Is the Fuji X100 the camera Leica M photographers and rangefinder fanatics have been waiting for?

Post update April 7, 2016: Looking back on this post it’s hard to believe it’s been a little over 5 years. A lot has changed. I did buy the X100 and had a love/hate relationship with it. Eventually it became a shelf queen. If was just too frustrating to use. Eventual firmware updates made the X100 more useable. I eventually succumbed to the lure of the Leica with the M-E and eventually the fabulous M262. Fuji, in their third iteration of the X100 with the T model, got almost everything right. Depending on my needs my two main cameras today are the Leica M262 or the X100T.

Fuji shocked the photo world with their announcement of the X100 at Photokina on September 20, 2010. Many photographers had given up hope of seeing an affordable digital camera with an optical viewfinder and familiar controls like those found in the Leica M series cameras or the Konica Hexar, to name just two.

I want a Leica M experience, but updated for the 21st century. I have far too many problems with the Leica M8 and M9, from cost to the technology, to purchase one. How hard was this to figure out? We rangefinder fanatics have been yammering about a camera like this for years now. A real aperture ring and shutter speed dial. How novel.

If Fuji doesn’t drop the ball on this camera, it has an instant classic on their hands, or at least a camera that could set things in the right direction for other manufacturers to emulate. For some it will be their primary camera. For others it will be a secondary camera. For me a 35mm FOV camera is perfect. It’s an extremely versatile field of view and kudos to Fuji for figuring this out.

The X100 appears to be big enough for stability and small enough to say “take me everywhere.” The 3X neutral density filter will allow wide open photographs in bright sunlight. A movie mode is a must today and the X100 will be able to shoot 1280 x 720 pixelsHD video at 24 frames per second with stereo sound recording. I see this camera as a visual diary camera. The iPhone can now do the same thing as the X100 but at some level the experience of using a camera comes into play. When it comes to sensors, size does matter.

I still haven’t found any information on what kind of shutter is in the X100.

We can argue if there is a large enough market to make it an economically viable camera, but that’s not my interest. This is the camera Leica should have have been working on the last few years. Leica doesn’t have what it takes from every conceivable avenue to produce this camera alone. Maybe they could have pulled it off by partnering with Panasonic. With Nikon’s lineage in the form of the S series rangefinders, it would not have been as much of a shock to see this camera come from them. But could this camera escape from Nikon’s marketing department without being ruined? The initial specs of the X100 seem to suggest this camera is being designed and built by photographers for photographers:

  • A real shutter speed dial on the top deck and aperture ring on the lens.
  • A fixed focal length fast 35mm/f2 FOV lens.
  • A sensor with just enough pixels (12MP) that should keep noise and file sizes down.

Viewing through a rangefinder is a different experience from viewing through the tunnel of an SLR. While the X100 is not a true rangefinder camera, that’s missing the point of how we see photographically though these type of indirect viewing cameras. This is the sole reason I’m excited to see this camera come to market.

Famed National Geographic photographer William Albert Allard explains the differences between seeing with a Single Lens Reflex and a rangefinder camera better than anything else I’ve come across:

“With an SLR, you are looking at your subject through the optic; you are literally seeing what the picture is going to look like. You have a device that will show you your depth of field, the area that will or will not be in critical focus. This is particularly true for me, because I’m often shooting at the maximum aperture of the lens, the aperture you actually view through. This helps you see how areas of color are affected. It can tell you if that blue has a hard edge, or if it’s somewhat soft and blended into something else.”

“When you look through a rangefinder, though, everything is sharp. The rangefinder window is by and large a focusing and framing device that lets you pick a part of the subject you want to be in critical focus. The only real way you can tell how the rest of the picture is going to look is by experience, or maybe a quick look at the depth-of-field scale on the lens itself. I think the rangefinder frees you up in a certain way. You are probably going to work a little looser in a structural sense, because everything is clean, clear and sharp. When I look through an SLR, I think I’m a little bit more aware of compositional elements, of the structure of the image. With a rangefinder camera, I’m seeing certain spatial relationships.”

– Page 41 of “William Albert Allard The Photographic Essay.”

My first experience using a rangefinder camera was in college while taking a documentary photo class. Up to that time I had only used SLR cameras. I splurged on a Leica M2 with a 35/2 Summicron. I shot the entire project, except for a handful of images, with that one lens and the M2. I always felt this image defined my turning point in seeing with a rangefinder:

Columbus, Ohio 1986

Like Allard mentions, I felt the rangefinder freed me up in my seeing in a way an SLR could not.

Framing accuracy has always been the shortfall of rangefinder cameras. Fuji’s unique hybrid viewfinder is a clever solution for times you need absoute framing accuracy:

The high-resolution LCD viewfinder with 100% coverage lets you preview exposure, depth-of-field and white balance as you shoot. When shooting macro shots from as close as 10cm, it provides a parallax-corrected view for easy, accurate framing. After the shot, you also can immediately see the results.

The X100 has a .50 magnification viewfinder. A Leica MP with a .58 viewfinder is perfect for those who wear eyeglasses. Hopefully the slightly less magnification in the X100 isn’t too much while giving the room needed to see all the information available outside the frame lines.

Now we’ve seen the prototype and are waiting until March 2011, when the camera will supposedly debut at the 1,000 Euro/Dollar price point, there are still items on the camera I hope will change with the production model.

  • Do away with the RAW button and change this into a direct ISO button.
  • Add a filter thread to the lens.
  • Make DNG RAW files an option

Many people are disappointed this is a fixed lens camera. I can see why Fuji went this route. It must be less costly not to deal with adding the complexity of a mounting system and viewfinder changes. As a proof of concept camera mating the lens to a sensor tweaked for that lens should aid in improved image quality.

As crazy as this may sound, if Fuji released a version of this camera in a 50-60mm FOV to compliment the X100, I could see buying that one as well. Those two focal lengths are all I really want for how I shoot. If I am seriously shooting for the day I would normally take two Leica M bodies, one with a 50 and a 35 on the other. It’s must faster to switch cameras than lenses.

Lastly, this camera must focus quickly in AF mode and have a very short shutter response time. A good manual focus system is a huge bonus.

Fuji X100 iPhone case

How excited are people about this camera. Does the fact someone is making an iPhone case out of the X100 mean anything?

One thought on “Is the Fuji X100 the camera Leica M photographers and rangefinder fanatics have been waiting for?

  1. This is an excellent bloody article. Extremely well written and I must say, captures my thoughts precisely with regards to what I am looking for in this camera. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *