Jan 162013
 

My road to the Fuji X100

by Miroslav Mosko

For a long time I‘d been thinking about purchasing a camera small enough to carry around all the time, yet providing high quality output and manual setup of all its functions. I use a D700 and bunch of prime lenses for my portraits (works to be seen here) and it has never let me down, but there’s one major drawback. Its size and weigth brings more trouble than joy when it comes to everyday use.

Digital devices weren’t much of a deal when I started to shoot, so the only option was the film. I was used to work in manual mode and my habits persisted also in digital era. Six months ago I bought an all time classic – Nikon FM2 /w 50mm lens – with an intention to take it everywhere and shoot more spontaneously than before. To capture a moment or a view whenever chance occurs. Although my return to analogue photography was quite joyful, with all the magic and waiting for pictures to be done, the film costs, developing issues and consecutive scanning took all the joy away. I like to have total control over my stuff, so handing film negatives over to photolab and hoping our esthetic taste would match wouldn’t just be bold, but also utterly naive. Yes, you can always scan and postprocess everything by yourself, but that’d consume much more time than the photographing itself, which was not really my intention. I wouldn’t want to dismiss film as a dead medium to me, I just find it highly impractical for everyday shooting. The feeling you get from making your own pictures is second to none, but a busy man like me must resort to practicality.

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So my pursue lead me back to digital. I had narrowed my selection to Fujifilm X System cameras (Leica being just a dream so far). I’ve ruled out the X-Pro-1 for the price and X-E1 for EVF – and both of them because I doubt it’s reasonable to run another system besides Nikon. And in the time of writing this article there still wasn’t full Bayer technology suport of RAW file development in Lightroom (or any other RAW developing software apart from the slow and half-functioning one by SILKYPIX). I don’t count myself among pixelpeepers, but these (link 1 and link 2) Lloyd Chambers’ posts on the matter have quite disturbed my peace.

I’d been keeping an eye on X100 since its introduction. I was impressed by its look, approach to manual setup, OVF, APS-C sensor, my favourite 35 mm f/2 focus and a relatively warm reception among photographers. Poor man’s Leica, they said. However, regarding that the machine’s core was controlled by nothing more than a beta software, my attention eventually drifted away.

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I tend to trust only that I inspect in person and I always get suspicious when it comes to online reviews. My occupation is not that far from marketing field, so I quite know what’s what on the web. And I also don’t give much credit to reviews in which the author analyses the object in finest detail within an extremely short time and manages to write an enormous treatise after just one day of testing, without giving the product enough time to prove itself in practice. For it’s all about being first nowadays, and the first uploader gets the most traffic. That’s why I strictly avoid novelties when buying cameras – some of them are surely being debugged even after their official launch. Examples? Focus issues of D800, dusty and oiled D600 chip, and we mustn’t forget X100 of course.

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A lot of RAW files from X100 were online to try, so I had downloaded a bunch and developed them in Lightroom. Disappointment, to say the least. Advertised picture quality was nowhere to find. Picture was too soft with aperture stop at 2, higher stop values got it better, but it also limited DOF alteration. Maybe i was just spoiled by D700’s output, maybe my expectations were set too high, maybe.. Further sharpening in Lightroom instantly brought up noise even at ISO200 (I feel to mention I’m not oversharpening my pictures). But there was still hope – nice dynamic range and flexibility of RAW together with large data extraction possibilities cheered me up a bit.

I slowly started to worry that I wouldn’t find my everyday photographing companion at all. But then I stumbled across the LaROQUE blog of a Montreal based photographer who used X100 for his private works. Not only was I charmed by his personal work which emitted spontaneity and freedom, I also came to think again that not the device, but one’s skill, experience, sense of light and composition creates the photo. Things I already knew but forgot. So contemporary, so human.

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It was resolved.

First impressions after the purchase were, well, realistic. Software upgrade turned half-baked retro dummy into a functional camera with just a few quirks. Device setup appeased my taste – simplicity and functionality at hand. I got over poorly made backside buttons as well as outdated display resolution that is barely enough for correct focus control, but I had no problems checking composition and exposure. Menu browsing (and picture viewing) speed is hardly dazzling, quick and precise AF makes it impossible to shoot anything moving faster than a tortoise, macro mode is unavoidable when your object is closer than 80 cm/2.6 ft. Combination of MF speed and EVF resolution makes photographer a voluntary masochist, and so on. You’ve surely seen it all over the web. To my own surprise, none of these are really jamming the joy of picture making. After all, older analogue machines had no autofocus, LCD display or fancy buttons.

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The joy kept growing.

If you expect only words of praise from now on, I must disappoint you with one more flaw. After loading first few pics into Lightroom I found a sad fact – camera chip was dusty at multiple spots. Apparently not only Nikon has quality check issues, so the camera was en route to reclamation after only 4 days. These things work a bit oddly here in Slovakia – if you bring a new device with production defect in, you seldom get it replaced with brand new one. So there was a standard 30-day long „repair“ prior to return of my camera, luckily dust-free.

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My concept of a camera to carry around without restraints began to fulfill. I started to shoot my surroundings immediately, mostly private, and I had experienced sheer joy of photographing again. The feeling is hard to describe, but i felt liberated. When something caught my eye, I wasn’t limited by carrying D700 and replacing lenses for the occasion. Single focal point became an advantage. One concentrates only on composition and tries to capture as much of the moment as his skill allows. I fell for the option to manually set aperture and time at once. The same I liked in FM2 was now at my disposal with a perk of keeping all processes within my hands. I slowly started to get used to OVF parallax. I had rejected EVF at first, thinking I would never use it. But since I am old-fashioned and picture cropping is out of question, I had gradually learned that if something had to be composed precisely, I should switch from OVF to EVF and shoot.

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I have turned all sounds off. Thus people feel no discomfort from mirror slapping. Shutter of X100 is quiet and allows to preserve atmosphere without the model realising that she/he is subject to interest. Camera’s size also does not indicate something big is going on, so the person doesn’t feel endangered and usually remains spontaneous.

I suddenly started to take long walks in my surroundings and craved for shooting regardless what the object was. Because I shoot RAW only, I don’t care about nothing but aperture, time and iso – well, to be honest, since I work in M mode only, I check exposure on LCD during first few shots. I leave the rest to postproduction, respecting original lighting conditions during editing (HDR tricks don’t suit my fancy).

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Thanks to its character the grain mattered no more. Nothing magical there, just that the X100 chip noise resembles film grain rather than digital noise. After printing the photos at home (and entirely under my control) my primeval disappointment had vanished and only pleasure from final photography had remained. Likewise the noise, colours from X100 also possess filmy character which (along with dynamic range) impresses me greatly. Possibility to extract so much information from APS-C chip is amazing.

It’s a paradox that despite all the flaws the shooting with X100 is truly a pleasure. If the owner accepts its weaknesses and copes with them, the camera rewards him with nothing but benefits. If one is after resultant photo in the first place and a harmony between creativity and tool occurs, drawbacks become irrelevant. No, it isn’t my justification of X100 as it may seem. It is not a perfect device – not one camera is. But it fulfills the purpose for which I chose it and that is the only that matters. The rest is a dialogue between me and photography.

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Photographs used hereby were made during last two months – since I got X100. Postprocessed in Lightroom or Photoshop /w VSCO film plugin. More of them are in this set on my Flickr webpage.

The new Fuji X100s is now available for pre-order at

B&H Photo or Amazon

You can see my other works here:

http://www.facebook.com/MiMoPhotography

http://xoxmx.tumblr.com/

  41 Responses to “USER REPORT: My road to the Fuji X100 by Miroslav Mosko”

  1. “It’s a paradox that despite all the flaws the shooting with X100 is truly a pleasure.”

    That pretty much sums up how I feel about mine. Yeah the AF is kinda slow, and sure the rear dial is fiddly (especially with gloves on) but even so, the camera is just so nice to shoot with, and produces such good results, that the flaws don’t matter to me.

    • I agree, that was also happening with the Leica X1, it was slow to focus and manual focus is fiddly, but the resulting images are great.
      It has served me well, but now I’m al manual with my M9 and my friend has the X1 as a backup.

    • “If the owner accepts its weaknesses and copes with them, the camera rewards him with nothing but benefits. If one is after resultant photo in the first place and a harmony between creativity and tool occurs, drawbacks become irrelevant”

      Yeah, same here with the Nikon V1.

  2. Pretty much sums of my feelings about my daily carry camera, except that mine is Nikon V1

    • Very heartening to hear this sentiment from two fellow V1 owners. I’m still getting the feel of mine but loves its speed and consistency. I think it’s going to be a comfortable companion. The viewfinder is much nicer than I expected.

      Miroslav, I like your quiet pictures. Nothing flashy, just the feel of a cold day or a walk in the woods. More like village lane photography than street photography. Looks like you had a nice journey.

      • Thank you Mark.
        You are right. This is absolutely different than my portrait work. I tend to seek sometimes privateness, quietness and contemplation cos of my busy life. I know, that this pictures are not a candy for eye or first plan pictures, that they are more spontaneous than racional. And that gives me pleasure and peace, cos I always tend to seek something “else”.

  3. I am a user of X100 since several months.
    You have perfectly said what I could have said about this tool. It brought me back the pleasure of photography. That’s the only important thing we could expect from a camera and the X100 made it.
    Thanks a lot for this sensitive article.

  4. Thanks for your article. Pretty much the same feelings as I become an owner of a black Fuji X100 LE and not yet heated up with that small piece of camera. Shooting and learning, shooting and learning…:-)

  5. What a super “User report” thanks Miroslav, totally sums up my feelings for this camera. Purchased mine 12 months ago and at first thought “not sure about this, perhaps a big mistake”. Now after a couple of firmware updates and well over 1,000 images with settings to suit my taste and style, the X100 is my best friend, when something “catches my eye” the camera is always there.

  6. I love my X100 and the quality of its RAW files.

  7. I had the x100 and felt the same way about the online reviews. I sold it because I just didn’t like the 35mm focal length. I’m really liking the nikon v1– I have to say Steve’s reviews in both cases (the x100 and v1) have been right on, unlike the majority of other reviewers.

  8. I bought an X100 to replace my DSLR … I love the little camera sure its can be slow @ times, yea the wheel on the back is different … but the images I get are the best I have ever taken…
    Am slowly learning the camera, shooting mostly 100% manual right now …
    It’s pure love for this camera .

  9. I love the writing as much as I love the images! Makes me want to rekindle my “dialogue” with my X100. Thanks for sharing.

  10. For me the X100 is the first digital camera I have really enjoyed using. I love the discipline of a single focal length and the pictures are sharp and tone rich. I also feel that Fuji are trying hard to be more photographer focused than the big two. If only the RAW support for xtrans could be sorted out and I would ditch my DSLR for good.

  11. Thanks, Miroslav – the pictures are charming, and for the first time (..for me, anyway..) I can see that someone can get pleasure in using an X100. It seemed a pretty silly and retro-gimmicky camera to me when it first came out: -s-l-o-w-w-w- auto-focus, slower manual focus, fixed lens, what-you-saw-wasn’t-what-you-got, but I can understand your gradual coming to terms with it and enjoying(?) it.

    It’s still not a camera for me, but I can see that you’re hooked on its image quality ..and that you’re really using that to create these individual delights ..very ‘atmospheric’, soothing, calming and refreshing.

    Thanks for providing massive, detailed photos ..all the better to appreciate the finely-textured results with.

    I really enjoy looking at your juxtaposed pairs – you’ve transformed poetry from print and sound into the visual: they’re visual haikus.

    • Thank you David. I really like, that you enjoyed my article and photos.

      If you look at X100 from the old fashion perspective, it is a gimmick. You are right. Well it does not feel like FM2 or any other all mechanical camera. But I can not wait for some day in future when finally somebody makes “that one camera” that I will like and will suit all my needs (walkaround camera). I would love to make pictures now, so thats why I made a compromise.
      Even there is a retro wave now, it is just a “retro”. And that means, its just a mimic. But working mimic that can suit your needs.

  12. Yes the X100 is a pleasure but it takes time to get to know it. I have had mine 22months now and have been learning new things during that period. However it now feels simple and natural and quick to use. I have the leather case so if you see a shot all you do is flip the case half press the shutter to wake the camera up and it is ready by the time it is to your eye. Then you have to think about what settings to alter. I think this camera more fully engages the photographer in the image taking process. Other wise you are just taking a snap. With macro or flash I can turn these on or off by feel. By staying with one camera for a while you adapt to the quirks and the flow happens. I do have DSLRs too but the X100 is my main walk around camera. I have a young friend who just bought one and is blown away by it. Thanks for the post.

  13. Nice writing, and nice photos.

    I have yet to use a camera that does not have compromises. The x series are no exception but they are fun to use, produce great results and you can carry them with you anywhere. I love shooting with the X-Pro1, but the M8.2 is just hard to put down.

  14. With today’s digital cameras, no matter FF, APS-C or Micro 4/3, if you can set the camera where it stays “out of your way” it’s a true joy shooting pictures as the quality is there. We can debate all day long about LCD this or ISO that. But if you’re not having fun using the camera you have well then the camera is in the way.

    On a side note, when will Nikon, Canon and Fuji ever get it through their thick heads to work with the top image processing software companies to provide Raw file support when a camera is released. Pleeeeease figure this out. Ok, I’ve bought into the Leica platform and at least they have figured it out and provide a copy of Lightroom with many of their lens profiles built-in. Plus their Raw files come out of the camera in DNG format. Hello can you here me?

  15. Your links don’t work. Nice review though.

  16. Very similar reaction to the camera I had. I have only just upgraded the firmware from the original release, so not yet had a chance to see how differently it behaves, but was of the opinion that you should embrace its limitations, as I wrote in my own review of June 2011: http://www.bluefilter.co.uk/the-fuji-x100-putting-my-money-where-my-mouth-is/

  17. Great story Miroslav, thanks for sharing!

  18. Your review was spot on, the system is not perfect but it is refreshing to have to think about the shot instead of having all the technology in the camera compose and think for you.
    I love using the x100 and enjoy having to think about skills that have been put into retirement for so long.
    I need to learn more about post production but am getting there slowly with that, it reminds me that I am not as great at photography as my ego would like me to believe.
    Thanks

  19. A nice review – I concur with your sentiments about the camera completely!

  20. Why is it most raw shooters are obsessed with developing software and are bad photographers in general…. I will never base my camera buying decision on someone’s technical pixel peeping review, I see pictures and buy, Steve review of the x100 is a good example.

  21. Thanks Miroslav, I really enjoyed your review and your whole approach. I would be nterested to know what you think about the recently announced new X100s given its stated upgrades to the X100. Worth it or at the end of the day irrelevant given your own experience of growing into the camera ?

    • Thank you Will, I am glad you liked my article.

      X100s looks like really nice upgrade to the X100. I am happy, that Fuji is listening to the customer voices and tries to fix every major quirk, that was in or on X100 (mentioned in my review). I am just woried about the sensor. The JPG look marvelous. But what about RAW? I know, that C1 is already out, but the wather effect is still there. And I am not so happy about that. I think, that it would be fine, if one of the major players would come our with FULL support of Fuji Xtrans raw development, so the other would be forced to try it also. I repeat, I am not pixelpeer, raw is my personal choice (and I dont want to start a discussion about RAW vs JPG) but why to lose the full potential of the sensor, if there is a way to resolve this problem? I hope, that it is just a question of time. I will definitely wait some time and then I will decide, if I will make an upgrade. If you dont have x100 and you are thinking about the X100s, wait for the real world images and opinions (like on Steves blog) and then decide. There is no need to hurry, if you already have a camera and X100s will be for you major investment. I tend to not to change often cameras. Hey, but it is just my opinion. ;-) Have a nice day

  22. This is about experiences with the X100. Why the comments bout the Nikon V1. If I want a quality tool I will use a X100, not something from toys r us.

    • It’s funny because I have a d7000 with a bunch of primes that I bought after I got my v1. Not a toys r us kit. But I still am drawn to my v1. In fact I am considering just getting rid of my more expensive gear and just continuing to build up my v1. A camera that takes pretty good shots that has never been criticized for its auto focus. Unlike the x100.

    • Rupert, there is nothing toylike about the V1. Yes, the controls are somewhat awkwardly designed, but it’s beautifully made (of mostly magnesium) and has exceptionally quick, accurate metering and focus. It rarely disappoints me. It’s a beautiful, little camera and I’m glad I read Steve’s review (and bought it for a third its original price). I’m sure I would also enjoy the X100. They have more in common than you may think.

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  24. I enjoy my X100 day by day. Hard to find something with the same mix of qualities. It has the IQ, It has the size, It has the look, It has the feeling and most of the troubles of young age were fixed. I think it shows the best compromise at the moment in this category. IMHO

  25. I am still learning the joy of a single focal length as I try to recapture some of the joy of photography after years of shooting with SLR/DSLR equipment for work. I am now trying to repay some of what photography has given me over the years. I am not giving up my DSLRs and fast zooms as I still need them. But last week I drug out my dad’s (now my) old Yashica Electro35 GS, loaded it with Tri-X and spent the morning shooting with it. Haven’t developed the film yet but the experience was liberating to say the least….

  26. Your pics are fine, my kind of photography, moody…
    all the best

    Cheers

  27. Presne k rovnakemu zaveru (X-E1 vs X100 vs Canon system co vlastnim) som dosiel aj ja, ale nez som stihol zadovazit X100 vysiel X100S :)

    Btw skvele fotky.

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