Fuji X100T: Ch-ch-changes (from the X100)

x100t

It would not be a Machine Planet kind of Friday afternoon if we didn’t boot up a 1970s Pioneer SA-9500II, crank up the David Bowie’s Young Americans on the Wheels of Steel, and pray that the protection circuits don’t open prematurely. There is a mild short somewhere. Maybe in a speaker wire, maybe in the brain. But while you’re remembering your President Nixon and the bills you have to pay, remember the Leica sold during that presidency: the M4. For its third (and perhaps final) iteration of Fujifilm’s Kleinerersatzmesssucherkamera (to clumsily and incorrectly coin a German compound), the Japanese company dropped the frame around the viewfinder window – just as Leica dropped that frame from the M3 to the M4 (let’s ignore the M2 because it doesn’t fit with this theory). If Leica had old-man shills instead of effusive wedding photographer shills, someone would have pointed this out sooner. But let’s face it, this entry is highly unlikely to be linked to the enthusiastic Fujirumors.com.

There is a superstition that says to upgrade on the odd numbers for Nikon (F to F3 to F5) and on even-numbered ones for Leica Leicas (M2, M4, M6). If you consider the F2 ugly, the F4 clumsy, and the M5 weird, you might also think about upgrading from the X100 to the X100T.

This piece will concentrate on differences between the original X100 and X100T, on the assumption that people are not considering incremental upgrades between the S and T. Let me know if I succeed in telling you some things that other writers have not. So let’s go point by point.

Design. The X100T is roughly the same dimensions as the X100; however, almost every exterior part has been changed between the two cameras. This is indicative of Japanese consumer product design – things get redesigned even with no apparent purpose, apparently without regards to the costs of tooling all new parts. That said. the X100T oddly has the same rubber plug near the battery door that the original X100 does – despite the fact that Fuji does not officially support AC adapters for this camera. The black version, which I tested, has a speckled finish that is not unlike a finer-grained version of what Nikon uses on its higher-end bodies. The frame around the front window is gone, as is the divot in which the ambient light sensor sits.

Layout. Compared to the original, the layout has changed somewhat.

The top deck is the same, the front its same (with the exception of focusing mode, which has been revised to reorder focusing modes as S-C-M (bottom to top) rather than the accident-prone C-S-M. This brings the camera in line with current DSLRs and eliminates an annoying tendency of the original to end up in continuous or manual by accident. And no one understands quite what continuous is supposed to do on the X100 or X-Pro1.

The rear left button layout is considerably different, and it has not changed for the better. The original X100 had four highly tactile buttons running down the left side, from top to bottom, Play, AE (doubling as zoom-in in playback), AF (zoom-out), and View Mode. The X100T has changed these to View Mode, Play, Trash, and WiFi. The Trash and WiFi buttons are re-programmable, but the cardinal sin lies in moving the play button to a position where in reaching for it, the user constantly cycles view modes: viewfinder, LCD, eye sensor, and many permutations in between (like the strangely useless viewfinder only plus eye sensor, which shuts all views off when not looking through the VF. This causes unexpected problems if shooting and even occasionally checking pictures on the back of the camera. The smaller, lower-profile size of the buttons is even less helpful.

The rear right is similarly a mess. Display mode is in the same place though much smaller. Drive has thankfully been moved to its own button, out of the way of accidental pushes on the scroll wheel (which is not abolished). The problem is that the Drive button is now directly in the path of any accessory thumb rest (like the Thumbs Up). The magnification control has been moved from the left buttons to a full-fledged control wheel (occupying the space of the former rocker switch). But this too is subtended by a thumb rest. AE/AF lock is its own button, smaller than on the X100 and right in line with the button the activates the useless Q menu, a tactile failure just as it is on the X-Pro1.

Fortunately, the X100T has seven re-programmable function buttons:

  • FN (still in the same place on the top deck – default function is to start video recording without any intermediate menus).
  • Up arrow
  • Left Arrow
  • Right Arrow
  • Down Arrow
  • Trash
  • WiFi

Here are some suggested things to program to these buttons:

  • Video (because otherwise you would have to wade through the Drive menu) (FN)
  • Focusing area (Up)
  • Film simulation (Left) – still has a bunch of films whose names most users of this camera would not recognize, plus “Classic Chrome,” a pretty obvious knockoff of Kodachrome, a film Fuji never made.
  • Flash mode (Right)
  • White balance (Down)
  • Face Detection (Trash) – this is new. Face detection (described in more detail in Focusing, below) detects human faces to set focus and exposure.
  • WiFi (WiFi) – this activates the connection memo used to connect the camera to the Camera Remote app.

This is the full menu of things that can be mapped to the seven function buttons:

  1. Advanced filter (the “artsy” effect filters). For those who can’t wait for Photoshop, you can do all of your fakey selective color, cross-processed, toy camera, and tilt-shift effects. Also soft focus.
  2. Multiple exposure
  3. Macro
  4. Preview depth of field
  5. Iso – this now includes the option to program up to three different auto-ISO presets. And they don’t work with flash unless you use a Fuji unit.
  6. Self-Timer
  7. Image size
  8. Image quality
  9. Dynamic range
  10. Film Simulation
  11. White balance
  12. ND filter
  13. Photometry (i.e., “Metering Mode”)
  14. AF mode (area/spot)
  15. Corrected AF frame
  16. Flash compensation
  17. Select custom setting
  18. Preview Pic. Effect
  19. High performance this makes everything go faster, including your batteries.
  20. Raw
  21. Conversion Lens – this is for the TCL-X100 and WCL-X100, the 28mm and 43mm conversion lenses.
  22. Shutter Type – you can use this to trigger the new electronic shutter, which goes up to 1/32,000 second. This is a teats-on-a-bull proposition, because to need that shutter speed, you would need to have the camera at 3200 ISO and f/2, on the surface of the sun. The super-fast shutter does not work with flash, nor does it capture action well.
  23. None (mercifully)

Operation. Assuming you can keep your fingers in the right places, the camera is snappy, responsive and quick to take pictures. And that’s all you can really ask. All controls have much more solid clicks (particularly the top dials). The 1/3 aperture stops are actually annoying.

Focusing. The X100S and -T introduced phase-detect focus to the X100. This is supposed to speed up focusing, which it does in very bright light (as in EV 11 and over); contrast does not seem to enter into the picture. Focusing is very, very quick in this mode. But note that this mode does not cover the entire frame and does not operate at all when faces are detected in frame. You can tell when phase-detect is working because the focusing reticle just goes green with no hunting. Phase-detect is used to support the “split image” focusing aid that is available in M mode (and in the “tab”). The contrast-detect focus is faster than on the X100. There are two things that are actually exciting about the X100T if you are used to the X100.

  • Face detection. Although not perfect and often arbitrarily selecting between faces in a shot, this feature eliminates a lot of focus-and-recompose shooting. Exposure then adjusts for the face. When no face is detected, the camera reverts to the chosen focus point and either phase-detect or contrast-detect as necessary. Note that face detection requires that (1) the camera be focused enough to pick out some face at least vaguely and (2) that the face be larger than the focusing reticle. Face-detection does not work in OVF mode, though with the “tab” (see below), it should be possible.
  • Focus tracking during continuous shooting. Focus continues through continuous shots. It might fall behind the subject, but it is a considerable step up from the locked focus that the X100 exhibited wile in continuous. Continuous focus locks out face detection in multiple-shot sequences.

There is a “pre” focus setting that seems to mirror the “continuous” function on the X100. But here it is actually useful because it facilitates face detection. The “real time” parallax correction operates only in manual focus. Why is this a marquis feature of the X100T?

Imaging. See any review of any camera with any 16MP X-Trans sensor. The face detection tends to up the sharpness of faces (compared to focusing and re-composing). Your subjects will hate you.The X100T has a lens modulation optimizer (LMO), which is designed to combat diffraction. In general, versus the X100 sensor, this picks up about a stop of low light capability, four extra megapixels, and a bit more decoding time on Lightroom.

Viewfinder. Two major observations here. First, there are more megapixels, and the menu text does look finer. Second, this is not the revelation that some people seem to suggest. The pixelation during contrast-detect focusing is much smaller, but that’s about it. There is a new “Daylight” mode that makes the screen incredibly bright – but makes everything look overexposed snd washed-out indoors. Finally, the fast refresh rate causes strange interactions with fluorescent lights. The fonts and arrangements for the in-viewfinder displays have changed. They are more comprehensive but also less legible. A helpful feature in EVF is an indicator that – even when you are in photo mode – tells you how much recording time you would have if you hit the instant-on button for video (internal memory holds a whopping 8 seconds).

The “tab.” As if switching between EVF and OVF were not enough to lose track of, pushing repeatedly to the right toggles the  “tab,” which is a small semi reflective mirror in the lower right corner in OVF mode. In autofocus modes, this operates to show what is actually in focus. In manual focus, it can show your choice of focus peaking or a split image view. Pressing the control wheel gives you a choice between actual and 5x magnification; holding it switches between focus peaking and split image. The tab is dangerously close to the long-fantasized “digital rangefinder” that Leica users have begged for: it is an electronic superimposition in an optical finder. It is brilliant. The unfortunate thing is that it cannot be put in the center of the frame. The problem appears to be that the finder itself does not have enough contrast in bright light to mask ambient light and replace it with a usable split image. That can be fixed in the corner, but in the center frame, it would require a permanent silvered square.

Batteries. Alleged improved battery life is not a big deal. There is only so much power in a battery the size of an NP-95, and the chemistry has not changed. What is a big deal is that you can now charge the batteries via the USB 3.0 port on the camera – meaning that you can plug it into your computer, your car, that dodgy 15,000 MaH battery pack you bought on Ebay, etc. It is nice that Fuji has decided to continue to use the matchbook-sized NP-95 battery. Although it doesn’t have the greatest capacity, you can reuse your old batteries and chargers and interchange them between cameras as needed. Video. Aside from the ability to trigger video instantly (welcome to 2009!), the video has been upgraded to 1080p, 60fps (not obviously car whether -p or -i). A variable-level mic jack has been added (it also operates as a remote release), manual focus is available for video, and ISO is adjustable for video.

Wireless. The camera has a built-in wireless function that allows remote focusing and shooting of the camera and viewing what the lens sees via an iPhone app (note: Camera Remote, not the other three Fuji apps on the App Store). It can be somewhat slow. The camera can geotag (allegedly) by picking up WiFi signals. Transfers work well, though it is still far easier to use a WiFi Mobi card. The camera does thoughtfully have a 3Mp down-sample mode for social media. Dumb things that won’t go away. Although we keep hearing the word “Kaizen” in connection with Fuji, heaven help the things that Fuji won’t let go:

  1. Making people buy the AR-X100 adapter to use 49mm filters. Come on. This is a $5 part that most people buy for $5 from Chinese eBay sellers. And the one Fuji makes ($49) doesn’t really match the black cameras.
  2. Not allowing the use of flash in continuous shooting, and holding up shooting while slow flashes recharge.
  3. Not making a small flash that shoots off the lens axis.
  4. Finishing the shutter release and flash shoe in quick-weaning black paint.
  5. Leaving the diopter wheel open to the elements. How often is this really adjusted that it needs to be prone to contamination and bumping off the setting.
  6. Continuing to recess the eye sensor so that it doesn’t work well with sunglasses or eyeglasses.
  7. Continuing to disaggregate in the menus the selection of composition grids and the setting that actually shows them in the viewfinder.
  8. Poor strap rings. The new steel inserts are nice, but loop lugs (such as on older Fujis like the GA645) would be better.

Conclusions. The X100T is indeed a serious step up from the X100. Although its sensor is nothing new (and indeed, neither is its lens), the X-Trans sensor gets more out of the lens, and the more sophisticated focusing system in turn gets more out of the X-trans sensor. The general responsiveness boost is welcome, and the improved power options are making it easier to carry this camera about anywhere. Fuji does need to cut the ADD when it comes to changing physical controls.

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