Fujifilm FinePix X100 large-sensor compact–huzzah!

FujiFilm Finepix X100 front

As a photo nut I try to keep up with the rumors of exciting upcoming products from various manufacturers.  Honestly, FujiFilm had mostly dropped off my radar.  They’re completely stagnant in the DSLR arena, and despite a few innovative compact cameras they haven’t really put out anything earth-shattering in a long time.  Welcome back to the top of the photo gear news chain, FujiFilm!  Meet the FujiFilm Finepix X100.

Why is this so exciting?  Because it’s that rarest of rare animals in today’s photo world–a compact sized camera with a large sensor and a fixed lens.  The compact size is self-explanatory.  The large sensor is APS-C sized, which is as large as or maybe even slightly larger than cameras such as the Canon T2i, 60D, 7D; Nikon D3100, D7000, D300s, etc.  In other words it’s in very good company from an image quality standpoint, since rule of thumb says larger sensor = better image quality.  Compact size + large sensor, and large sensor + fixed lens combos are both rare.  But put compact size + large sensor + fixed lens together and you have a real rare breed.  Throw in solid build quality with a metal top and baseplate and the retro styling, and the X100 takes some big strides to set itself apart from the pack.

Right off the top of my head I can only think of 3 others that match the X100’s 3 defining features of compact, large sensor, and fixed lens: the Sigma DP1 (and variants DP1s, DP1x, and DP2), the Leica X1, and the Ricoh GXR.  The Sigma DP1 has various quirks that make it hard to use and image quality quirks pertaining to its sensor tech that can be positive or negative depending on how you shoot.  The Leica X1 is a Leica and is priced accordingly.  The Ricoh GXR is unique in that it has interchangeable lens-sensor combo modules (all fixed lenses), but only one of the available modules has a large sensor.  If the X100 can beat the X1 in price and at least match the X1 in image quality and operation, it could be a huge hit.  The Sigma and Ricoh haven’t really gotten much attention, and as such aren’t real contenders right now.

Some of the X100’s features that stand out to me:

  • 12 MP APS-C sensor–size matches or exceeds all entry- to mid-level DSLRs
  • Fixed 35mm-equivalent f/2 lens–my favorite focal length, and a pretty large aperture of f/2
  • Hybrid OVF/EVF–can switch between an optical image with exposure info overlay, and an electronic image in the same viewfinder with the flick of a button
  • Built-in ND filter–3 stops so you can shoot the lens wide open even in bright daylight
  • 5 frames per second
  • Solid metal construction
  • 720p video

Some questions I have about the X100:

  • Price?  According to this link it’s rumored to be between 120,000 and 150,000 Yen (I think.  Thanks, Google Engrish).
  • Is this typical Fuji style 12MP where it’s interpolated from their honeycomb-like sensor layout?  If so the resolution won’t be as good as 12MP you get from a typical APS-C sensor.
  • Specs say 90% coverage on the viewfinder, but I think that might be wrong.  This image of the viewfinder with shooting info overlay seems to suggest greater than 100% viewfinder coverage, where the large white rectangle shows the boundaries of the captured image and you can see outside of that area similar to how a rangefinder works.
  • 5 frames per second in both RAW and JPG?  How big is the buffer?  Not that most people shooting with this need a deep buffer, but it’d be nice to know.
  • How fast and accurate is the autofocus?  Does it AF during video?
  • How does it handle?  Is it easy to operate?  What quirks does it have?
  • Did I say “price”?  This will be a huge factor, as it always is.

Here are a couple more shots of the beautiful retro styling that emphasizes simplicity.  And it’s not just for show either.  There’s lots of metal here instead of the typical chrome-colored plastic you get on most compacts.

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I absolutely love the old-school rangefinder styling, and I believe the X100 is the first rangefinder style, large-sensored compact to also have a built-in viewfinder, which is something I wish I had on my Olympus E-P1.

I’m still waiting for the Big 2–Canon and Nikon–to get on board with the compact sized large sensor revolution.  There are strong rumors that Nikon will have something out soon, but nothing from Canon.  This is a huge hole in the enthusiast photography market, and I’m glad to see at least somebody filling the gap.  The day when there’s a compact sized camera with a full frame (35mm) sensor can’t come soon enough.

So yeah, really exciting stuff.  Photokina, which is one of the 2 major photo shows that occur every year, starts on Tuesday, and for me this is easily the most exciting pre-Photokina announcement yet.  Could I be ditching my Micro 4/3 gear so soon to replace it with this?  Too many questions at this point to know for sure, but color me extremely intrigued!

Here’s a mini site for the X100.  Their site is getting hammered right now, so it may or may not load for you.  I’m telling you, people are super excited about this.  The buzz has started already!

Note 9/20/2010: here’s a size comparison image by komparelabs.com pitting the X100 against the Olympus E-P1.  It’s barely bigger than the E-P1–awesome!  Where you at, Olympus?  You need to make a Micro 4/3 camera like this with built-in EVF and interchangeable lenses.  Where you at, Canon and Nikon?  A fullframe version of this would be amazing.

Here’s another comparison image, this time next to a slew of other similarly sized cameras.

9/21/2010: “Only” $1000.  Not cheap, but when early rumors pegged it at $1700, the new $1000 figure looks a positive bargain.  Resistance… fading…

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