With the advent of the very small interchangeable-lens compact-system cameras some industry observers predicted the end of the high-end digicam with built-in lens. That may seem to be a logical prediction because such cameras are certainly very portable and full-featured. But when you attach the standard zoom lens, every one of those becomes relatively large and heavy. That’s why several manufacturers are still making prosumer-grade cameras with a high-grade built-in lens and an optical viewfinder.
The 12-megapixel Fujifilm Finepix X10 ($600, street price) is the latest in this category and it should be particularly attractive to DSLR owners who do not always want to travel with a lot of gear. This camera provides some significant benefits over the family-oriented digicams, including more rugged construction, a much larger sensor for better high ISO quality, a superior lens with much wider apertures, an optical viewfinder plus DSLR-style controls and capabilities. The X10 also benefits from Fujifilm’s unique EXR technology that can provide better JPEGs at high ISO or in high contrast lighting.
Construction and Technology
Average in size/weight (350 g) for the high-end category this handsome camera with some die cast magnesium components features a small handgrip and resembles a classic rangefinder. It also sports two traditional metal mechanical dials as well as the familiar digital dials and many well-marked buttons. The engineers specified a superior, all-glass lens for the X10, with mechanical (not powered) zooming. It’s a Fujinon Super EBC 28-112 mm equivalent with unusually fast f/2-f/2.8 apertures plus two extra-low dispersion and three aspherical elements. The wide apertures and the image stabilizer make the X10 useful in dark locations when a tripod or flash cannot be used.
The LCD screen is a tad small at 2.8″ but produces a very good display with 460,000-dot resolution. But the zooming optical viewfinder is particularly impressive. It provides an unusually crisp, clear and bright view of the scene with no apparent distortion because it’s made of glass (not plastic) and features a Dach prism with three aspherical elements. The zoom lens barrel does intrude into the view at long focal lengths, and scene coverage is only 85%, but this viewfinder is perhaps the best in a camera with a built-in lens.
The (8.8 x 6.6 mm) 12-megapixel EXR-CMOS sensor is roughly twice as large as the chips used in most cameras with built-in lens allowing for larger pixels for better high ISO quality. The EXR processor, with two CPUs, is fast providing a 7 frames per second (or at 10 fps at 6-MP resolution) drive mode, fast contrast-detect autofocus, as well as Raw, JPEG and Full HD 1080p video capture. As a bonus, in-camera Raw conversion to JPEG is also available, as a feature in Playback mode.
Fujifilm’s unique EXR sensor includes diagonally-aligned twin pixels of the same colour making EXR options possible. The standard EXR mode is HR (High Resolution), ideal for 12-megapixel photos in well-lit scenes. However, the X10 can combine pairs of pixels to produce surprisingly fine 6-MP images at high ISO (SN: High Sensitivity and Low Noise mode) or with greater detail in highlight and shadow areas (DR: Wide Dynamic Range mode). Activate the EXR feature and you can set the EXR option you want to use or allow the camera to do that, using its scene recognition and motion detection technology.
Since the X10 targets experienced photographers, you’ll find a hot shoe for an optional flash unit, a wealth of operating modes and many functions and overrides. The most useful include seven Film Simulation (picture style) modes that provide entirely different effects, a live histogram and electronic level gauge, convenient manual focus and Raw capture mode. Important overrides include Dynamic Range (100% to 400%), bracketing for WB, exposure, ISO and dynamic range, and many options for levels control for Sharpness, Highlight and Shadow tone, and Noise Reduction.
This camera is intelligently designed with many aspects that will seem quite intuitive to DSLR owners. Granted, some of the high tech features do require reference to the instruction manual for a full appreciation of their value. My own favourite feature is the Motion Panorama mode that can provide 180, 240 or 360 degree coverage of a scene. Simply press the button and pan horizontally or vertically, taking a long series of photos. The processor then micro aligns the many JPEGs and stitches them into one long image.
Speed and Quality
I was testing an early pre-production sample which was very slow recover from Sleep mode but that should be solved with the final firmware. In other respects, such as the 7 fps Drive mode and JPEG processing—even for panorama photos—the X10 was very fast. Autofocus was reliable even in dark cathedrals but the sample I used was not ideal for tracking the fast motion of marathon runners. Admittedly a camera with a 28-112 mm lens is more likely to be used for landscape, travel and portrait photos than it is for shooting sports action.
At default settings—without the many overrides that can provide entirely different effects—the Finepix X10 produced JPEGs with accurate exposure, high sharpness, rich colours and very high contrast. It was essential to avoid making an exposure that would render light tones as overly bright, with a loss of texture. With the pre-production sample that I used, a -1/3 EV exposure compensation and the 200% dynamic range option provided the best overall effect for scenes including both dark and light tones. My low ISO photos allowed me to make excellent 13 x 19″ prints while JPEGs made at ISO 1600 were suitable for good letter size prints. For even better high ISO quality (without DR EXR mode), it’s worth switching to Raw capture mode.
The two 6-megapixel EXR modes were very useful when I was shooting in dark cathedrals with extreme contrast between dark areas and the extremely bright windows. The SN EXR option produced “clean” JPEGs at ISO 2500, so there was no need to use a tripod. But I found the DR EXR mode particularly valuable. This one provided a significant increase in detail in bright stained-glass windows and a slight improvement in shadow detail. While resolution with both of these EXR modes is only 6 megapixels, that’s plenty at low ISO for a very nice 11 x 15″ print. Even the ISO 2500 photos made excellent letter-size prints thanks to the fine image quality.
Fujifilm also makes another camera with rangefinder styling and a similar feature set, the larger/heavier Finepix X100. That very highly rated model boasts a much larger (23.4 x 15.6 mm) sensor for even better image quality, a non-zooming 23-mm f/2 lens, an optical/electronic viewfinder and different controls/operating sequences. By contrast, the Finepix X10 is not quite as impressive at high ISO levels but it’s more portable, more convenient to operate and more versatile because of its zoom lens.
Although the X10 includes fully automatic modes, it’s really intended for photo enthusiasts who appreciate advanced equipment, perhaps as a portable alternative to their DSLRs for some occasions. Its absolutely superb wide aperture lens and optical viewfinder definitely put it a cut above much of the competition. In fact, the 28-112 mm lens provides excellent quality even in the corners of images made at f/2 to f/2.8. In my estimation, the Fujifilm Finepix X10 will certainly satisfy experienced photographers with its classic styling, some traditional controls, convenient manual focus, solid construction, valuable EXR technology and great versatility.
Pros and Cons
+ Classy rangefinder-like styling; two mechanical dials
+ EXR technology for clean JPEGs at high ISO or great dynamic range
+ Very fast lens with outstanding optical quality
+ Superior optical viewfinder
+ Many DSLR-style features and controls; straightforward operation
+ Great versatility and speed
– Pre-production sample produced some loss of highlight detail in high contrast scenes
– An even larger sensor would allow for larger pixels
Noteworthy Fujifilm Finepix X10 Features
- Fujinon 28-112 mm equivalent f/2-2.8 mechanically zooming lens with superior optical formula + image stabilizer
- Optical zooming viewfinder with glass prism, three aspherical elements, 85% scene coverage
- Fixed 2.8-inch LCD with 460,000-dot resolution
- Relatively large (8.8 x 6.6 mm) 12-megapixel EXR-CMOS sensor for Raw or JPEG or 1080p video capture
- Unique EXR technology for low noise at high ISO or great highlight/shadow detail
- Many modes: P, A, S, M, Panorama, Auto, 16 Scene modes, Panorama, Pro Focus and Pro Low Light
- Four light-metering patterns
- Three colour and four monochrome Film Simulation modes
- Many overrides, including exposure, ISO, WB, Dynamic Range, Noise Reduction, tonal range, bracketing for any of four parameters
- Continuous shooting to 7 fps; 10 fps at 6 MP
- High speed 49-point AF with Face Detection and Recognition, AF-S and AF-C modes + convenient manual focus
- Built-in Super Intelligent flash & hot shoe
- Other features include histogram and electronic level display, Best Frame Capture, Silent mode, in-camera red-eye fix and Raw conversion,
- Size/weight: 350 g; 117 x 69.6 x 56.8 mm