The X100 wasn’t the first compact camera to include a truly large sensor: Sigma gets the credit for that, but it was the first to get enough right to really grab the attention of photographers.
We’d been asking manufacturers to build a small camera with a big sensor for a number of years, so you can imagine the buzz in the office when Fujifilm showed up in London with a pre-production X100 and asked ‘Is this what you meant?’
The company had recognized that its most successful niche (the S-series superzooms) was becoming a commodity market, with most customers caring more about how many ‘X’ the zoom range was, rather than which brand name was printed on the front. So it set out to build a product to appeal to serious photographers.
Its response was to create a retro-looking camera that recreated the look and concept of the fixed-lens rangefinders cameras that sold so well throughout the 60s and 70s. But the X100 wasn’t a rangefinder, instead incorporating a clever ‘hybrid’ viewfinder that let you switch between an optical and digital preview, depending on what you were trying to shoot. And photographers loved it.
|The X100’s fixed 35mm equivalent lens, relatively small size and easy-to-access external controls make for an exceptional ‘walk around’ second camera. Photo by Carey Rose|
The camera’s size and styling meant it immediately caught the photographic imagination. The fixed lens design meant that users of other system didn’t have to worry about lens compatibility or changing systems, it was another tool that did a different thing, which helped it find space in the camera bags of all kinds of photographers.
In the wake of this success, we’ve seen several other manufacturers try to burnish their photography credentials by introducing large sensor, prime lens cameras. Sony went full frame with the capable but quirky RX1, Nikon followed Fujifilm’s lead and stuck its consumer compact branding on the 28mm-equiv Coolpix A and Ricoh gave its GR series a new lease of life by putting an APS-C sensor inside, but none of these have hit the combination of features, price, capability and downright desirability that the X100 achieved.
That said, at launch, the camera was more cool concept than polished product. It was slow, it was full of maddening quirks and it needed to be switched to Macro mode at exactly the focus distance you wanted to use it at. In fact it was so far from the level of refinement that we were used to that we included a whole page listing the bugs, quirks and idiosyncrasies at the end of our review.
And, to its credit, Fujifilm listened. In a series of firmware updates the company not only smoothed-over a host of the camera’s most annoying rough edges, but then went about adding features.
It’s hard to remember, now, but as recently as 2010 it was very rare for camera makers to do anything beyond fixing critical bugs with firmware. A combination of not wanting to acknowledge any shortcomings and of wanting to divert development resources to the next project meant that cameras didn’t tend to get much better after launch.
|Even in the troubled early days, the files – and especially the colors – from the X100 were as handsome as the camera itself. Photo by Carey Rose|
Fujifilm rode-out the internet sniping about ‘releasing unfinished products’ and established a model of mid-life improvements and updates that is being increasingly adopted across the industry. More than three years after the X100’s launch, Fujifilm continued to offer not only autofocus improvements but also additional features such as focus peaking that hadn’t even been considered at the camera’s original launch.
And there are some aspects of the camera that firmware could never fix. The manual focusing remains vague and fussy, the lens’ otherwise excellent performance drops off significantly at close distances and the focus mechanism, which moves a relatively large, heavy focusing group, is never going to be ‘snappy.’ Yet the X100 and its successors remain versatile, likeable cameras.
A camera to love
Our original (initial firmware) review concluded that ‘the X100 is too flawed to quite earn our outright recommendation, but if you’re prepared to tolerate its foibles as the price to pay for its superb image quality, it’s a camera you can easily grow to love.’
And it’s that last sentiment that captures the X100 perfectly. In spite of all of its flaws, several members of DPR staff went out and bought the camera and there’s barely a member of staff since who hasn’t owned at least one camera from the X100 series.
|Onward and upward – though Fujifilm has been busy keeping the X100 line up to date, we’ll always have a soft spot in our hearts (and for some of us, a space in our camera bags) for the original. Photo by Carey Rose|
In the six years since the launch of the original X100, retro design has become commonplace, large sensors in small cameras have become ubiquitous but the X100’s combination of concept, capability and style still help it stand out. For all its faults, its status as a classic, rather than a camera designed to resemble one, looks assured.
Do you own any X100-series cameras? Will you be buying the new X100F? Let us know in the comments!
Original Fujifilm FinePix X100 Sample Gallery
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