(Pocket-lint) - It only takes one glance at the Fujifilm X100T to know it's a special little camera. Or, perhaps more to the point, a specialist camera. The retro design, physical control dials, fixed 35mm f/2.0 (equivalent) lens, and a hybrid viewfinder make that pretty clear. And if not then the £1,000 price tag ought to hit it home.
Yes, the Fujifilm X100T might seem like a pricey wedge of a camera, but it comes from a heritage stock, utilises a large APS-C sensor size and as much as it's a homage to classic street-shooters, it simultaneously fronts some of the best current camera technology.
But it's undoubtedly niche. You'll need to know exactly what you're doing because the Fujifilm X100T can easily fall hit the wall and, unlike a point-and-shoot, it won't stop you from taking shots in configurations that won't produce usable results. It's a pro tool for those in the know.
As we alluded to in our preview from September 2014, the X100T is the best model in the three-strong series so far thanks to some new features. With an updated viewfinder capable of rangefinder-style split focus and real-time parallax correction, it's a camera unlike any other. But is a camera that's more about design ego and rose-tinted nostalgia than being the perfect pro shooting tool?
The X100T isn't drastically different to look at compared to the older X100S. That means the usual adornments: separate shutter speed and exposure compensation dials sit atop the camera, combined with the aperture control ring around the lens to the front. It's all about full manual control as you want it, in a style that nods to a classic layout in digital form.
However, the X100T does bring a new, remodelled body. There's a slightly exaggerated grip integrated as part of the new top plate design, while an additional dedicated Drive button to the rear takes charge of a modified layout arrangement.
Much of this new layout is to benefit user customisation: each of the four-way d-pad buttons are now symbol-free, for example, to allow your programmed preferences to be put into action. What used to be a rear toggle control on the X100 and X100S models has become an infinitely rotating thumbwheel on the X100T; appropriate as its former use to adjust aperture value by third stops has now been adsorbed by the aperture control ring around the lens. The rear screen also increases to a 3-inch scale with a 1.04m-dot resolution. Much better.
But Fujifilm has missed a trick. Why the exposure compensation dial still lacks a lock (even a click-in, click-out one that could keep the dial in free-rotation if desired) is beyond us. We often knocked the dial out of place when removing the camera from a bag, and as there's no indication light sometimes you'll be none the wiser having done so - easily overlooking the metering level within the viewfinder or on the rear screen. A small thing, but we think a lock should have been added into the mix.
The core of the X100T is otherwise the same established base as found in the X100S. The lens is the same, the sensor is the same 16-megapixel X-Trans II CMOS offering - whacky name, we know, but we'll explain why later - and there's no low-pass filter which means the ability to yield greater reproducible sharpness than many alternative camera options. Therefore the image quality, which we'll come to later after addressing one notable potential hurdle, is one and the same as the older model.
But there's one thing that's clearly better than before: the autofocus. Not because Fujifilm has jammed some new system into the X100T, but because it has enhanced the algorithms to perform better.
In bright conditions we've had no more issues than we'd find with many other cameras in assuring focus locks onto subject. And in dimmer conditions, with the focus assist lamp activated, the success rate appears to be more consistent than the X100S. Even sat here writing this review in early evening darkness, the camera is happily locking onto various subjects, even objects such as camera lenses with less discernible points of contrast. Autofocus slip-ups can happen from time to time though, typically when the camera assumes focus on a subject closer than within its possible range.
The 49-point autofocus arrangement can be set to one of five AF area size options, or set to automatic multi-area if you want to point and shoot. Well, that's the theory - but in our review sample the manual focus point position encountered a bug that made it always revert to the centre. We consulted the manual, dug through the menus, did a hard reset, battery-pulled and only after adjusting numerous settings (seemingly the auto dynamic range was to blame) everything began to function as we expected. It's not an issue we've been able to recreate since which, while great for using the camera, isn't so cut and dry for review purposes.
Manual focus has always been a significant part of the X100 series' make-up. The X100T Fujifilm goes all-out on that front, with not only focus peaking and split image options available to assist focus, but a new electronic rangefinder-like solution built into the hybrid viewfinder.
But let's roll back a little and detail the viewfinder itself first - as it's a crucial part of why the X100 is such a great series. Because in no other camera series will you find what Fujifilm describes as a reverse-Galilean viewfinder; the combination of an optical viewfinder with electronic viewfinder overlay, delivering the best of both worlds.
Peer through the finder and you'll see a wider-than-100 per cent optical frame - wide enough to reveal part of the lens barrel in the preview frame, useful as a guide so you can see "beyond the frame" and what's about to enter into shot.
The edge of the frame is defined by an electronic overlay which sets the boundaries within the optical view using a digital white border. In the previous models, this border would hop around once focus was achieved to adjust for parallax error - we won't go into detail, ask a physics undergraduate - but in the X100S it moves in real-time so you know the exact boundaries of the frame. That's particularly useful for focusing on closer subjects where the typical frame area can be reduced.
The source of this electronic overlay can also be used as a dedicated electronic viewfinder, removing the potential fuss of parallax error and presenting a what-you-see-is-what-you-get 100 per cent field of view direct to the eye. Many don't like the lag associated with an electronic finder, but the option is there anyway in all its glorious 2.36m-dot resolution, or is forced into play when using macro mode.
Then there's the new electronic rangefinder option. Switching between viewfinder modes is achieved via a switch to the front of the camera, pushed left to toggle the rangefinder overlay on and off, or pushed right to toggle between optical and pure electronic views. Now we might term the "electronic rangefinder" mode something else entirely, given how it functions, but it's still very useful.
To explain: to the corner of the viewfinder - the exact space where you would otherwise only be seeing the corner of that protruding lens - is a semi-transparent neutral density filter used to project an electronic overlay of the focus point area. As the image projected on here is a pull from the sensor, i.e. it's an electronic view, it can be used to judge colour, exposure and film simulation mode effects directly to the eye without impacting that optical finder experience. It's really clever, although wearing glasses can make the alignment of the projection window suffer a little.
Manual focus works really well thanks to the smooth-rotating lens ring, now with a new textured finish for maximum finger adhesion, although the protruding wings from the aperture control ring can get a little in the way sometimes. The lens feels somewhat condensed, but if it was physically larger it would only make the camera a bulkier fare overall.
Points of note
Despite showing off tech that no other manufacturer can offer, the Fujifilm X100T doesn't always let you know when you've exceeded its limits. If you want to shoot at a 1/4000th sec shutter speed, for example, then the aperture blades can only clear the distance of f/8 or smaller within that given time frame. Shoot at, say, f/4.0 and 1/4000th sec, and it half works, but exposure and bokeh might end up botched. However, as the X100T has leaf shutter you can shoot with off-camera flash sync above the typical 1/125th sec maximum.
As a work-around for the shutter limits there's an electronic shutter, which can now snap at up to 1/32,000th sec. It's very handy and, as will be important for some, near-silent in option too. However, it's not possible to access shutter speeds faster than 1/4000th sec on the physical mode dial, so you'll need to override via the settings. There's also a built-in neutral density filter which may be a more practical way to stick to the shutter dial in bright conditions when using wider apertures.
But the one biggest limitation of the X100T is - and just like the earlier models - the maximum aperture settings are incapable of producing sharp close-up images. The official specification states that macro functions from "approx 10cm - 2.0m" which, while true, is irrelevant if you want to shoot at f/2.0 or f/2.8 even as you'll get a soft image with halo effects even 30cm away from the lens. The results are like seeing with virtual cataracts. For the closest 10cm focus even f/4.0 isn't usable. There's no warning system to compensate for this focus distance limitation, so despite confirmed focus you'll be presented with soft shots and wish you'd upped the ISO sensitivity and stopped down the aperture instead.
The above point about close focus and wide apertures has caused a number of issues with our results. After a couple of days shooting we were in sync with the camera, but the temptation to open up to f/2.0 needs to be used sparingly.
But when shooting beyond arm's length (literally) we are suitably impressed with what the X100T can achieve. In part that's down to its X Trans CMOS II sensor - yep, that whacky named bit of kit. This namesake relates to a colour filter array unique to Fujifilm, put in place to avoid moire and combat false colour. Standard cameras' colour filters look at a two by two grid to generate the colours for the four resulting pixels, whereas the X-Trans CMOS II looks at a six by six grid (arranged in a non-linear fashion) to produce the colour data for the resulting 36 pixels within an image. That's the geeky bit out of the way.
But what does this mean in terms of results? The X100T is relying on what it already knows works well, with various other Fujifilm X-series - both fixed lens and interchangeable lens models - also featuring the same sensor. There's little image distortion to speak of at this fixed 35mm equivalent focal length, with both raw and JPEG images looking similar, bar for slight contrast and exposure differences.
If default images aren't as you want then there are all manner of in-camera adjustments that can be made too: noise reduction, sharpness, colour, shadow and highlight tone levels are all independently adjustable by +/-2 via the quick menu to tailor shots to your liking.
Shots are rich in detail and usable throughout the full ISO 200-6400 standard range, with little interfering grain or image noise to speak of. That's not to say grain is entirely absent, becoming visible from ISO 1600 and above, but remaining subtle. At ISO 6400 it's more prominent, but the results are still impressive - we're talking system camera levels of success from a compact, with like-for-like sensor sizes. It's a shame there's no true ISO 100 setting - it's available, but is an option with limited dynamic range - and ISO 6400 and above aren't available within the Auto ISO settings and have to be selected manually.
As well as automatic dynamic range compensation for backlit scenes - available at 100, 200, and 400 per cent options, as well as auto - there's a complex white balance system with dual-axis in-camera adjustment available on the red/green and blue/yellow axes, plus a variety of available presets, including custom set and manual white balance from 2,500-10,000K.
There are also film simulation modes, with the addition of Classic Chrome for the X100T bringing a subtle but desirable feature straight to the camera. It falls in among the other film options there to mimic classic Fujifilm stocks, including Provia (standard), Velvia (vivid), Astia (soft) and a variety of black and white and contrast options.
Although there's no jump in image quality between the X100S and X100T, the bar is still set high. Just ensure your subject doesn't demand close-up work with wide-open apertures, which is the X100T's Achilles' heel.
The Fujifilm X100T is - and to call on a word so often misused - a unique camera. Although largely similar to its X100S predecessor, it's the new electronic rangefinder option within the already excellent hybrid viewfinder that make it a proposition like no other.
Yes, it will only appeal to a specialist niche; those who have a specific remit they're seeking. But the X100T is both unusual and good looking enough to captivate a wider audience, much like how a renovated classic car pootling along down the street will turn heads.
Small but important changes have made their way into the third-time X100 too. There's improved autofocus (it's still not perfect though) and an enlarged and higher-resolution LCD screen than before, while a new electronic shutter option to 1/32,000th sec makes for near-silent use should you need it. However, there's still no exposure lock dial and, crucially, close-up focus with those wide-open apertures does not come under the X100T's remit (and other limitations, which are unavoidable, see the fastest mechanical shutter speed limited to f/8.0, so be wary).
At £1,000 the Fujifilm X100T is hardly pocket money, but it's capable of producing cracking images in the right hands, the lens is lovely and sharp from f/4.0 and beyond, and that's all wrapped into a distinctive and sturdy design worthy of proud ownership.
There's no doubt in our mind that the X100T is the best in the series yet, so long as you're aware of the rough in among the diamonds.