The Fujifilm X10 isn’t like an ordinary compact. Far from it: the 12-megapixel sensor at the camera’s heart is a 2/3in size - far larger than a standard compact camera sensor and larger still than the 1/7in sensors found in most other high-spec compact cameras such as the Canon PowerShot G12 or Nikon P7100.
A "zooming optical viewfinder" (as Fujifilm calls it) also makes an appearance: a viewfinder that shows 85 percent of the frame at any given focal distance, something otherwise unheard on in compact cameras.
High-end enthusiasts have been eagerly awaiting the X10’s release, but is it all it’s cracked up to be?
Following on from the success of the Fujifilm X100, the X10 follows a similar style. The camera looks like a classic rangefinder from decades gone by, though this is befitting of today’s market. There’s no doubt: the X10 looks cool. It’s not a small camera by compact standards, but this won’t be a bother for the target audience and we rather like the fact there’s plenty to get your hands around.
Controls are found in abundance which makes light work of selecting and setting various options. A main mode dial, function button and exposure compensation dial sit on the top of the camera next to the shutter release that, in keeping with the retro theme, has a traditional screw-thread for attaching a cable release.
The back of the camera has a thumbwheel and the d-pad’s outer ring also rotates to control settings. When in full manual, for example, this means one will adjust aperture and the other the shutter speed. One-touch RAW and a variety of other buttons also tend to all needs.
The 2.8-inch screen on the rear may sound small for not hitting the "standard" 3-inch size, but the 4:3 ratio means shots fill it from edge to edge. The display can be set up to show all current controls in a rather DSLR-like fashion if you opt to shoot just using the viewfinder, or in a more traditional digital compact ‘live preview’ style.
The X10 doesn’t have an on switch as such, instead a twist of the lens will turn the camera on. Quirky, but little touches like this make the camera all the more individual.
The X10’s 4x optical zoom lens ranges from a wideangle 28mm through to 112mm. Now that may not sound like much, but it’s on par with similar high-end compacts. What makes the X10’s extra special, however, is an f/2.0-2.8 maximum aperture that elevates the camera’s capabilities to the next level. Blurred backgrounds are all the easier to achieve and low-light shooting is made more accessible thanks to the amount of light that can enter the lens. And there’s no playing around with zoom toggles to activate the zoom - the X10 has a proper twist-action lens barrel to motion through the zoom. Lovely stuff.
Our one moan is the lack of a built-in neutral density (ND) filter. Such a feature would have made the wide aperture settings more approachable when shooting in brighter conditions.
But the lens isn’t the only place that optics are used. The optical viewfinder, a rarity for a compact, isn’t a fixed focal length - it’s able to represent the image at any given focal length, described as a "zooming optical viewfinder" on the Fujifilm website. The physical size and magnification make the viewfinder better than any other (zoom-capable one) that we’ve seen on a compact camera. And although only 85 percent of the image can be seen in the frame, leaving some 15 percent of the outer-most edges of your shot will be captured but can’t be previewed through the viewfinder, this is still far more impressive than the nearest competitors.
One other downside is the lack of feedback in the viewfinder. An LCD display to show shooting data or even an electronic overlay, a la the Fujifilm X100, would have taken the X10’s viewfinder up a gear. It’s still an impressive feat, but there’s room for
The X10’s inclusion of a hotshoe lends well to expansion, though the built-in pop up flash does a great job of fill-flash and won’t output too much power. Flash compensation control up to +/-2/3rd of a stop provides an extra level of control too.
The X10’s autofocus system is fast and comes in three flavours: multi, single area and tracking; though face detection (and face recognition) adds a further dimension when activated from its respective menu.
There’s also a macro/super macro setting, though when the lens is zoomed in, even a little, don’t anticipate being able to get very close to your subject. A variety of screen display options also include a level gauge to assist with straight-horizon shots. This works whether in portrait or landscape orientation, though doesn’t provide full three-dimensional assessment for square-on shots.
Image quality - the highs and lows
The X10’s sensor size and EXR Processor combine to make great images. Shallow depth of field is easily achievable and high ISO settings return impressive results. There’s bags of detail in shots, so long as they’ve been accurately focused.
The camera's ISO auto setting is limited to ISO 3200 maximum, but we’d be happy to use the results from any of these given sensitivities. It’s not often a compact camera can live up to those standards. ISO 4000-6400 is only available at 6-megapixels in size, while ISO 12,800 can only be captured at 4-megapixels. As such these are less attractive options, and image noise and processing is to the detriment of image quality at these higher sensitivities. Overall, however, and Fuji’s X10 achieves impressive results.
Well, that’s true if one rather odious processing issue is ignored. Specular highlights, i.e., the white points from light sources or glinted reflections in sunlight, can "blow out" into circular forms that are far larger than they ought to be and, in some circumstances, a huge distraction. In the grey, flat light of the UK’s winter this wasn’t an issue for almost all of our test shots, but one shot of a tree wrapped in fairy lights and another of sunlight sparkling over the river Thames reveals each bulb to have an oversized, orb-like highlight.
For a lesser compact this might not be such a bother, but for a high-spec £500 compact camera it’s not one of the X10’s, er, highlights. For some this issue alone will rule out the X10’s purchase. We’re hopeful that a future firmware upgrade can provide a fix for this issue but, as yet, Fujifilm hasn’t returned our concerns with any comments - more info as and when we hear something.
The X10’s retro styling looks chic and is matched with impressive performance. This is a compact camera at its best and leaves little to be desired. It outperforms all its nearest rivals, has an excellent lens, bags of hands-on controls and will fit the bill for the more discerning snapper.
The 85 percent field-of-view optical viewfinder does lack any form of feedback in its display, but is otherwise miles ahead of the competition.
But, and it’s something that can’t be overlooked, there is a processing issue that causes specular highlights to morph into white orbs. This shouldn’t happen at such a level and, as a result, night photographs and high contrast shots taken in bright light are at risk. Shots won’t be ruined, as such, but this oddity has cost the X10 Pocket-Lint’s esteemed Hot Product award and may mean it won’t live up to customers’ high expectations.
If this issue is fixed via firmware then we’d have no reservations calling the X10 the best compact camera with a zoom lens that money can buy. Though at £500 you’ll need deep pockets.