May 19 2011
Fujifilm’s Finepix X100 is a classically styled compact digital camera that backs up its good looks with exceptional digital sensor performance according to DxO Mark sensor tests.
The X100 is one of the new breed of compact cameras combining the image quality of large digital sensors, normally found in Digital SLRs, in the body of a compact digital camera. The aim is to produce high quality images from a convenient easy to carry package.
The Fuji styling immediately suggests the X100 is different from the current crop of compact digital cameras. Fuji started with styling evoking impressions of quality, referencing iconic rangefinders of the film era. Fuji designers gave the X100 a classic look aimed at Leica – it looks like one but is cheaper and arguably better, following an old an old Japanese camera makers tradition of copying German cameras. The X100 clearly refers to Leica range finders and the Leica X1 in look and nomenclature.
The quality theme continues with the feel of the X100 with die cast metal top and bottom structures and real metal knobs. There are plastic controls on the rear of the X100 but these relate more to the camera’s digital functions so they do seem to be out of place in thi blend of old and new.
The optical viewfinder in the X100 follows Fuji’s design philosophy with an intriguing mix of traditional styling and modern technology.
The X100’s optical viewfinder is located in the usual position for a classic rangefinder camera but focusing the X100 is normally carried out by the electronic autofocus system. Using the optical viewfinder allows photographers to hold a compact digital camera properly, minimizing the potential for camera shake to cause blurry images.
The clever bit of the X100 viewfinder is its electronic display capabilities.
Exposure settings and other camera status information is superimposed over the optical view using a prism assembly. Closing the flap over the front lens of the optical viewfinder converts it into a fully electronic viewfinder, displaying the image from the digital sensor.
The Fujifilm X100 APS-C size digital sensor is significantly larger than the digital sensor found in normal compact digital cameras – it is even larger than some DSLRs.
To make a large sensor work properly in a compact camera requires some design innovation in the sensor. Unlike film, digital sensors require the light to come straight in not at an angle. This is easy enough in larger cameras such as DSLRs, where the moving mirror needs room between the shutter and the rear of the lens.
Fujifilm have overcome this handicap with the design of the micro lenses over the light sensitive areas on the digital sensor so they straighten the light on the outer part of the digital sensor. This allows them to reduce the distance between the back of the lens and the digital sensor to achieve a conveniently sized compact camera.
The DxOMark test results suggest that Fuji has not sacrificed image quality with their sensor design tricks. According to the DxOMark tests the 12 Megapixel Fujifilm APS-C size digital sensor performs nearly as well as the latest Sony sensor in the class leading APS-C DSLR, the Pentax K-5.
One of the weak spots of most compact digital cameras is that they offer abysmal noise performance in low light conditions. The DxOMark tests show the X100 is an excellent performer in this area.
The DxOMark sensor noise comparison shows the difference between valid image information and electrical noise, so going higher on the graph means less noise.
Above is a comparison of the Fujifilm X100 to the Leica M9,a full frame sensor digital rangefinder, and the Canon G12, one of Canon’s best small sensor compact digital cameras. DxOMark do not show results for the full ISO range for the X100, but the ISO range shown in the test results is where most photos are taken.
The X100 has a slight advantage over the Leica M9, but a significant difference to the Canon G12, even at low ISO settings.
The Fujifilm Finepix X100 comes with a fixed lens with a focal length of 21mm, offering the view of a 35mm lens on a SLR film camera. This makes the lens a wide angle lens making it suitable for groups and scenery.
The fixed lens is a result of the overall design requirements to maximize the distance from the rear of the lens to the sensor while keeping the X100 to a compact size. The design compromise is that something had to give to achieve great image quality and compact size in a digital camera, and one of them is a fixed single focal length lens.
The 21mm Fujinon lens promises great optical performance and the large f2 maximum aperture makes it fast lens good for low light photography and helps autofocus performance.
DxOMark do not have test results for the X100’s most obvious competitor, the Leica X1. However considering the X100’s performance matched against the more upmarket Leica M9 it would be surprising if the Leica X1 fared any better.
Canon’s flagship compact digital camera trails the Finepix X100 badly on all performance counts, but does offer a zoom lens and a significant price advantage. The Leica M9 offers interchangeable lenses, true rangefinder optical focusing and higher resolution images from its full frame sensor.