It looks like a classic rangefinder, yet it features Fujifilm’s latest EXR technology and, controversially, a fixed-focus, non-interchangeable lens. So has the FinePix X100 really been worth the wait? We find out
Fujifilm has been known for its unique sensor designs and most recently for its EXR system. Although the X100 doesn’t use an EXR-based sensor, the technology has been included by combining a more standard-design CMOS sensor with an EXR processor. The CMOS sensor has a 12.3-million-pixel effective resolution and, impressively for a fixed-lens camera, it is APS-C-sized. It outputs at 4288×2848 pixels, or 4288×2416 pixels in 16:9 aspect ratio in JPEG or its native RAF raw format, with options for combined raw and JPEG shooting, plus small and medium JPEG sizes. This gives a roughly 9x14in print at 300ppi without interpolation. Video is captured in 720p HD (1080×720 pixels) at 24fps, saved in MOV format with H.264 compression.
The EXR processor is newly developed for use with high-sensitivity CMOS sensors and offers an ISO range of 200-6400, expandable to ISO 100 and 12,800 for JPEG shooting but not in raw. The X100 has a fixed lens so the sensor and processor have been optimised to deliver the best results from it. The lens is a fixed-focus 23mm f/2 Fujinon, which is the equivalent of 35mm (on 35mm format) due to the APS-C sensor size, made up of eight elements in six groups and a nine-blade aperture. There is no stabilisation present in either the lens or the sensor design, which is a rarity, but due to the wide and fast lens this is not a real issue.
Many have commented that the X100 would have been a great opportunity for Fujifilm to make use of the micro four thirds-standard mount. However, that would have meant using a smaller sensor and therefore the loss of one of the camera’s key elements. Perhaps if the X100 is a success we will see a future model with a removable lens or an alternative-length fixed optic.
The metering is a 256-zone system with multi, spot and average settings. Exposure compensation is slightly limited at ±2EV in 1⁄3 intervals, while bracketing is available for exposure and also for ISO, dynamic range and film simulation mode.
Focusing is contrast-based with a choice of 49 selectable points or multi-point to allow the camera to autoselect. For low-light shooting there is an AF lamp and also a choice of single, continuous and manual focusing, with a manual focus ring around the lens barrel, although it uses an electronic connection to actually adjust the focus.
The X100 does feature the full array of exposure modes, including program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual, but due to the ‘traditional’ placing of the shutter and aperture controls it may not be immediately obvious. Both the shutter dial on the top of the camera and the aperture ring around the lens barrel feature an auto setting. When both are set to auto the camera operates in program mode; with one set it performs either aperture or shutter priority.
There are no scene modes here, but there is a set of film simulation modes. These modes adjust the colour of the image, with a choice of Provia, Velvia and Astia effects to match the colours of the corresponding Fuji films, plus monochrome modes with a choice of red, green and yellow filters, and a sepia mode. These can be set for JPEG shooting or applied post-capture using the in-camera raw conversion. Raw files shot in film simulation mode will retain the effect in the preview, but will need to have it reapplied if processed in the provided Silkypix software.
A handy method is to shoot in a combination of raw and JPEG with the simulation mode on. In this way you get a processed JPEG and an original raw file, should you decide against or want to change the effect. In the menu there is also the ability to control the dynamic range, with a choice of 100%, 200% and 400%. However, an ISO of 800-6400 is required to use the 400% setting, and ISO 400-6400 to use the 200% setting. For bright conditions or creative work the camera features a built-in ND filter that reduces the exposure by 3EV. Although the shutter dial shows a maximum of 1/4000sec, this is only achievable at apertures of f/8 and above. Due to the distance the leaf shutter has to cover, a maximum of just 1/1000sec is possible for the larger apertures.
Despite its looks the X100 even includes a built-in flash, although a low-powered one, which Fujifilm quotes as having a coverage of 9m @ ISO 1600, which equates roughly to a guide number of 2m @ ISO 100. It does provide slow sync and redeye reduction, and is handy for fill-in or close-up work. There is also a hotshoe mount, which is designed for one of the two new Fujifilm EF-20 (GN 20 @ ISO 100) and EF-42 (GN 42 @ ISO 100) external flashguns. Other accessories include a lens hood to allow 49mm thread filters to be attached and a leather quick-shot case.
The camera uses SD cards and is compatible with SDHC and SDXC types for larger storage. For continuous shooting the X100 allows a 5fps or 3fps burst of up to ten JPEG images or eight raw images. Individually, the write times appear fairly slow: using a SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC card, it takes around 2secs for a JPEG and up to 5secs for raw+JPEG. The camera is completely locked down during writing, with no access to the menu or focusing. There can also be a delay in waking the camera when it has been inactive for a preset amount of time. Even with fast start-up selected, it can take 2-3secs to power back up. This time is reduced, however, by formatting the card.
Features in use: Hybrid viewfinder
The hybrid viewfinder is a unique feature and one that has made this camera such a talking point. It allows users to choose between a traditional optical view and a modern electronic view. Many users are put off bridge cameras and compact system cameras by their use of electronic viewfinders, but with this system they will have the option of using an optical view.
The benefits of the electronic view are the ability to see the scene as it will appear in the final image, from the exposure, colour effects and even the composition, as it allows a 100% view. The downside, however, is the artificial nature of this view, the lag (however slight) and that the image you see is darker than an optical view. The optical view here is not through the lens so although it is nice and bright, it is not as accurate, even with the digital framing marks. It also offers little warning of a wrongly metered or exposed scene.
You can swap easily between the two modes by pulling a lever on the front, which looks like an old self-timer switch. The system works much like a brightframe viewfinder. However, instead of the brightframe projecting cropping marks, the parallax mirror projects a digital image into the viewfinder. For the optical viewing mode this is the framing points and the shooting information. But when the lever is pulled and it swaps to the electronic viewfinder, a shutter comes over the front of the viewfinder window and the full image is projected into the view from the sensor.