General Introduction: I'm pleased to say that my friend Ken Tanaka plans to write a column for us on a regular basis, tentatively planned to publish in the middle Friday of each month. Ken has multiple areas of expertise within photography, especially (but not exclusively) having to do with his close connections to the museum world. I'll be very much looking forward to his contributions to TOP. —Mike
By Ken Tanaka
Many camera aficionados will remember 2011 as the year that Fujifilm emerged as a new creative force in the somewhat moribund arena of enthusiast-class cameras. Fujifilm's X100 staked claim to new ground with its innovative amalgamation of new technologies and new old styling. Now just a few months later Fujifilm's introduction of the X100's smaller sibling, the Fujifilm X10, is establishing the high ground in compact enthusiast cameras.
I have now spent just over a week using this new and innovative camera daily. In briefest terms, I like the Fujifilm X10 very much, perhaps even more than I like its big brother. Here's why.
Categorically the X10 is an advanced fixed-lens compact camera in the same family as the Canon G11/G12, Nikon P7000, Nikon J1, Panasonic DMC-LX5, et al. Like its larger sibling, the X10 is styled and finished to resemble a classic 35mm rangefinder camera. But styling is where the similarity ends; the X10 has nothing in common with a Leica M or a Zeiss Ikon.
Within its class the X10 is slightly larger, or at least differently proportioned, than many of its peers. I find it more comfortable to handle than the common compact body designs as exemplified by the Panasonic LX5. But more on this later.
The X10 is nicely jacket-pocketable but not nearly as universally pocketable as the popular advanced sub-compact Canon S90/95/100.
After seeing the X10 called the X100's "little brother" so often in early reviews I was rather surprised to discover that it really is not that much smaller or lighter than the X100.
Shooting with the X10
Right out of the box the X10 felt quite good in my hands. It has very solid metal construction with substantial heft, but it's not heavy. The textured leather-like covering, the front finger grip, and rear rubber thumb tab provide a secure in-hand feeling.
As shown above, the X10's controls are organized nearly identically to the X100's. The top dials, shutter button, and programmable function button are located exactly the same on both cameras. Note, though, that where the X100 features a shutter speed dial the X10 features a mode dial. The exposure compensation dial is perfectly placed for fast blind adjustment, although I wish it was not so tight.
The X10's unique power switch, which momentarily puzzled me, is a tiny bit of industrial design genius. To turn the camera on you simply twist the lens barrel counter-clockwise, the same motion required to zoom the lens. A collateral benefit of this design is that you cannot accidentally leave the lens cap on the lens. I like this design very much [me too —Ed.]. Note that you can also power-up the camera for image viewing by simply hold-pressing the Play button.
The X10's autofocusing system is generally quite quick in good-to-moderate light. (Much quicker than the X100's auto-focus.) But, characteristic of its contrast detection system, it becomes confused in any light when it doesn't see vertically-oriented edges or strong spots. The good news is that unlike the X100, which wobbles for a second before abandoning autofocus, the X10 immediately displays the dreaded Red Square of Focus Surrender, thus allowing you to adjust far more quickly.
The X10's Fujinon 7.1mm–28.4mm (35mm equivalence: 28mm–112mm) ƒ/2–2.8 lens is perhaps the real star of the camera. Composed of 11 glass elements, this lens is quite sharp, offers excellent contrast and color fidelity, and is quite fast. The design and coatings also seem extremely flare-resistant. Try as I might I was only able to induce really bad veiling glare once.
For those who insist on the camera-to-face meme the X10 does have an optical viewfinder. Yes, in fairness, it's a bright, sharp finder that can be very handy in bright conditions. I'm glad it's there. But it does only cover 85% of the frame (sometimes a bit less if you subtract the lower right corner blocked by the lens barrel at wide angles) and it's no match for the X100's super bionic Hybrid Viewfinder.
What about those 'white disks'?
Early X10 buyers reported a phenomenon whereby spots of blown exposure would appear as circular white disks. Having seen some examples posted online I was naturally very keen to quickly determine if my own camera had this problem. I am relieved to write that I have not been able to reproduce this problem at all.
In brief, very good to excellent. The X10's oversized 2/3-inch EXR CMOS 12-MP sensor really seems to shine. Details are held nicely in all but the most extreme frames and, when given the mandate to do so, the X10 can nicely stretch its dynamic range, either through using the "EXR" mode or by using the automated bracketing in "Adv"anced mode. The camera's EXR processor is certainly to be credited for such quality. I've done nearly all of my X10 shooting to-date in large-fine JPG mode which (not to steal the thunder from my planned "The Joys of JPEGgin'" article) I believe is the best way to take fullest advantage of this camera's abilities. Just a few days before I finished this article, Adobe released an update to Camera Raw which could process X10 raw image files. Frankly, I was not impressed, and still prefer working in JPG with this camera. If you decide to try an X10 I strongly encourage you to devote your initial efforts toward exploring the camera's many internal processing options. I realize that if you're a die-hard Raw shooter you might have to be sedated to even consider such an excursion into consumer mode. But I absolutely guarantee that your excursion with the X10 will, more often than not, be amply rewarded by image quality that you'd be unlikely to achieve through desktop Raw cooking. Shoot Raw+JPG to see for yourself.
High ISO and noise
The sample images I've linked below speak to this aspect of performance. Most were recorded above ISO 400 and many at ISO 1600. Noise is just not an issue in this camera within any normal working range up to ISO 3200. Further, I get the best results when I don't try to outsmart the camera—that is, when I let it determine ISO. With regard to s/n processing, this camera is far, far smarter than I am.
I might add that "noise" is becoming a non-issue nearly across the range of these cameras. I plan an upcoming article that treats this, and related practice topics, soon, so stay tuned.
So what's wrong with the X10?
Not much, and nothing grievous. The lens could be 4mm wider (for which I'd gladly trade 4mm on the long end) but it's not a significant inconvenience for me.
The camera's menu system. like that of the X100, could benefit from a re-think. It's at least logical, organized into "Shooting" and "Set-Up" groups of settings. But each group is just too damn long. Mercifully, the camera's design keeps you out of the menus most of the time.
It would also be nice if the optical viewfinder covered much more of the actual frame and offered one or two status annunciators within the eye field, such as exposure compensation status.
And can't the X10 be taught to wake from sleep without having to recycle through power off?
But these are mostly nits. Your nits may vary.
The Fujifilm X10 is an outstanding new entry into the rather sleepy sameness of enthusiast compact cameras. In the same design spirit as the X100, the X10 amalgamates proven and practical older design features (which young folks call "retro") with some of today's most advanced imaging technologies to deliver a camera that feels and performs a bit beyond its class.
I have become fond, and familiar, enough with the X10 in the past week to say that I'm likely to adopt it as my primary casual pocket camera. Cameras tend to be very personal gadgets. Whether or not you would react similarly I cannot speculate. But I will risk predicting that, as a TOP reader, you would at least find the X10 an interesting and unique—perhaps even charming—camera.
Recommended detailed reviews and previews
The Internet is already brimming with reviews of the Fujifilm X10. You could easily spend most of a day reading through them. If you need more detailed information about the X10 here are the places where you'll find the most accurate information and useful assessments that I've encountered.
Fujifilm X10 Manual (PDF)
A three-part YouTube video series on the X10 by "The Fuji Guys" (Fujifilm employees). Informative and entertaining.
Offering online 72-dpi sRGB camera sample images is normally about as useful as offering online pie tasting. But I offer these samples because they do show what the X10's image oven is capable of producing mostly on its own. I also think they're worth glancing because they're not the usual daytime samples of flowers and scenics normally presented with camera reviews. My samples are mostly in evening street lighting or fading daylight. I have applied mild sharpening, some cropping, and some gentle hip-bump tonal adjustments to nearly all the images. But, except where noted, what you're seeing is essentially what I got from the X10.
Fuji X10 at B&H Photo (currently out of stock)
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by David: "I have been using the X10 for about 6 weeks alongside an x100 and Leica M. You are absolutely right about the JPEG in-camera processing, it is superb. I have mainly used the X10 at night on the streets and it is exceptional.
"Gripes—the optical finder is useless with the lens hood on; wake up in EXR Mode is dire. The EXR mode at night is great by the way. But that is it—each day I am amazed by the quality, and the handling is superb. Add a bigger sensor, the X100 viewfinder, interchangable lenses and you have the new Fuji X to be launched next year—and then, would anyone like to but my X10, X100 and M9? Good review, Ken."
Featured Comment by Will Duquette: "What's your experience with battery life?"
Ken replies: Good question, as others have remarked that it's short. The X10 uses Fuji's NP-50 3.7V battery. I've been using both the official Fuji brand as well as the MaximalPower brand and have been impressed with their longevity, particularly in cold weather. On my first evening, which was fridgidly in the mid-20°F's, the Fuji battery level barely budged one click after two hours of nearly continuous-on and 200 frames. I had a similar experience last night in just slightly warmer temps after 90 minutes. So the X10's battery life seems at least no weaker than any of its peers and may be better than some. Plus, while the Fuji NP-50's run over $30, the MaximalPower replacements cost $5.75 at Amazon.
Featured Comment by Scott Baker: "It's official. I'm gonna have to buy one of these things."
Featured Comment by Arthur: "I have a huge crush on the X10, but the review sites have left me wanting. All the pixel-peeping comparison shots show the X10's full resolution images (which seem to look about the same as the competition). I'd really like to see the X10's low-noise EXR mode compared to resized images from say the S100 or what have you, as I see myself using a camera like this an awful lot in the 800–1600 ISO range. I don't mind 6MP images at all if the image quality is as good as the marketing materials say."
Ken replies: I have added several images to the samples gallery, from image 14 up, specifically to show ISO 3200 examples and the camera's EXR "Dynamic Range" optimization processing. These really are JPGs right from the chicken with basically no other cooking.
Featured Comment by emptyspaces: "One thing I like about the X10 is that you can view images without twisting the barrel to turn it on - just hold down the play button for 'one Mississippi' and it's on. Tap it again to turn it off. Cool. Auto ISO is great, you choose the limit (400, 800, 1600, or 3200). EXR pixel binning works. And you still get a 6MP image. Sweep panoramas are awesome, all the way to 360 degrees. It's a pretty good movie camera. 112mm ƒ/2.8 on a sensor 2X the size of the Canon S95—you can blur the backgrounds pretty well. Totally awesome 'super macro' mode.
"Here's one, shot at 1600 in jpg mode, with just a hint of luminance smoothing in LR3.
"The X10 rocks!"
Featured [partial] Comment by Josh Wand: "To me there's something missing in these images—there's a level of sharpness (microcontrast?) that's just not there in the full-res, which shows even when resized to screen resolution.
"I'd say it's a function of sensor size, except I get better sharpness and microcontrast from my new iPhone's camera! (The camera in the 4S is really pretty darn good.)
"This sense of definition in edges, the sense of the way the light is falling even on a surface, is missing from all the small-sensor cameras I see. Some shots with Micro 4/3 cameras have it, and many of the shots I see with the APS-C sized X100 have it. But in all the X10 images I've seen, everything just looks smudgy.
"This quality is pretty important to my work, and if the camera can't do it then I'm not buying it, no matter how much I want something small and unintimidating that I can put up to my eye. (I tried going back to film with my Canonet; sadly, reliable C-41 processing is no longer available in my city.)
"Maybe someone else can articulate this better? Or tell me the term I'm searching for?"
Mike replies: What you want is a Leica S2. Totally wonderful microcontrast and fine resolution; in my limited experience of the camera, it seems endless.
Featured Comment by Leigh Youdale: "Viewfinder? Better than the EVF on the GF1 I just sold, but more coverage than 85% would be nice to have, I agree.
"Battery? I'd never take 200 shots in a day anyway, but I bought and carry a spare battery.
"Image Quality? JPEGs are excellent. Not bothering with Raw. It's not a full frame DSLR and doesn't pretend to be.
"Handling? Great. I wanted a light, compact, versatile digital camera with an optical viewfinder and zoom for travel, family and other everyday use. The X10 delivers. The GF1 was very good but with the EVF attached and kit zoom it was not compact, plus the EVF was poor.
"Pocketable? Well, in a coat maybe, or a small belt mounted pouch like the Lowepro I use. The pouch also has a shoulder strap, so it can be carried in a couple of ways.
"I feel some people are too inclined to voice criticisms based on what they read or think or imagine, without having handled and used an X10. I like mine very much and it's a keeper, for sure.
"And I still have the M6 and the Rolleiflex for serious B&W work."