Ah, the Fujifilm X10 - the much anticipated smaller sibling of the “surprisingly popular” Fujifilm X100. I put those words in quotes because I’m not sure exactly who was so surprised - the web sites I followed were anticipating its release with great excitement - but “surprisingly popular” seems to be the sentiment of many who did not anticipate such demand for a “niche” camera. And judging by how difficult it is for B&H Photo to keep them in stock, “surprisingly popular” will probably be applied to the Fujifilm X10 as well. Why is it so popular? Because it is a well designed, well built, largish “compact” camera with a largish “small” sensor, a largish and fast manual zoom lens, a “real” viewfinder, and an array of bells and whistles that are, for the most part, actually useful? Yes. Oh, and it has amazing image quality for a compact as well.
Two things before we start really talking about this camera. First, this came out at a horrible time for me! All the autumn foliage is gone here and this area looks bleak! Plus it has rained a lot! So barren trees and rain - not the best combination. Also, I have been very busy with my day time job lately. So I have not had the opportunity to shoot this little camera like I would like. Secondly, my normal workflow is to shoot RAW and work on everything in Lightroom. This is probably due to the fact that I developed and printed my own black and white pictures in a darkroom. So I think Ansel Adams was right - the negative is the score and the print is the performance. In short, I’m used to tweaking my shots during the printing process. Plus, I shot and developed my film to maximize detail without losing anything in the shadows or highlights. That ensured I obtained printable negatives, and that made shooting easy and the ‘thinking” came when I was printing. Shooting RAW is much the same - there is nothing missing from the “lossy” JPEG compression, white balance can be tweaked, and I can save a good deal of my “thinking” until I am in front of my computer screen with a nice warm (or cold) beverage at my side. When I received this camera the only software that could be used on RAW files was Silkypix - software so maligned by others that I didn’t even want to try it. So, contrary to my usual habits, I shot JPEGs exclusively. This camera produces gorgeous JPEGs as it turns out, so that is okay. But there are so many options to apply that I had to do more thinking when shooting than is normal and natural for me.
Controls and Settings
The Fujifilm X10 has the usual controls found on enthusiast level compacts - physical buttons for accessing many of the most common choices on the back arrayed around a 2.8 inch 460K dot LCD screen. You have a lot of options as to what information you want displayed on the screen, including the always handy live histogram for avoiding clipped highlights and lost shadows. The button for accessing the menu is surrounded by the standard circular rocker control that allows one touch access to macro modes, the self timer, flash settings, etc., that in turn is surrounded by a knurled wheel for navigating menus. There is a button to allow quick changes in auto exposure and auto focus modes, to lock the auto exposure and auto focus, to access white balance, to shoot in RAW if you are shooting in JPEG, and a horizontal wheel for making adjustments - such as to the selected aperture when in Aperture mode. There is a small dial on the front of the camera to choose between single or continuous auto focus, or if you prefer, manual focus. Other reviewers have complained about how difficult manual focus is with this camera. The auto focus works very well so I didn’t even try the manual focus mode.
Size-wise, the Fujifilm X10 is near the top of the “compact” heap, rivaling my Olympus E-420 in size. I would classify both as “coat pocketable” - the Fuji a little more so than the E-420 with 25mm Zuiko pancake lens. Neither of them are going in your jeans though.
The top of the Fujifilm X10 features a dial for exposure compensation up to +2 and -2 in ⅓ stop increments. Always a hit with me. Plus there is an Fn button you program to your choice of menu shortcut functions. I started with it tied to ISO but later changed it to access the “film simulation” modes. There is also, of course, a dial for accessing the many modes of this camera. You turn the camera on by twisting the lens. Some have raved over this. It is okay with me, though so different that it took some time for me to get used to it. There is also a hot shoe for an accessory flash if you want to use one. The camera has a tiny built-in flash as well, as is typical for a compact camera.
The lens is great, by the way. A fine, sharp shooter, that opens up to a fast f/2.8 at its 112mm equivalent max tele end, and to an even faster f/2.0 at its 28mm equivalent wide end. And the fact that it is a manual zoom means you can zoom to absolutely any length in between and are not limited to the “steps” of the typical compact zoom lens.
Another feature of the Fujifilm X10 is a real, bright, glass, zooming optical viewfinder with built-in diopter to provide sharp views for every eye. It only covers 85% of what the camera sees, and doesn’t have parallax correction for accuracy. And the lens intrudes into view at the wider settings. So, not the greatest viewfinder in the world, but usable when you, for example, are in a dark place and don’t want your face lit up with distracting light from the LCD (which can be turned off).
The ⅔” EXR 12MP CMOS sensor and the EXR processor in this machine work together brilliantly! A bit larger than sensors in other compacts (except for those like the Fujifilm X100, Sigma DP line and Leica X1 that feature APS-C sized sensors), but a fair amount smaller than m4/3 sensors, I am amazed at its ability to handle low light, high ISO situations. Part of that success comes from the processor’s ability to combine pixels, which can be used to either increase the dynamic range (allowing greater detail in shadows and highlights), or to decrease noise in high ISO shots (for producing cleaner pictures in low light situations). The upside is that this really seems to work! Fujifilm has included this technology in cameras with smaller sensors and the general consensus seemed to be that the technology worked better at increasing dynamic range than decreasing noise, but it seemed to me to work well for both purposes with this larger sensor. But there is no free lunch, right? Everything is a trade off in photography. The trade off here is that you end up with a 6MP image instead of a 12MP image. I have a 12x18 picture from my old 6MP Digital Rebel hanging in my living room, so I can live with that trade-off.
This is EXR mode’s high ISO and low noise option at ISO 3200 with Astia film simulation (soft colors)
This is EXR mode’s high dynamic range mode. Yeah, some burn out but that is the sun!
Okay, so let’s talk about options. There is the standard Aperture priority (“A”), shutter priority (“S”) and program priority (“P” - for professional according to some videos annoying “serious” photographers on Youtube these days (at MWAC Attack-Episode 1: The Camera - YouTube), plus manual (“M”). There are two “custom” modes on the dial for saving favorite settings that I didn’t use. There is a setting for making 1080p HD movies that I didn’t use. There is an “Auto” setting. I’m frankly not sure how that differs from the “P” setting to be honest as I never use either of those. Actually, of all of these I only used aperture priority. There is an “SP” (“Semi-Professional?) setting. Oh wait, that stands for “Scene Position” and allows you to choose from such presets as “portrait,” and “portrait enhancer” (why ever do a portrait when you can do an enhanced one?) and “landscape” and “sport,” etc. So yeah, Semi-Professional.
When it comes down to it, there are only 2 options on that dial that interested me other than aperture priority. Those are “EXR” and “Adv.” EXR allows access to the options for extended dynamic range and high ISO with low noise, which both reduce the output to 6MP by combining information from the 12MP sensor. There is oddly a third option under EXR - high resolution to make sure you end up with a 12MP image. Not sure how that is different than just selecting “Fine” image quality in the menu. (The menu, by the way, is not this camera’s finest feature - more on that later.)
“Adv.” is short for “Advanced” - “sophisticated techniques made easy” according to the manual. (The manual, by the way, is also not the finest feature - more on that later too.). Anyhow, choose this on the mode dial and you can access three more options in the menu - motion panorama 360, pro focus, and pro low-light. The first allows you to capture a panorama by “sweeping” the camera around up to 360 degrees. I actually achieved about a 390 or more since my car is in that particular picture twice.
So yeah, it works okay. The second one gives a sharp subject but a blurry background “similar to those produced by SLR cameras” the manual brags. Another feature I did not try. However, the third option, “pro low-light” provides yet another way to eliminate noise in high ISO shots. The camera quickly takes 4 exposures which it combines into 1 picture. This seems to work well as long as the scene is stationary so the 4 images are of the same subject.
This is the first picture I have ever made of one our Christmas trees that has earned my wife’s approval!
What is there to dislike? Well, as I mentioned, I found the camera’s menu system to be subpar. It just didn’t seem all that intuitive and required too much wading through long option lists. The menus on the Canon S95 and Olympus XZ-1 I reviewed back in the summer, by comparison, were much more intuitive. This is not helped by the fact that the Fujifilm X10 has so many options. It could really benefit from a menu system that is easier to navigate. Although, to be honest, I was getting through the choices much quicker after using the camera for a while. So, not a deal breaker by any means, but an annoyance. Choices you can make in the menu include “film simulation”(the color ones named after Fuji slide films - Velvia for vivid, Provia for normal and Astia for reduced saturation which is good for portraits), plus several black and white options including use of several color filters and a sepia toned option), ISOs up to 3200 in fine mode (up to 6400 in “M” mode which is 6 MP and up to 12,800 for even smaller pictures) plus auto ISOs with a choice of top sensitivity of either 400, 800, 1600 or 3200, image size (L, M, S) and dimensions (4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1), image quality (fine or normal), dynamic range, and on and on. Suffice it to say that you can customize how you want your JPEGs in a ton of ways, though I don’t know why anyone would buy this camera and set the image quality to anything less than fine or image size to anything less than L (except for those EXR settings that produce 6MP “M” sized images).
Now the manual would be a logical place to go try to figure out all of the choices available. But if the menu is a bit muddled, the manual is worse. I learned more from just playing with the various options on the camera, and from pointers picked up on the forums here at Serious Compacts, than I did initially from the manual. I think that if you already are familiar with the X100 this camera will be easier for you to master. However, again, I have to admit that now that I know my way around this little gem a little better, the manual is a bit clearer and more helpful.
In summary, this camera is customizable in an almost infinite number of ways, making it a good fit for however you shoot as long as you take the time to learn it and set it up your way.
In the FieldIn the field, in the house, in the yard - where ever I took it, this camera was a joy to use. A Joy! I had to do a little thinking (a dangerous pastime, I know) to decide how saturated I wanted the picture, or if I wanted monotone, whether I thought a boost to dynamic range or a high ISO was needed, etc. But I caught on quick enough as to what I needed to do to get the look I wanted from each picture. With a little use, a little internet research, a little review of the manual, and a little experimenting, this camera becomes easy to use and offers a diverse, useful and powerful tool set.
Enough words, lets look at some pictures.
Here’s a couple that were made using “Velvia” film simulation:
And a few taken in “Provia” mode:
Here’s another one of my dog Buddy shot at ISO 1600 with no EXR or Adv. processing but a curves adjustment and some vignette applied in Lightroom:
And this one was shot at ISO 1250, also without EXR or Adv. processing:
This shot of one of the vintage ornaments on our Christmas tree was made in EXR’s high ISO and low noise mode at ISO 2000, also using the macro mode:
These were both at ISO 3200 (EXR mode) and are straight out of the camera:
This one is also from the EXR mode at ISO 3200 with the BW conversion made in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2:
and a crop at 100% from that earlier pic of my Christmas tree in “Pro Low-Light” mode::
The “macro” and “super-macro” (which allows you to get closer than mere “macro” but not to zoom) settings work wonderfully.
The Fujifilm X10 also has built in black and white options, including replication of common filters used in monochrome, such as yellow, red and green. The option works well for those who prefer SOOC:
I personally still prefer doing my BW conversions in Nik Silver Efex though:
JPEGs from this camera hold up pretty well to a lot of adjustment:
as evidenced by this before
The Fujifilm X10 is an excellent camera - a tool that gives a dedicated user a lot of options in a relatively small package. Thanks to its fast lens, large sensor, EXR processing and image stabilization, the ability to work in low light is amazing. It’s retro styling and all-black construction makes it discreet yet elegant. It can be made virtually silent to operate and turning off the LCD screen and using the optical viewfinder means you can shoot almost anywhere. One would expect a compact in this price range to perform well in good lighting, and this camera does, but its versatility makes it a real star. I’m not a fan of the menus system but that is becoming less and less of an issue. I am a big fan of everything else about this camera. I know there have been complaints about white balls, orbs, globes, spots - whatever - in specular highlights, but my camera has exhibited none of those problems. My camera is a champ!
ComparisonsComparing the Fujifilm X10 to other fixed lens compacts I have used recently, I have to say that it overall has the best image quality. I love the look of pictures from the Foveon sensor in the Sigma DP2x, but that camera is not nearly as versatile. The Fuji lens is one stop faster at its widest setting, has higher ISOs, looks better at higher ISOs and has much, has image stabilization and much better auto-focus.
The X10 also has much better image quality than the Olympus XZ-1 and the Canon S95 I previously reviewed. Those cameras are, on the other hand, far more “pocketable.” The Oly has an excellent lens that, like the X10, is fast at f/2.0 to 2.8 throughout its range. The Canon has a slower lens (though it starts at a fast f/2.0 at the wide end) but it does fully retract. It is the only one of these cameras that can be carried comfortably in a shirt pocket (big shirt pocket, that is). So if portability is a concern, there are definitely more portable compacts.
But let me end with this. Though I have liked all of the cameras I have tested for Serious Compacts, I have never actually bought one before. That ends here. You may have notice that I started referring to this specimen as “my” camera late in this review. I purchased the X10. It fills a niche for me. The Oly E420 and 25mm pancake lens are going on ebay. And though I will probably end up buying an even smaller compact to fill another niche, I believe this will be the camera I reach for most for the foreseeable future. And, as the newly released Lightroom 3.6 now supports this camera, I will be shooting some RAW and will post something on my thoughts regarding that. But I will sleep easy in the meantime knowing that the JPEGS are great and may, in fact, well end up being what I shoot most.
Jeff Damron has been photographing since receiving a Minolta SLR and a basic darkroom setup in 1976. His favorite film camera is the Contax G1, which he considers his first "compact" camera. He writes about monochrome photography at his site, Better in Black and White. -Amin
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