Fujifilm X10 Review

Construction and Handling

The X10 is built around a sturdy magnesium alloy body clad with a soft and retro-style leatherette front and back. The lens cap is made of metal and is the push-on type with felt inside as seen on Pentax-FA Limited lenses. The build quality and finish is excellent and inspire confidence.

front view

We find the retro design very nice - it appears inspired by Leica's M-series but the X10 is of course much more compact as made possible by its small sensor.

Sensor

Fuji SensorThe X10 features a 12 megapixel 2/3 inch EXR CMOS image sensor. The size is not provided by Fuji but we figure that it is approximately 8.65 x 6.49 mm. The photo-sites (pixels) are laid out in different pattern than used by most other brands (which use the so-called Bayer pattern). On the Fuji there are always two adjacent pixels of the same color and Fuji takes advantage of that pattern by pairing the pixels to provide extended dynamic range and lower noise in low light, but at the expense of resolution. In low light situations or in extended dynamic range mode, the resolution of the Fuji sensor drops from 12MP to 6MP. In the normal mode where all 12 million pixels are used individually, the resolution of the EXR sensor is still slightly lower than that of a conventional 12MP sensor.

The downside of the Fuji sensor, besides the fact that it must drop the resolution to 6MP at times, is that it introduces inconsistencies in the operation of the camera in most exposure modes. For example, if you are shooting in Av mode at 12MP image quality and want to engage extended dynamic range to handle a high-contrast scene you'll have to first drop the resolution to 6MP before the option of changing dynamic range becomes available. Even if dynamic range is set to Auto the dynamic range will not change into extended mode as long as you are shooting in 12MP quality.

One way around this operational complexity is to use the EXR Auto mode, where you relinquish all control to the camera's computer. The camera will then drop resolution down to 6MP automatically whenever it engages extended dynamic range or needs it for noise suppression. Unfortunately, EXR Auto mode drains the battery quickly because the computer continues analyzing the image even when your finger is off the shutter button. A better way is probably to store your two most-used sets of settings in the two available custom memories; for example, Av at 12MP in C1 and Av at 6MP with extended dynamic range in C2. As we shall see later, there are other restrictions in settings with the X10 and we had some frustrating moments in the field where we couldn't "just" set the camera as we would like to and had to resort to EXR auto mode so as to not lose the shot. Too often would we then come home with 6MP images where we had wanted 12MP (but at least we got the shot)!.

The "crop factor" of the X10 is 4. In other words, a focal length of 10mm on the X10 has the same field of view as a 40mm lens on a 24x36 mm (full-frame) camera. The sensor has an area that is 6.8 times smaller that of an APS-C sized sensor like in a Pentax K-r/K-5 or X100.

Since the lens cannot be detached dust won't get on to the sensor and sensor cleaning is a non-issue.

Shake Reduction

The X10 has lens shift shake reduction (OIS, Optical Image Stabilization). A group of five lens elements "float" and compensates for minor movements of the camera. We found the system very effective.

Size, Grip and Handling

The X10 is compact, but not tiny like the Pentax Q. Here we show it next to a smartphone leaning against an FA 31mm Limited lens pouch. The Q could fit in the pouch, the X10 definitely cannot!

The X10 handles well it's got just the right size. The grip is nothing more than a bulge on the front paired with a somewhat slippery surface on the back for the thumb. Initially you may fear that the camera will slip away from you, but you soon get used to it and then the grip feels just right.

In order to attach the strap you'll have to mount the supplied triangular eyelets yourself. Since the camera is so small and light we preferred to forgo the around-the-neck strap and just attach a wrist strap.

 

Shutter

According to the specifications, the shutter is a combined mechanical and electronic shutter. It is rated from 1/4000 sec to 30 sec.  However, it has many restrictions which make it somewhat frustrating to use in anything but fully automatic exposure modes.

The first restriction we encountered was that the fastest available shutter speed drops as the aperture is opened up. We wanted to shoot at a large aperture (f/2.8) to reduce the depth of field. At ISO 100 this called for a shutter speed of 1/2500s, but the fastest speed available at f/2.8 was 1/1250s which would lead to overexposure. The manual does not explain the restrictions clearly, but through experimentation we found that at f/2 and f/2.2 the fasted speed is 1/1000s decreasing gradually to 1/4000s as the aperture is closed down. 1/4000s becomes available at f/8. There is no dependency on the focal length. This restriction is quite annoying; the Pentax Q was much better and easier to figure out in this area. The mechanical leaf shutter had restrictions but the electronic shutter was able to go to 1/8000s at any aperture.

The available shutter speed range is also limited in some of the automatic exposure and scene modes, but since the camera sets shutter speed and aperture for you, you may not notice this:

  • Night mode: 1/4s to 1/1000s 
  • Night mode on tripod: 3s - 1/1000s
  • Fireworks: 4s - 1/2s
  • P, Auto, Adv, Scene modes other than the above three: Slowest speed is 1/4s, fastest speed is 1/1000s to 1/4000s depending on the aperture

Resolution and ISO

isoThe next frustration sets in when you attempt to exploit the full ISO range or the dynamic range expansion. Here we also find restrictions and inter-dependencies between settings that makes the camera unnecessarily-hard to use. When shooting RAW, the highest available sensitivity is ISO 3200, which is pretty low by today's standards. So we gave up on RAW and switched to JPG. Initially you will find also here that sensitivity tops out at 3200. However, if you are willing to drop resolution to 6MP (called M), ISO 6400 becomes available, and if you can accept a meager 3MP resolution (called S), you get to use ISO 12,800. 

Similarly, extended dynamic range is not available unless you drop resolution to 6 MP.

The X10's sensor is therefore not up to today's standards with regards to dynamic range at full resolution, but it's still not too bad for a point-and-shoot.

Confirming the complexity of the settings, the owner's manual has a table of allowed combinations of settings which stretches over four pages! And even at that it fails to mention the coupling between fastest available shutter speed and aperture, and the coupling between resolution, ISO and dynamic range.

For anything but very specialized shooting we recommend to forgo RAW and manual settings altogether, and use the EXR auto mode. This mode analyzes the scene and actually does a very good job of selecting a good combination of shutter speed, aperture, sensitivity, resolution and dynamic range expansion. On the down side, EXR mode drains the battery quickly and you'll bring home a lot of 6 MP images (many scenes call for either dynamic range extension or noise reduction and that means that the camera drops down to 6 MP resolution). An alternative that doesn't drain the battery as fast is P (programmed exposure) mode. Here you set the resolution yourself so you can force 12 MP to be used for all images. The camera then does the rest within the limitations given by the resolution you picked.

Viewfinder and LCD Monitor

ViewfinderThe Fujifilm X10 has a nice, bright optical viewfinder. This is a big plus in strong light where it would otherwise be difficult to frame an image using the LCD monitor. The viewfinder covers about 85% of the frame. This is on the low side but you soon learn to frame a bit tighter in the viewfinder so that the image comes out about right.

At short focal lengths the lens barrel covers a corner of the viewfinder, which is somewhat bothersome at first. From about 40mm (as labeled on the lens) and up the lens barrel is not visible.

There is no exposure or auto focus information in the viewfinder. You will have to rely on the beep from the camera for focus confirmation and pay attention to the colored LED light to the right of the viewfinder.

diopter adjA diopter adjustment is available with a wide range from -3.5 to +1.5.

The LCD monitor is bright (although not the brightest we have seen) and it has an ample resolution of 460,000 pixels (half-VGA). The monitor doesn't tilt but it is viewable from an angle and we didn't miss a tilt function. 

 

SD Card, Battery and Tripod Socket

The X10 takes all three types of SD cards: SD, SDHC and SDXC. We used a Transcend 32GB class 10 card during our tests. It is inexpensive and it worked flawlessly.

The included rechargeable lithium-ion battery is rated at 1000mAh. We found the battery life on the short side, as on our first shoot we only got 90 images before the battery ran out. Granted, when you test a camera you tend to check your settings and results a lot, but still, 90 frames is quite low. Had we used EXR Auto shooting mode the result would have been worse since that mode continuously analyzes the image. Fujifilm specifies battery life as 270 frames as per the CIPA standard. The battery meter shows full until there are only a few shots left. We recommend that you purchase one or two spare batteries. You get very little forewarning before running out of power.

The battery and SD card are located behind a sturdy access door on the bottom of the camera. The tripod socket is placed off the optical axis opposite of the door so even with a tripod quick mount plate mounted you can get to battery and SD card. This is well thought-out. The tripod socket is made of metal so you run no risk of stripping the threads.

Doors

Electrical Connections

Tripod socketOn the right hand side you'll find the USB and HDMI connectors behind a tiny door made of hard plastic that matches the camera body. Some care must be exercised when opening this door or it could break off its sliding hinge.

AC power from the optional AC power supply is connected by an optional adapter that takes the place of the battery.

 

Button Layout

The camera is turned on by turning the zoom ring away from the Off mark.  This is quite clever!

expcompAll buttons and dials essential for shooting are either on the top panel or within easy reach of the left and right hand thumbs. The X10 even has a dedicated dial for exposure compensation, something that is rarely seen on digital cameras. This button, however, is too stiff and when you finally get it turning, chances are that you turn it too far. The main command dial has a push function which we liked. In M exposure mode for example, the dial can be switched between controlling the shutter speed and controlling the aperture just by a brief push.

secondarycontrolwheelThere is a second command dial surrounding the four way controller. This dial is somewhat fiddly to use, which is regrettable, since it is used for manual focus. Interestingly enough, while this retro-styled camera has a manual zoom ring on the lens barrel, it doesn't have a focus ring.

On the top panel you find a customizable Fn button. We set it to control the ISO. On the front there is an amply-sized dial for switching between single shot autofocus, continuous autofocus, and manual focus.

buttonlayout

Flash

flashThe X10 has a built-in flash as well as a standard hot shoe compatible with Fujifim's line of flashes.

The built-in flash sits very close to the optical axis of the lens which makes the red-eye effect more pronounced.

The flash can be set to always fire, to fire only when needed, or to permit synchronization with a slow shutter speed. Flash exposure compensation is available in some shooting modes. Red-eye reduction is available only if face detection is enabled and then only in three of the auto/scene modes.


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