3 weeks around Europe with a Fuji x100.
In the famous words of Simon Pegg, skip to the end. Buy this camera.
My only real experience of using or even seeing an x100 came at the Focus show earlier this year. I had a very quick two minute play with one. My impression was “Cool, the viewfinder turns on when you look through it.” I had already seen photos and reviews of it online and really loved its design. Did I leave the show wanting one? No. It was nice but I’ve got a GF1 and a Leica M6. I didn’t really need another small camera. Did I?
Sometime around July I asked on Twitter what I should take with me on our 3 week train trip around Europe. The internets told me to take an x100. Was it really that good? Was it really going to be more fun than a Leica M6? Would it really be better than lugging my D700 with a 35mm lens and tripod around Europe? The idea of taking a small camera rattled around in my head like it was the only thought there. Eventually I did come to the conclusion that even taking the D700 & 35mm f/2 with a tripod around Europe would be too much gear. It’d require my work bag and that was bulky. Most importantly though the trip would never feel like a holiday. Serious question, but how does a photographer go on holiday? We can’t leave our eyes at home and I’m not going to amazing places with just an iPhone.
x100. x100. x100, the internets shouted.
OK, OK. I spoke to Fuji who thought the idea of me road testing an x100 around Europe was a great idea. A week later and I’m holding one. It fitted perfectly into my manbag and I bought a Gorilla Pod to use as a simple tripod. They both fitted into my manbag along with my iPad and random things. Perfect. Just perfect for giving me the feeling that I’m on holiday, yet allowing me to also take decent photos. Our trip would include time in London, Paris, Budapest, Zagreb, Zadar, Venice and Milan. An absolutely epic trip.
We arrived in London and I had a quick play with the camera. It was sluggish. I hated waiting for it to turn on. I hated the write speed when saving images. It just felt like my old Canon 10D from 2004. Seriously Fuji, why so slow? I recalled a review that mentioned getting the fastest SD card you could. So I nipped to Calumet, which is right by Euston, and got a 95mb/s SD card. The x100 suddenly felt a lot more responsive. It turned on so much more quickly. Still not instantly like my GF1 but definitely quicker. I was happy and set to work making photographs.
Focus… focus… focus… Damn it why won’t you focus? *googles* Oh you have to put it into macro mode for close up portraits. Um, OK? *click* Oh cool that works. There’s some really strange “features” on this camera. Really strange. After our quick stop in London I felt happy with the x100. I was looking forward to using it knowing it would appear to do a good job.
Paris. After maybe one hour of using the camera in anger on the streets of Paris I was shouting “I’m Joel Meyerowitz! I’m Joel Meyerowitz!” I was smitten. Hey, it is the romance capital of the world after all. This camera just did what I wanted. Quick aperture change, no problem. It’s right there on the lens. *turn* ISO change? No problem, it’s right there too. *turn* It’s designed like no other digital camera and it’s so much better for it. It feels like I’m using my M6 while I’m shooting. The way you look through the viewfinder, make changes to settings and everything. It’s just a joy to work with.
“Look at that!” *click* “Eh? Oh its not on.” *turns on* … *time passes so slowly* … “Yet its on. OK. Wait, where did the moment go? Damn it!” OK, it’s mostly a joy to work with. The startup time is like a small German woman slapping you across the wrist while shouting “Nein!” I missed a lot of good shots due to that, even with it on quick startup. It wasn’t quick.
While in Budapest we found a waterfall in a Japanese garden. The sun was setting and through the trees created some lovely soft spotlights. So I got my fiancé to pose and tried to take a quick portrait in the fading light. *click* “Oh its not focusing. Hmm.” *sets to macro* “OK, rock on.” *click* “Huh. Out of focus.” *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* “Finally, its focused. Oh the lights gone.” I had this quite a few times when focusing on someone with a complicated background in low light. Even with the focus box set to a tiny size and perfectly positioned on their face it just wouldn’t focus on them. It was quite annoying and my model, my fiancé wasn’t happy staring into the sun for 10 minutes while the camera mis-focused.
I spent the next 3 weeks flipping between the hybrid viewfinder and the LCD display. Sometimes I’d have it on auto-switch so when you look through the display it would automatically change from LCD to viewfinder. This didn’t work while wearing shades. So I found myself manually switching from one mode to the other when I needed to. This meant that I’d often forget which mode was set and be waiting for the hybrid viewfinder to wake up. I also tried to keep the LCD off as much as possible to save on the battery. There were a few times when I totally killed it after a day of street photography. It’d get to dusk when I wanted to do a few cityscapes in Venice and I could just about squeeze one more shot out the camera before it totally died. Maybe I was just hammering it, maybe it doesn’t have great battery life? All I know is I definitely killed it on quite a few days, to the point where I started carrying my GF1 in case of emergency.
Over the three weeks away I loved that the x100 did almost everything I asked. I never once thought “I should have bought the D700 & xx lens.” I just didn’t miss that gear at all. The x100 was a perfect travel camera. I shot portraits, when I remembered to put it in macro. I did street photography and got some images that I’m incredibly happy with. I used it in the Hungarian baths, just don’t tell Fuji. There was a guy there with a M9 and another with a D4. Crazy. I did long exposures, dusk cityscapes, and macros of chocolate eclairs. It really made me proud. Out of all the cameras I’ve owned I don’t think I’ve had that much fun with a camera in a long time. There is definitely something to be said for having less features. All you have is 35mm and the ability to change the aperture (after a fashion). So you just shoot. You make bad photos, good photos and just have great fun while doing so. There’s no thought at all about changing lenses and missing things. Its just you, the camera and the world waiting for you to make great photos.
- Does so much. Architecture. Portraits. Street. Travel.
- Just feels so nice to shoot while looking through the viewfinder.
- Happy to shoot at 3200, even 6400 if need be.
- Silent. Properly silent like a Leica.
- Made me feel like Joel Meyerowitz.
- Auto-focus can be horrendous in low light. Like 1 in 20 shots focus.
- Quick startup is not quick.
- Battery life isn’t amazing and for a travel cam it should be.
- Turning auto-ISO off/on should be easier.
- For street I’d often shoot with the exposure compensation set to -1.
- Use macro mode for close up portraits.
- Buy a super fast SD card, maybe 2.
- Buy a spare battery.
- Install the latest firmware.
- Doesn’t need a screen protector.
If you want to see more photos from Europe check out my street photography blog, Little Time Machine.