With the top and bottom plates fashioned from die cast magnesium alloy the Fujifilm X100 feels both reassuringly solid and comfortingly retro at the same time, despite the state-of-the-art technology making up its innards. As when we first encountered Olympus’ Digital Pen series a couple of years back with the advent of the similarly ‘classic’ looking E-P1, the X100 feels like the kind of camera we imagined simply wouldn’t be made any more. At 405g in weight without battery or card, it’s still lighter than a beginner’s DSLR too, though is not exactly what you’d call pocketable, which some will straight away argue defeats its purpose.
With rangefinder camera-style dials on the top to twist and turn the X100 feels very much like a camera creative photographers can fully engage with too. Sadi dials consist of aperture and manual focus rings at the front, plus a viewfinder lever to flick back and forth. Ironically, though, all these dials squashed into such a small space does make them rather fiddly – something that’s especially weird as there appears to be ample space round the camera to expand into.
The control layout and feature set here is almost identical to that of the Leica X1, except here Fuji’s flash is fixed into the chassis, just above the lens, rather than in a pop-up compartment in the top plate – the latter is admittedly a much better arrangement. Slightly off centre we get a vacant hotshoe for adding accessory flash too, and adjacent to this the largest dial here, for controlling shutter speed, with the choice ranging from 30 seconds to 1/4000 sec. We also get a smaller exposure compensation dial, the options being /- 2EV, and in between the two dials sits a springy shutter release button, encircled by the power switch. The ridged front edge of the latter provides a purchase point for the forefinger, making it look like the zoom lever typically found on a pocket compact. Except here of course there is no zoom.
Easily overlooked next to this is a teeny ‘Fn’ (function) button to which favourite settings can be attributed, thus avoiding the need to otherwise drill down into the main camera menus (not that this is such a hardship) to find favoured functions, such as ISO for example.
Aperture can be adjusted on the fly via a stepped ring encircling the lens, or you can simply leave it on the ‘A’ setting to enable the camera’s Program AE mode to kick in. Sitting just in front of this is a manual focus ring, with the ability to flick between manual focus, continuous auto focus and single shot AF via a DSLR-like mode switch located unobtrusively at the camera’s side rather than immediately below or adjacent to the lens itself.
As this is an enthusiast model conceivably aimed at users who stuck one of Fuji’s Provia, Velvia or Astia films in their cameras at some stage in the past, the X100 sensibly includes modes apeing the look of each tucked within the menu options; a staple of Fuji’s mid-range compacts for quite a while – and why not as they provide an added USP to help set the camera apart from the herd.
But most notable here is the fact that, in a world first as far as we’re aware, Fuji has squeezed both an optical viewfinder and electronic viewfinder (EVF) into the same large, bright window – which Fuji naturally refers to as a ‘hybrid’ viewfinder – though because of the positioning the left edge of the lens barrel does peep into view. This right of frame distraction doesn’t appear if alternatively using the adequate but not huge 2.8-inch, 460k dot resolution LCD screen as a viewfinder, so that’s what in practice we found ourselves referring to just as much. The X100 could be said to offer a best of both world’s solution.
Switching between optical viewfinder with overlaid electronic display and incredibly high 1,400,000 dot resolution EVF is, meanwhile, simply a matter of flicking the lever at the front. This might have been more logically placed at the back, but at least its location ensures it’s not accidentally flicked when gripping the camera in both hands for a steadier shot. Another neat feature is the fact that the backplate screen switches off as you bring an eye level to the viewfinder/s, thanks to a built-in eye sensor alongside. Incidentally the monitor’s thick screen surround makes it appear as if you might be able to tuck a fingernail beneath it and flip it out but you can’t. Not a big issue but a minor consideration for a next generation model perhaps?