Review of Fujifilm X100T Camera

I'd first come across this camera - in the form of the very first edition - on a company sales kickoff in Budapest. A colleague from the Netherlands was taking pictures with an X100 and I thought, as do most people when they see this camera, he was a Film aficionado with an old viewfinder camera.

I asked him about it and he gave me a quick overview, including taking a picture of Budapests spectacular Széchenyi Chain Bridge and zooming in to 20x, which convinced me that an optical zoom isn't necessarily necessary. Then he named the price and my interest waned quickly.

After several iterations of point-and-shoot cameras for holidays that don't warrant taking a heavy Canon 60D with several optics along, I was getting weary of the crap image quality, the irritating handling and the cheapo camera bodies. The last point-and-shoot I owned (still have it, in fact) was a Canon SX240HX. This little package offers a 20x optical zoom with image stabilizer - unfortunately it flares so heavily even at 10x that the pictures are ok for picking out something distant and capturing it for memories, but you certainly wouldn't want to put it on a 20x30cm print and hang it on the wall.

So when I came across
this review of the X100T by Ken Rockwell, my interest picked up again, despite the seemingly high cost of the camera. I read other reviews on the web, as well as reviews on Amazon, but lastly it was Mr. Rockwell's review that convinced me to give this camera a whirl. You might think that no one in their right mind would buy a camera at this pricepoint just from what they read about it? Well, I did. And I don't regret it one second.

That said, you can imagine that this review will be mostly positive, though I do have one or two things that I feel might have been done better (but I'm complaining on a very high level).
I'll also be addressing some things Mr. Rockwell put in his review. I don't plan on repeating all of what he wrote, as I find his review to be quite complete and to the point, so I'll just put in my two cents worth after intensely using the camera for several months.

Overall Impression
The camera is quite a bit heavier than expected - if you're used to cheapo plastic point-and-shoot cameras, you're in for a treat, both size- and weightwise. Personally, the added weight doesn't bother me in the least, I'm able to grip the camera much better due to the dimensions and the added weight gives confidence in both the ability to hold the unit steady and in the inbuilt quality.

If you're looking for a point-and-shoot, then this camera probably isn't for you. Of course it has automatic modes, so theoretically you could use it just to snap vacation pictures, but you'll probably be annoyed that you can't just flick the flash on with a switch or a button and you might feel that having a fixed focal length lens is too limiting. In addition, the pricepoint is easily four times a decent point-and-shoot with optical zoom.

This camera is clearly slated at people that don't want to snap pictures but rather do photography. The variability and adjustability is a huge plus - and for the most part, access to these controls is perfect. Just having an aperture ring and a focus ring on the lens is a dramatic departure from the normal point-and-shoot cameras, whose target customer often doesn't even know what aperture is (no offense intended - you don't need to know how an engine operates in order to drive a car, either).

The picture quality is formidable - the sensor resolution is the same as my Canon D60, and without having done comparative photography, I've got a feeling that the Fuji sensor is superior. I will do some tests in the near future, though and add them to this review. Some time ago, I wanted to film a „performance“ our kids put on (at home) and my D60 failed me completely (it had both issues with the memory card as well as with the lighting) - luckily, I had my X100T to hand, which captured the spectacle beautifully, despite the poor lighting.

Things I'd like to change
There are some things I'd like to change, but they are minimal. Take the on-off switch, for example. This is nearly perfect - the position, as a lever just under the shutter release, is easily findable without looking, the feedback is clear when operating it. It is too short, though, in my opinion. If your finger is just a tad oily or sweaty, you'll be digging at the indentations on the switch with your fingernail to operate it. I think that just adding a millimeter to it would have helped greatly - it is just too near-flush with the front of the camera for optimal operation.

Next is the rather large switch on the front between the lens and shutter release: this is a classic retro element that - in older 35mm cameras was used for the self-timer. Some designer probably said "we need to have that on there for the retro look", so the engineers thought about what they would do with it. So they made it to the switch that changes the viewfinder mode. I would love to have this switch changeable by software setting to some other function - I might put the Macro on/off function there or even the Flash on/off. The position is perfect and very easily operable while shooting. I haven't found the option to change this yet, but perhaps this will be possible in some future software release.

Lastly the manual: I’ve never seen such a crappy document from any established electronics equipment brand! It is horrible to read (probably written by the same engineer that put together the menu structure on my first car phone…) and much too short. The camera is complicated enough that it needs some decent and readable documentation. The manual that comes with it absolutely does not comply with this requirement.

Mr. Rockwell took the time to
write his own manual for the original X100, and even though the buttons and some of the functions on the X100T are different, I heartily recommend it to anyone new to the camera.

Things I love
Well, besides the view points above, basically everything else! I will mention a few things that are unusual for digital cameras, though:

1. USB Charging
At last, a camera you can charge via USB - I have no idea why all point-and-shoots I know of don’t offer this. In a time and age where charging on a USB port or wallplug charger is something toddlers can do (ok, I’m exaggerating), having to take out the battery and carrying a separate (bulky) charger is just not acceptable anymore.

I’ve now had the X100T on two vacations with just the battery already in the camera, charging in the evening. I’ve had some close calls, and if you want to make sure you don’t miss photos or video then you should probably take a second battery, but it is possible to take just the camera.

Interestingly enough, the camera draws about 700mA max when charging. Since USB charging doesn’t seem to take any longer than via the charger (about 2-3h), it appears that the batteries just can’t be charged quickly.

2. Sweep Panoramas
This one took be my surprise. Every iOS and many Android Phones offer a panorama photo mode, where you sweep the phone over a certain distance to get a - usually quite good - panorama photo.

Imagine my surprise to find such a mode by accident as one of the options when pressing the „Drive“ button! I was elated! I recommend to use the „Top to Bottom“ version, where you hold your camera in „portrait mode“ to sweep. While this is not as comfortable, it produces a more useful format, especially when doing 180° sweeps, as the resolution in the vertical direction is higher.

You can’t „interrupt“ a sweep to produce a shorter panorama, as you can on an iPhone, for example. That isn’t a problem though, as you can always crop a sweep down to what you need later on.

3. The Optics
When I first learned photography (on a Nikon FG-20, later an FM2), it was with a 50mm lens. This is what I received for Christmas many, many years ago (I believe I was 14) and that single lens is what I shot for years. Only later, when I started making money during college, did I purchase telephoto and wide-angle lenses.

I’d completely forgotten the joy of shooting a fixed, „normal“ lens. Not only is the image quality incredible (especially compared to the telezoom on my D60), the pictures have a „presence" that is just beautiful. There is no compression (telephoto) or expansion (wide angle) of the picture, so it represents roughly what you see with your own eyes, which is quite soothing. Also, when shooting with wider apertures, the background becomes beautifully blurry (Bokeh), making for astonishing people photography.

4. The Build Quality
Face it, your average point-and-shoot is a crappy piece of plastic. Drop it on the ground once, and you can be lucky to continue shooting pictures that are in focus. Not so with the X100T. It is a presence in your hands and will likely survive quite a bit more abuse unless you drop it right on the lens.

5. The Viewfinder
It is absolutely fantastic, what Fuji has done here. Just having a level „beamed“ into the optical viewfinder (along with important information on exposure, etc.) is a revelation. I have always tended to slightly (1-2°) tilted photos, which are annoying when you have something like an ocean in the picture. With the level, I take perfectly straight photos every time. My D60 has this feature, but only when taking photos via the LCD (which I rarely do).

The viewfinder is so good that I find myself using the X100T display rarely, even though it has a quick-bright feature by pressing the display button for 4+ seconds, making it excellent for bright sunlight. The viewfinder is more natural to my photography, and the X100T makes it a joy to take pictures this way. 

Points I question in regard to Mr. Rockwell's review
There are a few things mentioned in the otherwise excellent and very comprehensive review that I would challenge:
  1. he writes "The lens doesn't flare". I disagree. Any lens flares when hit by the right light from the side or front. Some lenses are better than others in preventing flare, and I would agree to "the lens almost never flares", but I have pictures with flare in them. Still: a great lens, no questions asked.
  2. he is quite adamant about not bothering with accessory lenses. There are two screw-on lenses available for the X100 series: a wide-angle and a teleconverter. While I absolutely agree that adding converters to an excellent lens takes away from the quality. Always. You also lose light - always. And while I would agree about not bothering with the wide-angle converter, I happen to have received the teleconverter as part of the camera package. I have used it and - to be honest - it isn't such a no-no, at least in my opinion. You might argue that the resolution of the resulting image is so high that you can just crop down to the part of the picture you want, you should remember that telephoto lenses don't just magnify the incoming image but also "compress" it in relation to depth of field. Especially in portrait photography, this is desired, which is why professional portrait photographers will generally use a lens slightly "larger" than the normal lens for the system. For 35mm, 80mm focal length lenses are often used (instead of 50mm "normal" lenses). 
  3. he writes that "Autofocus doesn't seem to work while shooting. Manual focus is claimed to." Autofocus works just fine while filming. You can set the Film mode to continuous autofocus or manual focus. If it is set to autofocus mode, it will re-focus as you move from a near to a far object while filming. This actually works quite well and is likely a lot faster and more precise than trying to film-and-focus by hand. It seems to use the very center of the image as a focal point.

Mr. Rockwell writes "If you're thinking about getting an X100T, just get one. You'll love it!". I got one, and I love it. If you are a photography buff and enjoy having complete control over your imaging device with superb image quality, then this camera is for you.

It is not as light or compact as some of the really small point-and-shoot zoom cameras, but the camera quality and - especially - the image quality of these toys just does not come anywhere close. You're comparing a Bentley (Fuji) to one of those motorcycle-engine boxes with four wheels they sell as "miniature cars" (point-and-shoot). But you're getting this Bentley at a very fair and affordable price.