If there's one high-end fixed-lens camera that gets people excited, it's the Fuji X100 series.
Now in its fourth-generation form, the X100F has the core make-up that made its predecessors such successes, but has a revamped layout and enhanced autofocus features that take it to the next level.
Following its announcement we got to handle a final production X100F at Fujifilm's pre-launch event to get a real feel for the camera. Is its significant £1,249 price point worth every penny?
Fujifilm X100F preview: What's different?
- 24-megapixel X-Trans CMOS III sensor
- New focus lever to rear
- New ISO dial stacked within shutter dial
- Exposure compensation adds custom (C)
- New 325-point autofocus system (49 phase-detection points)
Front-on and the X100F looks identical to earlier X100T. It's the same dimensions, with the same magnesium top panel construction and feels like a hardy wedge of quality in the hand. The 35mm (equivalent) lens and hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder remain the same as before (albeit the finder has a faster refresh rate for its electronic view).
Flip the camera around, however, and it reveals its new design features. There's a focus lever to the rear, which is much the same as you'll find in Fuji's compact system cameras, such as the X-T2. It's really handy to use for quick point adjustment, while a press will allow for focus point size adjustment (controlled using the rear thumbwheel to cycle through the five size options).
Up top the X100F reveals some of its other new features, subtle as they are. The main addition is ISO sensitivity control from within the shutter speed dial - simply pull it up and rotate it to adjust between auto, low/high and individual ISO sensitivities (between third-stops). The exposure compensation also has a custom “C” position beyond its +/-3EV control which you can use via the thumbwheel to make adjustments to +/-5EV instead.
Beneath that magnesium shell the X100F hosts the latest 24-megapixel X-Trans CMOS III sensor. That's a 50 per cent resolution increase over the X100T model, which can be used in full wide-angle 35mm (equivalent) or jogged to 50/70mm equivalents (in JPEG only) using the front lens ring (doing this only crops directly into the image, but it's a quirky feature).
Fujifilm X100F preview: What's missing?
- No 4K video
- No vari-angle LCD screen
- No touchscreen controls
- Close-focus sharpness limitations
- No exposure compensation dial lock
The new features are certainly welcome, but the X100F still misses out on a few features and adopts the legacy of its predecessor's shortcomings.
Principal to those is that the lens is not designed for close-up shooting at the wide-open apertures. There's nothing to stop you shooting at f/2.0 but close-to-lens subjects won't be sharp, even if they're in the focal plane. The camera doesn't warn of this - it's just something you have to learn as you go, as it was with the X100, X100S and X100T before it.
When using the camera we found the ongoing lack of a vari-angle LCD screen and the absence of touch to be a shame too. The other models that Fuji has also unveiled - the mirrorless medium format GFX 50S and X-T20 mirrorless system camera - each feature touchscreen options. It feels that the X100F should now offer this.
Despite the camera operating faster - the electronic viewfinder operates at 60fps rather than 30fps of the earlier X100T, for example - the X100F isn't able to leverage this for 4K video capture. Realistically this is a purist camera, so we don't really care. Nonetheless, it seems like a feature that could be plausible - and removing stills from a stream of video can be useful.
Fujifilm X100F preview: How does it handle?
As high-end compact cameras go, however, we love the X100F. We've always had a soft spot for this camera series and now, especially thanks to the focus lever, it's easier and more intuitive to use than ever before.
The new autofocus system offers a huge spread of focus points throughout the screen too, and with the ability to adjust their size they function in a fairly pinpoint fashion.
Of the 325-points, there's a 91-point option, while the centre-most 49-points are phase-detection for optimum performance. The more sensitive points are outlined as distinct, larger squares so you know what's what.
However, we'd like on-screen focusing to offer a zoom-in 100 per cent preview, as this kind of functionality is available within the viewfinder.
And it's that viewfinder that truly sells the X100F. It's always been the pinnacle of its kind: a wider-than-100-per-cent optical frame, so you can predict what's coming into the frame. The frame border is outlined by a digital border which, once adjusting to 50/70mm, moves within the frame. Parallax adjustment is also catered for, the frame edge moving to accurately show the capture frame one focus is acquired.
A flick of the finder switch to the front opens up an in-camera rangefinder-style preview window to the bottom right corner, which can be used to view the whole frame, or 2.5x or 6.5x magnification to see exactly what you're doing. Flick the finder switch the other way and the whole viewfinder goes fully electronic - which can be handy due to no parallax error, but we far prefer the more fluid vision of the optical view with the electronic overlay.
In short there's no more interesting and practical viewfinder on the market. It only works in a camera like this due to the fixed-lens nature, but the viewfinder is a huge sell for the X100F.
Fujifilm X100F preview: What's image quality like?
Bumping up the resolution by 50 per cent might sound like a lot, but with 24-megapixels on offer it's roughly the current standard on the market. It's the very same sensor that you'll find in the X-T2, too, so we have few qualms about just how good the quality is.
At Fujifilm's preview event we were able to shoot a variety of scenes with the camera, including a male model (not Zoolander) and various around-the-house objects in mixed lighting. It wasn't a particularly bright day, so was an ideal opportunity to test the camera's low-light capabilities.
The quality is still very impressive even at higher ISO sensitivities. A dog statue, with lots of mid-level tones and blacks, shows off just how sharp images can be from that lens, without excessive image noise - there's only a whisper of it in the background.
Drop down the sensitivity - such as the ISO 400 model shot that we snapped (with off-camera flash) - and things look ultra clean and clear, with ample crispness. The lens really is great assuming the subject is far enough away.
That's the one problem we continue to have with the X100 series: close-up focus is tricky to judge, as wide-open apertures always come out soft unless the distance is agreeable. Keep things at an arm's length and be prepared to stop down as f/2.0 isn't always usable.
Other perks with the X100F is that the leaf shutter within the lens - which opens in an outward-from-centre motion, rather than upward focal-plane motion - means much higher flash sync speeds are possible. It's great for catching flash-lit subjects while causing the background to not receive the same degree of lighting and, therefore, a darker appearance.
There's no ignoring the the X100F is a niche product. There's no optical zoom. Close-up shooting isn't great. It's also hugely expensive at £1,249 (a result of the sinking Sterling relative to political climes - it's 8 per cent down year-on-year against the Yen).
Yet the X100F has heaps to offer than nothing else on the market can. It's truly unique. Its quality of build is second to none. The hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder is outstanding, as is the rangefinder-style mode. The improved autofocus is every bit as good as its competition and the new focus lever makes it even quicker to control.
You might need to be as rich as a king to buy one, but then the X100F is indeed king of the fixed-lens compacts.