You might recall that when Fuji announced its X10, I was quite enthusiastic and eager to test this new camera. So while in Adelaide, I took the opportunity to stop at a camera store that by chance had it on display (and in stock!). The sales rep was kind to let me play with it for quite some time. Unluckily, I did not have a extra SD card with me (and even if I did, stores are absolutely horrible for test shots) so you’ll have to follow the links at the end of the article if you’d like to see some full resolution sample shots..
Here are a then a few first impressions from a very brief encounter. This is by no way a full blown review, please also refer to the links provided for more complete coverage. Finally, keep in mind that these impressions are purely based on my requirements in the street photography application.
Build quality : In two words, it is top notch for such a small body. I love cameras with a metallic feel and this one definitely has it. The lens zooms in and out very smoothly by twisting the barrel. I liked a lot the 24 x 36 focal equivalent markings on the lens barrel as it allows to quickly change from one focal to the other (28mm to 50mm as an example).
Size : I was actually surprised to see how small it really is. Not jeans pockets small, but enough to grab it wherever you go and to fit it in a coat pocket. It does not weight much either and handled well in my relatively large hands. All in all, a package that I find close to optimum for street photography.
Viewfinder : The optical viewfinder is surprisingly bright. Not Leica bright and large, but definitely much better than anything on competitive P&S. Note that it only covers I believe 85% of the actual image area. This is definitely a shortfall, even though you never compose to the centimeter in street photography. Evidently, the viewfinder magnifies with a move of the lens barrel.
Power on : Another important requirement of street photography is the time it takes a camera to power on. In this register, it is very fast. Quick enough that the camera will be in operations by the time it reaches your eye, so great job here Fuji. Note that the camera powers on by turning the lens barrel to the selected focal. Quite innovative and effective though I would have liked the camera to have “click stops” at the key markings. Indeed, it would help to avoid over shooting the desired focal as it happened to me several times. There is probably some learning curve here so it might or might not end up a big issue after a few days of use.
Silent mode : There is a silent mode which is … absolutely silent. If you like to remain unspotted when taking pictures, this camera definitely fits the requirement. I also liked the feel of the shutter button which I thought was smooth and responsive. On a side note, I did not notice much shutter lag, but this is highly subjective in such a short evaluation time, so you’ll probably need to do the homework and find out official data.
Menu system : As you might know, I am mainly a Leica M user. I hate menus and only use them to change the ISO’s. I don’t care about any of the modes or settings available except for Manual and Aperture priority. The Fuji X10 does have a manual mode yet aperture and speed can only be changed by moving the rear dial (with no markings evidently). You will therefore have to use the LCD “si o si” (as they say in Spanish). This is a big drawback in my opinion and would have loved speed and aperture dials. Indeed, I like to manage all parameters of exposure myself and not leave it up to the camera. I guess the exposure compensation dial, which is smartly located on the top plate, acts somewhat as a substitute.
Manual focus : Manual focus is also an important requirement of many street photographers and basically, 99% of compact cameras fail in this regard. The Fuji X10 is another one to add to the long list since the manual focus implementation is plain lousy. It will work for macro shots and maybe for street shots with static scenes. But there is no way you will be able to manual focus in the heat of the action. You can probably work around it by pre setting the focus with the AFL-AEL button and zone focusing (especially since the depth of field is quite extensive on the X10 at all F-stops). But let’s say it, there is no way you’ll have the ability to fine tune in the last milli seconds like you do on a Leica M, especially at close distances.
Auto focus : For those of you that prefer to use autofocus, you’ll be happy with this camera. It is about as fast as my girlfriend’s Panasonic G2. Focus is almost instant in well lit situations. Fast enough that you won’t be able to blame a missed shot on it. It did nevertheless struggle a few times though when pointing toward darker areas of the camera store. Note finally, that the focus confirmation light is located next to the viewfinder and it proved to be very handy. I would have preferred to have a focus point confirmation directly in the viewfinder but I guess this is a lot to ask for such a small camera.
Depth of field : I personally use thin depth of field as a tool for my street photography. So does the Fuji X10 have this capability ? Answer is basically no when the zoom is set to standard focals for street photography, that is 28mm to 50mm. You’ll have to extend the lens all the way to 112 mm and stand up pretty close to your subject (1 to 2 meter) to get some out of focus areas. In other words, you’ll get some bokeh for close up portraits, but for other types of street shots, this is not the camera for you.
Image quality : As said, I could not record the pictures I took on my SD card. Yet I spent a lot of time evaluating the pictures available online (see links below). For a small sensor camera, they are pretty good and this even at high ISO’s. Noise is well controlled at low ISO’s and colors are warm and pleasant. Yet make no mistake, they are obviously not at the Leica M8 or even the Sigma DP2 level, especially in terms of sharpness and dynamic range.
But, stop, I must be fair here. This opinion is based on the analysis JPG files as there is currently no way to develop the X10’s raw files on a Mac. I need therefore to be cautious aboout the above statements and probably will have to revisit once I can develop them in Lightroom.
Conclusion or … will I buy ?
When the X10 was announced, I envisioned it as a take everywhere backup to my Leica M’s. This role is currently filled by the Sigma DP2 which is an amazing camera that I enjoy a lot to shoot with. Yet, it does not provide many of the advantages of a versatile compact camera for travel (zoom, good video, high ISO’s) and has some quirks that are sometimes frustrating when shooting street (slow power on, lousy battery, relatively slow F2.8 lens). Many of these shortfalls seemed covered by the X10 and I also especially liked the fact that it has a decent built-in optical viewfinder and focal markings on the zoom.
So what ? Just take the damn credit card out ! Not that fast…. first I am now a poor traveller and I have had my GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndroma) under control for the last 18 months. More seriously, I struggle with the fact that image quality at low ISO’s is not at least at the DP2 level. I know the Foveon is a much bigger sensor, and the X10 should not really be compared to it, yet I print pictures (and sometimes sell) in large format and want the best picture quality available in the corresponding body. I feel the DP2 is still the best option in that regard.
Unless proved wrong when the X10’s raw files becomes available on Lightroom, I definitely have doubts that the X10 has the image quality I am after. I could use it as a third camera, but it does bring the question “Do I really need it ?” (and I know many of you have this perpetual interrogation)
This being said, if you shoot mainly to post on the web and print relatively small, I’d say go for it. This can definitely be a wonderful camera for street, travel or a back-up to larger systems.