Fuji X100: Build Quality and handling

The X100's exemplary build quality makes itself known as soon as the camera is picked up. It's perhaps not quite as heavy as expected, but it's genuinely difficult to find anywhere where Fujifilm may have cut any corners. The casing is constructed from a study magnesium alloy, with metal dials on the top plate and a leather-like finish around the main body.

Neither the camera's front nor the top-plate suggest that the X100 is even a vaguely recent model, and it's only when the camera is viewed from the other side that the LCD screen and controls give the game away. Even the shutter release has been threaded to allow for mechanical releases to be used, but sadly this hasn't been complemented with the more modern alternative of wireless remote control.

The X100's buttons are all plastic, but even they have a feeling of quality over those on cheaper models, and all travel well when pressed with a satisfying click. The four on the left hand side of the rear are not only generously sized but well-labeled and spaced sufficiently apart from each other, while those on the right hand side of the LCD are a shade smaller but all are equally well-labeled and each is smartly framed.

Only the Fn button on the top plate, which can be programmed to activate a setting of the user's choosing, is much smaller, but sitting proudly from the top plate it can still be accessed with the same ease as all the others.

The dial which encircles the menu button has a diameter just smaller than that of a five pence piece, and is fitted with the same four-way direct controls as many other cameras, with the left, bottom and right buttons controls accessing macro, white balance and flash options respectively. The top control brings up a variety of drive and bracketing options (including the useful ISO bracketing), as well as a Motion Panorama mode and the movie function.

When browsing through menu options the dial can either be pressed for navigation, or alternatively turned to speed through a list of options. The same applies to reviewing images, where rotating the dial zooms through images at high speed.

The dial itself, however, is relatively slack, and together with the small menu button and the close proximity of the two makes for a somewhat uncomfortable user experience. It's far too easy to press the menu pad while trying to simply press the button in its centre, and the dial's looseness means it often moves from beneath your finger.

This trait also affects the exposure compensation dial, located right at the edge of the top plate, which moves a little too freely for it to always remain in place as it is taken out of camera bag or pocket. There's less chance of it being accidentally knocked out of place while the camera is operated, though, and its looseness does allow it to be rotated easily.

The indicator lamp positioned to the right of the thumb-rest space helpfully blinks if it can't focus on the subject, or if it deems the exposure settings to be in some way inappropriate – such as if the scene exceeds the camera's maximum shutter speed. Although the lamp itself is bright, it sits right next to the space where the thumb falls and so it can sometimes be inadvertently obstructed.

Worse still, when turned to the portrait orientation it's almost impossible to handle the camera naturally without completely covering it up. There seems to be no good reason why this couldn't have been positioned elsewhere – further towards the LCD screen, for example – although presumably it is where it is to provide a balanced composition with the rest of the rear's control and functions.

The fixed lens only protrudes around 18mm out from the camera's body, which bodes well for pocketability, and with a non-collapsible design it never ventures further then the rim of its barrel. Such a shallow optic does necessitate a shallow focusing ring, though, which in itself isn't too great an issue, but it's difficult to turn without running into the two protrusions from the aperture ring behind it.

This is particularly a problem when shooting at the middlemost apertures, where these are positioned to the left and right hand sides of the optic. It also takes a surprisingly long time for the camera to move through its focus range while manually focusing, although, of course, if you tend to stick to autofocus none of this should be a concern.

Those not used to using an aperture ring should find themselves operating it instinctively after a while – when the viewfinder is being used the user's left hand is likely to be holding it anyway. With a relatively small body it's actually far easier to have this controlled by the user's left hand than through the command control on the right, as using the right hand to change options while the user's face is pressed against the camera can be cramped and awkward.

The ring turns well and stops positively at each aperture, and is perhaps one of camera's more pleasing aspects in terms of its operation. Another is the large, comfortable shutter release button, which makes it very clear when it's half depressed.

All options contained with the X100's shooting menu system are divided into two categories: shooting and set-up. Both menus list options logically and in order of importance, and all are clearly defined in black text on a grey background.

Shooting menu options begin with the self-timer, sensitivity and image size and culminate in settings for custom options, while the set-up menu is constructed on a similar idea, and includes all custom settings. When playing back images, a few smart features become available.

You can, for example, compile images into a digital photobook before setting them to a slideshow, and also browse for images by date, face, or by favourites. Once the user acquaints themselves with the structure of the menu system, the click-and-rotate method of operating the mode dial becomes second nature.