Another Viewpoint of the Fuji X100 by Steve Foon

1x1.trans Another Viewpoint of the Fuji X100 by Steve Foon1x1.trans Another Viewpoint of the Fuji X100 by Steve Foon

1x1.trans Another Viewpoint of the Fuji X100 by Steve Foon

Eric’s note: Steve Foon, a street photographer from the Bay Area, recently offered to write this comparison of the Fujifilm FinePix X100 versus the Leica M9 (which he owns as well). Read his thoughts on the camera and how it stacks up against the M9! 

Every photographer has a style of photography that just calls their name. Be it wildlife, sports, landscape, architectural, portraitures, models, etc… my personal calling is Street Photography.

Each genre has certain requirements that will demand that a certain photographic tool be used. Let me clarify that you don’t really have to have a specific photographic tool to be able to shoot the genre you like. It’s just that certain cameras just seem to fit the job better than others.

1x1.trans Another Viewpoint of the Fuji X100 by Steve Foon

Among Street Photographers, rangefinder cameras seem to be the tool of choice.

The Leica M, being currently the only digital rangefinder on the market, is the standard that all others are measured by.

I won’t go into details about the beauty of the Leica M, there are tons of excellent reviews and articles including a couple I wrote as well.

For my style of Street Photography, I need to be quiet and as invisible as possible.

The camera just has to be able to capture “the decisive moment” at my command and to be able to do so with allowing me as much control of my camera without a lot of messing around with menus and buttons.

This is where the Leica M shines.

Now that I’ve set the stage…

This is about the new kid on the block. The camera that has peaked a lot of interest in the photographic world… the Fuji X100.

1x1.trans Another Viewpoint of the Fuji X100 by Steve Foon
(Image by Simon Wallerstedt)

I’ve had this camera for about a month and here’s my impression of the camera.

The Fuji X100 may look like a Leica M or any rangefinder…. but it is NOT A RANGEFINDER camera.

The best way to describe the X100 is two fold.
Consider the Leica M as a good solid manual transmission car and the X100 as a car with a paddle shifter.

OR

The X100 is a modern digital camera where instead of having aperture, shutter speed, EV settings and focus hidden in some obscure menu, those controls are placed just like cameras of old.

Since the Leica M is the standard, I’ll do some comparisons using what I need in my style of Street Photography.

QUIET

Although the Leica can be put in a discrete mode, where the shutter is reset after you release the shutter button, there is a distinctive sound of a picture being taken.

1x1.trans Another Viewpoint of the Fuji X100 by Steve Foon

99% of the time, this is not a problem. However, there are times where I need to take a shot in a quiet place, such as a deserted area or in a bookstore.

This is where the X100 wins.

You put the camera in quiet mode (the shutter sounds are electronically made) and you can’t hear the shutter fire at all. If you put your ear close to the camera you will hear a very faint “tick” sound when the shutter is release.

FEEL

For me, the controls and how they operate is part of the satisfaction I derive from using a camera while making a photograph.

The Leica is the hands-down winner.
Every item moves with precision and just the right amount of feedback.
The only complaint here has to do with the on/off switch. Too easy to move past the single shot mode and enter the continuous shot mode.

The X100, has feel but it’s somewhat disconnected.
The aperture ring is good but it doesn’t have the positive feel of a Leica.
The focus ring…. Forget it. It’s a never ending electronic knob.
The EV knob… too easily bumped.

IMAGE QUALITY – Overall

No comparison. The Leica with a full frame sensor and the outstanding Leica lenses. Winner.

This doesn’t mean the X100 is garbage. In fact, there are certain qualities here that the X100 has an edge on the Leica.

IMAGE QUALITY -High ISO.

The Leica M just doesn’t handle very high ISO well.
Normally I am pushing it when I dial past ISO 1000 and taking a chance on image quality at ISO 2000.

However, use Lightroom or Photoshop and most of the “noise” damage can be taken care of.

The X100, I’ve shot images at ISO 5000 and they are equal to what the Leica will do at ISO 1650.

Why is this a factor?
If you shoot street and find that you need to do a lot of “shooting from the hip” or just want to have the camera ready, you’ll find that your f/stop is around f/8 or f/11.

Needless to say, that means typically you will have a slow shutter speed that will cause a lot of motion blur.

To counter this, a high ISO allows me to do the old “f/8 and be there” axiom while being able to still have a fast shutter.

WEIGHT

Having injured myself after carrying a Nikon D3S and all it’s lenses around, the Leica and Fuji are just great.

I will give a slight nod to the Leica. The weight and balance seem just right in my hands. The X100 is just a few ounces lighter and may be easier to lug around.

The extra weight just seems to help with balancing and holding the camera steady.

1x1.trans Another Viewpoint of the Fuji X100 by Steve Foon

BATTERY LIFE

The Nikon D3S can go for well over a thousand shots on a single charge. Both the Leica and Fuji are about the same at around 300 shots per charge.

No big deal, just carry some extra batteries if you plan of a heavy shooting day.

VIEWFINDER

This is the big story for the X100.
It has the traditional optical viewfinder (OVF) and electronic viewfinder (EVF).
I’m not going to go into a lot of detail or description about this – since there are tons of reviews about this feature.

Does it work?
Yes

Do I like it?
Yes.

I like the details and information the viewfinder provides me over the Leica.
The EVF, adds so much more to the experience and it is a good tool to have – it’s not just some gimmicky gee wiz bang item.

STEALTH FACTOR

Since the X100 and Leica M look about the same and they way you handle the camera to take a photo, it’s about a tie. A nod to the Leica because it’s all black while the X100 is traditional silver and black.

I do the typical Street Photographer thing and use gaffer’s tape over the logo’s and insignia.

1x1.trans Another Viewpoint of the Fuji X100 by Steve Foon

White lettering and a red dot on black stands out and draws attention.

THE FEAR FACTOR

Both camera’s are not weather sealed unlike some DSLR’s.
I’ve gotten very nervous about using a non-weather sealed camera in poor conditions.

Considering the X100 cost about 1/10 of the Leica, I am more likely to feel less nervous using it in all conditions.

The fear factor is that if someone KNOWS what a Leica is and is out for no good OR if I am going into some unknown area, I will probably not have the Leica on me.

1x1.trans Another Viewpoint of the Fuji X100 by Steve Foon

MACRO and VIDEO

Video isn’t a big deal for me so it’s a nice thing to have. X100 has it. Leica M doesn’t.

Macro. Nice to be able to get close to shoot. X100 has it. Leica M doesn’t unless you buy and carry another lens and viewfinder adapter.

BUILT IN ND FILTER

I’ve put it to use in bright sunlight and it’s great to have. X100 has it. Leica M doesn’t.

MENUS

The Leica is just perfect in terms of simplicity and ease of use.
The X100, get the programmers to follow what photographers are telling them.

I’ve read so many articles and blogs that it makes it sound like the X100 menu system is the absolute worst on the planet. It’s not great but it’s not terrible either.

Can it be improved upon?
Fuji… are you listening???

CONCLUSION

I’m fortunate that currently I am able to have some nice gear to shoot with.
The Leica M is still the standard of Street Photography in my opinion.
However, the X100 isn’t to be dismissed or looked down upon.

In fact, it’s just like what the Japanese car manufacturers did to the German cars when Lexus, Infinity and Acura came on the scene. They forced innovation, made the products less expensive and pushed the bar upwards.

The X100 will open the doors to many photographers who wanted a camera with a usable viewfinder and form factor + looks of a rangefinder.

The X100 sells around $1200.
The Leica M with a 35mm lens will easily reach $10,000.

BOTTOM LINE – The X100 is a good Street Photographer’s camera and will give you a tool that will enable you to create the magic we all seek.

For those of you who are shooting with the X100– how do you like it and what would you change about it? Leave your thoughts below! 

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  • http://twitter.com/Gazonthestreet Gazonthestreet

    Great real world comparison Steve and you are a fortunate fella to own both excellent cameras. I own the Fuji but have also used a M6 and the M9 in the past (borrowed). My main criticism of the X100 is the manual focus which as you say is rubbish, with it’s ‘fly by wire’ control. I find for my street work I set the aperture to f11, set the camera to manual focus and zone focus. Occasionally I’ll use the AFL button to ‘lock on’ my target if I have time. Other than that I agree the menu could do with simplifying and I would like the dedicated RAW button to be be able to be assigned to another function if desired. Apart from that it’s the best street camera I have owned so far!!

  • http://twitter.com/Myrddon Henning Nilsen

    I initially bought the X100 as a cheap way into the “feel” of rangefinder photography, and I just didn’t find it.
    While I loved the high ISO, color rendition and silent shutter, I could manually focus faster at f1.4 on a EVIL camera than the X100 could auto focus. This was the deal breaker for me.
    After around 2-3 weeks of the fuji x100 I sold it and bought an M8. And I’m glad I did. Even though the M8 is inferior in every technical aspect.

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Interesting story Henning. X100 is definitely not the best for manual focusing, but zone focusing works quite well on it. What lens are you using on the m8 ?

    • Steve Foon

      I did something similar Henning. I went with the X1 for the same “feel of a rangefinder” and the Leica experience. Thought about the viewfinder but realized an M8 is a rangefinder and will be a better buy in the long run. Just make sure you get the IR filter (so the color black is not purple).

      An advantage with the M8 is the APS-C sensor. Some may scoff at a cropped sensor…. but it does extend the range of a lens and there have been times where I wanted the extra reach.

      If a mint M8.2 comes my way…. I may make a move.

  • Kaushal

    I recently got my x100 and have fallen in love with it. I shoot in all manual mode and fre focus. I find DOF is good even at 5.6. Shoot in RAW and convert to b&w in photoshop. Don’t hesitate to shoot from f2 to f16 and happily go up to ISO 3200. Miss a few shots due to slow start up but can live with that…just keeps me more alert to anticipate images.
    Have posted some of my images at http://kaushalpar.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/mumby-the-sea/ where you can see the capability of this camera.

  • NirAlon

    Tomorrow I will take my 5D out of the closet for the first time in about 4 months for a shoot in a theatre, where I need the reach of longer lens. Otherwise, it’s all X100!

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think it is fair to compare the X100 to an M9 $10,000 camera and lens setup. That is like comparing a Fiesta to a Ferrari or a cubic zirconia to a diamond. What??? Sure the more newly designed X100 has a few things Leica could use to update now or integrate IF they wanted to jeopardize their simpler, classic design but there’s really no contest. Now comparing to the Leica X1 would have been more fair and I hear in that instance the X100 wins. Even neater, it now has a little brother, the X10 coming out soon. X100 rumors? A fully auto X200 and an interchangeable lens X300. Steve’s bottom line though was a fair assessment in spite of the contest.

    • Steve Foon

      I agree with you Isoterica.

      Comparing a camera that costs at least 10x as much isn’t too fair….

      What got me to write the comparison is that I kept on getting approached by people who actually asked how this compares to the rangefinder Leica M. Mainly because it looks like a rangefinder.

      I could have made this a three way comparison as well since I’ve also owned an X1 (before it got traded for the M8 and later the M9).

      My big complaint of the X1 has to do with focus speed. The manual focus at the was really bad – now tremendously improved with the new firmware. (I was actually lucky enough to load the updated software on a demo X1 at a local dealer). You can set the hyperfocal (pre-focus) manually. Auto focus was ok if you have people who will stand still.

      ISO on the X1 is better. ISO 3200 is good but I wouldn’t push it above ISO2000.

      Image quality. WOW !! on the X1. Color rendering in both RAW and JPEG was just amazing and the Leica lens – although just f/2.8 is still fast enough. Clarity was just amazing. Slightly “cool” in color temperature versus the “warmer” look on the X100.

      What stopped me on the X1 the 2nd time around is that I just don’t like taking pictures by holding the camera away from my face – like most point and shoots. The optional viewfinder is beautiful but at $350 on top of a $1999 price tag for the X1 + $100 for the hand grip. We’re looking at $2450. Double that of the X100. I’m now in the M8 territory.

      X1 in my opinion is an excellent travel camera for those who like to take landscapes and stills that are exactly that… still or moving very slowly.

      The X1 is quiet like the X100.

      Controls on the X1 is good but it too has the problem the X100 has, the top dials are easily bumped.
      Aperture is controlled on the top versus on the lens on the X100.
      Focus is with the dial on the back of the camera.

      For me… perhaps I’m just old fashioned and traditional. Focus and aperture on the ring of the lens.
      I shoot a Nikon D3s when I photograph models and I’ve pretty much gone 100% (actually 75%) towards Zeiss lenses…. one of the reasons…. controls on the lens and a lovely machined feel to the focus and aperture.

      As a Street Photographer’s camera…. it will work but for me, I would have to make too many compromises.

      At $1200 for the X100, it leaves me room for another Zeiss or Leica glass in the future.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for this Steve! You’re right people seem to think the x100 is a rangefinder and want to know how it compares to the big boy on the block, Leica. Only it isn’t a range finder and there is really no way a 1000$ camera could compare to a 10,000$ camera. Really I am for putting them both in a blender so that the Leica has the x100 viewfinder, you have interchangeable lenses [x300 rumor], the price is more accommodating.. I had wanted the X1 when it came out and tried to win it in a few contests because I still could not afford it.. x100 is closer.. but for now I think I will stick to the cameras I have. Thanks again :)

      • Set128

        Steve, have you updated to the latest X100 firmware version? Does it fix some of the issues you were talking about?

      • Set128

        Steve, have you updated to the latest X100 firmware version? Does it fix some of the issues you were talking about?

    • Tom

      Another pointless response. What has “fairness” got to do with it? Both cameras are best suited to the same style of photography and similar subjects. A lot of us are thinking of buying one or the other. Of course they can be compared.

      You would not compare a Fiesta to a Ferrari, because they have different uses, but you might well compare a Ferrari with a much cheaper, less well made, but in other ways equally capable Lotus.

  • Ed

    I have my X100 for about two months now. The image quality is astounding for what is a high end compact. I have read a fair few reviews and articles and agree with most posters that it has it’s flaws, but these can be worked around. A solid firmware update could take this camera into the most astounding camera in it’s price range. I hope Fuji get on this sooner rather than later.
    What i do love is how, even though Fuji insist that this is not a rangefinder, it is still compared to the legendary M9, over and over again. Think about that, a compact (albeit a high end compact) being compared to the Leica. Image quality has been described as comparable at higher ISO ranges (and high iso is where the camera shines!) this is an amazing accomplishment for Fuji. Obviously the Leica will win out, but the X100 is not being dismissed outright.

    And it is a looker!!

  • http://www.boliston.co.uk boliston

    Things that would make me want to buy the X100 more:
    1) 28mm equivalent lens (Like the Ricoh GRD3) as I find 35mm slightly too narrow
    2) Decent manual focus (ie good quality distance & dof scale on the lens barrel)

  • Wassim

    I own the X100 since its release, i rarely if ever carry my SLR around these days. Excellent picture quality. I shot with an M9 before and i know the thrill of the range finder manual focus and leica’s superb lenses. The X100 is not a cheap Leica, it’s a different species and as you mentioned it surpasses the Leica in some important aspects.

  • Bo Lorentzen

    Great write Steve. I actually agree with Henning in that the X100 is not a “rangefinder” camera. But that said it have some things it do so much better than other digitals in that price range.
    A fairly accurate viewfinder. Great for quickly framing images on the street.
    Manual focus which we all agree suck, BUT it works great for scale focusing on the street.
    Oh and being able to dial the compensation on the dial… while seeing the result, marvelous.
    In some ways the x100’s weaknesses is also it’s strengths when it come to street photography. It do exactly what it need to do, and it manages to not have a bunch of other function in the way of the operation on the street, in the end a camera is valuable for a particular style of photography, based on how well it fits into the overall picture. I am sure we will see this camera be the base of lots of great new images.

  • Kim Smith

    Re Fear Factor–I am in love with my x100–even more so since I left it overnight outdoors, during a HURRICANE (hopefully I will never again make such a stupid mistake). I found it sitting atop the table where it was left, in a puddle of water. Very carefully dried it out over a four day period. Works perfectly and has for several weeks–http://kimsmithdesigns.wordpress.com/

  • pl capeli

    all solid points, a review that “gets it ” and ive read many that dont.

    about the macro…wide open it seems the lens is weak and glowy , stopping down helps, but macro isnt an x 100 strong point ….about manual focus and the ring , its the most misunderstood feature of the x
    to 100…..it actuallyworks well and needs the very fine pitch to allow very fine adjustments

    fyi , to mf with the x 100 use the ael afl button to quickly bring the focus computer into play, then enlarge the central focus patch and mf to youir hearts content , the x100 has the best focus by wire implimentation on the planet.. but it needs to be learned …if you try to mf any other way its just silly
    and will take dozens of turns

  • David

    It is unfair to pit the x100 against the M9. The leica x1 against the FF x100 maybe but definitely not the leica m9. To which your comparison review is completely bollocks.

    • Tom

      This is a ridiculous comment. A lot of photographers want a smallish camera, with a moderate WA lens that offers exceptional image quality. Both these cameras fit that description. So it is perfectly fair to compare them. I have shot film with a Leica M6 and 35mm Summicron for years, but I don’t really want to splash pout the price of a Leica M9. I have been using a Canon G12 for a few months and it is a wonderful camera, with some great features (like the tilt/swivel screen) and excellent auto-exposure. But the image quality just does not match up to what I get on film with the M6, it is slow in operation, and the viewfinder shows so little of what appears on the image that it is virtually useless, so I cannot work the way that I like best. The Fuji X100 could be just the camera for me.

  • LocationStock.com

    I like everything in x100 camera except AF speed and Battery life time. Cheers !

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  • Morten Albek

    Two months with the X100 makes me wondering if I ever will have another camera? I will, probably. But this tool does it so well, with such great image quality, that I easily live with the minor menu irritations coming around. I maybe newer will go for the Leica, because this camera does the same. I see no difference. Superb image quality, also at high ISO settings, and the camera (black version) is so nice.

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