USER REPORT: Reviewing the X100 as a reporter camera by Wijnand Wustrow

USER REPORT: Reviewing the X100 as a reporter camera
By Wijnand Wustrow

Much has already been written about the X100. But then, everybody uses a camera in their own way. For some people it might be the perfect camera, for others not. In that respect a first general observation can already be made: this camera is not for casual shooters. It is complicated. How does it handle for more experienced photographers?
From left to right, in chronological order, Nikon FM, Hexar AF, Canon EOS 5, Canon EOS 5D mark II, Fuji X100

This picture illustrates where I come from. I started out with the Nikon FM and a 50mm 1.8. A fantastic camera in sturdiness, controllability, dimensions and weight, and usability. The FM served me well for over 15 years. As a reporter camera, though, I always felt it slowed me down, due to being completely manual.

Therefore I moved on to the Hexar AF. It’s ability to quickly auto focus and it’s ingenious exposure program coupled with its excellent 35mm lens made it a joy to use when shooting people and situations. After I went digital in 2007 I was desperately hoping for a digital equivalent.

Which never came.

I also bought the Canon Eos 5 to be able to use different lenses, such as 28mm, 50mm and 85mm.

That camera did bring a digital equivalent, so I settled on the Canon 5D and 5D mark II. A hunk of a camera, but cumbersome to carry around and large and loud enough to be easily noticed by the people you’re trying to photograph. And scare them. I never really fell in love with that camera, but as a professional tool (I’m a wedding photographer) it sure gets the job done in all situations, quick, reliable, efficient.

Catching the bride catching a chewing gum, while grandma is preparing the bride’s son in the next room. The picture illustrates the ability of the 5D to quickly respond to changing situations and get that decisive moment. Shot with the 5D mark II and 28mm 1.8 lens.
To avoid the weight and size of the 5D’s I used a Canon Ixus for non-professional work. A great little camera and with some care capable of excellent results. But it is too limiting for me in low light and situations with a large dynamic range such as backlit scenes, two of my favourites.
Colleagues abound on the Italian island of Sicily. Shot with the Canon Ixus 860 on its widest 28mm-e setting.

And then came the X100, finally the Hexar type of camera I was waiting for. Some might ask, why not the M9. Well, apart from the fact that I (note that I say I) cannot for the world justify the pricetag, I am a sucker for autofocus. I love it. It’s one more thing out of the way of concentrating on pictures instead of technique.
Rain at the festival, the blue shelter matched this girl’s blue eyes. The X100 sure handled the colours well!

Last week I used it for a holiday to Sardinia and a festival near Amsterdam (“Vurige Tongen festival” in Ruigoord). First conclusion: by the end of those two weeks, I still wasn’t used to the camera. Getting to know the camera well enough to do ‘decisive moment’ type of photography takes a lot of work. I’m getting the hang of it, settling on a standard way of working:
– Jpg only, the camera does an excellent job on exposure, auto white balance and auto dynamic range and jpg-conversion,  so I felt more than confident to use jpg (Large Fine)
– ISO under the Fn button, so I can easily switch when changing indoors and outdoors which happens often when shooting a festival
– EVF in dark situations
– Also EVF when shooting at close distances, to avoid the parallax problems both with framing and the focus point missing the mark
– OVF in daylight, with a clear viewfinder (no projection of extra information such as histogram and horizon)
– The focus switch on Manual, using the AFL/AEL lock button to lock focus
– OVF power save on, I had no problems with AF being slower
– All sounds off
– Flash off
– I switch back and forth from program mode to aperture priority a lot and it is very annoying that you have to set the ISO for each when changing from one to the other.
Young girl in a hammock at the festival. Shot with the X100.

Will I use the X100 for professional work, wedding photography? Well, it has a lot going for it: it’s silent, it’s small and discrete, has excellent low light capabilities, an excellent lens which suits me well for the way I shoot weddings, nails the exposure and white balance reliably and is a lot easier to carry around all day than my 5D.

But for now I feel that the way I work during weddings is too demanding for this otherwise very capable camera. There are moments that are too fast changing for the X100 to handle. For example, I use the continuous auto focus quite often, and I found the continuous setting next to unusable on the X100. The X100 does 3 or 5 frames per second, but after 10 shots it locks up for a while to be able to process and write the files. This makes it impossible to get ready for what happens next.

On the coast of the Italian island of Sardinia. I find the rendering of the scene to be excellent, but I missed the boy jumping of the cliff with the X100

At weddings I only carry two camera’s, one on each side. One has a 50mm lens attached and one a 28mm (with backup lenses in the trunk of the car). Apart from spare batteries and CF cards that’s all; I like to travel light as it enables me to concentrate on taking pictures and move around easily, so I can photograph from different angles and anticipate quickly on what’s happening and going to happen. For me adding another camera – the X100 – is not an option. The only option would be to replace both cameras with a X100 (and a backup), to travel even lighter.

Maybe, it just takes a bit more getting used to. I’ll see. For now it does not give me the confidence to use it as a professional tool. But it sure as hell makes a fantastic carry everywhere camera, and I’m sure it will serve me well during trips and in less dynamic situations. And I suspect it will really shine doing theatre photography. My girlfriend studied theatre, so I do a bit of theatre photography, usually during live performances with the audience present. This is where the 5D was too loud during silent parts. At the festival I photographed a few poetry performances in difficult lighting situations and the results with the X100 were very convincing with no exposure compensation needed.

No troubles here with the sound of the flipping mirror of the 5D as the actor was quite loud.
I really, really like this camera. The files it produces are excellent out of camera. I use Lightzone for cropping, contrast, dodging, burning, sharpening and small color corrections. I found the files to handle very well in Lightzone.

Bad lighting inside a food and drink stall at the festival. These files are usually very hard to get right when tweaked.

Of course no camera review can go without a dog picture. So here you go:

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  1. Hello There!

    I’m sorry to make you feel uneasy. But how come a proffessional photographer to work in JPG.
    I’m a 25 year lasting pro international photojournalist career and, sincerely, if someone tell me today that is working on JPG, I surely will not trust his work.
    You must be very confident on your skills, otherwise, I can’t understand that nost of us do work with the certitude that minor fails, or sharpness issues are corrected properly.
    (Most of the time WB troubles and DR )
    I work every day intensive work and do it with two X-Pro1 and one X-100, and mostly ( if not always) the X-100 ask for some post productions.
    I can see that the sky in the sea shot have severe loss in the white area, and in the “slow food” high iso ( or cropping) is a strong cast to green and a loss of sharpness.
    This is because JPG.
    I strongly suggest you to get used to RAW it’s simply unbeatable and a whole new open world to your shooting.

  2. Remarkable: your experiences very closely mirror mine ( Especially
    how you ended up working with this camera: I’d say I’m the same exactly. The new firmware makes a big difference, btw: have you updated yet?

  3. I use the Voigtlander 25mm f0.95 on the Oly EP2 with VF2. That manual focus just works SO WELL. The Fuji x100 AF is pretty fast in good light, but for reportage its best to set the x100 to
    – Manual AF mode
    – Use the AFL button to prefocus
    – Press the shutter with NO SHUTTER LAG
    You should be able to get lots of reportage style pics as the Depth of field of the semi wide lens would cover a lot of ground when set to f4.

    Also set Auto ISO on, and choose a fast shutter speed like 1/125 as your minimum. The Fuji will just bump up the ISO automatically and make nice pics even at ISO3200.

    I use the Fuji for portrait candids, if you check this site the Fuji shots are clearly labelled.

  4. I use my x100 at every wedding I photograph, along with a pair of 5DII’s. For some parts of the day I leave the 5D’s in the bag and just use the x100. I love how small and discrete the camera is and the silent shutter is excellent during the ceremony.
    Over half the photographs on this wedding are from the x100, can you spot which ones?

  5. Interesting piece. I started out with a Nikon FM2 and just a 24mm lens, used it for years. I loved the total manual controls, after few months of continual use, I had exposure and focus control automatically. I have some great “decisive moment” pictures, from those days. When the world went digital and AF, I changed the FM2 to various digital cameras, but I found AF a hindrance to creativity. Now I’m getting used to it. Any way to cut a long rambling about “the good old days”, short. I’ve just sold my X1 and ordered an X100, I hope it will get close to the FM2

  6. I absolutely LOVE the first photo. WOW.
    And why did you miss shooting the body jumping? What about the camera slowed you down? Would be nice to know exactly….

    • Thanks Sanjay.

      The camera stops after 10 frames and locks up. As the boys were just fooling around, I missed the exact moment at a time he actually jumped. The camera was locked up and I didn’t get a second chance.

  7. I was thinking about the X100. But the GRD3 just seemed the better choice for what and how I shoot. So far I am amazed at the results out of it. FM3a + GA645i + GRD3. Perfect. Oh and yes 50 and 28 are the ones to have. 35 is no mans zone, 85 is too special, and other others too whacky for 90% of the time.

  8. Man, I love the Konica Hexar AF. Unfortunately the Fuji x-100 doesn’t have its Active Autofocus system, as it’s contast detect system is waay slower in the dark – otherwise it would be the perfect digital Hexar AF replacement for me. PS. You will no longer have to set ISO independently when switching modes with the latest Fuji firmware.

  9. I agree 100%.

    For a carry-everywhere camera the X100 is amazing.

    I wouldn’t want to rely on it for professional situations though where missing the shot is not an option. For that I would use a Canikon.

  10. I used the same combination 5d with x100 for the last wedding, the 5d with the 50 mm 1,4 in most cases and the x100.
    it was a test for the x100 also. I found out that the results are quite the same in points of quality. and I am a fan of lighht travellong too. thqt was my reason for buying the x100. Last week I was in California, first time only with one camera and it was nice to travel with the x100. if you don’t have to much stuff you can focus on other things, that helps a lot.
    if you want, have a look on my webpage.
    also the new pictures in the blog are done with the x100
    I love it

  11. I think all are perfectly valid points made, however, I think its also worth remembering that I don’t think a camera like the X100 was ever really made to be a professional tool. A great camera, yes, and a fine supplement to a professional arsenal but its basically a point and shoot with a great sensor.

    There really isn’t anything about its overall design or concept to suggest it would be a professional tool. My Nikon D3’s on the other hand were clearly build from the ground up around the needs and demands of a working photographer.

    They are as far from a casual shooting tool as the X100 is from a serious tool. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a D3 on a casual walk, just as it doesn’t mean you can’t use the X100 to produce a great professional image but neither is really meant for those tasks.

    As a spare body for things such as reception shots the X100 is fantastic though. You can go around taking candids and most guest won’t even know your the official photographer and you can get some really different stuff than going around with an obvious DSLR, fast lens, speedlight combo.

    Again, wouldn’t want to shoot a whole event with just the X100, that wouldn’t be fun, but for specific tasks it can prove a valuable tool.


    • Jeff, I guess you are right when you say that it was not designed as a professional tool. I am just curious whether it can be used as such, bearing in mind that I like minimalistic approaches. The question for me is not whether it is the ideal professional tool but whether it is good enough so that I can trade large camera’s for light and unobtrusive.

  12. Yeah it’s not the fastest, but the IQ is out of this world. Everything gets better, and if Fuji keeps releasing “X” cameras, I’ll buy one. By then MF and AF will be top notch I’m sure. They have a winning formula and it’ll remain a 2nd camera to my Pentax K-5 at every wedding I shoot (and honestly everywhere I go!).

  13. Good article! Thanks for sharing your experiences and images.

    As one who will sometimes lug two Canon 7D DSLRs, mounted with different lenses, when I see Photozopia’s idea of more than one X100, with lenses of different focal lengths, it is sensible enough.

    The ability of the X100 to produce good JPEGs, and accurately reproduce the colors of people’s skin, makes the X100 a real contender as a camera for me to use at work, where I am expected to provide JPEGs for the propriety upload system, and provide images that can be used, without out-of-camera processing, in court. I can expect counsel for both sides to ask me if the images are an accurate reproduction of what my eyes saw at the scene. While I will still need a DSLR for macro shots, the occasional ultra-wide angle, and some night shots, an X100, or similar camera, might be a good option to replace one DSLR.

  14. Like Wijnand, I’m a 5D user out of necessity. I’ve been looking since 2004 for the ‘digital’ equivalent/s of classic lightweight film cameras, particularly compact models, but found most to be wide of the mark. Most DSLRs are now far too big or heavy to lug around all day … whilst most compacts offer limited features and/or poor performance in poor light. I think the X100, NEX series and X1 in particular are the shape of things to come – not perfect, but getting close. I’m eagerly waiting to see what shows up in the next few years. A number of people are now recalling Fuji’s long-running range of MF cameras that offered different (fixed) lens options – wide, standard, tele – perhaps a new X100 series might follow suit. Three different X100 body/lens combos might sound odd, but would still work out cheaper than one M9 body + 3 Leica lenses for those of us with more limited budgets!

    • If we are compiling a wish list, why go for 3 Fuji’s with different focal-length fixed lenses, when we could wish for one Fuji with an m-mount for interchangeable lenses ?

  15. “But for now I feel that the way I work during weddings is too demanding for this otherwise very capable camera.” That mirrors my experience with it so far as well. If things are moving fairly slowly, and that includes street photography for me too based on my working method, the X100 is really pretty great. But in really dynamic situations I find the X100 not to be quick enough in operation and focusing. Perhaps some of that is getting used to it, but right now I’m not sure.

      • I upgraded the firmware. This weekend I used the X100 for a wedding (one of my 5D’s broke down) and I must say that after a while things started to get a lot better, even in low light situations! I just set the focus using the AFL-button and move with the subject.

    • Have you tried using zone-focussing instead ? I find the AF on most cameras too slow for street photography, through the Fuji would certainly be slower than any recent AF SLR.

      • Street photography is fine, frankly, and I tend to shoot in the f2.8-4 range, pre-focusing much of the time and then waiting for the right moment. When I can move around the subject it’s fine, but when the subject is the one doing the moving is when things get bogged down.

  16. Thanks for the review and images. I’m curious with your shooting JPG, what in camera sharpness setting do you use?


  17. Interesting article, I own Canon 5d mkII and your experience mirrors mine, I’ve be contemplating about buying second smaller(ish) camera like sony nex or x100 but it’s always the question whether to buy new camera or new prime :). Anyways, nice photos, I especially liked the one from poetry festival, reminds me of Bill Brandt.

  18. Wijnand, great story, very informative, great pics (except the dog pic ;-)).



    P.s.: this is more a question for Steve: I find the images on the site once “clicked” extremely sharp, and that goes for all of them, so is that a characteristic of the site Steve?

    • I thought that it was problem with Leica’s and that photos were just out of focus but when I saw Canon 5d looking blurry I had to check and when different version is opened they indeed looked sharp.

      I was kidding about the Leica, I am not sure why this is happening, it is obviously not because of the browser but it’s nice (well sort of) to hear that someone else had this experience.

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