FUJIFILM X100 - Retro Digital Heaven
I remember my excitement when I saw the teaser adverts for the OG Fujifilm X100 in 2010 (launched in 2011). A quality designed & built, compact metal rangefinder, with physical dials and a genius hybrid viewfinder. It was a refreshing blend of old and new then and for some reason it's still uncontested today, with the X100V.
Black Edition Fujifilm X100 - Limited to 10000 units
So, why was the X100 so popular? Well, the X100's core design achieves everything it sets out to do. It looks like a rangefinder and it is, but with a clever digital twist. It looks like an old manual mechanical camera and it can be, but in a convinient digital way. Although it's a fixed prime lens, it's a great sweet spot that's fast and small. Anyone who wasn't already on board with that will likely understand or even love it once they realize how it helps their photography experience. The icing on the case is? It looks amazing! It's fascinating how the superficial surface elements of a product influence how we feel about a product, but it does and perhaps more so than a Leica these looks are not just for show. The more people notice the strengths of the X100 the more the sales have exploded.
Lens - High quality, fixed 35mm lens
Viewfinder - Both optical and electronic viewfinders *
Dials - All manual physical controls, with Auto option *
Design & Build - Tough metal, low profile and light
Film Simulation - Film colours from a film company
Most of these elements were established on this original model. Allowing the photography experience to be fully automated (modern), or as tactile and involved (retro) as you wish. The fun, artistic and analogue side of photography being as approachable and easy to access as possible is another huge strength of the X100 design.
Borrowing much from rangefinder style designs, but with just the right amount of modernization. This blend of tactile controls and functionality spoke to many photographers. Considering how little it has changed in the four generations (and over a decade) since, I would say that Fujifilm were inspired when they drew up the plans for this model. Recent viral tik-toks have sent the sales and second hand value through the roof. I hope this sends a message to camera designers everywhere. I dare anyone to look at the Leica M3 or Canon P and tell me they aren't great designs. The X100 leans into this inspiration hard and is much better for it!
The simple metal chassis, tiny high-quality lens and gorgeous manual dials are great, but what really makes this design more than a retro knock-off is its clever viewfinder implementation. The combination of optical and electronic viewfinder make it an absolute dream to use. Want to use it like a modern camera and chimp your shots? Sure. Prefer to relax and use full manual dials, without screens? No problem. Either approach is surprisingly quick to switch to and simple to use.
The Fuji sensors used in the X100 series have evolved a little over time, but they have always been great. Hand-held night shots were surprisingly good back in 2011, so if you're going for a newer model they will be more than capable. Colour reproduction has always been very pleasing to me and the film simulation modes that you get in the newer models will keep Instagramers happy.
Personally I find the 35mm focal length a great sweet spot for travel and general photography. The fast aperture has nice depth of field for portraits and is highly capable in low light scenarios. If you're someone who thinks they can't live without a zoom I guarantee this camera will improve your photography! This is better than most separate 35mm f/2 lenses around, but that's good because you are stuck with it. The lens got a slight refresh in the X100V, making it better for macro, but it has always had stellar performance. Even wide open it's pretty sharp right to the corners and surprisingly void of aberrations.
My original Fujifilm X100
This older style of camera grip (or lack there of) will be a mixed bag for various users. Its compact style focuses on looks over grip comfort and negatively impacts battery life, but it's also unobtrusive on a neck strap and fits easily in smaller bag compartments. It's build may not be 1950's brick level, but it's satisfyingly sturdy for post 2010. The only addition I would like to see is a flip-out screen. If you could turn it around to protect if from knocks, while also leaving it in photo purist mode it could be great, although it might add a bit more bulk than the simple tilt screen seen on the X100V. The first four versions had static screens, which feel restrictive today.
The original X100 can shoot infrared images hand-held without conversion and that is extremely rare! All you need is the AX-100 adapter ring, a 49mm 720nm infrared filter, some decent sunlight and you're good to go. You will be limited to using the lens wide open, higher ISO values (800-3200) and slow shutter speeds (1/15th), but it works. The lens does suffer from hotspot a bit, which you can see on the tree (below), but this doesn't show up badly too often. I don't know how well this works on the later versions of the X100 unfortunately, so if you have tried this let me know how it works. You can see more infrared examples after the verdict.
I adore this camera! The fact that this model has kept going all these years and with so few changes is a testament to how great the initial concept was. The updates are mostly subtle, but there have been some really nice "quality of life" additions over the last twelve years. Improved button positions, extra control & ISO dials, bigger tilting rear screen, cleaner contoured grip and of course all the technology has slowly moved on as well, but hopefully you can see how capable the original model still is still today.
The original X100 had great build & image quality, a solid lens, lovely dials and a stunning hybrid viewfinder! It really inspires you to get out, shoot and have fun. If you're interested in an X100 now I'd recommend one of the newer versions. Battery life has improved some, film simulation modes a lot and AF a ton, but this series has always been great! I sold my original X100 for the same price I paid a decade ago (not surprised), I immediately regretted it and ended buying another one... ready to compare to the X100Z...