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Can one of the most sought-after cameras of 2011 handle a wedding?
I have been yearning for a small camera that I can always have on hand, and while many of the high-end point-and-shots are quite nice, none of them satisfied me. Their shutter lag and small sensor size always left me wanting more.
Years ago, when I was working for the Chicago Sun-Times, I had a Leica M6 and a 35mm f/1.4 lens and plenty of Kodak TriX film. I also had a Canon F1 with an 85mm F1.8 lens. With this gear, I was always ready to capture the decisive moment.
As time and technology advanced, I moved into the digital age and sold my classic rangefinder, but I miss it. I love the intimate feel and subtle sound of the rangefinder camera. I still admire and love Leica rangefinders, but I can’t justify $7K for an M9 body. Along comes the Fujifilm X100 with all the features of a classic rangefinder coupled with today’s modern technology. It hits that sweet spot with an APS-C size CMOS sensor with 12.3 million pixels and a fixed Fujinon 23mm F2 lens (equivalent to 35mm on a 35mm sensor). Best of all, it costs far less than a Leica M9. At $1,199.00, to me the X100 is worth every penny.
No shutter lag!
First, let's take a look at features that, for me, are key. First off, there's NO Shutter lag (!), and I can shoot comfortably at high ISOs like 1600 and 2000—settings I wouldn’t dream of using with any other small camera. The optical viewfinder is clear and bright, and allows you to see the entire field of view with the conventional bright frame that outlines the field view of the fixed lens.
Looking through the rangefinder brings me back to my days of shooting my M6. The X100 has an awesome modern twist: You can instantaneously switch between the Optical Viewfinder (OVF) and the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF): A flick of the Viewfinder switch lever lets you can toggle back and forth. The EVF allows you to see exactly what the lens is seeing, and is great when you shoot close-ups.
If you have never shot with a rangefinder, you might not be familiar with optical parallax. The parallax is the slight difference between what you see through the rangefinder and what the lens sees. Fujifilm has overcome this difference with the Electronic View Finder (EVF). It only took me a few frames to remember how much I love the optical viewfinder, but I did find it very useful to switch to the EVF.
No matter which viewfinder you choose to use, you have the ability to activate complete information overlays which display mode, shutter speed, aperture, meter, metering pattern, picture style, frames remaining on the SD card, and size and quality of the file being recorded. There is even an electronic level for those of us who tend to drift a little (not naming any names here, but I tend to lean to the left). There is even a depth of field scale located inside the viewfinder. All of this information is laid out in a clean, non-distracting way (although if you turn on every bit of information possible it can become difficult to see the subject you’re trying to photograph).
You also have the option of framing your pictures on the large 2.8-inch LCD monitor, and yes, it even shoots HD video at 720p, 24 fps.
The Fujifilm X100 in the real world
Now, on to my experience using the Fuji X100 on several real-world assignments, especially where I used it to photograph a wedding. The camera has a few quirks that I feel can be addressed with firmware updates, but nothing so serious that it would prevent me from loving this camera. The menu structure is far different from what I’m used to; My Canon 1D Mark IV’s menu seems so intuitive compared to the menu structure of the X100. It’s like getting a new car and figuring out how to set the clock, what combination of buttons control what function. I wish there was a lock feature. Some of the dials and settings can be easily, unintentionally changed. That said, after one day of shooting with the X100, I had the controls mastered.
I do love the fact that you have the ability to shoot RAW full time. By default, the camera is set to capture in JPEG Fine and by depressing the RAW button on the rear of the camera you can switch to RAW capture for one frame. I prefer the dynamic range RAW has to offer when shooting the fast-paced unpredictability of a wedding. I have used this camera on a wedding, a fashion shoot, and final dress fitting and based on my experience, I will be using it on all of my weddings this year. All of the photos illustrating this article were shot at the wedding with the X100.
Did I mention it is stealthy? The X100 has a Silent Mode, which came in handy while photographing a Jewish wedding recently. The Rabbi was giving a blessing over the bride and groom under the Chuppah (wedding canopy), and I was able to stand directly behind the Rabbi capturing those moments without notice, something I wouldn’t dream of doing with my big, noisy DSLR.
The lens is sharp and fast, and with an aperture of f/2 you can create an image with a sweet bokeh effect, blurring the background so it's buttery soft while the subject remains tack-sharp. I used autofocus for 95% of everything I’ve shot and I was impressed with how responsive and accurate the X100 is. Even in low light the lens focuses quickly and quietly.
You can switch to full manual control of focus and exposure. However, the “manual” focus means that as you turn the focus ring it activates an electronic signal; the camera responds by focusing electronically. I had trouble getting used to this and wish the lens had straightforward mechanical manual focus. It also has a sweet Macro feature allowing you to shoot as close as four centimeters from the subject. This is where the EVF comes in handy.
The camera is capable of shooting at 5 fps in burst mode, depending on how large the files are. During burst mode, Images would pop up for review as the camera was writing the files, which I found distracting. I tried disabling this feature, yet the preview images continued to display. I found single-frame capture more to my liking.
The JPEG’s that come out of the camera are sweet! The images accompanying this article include some JPEGs, but are mostly RAW images that were processed using Aperture with the latest update for the Fuji X100 RAW converter. I found Aperture more intuitive than the software that ships with the camera.
There is an onboard flash that works surprisingly well for it’s size, but keep in mind it’s only good for about 10 feet. Fuji does offer other flash options, including off-camera flash where the built in flash can be the master and off-camera flash would be the slave.
Conclusion and recommendation
The beauty of the X100 is how small, sharp, stealthy, and responsive it is. I can think of many situations where the silent mode will allow me to capture moments I would dare not think of shooting and it’s just a fun camera to shoot with. No one seems to look twice at you when you’re shooting with this classic rangefinder style camera. I had many people ask me if it was my father’s camera or an antique. It doesn’t draw the attention a pro level DSLR does.
This is going to be my all-around camera, the one I will take to family events and for walks with my bride. By no means is it a replacement for the Leica M9 or would I dare compare the Fujinon 23mm f/2 lens to the Summilux 35mm f/1.4, but bang for the buck you cannot beat this camera.