Saturday, 7 July 2018

Fujifilm X100F

I waited months for my camera! There seemed to be some supply blockage somewhere but it finally dropped into the retail channels in the UK in the middle of June 2017. The verdict is that as a carry-always 'street' camera it's absolutely fabulous. If premium lens flexibility is what you're after, you'll need to clearly invest in an interchangeable lens/camera solution. I've done all that and have the T-Shirt, now happy to leave that to the 'serious' photographers who need to produce shots for billboards and glossy publicity outlets.

The X100F is gorgeous. Especially in black. The quality of build and materials is beyond premium and reflects the high asking price, which, no doubt, for those less impatient, will come down. (Fortunately, I was able to trade up to this and part-exchange took care of most of the cost). It has a true 'retro' look and feel about it, straight out of the 1960's, with dials and knobs, switches and buttons galore. None of them are anything less than solid and beautifully crafted. In a world gone mad on plastic and less weight, the asking price is worth paying, in my humble opinion, for this alone.

The unit has a fixed lens of course - that's how it's so small on the front - it's an F2 23mm (35mm in old money) lens perfect for general photography, and as a pocketable solution - zoom with your feet! I was previously trying to emulate this pocketability with a Fujifilm X-E1 and pancake 27mm lens, but it still came nowhere near the diminutive size of this. Presumably with a fixed lens, part of the workings of that can be inside the body, which is not possible with interchangeable lenses. I'm a big bloke with big hands but I still find that this falls into the Goldilocks Zone for size/usability.

The lens has a gorgeously clickable (in one third stops) physical aperture ring with 'ears' on each side for easy access and secondary 'control' ring, which is assignable but by default allows 'zoom' within the limitations of the digital facility to do so. Here, Fuji have done something clever, technically, with that digital zoom which makes it actually useful and not rubbish, like most of them. It 'zooms' in steps, out to 50mm then 70mm. The results using this are just fine, but clearly the best quality is using it at the native 35mm.

The lens cap just pulls off. Some have complained about this in terms of it being easy to lose, but I don't really get that. Inside the cap there's a 'felt' inner ring which grips onto the front of the lens barrel firmly and perfectly. You'd have to really be unlucky if brushing past something pulled it off. You're more likely to leave it somewhere. Put it in your pocket! The very front of the lens assembly has a removable ring, which allows tele/wide converter lenses/hood/filters to be employed, if that's what you want. But I guess you get to the point going down that line, when you might as well really have invested in a system camera. That isn't the point of this device.

Above the lens is a xenon flash unit with a guide number of 4.6, which is fine for the odd snap or fill-flash, but fortunately I also have, from a previous combination, the much more powerful, yet dinky EF-X20 with a guide number of 12. Shame that the built-in flash is so close to the lens vertically, but I guess that with so many physical controls and features on a pretty small body, it had to go somewhere!

How lovely to have an optical viewfinder and it's been done so well. It has the optical tunnel as default with digital data overlay (or not) around the fixed white guide reflecting the field of view of the lens. Then with a push of the lever on the front of the camera (retro-style looking like the old self-timer), it changes to a full electronic viewfinder where what you see is what you get from the lens, again with an adjustable plethora of overlay data. One of the tricks of the optical tunnel though is that if you push the lever again, you can get the best of both worlds. Optical tunnel with a small digital view of what the lens is exactly seeing tucked away, bottom right. This is very handy for quick reference and precise focusing in manual mode. As if that wasn't enough, the lever assembly has a front-button which is assignable as one of the many Function buttons littered around the body.

The viewfinder is a delight to use, big enough even for me, needing glasses that even the included dioptre correction facility won't fix. It has a sensor next to it which can be set to fire up the viewfinder when up to the face and switch to the LCD on the back when the face moves away. The viewfinder is bright and vibrant, there's 2000+ dots in there which make sure that streaking with movement is not an issue. But actually, almost all the time, I'm using it with optical. That seems the point to me! The best of all worlds with all the data in there that you could possibly need in both modes.

On the other side at the front is one of two 'command' dials, which not only can be set to pretty much whatever function or control you fancy, but also press-in as one of the Function buttons. Next to this is the grip. It's a little on the small size. But so is the camera. Something has to give! Around the side of the grip is a door which gives access to a remote control socket, mini-HDMI and (woohoo!) MicroUSB charging/data! You don't have to take the battery out to charge it! This is the first camera I've ever owned with this function and it makes a huge difference to charging routines, facilities and opportunities. OK, so USB-C would have been even better, but let's not grumble! The door is firm/hard plastic and snaps shut with a clack.

On the back, we have the other command dial/Function button, auto-focus/auto-exposure lock button for quick re-framing, a View Mode button for switching between LCD screen on/EVF on/eye-sensor, a Back button, Trash button, Menu/OK in a 4-way cluster of Function buttons, a Q button which quickly brings up a customisable array of settings on the screen and new for the X100 line, the same 'nipple' as is present on the X-Pro2, like a joy-stick, which can mainly be used to move the focus point around the screen, but also can be employed to move around menus instead of using the 4-way cluster. All these buttons are nicely crafted, domed and a million miles away from the average flimsy plastic used on cheaper cameras.

The LCD screen is 3" and has just over 1000 dots. It's bright and usable even out in daylight. It's fixed (hurrah - I can't stand flipping/tilting/rotating screens making cameras big and bulky) and sits to the left and underneath all the controls/viewfinder. The display can be controlled for contrast, brightness, etc. and as much or as little information as you want to overlay, level horizon indicator, grid-lines, etc. etc. You name it, really. It's really well thought out and all of that can be replicated in the viewfinder when in EVF mode (and much on OVF, too).

On the other edge, we have the focus selector, Manual, Single-shot, Continuous-shooting. When the M is selected, the lens' control ring automatically switches to be a focus-ring. On the base, we have the tripod socket (which sadly is not quite central to the lens vertically), a loudspeaker (which is not very loud) and another plastic door covering the battery/SDCard compartment. The battery, standard across the Fuji X range, lasts well, grabbing between 300-400 shots depending us usage/modes.

Lastly, we come to the top-plate which squeals retro at you! Another Function button, exposure compensation dial (manual, 3 stops either way in one-third stops, and 5 via custom-setting), old-fashioned shutter-release button with threaded centre for manual remote release, on/off switch around the collar, shutter-speed dial with lift-drop-lock ISO dial embedded and viewed through a top window. A hot-shoe sits fairly central and allows for full TTL flash control and slave. It's the quality again, though, that stands out. The knurled surround of the knobs, the engraved and indented numbers and markings and the classy Fujifilm name. The metal build throughout oozes quality and makes you feel like this is such premium and classy kit.

I have been very pleased with the test shots this camera takes with the 24MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS III sensor. There are lots of film emulation modes to play with including my beloved Velvia (with rich, saturated greens and reds) and the new ACROS which claims to emulate the smoothness of monochrome film. It's been great fun shooting I have enjoyed the images I've taken so far. In the coming weeks and months I look forward to getting out there to get real-world shots and start living with the Fuji.

The menu system is logically laid out and hugely customisable. To get a run-through of all the functions and options and possibilities via that, please do go and search on YouTube or the usual review channels. Many of them have gone through it with a fine tooth comb and it would seem pointless for me to take time replicating. My purpose here was to give a general feel and overview of the hardware and the features which are most stand-out to me. The way in which I intend to use it, the quality and feel that you just don't seem to get elsewhere without spending 3 or 4 times as much cash and the delight I feel at last, having a camera that I will carry with me.

Those of you who know me will also know that we have this constant discussion in the mobile phone world about phones' cameras getting better and replacing the compact camera. Well, spend 15 minutes with this and you'll agree with me that no phone in production comes close to this, in build, function or results. All sensors in all phones are dwarfed by the APS-C.

The other argument is that I won't have it with me, like I will my phone. Well, that's a lifestyle choice and decision each person will take in terms of where their hobby dedication lies. I have always, as long as I can remember, had a camera and mostly had it with me. In the car, maybe, if too big, but a unit like this will be destined for a pocket. Yes, OK, I get it, that most people wouldn't do this, but photography is a hobby and people who pursue it as a hobby do carry their camera. Anyway, each to their own. The point of this high-functioning device to me is the quality and size. It will be in my pocket (OK, coat/gilet pocket) and I will enjoy my (other) hobby!

I will be in the coming weeks and months be posting some shots that I take and exploring the camera and capabilities in more detail along with video shooting etc. Hopefully you'll be able to take a look at those when I do and I'll try to explain as I go how the experience is for me. But for the meantime, here's an album of shots I've taken of the hardware. Hugely recommended for those with a deep enough pocket, currently about £1,300, but look for trade-in deals.

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