as it was on the streets during the day it really shined at night.  It just produces wonderfully clean, crisp, sharp images.  Low light was no problem and it captured neon with ease.  I could get the shutter speed fast enough so that slowly moving people were not a blurry mess.  The 35mm focal length became even more adequate as at night you tend to shoot wider and closer. Nothing like it out there.

Fuji x100  F2  1/60th  ISO 1000

 

The one thing of note is that when shooting street shots at night the overexposure issue becomes more apparent.  I found that it was consistently shooting at least one stop overexposed.

 

The one thing of note is that when shooting street shots at night the overexposure issue becomes more apparent.  I found that it was consistently shooting at least one stop overexposed.

Fuji x100 F2  1/13th  ISO 3200

 

Same Shot with -1EV

Fuji x100  F2  1/40th  ISO 3200

 

Same Shot with -1EV

At first I thought it might be me but I took the shot and then carefully examined the result vs what my eyes saw, paying special attention to the light spilling onto the street from inside buildings.  It was much stronger in the picture.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, these brighter shots can give you images you can’t normally see but that are much more interesting than reality.  However it does tend to blow some highlights at times and if you’re shooting JPG that’s a real bummer.  I found that simply dialing in -1EV fixed most of that and started returning some very accurate exposures.

 

At first I thought it might be me but I took the shot and then carefully examined the result vs what my eyes saw, paying special attention to the light spilling onto the street from inside buildings.  It was much stronger in the picture.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, these brighter shots can give you images you can’t normally see but that are much more interesting than reality.  However it does tend to blow some highlights at times and if you’re shooting JPG that’s a real bummer.  I found that simply dialing in -1EV fixed most of that and started returning some very accurate exposures.

Fuji x100  F2.8  1/60th  ISO 1600

 

In a Cave

We went to a standard tourist cave while in China. Guide, lights, lots of people.  The usual song and dance.  Before going in I was thinking I was going to have fun with my tripod.  But the Fuji gave me other options.

 

We went to a standard tourist cave while in China. Guide, lights, lots of people.  The usual song and dance.  Before going in I was thinking I was going to have fun with my tripod.  But the Fuji gave me other options.

Fuji x100  F2  1/60th  ISO 2500

 

Its low light abilities made easy work capturing the illuminated scenery.  Like street shots it tended to overexpose by 1EV which was soon remedied.  At this particular cave they turned the lights off the moment the tour guide left the scene so grabbing shots with a tripod would not have worked.

 

Its low light abilities made easy work capturing the illuminated scenery.  Like street shots it tended to overexpose by 1EV which was soon remedied.  At this particular cave they turned the lights off the moment the tour guide left the scene so grabbing shots with a tripod would not have worked.

Fuji x100  F2  1/25th  ISO 3200

 

Panoramas

I’m a sucker for Panoramas, love them.  I’ve spent a lot of time and effort and money to getting them right.  Tripods, heads, nodal points, angle charts etc. Shooting a Panorama of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon and then Kowloon from Victoria peak are shots that I’ve been waiting to get right for 10 years (last time I was there it was raining). To get those shots (as well as night shots of the cityscape in general) I brought a full size tripod, head, pano head, L-bracket on battery grip and 17-35 F2.8 lens for my D300.  From a size/weight perspective it was well over half my photo gear.  I was loaded for bear, things totally didn’t work out the way I had been planning and the Fuji saved the day in a big way.

When I got my first sweep of Hong Kong Island during the day I shot a regular pano of it handheld using the Nikon.

 

I’m a sucker for Panoramas, love them.  I’ve spent a lot of time and effort and money to getting them right.  Tripods, heads, nodal points, angle charts etc. Shooting a Panorama of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon and then Kowloon from Victoria peak are shots that I’ve been waiting to get right for 10 years (last time I was there it was raining).  To get those shots (as well as night shots of the cityscape in general) I brought a full size tripod, head, pano head, L-bracket on battery grip and 17-35 F2.8 lens for my D300.  From a size/weight perspective it was well over half my photo gear.  I was loaded for bear, things totally didn’t work out the way I had been planning and the Fuji saved the day in a big way.

Nikon D300  F11 1/250fh  ISO 100

 

I’ve found that with proper technique and modern software you can get away with handheld pano’s as long as your subject is in the distance.  Sharpness suffers a little bit and if you make a mistake you can blow the whole thing, but I was reasonably confident.  After I got the handheld pano I was digging in my gear bag and looking at the Fuji. I had my RRS pano head and a plate for the Fuji along with my Joby SLR mini-tripod . I wondered if that could do the trick.

 

I’ve found that with proper technique and modern software you can get away with handheld pano’s as long as your subject is in the distance.  Sharpness suffers a little bit and if you make a mistake you can blow the whole thing, but I was reasonably confident.  After I got the handheld pano I was digging in my gear bag and looking at the Fuji. I had my RRS pano head and a plate for the Fuji along with my Joby SLR mini-tripod . I wondered if that could do the trick.

Fuji x100  F8  1/1000th  Pano Mode

 

I set it up and found that it worked quite well.  The light weight and the lack of mirror slap, as well as a very gentle shutter allowed it to work with the Joby.  I set it up on a rail, leveled the head between each shot and got pretty good results.  The only real issue was the lack of height on the “tripod” which limited my perspective and included a bunch of the supporting rail.

That night I went down to the Harbor with my full kit and got some sweeps with the Nikon and the Fuji.

The Fuji was a bit limited in that I had to use landscape orientation (I don’t have a L-bracket) but 35mm was wide enough for the Island, even when held to the level.

 

The Fuji was a bit limited in that I had to use landscape orientation (I don’t have a L-bracket) but 35mm was wide enough for the Island, even when held to the level.

Fuji x100  F5.6   5 secs   ISO 200  Pano Mode

 

The real test came the next night.  This was our last night in Hong Kong, I HAD to get a pano from the top of Victoria Peak but we could only go there after spending the entire day at the Ocean Park Amusement park.  There was just no way, no how I was going to be able to haul all my gear through that all day long.  I was hoping after Ocean Park we could swing back by the hotel, get the gear and then head up to the peak.  It wasn’t to be and I found myself up late, on top of Victoria Peak without my tripod.  It was the Fuji or nothing.

With ISO 3200 F2.0 I was actually able to get some acceptable handheld shots that would do if nothing else worked out, but I wanted better.

 

With ISO 3200 F2.0 I was actually able to get some acceptable handheld shots that would do if nothing else worked out, but I wanted better.

Fuji x100  F2  1/60th  ISO 3200  Pano Mode

 

I set the Joby+Fuji up.  Went over to manual exposure at ISO 200 and shot a series of multi-second shots and got what I needed.  I was VERY nervous, years of planning and preparation had been discarded in favor of something I came up with yesterday and tried once.

When it was all over the results were great, as good as anything I would have gotten from my Nikon in terms of sharpness and clarity.

 

When it was all over the results were great, as good as anything I would have gotten from my Nikon in terms of sharpness and clarity.

Fuji x100  F5.6  4 secs  ISO 200  Pano Mode

 

That was a real moment of truth for me, completely changed my concept of pano shooting. If I were to do it all over again I would have brought a lightweight more compact tripod, the pano head and the Fuji along with an L-Bracket and left the rest at home. The 35mm focal length proved wide enough for all my needs and a lightweight tripod seems good enough to get sharp images from the camera. The main thing I needed the tripod for was to elevate the camera to the right level rather than providing vice grip like support for sharp images.

Fuji x100  F5.6  2 secs ISO 200  Pano Mode

 

That was a real moment of truth for me, completely changed my concept of pano shooting.  If I were to do it all over again I would have brought a lightweight more compact tripod, the pano head and the Fuji along with an L-Bracket and left the rest at home.  The 35mm focal length proved wide enough for all my needs and a lightweight tripod seems good enough to get sharp images from the camera.  The main thing I needed the tripod for was to elevate the camera to the right level rather than providing vice grip like support for sharp images.

 

Pano Mode

Under the drive menu one of the features the Fuji has is the Motion Panorama.  This is an In-camera shooting and stitching to create a panorama.  You can select 120 or 180 degree panos as well as landscape or portrait orientation.

120 Degree Landscape Pano

 

Under the drive menu one of the features the Fuji has is the Motion Panorama.  This is an In-camera shooting and stitching to create a panorama.  You can select 120 or 180 degree panos as well as landscape or portrait orientation.

Fuji x100  F8  1/280th  ISO 200

 

 

 

120 Degree Portrait Pano

 

I used this feature on several occasions, though the results were often less than spectacular.  Lots of camera’s have this feature in one way or another.  Fuji’s method still seems to have issues and it doesn’t work as well as the same feature on my Sony Point and Shoot.  Aside from stitching errors the main problem is that it uses discreet finite pictures of unknown shutter speed vs. a recorded smear like pulling form video.

Fuji x100 F8  1/300th  ISO 200

I used this feature on several occasions, though the results were often less than spectacular.  Lots of camera’s have this feature in one way or another.  Fuji’s method still seems to have issues and it doesn’t work as well as the same feature on my Sony Point and Shoot.  Aside from stitching errors the main problem is that it uses discreet finite pictures of unknown shutter speed vs. a recorded smear like pulling form video.

There is a progress bar up at the top that lets you know if you need to keep sweeping.  Taking and processing all these pictures create a strong lag when you are sweeping so that bar is not entirely accurate, you tend to go to slow at the beginning and too fast at the end.  The stitching/blending isn’t the greatest either.  If you shoot in portrait mode (or the 180 degree pano) the perspective distortion them the projection is really bad, you get much better results in landscape.

Overall I feel this feature is not quite fully baked, If your in a rush it can be useful, but you’ll probably get better results handheld shooting and stitching the pano.

In Camera Pano

 

There is a progress bar up at the top that lets you know if you need to keep sweeping.  Taking and processing all these pictures create a strong lag when you are sweeping so that bar is not entirely accurate, you tend to go to slow at the beginning and too fast at the end.  The stitching/blending isn’t the greatest either.  If you shoot in portrait mode (or the 180 degree pano) the perspective distortion them the projection is really bad, you get much better results in landscape.

Fuji x100  F8  1/320th  ISO 200

 

Stitched Pano of the Same Shot

 

If you do use it, swipe twice, errors often show up in the final product you don’t see in camera.  Also it doesn’t work well in low light since the camera is in motion when the shots are taken, it ends up a blurry mess, even from a tripod.

Fuji x100  F11  1/320th  ISO 200

If you do use it, swipe twice, errors often show up in the final product you don’t see in camera.  Also it doesn’t work well in low light since the camera is in motion when the shots are taken, it ends up a blurry mess, even from a tripod.

 

Flash Fill

While it is seldom necessary to use flash on this camera from time to time there are situations when it is unavoidable.  Either in complete darkness, or more likely when your subject is strongly backlit and you can’t get an acceptable picture by bumping up the EV to compensate.

I ran into the situation several times on my journey, exclusively with trying to take portraits.  I was happy to find the Fuji does an excellent job of metering and balancing for flash fill.

 

I ran into the situation several times on my journey, exclusively with trying to take portraits.  I was happy to find the Fuji does an excellent job of metering and balancing for flash fill.

Fuji x100  F2  1/35th  ISO 3200

 

I did find however that you NEED to use the redeye reduction feature.  The placement of the flash is such that your almost guaranteed redeye if you don’t.  With the redeye feature it does the extended pre-flash as well as post processing of the image to wipe it out.

 

It was seeing in this post processing in action that left me really wondering what was going on with the Fuji Autofocus system. It couldn’t lock onto a face in low light yet after you take the picture it can detect all the faces in the picture (even off angle) and quickly check them for Redeye even if they didn’t have any? What’s up with that?

Fuji x100  F4  1/60th  ISO 320

 

It was seeing in this post processing in action that left me really wondering what was going on with the Fuji Autofocus system.  It couldn’t lock onto a face in low light yet after you take the picture it can detect all the faces in the picture (even off angle) and quickly check them for Redeye even if they didn’t have any?  What’s up with that?

At any rate the flash and flash fill work pretty good.  They are limited in range, but at the wide angle you usually are not that far away.

I had the occasion to take the same portrait with the D300 on camera flash fill and the Fuji flash fill.

This Shot was from the Fuji.

 

I had the occasion to take the same portrait with the D300 on camera flash fill and the Fuji flash fill.

Fuji x100  F4  1/500th  ISO 320


 

 

Flash fill shot from the D300.

 

Flash fill shot from the D300.

Nikon D300  F4.8  1/250th  55mm  ISO 100

 

Portraits

One usually doesn’t think of 35mm as an especially good portrait length, unless you’re in close quarters.  I was surprised at how good of a portrait camera the Fuji made despite this limitation.  Being able to go down to F2.0 helped.   At F2.0 from a few feet away you have fairly narrow DOF and decent Bokeh.  Combined with the sharp crisp detail you can get decent portraits out of it.

 

One usually doesn’t think of 35mm as an especially good portrait length, unless you’re in close quarters.  I was surprised at how good of a portrait camera the Fuji made despite this limitation.  Being able to go down to F2.0 helped.   At F2.0 from a few feet away you have fairly narrow DOF and decent Bokeh.  Combined with the sharp crisp detail you can get decent portraits out of it.

Fuji x100  F4  1/500th  ISO 320

 

Close Ups

The Fuji took good close up pictures IF you invoke macro mode.  Without macro it usually won’t focus on anything less than a meter away.  With Macro it goes to inches, though it is very slow.  Switching back and forth was a bit of a pain but I got some great pictures of food in Macro mode.

 

The Fuji took good close up pictures IF you invoke macro mode.  Without macro it usually won’t focus on anything less than a meter away.  With Macro it goes to inches, though it is very slow.  Switching back and forth was a bit of a pain but I got some great pictures of food in Macro mode

Fuji x100  F2  1/60th  ISO 1250

 

The Fuji took good close up pictures IF you invoke macro mode.  Without macro it usually won’t focus on anything less than a meter away.  With Macro it goes to inches, though it is very slow.  Switching back and forth was a bit of a pain but I got some great pictures of food in Macro mode

Fuji x100 F2.8  1/30th  ISO 320

 

 

Aquarium

The Fuji actually makes a pretty good camera for shooting at an aquarium.  At Ocean Park in Hong Kong I was able to get some really nice shots of Jellyfish.

 

The Fuji actually makes a pretty good camera for shooting at an aquarium.  At Ocean Park in Hong Kong I was able to get some really nice shots of Jellyfish.

Fuji x100  F2  1/60th  ISO 3200

 

For the most part the 35mm focal length was adequate for the job, though many times more zoom would have been nice.  Cropping usually did the trick.

 

For the most part the 35mm focal length was adequate for the job, though many times more zoom would have been nice.  Cropping usually did the trick.

Fuji x100  F2  1/60th  ISO 3200

 

Perhaps the biggest issue was the autofocus problems I mentioned earlier, due to the distances you had to go into Macro mode much of the time and for faster moving fish this presented a real problem.

 

Video

The Fuji takes 720p HD video.  I didn’t use it for that very much since I was afraid to burn up the battery and memory to early in the day.  I used it on a few occasions, it works, its ok but I didn’t see anything that made it stand out over the video other digicams take.

 

Bracketing

The Fuji has bracketing feature but it’s kind of weak.  You can select the bracketing depth, maximum of 1 stop per shot and only a 3 shot bracket.

 

Other features

There seemed to be some interesting other features listed in the menu.  Neutral density filter, dynamic range bracketing and more.  Since my trip was so hectic I really didn’t have the time or energy to mess around with them.  I had the basics down and that’s all I really needed.  On the few occasions where I had some downtime on the road I was afraid to drain the battery so I didn’t mess with it.  But there is more to the camera than F-stops and shutter speeds.

 

Speed

This is not a camera for action photography.  As far as speed goes it has more in common with a point and shoot than an SLR.  The time to turn it on, or even wake up from power saving sleep mode, is several seconds.  The time required to focus (if it gets the lock) is not excessive but it’s not fast enough for action.  A lot of chances for missed shots there.  Of special annoyance when taking pictures of toddlers is that to get good close ups of their face you end up close than the one meter limit of the normal focus, so you have to go to macro mode which takes even longer.  Chances are that they, and the expression you were trying to capture will be long gone by the time you get your focus lock.

 

The Lens cap Issue

One “gotcha” with this camera relates to the use of a lens cap . With an SLR when the lens cap is on you know it, with a rangefinder maybe not.  On a few occasions I would look through the site, snap the shot and then have it go black.  While this is operator error the fact it takes the camera out of commission for around a minute sucks.  Once you snap it thinks it requires a 30 second exposure with a long NR cycle as well so the whole camera is locked up for a long time . Turning it off doesn’t help; it picks up where it left off when you turn it back on.  Watch that lens cap.

 

Cost

When I first heard that Fuji was charging $1200 for a fixed focal length 12mp APS-C sensor camera I was thinking they had lost it.  In reality they found it.  While $1200 is a lot of money if you look at what you’re getting it’s a good value.  How much is the best 35mm F2.0 lens worth?  How much is a sensor that is clean with great dynamic range worth?  Now combine the two in a small package with some style.  If you look at it from the perspective of what people pay for the components all the time it’s reasonably priced.

 

Who should buy this camera?

Is this camera for everyone?  Not really.  This camera is best for experienced photographers who have some time to think about, meter, compose and move around to get the best shot.  They are patient, willing to invest money to cover one type of shooting and don’t want to carry a lot of gear.  People who don’t want to get every shot they can but want to get a few shots just right.  In short it’s the optimal old photographer’s camera.  People who know what they want and what they don’t, can see the possibilities and have the time to explore them.

That’s not to say others can’t enjoy the camera.  I had some non-photographer friends that saw what amazing picture the camera was able to take of their cat in lousy light without flash, they were ready to go get one till they found out how much it cost.

 

That’s not to say others can’t enjoy the camera.  I had some non-photographer friends that saw what amazing picture the camera was able to take of their cat in lousy light without flash, they were ready to go get one till they found out how much it cost.

Fuji x100  F4  1/20th  ISO 3200

 

Conclusion

I spent a lot of time with this camera and the more I used it the more I got to like it.  While at the beginning of my trip I preferred the Nikon, by the end I was mainly using the Fuji.  For the big photographic events I brought both, but when it was a more casual outing (like going down to dinner) I would grab the Fuji and leave the Nikon behind.  Its small size, ease of use, amazing low light and great image quality made it very appealing.  After I got used to the limitations of 35mm it became the natural choice.

Is it the “Perfect Camera” or “The only Camera you will need?”  No it is not.  It has its issues and it has its limitations which I have covered.  But it is an excellent camera and for touring cities it is hard to beat.  If I hadn’t just blown all my money (and then some) taking the family to Asia I would be getting one of these.  If I were a road warrior who travelled a lot for work I wouldn’t hesitate to get one and make it my main photographic tool.

I guess the sentiment that best sums it up though is this.  If someone were to come up and say “Tom, your going on a trip somewhere and you can only take one camera/lens” without hesitation I would reach for the Fuji.

 

Is it the “Perfect Camera” or “The only Camera you will need?”  No it is not.  It has its issues and it has its limitations which I have covered.  But it is an excellent camera and for touring cities it is hard to beat.  If I hadn’t just blown all my money (and then some) taking the family to Asia I would be getting one of these.  If I were a road warrior who travelled a lot for work I wouldn’t hesitate to get one and make it my main photographic tool.

Fuji x100  F2  1/240th  ISO 200