Image: Hugh Threlfall
July 03 2011
If, a few weeks back, you happened to see a British chap d’un certain âge wandering around Lamma Island, Hong Kong, with a retro-looking camera round his neck and humming This Year’s Love, it was yours truly.
And the love in question – apart from the oddball island, which is now practically my second home – was this equally oddball new camera, the Fujifilm X100. Last year’s love was the Leica X1, and yes, yes, I still adore it. But this head-on competitor from Japan has trumped its German rival, I’m afraid. I would go so far as to say that the X100 is the most enjoyable and satisfying camera I have ever used. Designed for serious photographers as a take-everywhere second camera, with a non-zoom, semi-wide-angle lens that puts the onus of picture-making where it belongs, on the photographer’s shoulders, the X100 is simply sensational.
I’m not the only one to think so. With demand vastly outstripping production, which was also hampered by the tsunami disaster, it was, at the time of writing, almost impossible to buy an X100. Stores in Hong Kong were asking double the list price just to put you on the waiting list, and in Mong Kok, the manager offered to buy my loan model.
Fuji is an odd company to have brought out what will doubtless be the camera of the year. It’s best known for wonderful colour film and for the absurdly well-specified, underpriced HS10 (now HS20) neo-DSLR. But it has pioneering credentials in digital. And although the X100 looks like a gimmick aimed at pseuds and hipsters – and in many delightful ways, it is quite back-to-basics – its functionality is much more impressive than its retro-ness. This really is a case of substance over (considerable) style.
The key advance is the astonishing hybrid rangefinder, which can be optical or a superb in-viewfinder LCD screen at the flick of a switch. But there is much, much more and every feature on the camera, bar none, is perfection, every control an ergonomic delight. The most important of all, the exposure compensation dial, which is so tricky on a lot of good cameras, is absurdly easy – typical of the ruthlessly thoughtful way the X100 is designed and built. Oh, the bundled software is horrible. That’s my only niggle.