The Fuji X100 series of compact cameras has been a very exciting lineup for both advanced hobbyist and pro photographers alike.
Serious hobbyists want a no-nonsense camera that delivers great images, offers full manual control, (and raw control!) and is built solidly.
Hard-working pros are just tired of lugging their flagship full-frame bodies and lenses around for casual photography, and are looking for a camera that is built solid and doesn’t compromise on image quality.
Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt if this camera also looks, well, less like a TV remote and more like what we envision a classic camera ought to. The early point-and-shoot digital cameras basically looked like a 90’s Giga Pet / Tamagotchi, i.e., an ugly, mass-produced electronic device.
The Fuji X100 series is one of those classic / retro style cameras that bucked such trends, at least according to most of the buzz on the Internet since the first X100-series hit shelves in early 2011. It’s got mechanical dials and wheels. It’s got an optical viewfinder (rangefinder), yet it also has an EVF. And it feels solid, well-built, and generally awesome in-hand. It’s what a compact camera ought to be.
I just got my hands on the X100T, the latest iteration of that line. Here’s what we’re working with, at a glance…
- 16 megapixel 1.5x crop sensor
- Fixed 35mm equivalent f/2 lens
- ISO 200-6400 Native, 100-51200 using LO and HI
- Hybrid mirrorless system with optical rangefinder / electronic viewfinder
- Built-in Wifi
- Hybrid mechanical / electronic shutter, electronic shutter capable of 1/32000 sec
- 1080p 60fps etc video
- Built-in intervalometer
- Built-in ND filter (A true ~3 stop ND, not just “ISO LO”)
On paper, it sounds like an awesome, high-tech version of a classic camera. Simple, fixed lens rangefinder cameras have always been a favorite choice for casual and serious photographers alike who simply want to document life, and create art. I’d argue that a handful of history’s finest street photographers, such as Gary Winogrand or Henri Cartier-Bresson, would kill to have a camera like this if they were alive today!
Having said that, my first impression of this camera is that it is a significant departure from the type of camera I am used to handling. Simply put, it reminds me of when I first handled the Nikon Df, and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing.
I’ve always had a thing for classic cameras, I use old AI-S manual focus Nikon lenses on my modern DSLRs, and I’ve even in the habit lately of popping a roll of film or two in my old FM2 from the early 80’s. So, I can appreciate manual control, real dials and wheels and aperture rings. The X100T brings back that enjoyment of photography, the purity of seeing something you want to click a picture of. If you like such things too, then you should definitely check out the Fuji X100T.
The interface and controls, however, (like the Nikon Df) do leave you struggling at times, or at least reaching for the user manual far more often than any other camera you might have used before.
For example, I still have not figured out if it is even possible to scroll from image to image, while zoomed in at 100% during image playback.
In fact, I am basically reading the user manual from cover to cover right now, something I’ve literally never done in my career as a camera reviewer. I know, I know, nobody should ever complain about having to read their manual, however I’ve been reviewing cameras for many years now and this is simply the most I have ever found myself thinking, “surely this can’t be the ONLY way to change such-and-such, can it?”
For now, I’m willing to lay part of the blame on myself possibly being an “old dog trying to learn a new trick,” for the first time. I’ll reserve final judgment until my full review is complete. I just thought I should mention it. I bet if I handed the camera to some 17-year-old up-and-coming photog’, they’d have everything figured out in 10 minutes.
X100T Sensor ISO Test
The things you’ve been hearing about Fuji‘s compact camera sensors performing amazing in low-light are all true. Yes, I’m even talking to you, Canon / Nikon full-frame owners! The X100T sensor is downright impressive.
All of the below images are 100% crops, processed in Adobe Lightroom using light sharpening and zero luminance noise reduction. Shadows have been boosted a bit, to show the progressive loss of dynamic range at higher ISO’s:
As you can see, between ISO 200 and 3200, there is almost zero loss of highlight detail, and the only thing that truly suffers is deep, dark shadows. In other words, if you “ETTR” (expose to the right, the brightest half of your histogram), then, in my opinion, you’ll be shooting on-par with the best full-frame cameras up to ISO 3200. I’ll include more sample images in my final review.
Unfortunately, after ISO 6400 you’re forced to use JPG, not RAW, because you’re getting into what most camera makers refer to as “HI” ISO’s, a mere in-camera EV boost of the highest native ISO. Having said that, ISO 12800 is still usable in the highlights, at least for personal snapshots! ISO 25600 would be where I’d draw the line, however, as even the brightest highlights get very mushy. Useful for Facebook wall snaps only…
Check out this comparison between the Fuji X100T and the Nikon D5300. (Preview here) The Nikon sensor is a highly popular, Sony-made 24 megapixel sensor, in fact, it’s the sensor that Nikon’s entire DX lineup is using in one form or another, as well as the Pentax K3 (Review here) and the Sony A6000. (Review here)
Suffice it to say, despite the Nikon having slightly more “bite” in the fine details thanks to its lack of an AA filter, the Fuji image looks more pleasing and much less noisy. (The difference in image size is due to using different focal length lenses and failing to match up 100% reproduction; the D5300 image is NOT re-sized.)
So, how does it handle in the real world? Hand-held in normal shooting conditions, ISO 6400 is a little less exciting than in a laboratory. Still, it’s professionally acceptable depending on your standards, and I will also say that dynamic range is still quite impressive!
X100T Lens Sharpness Test
The Fuji 23 mm f/2 lens (roughly a 35mm equivalent on full-frame) is very sharp, with flawless sharpness from the center to well past the rule-of-thirds area. It only gets marginally less contrasty in the extreme corners, and even then good detail is still there.
By stopping down to just one stop to f/2.8, even the extreme corner looks great!
I’ll talk a little bit more about the sensor and lens / image quality in the final review, but suffice it to say that this setup has a lot of good things going for it.
Maybe the only shortcoming of the Fuji lens is that the macro mode’s super-close focusing is causing details to get a little soft and highlights have noticeable fringes, but I’m still testing to see for sure.
Initial Thoughts – Pros
- Incredible Image Quality
This is definitely one of this camera’s two main strengths. If any of you die-hard full-frame shooters are still rolling your eyes when you hear folks say how they dumped their 5D-series or D800-series DSLR for a Fuji X100-series camera, well, you don’t know what you’re missing. As you saw in the image tests above, this camera can rock ISO 3200 very cleanly, and a properly exposed ISO 6400 image is usable just as long as you shoot it right.
ISO performance is only half the excitement though, the other half being Fuji‘s amazing, no, legendary, in-camera JPG processing. I mean, you just can’t go wrong with a sensor made by the company that brought us Velvia slide film, Acros B&W film, and a host of fantastic portrait films. Hands-down, if you’re a JPG shooter, you should get a Fuji camera! We’ll expand more on this in the full review.
- Fantastic Construction
This camera looks like it belongs on a pedestal or in a display case, yet it feels and handles like a rock-solid workhorse. It’s made in Japan, and in my opinion, it feels about as good as a made-in-Germany Leica. I do have a handful of nitpicks about the actual functionality of the handling, which I’ll list later, but as far as construction goes, it’s great.
- Innovative Optical / EVF System
For many types of candid photography, photojournalists and street photographers have always appreciated the purity of an optical viewfinder. Yes, EVF’s have all kinds of bells and whistles, but there is something to be said for “analog” simplicity. Very, very few cameras can offer the best of both worlds like the X100T can!
Initial Thoughts – Cons
- Limited Control Versatility
A nagging feeling that has been with me ever since I started reviewing Fuji, Panasonic, and Sony mirrorless cameras has been this: They’re new to the camera design game, and it still shows. Canon and Nikon (and Pentax and Olympus) have many decades of experience designing all kinds of cameras, for everyone from beginners to pros and everything in between.
I’ll compile a list of specific features that I like / dislike on the X100T for the full review, but suffice it to say that if you’re very picky when it comes to camera control and operation / customization, you’ll want to test-drive this camera before diving in. I have a handful of features and customizations that I’ve been used to on my Nikons for a while now, and I really notice when they’re missing. (Such as face detection during image playback zooming; stay tuned for an article on that subject alone!)
- Pocket Sized? Think Again
If you were looking for a camera to just slip in the pocket of your skinny jeans, you’re going to be surprised by how big the X100T is. Yes, it will fit in a jacket pocket, but not a pants pocket. Unless you wear cargo pants?
For example, it’s almost as big as a Canon Rebel with the new 24mm EF-S pancake lens attached, and for my type of adventures and travel photography, I’d prefer the beginner DSLR system for its lens versatility.
Then again, that’s what the Fuji X-T1 or the even smaller Fuji X-A1 are for, right? Either way, this camera is for photography aficionados who actually enjoy the look and feel of their cameras, the craft of photography itself. Someone who is looking for anything at all that’s light and compact that takes good pictures, you might want to consider a more traditional point-and-shoot camera. Fuji offers the XQ1, for $1000 less than the X100T. Or, there’s the iPhone 6. (I’m ready to dodge rotten tomatoes!)
- Steep Price
Here’s where I sound like a broken-record for the last time: This camera is for serious photographers. Who else would pay ~$1200 for a fixed-lens, point-and-shoot camera that is way bigger than other point-and-shoots? The X100T is a solid improvement over its predecessors the X100s and X100, but if you’re on a really tight budget, you could consider one of those instead.
Additional X100T Sample Images
The most pleasure I got from shooting with the X100T was definitely in just shooting casual snapshots that delivered professional quality. I could easily see how a pro might also use this camera for actual work, however personally, I’m still stuck on the performance and features of my traditional DSLR system, (I photograph weddings as my day job) and I don’t mind the heft of, for example, a Nikon D750 and a 35mm f/1.8 G.
One final thing I’d like to leave you with is this: As well-known as Fuji is for its in-camera JPG performance, I must say I was quite surprised to see that the raw (RAF) files actually looked fantastic in Adobe Lightroom right out of the box! This is often a complaint from many Nikon and Canon shooters who start with JPG and then switch to RAW; the Adobe raw engine almost always makes things look dull and flat. Well somehow, Fuji raw images are different- they’re nice and colorful, contrasty, etc. See for yourself! Click here to download the RAW+JPG files.
All in all, considering the price, size/weight, and my feelings that Fuji could still improve the controls and customizations, I don’t think I’ll be “dumping” my DSLR system in favor of one of these just yet.
After my first week or so with the X100T, I’m sensing two initial conclusions:
- I’ll wait a generation or so and check back to see how Fuji improves things, but most others would probably enjoy this camera right away.
- I really hope Nikon gets around to making a camera like the X100T soon, with the Nikon controls and customizations that I’ve grown so accustomed to!
There is no denying that Fuji is on a roll, and gaining momentum. They have a strong reputation with their sensor technology, one of the best lens lineups behind their mount, and an ability to listen to real-world photographers and improve their cameras.
So there you have it! If you’re in the market for a gorgeous camera that looks as good as the images it delivers, (images that give even full-frame flagships a run for their money!), then definitely put the Fuji X100T at the top of your list. Stay tuned for my final review in another few weeks!