Cameras

Fujifilm X10 Review

The X10 is Fuji’s latest attempt in the enthusiast photographer market.

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Introduction

It’s been a strong year for Fujifilm. They’ve launched a number of well-received higher-end shooters, including the HS20EXR and F600EXR long zooms, and especially the X100 premium compact. Each of these have had some pretty notable flaws, but they have also earned a loyal fan base by following a different path than any of the bigger industry names.

The X10 is Fuji’s latest attempt in the enthusiast photographer market. This new X10 is basically a pared-down version of the X100, offering styling and design similar to its elder sibling, but with a much more palatable price tag. Meant to compete directly with the Canon G12 and the Nikon P7100 prosumer compacts, the $599 X10 is a retro-fied, rangefinder-esque take on this niche genre. But good looks won’t matter if the X10 turns out to be a well-designed paperweight, so it's time to get the X10 to the lab to test its performance.

Design & Usability

The Fuji X10 handles well and offers tons of control.

As far as advanced compacts go, the X10 handles well. It's a heavy hunk of metal, and while there's enough grip and texture to hang onto, it's a little bit too cumbersome for comfortable one-handed operation. This is a compact camera in the sense that it can fit into a roomy jacket pocket. It won't attract too much attention on the street either... although on some level it's officially odd to see a person looking through a camera's viewfinder these days. The X10 is heavy, so Fujifilm wisely packaged a shoulder strap, which is probably the most comfortable way to carry it.

A smooth and efficient manual-control setup—particularly by compact standards.

The X10 has a full range of PASM manual controls, complemented by a heap of external controls, including direct-access keys for metering, autofocus type, white balance, and RAW capture. There's also a programmable function key (set by default to ISO, but it can be assigned to any number of settings), a command (jog) dial, a sub-command dial, an exposure compensation dial, and a focus-mode selector. It's a smooth and efficient manual-control setup—particularly by compact standards.

Even better, there are also fine controls for white balance shift, color saturation, sharpness, highlight tone, shadow tone, and noise reduction in the menu. That's as much in-camera tinkering as you'll be able to do with a compact cam. The pickiest JPEG shooters should be able to find at least one setting that makes them happy.

Features

An excellent combination of hardware in a compact package

The X10 is one of the few compacts that comes equipped with a built-in optical viewfinder. Unfortunately it’s not the same hybrid optical/electrical finder that we loved on the X100, but a tunnel-style finder, set right above the LCD, and predictably next to the diopter adjustment dial. It covers a respectable 85% of the true field of view, which is more than either the Nikon P7100 or the Canon G12. The finder zooms along with the actual lens, too, to keep framing as accurate as possible, but it’s not as bright or clear as full finders on interchangeable lens cameras.

Among the other viewfinder-equipped, bulky high-end compacts, the X10’s screen specs are the most ho-hum.

Compared to the viewfinder, the LCD isn’t too exciting. It’s a 2.8-inch, 460k-pixel, fixed display—nothing special on a $600 camera. Among the other viewfinder-equipped, bulky high-end compacts, the X10’s screen specs are the most ho-hum. The Canon G12’s screen is the same size and resolution, but it’s on a tilt-and-swivel hinge, and the Nikon P7100 has a larger, higher-res display.

A nice, bright lens is another centerpiece of the X10’s design. It’s an all-glass, f/2.0-2.8, 28-112mm equivalent, Fujinon piece with 11 elements in 9 groups. That’s about as fast as a compact-cam lens gets, right in the wheelhouse with enthusiast favorites like the Canon S100 (f/2.0), Olympus XZ-1 (f/1.8), and most other RAW-shooting high-end compacts. (It’s also worth noting that the Canon G12 and Nikon P7100 both start at an average f/2.8.) It’s a huge part of the X10’s excellent low-light performance, and it also helps it achieve a shallow depth-of-field—at least by point-and-shoot standards.

Performance

The X10 has some notable performance quirks to be aware of, but nothing that should scare you off entirely.

The Fujifilm X10 combines a great f/2.0-2.8 zoom lens with a 2/3-inch EXR CMOS image sensor, and there is no shortage of physical control. This camera is a solid low light performer, offering shallow depth of field that can compete with just about every advanced compact on the market.

We were also a little put off by the X10's skimpy battery.

The X10 also had excellent noise performance and sharpness scores. We were a bit dismayed by the relatively poor color accuracy, though, and a spotty white balance and a hit-or-miss autofocus system put a damper on things, too. We were also a little put off by the X10's skimpy battery, which managed just around 250 shots per charge, by our count. That's not an official number, but it was noticeably less than other advanced compact cameras on the market. The X10 is very fast though, able to focus and shoot at around 6.69 frames per second, for around 7 shots at a time.

No Fuji X10 review is complete without addressing the "white orb" problem: The X10 sometimes reproduces highlights as exaggerated white blobs. In one of our sample photos, for example, a car's headlights appear as perfectly round, over-sized circles with defined edges—very bizarre, and destructive to your photo's quality. This issue has been the root of much ire on various Fuji message boards around the web since the camera came out. Fuji promised that a firmware update would fix the problem, but it failed, so this could be a hardware-related problem. We honestly didn't notice it during the course of our testing; it wasn't a factor in our lab tests, and we didn't notice it in our own sample photos until a user pointed it out. We sifted through about 200 other sample photos that we didn't use for the review, and could only find it cropping up in a few places, and probably only found those because we were looking for them. It's a weird quirk, but we stand by our test scores—it shouldn't be a deal-breaker for most buyers.

Conclusion

There are plenty of options on the advanced compact camera market and the Fuji X10 is right up there with the best of them.

The Fujifilm X10 is an excellent camera. On paper and in practice, it checks off all the boxes that serious photographers look for in a high-end point-and-shoot: optical viewfinder, tons of buttons, dials, and manual control, RAW capture, reliable auto mode, great image quality, solid build, and even a twist-barrel zoom and power switch—that last item is probably something that most of the target audience didn't even know that they wanted, but it works well.

As the bottom half of the point-and-shoot market quickly erodes, the advanced compact camera segment grows.

All that anybody could reasonably complain about is that the X10 isn't as small as the Canon S100, it doesn't have an articulating screen like the Canon G12, it doesn't have a hybrid viewfinder like the Fuji X100, and it doesn't have a zoom range like the Nikon P7100. As the bottom half of the point-and-shoot market quickly erodes, the advanced compact camera segment grows. With every company competing for consumers here, there's no end to the high-quality options for consumers to choose from.

But any reasonable person knows that no camera can be everything to everybody. The X10 is designed to be a versatile, high-quality compact, and it succeeds. It performed very well in our lab tests, among the highest we've seen from any fixed-lens camera. We recommend the Fuji X10.

Science Introduction

After extensive testing in both the lab and in the field, we're very impressed with the capabilities of the Fuji X10's sharp f/2.0-2.8 zoom lens. We were also happy with the final image quality for most of our sample photos, especially those in low light. We would really like to see Fuji rein in two issues, though: focus inaccuracy and the white orb problem. While the former can likely be fixed with some firmware wrangling, the latter displays a possible issue with Fuji's sensor-level design, as runaway blooming is an issue that simply doesn't pop up with most modern digital sensors. Those issues aside, however, the Fuji X10 is a fine camera that earns our recommendation.

Color Accuracy

Color accuracy isn't the worst problem with the X10, but it lags behind the field.

The X10 has acceptable color accuracy, but at this price, it should be better. We measured a minimum color error of 3.41, which is disappointing, and 106% saturation, which is fine. Light blues, reds, and yellows are the most exaggerated shades, but several others are a few nibbles away from ideal levels.

Color accuracy is not a major problem for most shooters. Oversaturated, vibrant colors tend to simply look better and Fuji has made it their stock-in-trade to replicate the look of famous film stocks with their digital cameras. Color accuracy isn't the be-all, end-all of camera performance metrics, but the inability to capture accurate colors when necessary can be a real problem, especially when you want flatter, more realistic tones for portraits.

Noise Reduction

The large 2/3'' CMOS sensor in the Fuji X10 produces great results in low light.

The X10 performed well in our noise tests—no surprise, since its 2/3" CMOS sensor is the largest chip in any current fixed-lens compact. We did expect a higher final score, but looking at the real-life crops, we can't find much to complain about at all. Shots up through ISO 3200 (the highest full-res sensitivity) are arguably clean enough for making large prints and for full-size digital viewing as well. Chroma noise stayed consistent among all the color channels, while luma noise is notably higher.

While we aren't counting EXR mode performance as part of our official score, it's worth pointing out that the X10 shows less noise when the EXR High ISO Low Noise setting is activated. This mode cuts the resolution in half and uses a different processing technique to prevent graininess, and it works. The X10 earned a total noise score of 15.31 with this setting, a notch better than its official score of 13.94.

Noise reduction is adjustable in the camera as well. Since we tested the X10 on a point-and-shoot rubric, we left the noise reduction at its default setting (Standard). Had we ratcheted it up to Medium High or High, it probably would've earned a higher score, though the shots would lose fine detail at higher ISO settings. Shooters who prefer to correct their JPEGs by hand can drop the NR down to Medium Low or Low.

Resolution

The f/2.0-2.8 lens captures detail very well, with the camera's internal processing providing quite a bit of help around the edges.

The X10 resolves an excellent amount of detail. We measured up to 2100 lw/ph at MTF50 at the widest focal length, dropping off modestly at the middle and telephoto lengths. The lowest MFT50 we measured was 750 lw/ph, toward the edge of the frame at the middle focal length—a respectable showing, for sure. The processor does appear to add a bit of pixel sharpening to edges, but it's subtle.

Our official scores come from testing the X10 in program mode, but we also ran our resolution tests on the EXR Resolution Priority mode. We found no measurable difference, and we're pretty confident that the EXR Resolution Priority mode is exactly the same thing as regular auto or program mode (or any manual mode, for that matter). No big deal, but don't expect any sharper shots just by switching to the EXR notch on the mode dial.

We also ran our sharpness tests at a few additional apertures, which we don't typically do with point-and-shoots. Most lenses are sharper when they're stopped down a few notches, especially when the maximum aperture is as wide as the f/2.0 setting on the X10. Our official test shots were all taken at the widest possible apertures for each focal length, but even just backing off to f/2.8 helped a great deal, and f/4 seemed to be as good as it got.

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