I recently had the chance to give the new Fuji X100 a short test drive. This is a modern digital camera that’s designed to look like a classic Leica rangefinder (or a current Leica M9). I have to say that the overall vibe is very nice, and quite a radical change from the Panasonic Lumix GH2 I’m used to using. It feels well made, yet light enough to carry everywhere without a hint of burdon.
The first thing I did was strap the X100 around my neck, and man did I look good! You wear this thing like jewelry. It’s photo-nerd bling. Looking sharp, I walked toward the Hudson River to catch some nice sunset shots, but when I reached 11th Avenue a dark butt was waiting for me above the Jacob Javits Center. Big drops started pounding down, so I ran for shelter under scaffolding. Then the sky really opened up. At first being marooned in that spot was gray and boring looking, and the light was terrible. But a few minutes later it transformed into an awesome place to shoot.
I didn’t know the first thing about the X100, I just turned it on and started shooting. I’m bummed that I hadn’t discovered the panoramic feature yet, because it would have been cool to try to capture the full rainbow that appeared over Midtown Manhattan. The lens on the X100 just wasn’t wide enough to fit the whole arch. But, to the little camera’s credit, this was a pretty darn big rainbow. It stretched from East 57th all the way to the Flatiron.
Putting the X100 aside for a moment, let me just say that it was really cool to see a complete rainbow in the middle of New York City. This is why it pays to bring a camera with you everywhere you go (something better than the one on your mobile phone, anyhow). Not only was it a rainbow in the middle of Manhattan, it was a double rainbow. Double rainbow all the way! What does this mean?
Trust me: this is a double rainbow. The upper rainbow is just a good bit lighter, but it was there. The X100 didn’t seem to pick it up as well as my eyes did. If you click on the above image to enlarge it, you can see how the brighter rainbow is actually touching the ground in front of some buildings. The tall silver building in the foreground was close enough to me to be in front of the rainbow, but the buildings behind it are not. I have to give the X100 credit for picking up fine details like that.
Another funny thing about being stuck under that scaffolding was that a group of three teenagers were also trapped there with me. They were goofing around and acting as you would expect silly teenage dudes to act. One of them even planked for the cameras:
The background of this picture is overexposed, and that’s my fault. This is actually the first picture I took with the X100, and I didn’t have time to adjust the settings (the planking happened very quickly). However, in my defense, the background was a complete deluge of water that was backlit by sunlight. This is pretty much what it looked like to the naked eye. Needless to say, the teens were really excited by the double rainbow too. We all pretended to be Yosemitebear for a few minutes. It was really fun. You gotta love New York! Anyhow, back to the camera…
I have to say, after spending a few days with this camera, I don’t think I would buy one. But I think that has more to do with who I am and my particular taste in cameras than it has to do with the overall quality of the X100. I own a Panasonic Lumix GH2 that I’m very happy with, and the X100 is just a totally different animal. However, I couldn’t help comparing the two. They both have electronic viewfinders, and they’re in the same price range.
The viewfinder on the X100 is really impressive in some ways, but a little lacking in others. The thing I liked best about it was how it can transform from being a classic analog viewfinder to a completely electronic viewfinder. It even has an in between state where it acts as a hybrid of the two, showing you the analog view but superimposing camera information and a virtual horizon. You can switch between all three states in an instant. It’s pretty slick.
I found the virtual horizon feature useful. That was one of the things that the X100 had that my GH2 lacks. It was also interesting to play with the panorama mode, even though the images themselves seem more like novelties than anything else. I shot a couple of quick movies with the X100, which captures 720p high-definition video at 24 frames a second. It looked pretty nice, but the fact that automated exposure settings take over when in video mode means that you can’t really do any serious video work with it. That’s a bummer, because I’m big time into shooting video. However, I did like that it creates H.264 .MOV files as a default.
Overall I think the stills that I shot looked pretty nice. It was easy enough for me to put the X100 into Auto mode and not have to worry about manual settings. I shot a little bit of stuff tonight after sunset, and I was impressed with how the X100 handled the somewhat low-light scenes. I also like that it has 20MB of built-in memory. Yeah, that’s not a lot of storage. It’s only enough to hold four shots. But hey, four pictures is infinitely more than zero. If secret service agents ever confiscate your SD card, four of your shots will escape undetected.
One thing that didn’t impress me with the X100 was its manual focus mode. The auto focus modes seemed pretty decent, but going manual was a dog. I used the electronic viewfinder a lot because I like looking through the lens when I shoot. The main problem with manual focusing the X100 is that you can’t really tell when something is in focus. The electronic viewfinder lacks the detail necessary to really pick out sharp lines. The other annoying thing was the focus ring didn’t respond like it should. I would turn it and not see any changes in the electronic viewfinder. Another unsettling thing was turning the focus ring causes a little motor to struggle inside the lens. All told, it just seemed like an approximation of a manual focus mode, not the real thing.
Negatives aside, I do think this is a handsome little devil. I’m shallow enough to be a total sucker for good aesthetics. The Leica M9 it resembles will cost you $7000 for the body alone. The required Leica lens will easily set you back another $1500. Can you take better looking pictures with $9000 worth of Leica strapped around your neck? Perhaps. It all depends on how good your eye is, and the quality of your eye is directly tied to the quality of your brain, which, of course, is fused to the fire in your soul. With this in mind, for a specific kind of person the X100 could be the perfect fit.