The Freedom Camera – A personal rant about the Fuji X100T
Disclaimer: If you are looking for an objective, technical-oriented review you won’t find it here. Photography is an art and as a result personal emotions and experiences play a vital role. Therefore, the views presented here are only mine. They are deeply personal and biased and that’s how it should be. I have never been interested in objective reviews since I find them boring, uninspired and pretentious. So I am not going to bore you with one.
The Fuji X100T is NOT the fastest camera on the market.
It is NOT the most responsive camera on the market.
It is NOT a great video camera. It is NOT even an interchangeable lens camera.
Despite all that, in our view it is THE BEST DIGITAL CAMERA on the market by far. Let me explain.
As many of you know, for most of my photographic life I was a Nikon shooter. Life was stable and easy back then. From time to time a new model came out with a slightly better interior but in general it was the same old same old. Then, one day a brand new Fuji X100 fell into my hands and before I knew it, my photography world turned upside down. For those interested in the entire story please check out our review of the Fuji X100S here.
Why am I going back to the original X100? Because writing an X100T review without mentioning an original X100/S would be like writing an autobiography starting at age 30.
I don’t know how Fuji came up with the idea of the X100. Now it is hard to believe that there was no such camera before. You woke up in the morning, picked up a bag full of gear and soldiered on for the entire day. Sometimes you left your camera at home because it was too much hassle. It was just too heavy and inconvenient to carry around. Sure, there were some compacts available but the quality and functionality of those cameras were not suited for serious photography.
The Fuji X100 changed all that.
For quite some time I had the Fuji X100 and my SLR gear at home. At first I had mixed feelings about this new arrival. When I think about it now, I know it was years of SLR brainwashing that prevented me from realizing this little camera could replace a whole bag of gear.
But somehow, in time, my SLR gear stayed home and I ventured out with my X100 everywhere. It was quickly established that I would not leave the house without it. Out in the world, I would walk, crawl, climb and enter places that were not possible with a traditional SLR. And the images I captured were better composed, more creative and different. What gives?
Let’s start with its physique. I did a mini experiment by putting three cameras on the table: one SLR, one compact and the Fuji X100. For some reason, visitors always picked up the X100 first. Its fusion of classic look and modern technology draws people’s attention. What’s even more interesting, I noticed women love this camera. Kasia, my wife, rarely grabs our larger X-T1 – she always prefers the Fuji X100S/T.
I am glad Fuji didn’t change the design. The new Fuji X100T looks almost identical to previous versions of this camera. Once you have it in your hands, it feels very solid and expensive. I like its traditional, classic look with a layout that immediately connects with the photographer but doesn’t intimidate your subject.
Then there are controls. While the SLR world moved away from traditional knobs and controls, the Fuji X100/S/T was all for them. As a photographer, the ability to operate a dedicated exposure compensation dial, aperture ring and shutter speed is crucial. I found that this physical movement is a very important part of the whole scheme of image creation. While the key knobs remained unchanged, some buttons have been moved to standardize the layout in the X-series line. One change that I don’t like is the playback button, which in previous versions was placed at the top and was green – very easy to hit quickly. Now it is the same colour as the other buttons and I found myself looking for it on several occasions. There are a number of changes including more customization options; for example, you can customize the Q menu. You can find more technical details here and here.
One improvement over the X100S is speed. The Fuji X100T is noticeably faster than its predecessor. We have travelled with the X100T and didn’t have any problems with autofocus but then our photography is “slow” and deliberate. Of course, it doesn’t have the D4 speed but this camera was never intended to be a sport shooter camera (which is where SLR excels).
Another area that stands out from its predecessor is the viewfinder. Several improvements have been made. The most noticeable is the ability to project a small area of focus in the Optical Viewfinder. In general, the idea of a hybrid viewfinder is relatively new but already I cannot imagine having a camera without it. If you observe those who shoot SLR you will notice that they are constantly checking their LCD after each shot. You don’t need to do that with this camera. While composing your image, right in the EVF you see your final photo BEFORE you take it, including any adjustments. It is especially important for students of photography as they see changes to exposure or emulation in real time.
Another key feature of the Fuji X100T is its total silence. Once you turn off the sound, as I always do, this camera doesn’t make any noise. Sometimes when Kasia and I travel, I hand the camera to strangers for a photo and I see confusion in their faces once they press shutter button. Everyone is used to some kind of sound. Nothing. Nada. Zero. And I love it. It means I can take photos in places where photography is frowned on!
Due to its silent operation coupled with its unique look, I have been able to get into situations where professional photography is not usually allowed. The security staff ignores me, as they view me as just another tourist with a point-and-shoot. I would much rather be perceived this way than as a pro-photographer.
It also helps in interactions with strangers. When starting conversations, they see me as a person genuinely interested in them before they see my camera, whereas carrying an SLR with a big lens intimidates some people.
All right, but how about the image quality?
The image quality always starts with a good quality lens (a great sensor with poor glass is no use). At its core, there is an excellent 23mm (35mm in FF terms) F2.0 lens. If you would like to buy a lens of this quality for your SLR you would need to spend at least $1000. The rest you pay for the camera. Not bad.
Looking for superb JPEGs? You got it. The in-camera JPEGS are the best in the industry, period. I have used Nikon, Canon, Olympus and many other brands and I have never liked JPEGS straight from the camera. Fuji is the only company that does it right. The colour is accurate, the skin tones are beautiful and the texture is right on. The Fuji X100T adds a brand new film simulation, Classic Chrome, which immediately became our choice for documentary and some travel photos (look for our upcoming photo essay on Alcatraz, exclusively shot in Classic Chrome).
If you prefer RAW files, you have plenty of leeway. There has been so much written on X-Trans post-processing techniques that if you know what you are doing you can achieve amazing results.
There is no question that Fuji has worked hard to improve the X-series cameras. However, there are different ways in which the X-series could evolve. I am really happy that Fuji is providing regular updates and adding features. I feel they care and listen to photographers.
I have noticed a recent trend among camera companies to add features to please the video crowd. I hope Fuji won’t get into this race. In general I prefer simple cameras that focus on photography. I don’t want more features. I don’t want video or in-camera processing options. I don’t want panorama or other useless oddities. I want only essentials that relate directly to photography. In a recent interview, Fuji management pointed out a proposed direction toward the high-end market. I believe that professionals are looking for a precise tool with a simplified menu. I want a quality lens, quality sensor, dedicated controls, a simple menu and compact size. Period. To finish my rant, a little bit of weather sealing and double card slots would be the icing on the cake.
Let’s go back now to the title of this piece. Freedom camera? Isn’t it true that the camera doesn’t matter? It shouldn’t. When you are in a beautiful place or just walking along a street your senses should be dipping into the world around you. You should become an integral part of the place. You should get closer to people, get to know them, feel the vibe and awaken your senses. Then you should look for a perfect composition or a beautiful ray of light or maybe a unique and fleeting moment. You should!
But instead of doing that, you are busy worrying about which lens to put on or which camera settings to choose. Then you are constantly staring at your back LCD to make sure your settings are right. You are not sure whether you should re-shoot with a different lens. You are distracted by the plethora of functions and buttons. You wonder whether it would be better to put your camera on a tripod. So many pixels, so many things to think about! Or maybe you are too tired from carrying all your gear so you decide to pass on this moment. Or maybe you don’t have a camera at all.
The connection is gone. The moment is gone.
Do you get it?!
When I have finished writing this piece I am going for a walk to get some fresh air. On the way out, I am going to grab my Fuji X100T. That’s all I need.
All images presented in this article were shot with the Fuji X100T, Classic Chrome (except the Grand Canyon photo – LR5).
2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.