Fuji Finepix X100 Review
Usability - How easy is it to use?
The Fuji Finepix X100 is styled along the lines of a film rangefinder which has a lot of implications on its usability and ergonomics. How much the X100's ergonomics get appreciated depends greatly on the basis for comparison and nostalgia. Never having used a film rangefinder, we will not be swayed in this review by the latter!
Starting with ergonomics, the X100 is rather boxy. It has a slight bump as a grip which provides almost no purchase. What adds security though is that its design requires both hands to operate. The shutter-release on the top-plate is usable but certainly not as comfortable as modern cameras that mount it on a slant. At the rear, the thumb naturally falls on the rocker. With practice, you can get used to placing it over the small empty area just below. Most buttons at the rear-right are within reasonable reach of the thumb while holding the camera.
Along the left edge of the camera there is a column of seldom-used buttons. This is fortunate since the left hand is normally underneath the camera to reach the lens barrel. The lens protrudes less than 1" from the camera which keeps the whole package small. The downside is that having both a focus and aperture-ring around it feels crowded. Fuji placed small tabs on opposite sides of the lens to make it easier to turn but friction from the front of the camera while turning the ring never feels completely comfortable.
What feels extremely comfortable on the left-side of the camera is the viewfinder. The Fuji X100 is extremely comfortable to hold at eye-level and you can bring your eye very close to it without pressing your nose against it. Strangely, many cameras have done the opposite lately, moving the LCD to the left edge which makes smudge marks even more troubling. Kudos to Fuji for moving the right thing to the left!
The X100 clearly has more direct controls than the vast majority of fixed-lens cameras. It is also highly modal, meaning that most dials have marked positions. This makes the camera state readable by simply looking at the camera, even when off. This design makes the X100 more efficient to use than the majority of compacts but not as much as advanced SLDs and SLRs because of a number of oddities explained below.
The aperture ring around the lens is labeled with full-stops from F/2 to F/16, plus an automatic settings. This makes it ultra-quick to set aperture in full-stops. However, to set the aperture between stops, which is possible in 1/3 increments, the rocker under your thumb must be used. This means that two controls are required to set aperture precisely, making is slower and more fiddly than using a typical control-dial.
Setting shutter-speeds is even more complex. Once again, there is a dial which sets full-stop increments from 1/4000s to 1/4s. For selecting shutter-speeds between stops, which is also only possible in 1/3 increments, a very thin dial around the 4-way controller is required. With it, you can modify shutter-speed by ±2/3. Slower shutter-speeds use the T position and then the rear dial can select shutter-speeds down to 30s. Bizarrely, even impossible shutter-speeds can be set. When selecting 1/4000s, for example, at an aperture wider than F/8, the speed lights up red on the display. The B position is for Bulb mode which works as expected except if the aperture ring is at the A position, in which case the camera always exposes for 30s at F/16.
Despite having 4 controls to set 2 parameters, as described, there is no direct control for ISO, which one would expect from the only camera with 3 control-dials! With the Function button set to ISO, pressing it when not using the OVF makes the ISO menu appear which can be scrolled with the rear dial or the Up and Down buttons of the 4-way controller. Otherwise, using the menu is required which slows things down. While using the OVF, pressing the Function button assigned to ISO allows the rocker switch to select the ISO. Too bad it does not work the same way with the EVF and LCD.
The last dial on the X100 is for Exposure-Compensation. It works universally and is completely predictable. Changes to it are reflected on a scale in the viewfinder. The only imperfection is that steps are marked, so only 1/3 increments are available.
Absent from the Fuji Finepix X100 is an exposure mode-dial. With this camera, like the analog ones that inspired it, a photographer does not announce in advance which exposure parameters can be set. Instead, parameters are simply set to the desired value. If a parameter should be automatically controlled, then it is simply set to the A position. With two dials, this gives access to the four standard PASM mode:
|Exposure Mode||Aperture Ring||Shutter-Speed Dial|
|Aperture-Priority||F/2 - F/16||A|
|Shutter-Priority||A||1/4000 - 1/4, T|
|Manual||F/2 - F/16||1/4000 - 1/4, T, B|
Focus modes are set using a slider on the left side of the camera. It is rather small and flush, so moving it accidentally passed the middle is easy. The bottom position if AF-C, while the top is MF. To set focus in MF mode, a fly-by-wire ring at the front of the lens-barrel is used. Setting focus like this is precise but requires a large number of turns to change the focus-distance by a moderate amount. Neither EVF nor LCD are crisp enough to perfectly focus at a wide-aperture. The rocker switch used to set the shutter-speed can be pushed in to activate MF Assist. MF Assist magnifies the area around the current focus-point and allows to confirm focus accurately when using the EVF.
The LCD on the rear has 460K pixels and measures 2.8" diagonally with a 4:3 aspect-ratio. It is bright with good visibility and viewing-angle. It has a good refresh rate and an excellent anti-reflection coating as well. The preview always shows the metered exposure plus EC rather than the actual. The live-histogram unfortunately reflects the display too, so this camera is not Exposure-Priority. Still, when the actual exposure coincides with the metered exposure, the preview is accurate.
The unique hybrid viewfinder is a neat achievement. It combines an optical-tunnel viewfinder with an electronic one in the same space. In optical mode, the electronic components show an amazing HUD. Just like other optical-tunnels, the OVF shows neither focus, nor exposure, nor framing accurately. Framing is completely inaccurate. The view through the OVF shows considerable more than 100% while a frame within supposedly marks a 90% coverage boundary. Due to alignment differences between the lens and OVF, the inner frame shifts after focusing, so reframing may be required. In practice, it does not shift enough so elements within the 90% boundary can still be chopped when the image is taken. Even after weeks of practice, accurately framing with the OVF is impossible.
The EVF is excellent. It is sharp, bright and refreshes quickly. Coverage is 100% accurate. It also previews color and white-balance well. Like the LCD, it is not exposure-priority but shows the metered exposure including EC instead. Within the exposure-range of the camera, it can be used to predict exposure and choose how much EC to apply. Here too, the live-histogram is based on the display.
An Eye-Start sensor switches between the viewfinder and rear LCD. This avoids having to manually switch between the displays. In OVF mode, the switch is instant while in EVF mode there is a small unfortunate delay while the camera opens and closes the finder window.
The bottom of the X100 has a metal tripod mount which is neither inline with the lens nor the center of the camera. This is also where the combined battery and memory compartment is located. The battery is almost symmetric which lets it be inserted the wrong way.
Despite a number of usability issues, the X100 remains faster to operate than most compacts. It also features an APS-C sensor which gives it much more control over depth-of-field than other fixed-lens cameras, more so when considering the bright F/2 maximum aperture of its lens. In use, the EVF rules, providing a stable eye-level way to frame accurately. When compared to a DSLR, the freedom afforded by the X100's size is tremendous, not just for the shooter but also for subjects who generally feel more comfortable being photograph by small cameras.
Fuji X100 Facts
|12 Megapixels Fixed Lens||ISO 100-12800|
|Fixed 35mm lens||Shutter 1/4000-30s|
|0.47" Hybrid EVF 1.4 Megapixels (0.50X)||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|Automatic Eye-Start sensor||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|5 FPS Drive, 10 Images||Spot-Metering|
|1280x720 @ 24 FPS Video Recording||Hot-Shoe|
|2.8" LCD 460K Pixels||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
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