Wednesday, September 14, 2011

B&H REVIEW: Fujifilm FinePix X100 (vs Canon G12)

Fujifilm FinePix X100
Fujifilm FinePix X100 (Image Gallery)

UPDATE

You may want to read this article about the replacement X100s instead:

REVIEW: Fujifilm X100s–Real World Sample Images

I’m Johnny Come Lately when it comes to the X100. I had no clue why everyone was so excited about this camera until earlier this year when Scott Kelby mentioned it on his blog. After digging around I quickly learned that this camera was supposed to offer phenomenal image quality but many complained about its performance and usability. Being the geek that I am I had to try this camera out for myself, so I contacted B&H to get one. Of course, I quickly realized that everybody wants one of these so they weren’t in stock, but after a few weeks I got mine to review.

First Impressions


The Dynamic Range is Outstanding

Let me start by saying that all the comments about this being a well built camera are true – WOW! This thing is built like a Rolls Royce which is great for durability, but also means that its so heavy that I nearly mooned everyone when I wore it in my shorts without a tight belt. I’ll gladly put up with its bulk in exchange for the image quality that I experienced with the X100. Simply put, I loved the images this camera makes.

For nearly all of my testing I used the Provia Standard Film Simulation and Dynamic Range 100 with ISO 200 but Auto ISO enabled with the default values. I experimented with nearly option on the camera, but I felt the default settings were good for my audience. Where possible I tried to use the default settings as that represents what many users will do, but I did have to deviate from that occasionally to get the best result.

Overall I tended to prefer the default processing of the RAW images in Lightroom 3.4.1 over the in-camera JPEG’s. I always shot RAW+JPEG (with sRGB color space for quick upload to the web with no modifications) so I could compare on a case by case basis, but I did frequently prefer the raw result.

I found the flash to be about what you’d expect of any built-in camera flash. It worked and got the job done, but it was very cumbersome to do flash exposure compensation which really limited its usefulness. I was unable to test the hot shoe, but loved the fact that a better flash option was possible.

I missed having quick access to the self-timer, but it looks like the X10 will address that issue so hopefully the successor to the X100 will do the same. I also felt that that Auto Exposure (AE) lock really didn’t work well which was frustrating outdoors sometimes.

Perhaps one of my favorite features was hybrid viewfinder which allows for outstanding optical usage as well as showing a simulated view like you’d see on your rear LCD. This was a brilliant design that works very well in practice.

Video Quality

Last, but not least the big shocker was the quality of the video. I expected it to be mediocre, but it honestly felt darn near as good as my Canon 5D Mark II – and was much easier to use. Here’s a short clip that I recorded in my office at night with nothing but the ambient light and glow from my monitors on my face:


Video Demonstration
Play in HD

The Auto Focus Issues


Even my 2 year old son Kai was getting pissed off at the AF system
P mode f/2.8 for 1/140 sec @ ISO 200

Outdoors in good light the AF system performed reasonably well so I had much more hits than misses in both the AF-S and AF-C modes. When it worked, like the shot above, it was great. When it didn’t, it was a massive fail as shown below:


The AF dot was on Kai’s face and he wasn’t moving slow enough that the 1/100 sec shutter speed should have stopped his action. Despite the green confirmation square on his face, the pole in the background somehow ended up getting the focus.

In indoor low-light the problem got much worse especially when in AF-S mode. As you can see in the shot below I took a shot of a static subject with the AF box on the huckleberries sign. I got a green confirmation and I had a solid hold on the camera, but the AF system let me down. While this was a slow 1/30 sec exposure, remember this is a 23mm lens (35mm effective) with camera stabilization that should have got this shot. Given the fact that I was in auto ISO if the AF system thought it couldn’t get the shot it should have crept above the shown ISO 1250 to get the shutter speed needed to get the shot.


Click to see a larger image to see the AF failure
f/4.0 for 1/30 sec at ISO 1250

When I took the same shot again using a different AF point and subject, it nailed the shot:


Click for a larger version to see the AF success on the foreground strawberry
f/4.0 for 1/30 sec at ISO 1000

Now some may want to poke holes in my methodology as they have done with others who have suggested there is an AF system issue. I can say that indoors I had hundreds of cases of failures like the blurry images shown earlier. The problem is real and it isn’t fixed by the 1.10 firmware update I used for this test. I also found the minimum focus distance to be around 2 feet in real world use which was frustrating especially given the short focal length of the lens.


Shutter Priority at 1/1000 sec f/2.0 @ ISO 200 in Burst Mode

In the AF-C mode I wasn’t fond of the center AF point, but if you dialed in the correct  settings and went into burst mode the camera performed reasonably well as shown above.

Long-Term Joy

Despite its quirky AF system and annoying menu system, I found myself falling in love with this camera. The more time I spent with this camera, the more I loved its wonderful LCD and excellent image quality.

Photography is supposed to be both fun and challenging so I found myself quickly getting used to the quirks of this camera and rising to the challenge to get a shot. Here’s a few real-world snapshot images that I took that show off what this extremely well made camera can do:


Aperture Priority - f/4 for 1/950 sec at ISO 200
RAW RAF file exported as JPEG with default
Lightroom 3.4.1 processing results in vibrant colors and sometimes better results than the in-camera JPEG processing


Aperture Priority - f/2 for 1/1000 sec at ISO 200
The bokeh is excellent at f/2


The X100 has the most innovative system for creating a pano that I’ve ever used.
It’s fast, easy and “mostly” works (some subtle merge issues exist)


Aperture Priority - f/16 for 1/42 sec at ISO 200
The image quality and dynamic range frequently blew me away


Program Mode - f/2.0 for 1/30 sec at ISO 200
I found myself eager to snap a shot with this camera whenever I had an idle moment


Aperture Priority - f/2.8 for 1/240 sec at ISO 200
I loved being able to do an offset AF point,
but I missed the auto AF system of my Canon cameras


Aperture Priority - f/11 for 1/30 sec at ISO 1600
High ISO performance was outstanding
and I loved that I could quickly dial in manual changes with hard knobs


Program mode - f/2.5 for 1/120 sec at ISO 200
Full-Auto did a pretty good job of making the right choices to keep up with my toddler,
but the write speed was dog slow so burst mode was required to catch the action.
Fortunately, the burst mode works fairly well thanks to a large internal cache buffer.

I tried to include normal shots that anyone can get with this camera with a basic understanding of its controls. For the most part I was just using aperture priority or program mode and moving the AF point to where I wanted to focus. After that it was point, acquire focus, and shoot.

Fujifilm FinePix X100 vs Canon G12

Mouse over to see an X100 Image, mouse out to see the G12 Image
The G12 is no slouch, but mouse over this image to see how the X100 compares
(G12 OriginalX100 Original)

Canon’s G12 and S95 are the point and shoot camera of choice for many pros. If you’ve read my comparison review you’ll know why – it’s a powerful point and shoot that is easy to use and creates great images. In fact, I’ll go on the record to say that usability-wise the G12 and the s95 both blow the X100 away – there’s not even any comparison. However, when you take dynamic range and image quality into consideration the Canon’s look like toys in comparison. Here’s a great example that demonstrates my point:


(click for a larger image)
Early Golden Hour Shot with X100
Aperture Priority - f/8 for 1/30 sec at ISO 640 – Handheld

(click for a larger image)
Early Golden Hour Shot with G12
Aperture Priority - f/8 for 1/40 sec at ISO 800 – Handheld

‘Nuff said. I love my G12, but its image looks terrible compared to the X100. I literally wanted to sell my G12 after seeing this image. However, when I got home and remembered all the trouble I went through getting my shots with the X100 versus the point and shoot of the G12 I felt better. My favorite shots of the day were taken with the G12 simply because I could literally point and shoot, but the X100 required me to think a lot more in advance to get the results I wanted.

Mouse over to see an G12 Image, mouse out to see the X100 Image
The X100 has a nice bokeh and dynamic range
Mouse over this image to see how the G12 compares
(G12 OriginalX100 Original)

Now some will point out the fact that the X100 offers a “P” mode with auto ISO so you can just point and shoot, but the problem is that the X100 AF system isn’t in the same league as the G12 so you end up spending lots of time acquiring a good focus point. You also wait an insane amount of time every time you take a shot, so the time required to take another shot slows you down (which sometimes can be a good thing).

Mouse over to see an X100 Image, mouse out to see the G12 ImageThe G12 can impress at times,
but mouse over this image to see how the X100 compares
(G12 OriginalX100 Original)

Canon 5D Mark II vs Fujifilm FinePix X100 vs Canon G12

Using a tripod and lining these three cameras up approximately at the same place I tried to do a rough 35mm (effective) comparison. All of the cameras were set to Auto White Balance (AWB) and Aperture Priority (Av for Canon) with the in-camera timer set to 2 seconds. I set a focus point on the word For in the US Citizenship For Dummies book. I tried my best to have the cameras level and on the same plane as the books, but there’s definitely a big margin of error there. I also set all cameras to ISO 200 and their lenses to f/4 so they could all be using roughly the same settings.

You can see the results below and you’ll notice that the images change if you hover over the Canon images. When you mouse over you’ll see the X100 image and when you mouse out, you’ll see the respective Canon image. This allows for fast A/B comparisons of the Canon cameras to the X100.

Mouse over to see the X100 image, mouse out to see the 5D Mark II image
Canon 5D Mark II (AWB)
24-105mm lens at f/4.0 for 1 sec @ ISO 200


Fujifilm FinePix X100 (AWB)
f/4.0 for 2.6 sec @ ISO 200

Mouse over to see the X100 image, mouse out to see the G12 image
Canon G12 (AWB)
f/4.0 for 1 sec @ ISO 200

As you can see from this comparison, the X100 is definitely much better than the G12 but the Canon 5D Mark II’s full sensor is still a far cry better than the X100’s. The X100 does a good job of showing depth of field blur and a dynamic range that is much closer the 5D Mark II than it is the G12.

Click each image to see a larger copy. All images were uploaded to smugmug from the in-camera JPEG’s with no modifications. The 5D Mark II image was 6.2MB, the X100 image was 4.03MB and the G12 was 2.2MB.

More Sample Images

You can find more of my sample images here:

Fujifilm has some excellent sample images here on their extremely well done mini-site. I also recommend the DPReview X100 In-Depth Review for great coverage of this camera as well as more sample images (including scientifically valid comparison images).

Conclusion

The AF system misses indoors made me want to write a really nasty review about this camera, but when I got it outdoors they were fewer and far between. While I really missed a zoom lens and hated being limited to an effective 35mm, I got used to it. I also got used to its somewhat quirky controls and fell in love with the image quality.

Simply put, the X100 is DSLR quality. It’s not “near” DSLR quality, but honest to goodness DSLR quality. It’s dynamic range is outstanding and the low noise found in its highest ISO’s put many DSLR’s to shame (even in its raw files). In fact, when you look at the DxOMark Sensor Scores of the X100 versus my Canon 1D Mark IV, you’ll see they are pretty darn close in performance to each other. Canon has a superior auto white balance system, but image quality and dynamic range wise they are very close.

It’s LCD is as impressive as the best DSLR’s and the iPhone 4 which means you can really see if you have a great shot right away. It’s hybrid viewfinder is brilliant as I loved having a DSLR quality optical view finder sometimes, but other times (especially when the battery was low) it was great to get a “live view” there too.

This camera isn’t for the casual user, but rather the photography geek who puts image quality above all other things. For that user, this camera gets my highest recommendation. For the average consumer I think its quirks would be too frustrating and its price, despite its excellent quality, just seems too steep for what you get. The lack of zoom or an interchangeable lens to address the issue is going to be a big challenge for selling these cameras.

At the end of the day I wish I could afford one of these for myself – I’d love to own it and use it every day. However, I can’t justify the price or live with the quirks in day to day use. I’ll eagerly await to see the X10 and the replacement for the X100 as I can see myself owning either of those one day.

Where to order

Support this blog by clicking this link to order your Fujifilm FinePix X100 from B&H.

Other articles you may enjoy

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these reviews:

Disclosure

I’d like to thank B&H for getting me a loaner X100 for this review when nobody seemed to have any of these cameras in stock. I may get a commission if you make purchases using the links found in this article, but it doesn’t cost you a penny extra. Thanks for your support of this blog by coming back to use my links when making your purchase.

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6 comments:

Jm Martin said...

I'd say your review is pretty much spot on...great camera for an enthusiast, not so great for a casual user. I got one for when I want to take great pictures on vacation but can't justify the weight of the DSLR rig...

H. Lee said...

Great review, and glad you did more real world testing, than shooting test charts! Gene Coulon Park! I take my toddler there all the time. As for cameras, I have the S95, and do enjoy using it, but don't use all it's features. It's nice for a lightweight setup, and for shots to show on FB or the grandparents. But for serious keeper shots worthy of printing, I'll lug around my 60D or 5DII.

The X100 would be a good compliment to a DSLR, but the price is still too high. I think ~$800 is reasonable, but $1200 is a bit much.

Ron Martinsen said...

Thnaks Lee,

I agree with you. I'm hoping the X10 delivers near X100 quality with a more affordable price. However, I'm not sure even an X10 would be good for my wife unless the AF & Buffer flush performance improved drastically.

That said, this is a fun camera that I really hated sending back.

Anonymous said...

Indoors (or even outdoors) if you use the EVF for shots closer than around 2m then your focus issues are gone. This had frustrated me initially but after playing with the camera for a week or so, I found I was loving it and getting reliable shots consistently.

PB

Timothy Lusk said...

Curious, but I've read that the firmware update to the X100 fixed the AF issues. Can you confirm this, as it's still a top contender for me to invest in from a "rangefinder" perspective. ;-)

Ron Martinsen said...

Tim,

That's what people claim, but I find it hard to believe since the newer X-Pro1 (which some Fujifilm fanboys claim has much better AF) has the same issues (although not nearly has bad).

There's no way I'd recommend anyone get a X100 now that the XPro1 is out. Having a fixed prime lens that can't be changed is useless in this day and age. I also prefer the images of the XPro1 which are very good.

Personally my 5DM3 and X10 are a great combo that meet all my needs very well.