Fuji X10 : a Hate & Love affair
The FUJI X10 : “A hate and love affair”
This is the first part of my X10 review. Despite still having to familiarize myself with some of the idiosyncrasies of the camera, I decided to publish the fist part of my review on this product which has generated a lot of interest coming after the most talked-about Fuji X100. Digital cameras are now pretty sophisticated machines with a myriad of modes, customs functions (more on that later). As a rule , there is a learning curve with cameras, even more so with digital cameras. As we will see later on in this review , the learning curve of the X10 can be pretty steep in certain areas.
I need to preamble this review by saying that I am a regular user of Ricoh products for compact systems. The Ricoh user interface has acquired a solid reputation among serious photographers and I admit that this is the standard according to which I compare any “non-reflex”cameras these days.
2. ERGONOMICS AND DESIGN The X10 design and ergonomics are clearly inspired by the very successful Fuji X100. the Fuji X100 is the X10 “older brother”with a APS size sensor. The X10 features a smaller 2/3” sensor , which is a little big bigger than cameras using a 1/1.7” or 1/1.6” sensor ( think Panasonic LX, Ricoh GR, Canon G …) As a result, of the camera filiation with the X100, its interface is almost identical to the X100’s and as we will see later , this is not necessarily a good thing.
The X10 comes in a nice black finish and the front of the camera is deprived of any cheesy front engravings which make the camera more discreet and asserts its DNA of a camera intended for “ serious photography”. In this respect , the Fuji acts like an “ anti-panasonic” which is a good thing . the only engravings are on the top plate of the camera , aimed at making the X10 resemble even more the rangefinder cameras of film days . Despite its compact size , the X10 feels great in normal size men hands. The front part feature a small built in grip which is small but big enough to allow for a nice handling of the camera. TheX10 body is made from a magnesium alloy and feels very solid.
The X10 innovates by not featuring a conventional on/off switch. Instead, the switch is on the lens barrel and you activate the camera by turning the barrel counterclockwise. Some preview have expressed the concern that this is a problem as one could potentially turn off the camera when simply wanting to zoom out but I do not share this concern and feel that the “off” position is far enough from the widest position of the zoom to avoid such a risk. One thing that I noticed though is that the camera goes from wide to zoom by as counter-clockwise turn . I have used hundreds of cameras over my 25 years as a photographer and I cannot remember one where the zoom would be in that direction. A clockwise turn most would have been better in my opinion. The tripod mount is not located in the middle of the bottom plate which would be a minus for those of you who like to use tripods.
The X10 features a very good , but not exceptional 2.8”LCD with a 640 000 pixels resolution .While it does not compete with the LCD on the Ricoh GR and GXR, it is bright enough and contrasty so that it is visible in almost anything but the brightest lighting in outdoor use. The camera comes with the usual suspects . First the fuji uses a NP50 battery which is small and slim. As a result, it has a very average life expectancy. It would have been nice to have the X10 use the same NP95 battery ( which is both the battery for the Fuji X100 and the Ricoh GXR) but it would have forced Fuji to use a different compartment for the battery and the SD card which for some reason , none of the manufacturers seem willing to do. The camera battery charger is designed to be compatible with both the NP45 and NP50 , which makes the charger a little bit larger that it could have been . That being said , it remains slim and fuji has the good idea to feature the foldout prong ( at least in the markets that use 110 volts). All in all, a rather well-designed charger.
One Nice feature of the X10 is the built-in stabilizer IS, which is a plus allowing to shoot at lower speeds (at least for static subjects).
Another VERY GOOD news is that the Fuji X10 is a very quiet camera , which can even be turned into a completely silent camera by activating the silent mode in the menu system that also cuts the AF auxiliary light. Small drawback , once activated the silent mode is shown by a annoying yellow icon in the finder that cannot be turned off (why ?)
3. MAIN CONTROLS Let’s get right to it : to say that the X10 has some major design flaws is an understatement !! After more than a week with the camera , I sometimes feel that the team at Fuji in charge of the X10 must have received a full case of Sake the day they worked on designing and implementing the menus and controls. Contrary to Ricoh cameras( and a few other cameras) , this camera feels more like the outcome of a marketing team than a camera designed by (and for) photographers.
The camera instructions manual deserves a special mention as it is particularly lame giving you two full pages on how to attach the strap or 3 pages how to insert the battery and the card while being strangely silent on some of the cameras main features. ( like the very strange file naming logic of the X10, more on that later).
• SHOOTING MODES In addition to the now classic PSAM and full auto modes, the X10 also features two custom modes and a few special Fuji modes. The EXR mode is actually three modes in one . Of particular interest is one called “ d-range priority” and is supposed to offer extended dynamic range , a welcome feature on such a small sensor which are well-known for their limited DR and their tendency to clip highlights.Unfortunately ,this mode is only available in Jpeg ‘s .There is however a section in the menu that is supposed to extend dynamic range in other shooting modes. I have not yet tested the results of such options.
Note that all EXR modes imply a resolution of 6MP One VERY big plus is that the X10 feature a customized display that allows one to choose ITEM BY ITEM what indication one wants to keep in the finder. There are some strange choice of terms ( photometry?) or the fact that when the silent mode is activated the corresponding icon cannot be turned off but in the end , this is still more customization for display that the cameras that traditionnally onfer only 3 or 4 different display options.
• AUTO FOCUS & MANUAL FOCUS All digital compact cameras currently use a different way of focusing than reflexes. Traditionally AF in compacts using contrast detection has been pretty slow in previous cameras. In normal lighting conditions the X10 auto focus is relatively fast and reliable . You choose between the focus modes by turning the selector on the front of the camera Near the lens. I made a lot of OOF pictures the first day by turning inadvertently the focus mode to AFC. In practice however , one can know what AF mode is selected by just looking at the LCD. In AFC , the focus mark is of the crosshair type, while the AFS shows a small frame . Whichever of the two methods is selected , the symbol turns green when AF is obtained. In practice I found the AF pretty quick and accurate while it is somewhat fooled when aiming the AF frame on very strong source of light
Manual focus , on the other hand , seems like an afterthought and is very cumbersome in everyday use. First , you select manual focus on the front of the camera; then , you use the pad-wheel on the back to focus. If your last image was at close distance and you need to focus far , you would have to turn the wheel for several minutes before you get to it. Useless The quickest way is to use the AEL/AFL button to focus and THEN turn the wheeled dial to fine tune the MF •
DRIVE MODES The X10 features easily what is the most confusing drive mode ever . First of all , when going into the drive mode , one find STILL IMAGE and TOP denominations. Still image might led you to think that this is a photo versus video image but this is the name that Fuji came up with single image . To add to the confusion, TOP is what Fuji calls the continuous frame mode ( whatever that means ! ) Worse , using the continuous frame mode provokes a “ side-effect “ that I have NEVER seen in any digital camera that I have ever tried in the last 10 years. Two days ago, I was shooting some kind of event in the street with people wearing disguises . as it is often the case in such situations , I ended up talking to some of the people in the parade and promised to send pictures. Later on when I downloaded the images on the card , I found an entire section missing . After looking at image DSCF1437 , image 1438 next to it was taken an entire hour after ??!! I thought with horror for a few minutes that there was something wrong with the card or that I had somehow failed to record some of the images on the card.
Upon closer inspection , I found that using the continuous frame mode created another file naming conversion and that images shot in single frame start with DSCF when shooting with the continuous mode creates S files.
As a result if the images on the card are filed alphabetically , if you shoot on a single card with single and continuous frame, the images are not be listed in the order they were taken !! Who at Fuji thought this was a good idea ??? Probably , the case of sake mentioned above must have been pretty finished by the time they came with such a lousy idea. Anyone who has to file and edit its images would see how stupid an idea it is . Maybe there is way around it ( short having to manually rename all of the files shot ) or this would be addressed in a firmware update but this is really a major annoyance .
• VIDEO I am a photographer and as such I have ZERO interest in video. Therefore ,as in all my other reviews, I decided to ignore commenting on the video features of the X10 and prefer to let this aspect of the camera be explained by people more qualified in the video field
4.IMAGE QUALITY :
• RAW & SOFTWARE For this camera Fuji has decided to plague the camera with another proprietary format. There are now several cameras that offer the universal DNG raw format and Fuji should be ashamed not to have given this option To make it worse the silkpix software is not compatible with the LION operating system so mac users would have to wait until third party software recognize this format. While this is kind of expected of the two big giants (Canon and Nikon) most of smaller Companies allow, at least as an option ,to use the more universal DNG raw format. Shame on Fuji for not allowing the X10 to have DNG RAW. Speaking of RAW, fuji X10 included a RAW button like in the X100. But Fuji persists in not making that button customizable for those photographers who shoot RAW almost all the time. This is another area where it seems that Fuji did not learn anything from the photographer’s feedback on the X100.
• COLOR MODE For color settings you have the traditional choices of standard, neutral and vivid., except FUJI calls them PROVIA , Velvia and Astia. This is more a marketing idea than anything else . Back in the film days , I shot quite extensively with VELVIA and I did not really see the Velvia colors during my first shots with the velvia mode. After a week of extensively using the camera , I can say that image quality at normal isos ( 100 to 800 ISO) seems very good indeed. In the menu one can set the noise reduction to different levels from high to low but there is NO option of NO noise reduction at all so further testing would be needed. It has been my experience that most images posted on the forums are too small to be able to judge the quality of the image . In order to take into consideration size limitations , I have chosen to show a reduced size version of the total image , and then crop centers of images at full size Most of my shooting can be done between , say 100 to 800 Iso. I know that people on these forums love to discuss ad nauseam about IQ of small sensor cameras at 3200 iso or more. I may post some more image test at higher iso but I have shot enough to say that one should not expect miracles of the X10 at higher iso. The X10 is much smaller than APS or 35mm sensors and one should not expect the X10 to compare with any APS camera at higher sensitivities
IMAGES SAMPLES : for some reason , the test images I attached do not seem to appear on this article.Therefore I have created a X10 test pictures book in my galley section here on dpr. click underneath my name to inspect those full res center crops
• 4/3 native image ratio with other format options (3:2, 16:9, 1:1)
• Well built camera which sits very well in the hands
• VERY silent camera ( despite the useless non -removable yellow icon)
* Built-in image stabilization
• High Quality lens combined with a good sensor.
• Good image quality at “normal iso ranges (100 to 400)
• Customizable display ( despite several oddities and glitches)
• Pretty Decent OVF with very good built-in diopter correction
• Camera obviously designed by marketing team and not by photographers
• Proprietary RAW ( shame on Fuji !!)
• Manual focus poorly implemented
. EXR modes poorly implemented
• Very confusing and obscure instruction manual
• Most ridiculous file management of any “ serious” digital camera tested to date
• Metering easily fooled by contrasty situations
. Problem of white disc orbs in certain lighting conditions ( well documented on forums)
• Limited dynamic range of the sensor ( typical for sensor of that size )
• Necessity to reset ISO in EVERY shooting mode
• Average battery life ( due to size of the battery)
• AF too slow in macro mode
. Macro modes more complicate that need be
. LCD only average compared to competitors and hardly visible in the sun
• Lens hood is sold as an (expensive) optional accessory and requires a special ring adapter!!
• RAW button not customizable
• No neutral density filter like in the X100
Now time for the ultimate question : Do I love or hate this little camera ? truth be told :both (hence the title of this review). The X10 is a well built camera, which looks good and feels well in the hands but is plagued by a very poor user interface. One can only wonder if this could have been built that way but with a Ricoh interface. Despite some fundamental differences in both the concept and the sensor size, there is no doubt that the X10 is going to be mostly compared to the latest m4/3 productions of Panasonic, chiefly the Olympus X1 , Canon G11 and G12 , and the New Nikon V1.
Fuji deserves congratulations for coming out with a new innovative camera with good performance but needs to fix ASAP whichever design flaws can be fixed by firmware updates, As some of the major quirks debuted with the more expensive X100 and have yet to be addressed by Fuji, one could worry about these issues being fixed in the near future. Fuji is supposedly working on a X100 version with interchangeable lenses. Let’s hope that they take the time to let “ real photographers” field test their prototype before bringing on the market what could indeed be an exciting product.
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