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LIKE A LEICA?
There are two answers to that question. One is 'Yes I would' and the other is 'Yes, it is a bit isn't it?'
I'm currently running two digital cameras. One, a dinky Olympus all-weather job, which if I'm honest has a picture quality that is a bit compromised by its toughness and water-resistance, and the other, my Nikon D90 DSLR which I love to bits but mustn't drop or get wet. There are just one or two snags with this combo. The latter is a trifle large to lug around on holidays involving air flights, and the other, well, I'm just not sure I'd entrust it with being my only camera when visiting places I may well not go back to in this lifetime.
Having taken the big chunky Nikon D90 to Jordan recently, I resolved that there had to be some middle ground. Petra, both by day and by night was stunning as were some of my photos, but as for my neck, it really took a beating with the Nikon's not-inconsiderable weight slung around it for literally hours on end.
It was during our escorted tour of Jordan that I noticed one of our fellow travellers sporting what appeared to be the modern day equivalent of a Leica range-finder camera around his neck. What immediately set it apart from the current crop of 'advanced compacts', was its retro styling complete with lots of 'luverly twisty knobs an' stuff', and....oh be still my beating heart whilst I complete a roll on the imaginary drums.....a real optical viewfinder! No more peering into it at arm's length unless you actually want to.
Of course, being a digital camera, it also had the 'de rigueur' electronic viewfinder on the back, doubling as a viewing screen for existing pictures. However, that doesn't stop the Fuji Finepix X10 looking a tad old-fashioned (in my mind, a good thing, especially in 10 years time when all of today's styled offerings will look dated) and being technologically up-to-date at the same time.
Hints of a bygone era include a "Fujinon Lens" logo looking not unlike the old Zeiss Ikon badge, and construction of both top and bottom plate from matt-black magnesium alloy, not some strong plastic or other, both of which matter to an old git like me. Leatherette hides the rest so I really don't care what that's made of, just don't tell me. The rotary knobs are apparently milled from solid metal and move and click like they ought to. You can even use an old-fashioned cable release with it, since the shutter release is threaded to take one.
To be honest, I'd rather have shelled out the extra money on the Fuji X100 which has an even more retro matt-chrome finish and a brilliantly-designed hybrid viewfinder combining optics with electronic overlays, but it had one drawback apart from being dearer. It had one fixed focal length (i.e. non-zooming) lens that was not interchangeable - shame. The 'non-interchangeable' I could forgive but the deal-breaker was the fact that the only lens it did have couldn't be zoomed. Come on guys, one or the other surely?
The X10, on the other hand, has a 28mm-112mm (when compared to a 35mm camera) zoom. Ok, it's not interchangeable but with a 4x zooming range is going to be useful enough for most purposes, more useful certainly than the 'short zoom' supplied as part of the entry level kit on some DSLRs. It also happens to have a maximum aperture of f2.0 which is also pretty damned respectable for its type. The 12 mega-pixel sensor on this camera is 2/3rds of an inch diagonally which is not too far short in size of those fitted to many DSLRs. This is a sensible thing for Fuji to have done, by not joining in the 'race' to be the compact camera with the 'mostest' mega-pixels. There's little point in boasting 16 mega-pixels on a sensor the size of my little finger nail. The tiny individual pixels, whilst bringing daylight sharpness to a new level just cannot react to light in the same way that larger ones can and so let themselves down in anything but perfect light.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES
Or in this case - a year. There are definite advantages to hanging back when any new shiny toy appears on the scene and in this case, I didn't even know about it, let alone want one. With the iPhone 4, it was getting cut off if you held the phone in a particular way; with the X10, it was 'orbs'. Orbs? Yes, instead of the expected 'sparklies' you'd get when say photographing rippling water against sunlight, or a disco mirror ball, you got big circular white marks like someone had hole-punched your picture and given it a white backing. However, all new stock since May 2012 has been rectified with a new sensor and a new firmware version, and to their credit, Fuji have offered to take back all that slipped through the net for a sensor and firmware upgrade.
Buying prior to Christmas 2012, this was of little concern to me. All I had to do was make sure that I bought from a volume seller with a large turnover like Amazon themselves, and with their price of just over £300 being as good as anyone else's, it was them that got my business. PC World wanted £346*, but at least I got to handle the thing there! I'm not convinced that with an RRP of nearly 'half a grand' it would have been worth it, especially looking at all the small 'system cameras' with interchangeable lenses there are out there at the moment, admittedly with no 'real' viewfinders.
(* Maybe the difference can be accounted for by the fact that the Dixon's Group actually pay UK corporation tax!)
Like lot of higher-priced cameras these days, there's no memory card (SD in this case) included but these seem to get cheaper every time I search one out. The camera does however have a 'reserve tank' if you like within its own memory but it's nowt but a few photos in size.
MORE THAN JUST AN UGLY FACE
Well, perhaps not ugly, but maybe a bit rugged and 'lived-in'...........but that's enough about me. This camera has most of the features you'd expect from a DSLR except for the bulk and the ability to look through the lens in an optical viewfinder. There's a similar range of exposure modes, from fully manual to fully auto, taking in shutter- and aperture-priority along the way. You can even cobble together two separate custom modes gleaned from experiences, like shooting cats (not literally) in a coal hole, or in my case 'Petra by night'. Therefore I'd say it's ideally-suited to a downsizing SLR-owner with neck-ache or an aspiring point-and-shoot merchant who wants to delve deeper into the black arts of photography. Neither is likely to feel limited by what can be achieved here and both can give in and used the fully automatic EXR mode when lack of brain cells demands.
Sadly, the built-in flash is too puny for anything but fill-in or domestic indoor work. Forget about lighting up a cave with it. Having said that, it does recess itself very neatly, when out of use.
Speaking of close-ups, you can actually come as close as 1 centimetre in extreme macro mode, but you'd need to use the electronic viewfinder for this as the optical affair wouldn't even be looking at the same thing, being set as it is about 4 cm to the left and 3cm above the actual viewing angle of the lens. This is 'parallax error' in the extreme, and for most normal distance and panoramic shots, not an issue but the closer you get, the more of a 'discussion document' the actual view in the finder becomes.
FUJI MOVES IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS.....
.....its wonders to perform. Just when you think that 12 mega pixels means exactly that, you find that in general use, the camera seems to use half of that, keeping the other half in reserve to perform all sorts of wonderful adjustments to achieve its best result. It's tantamount to 'bracketing', that feature that causes serious snappers to take three shots of everything, with three slightly-different exposure settings, 'just in case', except in this example, it only takes one shot. It can also be set to 'bracket' four exposures together, but cleverly combines them all into one single 'best guess', saving only one to the card. This leads to the need for a tripod, and can lead to some eerie effects if anything moves during that time - hence the shots of rock-solid backgrounds and blurred traffic that seem quite fashionable these days even in daylight.
You can shoot up to a 360 degree (i.e. full circle) panorama. This works a little like shooting movie, with the camera giving you a rough guide as to speed and direction of 'panning', stitching 7 photos together as it goes. Again, for best results, a tripod is advised. You already have an electronic spirit level in the electronic viewfinder, and I guess that this in one case where its use is imperative to avoid your full circle becoming a spiral.
Of course, purists will want to shoot in 'RAW mode' which just plainly and simply uses all 12-megapixels shot on a generously-sized sensor, leaving the photographer with the very best resolution available, and possibly quite a while poring over Photoshop.
Cleverly, Fuji have side-stepped the issue of needing a tiny servo motor to extend the lens when turning it on or when zooming, as these have proven, to me at least, to be the first thing to render a camera an 'uneconomic repair' to use those dreaded words. No, here, you turn on the camera by twisting the lens until it reaches its 28mm setting. Further zooming is then manual also, but quicker than waiting for a rocker switch to do its stuff.
Battery life isn't brilliant - claimed to be around 270 shots, it really depends on how much showing off your results to friends you do in between charges. To be on the safe side think more in terms of 'smart phone' rather than the Duracell 'drumming rabbit'! The good news is that a spare battery can be had for as little as four quid on e-bay, and indeed this was one of the things I bought in advance of actually receiving the camera. You can of course, once you trust it implicitly to take photos, turn off the electronic display altogether to lengthen the time spent away from the mains charger - useful if you spend the night in a desert like I did and went mad taking pictures of sunset and sunrise!
Unlike many DSLRs, there's no means of tilting the electronic viewfinder - it remains s(t)olidly attached to the back of the camera, but if you've got the sun in your eyes, you can always revert to the optical job.
Having sung the praises of this camera and its real optical viewfinder, it may come as a surprise to hear me complaining about it too. My major gripe is that, like many optical finder cameras before it, it only shows 85% of the final picture area when shooting in 4:3 mode, which makes the finder more of an aiming device than an accurate representation of the final article. True, it does follow the zoom, and true, the extent of the cropping improves when selecting another format like 3:2, 16:9 or 'square' but it's completely devoid of any electronic information whatsoever. By experimentation, I've found that the 3:2 mode, which is more like A4 proportions for printing, has the same 'height' as the viewfinder, although it's somewhat wider in its view. However, it would be more worrying if the optical job showed you more than was actually being taken - now that would be a turn-off! The auto-focus only beeps to confirm a fix, there being no 'green LED' or some such in the viewfinder. There aren't even any cross-hairs to help with levelling it. True, the electronic version at the back actually has that 'spirit level' which you start off by calibrating against something known to be on the level - so don't use an MP's shoulder.
The other drawback with the optical finder is that you can actually see the lens in the bottom right corner, a view which becomes more obtrusive with additions like lens hoods and filters. Because the lens has such a dinky and non-standard thread (40.5mm) for filters and the like, the common practice is to buy a two part lens hood, the first part being a step-up ring giving a 52mm filter thread, and the second part, the hood itself. I bought a cheap after-market job, but even the official lens hood at an eye-watering 50 quid is the same. Of course, it doesn't take a genius just to move the camera a tad to check what you can't see and then move it back. IIRC, a lot of viewfinder cameras were like this back in the day. The only problem with the lens-hood/filter ring is that it's open-backed (yes, even the official one), which leaves dust free to get in behind the filter, which slightly detracts from the reason why many people fit a 'skylight' or 'UV' filter in the first place, i.e. to give them a smooth easy-to-clean surface that isn't the lens itself. On reflection, I think I'd try extra hard to buy that non-standard UV filter and fit it directly to the lens if I could. They're not too difficult to source via e-bay.
I'd much rather have it, than not have it. Its results would do justice to much larger and heavier kit, thanks to the larger-than-normal sensor in a camera this size. Its box of tricks works superbly and you are tempted to leave it on its 'EXR' mode setting where it more or less does everything but tell you that your subject matter is crap. It's comforting to know that you can fall back to being able to select shutter speeds or apertures yourself and even focus manually ('annually' in my case). The super-close macro is impressive as is its ability to stitch together shots into a complete 360 degree panorama.
Build quality is superb and you really do feel like you're handling a useful and trusted antique (that just so happens to be an advanced digital camera!).
My neck is quite grateful too!