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: Performance

The camera starts up in just under a second or so, although it takes just a touch longer for the LCD screen to fully come to life. It manages to meet its promised burst depths for both Raw and JPEG images (as well as the two together), but during the test it just came under its 5fps maximum rate with a Class 10 SDHC card.

With regards to processing times, a burst of eight raw images averages around 24 seconds, while eight simultaneous raw and JPEGs increases this by between ten to fifteen seconds.

Predictably, the situation is much better with fine JPEG files, with a 10-shot burst clearing out to the card in as little as 13 seconds but typically taking just a few seconds longer. Should you use the burst mode with some frequency, you may also be pleased to discover a neat playback option which displays image bursts in a flip-book fashion.

Apart from when in a burst mode, it's possible to continue taking images while the camera is writing images to the card, although practically nothing can be accessed or changed while this happens. You can't, for example, switch focusing points - although, for whatever reason, you can still bring up the focusing point as if you were about to change it - neither can you enter the menu system or the option assigned to the Fn button.

Considering that simultaneous raw and JPEG captures can take around four seconds to be fully written to the card, and raw images alone averaging only about a second less, this wait can be frustrating. It is, however, still possible to change all manual controls (aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation), and as the camera seems willing to continue metering and focus, images may still be captured while this happens with some degree of control.

As with the majority of AF systems on compact cameras the X100's AF points are boxes rather than points, the kind which can often be too large to place accurately over smaller subjects. The X100 provides a solution to this by allowing its focusing box to be adjusted over five sizes, so that the smaller variety actually resembles a fine AF point.

This flexibility is welcome, particularly as its possible to focus on a smaller subject centrally-placed in the frame, only for the camera to miss it completely and focus instead on what's around it.

For a contrast-detection system, focusing speed is reasonably prompt - not quite up there with a pro-DSLR body and lens combination, but really not that far behind either – and both shutter lag and noise are practically non-existent. The optical viewfinder, however, is limiting in that it can't focus closer than 80cm. Using the electronic viewfinder reduces this drastically to 35cm in standard mode, and the macro mode closer still to 10cm.

Although there are number of minor issues with image quality (discussed below), the overall standard is still high. In typical conditions the metering system produces balanced exposures, with highlights just occasionally blowing out.

Most of the time, and in contrast to a number of other cameras which attempt to identify a scene and expose more intuitively for the main subject, the camera opts for a slight underexposure when faced with large, bright areas, such as when shooting on an overcast day.

This means that without any intervention such images are perhaps a little less print ready than the user may like, but this predictable behaviour is useful with exposure compensation and dynamic range options falling close to hand.

The camera's auto white balance system follows the metering system's accuracy, with perfectly sound judgement in a range of lighting conditions. Even shooting at a train station at night, lit with a variety of artificial lights, didn't prove to be beyond the system's capabilities.

The only noticeable errors come with occasional colder-than-expected casts in cloudy conditions, and slightly warm results under certain fluorescent sources, but such occasional mistakes are by no means unusual.

With colour, the default Standard option is relatively neutral and not too dissimilar from camera's raw output, while the Soft option increases saturation a little to give images a little more pep. The Vivid colour mode clearly isn't suitable for all subjects, but when used correctly it manages to provide images with a deep richness and vibrancy.

The camera's EXR processing engine also does a superb job to create colourful and contrasty JPEGs, and squeezes out a high level of detail from raw files. In raw images noise rises steadily through the sensitivity range until around ISO 1600, past which point coloured speckling becomes more apparent over shadows and midtone areas.

The in-camera noise reduction options do well to process out noise from high-sensitivity JPEGs, with the majority of chroma noise disappearing at the 'low' option, leaving the further four settings to handle the remaining texture.

This happens gradually with each option, and together with the boost to contrast and sharpness over raw files even those treated with all but the stronger applications emerge better than expected.

Slight banding is visible at the ISO 12,800 extension meaning that it should only really be reserved for emergencies, while certain images - particularly those shot at night - display a variety of noise commonly referred to as salt-and-pepper noise, only here without the salt; this manifests itself as small random black spots, particularly noticeable in flat areas with little detail.

Examining the camera's JPEG shows the EXR processing engine applies a slight correction for distortion as standard, although raw files show little barrel distortion to begin with.

There is, however, a slight waviness in images, which becomes apparent when shooting straight lines and edges, particularly towards the edge of the frame where lines tend to tail off. The most likely cause of this is the double-sided aspheric element within the objective's construction, though it's worth noting that that this effect is slight and for most subjects probably won't make itself known.

Those wanting to use the camera for architecture, for example, should nevertheless be aware of this, as its not particular easy to correct in post-production. Any affected edges may be rectified by composing the image with a little extraneous detail around the sides of the frame, which can be subsequently cropped out in post-production.

Fujifilm has stated that its priority for the camera's optic was for particularly sharp results from around f/2.8-4 onwards, where it would be more likely used than the maximum aperture of f/2.

Testing the camera in controlled conditions shows sharpness to improve markedly at f/2.8 and even more so at f/4, which continues up until f/11 with diffraction setting in at f/16. Just as impressive is the lens's control over chromatic aberrations, which are surprisingly absent in both raw and JPEG images.

On occasion minor traces of purple fringing can be seen across certain areas, although not to any objectionable level, while bokeh is nice and round - not always quite as circular as promised although admittedly this does depend on the aperture used and the scene being shot.

There is a touch of vignetting at the maximum aperture of f/2, but this disappears as the lens is stopped down and, in fairness, isn't particularly bothersome to being with.

Finally, the video mode does a reasonably good job of capturing detailed movies, although the lack of control and the few options available does make it seem as though the feature is little more than just an additional extra. Exposure is adjusted discreetly as the scene changes, and only a little clicking can be heard from the lens as it focuses during recording.

It's a pity that the only option for audio recording comes through the camera's in-built microphones as its quality, while perfectly decent, could definitely be improved. Movies also remain free from any unsightly artefacts, with the exception of certain detailed areas, as well as darker patches which are affected by a little noise patterning.