Fuji X100 – The new king of the compact cameras?

With Leica, the makers of the almost mythical M series rangefinders and the legendary lenses that accompany them, recently announcing first quarterly profit increases of almost 30% and the continuing meteoric rise of the recently Cosina revived Voigtlander rangefinders and lenses, it would seem that the losing party of the SLR/Rangefinder war of the 1960s is gaining more (if still niche) traction.

However, consumers wanting digital versions of these cameras, for the more than half a decade, have been restricted to either Leica M9’s, used Leica M8’s or the rarely found, but, effectively obsolete Epson R-D1 (co-developed by Cosina, incidentally), all of which were out of reach of the average aspiring roving photographers wallet. Most were relegated to either using increasingly difficult to process 35mm film, or to descend from the clouds to ponder the merits of the Leica X-1 (although its almost comical price of over AU$2700 is far from lowly) or the Sigma DP range, both of which are pricey, feature aging technology and being superseded by even premium compacts.

Drum roll, the Fuji X100.

With the (actual) launch of this much hyped digital camera looming (the original release date of early March was delayed due to the natural disasters that have occurred in their place of manufacture, Japan), and many members of the press finally getting their hands on the “star” of the 2010 Photokina expo, we will finally get an answer as to whether Fuji’s attempt to capitalize on the recent uptrend in the popularity of the vintage rangefinder system has paid off.

It will feature a 12.3 Megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, coupled with a fixed 23mm (35mm lens on a full frame camera) Fujinon lens that is relatively fast at F2.0. But, the performance of the lens wide open remains to be seen with Fuji stating optimal performance is only achieved at a more pedestrian F4.0-5.6. It also allows the capture of 720p video at 24p, although, that is its only video recording mode. However, of more interest is this camera’s utilization of a hybrid quasi digital rangefinder (which will probably require some adjusting to in focusing for those not already familiar), and the decision by Fuji to place a leaf shutter, an ND9 filter (-3 stops for bright daylight shooting) and aperture blades directly behind the front element of the lens, with the remaining 6 elements behind this. Fuji stated that this would allow for minimal shutter vibration, noise and, with the design of the lens elements, better flare control.

Officially this will hit Australian shelves with a AU$1299 price tag, which thrusts this beast well and truly out of even premium digital compact cameras, and squarely into several spots of predicament, the most important (and problematic) of which is, considering the other options available at this price point, why purchase a Fuji X100?

For example, those who are after an advanced compact camera for snapshots, both Canon and Nikon duke it out with the recently released Powershot G12 and the P7000, respectively, both of which provide a more than adequate feature set and picture quality at less than half the price, albeit with a smaller sensor.

For those after either a more advanced camera to wean themselves into digital SLRs, or a light and compact backup camera to augment their main DSLR (such as myself), or even just for more control and better snaps, for similar money, they have access to the rapidly proliferating interchangeable lens camera systems e.g. the Olympus Pen series, the Panasonic G series or Sony NEXs (which harbor s similar sensor in terms of size and performance). These have minimized the issue of noise and vibration with the removal of the mirror found in full sized DSLRs, and have the added bonus of allowing photographers to swap between lenses (and not only from the proprietary manufacturer, but the advent of these cameras have allowed owners of “orphaned” lenses (such as AR, FD and MD lens systems) to brush off the dust and put them back into service).

While the diversification of the market for digital cameras is a welcome trend, has Fuji gone a bit too far and created an entirely new niche of its own? Whatever happens, I for one am looking forward to experiencing the hybrid viewfinder and, its unique and, hopefully, whisper quiet shutter.

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