Fujifilm X10

12MP | 28-112mm (4x) Zoom | $599 (US) £437 (UK) €559 (EU)



Fujifilm's first foray into what is sometimes called the 'luxury' compact camera market, the X10 takes its styling cues from the APS-C format, fixed-lens X100 but offers a fast 28-112mm (equivalent) f/2-2.8 zoom lens, and the company's unique EXR sensor technology. As I'd expect from a camera in this class, the 12MP X10 also boasts raw file capture, all from a sensor that is between 20-40% larger than than its high-end compact peers (and about twice as large as those in typical compact cameras).

Like its larger-format stablemate the X100, the X10 is designed to appeal to connoisseurs of form as well as function. Its black metal body is generously wrapped in a mock-leather grain finish and the manual zoom ring and (coupled) optical viewfinder are highly distinctive.

Unusually for a compact camera, the X10's 28-112mm (equivalent) zoom lens is controlled manually using a 'traditional' mechanical zoom ring. Focal lengths are marked (very approximately) on the ring itself.  Like the Canon G12 and Nikon P7100, the X10 features an optical viewfinder that is coupled with its zoom lens. Coverage is approximate but close enough to be useful in a pinch, if ambient lighting conditions are too bright to see the LCD screen (which can be turned off if desired). 
In keeping with its classic styling, the X10 features a manual focus mode switch, on the front of the camera next to the lens barrel.  On the rear of the thumbnail, adjacent to the thumb grip, is a dual-purpose mode dial. Turning the dial sets exposure parameters while in review mode, pressing it inwards activates a useful one-touch magnification view for checking critical focus. 

Its specification is very far from old-fashioned though. The X10's ISO sensitivity settings run from ISO 100-6400 at full resolution, HD video capture is possible, with stereo sound, and then of course there's Fujifilm's unique EXR technology.

The X10's sensor is built on conventional CMOS architecture (rather than being back-illuminated) but the way it works is far from conventional. Whereas in the Bayer pattern, there's always an entire photosite gap between any two photosites of the same color whereas the EXR arrangement puts pairs of similarly colored photosites together. In fact, you can think of the EXR filter array as being two Bayer patterns slotted together, with one of them offset relative to the other, by 1/2 a pixel. We have published a more complete explanation of the technology here.

There are three EXR modes - 'HR', high-resolution, in which the X10's full complement of 12MP is used to create images, 'DR', dynamic range, where you can capture images with a much greater dynamic range than would normality be possible, and 'SN' - signal to noise, designed to give cleaner, less noisy images at high ISO settings in poor light. Because of the way that they work (in effect by combining the signals from neighbouring photodiodes) Both DR and SN modes output 6MP images. The X10 also has a more conventional dynamic range expansion mode, which delivers expanded highlight dynamic range at the expense of a reduced ISO sensitivity span. Confusingly, despite being completely different technologies, both EXR and conventional dynamic range expansion is described in the same way in the X10's menu system, as 'DR XXX%'.

Key Features

  • 12.0MP 2/3" CMOS (EXR pixel arrangement)
  • ISO 100-3200 (up to 6400 at 6MP and 12,800 at 3MP)
  • 28-112MM (equivalent) f/2.0-2.8 zoom lens
  • PASM modes and full manual control in 1/3EV steps
  • Twin control dials (both on rear)
  • 1080p video @ 30fps with stereo sound
  • 2.8in, 460k-dot LCD screen

Performance/Image Quality

The X10 might look rather like the X100, but fortunately, it is free from most of the operational quirks that marred our experience of using that camera. Most importantly, the X10 is pleasantly responsive in normal use (although the older Canon PowerShot G12 still boasts faster shot-to-shot times), both when shooting and reviewing images. Despite lacking the innovative focal-plane phase-detection AF system of some of its lower-end compact stablemates, the X10 achieves focus quickly and (usually) reliably. I'm not not too enamoured of its face-detection system though, which has an irritating tendency to recognise faces until the moment you try to take a photograph, at which point - all too frequently - the camera has a crisis of confidence and AF defaults to conventional multi-point or area mode.

The Fujifilm X10 has given a nicely-balanced flash shot here, and has provided even illumination without completely overpowering the warm ambient light. The only real frustration with flash photography comes in social situations, where the X10's face detection AF system isn't as reliable as we'd like it to be. 

Also frustrating is the way in which Fujifilm has implemented the X10's EXR functionality. You could be forgiven for thinking that EXR is an exclusively JPEG-only, automatic exposure mode, but in fact, it is possible to combine 'DR' EXR capture (in our experience the most useful of the two 6MP modes) with full exposure control and even in combination with raw file capture. You just have to manually select medium resolution (6MP) capture first (and raw+JPEG mode if you want to shoot raw files), at which point you can extend dynamic range by up to 2EV (from 100% to 400%). You can see the effect of this extra dynamic range in the scene below, which for the purposes of easy comparison, was shot at 6MP with DR at 100% (EXR off) and 400% (EXR on) at ISO 100.
In conventional 100% DR mode, dynamic range in JPEG files is good, but as always, in scenes like this which contain a wide tonal range, highlights can be clipped. 100% Crop
With DR at 400% in 6MP capture mode, Fujifilm's EXR technology kicks in, and gives an extra 2EV of dynamic range without restricting the ISO span.  100% Crop
Despite its complicated implementation, the X10'S 'DR' EXR mode is one of my favourite things about the camera. Image quality at its full pixel count of 12MP is very good, but in my opinion the benefits of the additional highlight detail in the 6MP DR mode are worth the penalty in resolution. 
The X10 gives very good image quality in 12MP JPEG mode, but pixel-level detail isn't quite as convincing as we'd expect from a camera with a more conventional sensor arrangement (like the Canon Powershot S100). That said, by the time it comes to making prints or viewing images at medium magnification on-screen the difference is subtle.  100% Crop
I converted this simultaneously-captured raw file 'to taste' in the bundled Raw File Converter EX software, and as you can see, even after careful sharpening and noise reduction tweaks the difference at 100% is pretty minimal. I was able to adjust white balance and saturation though, for an image that more closely matches the original scene.  100% Crop

The raw-conversion software bundled with the X10 - Fujifilm Raw Converter EX - is rather disappointing. Built around Silkpix, it is painfully slow and not particularly user-friendly. More frustratingly, despite an abundance of interestingly-named sharpening and noise-reduction options, it is difficult to create a raw file conversion that looks significantly better than the excellent in-camera JPEGs. Fortunately the X10 features a fast, effective in-camera raw conversion function, which is much more convenient for quick fixes like basic white balance and brightness tweaks. Because raw support for the X10's files is currently so limited, we haven't included raw conversions from the X10 in our studio scene comparison tool (see the bottom of this page). 

As regards still image quality perhaps the only serious fly in the X10 ointment at present is an issue which has been discussed fairly widely among X10 owners, and relates to specular highlights. Simply put, the X10 renders clipped point highlights as disproportionally large, hard-edges 'orbs', which once you've started to notice them, are impossible to ignore.

Caused by sensor blooming (excess charge from individual photosites spilling over into neighbouring ones) the 'white spot' issue is only visible in a handful of our samples but is very distracting once you start noticing it.  100% Crop

We'll be looking into this issue, (you can read a statement from Fujifilm, and see more examples here) and of course we'll be running the X10 through our normal gamut of image quality tests as part of a full review of the camera in early 2012.

I doubt whether movies will be much of a priority for X10 users, but it offers good performance in this mode, including (of course) zoom control during shooting and the option for continuous AF. 1080p footage is sharp and detailed, but rolling shutter from the X10's CMOS sensor is very obvious in scenes with moderate subject (or camera) movement. 

Summary

It's too early to give a definitive 'dpreview take' on the X10, but for now, I'm cautiously impressed. I'm very pleased to see that whereas its big brother the X100 can on occasion be a somewhat slow, frustrating camera to use, the X10 is fast, responsive, and (on the whole) sensibly designed. I really like the mechanical zoom ring, and although the relatively restricted coverage of the optical finder reduces its usefulness in everyday photography, it's there if you need it. 

My experience so far hasn't been 100% positive though. The X10 has inherited one truly unwelcome trait from the X100 - it resets exposure information, including ISO and DR preferences when exposure mode is changed (so if you're shooting in aperture priority at ISO 100 and DR 100%, and switch to manual exposure mode, the camera will switch to whatever ISO sensitivity and DR setting you last used in that exposure mode). I really hope that Fujifilm squashes this bug as soon as possible, and issues a firmware update in the same way as it did for the X100.

I remain utterly baffled too as to why Fujifilm has made one of the X10's standout features - its excellent 6MP 'DR' EXR mode - so hard to get to grips with, and I'd like to see a more user-friendly menu system (I have given up hope of a more useable bundled raw converter). Also disappointing is its flaky face detection AF and relatively poor battery life, and an occasional tendency to forget to power up when you rotate the zoom from off into its 'on' position (an issue that can be mitigated, in my experience, by rotating the lens firmly, smoothly and fairly slowly from its 'off' position).

The X10 is certainly an acquired taste, but on the whole, provided that you're prepared to put a bit of work into setting it up, the X10's quick operation and excellent image quality (especially in 6MP 'DR' EXR modes) make it worthy of serious consideration alongside its more conventional peers. My advice would be to shoot in RAW+JPEG mode at 6MP, with DR set to 400%. Convert your raw files in-camera and that way you have the choice of up to 2EV of extra dynamic range as and when you need it. And make sure you keep the lens clean - the X10's convex front element is very prone to smears from clothing and fingertips... 

Studio and Real-World Samples (links open in new tab)

Studio Comparison Tool (JPEG only) Fujfilm X10 Samples (32 images)

Click here to turn to page 4 of our enthusiast raw-shooting compact cameras buyers' guide...