Review: Fuji Finepix X100

Fujifilm Finepix X100

For the guys in hurry I’ll give you a sum up of this review: “holy crap!”.

Ok, maybe some extra details are needed 🙂

Like many others I also was in search of the Holy Grail, something that I may carry everywhere and on journeys and that can still gives me great quality; like a film rangefinder camera, you know! For this job I used both the Leica M6 and the Contax G1. They are amazing, but film price go higher every day, and developing and scanning prices follow. More the good labs, unless you live in a big city, are becoming rare. So this “everywhere” camera now has to be digital. And here was the problem. Till now.

A disclaimer, so that you will can judge if your needs are the same of mine, and so if this review can be useful to you.

I enjoyed a lot both the Leica M6 and the Contax G1, but each one of them had flaws:

– the Contax had no focus confirmation in the finder, and speaking of the finder it was, quite frankly, a crappy one; more the camera was noisy as hell and it has no digital offspring whatsoever;

– the Leica was amazing with even more amazing optics and a spectacular finder; but I found the camera pretty slow to focus to follow action, so I ended up using it almost only in hyperfocal (with excellent results, to be told); more, the Leica digital offspring costs between 2.000 and 7.000 (yes, seven-thousand) euro WITHOUT lens, based on the model you choose (M8 or the full format / empty wallet M9).

And now for the quality level I was aiming at. I normally use a Canon 5D Mark II, often stitching multiple frames, and I’m quite spoiled by its quality; and from an usability point of view the best cameras that I ever owned were a Nikon F4s, a Leica M6 and a Fuji GS645, all three of them almost an “extension” of my own eyes.

So? Here the Fuji X100 came to the rescue.

When I searched online the reviews and the forums for informations about the X100 what I read almost turned me off (you can learn about the technical stuff on Dpreview or Imaging Resource, among others sites). They say, in no particular order, that the Fuji X100:

– it’s clumsy

– AF is slow as molasses

– with the last firmware can’t focus properly

– the lens is prone to flare and not so good at full aperture

– it eats kids  😉

Guess what? I’m really stubborn so I decided to buy one! And I discovered pretty soon that it’s an amazing camera. Yes, the AF is a bit slow, but only in macro (we’re talking under 30cm) with poor light. Unless you spend your time taking pictures of your food I don’t envision this as the primary work of a reportage / travel camera. At normal distances is snappy and precise, even in pitch dark. The lens, especially if you shoot in raw turning on the lens correction in Photoshop, Lightroom or the freeware RawTherapee, is exceptional even at f/2, perfect at f/4 and has an amazing bokeh. I still have to see any flare at all, even shooting in full back lighting and without the hood. Yes, it’s not a Leica. But it’s pretty darn close, and costs like an used Summicron, but comes with a camera attached!


100% crop from the center at f/2, with only a touch of capture sharpening:

Fuji X100 center af f/2


More, the sensor is really great, way better than the Sony Nex3 (my previous attempt for a travel camera, that now I use only when I absolutely need to go wide / longer with a couple of adapted lenses). What makes so special the files of the X100, and for what I’ve seen is some sort of Fuji fingerprint, is the gentle roll-off of the highlights (that is also adjustable, like the one of the shadows) that renders the pictures like they were shooted on film. Ice on the cake, the shutter noise, once you disable the fake sounds (!) that are enabled by default, it is almost non existent. An awful lot quieter that a Leica M and still quieter than an Olympus XA. Seriously, I can barely hear the noise in a quiet room with the Fuji glued on my face, even shooting a burst of 3 or 5 pictures for second. And the shutter lag, if the camera is prefocused, is almost non existent too.

Last, but not least, the famous finder. It’s justified all the fuss about the hybrid finder?  Yes! The optical one it’s simply stunning, I mean Leica M stunning, and that’s an awful lot. The EVF is pretty good too; nothing to write home about, but I noted that, unlike with the Sony Nex-3 LCD in low light, I’m able to actually use the Fuji EVF to judge focus accuracy.

For my point of view the X100 has only a couple of serious flaws, and with serious I don’t mean deal breakers, just mildly annoying:

1) the notoriously poor designed “OK” button; yes, it is a real pain in the **s, but once you are in the menu you can use an half pressure on the shutter button for the same things; and thanks to the lot of external traditional controls of the Fuji you rarely have to go in the menu at all (pretty much only to enable the self timer, that for an inscrutable reason is not on the “drive” menu).

2) the “focus by wire” ring. With the last firmware update (1.20) it has became usable, but I hate the guts of this thing. Plese Fuji, listen to me: you made the X100 so good that I will buy a X200 only, ONLY, if you put on the lens a proper focus helicoid, so we can “feel” the position of the focus ring and graduate the focusing speed. Oh, I almost forgot: on the next version I want also a Summicron!  😀

Summing up: the Fuji X100 is the first camera that I really like in a long long time. It doesn’t come in your way. After you choose the settings that suits your stile in the menu the camera become transparent, and you can use it simply “by touch” for years to come.

Rating: ★★★★★

Post scriptum for the courious ones: the green thingy on the shutter button it is an home made soft release.

Review: Leica M4-P

Leica M4-P

This one was my first Leica, and even if I eventually ended up selling it I regretted the decision right from day one.

The body of the features of the Leica M4-P are practically the same of the newest M6 model, with the exception of the lack of the exposure meter.

While the absence of the meter may appear quite uncomfortable, in stable light it ended up making my pictures better and not worse.

Because I finally stopped looking at the meter and fiddling with times and apertures to compensate or something, and instead I started sticking to one shutter / aperture combination that a single reading on an external meter (or the experience, some time after) gave me.

And “magically” my pictures got better, and yes: I shooted dia with it and not color negatives.

Leica M4-P

Sure, if the light is changing fast you will end taking in and out of your pocket an external exposure meter…

So, given that the price is not so drastically different from its younger sister, the M6, I will advice to look for one of them.

But if you find a real deal on a M4-P and you think you can learn how to guess the exposure (takes a little time, but it’s not that difficult) then buy it in a snap!

Rating: ★★★★½

Review: Fuji GS 645

Today I wish to talk about one of the best, if not THE best, cameras I ever used.

I’m speaking about the Fuji GS 645, a 4,5×6 medium format rangefinder camera that will fit in your pocket.

And without having to sacrify anything. This camera has one of the sharpest lenses ever and a classic center weighted exposure meter with LEDs into the finder.

And I swear, I’m not throwing away superlatives just for fun, it is really that amazing!

fuji gs645

With one toy like this one in your pocket and some films in the other you may go shooting for a day, from reportage to landscape photography.

One of my favourite setups for landscape is this camera screwed on top of the tripod – closed to protect the lens and the really delicate bellows -,  and the tripod itself on my shoulder, carried like a shotgun.

This way I’m always ready to shoot; without the lazyness of picking the camera or the lens into the bag I just put down the tripod, frame and shoot, move on.

If you find one of this cameras take a look at the bellows: the original Fuji ones are really prone to develop little holes that you may see blasting a flashlight or a lamp inside the bellows, obviously with the back open, in a dark room.

I have changed mine with an home made variant, much stronger even if a little too thick; and, by the way, the plexiglass in front of the finder is not the original aspect of the camera, but the black plastic mask that cover this zone broke and I have had replaced it this way.

If you don’t need the extreme compactness of this model you may avoid the bellows problems and you may choose one of the other models of the same line, if you want up to 6×9; whatever you choose they are all excellent.

Rating: ★★★★★ optics

Rating: ★★★½☆ mechanics