Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Sep 16 2011

Why some people hate mirrors

A photographer friend of mine recently expressed his desire to borrow my Olympus m43 9-18mm lens. I knew that he was one of the first people in Taiwan to have bought Fuji’s recent compact rangfinderesque X100, so I bargained a temporary trade.

Now, I must have read more about this camera than any other; long exhaustive rants have been written from everyone and their dog, many of whom haven’t even used the thing, and, inexplicably, many of them exhibit a surprising degree of negative emotion, even personal effrontery, at this device. I’d only played with it at the store before, so I could only guess the reason for this phenomenon, but after a week of shooting and looking at the files on my computer, I think I’ve gleaned a fair understanding of it.

This is definitely a camera that requires understanding; it is not a point-and-shoot. It will give you what you want, but only on the condition that you know what you want in the first place. I started out missing exposures because I wasn’t used to the camera, but soon enough I got back into the habit of keeping the settings where they should be, back into the rhythm of adjusting the aperture and shutter speed according to whatever light I happened to encounter. The X100’s controls make this not only easy and obvious, as the physical controls are right there on the camera, no menus required, but even pleasurable, as the machinery is smooth and satisfying to the touch. The leaf shutter is so silent I had to engage the fake shutter sound at its quietest setting just to know I had taken a shot. After setting it how I wanted in the menus, however, I had no further need to delve into that system.

The optical viewfinder was a revelation. It shouldn’t have been, as the Invincible Rabbit (5D2) also has a nice optical viewfinder, but suddenly not only was I using a small camera, I was also able to see outside the framelines and read people’s expressions through the viewfinder, something I find impossible looking at the screen on the back or even using the high-resolution electronic viewfinder. The only time I used the latter was for the occasional macro shot. I had no more excuses for not seeing everything in the frame and what was going on just outside of it.

During the daytime in good light I would often use zone focusing, which worked fine, though sometimes there seemed to be a hint of shutter lag. Autofocus worked well enough, about as well as the GF1, or the Rabbit at night. If I had the shutter half pressed beforehand, the shot would be instantaneous, but if I didn’t, there would be a bit of lag. It wasn’t worse than my other cameras (except for my M6, obviously, which is actually instantaneous). I relied on AF at night, and it went ok, as well or even better than the other cameras. Manual focusing was possible via the slider at the bottom of the screen, but what was in focus wasn’t immediately apparent on the EVF. I was surprised at how fast the ring moved the focus, however. If I moved it quickly, it went from one end to the other quite quickly as well. I wasn’t expecting that after all the negative reports I’d read. Granted, it’s no M9, but that camera is by virtue of its price effectively unavailable to most people, so a comparison is pointless in more ways than one.

All in all, shooting with the X100 is a pleasure. It’s light and sits well on a strap or in the hand. The feel of the settings, of the shutter, the quiet operation, all make the experience quite enjoyable once you get into the old pre-digital mindset before P mode became available. P mode is there if you need it, of course; all you have to do is set both shutter speed and aperture dials to A and you’re good. But that is not what this camera is about. This camera is about giving you exactly what you want, no more and no less.

This is evident when looking at the files. Some shots are not exposed correctly or out of focus, for the most part reflecting errors in judgment on my part. These became scarcer as I got used to the camera. Though I was shooting in RAW format, there is not a terribly large margin for error, though more shadow recovery was available than highlight recovery. I shot on auto ISO set to 200-3200, and properly exposed shots were mostly smooth and clean. Try “rescuing” poorly exposed shots in Lightroom, however, and you’re out of luck.

When you get it right, though, the results are lovely, often bordering on the low-ISO shots I revered from the DP1. The lens draws nicely at all apertures, rendering tack-sharp images with pleasant bokeh. There’s no hit-or-miss here, though; the camera does what you tell it to, no less and no more.

And this, I think, is one of the main sources of the vitriol I’ve seen being spewed by many on the Internet, including the subject of one of my recent posts, Scott Kelby, who derided the camera for not doing what he felt it should do. As more of a photoshopper than a photographer, it makes perfect sense that Kelby would have such an opinion, though the immature spectacle of his presentation isn’t really necessary.

Perhaps because of appearances, cameras like this seem to appeal most to the would-be creative photographer; people have visions of it somehow improving their photography with its simplicity, but in reality it is more like a mirror (despite it lacking one), and mirrors can be devastating if you’ve spent a great deal of time and effort convincing yourself that you look differently than you actually do, and it seems that the Internet has enabled us more and more in recent years to do just that, not just photographically but in many other ways.

I should point out that most people who have usability issues with the X100 are reasonable and logical about this camera’s shortcomings with regard to other cameras; it’s just not what they want, or it doesn’t suit their style of shooting. Fair enough, and more power to them, I say. The people who seem to have to most vitriolic reactions to this camera, however, seem to be the ones who imagine themselves as the type of photographer who should enjoy using it, but in reality aren’t. They have an image of themselves as knowing exactly what they want, right down to the f-stop and shutter speed of each shot, of looking out of the frame lines and anticipating wonderful street photography, effortlessly showcasing their genius…and all in such an attractive package!

But then the images are crap. How can this be? The reality is that they’re just not that type of photographer, but rather than admitting this and attempting to learn more, or simply using a camera more suited to their needs, they accuse the camera of some kind of horribly personal betrayal, which is kind of strange as it’s just a hunk of machinery. The problem, of course, isn’t with the camera, but that they simply aren’t that kind of photographer, no matter how much they wish to be so regarded.

This seems to be a difficult mirror to behold. And no wonder: The electronics industry as well as the entirety of massive websites such as DPreview.com are dedicated to the idea that “it’s the camera, not you”. The amount of verbiage that goes into these things could, and no doubt has to some degree, spawned a psychiatrist’s dream of photographic insecurities, all of which, they promise, can be solved with the newest, the latest and greatest camera. But ironically, the more the camera “helps” us in that goal, it’s the camera that is approaching this ideal; we ourselves are even further from it.

But this is all getting a bit abstract, so I’ll just say this: The X100 may not have a mirror, but it does its job well enough.

posted by Poagao at 12:21 pm  


  1. very competent review of this camera. Might I suggest you put up some photos you took with the camera to accompany the review.

    Comment by Prince Roy — September 16, 2011 @ 6:56 pm

  2. You are so right! I have been shooting this camera since about 2 months now, and for me it is a jewel! And be sure, i have used many, many cameras!
    Thanks for this very honest and realistic impression!

    Comment by Hans de Greve — September 17, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

  3. Spot on!!!!
    Great piece of writing and deadly on the point.
    I bought mine a couple of days ago, although I have been studying the camera for sometime,now it has taken a bit longer to understand several mistakes made but the goal has been positive as I have learned from it, therefore enhancing the passion for this little toy.

    Comment by Fernando — September 17, 2011 @ 11:14 pm

  4. The fact that 70% of my pictures are out of focus ain’t my fault, this camera has AF issues!

    Comment by Anonymous Bastard — September 18, 2011 @ 4:39 am

  5. Thank you for your objective opinions of the X100 based on your knowledge of human expectations and the elements of photography. I’ve looked at ‘reviews’ and forum proclamations both pro and con about this camera and many times come away with less pertinent info than before I read same. Your honesty is refreshing – something that is not easy to find in marketing brochures and fanboy reports.

    Comment by minch — September 18, 2011 @ 5:01 am

  6. I don’t know why 70% of your pictures are out of focus. That wasn’t my experience, but I’d suggest that maybe it’s not the right camera for you.

    Comment by Poagao — September 18, 2011 @ 8:56 pm

  7. Nice blog, I agree with your points that X100 is a nice camera, but it’s not for every body. It’s not the most user friendly camera to use as it doesn’t have any training wheels, but when you do get things right, the picture quality is just wonderful.

    As for the previous commenter’s focusing issue, it is weired that sometimes focus lock (focus box turns red) can be hard to get, quite often I have to point at a slightly different area in the scene to get the green box. This problem is more apparent if you try to focus on a close object or in a darker environment.

    I don’t know why it does this, but it’s quite easy to tell whether you’ve acquired focus or not. It’s obvious that your picture will be out of focus if you ain’t got the green box.

    Comment by Jim — September 18, 2011 @ 10:42 pm

  8. Thank you. Your impressions are very much appreciated as I have wondered what at the issues that I see some post…. they are not always expressed fully so one is left wondering (one being myself). I have to decide if I will buy this camera, your review takes a bit of the mystery away from me. Sounds like it has much in common with film cameras of old (not RF cameras but 35mm SLR’s regarding setting an aperture and a speed, etc). Thanks again, now to go up and read what was written before I jumped to post.

    Comment by JRS11 — September 24, 2011 @ 10:57 am

  9. Very good writeup. Totally agree with you on this. People complain about the autofocus and yes it is kinda poor but it does work. If you take out of focus pictures it’s your mistake not the cameras. It will sometimes grab the wrong spot but I see when that happens and refocus it and get it correct. I’m responsible for my photos not the camera. This ain’t your Mommas point and shoot! After a couple of months with this thing I do see an improvement overall in my photography. I’ve slowed down and completely lost the fix it in photoshop mentality. I work till I get it right in camera.

    Comment by Jeff — September 25, 2011 @ 11:59 pm

  10. Your write up reminds me of everything I went through before I purchased the Sigma DP2. The DP2 is not a camera for everybody and certainly not everyone will be able to master it and get good results. Since you are a DP1 owner, it would be interesting if you could compare, contrast the two.


    Comment by Karl Rottmann — September 26, 2011 @ 1:43 am

  11. The x100 really reminds me of the Fuji S2 pro. A friend borrowed me on about a month ago and I have to say it is a bit of a paradox. Auto focus issues pop up regularly but when you get things right, the IQ is really quite excellent, even for a vintage camera like the S2 (is it right to call a digital camera vintage?).

    Comment by Darrell W — September 26, 2011 @ 11:55 pm

  12. Karl, I had similar feelings about the DP1, but the X100 is far better in focusing and has a better screen on the back, and the OVF/EVF of course. As far as image quality goes, I keep going back to my old DP1 files and wondering at how good they are (at low ISO). The X100 is the first compact camera I’ve owned to come close to that feeling, though it’s still not quite the same. Then again, at high ISO it is quite impressive, so the advantages really pile up.

    Comment by Poagao — September 27, 2011 @ 12:01 am

  13. […] can’t pretend that larger-sensor cameras don’t appeal to me. I enjoyed the Fuji X100 I borrowed from a friend last year, and I’d love to be able to afford something like Sony’s new RX1 […]

    Pingback by Poagao’s Journal » A fine little camera — May 29, 2013 @ 11:44 am

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