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Fujifilm X10

March 12th, 2012
Fujifilm makes X-series cameras much more accessible.

While the Fujifilm X100 is and was a much-loved camera, two catches almost always came up for those who considered leaping in: a tear-inducing price and the lack of zoom. The X10 solves both, albeit with its own changes. Our review of the X10 will see if Fujifilm has hit the sweet spot or if it's making too many compromises. While the Fujifilm X100 is and was a much-loved camera, two catches almost always came up for those who considered leaping in: a tear-inducing price and the lack of zoom. The X10 solves both, albeit with its own changes. Our review of the X10 will see if Fujifilm has hit the sweet spot or if it's making too many compromises.

Ergonomics and expansion

In some ways, the X10 feels very much a shrunken version of the X100. We don't have complaints about that on the top level. Both evoke a very deliberate sense of nostalgia while still staying genuinely functional and well-built. Either has a metal body, although we'll note that they both use a faux leather for the grip. It's good for animal lovers and cost; we just see it as a slight mismatch between looks and reality.

The reduced size has little effect on comfort. Although we wish the right hand grip had a more protruding bump to latch our hand to, we didn't have problems maintaining a steady grip. Buttons and mode dials fall easily to hand when the camera in normal use. We'd be careful around Fujifilm's leather case, though. While it's easy to attach and open for use, the edges of the case are just close enough to the buttons that we found ourselves having to put more effort than we liked pressing buttons in those areas. The case-bound experience got somewhat easier as we gained familiarity.

Looks around the camera show significantly differences in controls, including one very glaring change: the power. To try and fit all the familiar controls in a similar body, Fujifilm has excised the regular power switch in favor of using the lens itself as the trigger. Twisting the barrel to minimum zoom kicks it on. Thankfully, the designers have required enough force that you can't accidentally turn your camera off while zooming out. Still, it's slightly odd and usually leads to having to re-adjust the zoom after you've turned the camera on. The presence of a lens cap is both a virtue and vice here, as it prevents the camera from turning itself on, but also means you have to pull the cap to do certain functions, although you can invoke playback solely through the relevant button.

Most of the controls will be familiar, including an exposure compensation dial, a rear thumb dial, a function key (thankfully defaulting to ISO), and a dedicated button to turn RAW quality on and off. There's both steps forward and steps back, however. We like that there's now an easy way to set the focus mode (single-shot, continuous, or manual) on the front, and that the self-timer is now an immediately available item without sacrificing the white balance shortcut.

The mode dial has undergone the biggest change, and that may be either a positive or a negative depending on your focus. It's great if you're a less experienced photographer who just wants the familiar PASM (programmable auto, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual) and common modes like movies or, on this camera, EXR, scene preset, and panorama. Veterans won't like that the shutter speeds are gone, however, so you'll need to either reacclimatize to shutter priority mode or make the tradeoffs needed to get the X100.

Our standing gripes lay mostly in movie mode and the optical viewfinder. Fujifilm is making a big ado of being able to take photos in mid-video, but by assigning the shutter button to that without a movie start/stop control, you have no obvious way to simply end the video when you're done; we resorted to flicking the mode dial. The viewfinder, while cued to the camera's zoom, doesn't have the handy (if expensive) electronic overlay and doesn't have a connection to the camera's focus, so even with familiar elements like a diopter control, it's more vestigial than essential.

You won't find much for expansion, although the basics are covered. There's still a standard hot shoe for an external flash or other add-ons. Mini HDMI is handy for direct previews, but Fujifilm is still insisting on its proprietary, hybrid USB and RCA video out port. As much as space is tight, we'd prefer a standard mini USB jack and some rejiggering to include a standard video out if needed. If you lose Fujifilm's cable, you can't just swap in a generic replacement.

Interface and display

For better or worse, the interface from the X100 is mostly intact here. In our experience, it's simple and straightforward, but very deep. Fujifilm's efforts to surface common features only goes so far, and it's not uncommon to spend some time digging for features that might not be extremely common but which you may want to use, such as adjusting the level of noise reduction. The function key also isn't quite as fast for tuning certain settings. Changing ISO sensitivity, for example, only really saves the one step of opening a menu. This isn't Canon's Q menu in terms of speed, and it doesn't have the fast shortcuts of Fujifilm's own X-Pro1, either.

The interface is responsive enough, although there's just a slight element of lag that might prevent the rapid-fire changes from some cameras. Compared to some other "prosumer" cameras in this class, though, such as the Sony NEX-C3, it's still sometimes faster. Fujifilm's interface doesn't have any elaborate animation or other excesses.

If you're experienced, the amount of detail you can customize is extensive, such as individual highlight and shadow tone controls. You can not only choose a handful of common presets for the display, including an info-only mode, but customize it with elements like the histogram or exposure levels. As with the X100, one of our favorite features is the gyroscopic level, something that's still gradually creeping into other cameras and is a definite bonus for a landscape shot.

Some areas, such as the drive mode section, border on overkill for those who aren't familiar with camera concepts: it includes bracketing for virtually everything, from dynamic range, to exposure, to ISO, as well as high speed shooting. You can also get two customizable presets from the mode dial if you have a regular go-to setting, and you can even adjust the color temperature and white balance values by small increments if you're inclined. Thankfully, if you're a newcomer, the fully automatic and scene preset areas have heavily simplified menus that still give a degree of control relative to the settings. The X100 never really had either the easy settings or the customized profiles, so the X10 clearly wins if you're looking to reduce the amount of time you spend reconfiguring your camera.

We're generally happy with the LCD, although it's not the most advanced by any means. At 2.8 inches and 460,000 pixels, it's strictly middling for the amount of detail it shows. Color accuracy is solid, however, and the display response stays fluid through most shooting situations where others might choke. We didn't have too many concerns about outdoor visibility, although bright daylight will still clearly hurt what you see.

Image quality: regular shooting, the flash, and the lens

The sensor was the cornerstone of the X100, and it still is in the X10. But where the X100 was graced with an arguably very powerful APS-C (DSLR-grade) sensor, the X10 is using a two-thirds inch sensor at the same 12-megapixel resolution. As such, it's sitting almost exactly between DSLRs and regular high-end compacts like Canon's PowerShot G12, although it's theoretically outclassed by the Canon PowerShot G1 X.

What that leads to is roughly the visual output you'd expect if you've used both. The amount of detail, noise performance, and depth of field effects aren't quite as good as they are for cameras with APS-C sized sensors, but they're noticeably better than for the G12 or other cameras whose sensors are only slightly larger than a regular point-and-shoot. Even in the JPEG format that dominated our tests, that can mean at times surprisingly crisp detail for in-focus subjects, neutral but still vivid color balance, as well as that soft, creamy background (bokeh) from shallow depth of field shots that's easy for large sensors but tough for most compacts. You can get this at a similar price with a NEX-C3, but Sony's camera also won't usually fit comfortably in a coat pocket, either.

We've heard reports of a "white orb" bloom effect in shooting, but we honestly didn't notice it with our review unit or even that of a friend. Fujifilm is hoping for a possible fix. Our experience suggests that, for most, it won't creep up.

The difference between the X10 and a larger-sensor camera becomes most obvious in the dark. We noticed that the X10 was less tolerant of movement in low light than the X100 or a NEX model and could blur those sections, even if the rest of the scene was in focus. Noise tolerance isn't quite as high as we'd like. Shots are reasonably clean up to ISO 1,600; ISO 3,200 and above gets to be too noisy, and we'd rule out the EXR mode's ISO 6,400 or 12,800 (more on these later) unless it's an emergency. Modern cameras with APS-C sensors can usually squeak out at least an extra stop more before noise becomes too conspicuous.

Still, we managed to glean surprisingly usable shots in dimmer conditions when the conditions were right, including some of the subtler tones and real-world colors that might be clipped out of the shot by a smaller or older sensor. If you don't have a knack for picking the right sensitivity, our advice is to use one of the capped automatic ISO settings, such as ISO 1,600, to keep the camera in its ideal zone.

If you do need better lighting, Fujifilm deserves some credit for what struck us as an uncharacteristically good pop-up flash. The X100 had a flash, but it was fixed in place and relatively close to the lens, increasing the likelihood of blowing out highlights or triggering red eye. On the X10, the flash is off to the side and further elevated, and was mostly well-behaved in our sessions. It could fill a moderately sized room when necessary, but didn't swamp a subject with light at close distances, either, with only small glints to hint the flash was active. As much as you'd want an external flash if you needed to bounce the light, the X10's flash didn't feel like a last-resort tool as it does on many cameras.

From top: low-light shooting zoomed in, zoomed out, and with flash

The X10 is the first X-series camera with a zooming lens, and it too plays a large role in the photographic quality. At 4X (28-112mm equivalent), it still feels a bit short to cover every possible shooting situation. Having zoom at all does change the game, though. Using the X100, we loved street shooting but had a hard time justifying it as an all-purpose camera. The zoom here is the difference between snapping photos at a concert and leaving the camera at home. If you're the sort who would never conceive of owning more than one dedicated camera, the X10 will beat the X100 for that reason alone.

Fujifilm has clearly devoted the same love to the X10's lens that it did to the X100's. The aperture starts at a very wide f2.0 and, even at maximum zoom, is still a very bright f2.8; many compact cameras drop to f4, f5.6, or narrower at the far end of their respective zooms. In practice, it means better low light performance when zoomed all the way in, as well as a continued shallow depth of field and that coveted bokeh effect for the background when the main subject is clearly foregrounded. We didn't notice any visible problems with pincushioning (distortion near the edges of the lens) or vignetting (edge dimming) at either extreme of the lens.

The versatility of the lens is good not just for distance shots, but up close, too. Choices of the sensor size and lens let it get extremely close: if you choose the super macro mode, you can get as close as 1cm (0.4 inches) to the subject while still maintaining a sharp focus. Many mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, and certainly DSLRs, can't do this without a dedicated macro lens. That you can get much of the visual effect of larger-sensored cameras without the drawbacks stands out for us as a decided advantage if you're regularly snapping photos of flowers, insects, and miniatures.

From top: macro, minimum distance, fully zoomed in

If there's a setback, it's that the aperture is almost too wide for some of our casual shooting. Bright outdoor shooting virtually guaranteed that we had to stop down to f3.6 or narrower, or adjust exposure compensation, just to avoid blasting the camera with too much light. And as any seasoned photographer knows, f2.0 can at times create too shallow a depth of field for macros or other closeups, so we ended up narrowing the aperture yet again to get enough of the subject in focus. It's a nice problem to have, but it's there.

EXR modes, panoramas, and film modes

The X10 is the only X-series shooter that uses Fujifilm's signature EXR technology. At its heart, it amounts to pixel binning, or the notion of combining multiple pixels to produce larger, better-quality pixels at the expense of resolution. We've seen it since the F200 EXR, and now it's in a camera with a larger sensor and performance. Ideally, it's the best of both worlds.

As always, the truth is that it depends on the circumstances of the photo and the mode you're in. We found the best EXR mode was the dynamic range boost, which provides more details in highlights and shadows. More detail would emerge from a shop sign or a nook, for example, and give a look closer to what we saw in real life. Fujifilm walks a fine line where it fills out detail while keeping a tasteful look; anyone who's seen a garishly over-processed high dynamic range shot on a photo enthusiast site can attest to the importance of a balanced approach like what the X10 delivers.

Above: normal shot with very dark sign textures and shadows. Below: EXR dynamic range balances the shot

The low-noise mode isn't quite as successful. In our experience, it was more to make higher sensitivity levels workable in any form versus creating a truly presentable shot. ISO 6,400 and 12,800 shots still ended up being particularly noisy and only really useful in those situations where we needed both a sensitivity higher than ISO 1,600 and yet couldn't use the flash. Results mostly just avoid being as dire as they would be if the shots had been taken unassisted.

Panoramas benefit from going to the new sensor as well. Motion Panorama, previously limited to lower-end cameras, helps easily get a dramatic vista or a similar scene in one quick take. The pitfalls of the process are still very much in effect -- you need a steady hand, and scenes with motion are usually off-limits -- but you do get a degree of control that many cameras and now smartphones don't really offer. You can make both vertical and horizontal panoramas, and you can deliberately narrow or widen the scope depending on how much is worth seeing in front of you: it can be as narrow as 120 degrees or as wide as a full 360-degree circle. We're mostly just happy that we don't have to accidentally include the backdrop of a scene by underestimating how much ground a given panorama would cover.

From top: normal shooting at ISO 1,600; EXR at ISO 12,800; panorama (courtesy Mark Elias, click for larger)

A minor but welcome element of the X10, like other EXR cameras and the X100, is its film emulation mode. In many ways, it's a more respectful approach to in-camera processing than many other cameras, which often resort to deliberately exaggerated modes (such as pseudo-Lomography or single-color highlights). The strategy here is instead to replicate certain well-known conventional film types, whether Provia, Velvia, or Astia. Monochrome shooting can likewise filter through one of four main colors (blue, green, red, yellow) to bias the tone.

Focusing performance, high-speed shooting, and video

Speed is sometimes the unsung hero of a camera. Camera designers often try to center on shooting speed for continuous bursts; often, though, it's as much the initial lock-on that matters as multi-shot performance. Any excellent image quality and processing power is wasted if the camera can't lock in. The X10 was cooperative for us and could lock in almost as soon as the shutter was half-pressed, most of the time. Occasionally, though, it would scramble to get focus in situations it shouldn't have, and we'd have to retake the shot. You won't quite get that DSLR-level instant response, or that of a fast mirrorless like Olympus' E-P3.

Fujifilm makes up for it in the sheer number of high-speed modes available, whether it's trying to produce the best possible single shot or to capture a long sequence. We mentioned them before, but dynamic range, exposure, film, and ISO bracketing do wonders if you're genuinely unsure of how an image should turn out. One minor if nice touch is playback mode showing a small picture-in-picture sequence of shots that are related to each other, although we'd warn that you can also delete an entire group of shots if you're not careful.

10 frames per second shooting at medium size

Continuous shooting is where the X10's performance shines next to most cameras in its field. If you're willing to take a medium resolution, you can capture as quickly as 10 frames per second. Many cameras with non-removable lenses move at a glacial pace: even the G1 X has to peak at 4.5FPS. We could freeze action across multiple frames very easily. With that in mind, the X10 won't replace a $5,000 pro camera for sports photography. The full speed officially only lasts for 16 frames, or 1.6 seconds, before slowing down. That's exactly what we got using a Class 10 SD card (Fujifilm recommends at least Class 4), so you'd need to be ready to capture the exact moment. We tried full-resolution shots, but at 7FPS for 1.1 seconds, we'd rather take the size hit for a longer window of opportunity.

Video recording generally performs well. Unlike the X100, the X10 can shoot full 1080p video at 30FPS. Its output generally reflects the quality of still images and keeps ghosting or streaking to a relative minimum, although it doesn't appear to be as good as the specification would imply. At least on a Mac, we noticed that the footage was pixelated at this resolution and wasn't as sharp as the resolution ought to dictate. We suspect Fujifilm might be using a lower bitrate than it would need to truly match expectations. Still, versus the 720p, 24FPS of the X100, it's a big leap and much better suited to TV viewing.

You'll find stereo microphones on the X10 that are good enough to pick up on subtler sounds in a quiet scene. They're somewhat prone to wind noise.

Slow-motion video is an upshot of the headroom the camera's fresher components allow, although its potential is capped. The ideal setting is a VGA (640x480), 70FPS mode. While odd, the frame rate choice is enough to capture the flap of a bird's wings or the motion of a cyclist without losing too much resolution. The 120FPS and 200FPS modes are truly just for show or for specialized needs, as they both run at quarter VGA (320x240) or less and shed nearly all detail for the sake of speed.

Battery life and a note on camera sync

Fujifilm is largely up front with battery claims, at about 270 shots charge-to-charge if you leave the LCD turned on. To us, it drained faster than the NEX cameras we had as immediate references, although that wasn't entirely surprising given the visibly smaller battery pack. An optical viewfinder does swing the odds in favor of the X10 if you're willing to make sacrifices. The company estimates 640 shots per charge if you go that route, although without a clear guide as to whether or not the shot's in focus, it's hard to recommend using that mode unless you know how your photos will be framed and you've got good light to work with.

Recharging is at least reasonable here. You'll still need about three to four hours to top up from near empty, but to us the amount of time seemed nearly proportionate to how much you'd used. Chewing just a third of the battery cut the remaining recharge time to slightly over an hour. A small perk of the included AC charger is its support for two different Fujifilm battery sizes, so you don't necessarily have to toss out the adapter or buy an extra if you adopt another FinePix camera.

A word of warning is due on transferring photos from the X10 for the Mac. As of OS X 10.7.3, Apple didn't immediately have support for the RAW files Fujifilm's latest camera generates. We expect that to change with a future OS X or camera RAW update, but you'll want to hold off for awhile if a high-quality JPEG isn't good enough.

Wrapping up

The X100, when it first arrived, came across as a surgeon's scalpel. What it did was done exceptionally well, but just as you wouldn't use a scalpel to butter your toast, you wouldn't use an X100 and its 23mm, fixed-distance lens to capture much more than portraits, close-ups, and on-the-street candids. Those willing to spend $1,200 for one knew what they were getting; many weren't ready for the outlay, simply because they could spend as much and get a camera that was more akin to a Swiss army knife.

Going to the X10 changes all that. For what's only occasionally a step down, you get a camera that covers many more situations, from the very close to the reasonably distant. Most of its output we'd still like to frame on our walls. Moreover, in some ways it's the reflection of several months or more of technology advancement that gives it a leg up on the X100. Video is certainly better, but we were happier too with the flash, the high-speed shooting, and just the overall priorities of the controls. It's even smaller, and easier to justify in a pocket.

Not all is flawless here. At $600, the X10 is in one of the most fiercely competitive price ranges in cameras today. It's not just the NEX-C3 we've been mentioning more than once, although that's potentially just the right blend between flexibility and performance on its own. There's also the Nikon J1, Olympus E-PL3, and Panasonic Lumix GF3 (or G3) in amidst the mirrorless interchangeable cameras, all of which give more control over your optics. If you're willing to step up to a DSLR, the battle is just as heated and brings in cameras like the Canon Rebel T2i or Nikon D5100, either of which will have better image quality and performance in certain situations.

And yet, if you're willing to accept that you'll only ever use one lens, Fujifilm may have reached a delicate balance. For slightly more than most premium point-and-shoots and slightly less than either the G1 X or most interchangeable lens cameras, you get fairly strong image quality, a reasonably portable body, and of course that retro-influenced design. There's enough of a shift towards supporting everyday users looking for a step up without making their experience level the ceiling for experienced photographers. Compare that to the J1 or NEX-C3: while they can be used to shoot great photos, they might frustrate veterans who know what they're doing. There are definite improvements that could stand to come through the interface and noise performance, but the X10 is good enough that it truly could be the all-encompassing camera for many enthusiasts, not just step-up hobbyists or pros looking for a sidearm.

- Pleasing image quality in most shooting situations.

- High-grade lens for the price class with zoom and macros.

- Retro, premium but still functional body.

- Surprisingly useful pop-up flash.

- 10FPS (if short) burst shooting.

- 1080p30 video and slow-motion.

- Extensive bracketing and panorama modes.

- EXR dynamic range mode brings out shot detail.

- Price seems just right for what's offered.

- Deep customization options.

- Needs more top-level interface control and speed.

- Not as good at low-light shooting as a few cameras its price.

- Neither viewfinder nor EXR low-noise mode seem very helpful.

- 1080p video sharpness underwhelming; awkward movie stop control.

- Burst shooting is short; fastest slow-motion video too small.

- Sometimes harder to justify next to certain mirrorless and DSLR cameras.

- Slightly short battery life.