Fuji X100 – The dSLR’s Photographers Compact?
Image copyright (c) Fuji
A lot of the high end dSLR cameras are pretty chunky, particularly ones with integrated (or additional) vertical grips. And as such, a lot of the photographers that own one of these bodies, often crave after a “carry around” compact. They want a high end camera, with a lot of the functionality and quality of their own main SLR body, but without the bulk. The Fuji X100 is touted as being a perfect fit for this market, but is it really?
There’s no doubt that one of the main selling points of the X100 is it’s appearance. It’s retro looks holds so much appeal for so many people. But for me? Well I do think it’s retro looking, but it wouldn’t be a selling point for me. Certainly not at the premium you pay for it.
Size, Weight & Handling
The whole idea of an “every day” compact, is that you can carry it around easily. Personally, unless I am travelling on business (which is quite often), I don’t mind the bulk of my D3. So if I’m going anywhere, I don’t have an issue throwing it over my shoulder or in a small camera bag. But let’s imagine I did want a compact to carry around, how does the X100 fare? I’d have to say badly It’s not that small, certainly way too big to put in your pocket. So you need to carry it over your shoulder. Put it in the Fuji leather case and it’s bigger again. If I’m going to have a camera over my shoulder, then I may as well have my D3.
Weight wise, whilst it’s considerably lighter than a D3 with a great big f/2.8 lens attached, it’s still not exactly light weight. There’s enough bulk for you to notice it’s there.
But what I found the worst was the handling (in terms of ergonomics). Granted, I am used to big bodies with vertical grips, so a lot of the dissatisfaction in handling probably stems from my habit of using one type of body. I like to hold my camera – carry it around in my hand, ready to take a shot at any time. But the X100 really has no place to hold. It’s OK when you’re taking the image, but in between shots? The “grip” really isn’t a grip – it’s too small. So most of the time it had be hung over my shoulder by the strap.
Fixed 23mm Lens
The X100 features a fixed 23mm (35mm equivalent) lens. Whilst I have a few primes (50mm, 85mm and 300mm) in my kit bag, by and large I’m used to zooms. So I did find the fixed focal length limiting. Even when I got used to zooming with my feet, I found the 23mm focal length a strange choice. It’s wide enough, that to fill the frame you really need to get close to your subject, introducing issues like distortion and parallax error. But it’s not super wide in that it couldn’t be used for landscape. It’s a strange middle ground. I would have thought a 50mm focal length would have been a better choice? Possibly I’m biased considering what I shoot?
Parallax – Optical Vs. Digital Viewfinder
The x100 is a clever piece of kit. One really clever aspect is the view finder. If you look through the optical view finder, you are prone to parallax error because the view finder is offset from the lens. Indeed you actually see the edge of the lens when looking through it. But swap to “digital” and the camera “projects” what it sees through the lens into the optical view finder. A really neat trick. Plus what’s useful is that when you take an image, the resulting image is also displayed here. Of course, you can also use the LCD on the back of the camera rather than using the optical view finder, but I refuse point blank to take pictures like this I shot a lot of images using purely the optical viewfinder (no digital) and discovered issues with exposure and parallax – simply because I wasn’t paying attention to the results.
Image copyright (c) Fuji
Let’s be honest, it’s not an intuitive camera to use. Even discounting the fact I have spent my whole photography life shooting with Nikons, it’s still quite quirky. I LOVE (yes LOVE) the aperture being set by an actual real aperture ring on the lens and shutter speed on top of the camera, but the love affair ends there. Everything else is fiddly. Setting the focus point, changing the mode, adjusting exposure… all difficult to access, requiring either multiple button presses or buried down in the menus. Nothing seemed particularly easy, even after a few days use. To be fair, there was nothing the camera couldn’t do that I wanted to do, but it took me an inordinate amount of time to do it.
To be fair, I appreciate that it’s not a D3 and to compare it to that is unfair. But that’s my benchmark and against that, it sucked. It’s SLLLLOOOOOOWWWWWW. Slow to focus, a very long shutter lag and MY GOD it takes an age to write to the card. Trying to use it for a model shoot was nigh on impossible. Using the optical view finder, I spotted so many shots I wanted to take but simply couldn’t because the camera was still buffering and/or writing the last shot. Using the digital mode in the optical view finder didn’t help matters – all you see is a “waiting” screen. I found it extremely frustrating and to be honest, a little embarrassing. I’m sure Kelly (the model) probably thought I was just gawking at her rather than taking images because I spent so much time just holding the camera to my eye rather than taking images.
Considering the test conditions that I was shooting in were tough, it’s really hard to tell how good the images are from this body. At ISO800, shooting wide open and shutter speeds between 1/10 and 1/20, what I can say is that a lot of the shots were soft – a combination of focus and camera shake. The “sharper” ones really suffered from noise. I’ve often pushed my D3 to 6400 and come away with cleaner images. I haven’t printed a shot from this camera yet, which is the ultimate acid test for me, but I’m not holding my breath. Again, it simply doesn’t compare to the D3.
Honestly, I’m not sure why this camera is so sought after. Is it a bad camera? No… of course not. But it’s no replacement for a D3. My feeling is that if there was a shot of a life time to be had, you’d want your real body and not this. And if it’s not a shot of a lifetime that you’re taking, well then most likely the camera on your phone will do. My sentiments are largely flavoured by the fact that I just don’t see the need for a carry around compact. That said, I’ll probably take this on all future business trips. My D3′s are too heavy and my phone certainly wouldn’t have cut the mustard given the shooting conditions I faced, so it seems like a good compromise. But any other time, choosing between my SLR, phone or this… I couldn’t ever see me picking this one up.