Overall image quality is superb, with the X10 able to deliver consistently sharp, bright and vibrant images. The Fujinon optic particularly impresses, delivering very high levels of corner to corner sharpness while resolving plenty of fine detail too. Thanks to the use of three ED elements within the 9-group/11-element lens configuration purple fringing is notably absent on high-contrast borders. The Macro mode is perhaps the best we’ve yet seen in a camera of this type, with an additional Super Macro setting letting you get as close as 1cm away from your subject. If you’re a fan of photographing small things then the X10 is an ideal camera for you.
Given the wealth of in-camera options that allow you to adjust image settings, it’s possible to set the X10 up in advance to deliver exactly the kind of image you want. This is most likely something you’ll want to experiment with and then leave (perhaps assigning a couple of choice settings to one of the two Custom settings on the main mode dial for quick access). For testing purposes we were happy to stick with the factory standard set-up, with all colour, sharpness and tone curve settings set to Standard.
And so to the one major chink in the X10’s otherwise impenetrable armour: the widely reported appearance of ugly white discs in place of specular highlights. To be honest, in the hundreds of test images we took with the X10 we only found this to be a real problem on a relatively small number of images and even then you often have to go looking for them (see the Sample Images: General Images page for an example). And as reported elsewhere, the problem does seem to be more pronounced at low sensitivities, ISO 100 particularly.
Still, that doesn’t excuse the phenomenon and it isn’t really acceptable for a £500 camera to be producing such aberrations like this at all. Fuji is aware of the issue and has, only today, released a statement recognising it as a cause of "concern" for consumers. Furthermore, Fuji believe the problem is the result of a "blooming" (pixel overload) issue that the company claims is "not uncommon to many types of digital camera". More importantly, Fuji has pledged to release a firmware update to "lessen the effect".
The white disc issue is a real shame, simply because the X10 shines in so many other areas. Metering is taken care of via a TTL 256-zone module and proves consistently accurate, especially when exposing for evenly-lit scenes. In trickier situations you can always call upon the AEL button to lock down the exposure as you see fit and then compose your image as planned.
Alternatively, you can increase the X10’s dynamic range, right up to 400%. Used in this way the X10 delivers pretty good results in high-contrast lighting situations; even when cranked up to the maximum 400% images shot in this way still maintain a fairly lifelike appearance, although we did notice a slight tendancy for blue skies to turn a little cyan - something the X100 is also guilty of to an extent. Tonality is another area where the X10 delivers pleasing results with good levels of contrast, even with all tonal settings set to ‘Standard’.
Sensitivity performance is very good too, with images shot at or under ISO 400 free of noise. The X10 particularly impresses in the mid-range; from ISO 800 to ISO 3200 too, which are the kind of settings you might find yourself using in dark shade or under dim artificial lighting. At all of these settings we were able to capture images that, while hardly free of noise or the effects of noise-reduction processing, were still perfectly usable. Higher up the scale at ISO 6400 and ISO 12,800 quality does drop off quite significantly though, with the effects of processing quite noticeable. Special mention must go to the EXR High ISO and Low Noise mode, which we found to produce very usable images, especially for use at smaller sizes or on the web.
We didn’t experience any problems with automatic white balance, although we noticed with a fair bit of regularity that the camera can take a second or two to adjust when switching from natural light to artificial light (and vice versa).
In many ways the X10 is the best advanced compact we’ve ever laid our hands on. Not only does it look super stylish, it also handles fantastically while offering a rich feature-set that’ll appeal as much to casual photographers as it will to enthusiasts. The manual zoom control, large optical viewfinder and DSLR-like handling are the X10’s undoubted highlights. And while general image quality is some of the best we’ve yet seen in an advanced compact, the white discs issue does present a problem. For this reason we’ve docked a point from the overall score. However, if Fuji makes good on its promise to fix this with an upcoming firmware update then we’ll happily adjust our score upwards, as in just about every other aspect the X10 is a 10/10 camera.