Looking at the Fujifilm FinePix X100, you might be reminded of a simpler time and the age of analog photography. But once you get your hands on the camera and take it for a spin, that notion will be shattered. The FinePix X100 is a complicated camera that’s every bit as sophisticated as a modern DSLR. Of course, it also produces the same high-quality results as those professional devices, and is the first to introduce a hybrid viewfinder. As a sacrifice, the X100 comes with a steep learning curve and doesn’t offer much to help you out. But if you are a photography lover and viewfinder advocate, then you’ll likely be able to get past the X100’s quirks.
There’s no denying the X100’s outer beauty: It’s an eye-catching, breathtaking camera that is sure to turn heads. This type of vintage, retro look is a big trend right now, with brands like Canon, Olympus and Sony all putting their own spins on classic styles. But there’s a big difference between these competing devices and the X100. These cameras are more like a modern take on throwback styles, rather than replications of the real thing. The X100 may pack new technology, but everything about its body is antique – in a good way. Yes, it’s obviously incredibly reminiscent of Leica’s boxy look and solid feel, but the similarities don’t detract from just how pretty the X100 is.
The world’s first hybrid viewfinder is the X100’s groundbreaking technology, and for the most part, it lives up to its hype. It gives photographers the ability to switch a true optical viewfinder and an electronic viewfinder through the same viewing port, with the flip of a switch. Competiting mirror-less and Micro Four Thirds (MFT) cameras put you at the mercy of the LCD display, which comes with a slew of hang-ups: Difficult viewing in certain lighting conditions and inaccurate aspect ratio being just two. The X100’s viewfinder not only gives you the traditional feel of setting up the shot through an optical viewfinder, but also provides all the vital data of an electronic viewfinder right before your eyes (or eye, rather). You can exist entirely within the viewfinder if you want to, but the option of the 2.8-inch LCD display remains below. Of course, being the first hybrid viewfinder on the market also means there are some quirks, which we will get to later. But it’s a valiant step forward, and the lack of an optical viewfinder is one of the biggest gripes advanced shooters (including us) have had with mirror-less and MFT cameras.
The hybrid viewfinder, despite its true innovation, is still sort of the X100’s gimmick. Its incredibly powerful sensor is what actually packs a punch. Its 12.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor is DSLR quality, and your images show it. The CMOS sensor works with the camera’s EXR Processor to deliver its impressive image results, and this is where you’ll really see it set apart from MFT cameras that you might think belong in the same bracket.
What’s in the box
The very fancy box for the FinePix X100 houses the camera, a NP-95 lithium-ion rechargeable battery and its charger, shoulder strip, metal strap clips with covers, clip attaching tool, USB cable, CD (with MyFinePix Studio, FinePixViewer, and a RAW file converter), and the user manual.
Performance and use
As far as pure handling goes, the X100 is a heavy device that isn’t as easy to swing around as a DSLR. It weighs in at 15.7-ounces and could take an eye out. Of course, the chassis has no give to it, so despite its antique vibe, the thing seems downright unbreakable. (Keyword: seems. Don’t test it.) The X100 captures images in JPEG or RAW files, and a dedicated button for RAW capture can be found in the lower right corner, which was quite convenient.
The X100 is as complicated as it is beautiful. Shooting with the X100 is an intensive and eventually rewarding process. Every setting a photographer could want to manipulate is in there… somewhere. If you get tired digging through foreign menu systems, you won’t enjoy working with the X100.
You really will need to be patient as you familiarize yourself with the camera. The in-camera, electronic UI is just downright isolating and frustrating – which is too bad, because there are so many worthwhile settings to play around with in there. For instance, there are a slew of white balance options for just about every environment you could be shooting in, but the presentation leaves something to be desired.
That said, after playing around with the settings we were incredibly impressed by the quality. There was little to no noise at low or high ISOs – it was on par with DSLR results. Handling a camera this size also means we defaulted to using the LCD display and had to wean ourselves off it a bit, but the viewfinder offered crisp, clear views and all the information we would have wanted from the display. Better yet, it did this without making us squint.
The camera’s autofocus wasn’t as fast as we expected, but still got the job done. The only times we really felt the AF was tested were in particularly poorly lit situations. The shutter, on the other hand, was remarkably fast. We were able to capture clear images of cars speeding along the freeway from an overpass without issue.
The top two dials for exposure compensation and shutter speed are sturdy and easy to manipulate, but the back panel dials are easily accidentally rotated. Most other button placements are fine, but there is one glaring exception we can’t quite get over. The AF controls are on the left side edge of the camera, so to use them you have to turn the camera sideways. It’s a small oversight, but an annoying one nonetheless.
Unlike many of the MFT cams it competes with, this is a fixed-lens camera. It features a fast, semi wide-angle 23mm F2 lens, which is equivalent to your 35mm F2 lens on a full-frame camera. The X100 can thank its Fujinon lens for a great deal of its superior imaging, and users who are put off by the lack of interchangeable lenses or zoom lens capability will either disregard the camera immediately or soon get over it after seeing the results.
The camera has a CIPA rating of 300 shots, which is fine but not outstanding when it comes to battery life. We did have to charge the camera almost immediately after beginning testing, which is of course a rather painless process. If you defer to stills, you’re likely to get better battery life than if you use the camera’s 1280×720 HD video recording (which features stereo sound). Recording movies gives you options to shoot in sepia or wide screen, but other than that it’s fairly limited – in fact you’ll be cut off at the 10-minute mark. Autofocusing is also an issue that will leave the camera searching for its subject and refocusing while you film, and you’re unable to adjust manual focus once you’ve begun recording. The hybrid viewfinder’s use is eliminated here as well.
Of course, if you’re looking for a camera with extremely adept recording capabilities, the X100 is not for you: It’s truly built and made for still shooting. If you intend to record movies, then using the X100 will be an exercise in near futility.
While the FinePix X100 takes some bold and appreciated steps forward for digital photography, don’t confuse it as a user-friendly device. We will say that initial frustrations gave way, and shooting with the X100 grew on us. But generally, this device is for camera buffs extremely comfortable with manual settings and who intend to put the camera through its paces – otherwise you’re just blowing your money. Of course, it’s also a camera photography hobbyists and enthusiasts will want to at least give a whirl: It boasts groundbreaking technology and the hybrid viewfinder is argument enough for taking the X100 for a spin. And if this is just the beginning, we’re excited to see what’s in store for the next-gen models.
It’s a niche product for sure, and one that the most seasoned of photographers will be excited by for good reason. But if you don’t consider yourself one of these brave souls or intend to dedicate copious amounts of time to learning to many, many ins and outs of this camera, then we’d advise admiring its beauty from afar.
- Hybrid viewfinder is everything it’s cracked up to be
- Sturdy chassis, vintage look
- Yields impressive images
- Steep learning curve
- Slow AF
- Complicated handling, unfamiliar physical and in-camera UI