Fujifilm Finepix X10 compact camera
A curious case of bountiful buttons
Review Pulling out a Fujifilm X10 in mid-conversation will often elicit a rapid change of subject. Common responses include, “Oh, now what sort of camera is that?”, “Is that a Leica?” and frequently, “Let me have a go!”. The last of these is one to be relished as, should you hand over the camera, there’s a very strong possibility that they won’t be able to work out how to switch it on.
Old school styling: Fujifilm's Finepix X10
That’s not to say the camera is difficult to use: it can go fully-automatic with a simple turn of the mode dial but, although well-off lovers of pricey designer goods and other sundry objects of beauty will no-doubt find the X10 hard to resist, this is a camera that’s most definitely aimed at lovers of photography.
There’s a long-standing and successful market for the ‘serious’ compact camera: others which would fall into this category are The XZ-1 from Olympus, Canon’s G12 and the Nikon P7100. These cameras offer broadly similar specifications, but neither comes anywhere near close to the level of style and desirability offered by the X10.
Its all-black leather-clad magnesium body is festooned with knobs and dials that sit just where they would have done on a classic manually-operated camera. However, no less than eleven distinct operating modes feature on the mode dial – a big hint as to just how feature-rich this camera is. In addition to the usual PASM options is pair of user-programmable custom modes along with scene mode, video, fully automatic and special modes devoted to the cameras more esoteric functions.
Dial in your preferences
Next to the shutter release is a second dial dedicated purely to exposure compensation and a convenient programmable Fn button sits just above it. A full-size flash hot shoe sits in the middle of the top plate and is complemented by a built-in pop-up flash – although this is admittedly one of the tiniest I’ve ever seen.
Rear controls are similar to most enthusiast cameras with the inclusion of discrete buttons for white balance, RAW capture and exposure lock. A rotating thumb wheel doubles as a four way cursor control although I found this quite fiddly to use, mainly due to its size. A 2.8in LCD monitor with 460k dots sits below a high-quality glass optical viewfinder which zooms in tandem with the lens. While a panel with double the resolution would be a nice touch, if you're really old school you'll be using the viewfinder mostly, which has 85 per cent coverage, and using the 100 per cent view screen for checking shots.
Dedicated buttons take care of the usual suspects
The X10 comes with an impressive, though non-interchangeable, 7.1- 28.4mm zoom lens equivalent in 35mm terms to a 28-112mm zoom. It’s impressively bright, with a maximum aperture of f2 in wide angle at f2.8 at the telephoto end. This is a versatile lens with a very close minimum focusing distance in super macro mode. As you can see from the sample pictures, a five pence piece very nearly fills the frame height.
Unlike most electronic push-button zooms it’s manually operated, as on a traditional SLR. This makes it smoother and more accurate while providing a stronger physical connection with the camera and silent operation while shooting video, which the X10 can provide in up to 1080p resolution at 29.97 fps. You also get to capture in slow motion at up to 200fps although at ever-decreasing resolutions.
Its unashamedly retro styling leaves you somewhat unprepared for the huge amount of technological wizardry within. Despite its hands-on manual control aesthetic, it’s packed with advanced image-enhancement options and methods of tweaking the exposure absent on even the latest professional DSLRs.
Internally, the X10 uses Fujifilm’s 2/3in EXR CMOS image sensor. This is no SLR-sized device but it is considerably larger than the sensors you would usually find in a compact camera, affording the camera greater sensitivity and a little bit of a head start when attempting to create shots with a narrow depth of field.
A traditional hotshoe enables external flash use – there's even a cable shutter release provision
The EXR technology in the sensor allows the camera to optionally devote half of the available twelve megapixels to averaging out image noise in low-light situations or to capture a shorter exposure simultaneously with the main exposure, enabling greater dynamic range to be captured. This can bring back shadow and highlight detail that might otherwise have been lost. These modes are selected using the dedicated EXR position on the mode dial. There is a catch though, these EXR modes use the sensor to combine pixels, the final image in both cases is 6Mp in size rather than the maximum 12Mp the X10 can deliver when EXR is inactive.
Other special features include Pro Low-light and Pro Focus modes which combine multiple shots into a single image to achieve their effects. The former uses discrete exposures to reduce noise and improve imaging performance in dimly lit situations, while the latter combines differently focused exposures to create an artificially shallow depth-of-field effect. Automatic panoramas can be created by slowly sweeping the camera in an arc of up to 360 degrees and allowing the X10 to process multiple captures into a single image.
Swift to start up with 7fps shooting to boot
Fast internal processing allows continuous shooting at up to 7fps. The camera is always very quick and responsive, including initial start-up, exhibiting no obvious shutter-lag. The only noticeable delays occur when the camera is performing complex image processing functions, such as combining multiple shots into a single image.
You also get sophisticated in-camera image processing options which can emulate different types of film or create effects, such as black and white images with colour tints. You can also post-process RAW images into JPEG format.
Reviewing your images is an equally high-tech experience. The X10 will offer to create ‘photobooks’ for you by searching for particular types of image content and grouping them together. So you could automatically have it collect up all your group shots or macros. If you’re pre-programmed it with your friends’ faces, you can also have it automatically search for pictures of a particular person.
Smaller than you might think
If there’s one major criticism of the X10 it would have to be that it is perhaps simply too complicated. While it undoubtedly contains many very useful features with genuine image-improving results, there are sometimes overlaps in function creating different ways of achieving the same thing: Which should you use to shoot a candlelit scene? Pro Low-light mode or EXR Hi-ISO Low-Noise mode? The sheer number of functions available, which can often be used in combination with each other, can leave you confused as to just how your photo will turn out or what adjustments to make to tweak it according to your preference.
7.1~28.4mm zoom lens (35mm equivalent: 28~112mm)
It can also at times prove somewhat frustrating to find certain mutually exclusive features can leave you with important functions disabled without offering and help to resolve the issue. For example, selecting a mode which combines multiple shots can disable the flash. Pressing the flash button will then simply have no effect and there’s no pop up message to explaining why.
Buttons and dials abound – a real joy for those tired of meandering through menus
When shooting with RAW mode enabled, ISO sensitivity is limited to a maximum of 3200. If you want to to max out at 12,800 then this is possible in JPEG mode but with the resolution reduced to around 3.1Mp. At this setting, there is of course loss of detail, colour saturation is reduced and noise is increased. However, images remain impressive for a camera of this size and are certainly quite usable at these higher settings. Combine this with the fast lens and you have a camera that’s very capable in low-light situations.
I was also able to achieve a pleasant shallow depth-of-field effect by using the lens at its widest aperture and in telephoto mode – even without the artificial Pro Focus processing. The EXR sensor’s dynamic range control does help prevent blue skies turning white or shadow details turning black and overall I was very impressed with the results from what is still a relatively small sensor.
However it’s still possible to achieve better image quality from a small camera. The Olympus PEN Mini proves that it is possible to cram an SLR-sized sensor into a camera of this size although the latter offers nothing like the level of control and sophistication of the Fujifilm X10.
If you’re in the market for a high-quality camera you can take anywhere, then the Fujifilm X10 is well worth its relatively high price-tag. Quality and attention to detail is evident throughout and if you’re prepared to spend some time working through the more complicated features it can reward you with some great shots.
By the way, to turn the camera on you just twist the lens barrel to pop out the lens – easy when you know how. ®
More Camera Reviews…