The Ultimate Seeing Machine – The Fujifilm X100F Review
It was back in 2012 when I first got my hands on an original Fujifilm X100. It was not that I was seeking this encounter, not at all. Quite the opposite! For years I had been shooting with Nikon and Canon SLRs and I was quite content with these cameras – after all they were the expected choice for every serious photographer.
Therefore, when my friend let me play with his X100 I was sceptical. What a toy, I thought. This just cannot be a serious camera – look at its size! Did I mention it was quirky and weird?! My first reaction was to give it back along with my usual dose of twisted humour – just enough to embarrass the hippie owner.
However, something strange happened. Each time I approached my camera hideout my hands failed to grab the serious Nikon SLR and instead went for the eccentric X100 – it was paranormal activity at play to say at least. Then everything just spiralled downwards for my Nikon. Not only did I shoot almost exclusively with the X100 but I started taking visual risks I had never dared to before. Strangely, my “seeing” regained a spark – yes in both eyes!
As my photographer friends watched in horror, I sold all my SLR gear and started shooting exclusively with the X-series cameras and lenses, with the X100 becoming my flagship camera. Yes, you’ve got it right. The X100/S/T/F is, in my view, the flagship or in other words the most important camera in the X-series.
Therefore, when I got an email from Fujifilm Canada that a preproduction version of a brand new X100F was on its way I felt like a teenager expecting his first car. Kasia, my wife and partner in seeing, immediately knew something was not right with me or that something was awfully right and it had nothing to do with coffee!
Although I genuinely like winter, the usual rainy Vancouver gave way to a white paradise at exactly the wrong time. Each time I anxiously typed in the tracking number I got a horrifying “delayed in transit” message. I didn’t say a word but even my dog knew something was off. Finally, after camping out in the freezing cold for three days to make sure I would not miss the delivery truck, it finally arrived.
The first surprise was the type of battery I found in the box. It was the very same battery that X-Pro2 and X-T2 cameras use, that is, NP-126. Now, the entire X-series line-up runs on the same battery. For those of us who shoot professionally this is great news.
The second surprise was the software. I had an opportunity to shoot with pre-production cameras before and trust me it was quite an experience. The installed firmware is usually not final. In some cases it was experimental to say the least, but not this time. Everything was running super-fast and smoothly. I was done with the set-up in no time. It wasn’t the only reason. The software was almost identical to my X-Pro2.
Thirdly, when I raised the X100F to my eye, my fingers could automatically find all the knobs and buttons as if I was holding my X-Pro2. Similarly, as with the X-Pro2, all buttons have been moved to the right thus allowing one-handed operation.
The focus point selector has been added and it is placed in almost exactly same spot as on the X-Pro2. I have written extensively about the importance of the joystick. Not only does it make the process of choosing the right focus point easy but its distinctive shape and destination make it a very easy target for your finger.
Another great change is the placement of the Q button on the right top corner. Since the Q button doesn’t have to compete with other buttons any more, finding it and pressing feels intuitive and natural.
As with the X-Pro2, there is the addition of a front dial, which can be programmed to your liking.
The top plate is an exact copy of the X-Pro2. A new ISO shifter has been added. Although I read some complaints about its operations I personally like this solution a lot. One glance at the top place, a simple operation and my ISO is set and confirmed with no fuss.
From our project the “Augmented Eye” – ACROS + weak grain
Even before the camera came out many people were calling for a new lens. Perhaps some would like to see F1.8 or faster, others are looking for “sharper” glass. Although I understand and fully support the first argument, I have to admit that the whole sharp and sharper debate makes me yawn. (I believe the next frontier for Fujifilm and other lens manufacturers should be to achieve a unique rendering/look/depiction.)
Going back to the X100F and its 23mm F2 lens, yes it appears to be the same lens used in previous versions. Wide-open, the lens displays some softness, especially at short distances, but we have learnt to take advantage of this rendering. At other apertures, the lens is tack-sharp.
Look, build and portability
Although the original X100 certainly got my attention for its classic look, it was a quirky camera. Despite its early shortcomings, however, the X100 has become an instant classic. With such early success it would have been easy for Fuji to rest on its laurels. Fortunately, it didn’t happen. Over the last few years, it has been amazing to watch how solutions whispered among professional X-shooters found their way into subsequent versions of this camera. This time is no different.
Most photographers I talked to agreed that general design, feel and look of the X100 line should not be messed with. The key changes made over the years were more operational in nature. The aforementioned unification of the entire X-series line has become a priority. Among others, placing all the buttons on the right side and the introduction of the joystick or ISO wheel were a direct result of feedback from “the street” – photographers who use these cameras on a daily basis. Many professionals, including yours truly, often work with two or more cameras, so familiarity and unified operations are crucial especially in some fast-paced situations.
Also, some buttons at the back including selector pads and the Menu/OK button are larger and easier to press. Build quality remains high – unusually high. All knobs, buttons and switches feel solid – something that is missing from so many plastic cameras out there. Did I mention “Made in Japan” – an always assuring and desirable stamp, at least for my generation!
The size and weight of the camera, especially in comparison to many professional SLRs, is a huge asset. Elliott Erwitt once said, “Photography is an art of observation. It is about finding something interesting in an ordinary place.” It may sound strange but travelling or walking around with the X100F often puts me in just such a state of attentiveness and focus (not in a technical sense) that I even forget I’m carrying a camera. It feels as though I’m free – free of the heavy weight, free of a backpack full of distractions, and free of the need to scream out loud, “I am a photographer.”
While taking photos I want to be viewed as a regular guy you met on the street, someone you would have a chat with while waiting for the bus. I appreciate the fact that people see my face and hear me speak before they see my camera. Sometimes I think Dorothea Lange was referring to the X100F when she said, “A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.”
Every time someone hands me their SLR to take their photo, I am amazed at how far behind these cameras are in terms of “seeing.” I recently held an SLR worth a few thousand dollars and I couldn’t believe how primitive its viewfinder was compared to the X100F.
I don’t try to be geeky here but “seeing” is the DNA of photography. Whether evaluating my final image in EVF (including colours and exposure) or anticipating my subject walking into the frame using OVF, the X100F offers a viewfinder that brings you a sense of closeness to the scene or your subject. It might be just me but the viewfinder in the X100F feels superior to the one in the X-Pro2 or even in the X-T2. Yes, the X-T2 EVF is much larger but there is no OVF and its central placement is definitely not to my liking. Even though the X-Pro2 has both, it feels much smaller and somehow cramped in comparison to the X100F.
I have been shooting with the X-Pro2 and the X-T2, which have the same sensor as the X100F. Although the X-Pro2 and X-T2 were granted a higher megapixel count, the X100T was the only X-series high-end camera that was left at 16. Now, a brand-new 100F has joined its siblings with a 24.3-megapixel APS-C-sized sensor. As of writing, there is no LR support for RAW files so it is difficult to evaluate the sensor’s dynamic range but I fully anticipate it to be at least as good as it is in the X-Pro2. Also, I was asked not to publish high-resolution images, so maybe Fujifilm is still tweaking the sensor/lens combo performance. Let’s remember that since the X100F is not an interchangeable camera, placement of the sensor in relation to the lens could be optimized for image quality.
Looking at JPEGs (all images in this review), the image quality is excellent and well above what most of us need (take it pixel-peepers!).
Of course, as with the X-Pro2 and the X-T2 there is a range of Fujifilm film simulations to choose from. My personal favourites are ACROS + R + weak grain (street, travel), Classic Chrome (street, travel or even some portraits), Velvia (landscapes) and Provia (family, portrait).
Who is this camera for?
Those of you who read our blog know that the X100-line is our camera-to-go. If I had a choice of only one camera this would be it!
New/aspiring photographer (on a budget or not)
Unfortunately, for many, the fascination with photography starts with gear. So often I see people being stressed out that they cannot afford to buy a “professional” SLR and this would somehow spoil their start in photography. Of course, this fallacy is being pushed by the industry, which wants you to believe that Photoshop + Nikon 810/Canon 5D + a full backpack of lenses is the ultimate start pack. Not only is this costly but more importantly such an approach is incredibly expensive in terms of the damage done to the new photographer’s mental and visual health.
In the meantime, for someone who’s taking the first steps in “seeing,” simplicity should be the guiding principle. One camera + one lens is the right way to start. The camera that a newcomer should be looking for should be small, easy to carry (so it’s always with you), has manual controls and real knobs, a large viewfinder (EVF and OVF), a relatively simple menu, one lens (preferably 35mm or 50mm in FF), and produce great JPEGs. At this early stage you should learn how to concentrate (yes, you got it right!), observe (you need to concentrate), see the light and compose. Huge, heavy cameras, lens choices, tripods, filters and technical overload won’t get you there.
While starting in photography it is worth remembering Diane Arbus’s canny words: “Taking pictures is like tiptoeing into the kitchen late at night and stealing Oreo cookies.” Try doing that with the thumping shutter of a huge SLR echoing through the kitchen, a clumsy tripod and an oversized backpack of lenses knocking over the dishes!
But I cannot afford the X100F! I hear you say.
Fine, get then used to the X100S or X100T. You can find them cheaper than even the least expensive SLRs.
“Photography is like sex. You know the ending. So how can you make it interesting?” Fer Juaristi
Unfortunately, many photographers start their journey on the wrong footing. The gear overload, Photoshop addiction, low-esteem and blind following of the latest trends quickly turn into frustration. The way out is to simplify your photography. Get a simple camera, reduce time in front of your computer and don’t be afraid to take risks in your “seeing.” I personally know photographers who sold backpacks of expensive lenses and SLRs, got an X100/S/T and they couldn’t believe how much their photography, “seeing” and photographic mind-set changed.
Semi and/or professional
Although the X100T/F is my camera-to-go, I also shoot with the X-Pro2. When I need to travel lightly I grab my X100T/F (35mm lens in FF) and my X-Pro2 with the XF 56mm F1.2 (85mm in FF). These two focal lengths allow me to cover 99.9% of shooting situations, travel light and avoid switching lenses.
Should I upgrade from X100T?
Yes. Higher resolution sensor, joystick, ACROS etc…
I really believe that the X100F should have been weather-sealed. For a camera that you always have with you, some rain and snow protection is a must.
Although the X-T2 is clearly aimed at a high-tech crowd who wants to have it all, in my view the X100-line should remain a photographer’s camera. What I mean by that is limiting non-photography-related functions to a minimum or eliminating them altogether. For example, I don’t see the point of video in the X100F or panoramas and filters…you name it. A plain, well-made, easy to use camera is all that’s needed.
I also envision a X100F sibling with a 56mm lens. Then I would own just two small, portable cameras and forget about everything else.
Then there is the strap. A camera of such quality, so well made, comes with a strap that would better fit a $50 plastic toy. It was the fifth time that I had to suffer a mental breakdown trying to put this hideous, low-quality strap on a $1000-plus camera. This camera deserves much better.
Look for our upcoming posts with more imagery from this photoshoot
Since the introduction of the X100, each successor has brought changes and improvements that photographers asked for. The 100F is not revolutionary but rather an evolutionary camera and that’s a good thing. With a new sensor, large EVF/OVF, improved and unified (with the rest of the X-series) operations (and battery) and the same, excellent 23mm F2 lens, the X100F is in my view a flagship X-series camera.
While I enjoy shooting with the X-Pro2 and X-T2, the 100F interconnects with and bridges my visual intuition, inner seeing and creativity with the mechanics of the photographic process the way no other camera can, so for me it is the ultimate seeing machine.
Yes, I will be buying one.
Here is the entire family: an original X100, X100S, X100T and of course X100F
A few images of the Fujifilm X100F – just a foolish attempt to match Jonas Rask’s excellent gear imagery – make sure to visit his website for a much better depiction of the camera.
All imagery shot with a preproduction Fujifilm X100F, all JPEGs, Classic Chrome, Acros and Velvia film simulations, with minor adjustments in LR.
Here is a little bonus: Mike Marcinek followed me with a camera for a few hours and put this film together. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I have never been paid by Fujifilm, its subsidiaries or other camera manufacturers. We do receive some gear from Fujifilm Canada from time to time for a review with no strings attached (outside of typical disclosure agreements for pre-production cameras). This blog has never run any ads for the simple reason we want to stay 100% independent. The only bias in this review is my uncontrolled joy of shooting with the X100/S/T/F cameras but this state of mind is only of my own making.
Update: The X100F we tested hasn’t got the final firmware therefore we haven’t commented on the speed of the AF system. To our knowledge there has been one firmware update since our handling of the camera.
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