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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Do I like it?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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???
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!