Finepix x100 – First Thoughts

I’ve been living with the Fuji Finepix X100 for a couple of weeks now, and one of several reasons why I’ve been posting a little less frequently here has been trying to come to grips with it.

Although it’s manual, at only around 120 pages is a fraction of the weight of those for many other new cameras, it does share some of their impenetrability, but the real difference is that the FX100 is in some aspects a new concept. While with cameras like the Nikon D700, any Nikon user could pick it up and use it without even opening the 700 page tome – the camera certainly had some new features but was essentially the same as previous models – but the FX100 is breaking new ground.

But the FX100 is a deceptive camera. Pick it up, hold it and it looks and feels very much like one of my favourite all-time cameras, a classic Leica M or perhaps even more, the Minolta CLE, my own person favourite ‘Leica’ of all time.  It has the same solid feel, a similar layout, a great optical viewfinder. It looks and feels very much the digital camera Leica should have produced.

Of course it lacks one important feature of the Leicas – interchangeable lenses, but as someone who walked around for several years with an M2 and only a 35mm f1.4, perhaps I feel this is less important than some others. Of course since then I’ve become rather attached to shorter focal lengths, and would have preferred Fuji to have chosen 28mm rather than 35mm equivalent.

At f2, the lens is a stop slower too, in fact the same combination as on one of my earliest cameras, the Olympus 35SP on which I took my first published pictures.

The big difference, and something that is taking me a while to get my head round, is the hybrid viewfinder. For me this really comes into its own for close up work, enabling focus down to around four inches, and also in providing a review image in the viewfinder, so that you see exactly what you have taken without the usual peering on the camera back at an image hardly visible in bright sun.

But I am having problems getting my head around all the different possibilities of display and view, and occasionally have just found it impossible to get the camera to work in the mode I want it too. I’m not sure whether the fault is in my brain or in glitches in the firmware, but I am pretty convinced that Fuji need to come up with a firmware upgrade that sorts things out a little better.

The one big disappointment about the camera is that inexplicably Fuji have provided it without a filter thread. On the front of the lens is a useless front ring, which has to be unscrewed and replaced by the AR-X100 adapter ring before you can add filter and or lenshood. Hard to see why this ring was not a standard part of the camera. Also hard to see why when the ring is sold as separate item the lens hood is only available as a set with the ring. And triply hard to see why Fuji did not foresee that most owners of the camera would want these items, currently out of stock at most dealers.

I’ve not yet used the camera enough to write a sensible review – nor too have any of the people whose reviews I’ve read, although of course Digital Photography Review have their usual (and valuable) in-depth technical stuff, I find this never tells you much about how a camera might need your actual picture-making needs.

One thing that has impressed me is how quiet and unobtrusive this camera is – much like the Konica Hexar F (another fixed lens 35mm f2 model I loved.) My Hexar F, even though I saved £150 by buying it from New York, still cost me around £500, and I think that was around 15 years ago, so at £900 I think the FX100 is hardly overpriced.

The other good news is about image quality, which I’ve not yet fully explored, but seems to be more or less similar to that of the D300 and considerably better than the 4/3 competitors, noticeably so at ISO 800 and above.

More on this camera when I’ve really done some work with it.

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