Fuji X100: Magic in a single frame by David Henderson

Fuji X100: Photography magic in a single frame

For years as a network news correspondent and communications advisor, I have had the pleasure of knowing and working alongside still photographers in the field who would capture moments of history in a single frame. Their talents were astonishing.

For example, I watched the English celebrity photographer Sue Adler chat with the famed tenor Luciano Pavarotti … and then, she raised her old Leica with a 35mm lens and shot one frame. Just one exposure that captured his spirit and magic on black and white film. I was in awe.

As an avid photographer myself, I have never professed to have such artistry and talent. But, I have worked at it.

This is an exciting time in photography with large APS-C size, fixed 35mm equivalent lens cameras that tend to be on the small size, like the Fuji X100 and Leica X1. We now can have the tools in our hands to make great images.

I first invested in the Leica X1, a camera that captures stunning images but its autofocus is much too slow for many things beyond landscapes. Street photography with the X1 is out of the question due to slow autofocus. And, the viewfinder plunked atop the camera is awkward.

So, on the eve of an Autumn vacation to Munich and southern Bavaria, I purchased a Fujifilm X100, and took it along despite having virtually no hands-on experience with the camera. The Leica X1 stayed home.

My photography objective on vacation was to hone my skills at shooting that one frame that would tell me, at least, I had captured a special moment. I found the Fuji X100 to be a good teacher.

Arriving in Munich at the height of Oktoberfest 2011, I found a street photographer’s dream … color, excitement, movement. While I am no street photographer, I was impressed … actually, surprised … by the X100’s lightning fast autofocus and long battery life.

At Oktoberfest, for example, I spotted two women in colorful traditional dirndl dresses of Bavaria who were sharing a snack. When I raised the X100 in their direction, they both looked at me and smiled. But, a man was walking into frame from the left. I quickly pressed down on the shutter button, forcing the X100 to simultaneously focus and take the image. The resulting one image in the low light of dusk captured the scene, I believe.

Such instantaneous moments happened again and again in Munich. In Marienplatz, two young women struck a cute pose for no longer than two seconds when I pointed the X100 in their direction. Again, one frame.

In rural southern Bavaria, near the picturesque town of Fussen, scenes are more pastoral yet the soft light, shadows and haze are always changing. It gave me more opportunity to explore depth of field at manual settings. Yet, I must mention that the X100’s full-auto shutter and aperture deliver exceptional results if an appropriate ISO is used for the situation.

When shooting a dominant mountain eight miles away, I could see its details in Lightroom 3. When shooting a late summer rose, I could see flecks of pollen.

The X100 helped me with progressive depth of field when I shot a hilltop flower garden at dusk. It was like a natural visual ripple from color flowers sharply in focus in the foreground to a vast valley below and mountains seen through haze in the distance.

In all photography situations, I found that the Fuji X100 delivered stunning images. Most of all, it helped me to become a better photographer and have a lot more fun shooting. I believe I got closer to that artistic sweet spot of capturing some magic in one frame … at least, I hope so.

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David Henderson is an accomplished author, Washington-based media and communications strategist, lecturer and an Emmy Award award-winning former CBS Network News correspondent. Online: www.davidhenderson.com

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  1. It’s funny, people keep on saying that the X100 is a “poor man’s rangefinder”. It has the rangefinder look with the convenience of a DSLR. With the video recording, panoramic feature, hybrid viewfinder, built-in optical neutral density filter, etc. it is completely more technologicaly advanced than existing rangefinders, dslrs or mirror-less point and shoots in the planet. Those expensive rangefinders don’t even autofocus. It’s like comparing a Lexus LS that could parallel park itself to a 1960s Mercedes SL. Yup, the Mercedes SL is practically a work of art and costs many times more, but the Lexus has air bags, computers, etc. Chase Jarvis travels with a X100, David Beckham goes out with a X100, even Annie Leibovitz use one, and I don’t think any of them are poor. I would call the X100 the smart man’s rangefinder.

    • I would call the X100 a nice digital camera as it is not even close to being a rangefinder. In body style yes, but that is where it ends. The X100 and X-Pro 1 are not RF cameras.

  2. David, fantastic review. I’m already sold on the X100 and am slowly eking out the sort of images that make me happy. The third pic of the mountain that you posted simply blew me away, fantastic. Thanks for sharing!

  3. David, I own an X100 and I share your passion for it. Its two strongest points for me are 1 – it’s so silent and inconspicuous, it puts people completely at ease. 2 – it perfoms brilliantly in low light conditions. see the magic of a night at the theater without the flash ruining it all..

    all the best, keep pushing your creative boundaries


    • Marcel,
      Okay but I believe you missed my point of my brief essay. Photography is a very personal passion, profession or hobby. Constructive criticism to improve skills is helpful. Aimless griping is not.

  4. I don’t mean to be negative, but honestly, these photos aren’t special at all. They’re average holiday snapshots (which is okay). But for anything ‘more’ than that, they’re dull and boring, have very little sense for composition, artistry, the moment, or as David likes to put it: ‘magic’.

    I’m amazed how many people buy expensive X1’s and X100’s believing that gear will make them better photographers when in fact it seems that all that gear functions more like a mental straightjacket for them.

    And then of course, like in David’s case, the expensive camera A isn’t good enough and it’s time to move to the next newer and expensive camera B, hoping and crossing fingers that B will finally capture magic. It really puzzled me that David said in regards to his X1 that “street photography is out of question” due to the slow auto focus. Seriously? X1 is not good enough? I’m not really a Leica fan but it is certainly a very capable camera, especially for the street. My friendly advice to you, David: don’t worry so much about your camera, but instead, liberate yourself by getting a really cheap-but-okay camera and then go out and shoot some great photos!

    • I don’t mind criticism, Gerrard, when it’s well-placed and balanced. I don’t think that was the case in your criticism. I believe you missed the point of my guest piece for Steve and are heaping criticism on things I did not indicate or intimate. For example, I never said there was any magic about my images but rather it was something to strive for. I noted that you did not include a URL as most people do. Can you please send your website address so I can review some of your examples?

  5. Just wanted to say I was in Munich for Oktoberfest with my X100 as well! First time and seeing your picture in Marienplatz instantly brought me back.

  6. Ben,
    Thanks for getting the point of my piece … despite being in the digital photography environment where we can shoot hundreds of frames, why not strive for an image that says something to you. It’s all subjective, anyways.

  7. David, thanks for your photos.

    I like the attitude you have suggested here – a single frame that captures a special moment.
    I think you’ve demonstrated that very well in the first two images.
    The landscapes in the third and fourth are breathtaking, and the detail in the fifth image is very impressive.

    I’m some way off affording an X100, but seeing images like these makes me want one even more!
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Hi David,
    I too love my x100 particularly on the streets! I shoot in the chaotic city of Mumbai and my x100 copes just fine. It is just a matter of finding the best way to adapt your camera to the situation. Some cameras seem to work seamlessly in your hands while others you have to meet half way. The x100 falls in the latter category but is so worth the effort:)

    Some of my street shots with the x100 can be found at http://kaushalpar.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/mumby-the-sea/ and http://kaushalpar.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/chowpatty-beach-part-i/

      • Thank you, Kaushal,
        You have a very good site, and I urge people to check it out: http://www.kaushalp.com/
        While I know there is a pop trend toward B&W, we see in color, and our world is in color. Yes, many great images were captured decades ago in black and white but that was then. Hope you will consider color, and share. You have a remarkable eye.

  9. Some nice shots but I have to disagree whole heartedly with your statement:”Street photography with the X1 is out of the question due to slow autofocus”. It’s more than capable in the right hands, using af, mf or pre focusing.

    • I applaud you if you can do street photography with the Leica X1. It’s an exceptional camera but needs much faster auto focus, in my opinion.

  10. Sorry David and other,

    for these kind of photos you don’t need a 1200 $ camera, most mobiles can do it.

    #1and 2 sufferfrom bad framing (why did you cut off the toes?)

    #3 and 4 are ok

    # 5 is even nice

    Sue Adler is in a complete other league.

    It is not cool to shoot with a fixed lense when you don’t know what you are doing and your photos suffer from bad framing. Not every snapshot is high art street photography.

    Sorry, I am not a purist, I am a zoomer, but I need a viewfinder because a. it is very bright in Thailand b.it stabilize the camera and c. I am not disturbed by anything outside the frame

    The x 100 can produce very nice jepgs but I did not buy it because no zoom. Otherwise it is still overpriced in my opinion.

    But I also have some weak spots, my last one is for x 10!! For me the most beautiful camera on the market – with zoom and viewfinder!

    Best regards

  11. I don’t want to be called a hater, but I find no appeal to the pictures. Maybe 3rd and 4th are good, but 1st and 2nd are just normal snapshots. I don’t think shooting only one frame helped, it was just an exercise and I see the same picture any people would take with a p&s. Perhaps trying something more original would work. Centered subject, normal distance, lots of dof… looks boring. Try different compositions, dof isolation, closer, farther, lower, higher, b&w, that way if you get a good image with only one shot it will be a unique one and will worth saying you shot only one frame.

    • Hey Julio,
      It works for him. So much so that he wrote about the experience and Steve posted it.

      Who will be helped by his taking the photos in B&W or off-centered? Again, he likes it. Or did you think these images were made for you?


      • Well, I’m just saying my opinion. Do you think my comment was made for you? In fact, I do think it is a good exercise.

    • Hi Julio,
      I have no claim to fame, just an avid photographer. I respect your thoughts. What I am finding is that the X100 is opening up my eyes to potential good images. Perhaps it’s the viewfinder rather than staring at a rear screen.

      • Thanks for the response David.
        I’m more used to other styles. But it is good to develop a technique instead of shooting hundreds of pictures. I’d do try what I said. Just keep it in the back of your mind.


    • Anders,
      Thank you, and I share your enjoyment of the X100. I might note that my wife has seen my enjoyment of this camera and now wants a new X10 for herself when they are available. She wants a zoom.
      All best,

  12. On a more dull/specific note — can I ask — did you shoot these RAW or are they JPGs straight out the camera?


  13. Today I took my X100 with me to do some street photography as a test. I carry it with a small neck strap in front of my breast. It was cloudy weather but still good light. The camera was set to 400 iso and aperture F2.8 and F4.0. My tactic was just walking easy in front of people and hold my thumb on the release button. If I thought they were in my angle I first pushed the release button light and then immediately full. So I fired wile walking and some times I just stop and let them walked in my “camera”. I took about 80 frames and I was very surprised there were 72 frames sharp with some very nice shots as well. The shutter times (checked in aperture) were between 1/480 and 1/1300. So, in my opinion this camera can do a very good job with street photography.
    Sorry for my English i’ts not my first language.

    • Jan,
      Your English is just fine … you made very clear points. And, I agree … the X100 is an excellent street camera because of its fast autofocus and small size.
      Thank you,

  14. Hi David,

    thank you for a nice write-up, and for the photos. I find you experiences very much in line with my own. After a year of use I decided (not without a certain degree of regret) to sell my Leica X1 and purchase the X100 instead as a small & light companion for when I don’t use my Nikon camera. The X1 performed admirably in many respects and had brought me many satisfying shots from Munich and Bavarian Alps too, by the way! But the autofocus speed (and AF noise) and real-life durability were disappointing. I never bought an external OVF though, nor tried to zone focus, so cannot comment on this way of working with the X1.

    For those thinking about X1 vs X100, I can offer a few personal observations:

    1. The shutter in the X1 is indeed virtually silent. What most reviews don’t mention though is that the focusing mechanism does produce a quiet, but noticeable whirring sound, which can distract people you photograph, especially in quiet environments. Couple that with slow autofocus in low light and I often ended up with photographs of people gazing straight into the camera. The X100 does much better in this respect.

    2. Some of the mechanisms used in the X1 seem to be not exceptionally durable. On mine, the rear control wheel needed replacement and the lens extending motor has failed after a couple of months of very careful use of the camera. Same goes for the LCD screen – it is much more prone to scratches than the ones found, for example, on higher end Nikon cameras. This might not be a camera sturdy enough to carry around in a pocket for extended periods (at least in my experience). The Fuji, on the other hand, feels better in this respect (this will have to be confirmed in use), and the lens does not need to extend.

    3. As mentioned, the AF is slow (especially in low light). It is definitely usable, but will leave you wanting for much faster operation in some cases. The perceived speed of the X100’s AF is much better in comparison.

    4. The Leica’s f/2.8 lens is exceptional, and the ISO 1600-3200 performance is good even by today’s standards, but the X100’s f/2 lens and IQ give a combined 1,5-2 stop advantage in my experience.

    5. Somehow the images captured by the Fuji sensor show (to my eyes) a higher level of micro-detail and sharpness (though the Fujinon lens seems to have a slightly lower contrast than the X1’s Elmarit). In my use this was visible even at relatively small viewing sizes.

    6. The color reproduction and tonality from the Fuji is very subtle, “life-like” and pleasing overall without post-processing effort. Personally I find it slightly superior to the X1.

    7. The X1’s rear LCD is not the best, and very difficult to use in bright sunshine. The OVF helps immensly in such circumstances, and on the Fuji it is parallax-corrected, well located and not protruding from the body.

    All in all, when you combine slow and not-so-silent AF operation, extending lens, build quality issues, lack of built-in OVF and lower high-iso capability the Leica X1 loses (for me) some of its merit in the “inconspicuous, carry everywhere, catch the moment” category. The X100 improves on most of my issues with the X1, significantly.

    • You forgot onequite important thing and that is the price.
      The X1 is $1,995.00 and the X100 is only $1,349.00 (Amazon prices).

      • Anders,

        you’re definitely right. But to make a fair comparison, Leica cameras usually hold their value better than other brands, which I experienced when selling mine. Also, if a certain camera has a combination of strengths that no other model offers – pricing becomes more relative, in my opinion. But now that Fuji has all the strengths of the X1 and loses some of the weaknesses, it’s definitely a better buy (for me).

    • Jeremy,
      Good comparison between the cameras. Re your #7, the Leica X1’s rear LCD is shameful. It reminds me of early digital camera screens from around 2000.
      You make very good points about both cameras.

      • David,

        fully agree on the LCD, and the viewfinder of the Fuji is truly liberating, as you pointed out. I think it is easily underestimated… until you try it for yourself. Thanks again for thoughtful insights. BTW, there are some non-photographic joys of attending Oktoberfest, such as the excellent, traditional Augustiner Oktoberfestbier (straight from a barrel) – highly recommended! Thanks, Jeremy

  15. Please….like this camera “makes it happen”?

    I have reeled off many good “one shots” with my Olympus ECR and Ektar 100. No thinking – just shoot. Great results.

    The camera is good no doubt, but the silly rock-star status some are giving it is ridiculous.

    • Rob, no camera will make it happen; it’s the one behind it, so you’re right. The X100 has its issues (non practical MF ring, some AF stuff, short battery life) but it is actually a game changer, to have such a practical smart small cam without compromising the image quality (a huge APSC sensor) definitely helps.

      • It is funny how things have changed in the last decade! APS-C sensors seen as “huge”!!!! Of course, considering the size of some P&S cameras it makes sense!

    • Rob,
      I am no rock star and have no claims to such fame in photography. I was forced to give up heavier cameras with exceptional zoom lenses due to a serious knee injury a few years ago. It’s either carry a camera like the Fuji X100 or Leica X1 or walk around with my hands in my pockets. I think we are at a fortunate time when such excellent cameras are available. And, I find that the X100 is certainly helping me to improve as an amateur photographer.
      Appreciate your comments.

  16. I guess the “magic” might see in these photographs is in the eye of the photographer himself, who experienced the whole process of being there, lifting the camera to the eye, pressing the shutter, being surprised by the camera’s quickness until looking at the photograph at home and sharing it with us. Me too, I love pictures from my X1, but just because of the fact that the X1 was able to do, what other cameras like my 5D Mark II do anyways. Not because of the fact, that me or the X1 produced a great shot.

    • Wolfgang,
      The Leica X1 is truly an exceptional camera in the right hands. Sadly, not mine. I now have a slightly used X1 with viewfinder in my home that needs a new owner, if I can find one. The X100 gives me what I seek in a camera.

  17. Nice article. As a rangefinder user I bought the X100 hoping for it to be the “poor man’s digital RF” but as everyone might know, it isn’t. But I like what it does similarly to a rangefinder is: it remains small, discreet, and quiet and the optical VF makes you experience what is happening while taking the photo. What frustrates me is that I can’t focus faster or guess-focus on the fly so I am currently adjusting and learning.

    Here’s my version of the quick single frame capture.


    The focus misses but the camera didn’t do so bad. Cheers!

    • Taffy,
      I shot nearly everything using the optical viewfinder. In the photos I shared with Steve, I intentionally included the one of the two women at Oktoberfest (first image in the story) because it was shot after dark, available light, and while I was walking slowly. It came out razor sharp at ISO500, 1/125, f3.2. Sure impressed me.
      Photography is an imperfect craft … like golf, I guess … what we all keep working at. I believe the X100 is helping me to improve.

  18. I agree on all what’s mentioned about the x100 except the battery life. The 3rd photo is actually excellent. The x100 was my best investment, i love this camera.

  19. The X100 has horrible battery life, mine ran out of charge after around 250 shots. The colors the camera produces are spot on, but it is a pain to actually use.

    • It just takes a lot of pratice to use efficiently.Regarding battery life, always bring an extra battery. I see no problem in having “only” 250 shots per charge – it is the equivalent of about 7 rolls of film 🙂

    • Ahmed,
      I have heard those complaints about the X100’s battery life and took along a spare, just in case. But, I never ran down a battery even when shooting 300+ images between charges. Never came close.

  20. Great photos like the the tone, but i think x1 still leading in image quality and dynamic range maybe the one and only bad thing for X1 is the autofocus….imho

    • The Leica X1 clearly works fine in the right hands but, unfortunately, not mine. The autofocus is notoriously slow, as we know, but landscape image quality is not as good as the X100 in my opinion.

    • I agree. I love the outline of the mountains behind the clouds and the stunning open range. It must be awesome to wake up every morning to that scenery.

      However, if you (David) will continue to think that using the X100 on autofocus would be the same as lifting the M9 and using manual focus, then you should best stick with a P&S.

      Autofocus will NOT hone your skills in taking a one shot wonder pic. It actually detracts to your skill, you are forcing the camera to take the shot not you. So you really are diminishing your skill level.

      • Kurt,
        I must defer to your experience regarding the M9. But, doesn’t the M9 cost many times more? While most of my images were shot autofocus, the 3rd was manual focus set to infinity, ISO200, f5.6, 1/350. Not a bad image for a camera that is about 15% the cost of a M9.

        • Sure the M9 cost as much as any professional level DSLR and the X100 only cost roughly as Leica’s Summarit line of lenses, there’s no question there.

          However, you said you set out to hone your skills in capturing that ‘magical special moment’ and my statement addresses that.

          With the affordable X100 you get to shoot millions of images in hopes of capturing that one special shot. But your skills are not honed as much as when shooting an M9 or the similar less expensive manual focus cameras (it doesn’t have to cost as much as the M9). Any film or rangefinder camera should better hone your skill than the X100. Ask any self-respecting photographer and they would say the same, manual is the way to go.

          When shooting full manual, you need to be aware of all aspects in the surroundings, to be able to set your camera correctly. You think about each exposure and put all your knowledge in one shot. This is one reason why there are no ‘machine gun’ shooters using manual focus cameras. I think this would be a better test of your skill level and a much more fulfilling experience once you captured that special moment in time.

          As proof of the statements above, you provided us with 5 shots. And unanimously only 1 stood out (picture #3) and it is not even properly exposed.

          Now think about that. Are you happy with shooting that way, keeping only 20% of your pictures each trip? Compared to the 1-shot-wonder 100% rate of your friend.

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