(Pocket-lint) - If there's one high-end fixed-lens camera that gets people excited, it's the Fuji X100 series. A unique proposition among compact cameras, its rangefinder-styling, unparalleled viewfinder and fixed 35mm window onto the world make it unlike anything else out there. It's a bit of modern retro.
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 up a notch in terms of control. Also going up a notch, however, is the price point: at £1,249 it's a mighty pricey camera these days. Is it worth every penny?
Fujifilm X100F review: What's new?
- 24-megapixel X-Trans CMOS III sensor (50% rise in resolution over X100T)
- 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 (more detail on this later) remain the same as before, with only a faster refresh rate for its electronic view upgrading the feature set.
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, which is 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 so crops the image, thus delivers a lower resolution, but overcomes one of the earlier generation X100 models' limitations - having no zoom whatsoever.
Fujifilm X100F review: 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 by adopting 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.
And we're not talking really, really close-up to the camera, either. Even moderate distance subjects can fall out of crystal clear focus, which has seen us stop down to f/4.0 for much of our use - as the f/2.0 option is only really useful at typical portrait focal lengths. It'll work for street photography, which is roughly what the X100F is designed for, but not for everything.
When using the camera we also found the ongoing lack of a vari-angle LCD screen and the absence of touch controls to be a shame. The other models that Fuji has also unveiled in 2017 - the mirrorless medium format GFX 50S and X-T20 mirrorless system camera - feature touchscreen controls. It feels that the X100F should now offer this - just because it looks retro doesn't mean modern features shouldn't be present.
Despite the camera operating faster - the electronic viewfinder operates at 60fps rather than the 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 about that. Nonetheless, it seems like a feature that should be plausible - and extracting stills from a stream of video can be a useful feature (4K is about 8MP, which is perfectly good for many situations).
Fujifilm X100F review: How does it handle?
- Hybrid optical/electronic rangefinder-style viewfinder unique to this camera series
- 35mm (equivalent) focal length; 50/70mm (equivalent) crop options available
- New 325-point autofocus system (49 phase-detection points)
As high-end compact cameras go, however, we love the X100F. At times it's heart over head. But we've always had such a soft spot for this camera series and now, especially thanks to the new 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's breath, and with the ability to adjust their size they function in a fairly pinpoint fashion. If only close-up focus absolution was't such a conundrum.
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: offering a wider-than-100-per-cent optical view, so you can predict what's coming into the frame, thanks to a digital border outlining the edges of the shot you're about to capture. Just make sure you're keeping a keen eye on that digital white outline - as that's where the picture magic happens.
When adjusting to the 50/70mm crop options, that digital border moves - you'll see it get smaller within the view, to represent the new capture area. Parallax adjustment is also catered for in this situation, which means the frame edge will move accordingly if you've focused on a closer subject (necessary given the different placement of the viewfinder window and through-the-lens alignment to the sensor being different) to accurately focus on what you intend. That undoes one of the old film rangefinder nasties of the past.
A flick of the X100F's finder switch, which is positioned towards 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 (that's what we'd like to see minicked in the LCD screen view, but that currently isn't). Flick the finder switch the other way and the whole viewfinder goes fully electronic - which can be handy, as it means zero parallax error (everything is operating through-the-lens), but we far prefer the more fluid vision of the optical viewfinder with its electronic overlay. It's a thing of beauty.
In short: there's no more interesting viewfinder proposition on the market than what you'll find in the X100F. It only works in a camera like this due to the fixed-lens nature, of course, and it might be far too complex for some - but for traditionalists in the know, it's a thing of wonder.
Fujifilm X100F review: What's image quality like?
- 24-megapixel X-Trans CMOS III sensor
Bumping up the resolution by 50 per cent compared to its predecessor might sound like a lot, but with 24-megapixels on offer it's roughly the current standard on the market for a sensor of this size (APS-C).
It's the very same sensor that you'll find in the X-T2, for example, so we have very 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 such 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, though: close-up focus is tricky to judge, as wide-open apertures always come out soft unless the distance from camera is agreeable. And other than knowledge there's no on-screen/in-finder mechanism to warn you that settings choices might result in softness. Keep things at an arm's length and be prepared to stop down, then, as f/2.0 isn't always usable.
Another perk with the X100F is the leaf shutter within the lens. This opens in an outward-from-centre motion, rather than upward focal-plane motion, which 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, provide a darker appearance - like the subject is highlighted beyond it, even in outdoor scenes.
Since our initial X100F outing, we've been using the camera in Detroit to capture the city and have found its quirkiness to be perfectly suitable. Sure, it has limitations, but in a way they reinforce that magic of old skool picture making: forcing you to step forward or back rather than adjusting a zoom, considering framing more precisely than almost any other modern camera, and revelling in the attention that passers by give such an old-looking film-style camera. That's as magic as the images that the X100F produces.
There's no ignoring the the X100F is a niche product that won't suit a great many people. There's no optical zoom. Close-up shooting isn't great at the widest aperture, due to resulting softness. It's also hugely expensive at £1,249 (a result of the sinking Sterling relative to political climes).
But for those it does suit, the X100F will be a dream. It has heaps to offer than nothing else on the market can. It's truly unique - a word that we rarely to never get to use. 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. Nothing else compares to this one-of-a-kind camera.