Fujifilm X100

Painting of an X100 by Tyberius Anderson
X100, artwork by Tyberius Anderson.

Image quality: ★★★★★
Impeccable, and holds up even five years after its introduction.
Build quality: ★★★★★
All-metal.
Ergonomics: ★★★★☆
Lovely dedicated dials, terrible menu system.
Speed: ★★☆☆☆
Slow.
Fun: ★★★★☆
Let down by poor controls.
Value for money: ★★★★★
There is nothing like it at the price, and it'll get even cheaper soon.

I wanted to love the X100. I was elated when it came out in 2012. I'd always wanted a camera that had an SLR-sized sensor, a fixed lens, and real shutter and aperture dials. Of course I waited for a few years for them to become cheap on the used market, so I bought this for £350 in 2015.

I ended up selling it; I ragequit the X100 after an incident wherein the AF system got hung up under not even slightly tricky conditions.

X100 fans will hate my nitpicking. Just bear in mind nothing I hated about it stopped me from using it, and it is a camera I regret selling every time I spot a potential shot in dim artificial light.

Dan and Dan
Dan and Dan, fluorescent lighting, 1/60 at f/2 and ISO 200.

Body

The X100 is styled like a 1970s rangefinder camera. Everyone who sees it is surprised when they find out that it is is a digital camera.

Of course I completely dig this, but even if you don't love 70s rangefinder cameras, it works in your favour for people shots because it looks much less intimidating than an SLR camera – and, because it's so small compared to an SLR, you're more likely to bring it with you.

The X100 is built very well, and it is made almost entirely of metal. The only let-down is the battery/memory card door; this is plastic and feels out of place.

Despite being so well-constructed, it is miraculously light; it weighs only a few grams more than my Olympus Trip 35. My plastic Nikon F55 film camera fitted with a plastic 50mm f/1.8 lens weights about 50 grams more than the X100, and it is a lot less compact.

Battery life

Battery life is pretty bad, especially if you use the optical viewfinder a lot. I do not even get 300 photos on a charge.

This isn't even terrible for compact cameras; I've just been spoiled by using a camera that does five thousand or more on a charge.

You won't mind carrying spare batteries, as its batteries are so small.

Noise

The X100 is as close to silent as a camera with a physical shutter can be.

The X100 has a leaf shutter that makes nearly no noise. It is quieter than my 1954 Voigtlander Vito B, which itself is so quiet that it makes a Trip 35 sound loud, and the Trip 35 is so quiet that it makes an SLR sound like an airstrike.

Wine glasses
Wine glasses, halogen lighting, perfectly neutral colours. ISO 400, f/2, 1/30.

Controls

I love the dedicated aperture and shutter speed dials of the X100. I love even more that they work like Pentax film SLRs: set both aperture and shutter speed dials to A if you want to have fully-automatic exposure, take either one of them off A to set aperture or shutter priority, and set both to A for a fully manual exposure. This makes much more sense to me than the "modes" of almost all other digital cameras.

There is a dedicated exposure compensation dial, which is wonderful.

Jake
Jake at the Willoughby Arms. Dim CFL lighting, 1/30 at f/2 and ISO 3200.

The rear control button has a shallow, hard 'click' action like a compact camera, so it's hard to use by feel with part-numb hands or with gloves. I much prefer the big squishy buttons of Nikon SLRs.

There is no ISO button; you need to set this in a menu. You can assign the Fn button to change the ISO, but this doesn't really help much; this just pops up the ISO menu. This wouldn't matter that much if the X100's auto ISO worked properly, but it doesn't use speeds higher than 3200, so I often found myself setting this manually under really dim light.

Nicky
Nicky, Brown's. Mixed halogen and CFL lighting, 1/60 at f/2 and ISO 3200.

Lens

The fixed lens is fantastic.

I love the fixed 22mm focal length. It's about the same equivalent focal length as a Konica C35 or Olympus Trip 35, or any other classic fixed-lens 70s rangefinder camera. For people snapshots this focal length is perfect; it's wide enough that you can happily use it at close range without being so wide that you lose your subject in a sea of surroundings. For stills, it's just wide enough to give a pleasant exaggeration of perspective compared to a 50mm lens.

At the 12 megapixels of the X100, this lens is impeccably sharp. It is super-sharp, at every aperture, everywhere in the frame. This is the most consistently sharp lens I have ever used, including lenses that cost more than this camera did new. There is never any need to stop down for sharpness; it's as perfect at f/2 as lenses have ever been.

James Dellar
James, Kingston Arms. Dim winter afternoon light from the window, 1/100 at f/2 and automatic ISO 400.

Auto white balance

The X100 gets great colour and skin tones under any kind of weird and nasty artificial lighting. Check it:

George
George, 1/60, f/2, ISO 250.

This was with different coloured fluorescent lights lighting the shot (one a green/yellow, one slightly more reddish). On top of that, there was an incandescent modelling light from a professional photographer's strobe light in the background, shining onto a neutral-grey and white surface to confuse the camera's white balance algorithms even more.

It'll even do its best to get good pictures under light for which complete colour correction is impossible, like CFL bulbs.

Low-light performance

Low-light performance is incredible. The combination of a fast f/2 lens that loves being shot wide-open, wondrous auto white balance and awesome high-ISO performance means you can get photos under ridiculously dim lighting without flash.

Sadly, the auto ISO control only goes up to a maximum of ISO 3200; if you want a higher ISO than that you have to set it manually, which involves poking around in a menu. If it looked horrible at 6400 I could understand locking it out, but 6400 on the X100 looks awesome.

Owen Gibbs
Owen Gibbs, Swaffham Raceway. Stadium (presuming metal-halide) lighting, 1/125 at ISO 3200 and f/2, flare from a Hoya HMC UV filter that needed a clean.

Autofocus

Autofocus is fine for anything from bright to moderate light, if your subject stays still.

When it hits, it's accurate, but slow compared to any SLR, and it hunts a lot more than my SLRs do when it gets really dim.

Continuous mode (AF-C) is silly; it keeps focusing even after you stop half-pressing the shutter button, unlike every other autofocus camera.

You can't change the autofocus point in AF-C mode, and it's not fast enough to shoot anything for which you'd want to use continuous mode. Even the manual warns that it's unable to shoot fast-moving subjects.

When using the finder in combined optical/electronic mode, the silly AF-C mode gives you the most accurate reading of the current autofocus point; it gives you a cross-hair in the finder whereas AF-S and M give you a rather-too-large rectangle. You can change the size of the AF rectangle for AF-S mode, but it only changes the size of the rectangle when the finder is in electronic mode.

M (manual) mode is nearly useless. The focus ring on the X100 is electronically, rather than mechanically, coupled to the focus mechanism in the lens, which makes it awkward and slow. You can hit the AF/AE-L button on the rear to autofocus it, which works fine. Unfortunately, in yet another oversight, the focus area rectangle is too large and you cannot change it regardless of viewfinder mode.

None of this makes sense, and all considered, the autofocus system of the X100 is vastly worse than any other serious camera. It's not really excusable, since functioning multi-point autofocus has been a solved problem for decades.

Bar guy at the Willoughby Arms
Bar guy, Willoughby Arms. Halogen lighting, 1/30 at f/2 and automatically selected ISO 320.

Speed

The X100 is useless for anything that requires fast frame rates pointless; the X100 chokes up after a few shots whereas even my decade-old D2Hs will cheerfully shoot hundreds of photos in less than a minute and always be ready for the next one.

Compared

No camera, other than the X100S, X100T and X100F that replaced it, is comparable to the X100.

If you want something like a Fuji X100, your choices are the Fuji X100. The combination of being small enough to fit in a pocket, light enough that you won't notice it, having an SLR-sized sensor and fitted with a fixed lens is not done by any other camera.

Actually, the closest thing to the X100 would be any of the legendary 1960s rangefinder film cameras, but they don't give you a clean ISO 3200.

SLRs are for shooting things that move when a split second decides whether you get the shot or not. Any digital SLR operates much quicker.

All digital SLRs power on instantly, whereas the Fuji is like a compact camera that requires a second or so to boot up.

Summary

Get one of these for photos of your family and friends, especially with artificial lighting, and double-especially for dim and nasty artificial lighting like CFL ("energy saving") bulbs and fluorescent lighting.

X100 fans will probably flame me for this review. None of the stuff I complain about stopped me from carrying it everywhere and shooting it all the time. The technical image quality was, and five years later still is so great that I cope with its obvious flaws. It's only because I'm used to the brutal speed of old professional SLR cameras that I got fed up with mine.

Addendum: The slow startup problem

TL;DR: 'Eject' (Mac) or 'Safely remove' (Windows) your SD card before removing it from your computer, and don't share cards between cameras.

This drove me insane when it happened to me, so I'm putting it here to save anyone else tearing their hair out.

When I put an SD card into a Mac, removed it, and put it back into the X100, it would cause the X100 to take about ten seconds to boot up. I thought my X100 was seriously defective, but I worked it out: it only happens if you do not software-'Eject' the card before physically removing it.

I worked this out after reading this thread and noticing that it didn't happen on another Mac owned by someone less sloppy and dangerous than myself.

I speculate, but do not know, that Macs create hidden files or otherwise alter the file system in a way that confuses the X100, which get removed when you "Eject" the card.

Other people claim to have solved the problem by buying the latest, greatest and fastest SD cards. that means I just saved you a few quid, because the pseudo-branded "Transcend" cheapie that came with my camera worked just fine and didn't have the slow startup problem after I stopped being sloppy. You're welcome!

For all I know this might happen on Windows as well; it doesn't happen on any of my Linux boxes.