The Best Retirement Gift Ever: Julian Evans Reviews the Fuji X100

Julian Evans - Fuji X100 sample image

Fuji X100 in macro mode, f/2.8, 1/150s, ISO 200. Shot in RAW, converted with Silkypix to TIFF then processed in Photoshop CS3 to JPEG.

by Julian Evans

  

Editors’ Note: Julian Evans recently retired from commercial photography to concentrate on his graphic design business. He is one of the first people in the United Kingdom to have received the Fuji X100. Read on to find out what he thinks of it.

  

Introduction

My hands were shaking as I carefully removed the outer garments. There it was: The slinky, shiny, jet black box. Once inside I ran my fingers across the ruffled silk. My heart raced, beating against the inside of my chest like Keith Moon in a frenzy. Finally I touched it…a choir of angels sang out in celestial rapture as the….er, wait a minute. It’s just a camera, right?

Actually, I have to be honest here. That moment when I opened the box was sexual. In fact I’m really glad I was on my own at the time. When you were a kid, the best presents were always the little heavy ones. They felt exciting, mysterious, expensive. The X100 is just like that. Yes, the silk is a bit tacky (is it actually silk…? Naah) and the box is pretty non-functional, it’s just designed to impress. However, when you first see the camera you can tell it’s going to become a friend. You pick it up, all the controls feel familiar, tactile, positive and responsive. Yes, my first impression was a good one. Fuji have created something very lovely indeed.

Julian Evans - Fuji X100 sample image

Fuji X100, f/2, 1/75s, ISO 200. JPEG.

Over the years I’ve owned many cameras, by Nikon, Canon, Fuji (two of those), Olympus, Contax, Rollei etc. When I decided to get out of commercial photography I thought I would sell everything and invest in one, small, go-anywhere camera. Something that didn’t need a vehicle of its own to be transported around; that was well built and delivered superb images with a minimum of fuss. I figured a Leica M9 was going to be my choice. However, I’m English—we’re tight. I have seven kids to look after and I don’t have thousands to spend on what is destined to be a retirement camera.

Fuji X100 sample image

Fuji X100, f/2.8, 1/150s, ISO 200. JPEG.

After fiscal reality had set in I started to look carefully at the Leica X1 instead, but somehow I never actually added one to my shopping cart. The images are great but there’s no viewfinder, it doesn’t feel like a real Leica and I get the feeling that, despite an early toe in the digital water with the M8, Leica are making a cheapo M9 look-a-like simply to keep aspiring Leica folk from going elsewhere.

I’d sort of given up when, at Photokina in September 2010, Fuji announced the X100. Initial reports were very favourable and some great looking images with pre-production units started to appear on the net. I was smitten early on…and look at the name of it… The X100; a curious designation, so close to ‘X1′ that people like me were left in no doubt that this new camera was aimed at potential, low end Leica buyers. Fuji is managing the trick of naming its direct competitor and attracting customers away from it by adding the things that are missing from the X1: The hybrid viewfinder, better LCD, movie recording (even if it’s only 720p video), f/2 lens, ND filter, excellent ISO performance, etc.

After several months of waiting I am now in possession of an X100. And here are a few observations of how the camera handles in real situations, how easy or difficult it is to get the right exposure, to focus and take shots that turn out the way you see them in your head.

  

The Beginning

I charged up the battery, read as much of the owner manual as my brain could take in, squeezed the camera into its leather bondage outfit (yes, I fell for the complete package deal) and headed off down the half mile track that leads to chez Jules.

It’s springtime in the UK and there are lambs leaping about, kicking each other in the teeth and generally having a good time of things. There’s a lot to have a go at with my new toy. I set the aperture and shutter speed dials to A and A… the P (Program) appears in the viewfinder, I’m totally ‘auto’. Let’s see what it can do.

Fuji X100 sample image

Fuji X100, f/3.6, 1/210s, ISO 200, EV +0.7. JPEG.

It’s not many shots before I discover one of the very best things about the X100: The exposure compensation dial. If the shadows look too dark or the highlights look too bight I simply move the exposure compensation dial with my thumb to see the resulting change in shadow/highlight density on the screen or through the viewfinder…and without taking my eye away from the shot. The EV comp. dial is in the right place and it’s extremely easy to use. What’s more, the values are displayed in the viewfinder as you change them. I love this dial!

Then I discover the macro setting. Using the command dial, click to the left to get to macro. Select it, focus, take the image, then it reverts back to normal shooting mode. Wonderful! And if you’re taking a picture with macro on and move away to focus on something more distant, it refocuses as normal and then, after taking the picture, reverts to macro for the next shot.

Focusing is quick and easy, though the lens does sometimes hunt. This is easily worked around and I’ve had lenses that cost more than this camera that do the same thing. Manual focus is slow. It takes a good few turns to get what you want, although this is helped by pressing the command control, which enlarges the focus area and puts a handy distance scale in the viewfinder.

The fully auto settings are very accurate and, with the exposure compensation dial, most general shots require nothing else. However, to get the lovely bokeh and shallow depth of field you will need to open the lens up to f/2. Turn the aperture ring to to f/2, leave the shutter dial at ‘A’ and the camera changes to Av (aperture priority), displaying the shutter speed in the viewfinder. Tv (shutter priority) is just as easy to achieve.

Julian Evans - Fuji X100 sample image

Fuji X100, f/3.2, 1/180s, ISO 200. JPEG converted to B&W in Photoshop CS3.

  

The Ending

All in all the camera is very easy to use. But for those that like fiddling, there’s a great deal of fiddling that can be done with it: Film type simulation, B&W, neutral density filter, white balance etc. The menus are easy to navigate and all the buttons and dials are positive, extremely well made and assembled and you get the feeling that designers of this camera didn’t compromise in any way.

The quality of the images from the lens/sensor combination is wonderful for a camera of this type. They’re easily as good as images from the Leica X1 and I truly believe that it’s this quality that will ultimately sell the camera in shedloads. It’s two thirds of the price, it has better features, it’s easier to use, and is easily lost in the crowd…which can be very useful indeed in the right circumstances.

Fuji X100 sample image

Fuji X100, f/5, 1/320s, ISO 200. JPEG.

My only gripe so far is with the size of the ‘OK’ button in the middle of the command dial. It’s too small for me. Pressing it with my thumb just doesn’t work, I have to purposely use a fingertip. However, this is no biggie and I’ll get used to it.

The X100 is a great walkabout camera and, once you’ve found your way around the layout, the settings are simple to manipulate and it’s easy to get the image you’re after. So long as the build quality holds up, I can see myself using this camera for many years to come. And what’s most important for me is that I will enjoy using it. It’s light, uncomplicated and delivers wonderful results.

Thank you, Fuji!

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Julian and Steph Evans Born in Birmingham, UK, Julian “Jules” Evans attended Shrewsbury School of Art and obtained a BA Honours Degree in Graphic Design from Coventry in the 70′s. He started shooting weddings and parties as a way of supplementing income at college, eventually going into freelance design and photography; he worked mainly in the agricultural and arts sectors (a weird mixture, he agrees, but that’s just the way it happened). He lives in Shropshire, UK, with his partner Steph, and the 7 children they have between them, not to mention chickens, ducks and cats. Jules’s first serious camera was a Pentax K1000; he has shot with Olympus OM, Contax, Rollei, Ricoh, Nikon (film and digital) and Canon digital. The Fuji X100 is his latest purchase, bought as a self-present as he leaves commercial photography to focus on his graphic design business. You can view some of his stock photography here.

All images: ©Julian Evans.

  

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5 Comments

  1. Many thanks for this Julian, you’ve managed to make me even more impatient for mine to arrive! By the time it does, I hope Lightroom will have the X100 available. ;-)

    • Hang on in there… it will arrive. I keep finding new things with it… the film simulation is very good and it’s taken me a while to get to use the command dial thingy, but it makes things easier now that I do. I was out at 6 a.m. this morning to get some shots of the sun on the dewy grass… haven’t done that for a while! The video is good too. I don’t know about you but even on my 42″ plasma TV 720p is easily good enough, in fact I honestly can’t tell the difference with 1080p. You’re limited to 10 minute scenes but you can shoot as many as your batteries/memory can take… I won’t be doing any 10 minute shots (no opening scenes from Touch Of Evil) so it’s plenty for me.

      I’m genuinely very impressed by it. And so far the best comment I have received was from a friend on Friday night. I took the camera out of my bag and opened up the case, he said “blimey, look at that old thing… have you gone back to film?” A short chat later he was visibly drooling…

  2. “And so far the best comment I have received was from a friend on Friday night. I took the camera out of my bag and opened up the case, he said “blimey, look at that old thing… have you gone back to film?” A short chat later he was visibly drooling…” Now you have made my night, Julian! ;-)

    Thanks, too, for your encouragement – and the update on your getting used to the command dial “thingy”.

  3. Nice article Julian and it has helped me make the decision to order an X100 this morning

    I am a Canon 5D and Leica user but needed something of high output quality and easy to carry – Looks like this has won over from the Leica X1 for me

    Many thanks

    Roy

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