Fuji X10 fiel report

Started Dec 11, 2011 | Discussions thread
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bashosfrog
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Fuji X10 fiel report
Dec 11, 2011

Just bought an X10 on the way to an reporting assignment in Israel, and thought I'd contribute my thoughts to the chorus.

(If you're interested in a quantum-level analysis of image quality, this isn't it. It's more about function and feeling. The images are good enough to publish on the web or in most magazines, and that's all I need to say about that side of things.)

I'm a journalist. I get paid to write, but good images always help sell a story. I also love great photography, without possessing any genius myself. Since I retired my Olympus OM-4 and 3 film kit, I've been pining for a camera with a comparably small footprint, fast handling and the ability to produce publishable images. The Micro Four-Thirds cameras are there, but so far there hasn't been an M34 body that has really appealed to me.

Also, my thinking about kit has changed over the years. I've always been minimalist - in film days, I usually only carried 24, 85 and 135 mm lenses, although I owned several others. I've found the adage about "the best camera is the one you have with you" to be accurate. I also like limitation. Limitation is what shapes a style, whether it be the peasant cuisines of various cultures or woodwork or photography. My ultimate all-in-one lens would range from 24-135 mm, but if operating within the 28-112 mm range is the sacrifice I have to make for an f2.0-2.8 lens, I'll make it.

For the past couple of years a lot of my photography has been done with a Canon G11, a camera which satisfies my desire for portability but which I've never grown to like much. Images are OK, but otherwise it's an overweight compact. I have an Olympus E-1 with good lenses ranging from 22-400 mm, and love the E-1's tone, but I'm increasingly loathe to lug it around. Especially overseas.

On paper, the X10 seemed to embody just about everything I wanted in a camera. I'm happy to say that is also the case in reality.

  • It's fast. The G11's power zoom was imprecise and slow, and I found I often missed the decisive moment because the camera was still recovering from the last shot. The X10's start-up and shot-to-shot times are much faster - still not DSLR grade, but usually adequate - and the manual zoom is just perfect. The manual controls, the viewfinder, the on-screen shooting information, are all well thought out to be as intuitive as possible. I was using the camera from muscle memory within a couple of days. When the camera gets out of your way like that, real photography becomes possible.

  • It's small. Not really pocketable, but I carried it in a pouch on my belt through long days and never noticed it was there. Beats the hell out of a heavy camera bag hanging off your shoulder, or any camera bag.

  • Images are excellent. I haven't studied per-pixel sharpeness, just made the subjective observation that images look sharp on the computer screen, and the colours are superb. I'm particularly enamoured of portraits taken using Provia film mode - more below.

  • Unexpected pleasures: I've never had any use for anything beyond the P or M settings on most digital cameras I've owned, but the X10 is an exception.

The EXR mode is brilliant - it means that with a twist of the dial, you quickly get usable images under conditions you would otherwise get nothing. I was surprised at how often I moved to the EXR High ISO or Dynamic Range settings, and was very happy with the results.

I was also surprised at how handy I found the film modes. "Velvia" and "Provia" speak a familiar language to a long-time film user. I set the C1 and C2 modes to a "landscape" setting (16:9 format, Velvia) and a "portrait" setting (square format, Provia) and found that I was in these modes as often as I was in P or M.

I am delighted at the quality of high ISO images, to the degree that "Auto 400" is now my default ISO setting.

  • Gripes:

Manual focus is bloody hopeless. It's like they stuck it in there, got it roughly working, and then forgot about it.

The battery is too small. I had only one battery in Israel, and the camera had often run out of juice by the end of the day. I think in the compromise between size and function, Fuji erred in favour of size.

The AF button should be customisable. I use the central AF target point and leave it at that, and I think most people probably do. Allowing this button to also be used for other functions would be a sizeable boost to the functionality of an already very functional camera.

The "white orb" issue is there on blown highlights, but it didn't ruin the publishability of any of the 1000+ images I've taken in the past week. (I ruined them often, though) I only noticed a couple of orbs because of the storm of complaint on this forum.

I'd like the ability to hook up an off-camera flash. Off-camera flash can make all the difference to some portraits.

Observations:

I love the X10. It's going to be in my backpack every time I leave home, along with my wallet, and that it will probably replace my DSLR for 95 per cent of my photography work.

A long-time Olympus fan, I've been waiting for Olympus to make this camera. They haven't, and now I'm a Fujifilm fan. Looking at Fuji's recent efforts, I think they're positioning themselves as the Apple of the camera world, producing a limited range of products that have a particular aesthetic and limited function, but within those limitations better functionality than all the other "everything but the kitchen sink" products out there. I'll be looking at their coming models with great interest, but given how much I can do with the little X10, I don't expect to be upgrading for a few years. This is a camera for all those who love good tools.

Canon PowerShot G11 Fujifilm X10 Olympus E-1
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