Wednesday, 31 October 2012

REVIEW: The Perfect Photographic Travelling Companion?

My Fujifilm X100 Black Limited Edition - no. 506 of 10,000 units available worldwide
For the past eight weeks I have been busy working in Brazil, Bahrain, Japan and China and this has left little time to update the blog, so many apologies for the break.

Just before the last event in Shanghai I decided to invest in a high end compact camera as I didn't want to take my Nikon D700 and associated pro lenses into the country.  China has strict controls over media visas and a J2 visa in your passport means you have to apply for a J2 media visa on all subsequent visits to the country.  As my job for the FIA World Endurance Championship is as the Media Delegate for the series, I qualify for a F (Business) visa and I didn't want my pro camera equipment to cause me any issues on arrival in the country.

I had investigate many options for a compact professional camera, including the Nikon V1 system range, but my heart was turning towards the retro styled Fujifilm X100 that had been launched at the end of 2010.  I had used the Fuji medium format range finder cameras in the late 1990s and loved the simplicity and stunning quality of these fixed lens cameras. The X100 was a 21st century homage to these professional tools of yester year.

While the X100 is retro on the outside, underneath it is all 21st century, centered around a 12 megapixel CMOS sensor and a super sharp 23mm f2 Fujinon lens.  The camera itself has a high quality feel and is beautiful to look at but it has all the functions a professional / enthusiast photographer could need - capability to shoot in Programme, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and full Manual exposure modes, with RAW and JPEG files.

When launched the X100 also stunned the photographic world with the first hybrid viewfinder which combined a very bright optical viewfinder with an electronic head up display included.  It is strange at first but the information in the viewfinder is amazing and you find you don't have to take your eye away to look at the rear screen to change settings or to see the exposure settings.

The specs also include a 5fps burst mode, sweep panoramic mode and 720p HD video setting.

I decided to buy the limited edition 'Black' version which comes with lots of extras and is limited to a run of just 10,000 units world wide.  According to the card in the very special case the camera arrives in, my version is number 506.

I could go on and on about the technology and build quality of this camera but there are plenty of technical reviews and blogs available on this.  The purpose of this blog is to report how I got on actually using the X100, which at the end of the day is why we buy cameras.

I ordered the X100 from Park Cameras and 24 Hours later a package arrived on my doorstep. After a quick look at the various settings I took the X100 for a quick run out into the Vale of Belvoir, which many of you who follow this blog know is close to where I live in Lincolnshire.  The X100 feels solid but quite small in my hand when compared to the Nikon DSLRs I am used to using.  The field of view from the 23mm f2 lens, which is 35mm in full frame terms, could be seen as rather limiting.  I prefer to think of it as getting the creative juices flowing and adapting my style to the lens rather than changing lenses to fit the subject.  And this is the thing with the X100, you have to think more about what you are shooting and as a photographer that is a good thing.  Once I had got myself into this different mindframe I was able to take images on the streets of Shanghai that I would have struggled to capture with the Nikon due to the bulk and intimidating nature of a pro spec DSLR.

I came back from the Vale of Belvoir with some pleasing shots, including these two.  The first shows an old barn near Barkestone and the second taken on the road leading towards Belvoir Castle.  They both demonstrate the capability of the X100 as a tool for landscape photography.

The Old Barn in the Vale of Belvoir
The Long Road
I packed and headed to Shanghai for the final round of the FIA WEC (www.fiawec.com).  The first ting I noticed was how much lighter my hand luggage was.  Normally I would take a laptop flight bag with my PC and all the other items I need for my day job and then I'd have my Lowepro back pack with the D700, four lenses, tripod, chargers, spare batteries etc, etc.  For the trip to Shanghai I had one piece of hand luggage - one big mark to the X100 already!

Over the next six days I was able to shoot some pictures at the track and at the evening dinner engagements that were planned but it wasn't until Monday afternoon that I was able to fully test the capabilities of the X100.  We all had late flights back to Europe so we decided to head into Shanghai for the evening before travelling to the airport to catch our various flights.

We headed first to the Fake Market for some shopping but I took myself off for a spot of photography after I got fed up with the constant badgering from the shop owners.

We then headed downtown to the bright lights of Shanghai on the Metro, which again gave me ample opportunity to test the X100 to its limits in low light and in capturing people on the street.  The silent shutter is perfect for candid shots and to be honest it is so quiet I found myself checking to see if the camera had actually taken a picture on several occassions.  You can programme the camera to mimic a shutter sound but I prefer the almost silent operation of the X100, it is very stealthy!

I tried the panoramic sweep function but it wasn't always successful. I think I need to be a bit more consistent how I use the camera.  When I got it right the results were impressive.  However I did find myself shooting a sequence of images as well to stitch together in Photoshop at a later time just to be on the safe side.

I also shot lots of videos and some of these can be seen on the FIA WEC Facebook page here - https://www.facebook.com/#!/fiawec

Below are some of the shots I took on the trip into Shanghai and also from the plane journey back to Heathrow, which clearly demonstrate the impressive capabilities of the X100.

The X100 is a work of art but also a professional photographer tool that produces stunning images - the perfect travel companion for me and I think this will be one camera that I will be owning for a long time.
Audi Grid Girls



On the Grid in Shanghai


Levent


In the Market



Shanghai



Taking the goods to market in Shanghai



Low light capabilities of the X100 is stunning - Shanghai Skyline - Handheld shot


Night shots in Shanghai
Night shots in Shanghai




Capturing the street atmosphere is home ground for the X100



The Shanghai Metro



The Shanghai Metro


The Shanghai Metro




A panorama using the 'Sweep' function on the X100

The Thames Estuary and Dartford Crossing from the plane window

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