Fuji x100 – it’s not a rangefinder

My experience with the x100…

UPDATE (August 25, 2011): I sold the x100 this week. If I could afford to hang on to it for occasional use, particularly for travel, then I would have kept the camera. However, it didn’t work for my needs and I sadly have sold it. The beautiful images it can create wasn’t enough. Give me manual focus and a focus patch and I would have happily hung on to it.

Original post from June 5, 2011: I picked up my new x100 a week ago last Friday (it’s Sunday now), and I have had the opportunity to use it for personal, street shooting as well as giving it a whirl for some event photography. My first impression was, “It’s not a rangefinder!” Yeah, I know, that’s obvious.

So, it’s not a rangefinder. Is that negative or positive, or is there a workable place somewhere in between? When I picked up the x100, I knew that I had three work events to shoot over three days on the following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The first event was indoors where I hoped to test the high ISO capabilities of the camera under normal, for government events, conditions. That is, there would be lighting enough for the news video cameras, which means I can shoot without flash at ISO 32000 or lower. Unfortunately, there were no additional lighting. So, it was the D700 with an SB-900 flash all the way.

Canucks Fever – Premier Clark flies the Canucks flag

The next day, the event was outside and offered me the opportunity to shoot with the x100 for the wide shots. I was certainly happy enough with the results of my shots with the camera, but the experience of shooting with it left me uncertain as to it’s suitability for this use.

Canucks Fever – Premier Clark flies the Canucks flag

The reason for my uncertainty comes down to speed of operation and how quiet the camera is. For events like this, when shooting with a DSLR, I have to shoot bursts of shots to insure that I capture a good expression on the Premier’s face. Shooting in burst mode on the x100 is a non-starter. When you have finished shooting your burst of three to five shots, the camera locks up until all of the shots have been saved to the memory card. And, wow, is that ever sssssllllllooooooowwwwwwwwww! Also, auto focus is a touch slower than the D700 or D3 (or manually focusing a rangefinder) which throws me off. Finally, I had the shutter sound turned down too much, so I couldn’t hear the camera make an exposure. Given the number of other photographers, cameramen and reporters, it’s a relative noisy environment with the surprising result that I couldn’t hear my own camera’s shutter.

I finished the day feeling like the x100 wasn’t going to work for my government photography, even if the event is outside or in good light. After some thought, it seems like it’s worth another go with the x100 for event photography, but, perhaps not for press conferences. Instead, it might work well for events where I wander around the crowd, as if I am shooting on the street.

Over the weekend, prior to the trying the camera at work, I took it with me around town. Although it wasn’t the best choice for shooting the distant start of a sailboat race, it worked well when I happened upon this couple and their poodle. The race on the horizon added a nice contextual element to the composition.

Yesterday, I took the x100 with me to a great venue for “street” type photography: a crowded beach filled with people enjoying the start of Summer. Here, it was easy to shoot with the time to compose my shots or from the hip.

Using auto focus with the time to frame the shot, the x100 delivers great results.

Using manual focus, setting the distance scale to 2 to 5 metres, and shooting at f8, I also got good exposures. The compositions were a bit more hit and miss, though.

So after one week of shooting with the camera, what do I think? The image quality is on par with the best prosumer DSLRs like the D90. High ISO performance is also very good. Like nearly every review I have read about the camera, there are some usability issues around firmware and menu layout. For the most part, I can work with how the camera operates. So, what is it missing? It’s missing the ability to focus manually. It’s missing the focus patch that every rangefinder camera has. It’s missing being a rangefinder!

To be continued…