The Little Camera That Can
Let’s play a game! Let’s try to describe the perfect camera! Of course, it would need to look good, have superb image quality and be light weight so that it would be easy enough to take everywhere and built with a rugged, weather resistant body! It should be inspiring to use and be equally adept at allowing the photographer to be creative whilst also being able to capture objective moments with ease. Versatility is paramount too, it must be able to make pictures no matter the conditions thrown at it! If this camera also makes it easy to share moments with others be it in physical form or via mobile devices, that would be a massive bonus too! I don’t know if the perfect camera really exists but I am going talk about one that gets incredibly close! I’m talking about the now legendary Fujifilm X100 series!! I have owned 2 versions of this camera (The S and F) and I’ve used them almost non stop for the last 7 years! I’ll talk about this series in the context of X100F and discuss at the end why I upgraded from X100S and why I may upgrade again to the X100V, and what other alternatives I see to that camera at the moment.
Start looking around the internet and you’ll discover this camera has a passionate and dedicated following! It’s for good reasons too! The Fujifilm X100 series is a master stroke! I’ll spare you a long and laborious description of the specs as these details are easily found on the web. Instead I’ll describe it briefly and then talk about the many features that culminate in the most inspiring digital camera I have ever had the pleasure of owning and shooting!
The Fujifilm X100 series are high quality all metal cameras. Equipped with an APS-C sensor and a superb 23mm f/2 lens providing a 35mm field of view in full frame terms. This focal length is an excellent choice! The 35mm field of view is wide enough to be used to capture landscapes, just long enough to make portraits without distorting a subject’s features to an uncomfortable degree, perfect for environmental portraits, documentary, street photography and travel! For many photographers this might very well be the only focal length one ever needs!
The body is rangefinder styled, with the viewfinder on the top right. In true Fujifilm fashion they did something truly unique with the viewfinder! It is a hybrid optical / EVF design that can be quickly and easily switched with a small lever on the front of the body. Optical viewfinders have practical advantages, particularly with rangefinder cameras, because one can see the composition even during the exposure so there is no blackout, this is particularly useful for street and documentary work. It’s also useful as the frame lines allow you to see what’s just outside the frame and either refine composition or to anticipate the perfect moment to trigger the shutter when action is about to enter the frame. But if you want to see how the image is going to look then it’s easy to switch to EVF mode and have an accurate preview before you ever push the shutter button! It’s an ingenious way of merging old school shooting whilst retaining the advantages of today’s latest mirrorless technology! Another option with the 100F is to have a small inset EVF to confirm focus point whilst retaining the optical finder for framing the image.
In much the same way as one might do with an all mechanical analog camera, exposure can be set with physical dials, there is a shutter speed dial with an inset ISO dial (again like many analog cameras), a physical aperture ring on the lens and an exposure compensation dial on the top right. Fujifilm choose to go with a leaf shutter on the X100 series and again this was a brilliant decision. Due to the leaf shutter the X100 can be synced to a flash at basically any shutter speed! There is a built in, selectable 3 stop ND filter too! These two features paired together allow one to create some truly unique images using a very light weight package!
The lens, body and viewfinder combined, result in an incredibly fluid and user friendly camera that can be shot effortlessly!
The Fujifilm X100F uses a 24MP X-Trans sensor that was first used in the Fujifilm X-Pro 2. This same sensor was later utilised in the XT2, XE3, XT20. Most camera designers use Bayer design sensors, these often require an optical low pass filter to prevent Moiré from occurring in areas of an image that have closely spaced repetitive patterns or textures. The problem with optical low pass filters is that they reduce image sharpness. On the Fujifilm X series cameras they have chosen an X-Trans designed sensor that takes a more randomised approach to calculating colour information in an image and thereby negating the need for an Optical Low Pass filter. A detailed explanation of why this is the case is beyond the scope of this post, but if there are enough geeks like me interested in such things we might cover it in a later article! I am the sort of photographer that does not enjoy doing post processing on a computer, I want to get my images as close to the finished product as possible, in camera! Again this is something Fujifilm excels at courtesy of their superb jpeg processors and film simulations. Acros for B&W and Velvia for colour generally being my favourites. Let’s not forget that Fujifilm’s heritage is as an analog film producer and if their is a company out there that understands colour, it is Fujifilm! Of course if you want to capture images in RAW, Fuji’s jpeg’s are still fully accessible as the RAW files can be processed either in camera, or using Fujifilm’s X RAW Studio software which is free, though the latter delivers the same results as in camera processing, it is a somewhat clumsy approach to processing the images. There is now a 3rd free option available in the form of Capture 1 for Fujifilm. Regardless of the way you choose to process your Fujifilm files, you can be assured of outstanding image quality!
Like many modern cameras, The X100F allows one to make double exposures. Though It allows it in a rather unique way. Each exposure can be made in a different film preset, for example one might be Velvia whilst the other is Acros, the combination opens up the opportunity to make very creative, surreal pictures! This idea was the basis of a whole series of images I made over time. This sort of creative liberation reminds me that it hasn’t, “all been done before” and that such an approach introduces the potential for infinite variables! The only downside is that these images do require a little more work in post production to get the very best out of them.
Fujifilm have invested heavily in their Instax products over the years. Their Wi-Fi Instax printer connects to the X100F and allows printing straight from the camera! It’s superb fun to be able to give Instax prints to friends, family or random strangers you might meet along the way! Not only do people love receiving Instax’s, if you are travelling somewhere these small gestures of Instax prints open up doors to amazing photographic opportunities!
Like every camera, there are things that I wish Fujifilm would improve on. Some of which has been addressed in the latest model the 100V. Firstly until the “V” came along the X100 series was not weather sealed. This was something that dedicated X100 series shooters bemoaned for a long time! The X100V addresses this with the accessory filter attachment and weather sealing throughout the rest of the body. Another issue is Fujifilm’s complicated menu system. There are so many options in there, they can be confusing and Fuji does not do a good job of explaining how they work or how they might effect other features of the camera. Thankfully, once the menus are configured as you want them, there is little need to access them again as all the main photographic controls are operated with physical dials.
I upgraded to the X100F from the S for one main reason, the WiFi connectivity that allows me to upload images straight to an iPad or iPhone and the Instax printing ability discussed above. This feature was not available on the X100S and the X100T didn’t offer enough improvements for that camera to be chosen. The X100F also came with the updated 24MP sensor, I feel 24MP is the sweet spot on digital cameras, allowing for large prints but not with excessively large file sizes.
So what might be the appeal for the X100V? For my purposes there are a couple features I find very appealing. Firstly the new model is weather sealed, which expands on the idea of the carry everywhere appeal! Second, the multiple exposure feature has been expanded to allow up to 9 frames with multiple blending modes and given my enjoyment of this capability in the previous models this expands on a style of shooting I have already enjoyed a whole lot! Third, the new 26MP BSI X-Trans sensor to my eye is slightly improved on the already excellent 24MP sensor, so not a huge difference but nice to have the new version. Lastly, the EVF is vastly upgraded to 3.69 MP!
One change on the X100V that I am not sure how I feel about is the lens. The original lens was used up to the X100F. Generally a razor sharp lens, though when shot wide open at max aperture it is slightly soft when focussing on subjects up close. Personally I loved this characteristic! In an age where every manufacturer is trying to deliver optically perfect lenses it is refreshing to have a lens that retains some charm! It made for particularly flattering portraits! The X100V has an improved version of the lens that is now sharp at f/2 as well! They achieved this by including a second aspherical element to the lens. For many this will be considered a bonus, but to me it takes just a little away from the X100’s uniqueness.
There are alternatives however. Fujifilm X-Pro 3 is in some ways a competitor to the 100V, having the same new sensor, upgraded EVF and multiple exposure capabilities as well as robust weather sealing and dual card slots. It is also an interchangeable lens camera so many options become available in that regard too.
Another option is the Leica Q2, this camera is a highly capable, high resolution beast with a sublime 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens and weather sealing! I’ve had the good fortune of shooting with this camera briefly and can confirm it is magnificent in it’s own right! But it is also multiple times more expensive than the Fujifilm X100V as well as being bigger and heavier.
In case I need to further convince myself (or you) that the X100 cameras are the best digital cameras I have ever owned, I need only look at the PICTURES I have created over the last several years, pick out my favourites and then examine the EXIF data to confirm which cameras those images were made on. In fact, in the process of putting together my galleries on this website I did this exact exercise! It came as no surprise to me that the X100 cameras have made the overwhelming majority my best work! Is this camera perfect? No, but If I am ever in doubt as to which camera to pickup the X100 series is my default! It always delivers results!