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Tuesday, 17 May 2011


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Good lord that limo!!

Mike, I quite often resonate to your aesthetics and sensibilities and this time is no different. Over-done and incorrectly-aimed design always jars me (as in the limo) but the X100 really seems to have captured the old-fashioned aesthetic quite well. Now if car manufacturers could follow suit (enough with the "retro" designs, Chrystler. If you want to make a 1950s-eqsue car, then try resurrecting the old body and modernizing all the legally required bits. Surely a 1957 Bel-Air chassis is large enough to house all the modern amenities and surely you could craft the ones that the driver/passengers see to fit in stylistically).

The X100 simply looks classy. It has style and sophistication (which calling it classy belies, but it does). I would totally shoot with one if my secret admirers ever bought one for me. :-)

I really like the look of the X100, but I'm not going to buy a $1,200.00 camera based just on its looks. The 10 fps in burst mode makes me drool, but the list of quirks and crotchets in operation will keep my credit card in my wallet for awhile. Retro is as retro does...

I agree, this camera keeps the "retro" at a level I like, and if it had an M-mount lens I would be on the waiting list.
But I don't understand your comment "houses aren't built by carpenters on site from scratch these days". That's how I would describe my house, and yes, it uses traditional trim details and materials to the extent some people think it's old.
Doug C

I understand the appeal. I owned an Olympus 35RC for a while, lightweight, good optics, inexpensive, ideal for some applications.

I think the chrome top and bottom looks classier, but I don't know if that's truly an aesthetic preference or just the fact that I grew up with cameras that looked like that so that I am used to them. I have this feeling that I'd enjoy owning one, but I don't need more cameras.

If the various Oly EPx models and the Pany GFx models had viewfinders similar to the one on the RC or X100, or even a viewfinder not nearly as good as that, just about any eye-level viewfinder really, I'd own one of them already.

Fuji is a little like Pentax, isn't it (or aren't they), they go their own way. We should reward them for that.

Can we look forward to the 'camera borrowed, camera blue' in the next post? ;-)

One word, Mike: skeuomorph. An ugly word for a useful concept.


(I forgot to type this as I got overinvolved in all my other words.)

That photo of the X100 is really lovely.

Form *must* follow function.

Retro just for retro's sake is no bueno.

I saw a matt black Morgan Aero a few months ago on a motorway here. I think you would have liked it, Mike. This might even be the exact one I saw - though the picture doesn't come close to the feeling you get when it overtakes you at cruising speed....



If they were going to rip off a retro look, I would have wished for the Contax T look or T-2 style.
When Leica did the S2 they didn't revisit the R, they went to the future. The M8 or M9 isn't retro, it merely continues a line. And yes, the X design is almost as retro as the X-100.

Architects prefer that modern buildings use modern materials and not dress buildings up as old.
Industrial designers should do the same. Thankfully Apple hasn't done retro...yet.

It is trying to be something It can't be. Sorry, I have an M2, I love it. I had an Olympus Trip35 until it died, may buy another one. I personally like the old Rollei's mine is a 1939 Automat. It is great for street photography, people marvel over "the old camera". They just don't realize how old it really is.

Hi Mike
I bought the first or second in the UK and I am having a love hate relationship with it but mostly love.
The web is full of reviews and most of the negatives will I have no doubt be addressed with a firmware update and a lot of them can be addressed by getting to know the camera. Steve Huff has posted an item about the 7 things he did not like about the camera and how to solve the issues.
The files are great to 3200 ISO and passable at 6400 with a bit of work.
Imagine an M2 which can switch to live view at the flick of a lever.
A plus point for me was that I bought the camera in the UK but live most of the time in Andalucia and when the camera had a minor problem FUJI UK service sent a loan camera to me whilst mine was on the way back to the dealer for replacement, I call that service!
Many things have been written about price, M9 it is not but it does not cost 10,000 dollars.

I think it's gorgeous. Also, I am sure the 7 second write time is a feature, to encourage contemplation in shot making.

So... 'classic' is good but 'retro' is bad.

"Nice car! It looks like a classic!"

"What's with the retro look? Miss the 70's much?"

We can't go back again. This kind of retro applied to a film camera would work, but fails with a digital: the buttons, levers, doors, etc are just stuck on and have not had the luxury of time to shift into their proper places.
Digital is going to have to find a new path. You will never have a digital FM, or whatever.

I loved the idea of all metal and the functionalities in it, and didn't mind the looks. Then I actually held one in my hands and was feeling some kind of disconnect. The metal top sure looks nice but the feel of the grip area is hard, bakelite-like, the rear is even more plasticky, almost true to 70's style the LCD seems stuck on as an afterthought... The viewfinder, after the recent EVFs in u4/3 and Sony's A55 et al, wasn't such a gigantic revelation for me either. So here it goes, pictures may say as much as 1000 words but not as much as one fleeting touch! The haptic experience still rules. And I did not like the haptics of the X100.

Kinda 'like a' Leica? I'd say aimed dead straight at Leica. I don't mind the same company doing a retro version of a prior item (although most often disappointingly so), but imitations from other manufacturers often irritate, even when the design 'works'.

It happens all the time, though, especially in the car world, with new brands 'stealing' old designs rather than creating something original. Lexus borrowing design cues from Mercedes (and other brands) comes to mind. This borrowing, of course, isn't limited to retro. It always amazes me how sometimes the worst features of a current design, say those of Bangled BMWs, end up on various other brands.

Regarding cars, as discussed in a prior post, they tend to get bigger and more bloated. Never cared much for bloated retro designs: see Thunderbird. Even the new Mini is huge compared to the cute old one, looking quite strange side by side.

I've been testing an X100 for the past few weeks, and can report that other people certainly think it looks retro - a few strangers have inquired.

After getting in some stick time with the X100, I can confirm that DPreview's conclusion section is pretty spot on.

The Olympus 35 RD that sits on my desk, just to the right of the computer screen, does bear a remarkable likeness to the X100. Perhaps a grand uncle, or one of those distant cousins from Australia who you are surprised has the family nose. If not for my recent vow to avoid buying things I really don't need, the X100 would be sitting next to the RD today.

Ummm...some of us never left the Dark Ages.

It's important to consider that the X100 isn't retro just for aesthetic reasons; the hybrid viewfinder and the physical controls for shutter speed, aperture, and exposure compensation are designed that way for functional reasons. And for my money, those are functional reasons that I can totally get behind.

I haven't touched nor ordered an X100 even though I'm a huge fan. But there's at least a 50% chance I'll get one before the year is out; I'm just not rushing to it. I'm old enough to have learned to tempter my fan joy. (Hey, I didn't get an iPad until they were on the market for five months!)

In the case of cameras like the X100 I like retro design if it's done well. But that includes not only how the camera looks but also how it operates - that's also part of the design. Judging from the dpreview.com article, the X100 has a whacky run-of-the-mill computer/software steering a beautiful camera. Too bad. The software should have been as simple and sober as the exterior.

In terms of "honesty" in retro design all the way down I guess the M9 is hard to beat.

the take in dpreview wasn't terribly positive, especially about the camera's "unfinished" firmware. it's a sweet looking camera but fujifilm needs to make its firmware as slick as its hardware. they also need to really work on its speed - a simple camera should be really fast. the x100, according to all i've read, ain't.

Don't know about cameras, but I really go for that retro look in women. (Hope my wife sees this)

The X100 make me angry.
It's the camera I was waiting for, but I'm an industrial designer. Using old design language to such extents is a shame. The message is sure to be heard this way but it's a too easy path and shows a poor faith in the customer (or the in-house designer).
A very good example of something that works:
All the same qualities are clearly shown, but it's not a copy of the sixties.

Elvis is dead? Yeah, right. Next thing you're gonna say is there's no Santa Claus.

To me, the issue is structural. I love old soundly designed products. And new retro products are great when they look like you can see their muscles, when style echoes substance. When you perceive what you see as embelishments only, it's hard to swallow. A metalic looking surface should be metal (preferably thick metal).
Talking about retro, I just bought one of these http://www.rockpalace.com/gfx_productcode/XL/120633/3/Gibson-SG-Special-60s-Tribute-Worn-Natural.jpg
The simplest solid mahogany SG, with a thin neck, no bindings, P90 pickups and a natural finish. Not one ounce of it lacks purpouse and it's as retro as it gets, being a reissue of a 60s model. And I love it!! At least this kind of retro works for me.

Does 'retro' EVER work well?....Is it anything other than cariature? Personally, I remain unaware of ANY retro item that is worth having. The BMW 'cartoon' MINI is only that,..a cartoon concotion that apes the genteral appearance of a real MINI, and which is driven, usually badly, by people who "know the cost of everything and the value of nothing".

I grieve for the items of the past like everyone else, but sadly, we can't go back because things move forward so there can only be one real MINI which was a car of it's moment, both socially and materially. Real MINI's are a fairly useless car in a modern world and no amount of nostalgia will make things OK now,.......the 60's have gone in more ways than time.

Cameras are the same;......I like aluminium or brass bodies and mahagony and brass even more,..but they are dead now and belong to a different age,..RIP

The real danger of the Fujix100 is that camera makers will get the idea that they can make more money by selling a 'lesser' camera, provided it can be made a design icon BEFORE launch.

We're going to see a lot of quaint looking cameras with a lot of missing features and making good images is likely to be but a secondary requirement.

Like anything else, love retro- when done right. Like anything else- that's rare.

The BMW MiniCooper version was done right- the Thunderbird revision, an embarassment.

Can't wait to see the X100 WA!

The X100, or any retro-styled camera, will always be priced at a premium. But done right, they are worth it. It's almost time to replace my D200 and I'd love to see Nikon offer a digital FM2n or SP2005. Hmm, how about a digital back for the F2?

The last time I did hard, working photography was around the turn of the millennium (2002 or so) with a D1x. I'd been shooting Nikons forever, and the D1x felt very good and natural to me, even though it was quite evolved from, say, the F3. My current D3 feels just as good and natural, even with its further evolution. And that's my problem with a lot of retro cameras -- they look nice enough, but they're not evolved. There is, as you suggest, something essential in design that makes it good, but that goodness is never frozen. There's something about an F3 that makes it easy to use a D3, but it's not appearance, and most retro cameras are all about appearance. If you really want to look at a naturally evolved version of one of those classic 35mm cameras, you'd look at a Panasonic GH2 -- small, light, handy, versatile, good IQ, good lens selection. My take from the DP Review article is that the IQ from the X100 is quite good (but then, what expensive camera produces bad IQ anymore?) if you're willing to put up with a really crude interface and molasses-like operating speeds. I'm not.


Shades of Liberace? Shades? That limo could only be more camp if it had rhinestones on the wheel arches and sequins on the dashboard.

I do like the Fuji just as I like Pen EP-1. I like that kind of retro, although I'll grant you that quiet desperation can often show in such a design. But not in these two. (Nor in Leica M9, either, although you could argue that M9 is not "retro" since they never moved from the design.)

I also think that we need more proper "retro" design. I'm slightly sick of the big black cameras. Just like I'm slightly sick of fat, rounded cars.

But we have already had that discussion.

I think I have similar taste for the retro as you, Mike. And I was very excited about the x100 as a street camera. But it is missing two things that are a deal breaker for me:

- Direct mechanical focusing. The "focus by wire" thing is just too slow and not tactile enough.

- The functionality of a real rangefinder. When I first read about the x100 I thought that's what they had done--a half optical, half digital rangefinder, with the digital image overlapped on the eyepiece, such that if you make both coincide, you're in focus. This would have been brilliant and would have opened lots of possibilities.

As it is, I love the looks of the thing, but it seems like the functionality is not quite there.

The question in my mind is always... what would those industrial designers of yesterday design today? Back then they were probably pushing boundaries, and today they might as well.

I'd rather see a beautiful, well designed camera than something designed just to be retro. The X100 design is semi-appealing, but the many noted problems with the design - hardware and software - are killing it for me.

What if Apple or Ideo designed a camera today?

Nothing supersedes function. Designs of anything that incorporate it at its core are successful exactly because beautiful appearance is the result of well thought out function. That's why you love some retro, I'd venture.
Where as the limo looks ridiculous because the frivolous idea to stretch it surely occured to an owner who had a bit too much to drink the night before. Function? What function?

X100 fails most with its timer. A cable? We may as well go back to manual crank-wipers at the dawn of automotive history. Obviously retro was more of a priority than function, which is why I came away disappointed. Next thing you know there's X200 made of wood. With a black curtain behind the LCD that goes over over your head.

This is making my head hurt, but I've suddenly realised that retro is only really, really attractive when it's novel. Having seen a squillion pictures of the X100 since last Autumn, I find that I'm beginning to find it quite passé, and even hum-drum.

Bring on the new old.

I've had my X100 for almost a month up here in Iceland, and I love it. The bugs disappear when you use it in Auto-WB, auto-ISO, assign the Fn button to the ND filter, and you never have to touch a menu ever. Fast, responsive, always with me, I actually took up your One-camera-lens-year idea with the X100, you can see my images from it here: http://myx100year.blogspot.com/

In architecture as in cameras: To the spectator or passer-by, the styling is the experience. To the person who has to work in the building, or use the equipment, what matters is how it feels to use it.
Styling, by itself, is purely personal taste.

I don't approve of "retro design". I don't approve of "design" in general -- to me it means excessive focus on appearance, nearly always to the detriment of function. Good design is unobtrusive.

I've spent considerably more than the price of an X100 -- but my E-PL2 three-lens kit is, I think, far more capable. What I don't know yet is whether maybe the X100 has an advantage in good conditions in IQ, perhaps; but the E-PL2 makes quite good enough images. The thing I miss most is also absent from the X100 -- a tilt/swivel LCD screen. Why, oh why, are the manufacturers only putting those on toy cameras? Toy photographers won't even use them!

Aside: I look forward to the day when digital cameras come with an "interface design kit" that allows you to restructure and refine the menu system to your own liking, and basically create your own firmware. (I would end up hiding 90% of the stuff on most camera menus.)

If they come up with an all black version of the X100 I'll be the first in line. As I implied earlier, I like the retro design of the X100 because of the return to "old fashioned" (and therefore, I think, more intuitive and faster responding) controls. The look is nice, but it's the controls that really do it for me. Now give me an all black one so it looks less like something my dad would have carted around, and I'm sold.

This is how I feel, for the most part, about "retro" camera design. Although it's not a direct opinion. For the most part I don't find that much to like about the classic camera control system, among other things.


Equipment doesn't matter? You'd be inclined to think otherwise, reading this post.
It remains to be seen if Fuji can firmware-fix this broken piece of photographic bling.

i cringe whenever this word is used, but the current x100 design is reminiscent of a corrupted palimpsest. things don't line up, there are odd bumps and curves all over the place, as if there were too many cooks in the kitchen.

svein gunnar kjode (blankscapes.com) cleaned up the design a bit. you can see it at the very end of this page:


this revision addresses most of the ham-handed design features. i would also remove the flash, the af illuminator, and the microphones, and redesign the grip, the af mode switch, and the lens barrel.

i happen to agree with your friend, the x100 has no aesthetic appeal to me. i was around when this retro look was new and can remember how much cooler it was to get an all black camera -- the steel/chrome look was get old fashioned. my point is that some designs are timeless in that their look perfectly matches the function. that can be something new (ipad?) or old (leica?). to a younger generation, that is people younger than me to whom the 60s is in text books, there seems to be an unending demand for cameras to look like it is from that time, and then there is the hipstamatic app on the ipad to make photos look like they did out of your instamatic. now if only fuji could make the x100 produce jpegs that look like hipstamatic photos -- what a marketing coup that would be. perhaps a graflex with a stogie is the next craze

My problem with "retro" is that so often it's about style rather than substance. Plastic made to look like tooled brass is still plastic, and worse, it's plastic that's ashamed of itself.

I want honest tools, made with care, made to be used, and made to last. The aesthetics that appeal to me tend to follow from those conditions; if you start with the aesthetics, you're going about it backwards.

I have to admit I'm a total sucker for the retro design of this camera and I'm desperately saving my pennies for a chance to try it out.. and I've read all the reviews listing its problems which, from what I can tell, are all software (and thus fixable.)

The one thing I have not yet seen is a response from Fuji on all the reviews. I'd feel a lot better about the purchase if I saw any sort of statement that they are working on fixing the issues.

Does TOP have any connections that could get that kind of response from them? Inquiring minds and all that. ;)

It's interesting that the retro look may not deliver modern needs. One of the complaints with it is the complex menu system. But the old originals only let you adjust 2 things, aperture and shutter speed, quick twists of the fingers managed both in the "retro" days. There's no reason for a "retro"-looking body to not do these modern things well too. They need not be mutually exclusive.

Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson on the Mini

"The biggest drawback with this car, though, is the price. If you want a car of this type, a not very commodious small city car that’s fun to behold and zesty to drive, the Suzuki Swift Sport is yours for £11,499. The Mini Cooper S is a whopping £15,995. And if you go a bit mad with the options list you can easily be faced with a bill for more than £20,000. That’s way too much.

As a result, I’d probably buy the Suzuki. And then, after five minutes, wish I had the Mini instead."

My old dear drives a Swift sport. She'll never buy a Mini and I'll never own a X-100. But they look very nice


Love retro, hate camp.

The X100 looks grogeous in the pictures I might jump on the thing when it reaches v2.0...and offers inchangeable lenses.

I would second or third the "form follows function" comments - having physical dials that do basic functions like aperture and exposure perhaps look "retro," but are also better design, faster to use, than having to use a screen UI.

I was comparing a friend's x100 to my Sony NEX, and the Sony is much smaller, why would they design a camera that still looks like it has 35mm film in it? Because it is actually the perfect size in the hand, both for holding and moving dials.

Apple has designed camera hardware and software in the iphone, and it's a poor photography experience.

The X100 appeals to me mainly because of *how* those retro controls work, in the same way that the Pentax 645N/N-II and some of their 35mm bodies appeal to me; no need for stupid M, P, Tv and Av modes cluttering the place up.

BTW I've ridden in one of those Excaliburs (albeit a non-stretch version) and Liberace was the first word which crossed my mind, too. Despite the desperate attempt to look "old" there's enough "new" showing through to ruin the effect entirely.

I have to disagree with Marc, the industrial designer who holds up the M9 Titan as a good example that works. The M9 Titan is lovely in its way, but it's not a new design. It's essentially a re-skinned M9. Sure, it has a pretty new skin, but the beauty is already there in the underlying camera. The "Titan" aspect doesn't add any significant new functionality (and it even takes some away). It may not be a copy of the 1960's, but it is a copy (or version) of the current M9. By contrast, the X100 is an entirely new camera and, as such, a more difficult task than a re-styling of the M9.

Talking of retro apples... I can imagine a iMac GX styled as Apple II... now that would be fun! :)

If they ever make a digital Argus C-3, I'm so there... Otherwise, meh.

One question (for me) keeps getting passed over on the forum and it's starting to get me interested.

Instead of asking Apple or Ideo to design a camera - could we ask them to design the os for the camera?

I mean how great would the M9 or the x100 be with a really great screen interface. Most likely it would turn a camera that has weird issues in the menus (evidently the x100 does) and make it easier and more powerful to use.

Somehow I think we are missing a good question here.

Retro...now here's a nice upgrade of the 49 Ford..http://www.seriouswheels.com/cars/top-Ford-Forty-Nine-Concept-Coupe-Convertible.htm ...same with the X100 feels old but got the new stuff that works... almost...now if it would just focus/shoot faster...needs tune up....looks good, but doesn't go around the track fast enough yet.

An example of an unhappy marriage between retro styling and modern technology is the previously mentioned Morgan Aero 8. Top Gear "America" has finally arrived here in Canda on a regular channel (History)and although I have a love/hate relationship with the show, I have watched 7 shows so far. Anyway a recent show had the professional driver of the trio of hosts (Tanner Foust)testing the Morgan. The Aero 8 has a claimed top end of 170 mph. However, as Foust reached 140-150 mph, the front end started to lift, thanks to the beautiful curved front fenders...we did not see 170. Foust said it was one of the scariest experiences he'd ever had.

Still with TG, and apropos the recent discussion on "fat" American muscle cars, the current fastest car around the test circuit (driven by "Stig" - you fans know what I'm talking about)is a Dodge Viper...trailed by various Lambos, a Porsche, a Lotus...need I go on?

Keep in mind, less than great design existed back in the day, too. A "retro" sensibility can have quality design - or not. The Ebony and Chamonix field cameras have a nice confluence of classicism and contemporary. Pre-distressed leather or denim in clothing or furniture is awkward. Much of contemporary production line products feel cheap or fake. Production oriented furniture from 100 years ago (Stickley) feels more authentic today than production oriented Ikea. The originals also feel more genuine than todays Chinese production copies.

For me the Canon G10 (my first snappicam) nailed the functionality. The aesthetics could be slightly prettier, and the image quality is not that of a full frame sensor, but the camera is very solid and very fast in hand.

btw - another aspect of design today (as seen in fat, exaggerated auto designs) is a sort of meta communication, the design mocks itself (self deprecation), over exaggerating certain design elements. We see it in the 'muscle cars' of today, and designs like the latest Mazda3s, with the over the top smiling grill.

If it comes to wishes: I would like to see a Braun Design Camera.

>>I fell for the X100 at first glimmer and time hasn't dimmed my admiration

I fell for the X100 at Photokina last year. And yes, owning one hasn't dimmed my admiration ;-)

Actually I don't like retro styling at all, but the styling of the X100 simply makes sense (apart from a few small oddities). There is no need to change things just for the sake of being different.

My own feelings regarding retro camera design is that I like old (that is, actual retro) equipment. For example, I vastly prefer the controls on classic film cameras from roughly 1960 to 1980. These are easy to handle, simple, direct, intuitive, and they don't have menus.

I hate it when a camera (actually its designer) thinks it (he) believes he knows more than I do about taking pictures.

More generally, I think the current appeal of retro is mostly just trendy fashion. But I wonder if there isn't also a particle or two of desire for a piece of equipment that hasn't a scrap of the "virtual" about it?

I like computers and use them every day for work and pleasure. But there's a strong satisfaction in using things that have no computer chips in them to do your bidding — where the results are entirely the result of your own manual skills, however good or bad.

There are two kinds of "retro" in cameras, retro styling and retro ergonomics.

The styling part is usually a marketing gimmick. Long for Grandpa's old camera? We'll give you something that looks like it--but doesn't act like it. Then we'll convince you that it's cool and kinda like the real thing. Nice, it may sell cameras, but how does it help me take pictures? If it's slower and more cumbersome than either current cameras or a bona fide old camera, then what good is it as a photographic tool?

I *do* want retro ergonomics in the form of discrete manual controls for the most important functions. Menus that are reasonably decipherable while shooting, and less-used functions that stay out of my way unless I actually need them are also nice. "Form enhances function" styling is not "retro," it's just good design.

If something with good ergonomics also looks like something from the supposedly golden past, then maybe the universe is telling us something about current design.


"Retro always has at least a whiff—and all too often, more—of tastelessness about it". I'd agree wholeheartedly. I also agree with Andrew that the X100 is "semi-appealing" ... and therefore "semi-appalling".

Re Retro and Cars. I had the good luck to drive a FIAT 500 twin air last weekend (did you get the original or the new one in the USA). It is retro and at the same time modern and relevant.
A 900cc 2 cylinder engine replaces the 500cc original, and its larger, but somehow its relevant. first off it even sounds like the old one and the first reaction is oh no as you fire up the engine and it lumps into some sort of idle where it sounds like the cylinders cannot agree on which direction/order they should fire. But get above 2,000 rpm and suddenly it is off and running and you find it lopes around the countryside to its own off-beat tune in an endearing and smile inducing way. It is simple fun as it rewards you with tenacious handling surprising comfort and is far faster than a less than 99g low CO2 car ought to be. It was just grin inducing at reasonable road speeds and it looks good too, in a retro way.
The con? well all this fun comes with the eco mode button off and at @ 38mpg I found pressing the ECO button in and it did @ 48mpg. But sod that the basic fun in driving a well sorted small car is there to be had and on slipping back into traffic/town, well that is where the eco button comes in.
The BMW mini has been outdone by FIAT. that the FIAT has more passenger space and is lower cost plus is basically fun, just puts the icing on the cake.

Semi-compact, beautiful lens, APS-C sensor, optical VF. If I had one it would always be in manual mode, so I'd use the dedicated controls with ISO assigned to the function button. I'd be shooting RAW so I wouldn't care about WB. I'd either use AF, which is supposed to be ok, or I'd be using MF to set hyperfocal focusing, which would be a pain according to the reviews, but manageable because you set it once and leave it. The only significant problem I'd have would be with the slow write times and the camera locking up while writing. If I had $1200 under my mattress I'd have preordered and I'd be shooting now.

Oh, yeah, looks. To me it looks most like a Konica Hexar AF Silver. Which is nice. Frankly if it looked like a neon brick I'd still want one.

"To do then now would be retro. To do then then was very now-tro, if you will." -A Mighty Wind

The X100 is styled to mimic classic rangefinder cameras that were simple and intuitive, yet it is being sold with a user interface that is complex and illogical. I am amazed that DP Review gave the X100 a silver award when their review included a page-long addendum of problems. The whole thing is quite beyond my ability to comprehend. It's more than a question of retro design; it's a question of common sense. To those who defend the X100, I must ask, "What planet are you from?"

What kind of retro do you mean?

Respectful post modern retro (ie. emulating the qualities and ethos of the past without necessarily emulating the look) or the superficial marketing led pastiche that places a thin shell of retro chic over a standard modern chassis.

In other words is it genuine?

Examples of egregious fakery include the BMW Mini, VW Beetle revamp, any modern Bently or Rolls Royce, Fuji X100, probably the new Mustang and Charger.

Post modern retro? Porsche 911, VW Golf, Alfa 159, Pentax K5.

Now I agree some some retro chic looks sumptious (Ford T-bird, Fiat 500) but it's like dating a 25 year old Marilyn Monroe lookalike. Fun at the time, but if you want to look middle aged and out of touch, then there is no more profound way of advertising it.

Of course, the human mind is ultimately a machine for absorbing information, processing it, and then moving things as a result.
So, people are just going to always prefer dials over buttons and screens.

What planet am I from?

The one where I own and use an X100, and none of those bugs get in the way in the slightest. You'll notice most of them are on the "new fangled" aspects most TOP readers would never touch.

Auto WB, Auto ISO, Aperture priority, Use the exposure compensation dial, M focus mode with the AFL switch to engage autofocus, and you're golden. No problems, no bugs, just the smallest digital camera with a massive viewfinder just the way they used to make them.

People are getting far too hung up on the bugs and quirks that 90% of those of us who use the X100 daily don't even notice.

I've made more keepers, including several prints on my wall now from the X100, than I ever did in a similar period with my 5D and 35/50/85mm lenses.

I agree 100% with Ken Tanaka, both regarding styling vs. design in general, and regarding the X100 in particular.

And I'd even go so far as to say that the top-plate dials and aperture ring do not look more ergonomic or intuitive to me than the two control dials on a mid- or top-level Pentax or Nikon DSLR to me (sorry, Canon, I just can't get used to the rear thumb-wheel on your cameras, and the front dial seems on the wrong side of the shutter release to me).

For instance, with my K-7 I can adjust all three exposure parameters (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO) without taking my eye away from the viewfinder *and* without altering my grip on the camera. That is, neither of my hands actually move from their position, and even my index finger remains on the shutter release button. I fail to see how the X100 can be easier to use than that.

But I have yet to even see one in the flesh, much less try one out, so I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.

My problem with retro, in most instances, is the fact that the attempt is only superficial. It seems that, for some unknown reason, the retro item, be it a car, a camera, or anything else, has to include all of the most modern gadgetry, i.e. complication. I can think of no instance in which a company has taken a chance and just added necessary and needed refinements to the original and brought it to market. In the case of the X100 this would mean bringing a rangefinder camera that included little more than the great new Sony DX sensor with controls for shutter speed, aperture, and ISO selection, IOW a digital version of the M3; kind of like the magical camera you imagined as a kid in the old days of film.

I very reluctantly canceled my order for the x100 this morning. After reading the DP Review quirks page it was clear to me that that the camera is not a finished product. I could never get away with releasing software with such obvious flaws and neither should Fuji. Patches can be produced to deal with most of the issues but the software implementation was rushed to release and may never be stable. Other flaws will surface requiring additional patches. Better to wait for the v2.0 firmware that will fully support the potential of the camera design.

"Form follows function"

A term coined, I believe, by Louis Sullivan.

That's what crossed my mind when I was reading the dpreview conclusions as well. Flash compensation buried in the menus?!? Right, like I'd ever use the flash in the X100. I'd actually prefer if it didn't have a flash at all.


"I can think of no instance in which a company has taken a chance and just added necessary and needed refinements to the original and brought it to market."

I think the original ("NA" or "M1") Mazda Miata pulled off that trick. You're right, though, it's very, very rare.


Retro done right and functional definitely appeals to me. When I first heard about the X100 and saw the early photos, I loved the idea. Controls where they belonged. Price was on the high end of what I thought was reasonable (at $1000 original estimate). I was waiting for the launch with anticipation. Then price went to $1200 (or $1400 for places selling it a premium), availablility practically nonexistent (I hate products that launch but are then unavailable--e.g. Apple products). Then the less than stellar reviews started coming in. dpreview was the last nail in the coffin. Glad the camera wasn't available immediately after all. Saved a bundle. Better luck next time, Fuji. Canon: hint hint.

My first camera as a child was an Olympus RD rangefinder. I still remember that camera fondly, even tried to purchase one on ebay recently - they're pretty expensive!

Got the X100 last week and I must say using it reminds me of my first photographic adventures. The camera is just fun despite all it's flaws (and it has MANY). There is the wonderful feeling that this is the only camera you would ever need to take with you and using it truly is the opposite of using a D700 with added drive and the 70-200mm F2.8 and that's why I love it. The retro design can be seen as akin to a type of "disguise". People simply wont notice you as much with this camera and will think you are some kind of funny old luddite, no threat to them at all.

Bill, I'm from planet Earth, and all I really want is a quality digital camera that has old fashioned dials for shutter speed, aperture, EC, and ideally ISO, and has a non-retracting lens, doesn't mess around with idiot things like face recognition and 300 point focusing (all you need is one!), and that has the heft and feel of a sturdy rangefinder.

Oh hey! X100! (Except for all those firmware problems.)

Seriously, I don't really care what it looks like (although I prefer all black). It's the handling and retro "feel" that I want, and I think that's what is so attractive about the X100 for many other people too.

Compare with the Leica X1. It sort of looks retro too, and has some of the control dials I like, but it's still a compact, with no viewfinder, a retracting lens (I HATE retracting lenses!) and the feel of a gadget more than a camera.

I believe that design would serve its purpose best when applied to function and hence form will ensue from it. Granted that each camera user will have his preference he will gravitate towards the camera he feels is most suited for his purpose, and sometimes looking good, is important for some. From the manufacturers perspective, if aesthetics will help sell a camera then surely they'll give the consumer what they want. But this means compromise of the myriad desires.

For image creation per se, I'd like to see modular cameras, where one can find the right fit for his purpose by selecting a sensor, body (size, physical vs screen controls, flip out screen or not, EVF, OVF, even looks!), grip, and so forth. This may be a solution to stave off obsolescence and lessen waste. For consumers, it provides a more flexible system for growth and use. While for manufacturers it may even create a more loyal following for a system.

Speaking of retro cars, I think GM should build a Corvette special edition, styled exactly like a 1957 and built on a 2011 platform.

Mike, you said, "I'm not sure I necessarily believe in the "form follows function" mantra. Seems to me it often leads to some pretty dispiriting forms. Concrete shell buildings with metal-truss roofs in the exurbs, for instance. Perfect examples of form following function, but bleh."

That line was coined by Louis Sullivan (in a slightly different form) and nobody was more concerned with appearance than Sullivan -- he created some of the most beautiful, well-balanced buildings ever built. Just because "form follows function" doesn't mean that the form has to be brutal, and usually, ugly buildings aren't all that functional. They're just cheap, and functional enough -- hence, all those crappy metal sheds that pass for buildings in warehouse districts. And for art museums, in Beaubourg.

Retro design is not a good idea: it's based on the cheap attraction of appealing to nostalgia which works more often than not. However, to design something to look like it was produced 50 years ago with modern materials and knowledge that surpass by far the design constraints of 50 years ago is stupid.


I've no interest in retro design from a purely stylistic point of view. And I generally agree with you that "form follows function" should not be dogmatically followed. However to jump on the already overloaded Leica bandwagon, the M design is almost perfectly conceived out of functional necessities - at least for right-handed people who favour their right eye and want a 35mm rangefinder. If the Fuji viewfinder is good, and I'm waiting to see for myself, then I think the styling is actually firstly functional, and not retro. However, it does no harm if it also appeals to people who are attracted to retro styling

Retro done really right: http://i1-18sca.ipower.com/0BMW_Z8.htm. Unfortunately, also retro done extremely expensively, therefore a bit of a flop.

The X100 may have image quality going for it, but the interface and sluggishness are downers that at the moment are killers. Fuji unfortunately has a history of ALMOST nailing it. I sure hope they stick it out this time and fix the things that need fixing. I loved it at Photokina, but in real life it's not ready.


Whilst I like the look of the X100, I prefer real retro. i.e. actual old equipment being used. I spent some time at a recording studio in London a couple of days ago which specialises in vintage equipment and it was like going back in time 50-60 years. A magical experience. Every piece of equipment was vintage but was there for a reason, not for decoration.
There are some modern manufacturers of recording equipment who try for the vintage look and put in a token valve (tube) visible through a grill but I think they have lost the plot a bit.

I find myself very attracted to the X100.

The design, however, detracts from that. At almost every step where a serious decision was made, they chose the Leica way. The little film-rewind-like-lever on the front, the top plate engraving, the step in the top plate after the hot shoe, the silver/black, the whole thing is obviously a copy of the Leica M (although it does superficially look like some early Japanese film cameras too, just less so).

Yet all the little differences to the M were somehow less successful. The many odd curves in the top plate is one place. The cheap-looking plastic bit around the viewfinder is another. The one wheel the Leica does not have, the exposure compensation wheel, looks out of place (although it will probably work well enough). The aperture ring too close to the body (the Leica's is at the front). The overflow of buttons on the back. The thumbwheel with its odd-looking dent in the metal around it. The too-narrow flash masquerading as the light window for the rangefinder. The little flanges coming out from the hotshoe. The unnecessary bevel at the left end of the top plate. The odd indentation in the top plate around the viewfinder. And so on. It seems that each time they deviated from the Leica's traditional form, they lost something.

The camera is still very interesting, and I am still considering getting one, but I would wish that if they are going to so openly copy the Leica, that they would at least make improvements with each deviation, instead of subtracting from the purity of the concept. The understated simplicity of the Leica is still vastly more elegant.

The viewfinder (the inside, not the outside) is the one place where I think they might have made a step forward, but the depiction on the site make it look slightly busy. Surely they could have simplified that too, without making it less informative.

After seeing a camera like this, regardless of whether I end up buying it or not, I come away not with wonder at the cleverness of the Fuji engineers, but with awe for the Leica engineers, who made a camera more pure, more beautiful, than this one in 1954, and worthy digital successors in 2006 and 2009. If this camera succeeds, a large part of this success is owed to Leica. Imagine if this camera had exactly the same functionality, but was just black plastic, like almost everything else in this class from Japan. How attractive would it be then?

Mike, concerning the two locomotive engines you posted: The utilitarian design of hooded engines (as they are called) was motivated by visibility and ease of getting onto/of of them, since the carbody units (as the GMD E and F series) where ill suited to freight use. as such, they are a perfect example for form follows function, and not necessarily ugly.

Frank Zappa had an expression for finishing up a piece of music, he called it 'putting the eyebrows on.'

To me, that seems what is missing in products that seem to be rushed. Getting all the bits in their right places is true to the 'form follows function' dictum, but it's the 'eyebrows' that give character. Sometimes it seems to me that we live in a 90% society - that is, we have things that are 90% completed. But I think it's that last 10% that takes us from 'good enough' to 'excellent.'

The ultimate test of a camera is how many people buy it and use it. There have been other attempts at updating retro-rangefinders, and there will be more in the future. Think about the Contax G-series in the past - another camera that had great potential.

Regarding your train examples Mike, i think the one you posted as a BAD example is actually pretty damn cool. We don't see trains like that in the UK. An example of a train with all the joy stripped out is something like this:-


Beat that.

the real problem here is that the company is simply ripping off another company's design: eighty, fifty or ten years old...hardly makes any difference.
having said that I consider retro as a kitschy concept. And if one looks at Leica for example, the M line actually evolved much more than it is perceived to be...the M9 is NOT modeled after M3 and it is NOT retro at all.

Hi Mike, I started with a haponette EB when I was 14 got it from my dad who went to slr,but I was happy with my kodachrome 25 each month one probably I never crop now had afterwords M6 and G2 small Rollei's and minox. When I saw the X100 I became exited in October 2010 and spoke to every one about it all my students and visitors of the gallery I became fuji best sales men, Why A remember the simplicity maybe the ZEN of the camera the basic a instrument who listening to me not thinking for me I do not need a thinking instrument, used my FM2 with more pleasure than all the later models. And that is the answer why we on the net talk so much about it we remember ourselves we are ZEN photographers. We like the work of the first men who know the camera as the back of there hand no menu's needed. We go not back if we want manual cameras with not auto focus lenses, we coming home to photography again. About the fuji I will not buy one for now as Thom advise me. I live in Zanzibar Africa and found a land rover discovery from 1962 series two think will go for it, its driving a car in all it basics zen of country driving.


See Michael Reichmann's Part I review on the back control:



"It's almost as if after designing the camera's top panel controls, wonderful viewfinder system, superb sensor and excellent lens, the "A Team" went on vacation and the "B Team" were called in to finish the job on the rear controls."

Mike, correct me, wasn't your original attraction to the x100 that it approached the DMD spec? That was a functional spec. But now the talk is all about looks.

Challenging question: if you could only have one, which would it be: DMD or retro?

Think of what happened with watches in the past thirty years. When the first wave of digital watches had fully landed, it was almost impossible to still buy a watch with an hour and a minute hand - even upon asking for it in a shop the seller would (politely or condescendingly) point out that those days were over. Numbers told the time from now on. A decade or so later, people started to realise that a digital clockwork was obvously alright, very exact and a lot cheaper than miniscule analogue nuts and bolts, but that an 'oldfashioned', or 'retro' face was easier to read and on the whole more pleasant to look at. In fact, those turning hands were not old fashioned at all. So here I am now, looking at my classic-styled stopwatch, powered by a battery instead of a spring. Nothing nostalgic about it - just the best of both worlds. (This analogy is not mine, someone posted it in the X100 forum at DP review some two months ago, undoubtedly in better English than I can produce. Can't find it right now - but thank you, original author.)

I don't consider the X100 'retro' at all. Just good design, the same way a Nikon FM was good design. The double combinations of 'A' modes on the two dials plus their manual controls, are an elegant and effective way of adjusting modes or exposure. Plus the heads up display in the finder for me is really wonderful, and since it's digital, it can do what no rangefinder before it could do: close focus! It's not totally seamless yet, but it works very well.

And that fixed lens is seriously among the best I've ever used. I am NOT regretting my purchase.

Two kinds of "retro" exist and the X100 mixes both of them up, so it's important to distinguish them.

1. Retro controls. Most of the "demand" for retro lies here, for as one author writes: film cameras weren't messed up in controlling the important things in the first place: hands on, easy to reach dials, buttons, levers that let us control aperture, shutter, focus, and exposure override (and these days ISO). The X100 only gets half of this "retro" right.

2. Retro look. Leather on metal, direct physical controls instead of menus and button mania, classic soap bar shape, heft. Here, too, the X100 doesn't get it all right. As someone noted, the guy who designed the back didn't get the memo.

I'm all for #1. It's the key to controlling the camera, and that wasn't broken in the film era. #2 isn't important to me and is mostly driven by nostalgia. Done right, it looks nice enough, but how good my camera looks isn't nearly as important as good my pictures look.

I think, without having the opportunity to handle one, the Fuji is a bit of a bland morphing of film compact design, many of which had more flair (and quirks): it's as though Fuji have overlayed 20 different designs into the aggregate, if you follow me.
If I had the money, however I may still like to have one because there is little/anything like it that fulfills this photographers desire for something simple and elegantly functional. It isn't bad looking but I would seriously 'un-button' it, since, I suspect most shooters with this just want to change the basic (old fashioned !) shooting parameters, I would also like to see a body matching cover for the finger print collector on the back.
I think Porsche had a hand in designing the Contax G cameras and its lovely tactile design doesn't diminish, I'm not sure if the Fuji would compare, but, I'm also in the backwoods as far as having a look goes.
Is it me or are the numbers of comments per post increasing significantly, Mike ?

and then I'll get a Luigi case, perhaps a soft release, maybe an Artisan and Artist strap or bag - it'll all look really really cool - and it'll make me look really really cool and distract everyone from noticing that I take really really boring pictures - but hey I'm in this club where we're way more into what our gear looks than our photographs and if you draw attention to the fact then you're not nice and you can't be in our club!

The difference between 'retro' and 'form follows function' is the difference between 'styling' and 'design'.

I agree with Marc Gibeault: the Leica M9 Titanium is a supreme example of good design. The Fuji X100 is a supreme example of 'retro' styling. Finely crafted, but ill-conceived, it lacks the essential: honesty. If you prefer: inner truth. The adequation between what it's made of, and what it's made for.
(Like Mike's little pencil sharpener.)

This is puzzling and sad, because, if there is one country where the best of traditional craftsmanship could rival the quality and inspire the spirit of the best of modern design, it's Japan.

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