Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fuji X10 - My Take On This Camera

A lot of people have opinions on camera gear....OK....everyone has an opinion on camera gear.  If you want to hear mine of this camera, then feel free to read on and check it out.

Before we start - some ground rules.  I'm a photographer, not a camera engineer.  I'm coming about this review and impression from a standpoint of a user of the gear.  I'm just going to explain what my understanding is and my impressions thus far with the camera.  I could be wrong, off base, or dead on accurate.
I've got no problems with any comments that you might want to leave correcting me or adding some critical information that I might have left out.  All I ask is that you be respectful in your correspondence.

First - Why would a professional photographer want a small camera?
Well, I can't speak for all photographers, but I will say this.  There are times when I don't need a pro kit, don't want to carry a pro kit around with me.  it really is that simple.   I wanted a smaller camera with a high image quality, good responsiveness and easy to manipulate controls.

I believe the Fuji X10 gives me those things.

Second - Why the Fuji X10 over the Fuji X100?
There are quite a few things that make the Fuji X100 a superior camera over the X10.  The X100 has a larger APS-C size sensor(same size as in a lot of intro and mid level DSLRs), a fast fixed prime lens and a slightly larger body.
So again, why the X10?
If we look at all the other things...the X10 is the little brother of the X100.  It's layout is pretty close, its functionality is pretty what are the changes?  The X10 has a 35mm equivalent zoom range of 28-112mm with an f/2.0 to f/2.8 maximum aperture.
My other thought is that with the X10 - Fuji had time to figure out all the quirks of the X100 and fix them with the X10.  For the most part, I think that Fuji has done just that.

So what did I get for my money?  I got a very portable, take anywhere, anytime camera.  It is quite a capable little machine.
The dynamic range is excellent, and there are plenty of modes that can help to extend that.  It can do in camera panoramas.  Special modes for low light, enhanced depth of field.  While it is great for those who do not want any kind of special help - just point and shoot - it can do that too.  So people like my wife, who just wants to press the shutter and make the image are fine with it too.  For me, I like the fact that it has aperture, shutter and manual modes and a standard hot shoe.  Oh...and it has a leaf shutter so syncing flash all the way through the shutter range is possible!!  More on all this later and why it is an exciting thing for a photographer.

The short comings - not that many to be honest.
This is what I found so far and none are deal breakers to be sure.
Flash exposure compensation - I cannot seem to find a way to make the internal flash exposure compensation to be more or less that 2/3.  Not horrible, but sometimes I like to travel light and I have a speed light with an optical slave on it.  I want the camera flash to not be part of the exposure and having  it as low powered as possible is a plus.  We'd just have to be careful of the camera to subject distance in that regard.
Menu System - OK - I'm just really used to the Nikon DSLR menus and while the Fuji menus are not
that for sure - they just take a little getting used to.
The User Manual - While pretty bad, not one of the worst I've seen.  I've worked in the IT industry for 25 years, so I've seen my share of bad instruction manuals.  Everything you need to know is in there, it just takes some interpretation.  I recommend reading it and then re-reading it - then take it with you for some time in order to get a good feeling for all the options.  This camera has a ton!

That is about it for the time being.  If I find any other quirks of note I'll make sure to update them here.

External Controls
The camera takes a lot of its cues from the old film rangefinder cameras.  While it does not have an all manual control scheme through dials(like the X100) has a system similar to a DSLR.  Set the mode you want on the dial and use the thumb wheel or the spin wheel to change the options you want.  Coming from a DSLR - this is great because the controls are very familiar.

On the top you'll find an exposure compensation dial, a mode command dial, a function(Fn) button, shutter release.
One the front is a switch for the focus control - AF-S, AF-C and MF(manual).
The great thing about the dials is that they are all very tight and I have had no problems with them at all.  I've yet to accidentally move a dial.
The rear has your thumb wheel, AEL/AFL button, your combo pad with drive mode/delete, macro focus mode, flash mode and self timer on it.  On the outside of that is a wheel you can spin to change options as well.  A note on the thumb wheel.  It is clickable and among other things, it is used in manual mode to change between switching the aperture and shutter value.  There is a back/display button, a RAW button for switching to RAW shooting mode or to process RAW images into JPG while in image review mode.
Rounding out the button controls are the play button, AE(doubles as zoom in), AF(doubles as zoom out) and WB buttons.

For me - I'll spend 99% of my time with these controls and not in the menus.  See?  Another reason why the menu system doesn't bother me - I'm not really going to need it much!!

The biggest innovation is the power button and zoom.  Instead of having a conventional power button, twisting the manual zoom ring to the 28mm setting causes the camera to power on.  Ok - a lot to take in with that one sentence.  Yes - the power switch is on the lens zoom ring and yes, it is a manual zoom - not a powered zoom.  Yet another comfort for a DSLR shooter.  Why do I like a manual zoom ring?  It gives me minute control over the zoom range, I can zoom as fast or as slow as I want.  Unlike a powered zoom, where they often step through different zoom ranges with no in between or they zoom at inconsistent speeds depending on how long you hold the zoom button.
Another advantage is that you do not have to wait for the zoom to move in and out when powering hte camera on or off.

OK -  So the boring part is over.  Now lets get into the good stuff - things that I'm sure you really care about - performance!!!  How does this thing rock!?  Lets find out.

For comparison, I'll post some stills from the different modes and possibly pit the X10 against my old war horse - the Nikon D50.  I bought this camera back in 2005 and it is still going strong!  While I do not expect the X10 to destroy the D50 - I do want to give you a sense of how close these cameras are(or not) in image quality.
I know that a DSLR is king on control and the X10 is not in the same league as far as that goes.  Just make sure we have this in our minds as we move on.

The A/P/M/S modes work as you'd expect them to, so no need to really go into them.    I shoot mainly in aperture priority mode or manual mode for my normal shooting needs - and those work as I need them too.

C1/C2 - on the dial these are for setting up custom shooting modes.  To use them is a little different.  Firs - set the camera to the mode you want to emulate.  For example, if you want the mode to be in aperture priority as it's base shooting mode - turn the command dial there first.  Then - setup all the other options you want.  As the last step - go into the menu system and find the option on menu 4 called CUSTOM SET.  This is the custom spot on the dial that you want those options you just set placed under.  Once saved all you need do is turn the dial to C1 or C2 to use those options.  You can even change some of the shooting options while in C1 or C2 - but they are not permanent unless you re-save the settings again.  Kind of nice if you ask me.  A little weird to use at first - but a nice option none the less.

EXR Mode
This mode is like "magic".  It runs through a multitude of different options to get the best image quality it can.
EXR Auto - this is like a full auto mode on steroids.  It will automatically determine which of the three EXR modes below to use.
Resolution Priority - it determines the best options to use to get the highest image quality possible - the most detail.
High ISO/Low Noise - this mode aggressively goes after reducing noise in high ISO/low light situations.
D-Range Priority - Tries to maximize the dynamic range of a scene - useful for when you have a scene with highly contrasting ranges.
Here are some examples of the benefit of the EXR mode D-Range:
EXR D-Range Mode
Usually in a shot like this the sky would have been washed out in order to keep the barn and grass properly exposed.
Here, you can see the sky has a nice blue tone to it.
1/450th @ f/4.5   ISO 100
It also works in B&W Film Simulation mode as well.
1/420th @ f/5  ISO 100 
Advanced Mode
Panorama - the camera will automatically stitch a series of images together to create a vertical or horizontal panorama.  I've used this a bit and it does work quite well.  If shooting at 28mm, there can be noticeable barrel distortion.  I've also noticed some ghosting, especially when you have something in the scene that is moving.  In the example below - look at the wind mill to the right - the blades are a bit off.  Nothing that could not be fixed with a little post processing love.
120 degree in camera stitched panorama

Pro Low Light Mode
B&W Conversion Lightroom 3.6
1/25 @ f/2.2   ISO 3200

Pro Low Light - the X10 takes a series of images(up to 4) to get the best image possible in a low light situation.  I've experimented with this and it does work quite well.

Pro Focus - again, we have a multi image situation.  The camera takes a successive series of images to get the main subject in focus and the background as nice of a bokeh as possible.  Given the small size of the image sensor it is difficult to get a shallow depth of field.  This option is there to help you.

Special Mode
This option is where all the "scene" modes exist.  If you need a quick setup, like using scene modes, then this option is the place for you.  There are a ton of options to choose from.

Full Auto
The Ron Popiel Rotisserie mode of the camera - the "set it and forget it" mode.  I use this mode if I want to hand the camera to someone and have them take a picture of me.

Video Mode
You've got quite a bit of option here.

Full HD(1920p) at 30fps
Regular HD(1080p) at 30fps
640 mode at 30fps

start of high speed video capture modes
640 mode at 70fps
320 mode at 120fps
320 mode at 200fps

Not sure what I could do with the lower res movies(need to think about it) but I did mess about with them and it is a pretty neat effect.  I was never getting this camera for the video modes, so anything that it has is a bonus.
The camera does allow for zooming during movie recording and the auto focus does work.  It is a tad bit slow to re-acquire after changing zoom, but it does stick with it.
The sound is recorded in stereo from the two mics located on the front of the camera.

Other Performance Items of Note
Auto Focus - for a contrast detection system - it is quite fast and accurate.  Especially when you have a lot of light.  I did have some failures to focus with low contrast or low light scenes - more than I would have had with a DSLR - but nothing that didn't get a lock the second time I tried with a little creative recomposition.
Manual Focus - I don't see myself using this much, but the rear wheel is used to step through the manual focus range.  It is a bit slow - but there is a good work around.  The AEL/AFL will auto focus even in manual mode.  It will get you close and you can then use the manual wheel to get you where you want to be.
Shutter Lag - pretty dag gone fast from what I can tell.  Not quite a DSLR, but probably the fastest I've seen in a "point and shoot" type body.  For most people this should be a non issue.
Continuous Shooting - can shoot up to 10 frames per second bursts.
Battery - Uses the Fuji NP-50.  A little anemic when compared to a DSLR battery, but the NP-50 batteries are common and can be found inexpensively on eBay and Amazon.  I bought up 2 extras, just to be on the safe side.
Memory Card - I did not want to take any chances and I opted to go with a class 10 SD card.  I wanted to  make sure that there were no chances of a performance issue like has been reported on the X100.  Fuji states that the camera should work just fine with SD cards rated as class 6 or above.

Off Camera Flash
I mentioned previously about the benefit of having a standard hot shoe.  The excitement it brings to me is the ability to use a radio trigger to control off camera flash units.
Because the hot shoe sits flush with the camera body, my trusted and well tested set of Radio Popper triggers would not fit on the hot shoe without a little help.  The antenna on the Radio Popper is on the bottom of the unit and exends below teh bottom of the plate on the hot shoe connector.  After a little web site research, I turned to the great folks at Flash Zebra for a hot shoe adapter.  It is a small cube that sits on the standard hot shoe and provides for a cable connection for other flashes - but the benefit for use, here has a pass through that will allow for another flash to be attached to the top of the cube.  Now you can connect the Radio Popper and all is good.
With speed lights such as the SB-26, I was able to get consistent flash exposures with the camera in manual mode and the shutter speed up to 1/2500th.  Beyond that the flash duration just was not fast enough.  I do plan on running some tests with the Alien Bee B400 unit I have.

Of these two images above - can you tell which one was taken with the Fuji X10 and which was taken with a Nikon D50 with a Tamron 90mm f/2.8???  Lighting setup was the same for both and both were triggered with the same Radio Popper units.  By the way, the X10 shot is the one on the left, the D50 is the one on the right.

How far can we push the images from the Fuji X10?
This first shot was taken in aperture priority mode with all other settings at standard.

This next shot is with a little help from some Lightroom adjustments.

Pretty significant difference and the jpg files from the X10 seem to hold up pretty good to some manipulation.

Some other images:
aperture priority mode - pretty good dynamic range here

SOOC black and white with a 1:1 crop ratio.  Again, good dynamic range through out the scene.
1:1 crop ratio - super macro mode
These are all the images I have at the moment.  I will definitely be doing a portrait shoot with this camera in the future and will post those images later....maybe even do a head to head shoot with the Nikon D300 just for fun.


  1. Excellent Review i have ever read , extremely practical.

  2. Thanks for the great review! Very informative.

  3. Very Helpful review, thank you.