Body and physical attributes
Well, it's kind of small, a bit to large for a pocket (cargo pants would be okay), but at 450 grams or so it's certainly no problem carrying around. It feels and probably is quite solid (mine have hit the floor, literally, lens hood took the brunt of the fall though). It feels like what I call good build quality. Any modern Nikon I've handled D80/D90/D300/D7000/D700/D3 had one or other point where you could feel slight movement in the outer plastic layer, often around the battery compartment. The X100 is as tight as anything and feels like a solid, trustworthy tool, almost like a good slide calliper.
A lot have been said on the menu system and various firmware quirks and thats with good reason. This isn't a mature camera with several generations of development backing it, more bits and pieces from what is (presumably) Fujifilms compacts. Some of the bugs and quirks will be improved with the promised future firmware releases, some will undoubtedly remain because they are design choices, no matter how much we would disagree. Yet, fact remains, and this is important, the camera works, it shoots, exposes and produces images reliably. No 9 FPS or tracking focus able to follow a 5 year old ADHD kid fueled on ice-cream and cola, but it locks accurately and securely and I've had very few OOF shots, even in poor light. You have to adjust your focusing technique to CDAF peculiarities and find some kind of contrast do drop your focus point on though, especially in poor light.
The combination of OVF/EVF/LCD is fantastic, three options of what to look through to frame the shot is very useful and all three "modes" work very well and the switching between them is almost instant. Mine spends most of the time in OVF mode, although I do switch to the EVF for critically accurate framing every now and then. Seeing more than what you get makes it easier to frame and compose shots and also to anticipate things entering the frame. If you've ever shot a rangefinder you know what I mean. The OVF is however much brighter and contains loads more information (which can be customized) than any old rangefinder.
This is where the X100 shines - Image quality. A finely tuned lens and sensor combo, although "only" 12mp, can work magic and so does the X100. Images are sharp from edge to edge and have a very fine quality and look to them. The lens itself is not quite as punchy as certain modern Nikon or Zeisses, it's a different kind of rendering or drawing of colors and transitions, perhaps a bit old school or somewhat subdued/neutral but not as cool as a 85 1.4D or 105 DC. The lens is sharp already at F/2.0, but struggle a bit at focus distances shorter than about 80cm, stopping down to F/4.0 at short focus distances puts things back on track. I understand this is down to some of the compromises they had to do to make it so small. At distances beyond 80cm up to infinity everything is pretty much as good as it gets today. Sharpness is exceptional across the frame, some very slight and easily correctable distortion and pretty much non-existing CA or other aberrations. My jaw literally dropped when I saw the first F/2.0 shots at medium distances and at infinity, the lack of nasty mushiness in the corners and flat, consistent frame..well I cannot stop drooling over the files. There's some vignetting, especially wide open, perhaps a little over one stop at most.
Being primarily a DX-user, I kind of struggle finding a ~24mm F-mount lens as capable as the Fujinon. Probably the only "modern" performance-wise comparable lenses are the 24G, 14-24G and the Zeiss 21mm, although all these are a bit apples and oranges compared to the Fujinons maximum aperture and crop sensor image circle. I can't resist mentioning that all these lenses cost as much or more than the X100 and are actually physically equally large or larger than the camera. Kind of puts things into perspective even if it's just a silly and not really valid comparison.
The files that come out of the X100, be they jpgs or RAWs really have to bee seen and experienced firsthand. The jpg engine is the best I've ever seen, I've never really been that "oooh" over the "famous" Olympus jpgs, but these are something that (almost) makes me reconsider my following of the RAW-cult. The RAWs do remind me a lot of the 12mp Nikon files from the D90, D5000 and D300 in terms of DR and ability to recover highlights and shadows. They don't have quite as much headroom as the D7000, but it's clearly much more refined/evolved algorithms at work here than the slightly outdated 12mp Nikons. The really big difference is the amount of detail. The X100 seems to have a light AA filter and/or better internal processing, because there's more detail than I'm used to from my D90, even with very good glass. I can't quantify this or measure it, it's a subjective impression and should be taken with a few bucketfuls of salt.
High ISO noise is something that interests me as I often shoot in very poor light. Simnply put, the X100 is very close to my D7000 in this department, basically meaning a notch or two above the D90, just below the D700 in most areas. The noise is, like with the D7000, mainly of the luminance variety, meaning it's easy to work with. The X100 files do not however retain color as well as the D7000, but it is clearly better than the D90. One of the reasons the D7000 high ISO files look so good is the ability to maintain color fidelity, something even the D700 struggle with, although the D700 have slightly less noise overall. Basically, the X100 performs extremely well and puts the old but tried and trusted Sony (?) 12.3mp sensor to good use, paired with a couple of years worth of development in processing. It's a camera that you comfortably can shoot down to ISO 3200 and even 6400 with careful exposure and post processing. Oh, the places you can go with 1/40th at F/2.0 and ISO 3200!
The many nay-sayers, rumors and complaints over the X100 can scare anyone. Yet, the growing enthusiast community, even dedicated forums and the many very, very nice images I saw from it convinced me to give it a go, knowing I could return it. All these people could not be all wrong. Quite frankly, I realize now it's changed the way I shoot and brought a lot of image-making joy back into my life. It goes with me anywhere and I love knowing that I have a camera with me that I trust IQ-wise to the same degree that I trust my DSLRs. For specialized photographic tasks such as macro, sports, portraiture and so forth, there's no way I won't choose to use a DSLR, but for a lot of other stuff the X100 is very much up to the task. Tthe kind of shooting I do, even the paid stuff, is not very demanding and I would not hesitate to use the X100 for an environmental PJ-type portrait for instance.
Yet...this is a camera for those who knows what they are doing, accept the merits and drawbacks of a single prime and are able and willing to learn a new camera with a sometimes confusing logic and some quirks. It's no denying that this is a camera that will feel all to limiting to a lot of people and if you come from a DSLR and expect DSLR-like focus performance and burst rates you will be sadly disappointed.
IF you give it the time, the reward is a camera that is a pleasure to shoot, use and carry while still giving you images of a quality that rivals the state-of-the-art crop sensor DSLRs out there. I'd actually be so bold, that even with the rather high retail price of the X100, you'd struggle getting better IQ for the same price if you consider what a body and high-grade 24mm lens cost today. In FX land there's a whole forest of great 35mms, but then we're also talking several times the weight and size, lens + body. There's also no doubt people respond differently to a small, "old" camera like the X100 than a huge honking black DSLR. Try pulling up a D3 with a 70-200 in a casual social situation and see how people react
I think that rounds it off. If there's any interest I'll come back with some definitely unscientific image samples and more impressions later on.
This post has been promoted to an article
Edited by M4cr0s, 07 June 2011 - 22:10 .