Fujifilm FinePix X100 review

With its hybrid viewfinder and retro styling, is the Fuji X100 the ultimate enthusiast compact?

Fuji X100 Review
The response to Fuji's retro-styled X100 has taken even Fujifilm by surprise.

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Fuji X100: Features

While the Fuji X100's design has charmed many, it's its core feature set which has attracted considerable interest - notably, its hybrid viewfinder which stands out as the camera's main attraction. Fujifilm goes in to great detail about the concept and technology behind the viewfinder on its website, but its intention is essentially to bring back a bright and usable viewfinder into a compact camera, the kind that many seasoned photographers would have once been accustomed to using.

The hybrid viewfinder combines a reverse-Galilean optical finder, constructed using high-refractive index glass and coatings to prevent ghosting, with a 1,440,000dot electronic display. The user may choose one or the other depending on their preference and shooting conditions, or alternatively combine the two so the display of the latter is overlaid on the former.

A remote sensor to its side can sense when the viewfinder or the LCD are being used, switching the display accordingly, and as the optical finder is essentially just looking straight through the camera the frame within it shifts a little south-easterly to compensate for parallax error upon focusing.

A small lever on the front of the camera allows the user to switch between the three options, while a range of customisations allow the display information to be tailored to the user's liking. These options include framing guidelines, a histogram preview and an electronic level facility, as well as the more standard exposure information. In terms of its coverage, the optical finder provides a 90% field of view with a 0.5x magnification, while the electronic version displays 100% of the frame.

The optical viewfinder boasts excellent clarity, with all exposure information clear and contrasty, while it alternates quickly between its three modes once the lever on the front is nudged to the side. Just as impressive is the time it takes for an image to pop up post-capture, in tandem with the user releasing their finger from the shutter release button.

Being able to instantly switch between optical and electronic types is particularly useful in darker conditions, where light levels render the optical viewfinder largely unusable; here, the electronic feed maintains the good contrast and brightness as it does in better light, and manages to do so with remarkably little noise.

A little of the lens barrel is visible at the base of the viewfinder, although as this doesn't appear in images it's little more than a minor annoyance. Slightly more annoying, however, is the distortion which affects both the optical and electronic finders. The optical type appears to suffer from some barrel distortion which makes it difficult to accurately compose images, and those verified for levelness with the virtual horizon feature appear uneven on the LCD screen.

While some issues with distortion may be expected, it's possible that the viewfinder on our particular review sample was simply misaligned - we will update this section of the review once we know.

The camera's optic is a Fujinon 23mm lens, with a wide aperture of f/2. In front of the camera's sensor it provides a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 35mm, and incorporates a 3-stop ND filter for long exposures as well as a double-sided aspheric lens and high-refractive-index elements.

The construction also accommodates a nine-bladed diaphragm for circular bokeh and a four-bladed shutter, the latter allowing for a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000sec at f/8 and smaller apertures. Macro shooting is also possible from a minimum distance of 10cm away from the subject.

The sensor, meanwhile, is a 12.3MP CMOS device, boasting the same APS-C dimensions those inside many DSLRs and certain compact system cameras. Fujifilm claims to have tailored the sensor's microlens array to the camera's fixed optic, so that peripheral light rays better reach the sensor around the edges to reduce any corner shading.

The chip works in tandem with Fujifilm's EXR processing engine, which allows for a standard sensitivity span of ISO 200-6400 and extension settings of ISO 100 and ISO 12,800 should you need them; combined with the wide aperture of the lens, this should make the camera eminently usable across a range of shooting conditions.

Raw images are stored in Fujifim's proprietry .RAF format, which can be viewed and processed using the Silkypix Developer Studio 3.1 SE software supplied with the camera (and no doubt by a future version of Adobe's Camera Raw program). Should you want more immediate control over raw files, a full complement of raw processing tools are included inside the camera, among them noise reduction, film simulation, dynamic range adjustment and white balance.

While it's a pity this function doesn't offer immediate previews of any changes you may wish to make, you can alter a number of settings at a time before simultaneously applying all changes to a raw file.

The sensor and processor also facilitate HD video recording. Videos are recorded to a maximum 1280x720 resolution at 24fps, and are complemented with stereo sound recording as standard, while autofocus during recording is also possible. The camera compresses all movies using the H.264 codec before storing them in the .MOV format, and clips are limited to 10 minutes at a time.

There's no sign of a mic port should you wish to improve on the quality of the camera's microphones, but there is an HDMI mini port around the side of the camera, in addition to the standard USB 2.0, for transferring both images and videos.

In terms of metering control, the X100 sees the standard multi, average and spot patterns teamed with dynamic range adjustment over three levels and toning options for both shadows and highlights. Control over exposure is through the usual PASM quartet of options, although not quite in the same user-friendly way as on a DSLR.

Instead, either the shutter speed dial or aperture dial can be set to an 'A' setting, which puts that particular control in an automated mode so the other may be regulated, or both may be turned to their 'A' modes which places the camera into a Program mode.

When neither is set to their 'A' settings the user is free to change both aperture and shutter speed, thus providing fully manual control to complete the foursome. For exposures longer than 1/2sec the shutter release needs to be turned to a 'T' setting, before the dial on the rear of the camera is adjusted to the desired duration, while a bulb mode is also to hand for exposures longer than 30sec.

Fujifilm has also equipped the camera with a small exposure compensation dial, which sits on the top plate and provides adjustment over a range of +/-2EV.

Some 49 AF points arranged in a 7x7 formation are available when the camera is used with either its LCD screen or electronic viewfinder - easily covering all but the most peripheral details - and with the optical finder one of 25 points may be selected.

A small switch on the camera's side allows focusing to be quickly changed between standard, continuous and manual modes, with manual focusing carried out by a ring around the camera's objective - here, focus is driven electronically as the ring is turned, with a distance/depth of field scale provided for guidance.

The X100 may be just the latest in a long list of Fujifilm camera's to be complete with its Film Simulation modes, but given the camera's target market it's perhaps the most suitable home for them. The Standard, Vivid and Soft options mimic the characteristics of Fuji's Provia, Velvia and Astia emulsions respectively, while sepia and monochrome options are included alongside. The set is rounded off with three further monochrome flavours, each complemented by the effects of either a yellow, green or red colour filter.

The rear of the camera is largely occupied by a 2.8in LCD screen, which is sized to the 3:2 aspect ratio and displays images at a resolution of 460,000 dots. It's size falls a little short of the 3 inches we're now used to seeing on many other models, but considering the space taken up by the camera's viewfinder this is understandable.

In use, it produces bright and contrasty images, and retains a reasonable viewing angle when tilted. It's limitations only really make themselves known when the camera is held at an unorthodox angle – such as at ground level – in brighter conditions.

The camera supports the full SD, SDHC and SDXC trio of memory card formats, and offers an additional 20MB of internal memory for an extra few frames. Power comes through a standard rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which claims to run for approximately 300 frames, but oddly it doesn't quite fit the charger with which it's supplied; a small wedge of card takes care of this. Both are accessed via a door on the base of the model, next to which sits a standard tripod thread and a speaker.