I am a newcomer to the Fuji X100 and to tell the truth, I have not even started to do justice to what this little camera is capable of. I have plenty of excuses and justifications of how little time I have had since taking the plunge but I have shot enough StupidCrap™ to form some solid conclusions about this little wonder. For anyone that has not shot with the X100 here are a few of my thoughts on why this camera is a joy.
First and foremost it is the right size. When I say this what I mean is that it compares favorably to my real camera size benchmarks. Those benchmarks are the Leica M primarily and your garden variety 70s' compact 35mm SLR secondarily. Imaging wonderfulness in that size package has been something I expected since the dawn of digital but have been frustrated many times over - until now. Imaging wonderfulness cannot only be measured in megapixels or color or dynamic range. It's also about more subtle aesthetics such as focal length to imaging medium size ratios and how that actually looks.
Focus accuracy and consistency at a reasonable speed. I shoot at large apertures. In some ways I have always done this as a result of the light I like to shoot at and the materials I have used to do it. It's no secret that phase detect AF has issues with accuracy and consistency when focusing close up at large apertures - it always has. In most cases it can get real close real fast but I have always had frustrations with it's ultimate accuracy. It's hard to detect, hard to pinpoint, manifests itself differently at various distances and with various lenses - a real pain in the ass. Over time I have worked around this and got in the habit of shooting "extras" of the same shot to overcome these deficiencies. Of course all of us that shoot people know that there is no such thing as two of the same exact shot.
Contrast detect AF is absolutely perfectly accurate too bad it has been slow as molasses and useless in low light. At least it has been in the past. Over the last few years contrast detect AF right of the imaging sensor has become pretty darn fast. This is evidenced by the mirrorless Sonys', my own Panasonic LX5, the newer micro 4:3s', etc, etc. I would put the Fuji X100 somewhere in the upper middle of the contrast detect pack. In other words the AF speed is absolutely unobtrusive in most normal imaging circumstances. Fine for me. Of course I am perfectly happy with manual focus cameras and in some ways prefer them. If you use the X100 AF the same way, with the same strategies that you would with a manual focus camera you will be very happy. Perfect focus every time exactly where you want it. If you have no idea how to deal with moving subjects in the absence of really really really fast autofocus that keeps up with anything you throw at it - you will not be happy. Of course there are many circumstances where depending on AF prowess is a bad strategy - like close distances at large apertures (where my photographic endeavors live and breathe). The bottom line is that for my chosen subjects the X100 delivers absolute perfectly focused images every time. It puts the focus where I choose with absolute precision with absolute consistency.
Perfect focus happens to be really important with the X100 because it happens to have one heck of a perfect lens. When I use the word perfect I am not referring to any particular technical specification or test. I am speaking of the Fujinon holistically. It's crazy sharp of course but more than that it has aesthetic qualities that one runs across infrequently in the history of photographic gear and almost never in the digital age. This lens has personality and nuance. It has distinctly different rendering than most modern lenses with better overall performance to boot. It has different characteristics depending on aperture that happen to be photographically useful. Some of it's flaws transcend mere defects and are actually inspirational maybe.
Unbelievably good out of focus rendition, smooth, beautiful transitions, great color rendition, flare characteristics that are out of this world gorgeous when used wide open in certain predictable conditions. I mentioned inspirational and I do mean it quite literally. I have a few inspirational lenses in my stable. Most if not all of them are manual focus. In some cases the inspirational lens is actually an older version and technically less-good than a newer lens that replaces it. I have two dozen normal lenses - maybe more - my favorites are probably not the highest scoring in any category of lab tests. I have ten or so moderate wide angles (28mm - 35mm) and countless short tele's. Some of my favorites may actually be on the lower end of the scale these days - I am not talking about plastic lens goofiness as all of them would be considered outstanding performers by most people. I would trade none of them for a modern "pro zoom". The little Fuji 23mm f2 falls into the same category of classic gem in terms of the way it actually looks.
I am sure that you have probably seen countless web sized examples of some of the characteristics I describe. I have as well. Experiencing them personally is an entirely different story. There is a certain suspicion that any particular example is some sort of fluke - or photoshop trick - or something. We all know that the camera/lens/gear doesn't make a difference (hmmmm wonder why photographers that say this have great gear - more on that later) - we all have seen fantastic pictures from gear we wouldn't gravitate to. Yea, yea, yea, we all know this but… When you use this camera and see the imaging characteristics of this lens at various apertures you will be inspired. I have not experienced this with a new lens in a very very long time. When I want that I have usually turned to my film cameras and grabbed one of my old stand-by sublime lenses from a decade ago or a few decades ago. This alone is worth the price of admission - as an added bonus you happen to get a really nice camera attached for free.
Even shooting StupidCrap™ my reaction has consistently been "holy shit". Here is a cropped section of StupidCrap™ that required me to muster all of my laziness to produce just to demonstrate some of those properties. No tricks just lazy shooting of something right in front of me. I did a crop and a strait black and white conversion in Aperture 3 so that the rest of you lazy folks don't have to look closely to see the particular characteristic that I think makes most photographers that have latched on to the X-series cameras swoooon like 60's teen girls at a Beetle's concert. That glowy-ness and smooth transition from sharp to soft. Ever hear the old school Leica heads go on and on about the glowy-ness of some esoteric M glass from the past? Here is your chance to have that only better and cheaper.
Enough - I could go on and on about the controls, the way it feels, the viewfinder - as in the OVF a real viewfinder but I am already way past the five minutes that I allocated to posting this and late getting out of the house for another day of techno-drudgery. I am taking my X100 with me for at least the illusion that there will be some image making opportunities today - more importantly, I am so happy with the X100 that my itchy add to cart finger has been hovering very very close to said button for the X Pro 1 with 35mm f1.4 on Amazon. Looks like there is some sort of $300 discount going on now… Hmmm. Maybe I should do justice to the X100 first?