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First Look: Fujifilm FinePix X100

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First Look: Fujifilm FinePix X100

4:52 /

If you have the bucks and you want the best photo quality possible, the Fujifilm FinePix X100 delivers. But definitely try before you buy to make sure the focusing systems won't make you crazy.

Hi, I'm Lori Grunin, Senior Editor for CNET, and this is the Fujifilm FinePix X100. From a market standpoint, the pricey X100 is a bit of an oddball. It delivers stellar photo quality and disappointing performance in a tanklike semi-compact body with a cool but frequently frustrating operational design, all for a high but justifiable price. On one hand, it's undeniably well-built. It's got a lovely retro design. It's comfortable to grip and shoot. I was initially skeptical about the hybrid viewfinder, which via this little lever, toggles between an old-fashioned reverse Galilean that's been updated for the 21st century using an electronic information overlay, and a regular EVF. But the viewfinder is big and bright and it eventually won me over. The viewfinder quality is doubly important given how disappointing the LCD is-- its low resolution and difficult to see in the bright sunlight. In addition to a great manual aperture dial on the lens, the X100 has shutter-speed and exposure compensation dials on top. Despite the retro look of the front and top, the back has the typical layout of a digital camera. On the left side, it has switches for selecting among manual, single-shot autofocus and continuous AF. And the AE button brings up metering choices. And I've said this before, I love a raw override button. But, I loathe the command dial/navigation control. It's nearly impossible to press the menu button without hitting one of the other buttons and vice versa. Constantly having to switch between macro and normal shooting mode using that control made me want to scream. And there are just a few too many things for which you have to use the menu system. It's great that the camera has a built-in neutral density filter, dynamic range and film-simulation presets, and the ability to configure three sets of custom settings, but you can only map one of them to the Function button. That is, if you want to change it from the default ISO sensitivity mapping. Aside from what I've already mentioned, there aren't a lot of glitzy features, just basics-- given its price, like the ability to adjust color, sharpness, highlight tone, shadow tone, and noise reduction. Oddly, it incorporates Motion Panorama, which operates like Sony's Sweep Panorama: as you pan, it records a 120- or 180-degree scene either horizontally or vertically. It has a standard 3-shot bracket for dynamic range and film simulation presets, as well as the usual ISO sensitivity and exposure. As far as I can tell though, the X100 delivers better photo quality than all of its less-expensive competitors, as generally comparable to or better than the midrange dSLRs in its price range. It produces extremely clean images as high as ISO 800, with quite usable ones as high as ISO 1600. The results get a bit soft at ISO 3200, but the images don't look like they've run through a filter, and they remain very saturated. I was most surprised by the high quality of the camera's JPEG processing. It renders natural-looking but sharp images. As I did expect from an expensive prime lens that's not especially wide, there's little distortion. It also has excellent edge-to-edge sharpness, falling off only in the extreme corners, and there's no fringing that I could spot. The nine-bladed aperture and the non-distorting lens yields lovely round, soft, out-of-focus highlights. But the biggest downer is the X100's performance. It's slow given the camera's price, especially if you use autofocus. It's roughly comparable to far less expensive models like the PowerShot G12, and significantly slower than competing ILC models. The focus is inconsistent as well, especially in macro mode; during my shooting, I frequently thought it had locked focus but it hadn't. You can alleviate some of the performance issues by using manual focus or continuous autofocus. I really don't like the manual focus ring; it doesn't feel precise or responsive enough to me, and even with magnification the view seems a little too coarse for accurate focus. It could really stand to have a peaking control. Continuous autofocus solves the speed issue, but it can have a draining effect on the battery and the battery life isn't great to begin with. For some people considering this camera, the autofocus performance won't matter; for instance, it's a great choice for landscape photography or for portraits, or using it like a fixed-focus camera for street photography. While the X100 is probably the best photo quality you can get for about 1200 dollars, I think many people will be perfectly happy with the trade-off of slightly less fabulous photos that you can get with an interchangeable-lens model with a prime lens but for a lot less money. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Fujifilm FinePix X100.

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