Every time I write something that's not gushing praise for every item spewed from the mouth of Fuji I get at least one comment or hate mail telling me I'm a bit off the mark. I don't actually know why this is. Well I do know why this is but cannot truly understand the mentality behind it. Personally I don't want to know all of the things that the brochure says are wonders to be lusted after rehashed thirty-five ways. I am secure enough that I don't need my expenditure re-re-re-rationalized by others. Nor do I need anyone's help in rationalizing my own dumping of money into gear. I would much rather hear peoples nit-picky stuff. What doesn't work well, what needs re-thought and why. I much rather see and hear the why of it with some context. When I hear about how much better a product is or it's wonders I want to know and see the "compared to what part".
If you haven't figured this out I am a bit contrarian. The devil's advocate on all things. Just my nature. If I hear things over and over and over that I don't quite understand or have no context or no comparison I have to get to the meat of the matter on my own to make meaning. I really am not trying to rain on anyone's parade. I love my little Fuji X100S. I have probably said that at least five dozen times. If I didn't it would be in the trash or at least on eBay.
With all that out of the way let's talk about some of the things that are downright immature in the brave new world of the mirrorless revolution. Things that are not show stoppers but at least considerations for comparison if you haven't partaken of the Kool-Aid. Mind you this is from a big giant fan.
First up – the huge elephant in the room. Battery life. All of these wonder-cams that can do no wrong have absolutely horrid battery life. I actually have Fuji battery anxiety. A debilitating condition where there is a nagging worry that I don't have enough batteries. The symptoms include never wandering more than a hundred yards from a power receptacle, always always bring the battery charger with, thinking about the battery giving out every dozen or so shots with no warning, a dull ever present fear that the camera has turned itself on in your bag – or worse, you forgot to power it down.
All kidding aside, the battery life is horrible. I regularly go though two or three in a day. Now imagine if you will a world of pragmatic assessments of camera gear. Could you imagine Nikon or Canon having a similar battery life? What would the reviewers say? The users? Mirrorless and especially Fuji, they get a pass as if it's only an exhibition match or something rather than the title fight.
On to the second elephant. Speed. Forget the FPS and the focus tracking and all that stuff that I don't need and never have. You will see this written off as "if you shoot sports then you might still need a DSLR". Forget focus for a second. Let's talk plain old operational speed of stuff that's really nice no matter what you shoot. Something like image chimp on the back of the camera. Exaggeration free zone start. I can literally hit image playback and go through every available different image view screen available (which is a lot of them) on my D600 and start shooting again prior to the image actually coming up and settling in on the first view on the X100S. End exaggeration free zone. Do I have to mention the clumsiness of actually getting to different views during playback?
Fuji has done an incredible job with firmware updates that actually improve the product. I have to say far far better than Nikon or Canon. In fact both of those two actually hamper a lot of their products on purpose via firmware to make you buy super expensive products you don't need for something that's just taken out of the software for the lower priced cameras. One click zoom to 100% Nikon? Really I can't have that if I don't spend over $3000? Really? Oh - you are going to purposefully make the WB fine-tuning super coarse instead of usable on the lower end cameras? I applaud Fuji not doing this. That doesn't mean it's all milk and honey though. I fear a few of the Fuji users with the biggest megaphones have become hypnotized. That's too bad because Fuji seems to listen to them.
Let's take a couple of things I just cannot figure out. First up is the all powerful and magical Q button. This button is absolutely useless to me. I really have no idea why it seems to get so much gushing. I would much rather have a second button there that I could assign to anything I want rather than a button full of stuff specific to JPEG output that is marginally faster than the non-quick-regular-menus. Stupid. Oh and other stuff that's actually useful in there is duplicated with far quicker direct access anyway. Why the hell would you have white balance in there and direct access on the menu wheel?
On a similar note. If you are a reviewer you are obliged to bring up how heroic Fuji as been in addressing the huge issue of making the controls on the top of the camera stiffer. You heard it with the X100S, you heard it with the X-E2. Is this on some sort of list that Fuji sends to reviewers that all of them must agree to mention this? I have no idea what people are doing in wild gesticulation to cause the shutter speed and exposure compensation and whatever else they are talking about to become unhinged while shooting. Are they talking about when they shove it in and out of their camera bag? Whatever. Looser, stiffer, who cares. I certainly don't but was that really a giant issue and biggest priority.
I can tell you the absolute loosest control on the top of either the X100 or X100S is the frigging power switch. It also has the added bonus of protruding out from the body so that rubbing it against anything will turn it on/off. Combine this with the poor battery life and I would have to imagine that is a far cry more important to fix with the X100S than the other knobs. While we're on that subject I truly suspect that all this talk about dial stiffness is a smokescreen so that people loose sight of the really big issue. The crazy hair-trigger ease of changing the shutter/aperture via the spin-dial and the flippy lever on the back of the camera while shooting in manual. Holy shit. I will assure you these will change if you have the camera on a strap and let it bump up against anything while shooting in manual. Heck a slight brush by your hand when manipulating anything else will change your shutter or aperture or both.
How about the "Pro-ness" factor? Now this is one I have totally discounted for a long time if it comes to looks or that infamous "Pro-build quality" or durability thing. I couldn't care less about the pro-look one way or another. When it comes to durability and build quality and reliability just about anything from Nikon or Canon is going to exceed the need by a wide margin. Here's what I am talking about – the insane bullshit that I hear coming from people regarding the non-pro build of some of the upper-end DX/APS-C bodies from the mentioned companies. You know the D7000/D7100/D40-D70 class bodies. I'm sure you have heard it. Whine whine whine that somehow they are not good-enough because there was a piece of plastic substituted for a metal piece that used to be in the D300 or the D30 or some such crap.
I swear I have heard a few of the same people turn around and talk about the "pro build" of the Fuji cameras. Right – you are kidding right? Does anyone out there really think the Fuji X-E or X-Pro are anywhere near as "pro-build" or as durable or reliable as a pro-sumer DX Canon or Nikon. You have to have your head examined if you do. Again – not a giant issue for me personally but for you maybe it is. If so please use your head on this one. Do you really think you can take an X-Pro and subject it to the kind of abuse Digital Rev did on that consumer Canon a while back and get similar results… try it – I dare you. Does this mean they will up and break? No but it's kind of a night and day factor here. The Fuji cameras are not built for any sort of abuse at all.
What does Fuji have going for it? Well the biggest thing is that APS-C sensors are really good now. All of them. The other thing which I mention over and over again is that the lens system happens to be hitting the notes I care about at a reasonable price but that's a generalization and may mean nothing to you depending on what glass you want and use. Nikon and Canon have never ever never ever taken their APS-C lens line up seriously. Never – they have always been full-frame centric and for the most part still are. End of story.
The factor I just mentioned is extremely personal and use specific. It's ridiculous to assume it applies to you. It's also ridiculous to compare a full-frame f/2.8 70-200 to an APS-C specific lens that's variable aperture. It's artificial. If that's what you need/want then fine. If not there are a lot of APS-C zoom lenses that are cheap/light that are vari-aperture. There are great value substitutes out there for traditional systems as well. You can get most of the way to the new $1000 56 f/1.2 with a 50/1.4 for less money and as good IQ on Canon or Nikon. Maybe one of the 60 APS-C macro's are a better deal too. What about full-frame. Do you really need to get the huge expensive 85/1.2 for full-frame? Nope grab the f/1.8 version for far less money than the Fuji and you will have at least as shallow - probably more shallow DOF. Oh that 2/3 stop… Hmmmm do you think you are going to get 2/3 stop better ISO out of a full-frame… sure you are.
I am not at all trying to tell anyone not to by into the Fuji X system. I love it. I am glad it exists. I may jump back in sooner rather than later. What I am advocating is that you take a good hard look on a level playing field and make the right choices for you and what you actually do. Not someday. Right now. If something is bothering you about a system you are already in figure out what it is really. If you have a bunch of really giant zooms you don't have to switch systems to fix that issue for sure.
Ps. I am in the middle of writing a new eBook about the Fuji X100S – a somewhat opinionated guide to use and not a rehash of the manual. Would I subject myself to that pain if I didn't love the little bugger…