When we went to Disney World in 2019, wanting something other than my phone to take nice vacation photos, I bought a Sony RX100 VA, a great, pocketable compact camera with a solid Zeiss lens. (During Covid, I’ve been using it as my video conferencing camera.)
But when we went to Cape May two weeks ago, I wanted something a little closer to my Leica Q in size and quality, but less stealable and more resistant to sand and water.
DPReview has a good summary of the basics of this camera, which they call “the most capable prime-lens compact camera ever.” For me, the interesting bits are the fixed lens, the mostly manual controls, the hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, and Fuji’s signature “film simulation” modes.
Almost every digital camera I’ve used has some special picture modes, like “vivid,” “soft,” or “B&W,” applying some basic color grading or effects in-camera for folks who aren’t going to edit or process their shots later. When shooting in JPEG, Fuji’s film simulations are like that but patterned after classic Fuji film stocks. For example, the camera’s “vivid” mode is called Velvia, designed to emulate Fuji’s classic Kodachrome-alternative color reversal film. However, when shooting RAW, the film simulations are set up as different camera profiles — and, unlike with JPEG, you can apply or change them post-shoot in Lightroom.
But part of the fun of this camera is trying to not spend as much time in Lightroom, and instead just trust what comes out of the camera. One set of black and white modes is patterned after Fuji’s ACROS film stock, and you can set it to be more sensitive to red, green, or yellow, which result in different looks depending on the scene.
I was never a film photographer, so I have no particular nostalgia for classic film stocks. But as part of the Instagram/Hipstamatic generation of mobile photographers, I do like to see nice, opinionated, retro-style color grading, and these film emulation modes work very well for that purpose, especially if you use Fuji’s app to transfer JPEG photos to your phone.
A beach trip seems right in this camera’s wheelhouse. In addition to great color — lots of rich blue skies and warm skin tones — the Fuji also has a fast 1/4000 sec maximum shutter speed and can shoot in burst mode at up to 11 fps, great for capturing decisive moments or kid/pet antics.
Even though I have a perfectly great camera on my iPhone, I like to carry a small camera around whenever possible to capture photos of interesting signs, architecture, bits of light. (Also, in these unusual times, it’s a lot faster and easier to switch on a physical camera than unlock my phone with my masked face.) In the Before Times, I would take snapshots while walking to work in Manhattan.
Nowadays the scenery doesn’t change that often, but when I have a chance to see someplace new I make sure to bring a camera along. A few days ago I had to drive into Newark and got these shots of these awesome, sun-bleached storefronts.
Fuji X100V vs the Leica Q series
My frame of reference for this camera is, as I said, my Leica Q, a camera that costs more than three times as much, with a bigger sensor and a bigger, faster lens. These two cameras get compared a lot because they’re two of a tiny number of compact, point-and-shoot style cameras with professional-grade lenses and sensors, and the X100 series and Leica Q series are by far the most popular of these.
I haven’t tried very hard to compare the two cameras, but I did take one test shot on each one, standing in the same place in town and trying to cover roughly the same angle.
Honestly, I was expecting more of a difference. But the two photos seem equally well exposed and equally sharp. I know from experience that the Leica has a bit more latitude — a bit better low-light performance, a bit less contrast in bright light — and if you look closely, you can see a few details in the Leica shot that aren’t quite as nice on the Fuji. In particular, look at the twinkle lights and other shadow details in the outdoor-dining tent — they look okay on the Fuji shot, but colors seem richer and shapes more defined on the Leica.
The Q is almost as portable as the X100V — or, put another way, the Fuji is slightly more portable than the already-portable pro compact camera I’m used to. I walk around my neighborhood with a Peak Design Everyday Sling bag packed with hand sanitizers, masks, water, and gear for my dog, as well as a camera. One nice thing about the Fuji is that its fixed lens is slightly shorter than my Leica’s, freeing up a few cubic inches of space in my walking-around bag.
This YouTube review by TheSnapChick compares the Fuji head-to-head with the newer Leica Q2 which features 45 megapixels(!) of resolution and a more weather-sealed design. She ultimately concludes that the Leica is her preferred go-to camera, but I think it’s a strong endorsement of the X100V that it was a close call, given how powerful (and expensive) the Q2 is.
Retro-Style Camera, Modern Features
I don’t buy cameras more than every five years or so, so maybe certain features have been around for a while — I’d have no fucking idea. 🤷🏻♂️
Anyway, one of the X100V’s best quality-of-life features is really simple: it has a USB-C port that can charge the battery. Of course, charging the battery with the USB port isn’t new; the Sony NEX-6 I bought in 2013 could do that, though annoyingly, my Leica can’t. But the port being USB-C means I can use the same cable as I carry for my laptop and the same backup battery I carry for my iPad and Nintendo Switch.
The Fuji pairs with my phone via Bluetooth, which allows the camera to synchronize its clock and pull in geotag information when I take pictures. This, too, is a new-to-me feature and probably isn’t a revolutionary one — the Q2 (released in 2019) has it too, and Leica tends to be a few years behind the curve on that sort of thing.
While I like using Bluetooth for time and location syncing, I had to disable Fuji’s “auto-transfer” feature that periodically sends new photos to my phone. The camera will only transfer JPEGs, only over its built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, and if it’s not able to copy everything to the phone, it will keep trying every time you turn the camera off. Annoying!
That said, The X100V’s Wi-Fi transfer feature is nice for getting nicer photos into your camera roll for Instagram, provided you know its limitations and can work within them.
Conclusions? We don’t need no stinking conclusions — what is this, The Verge?
Seriously, my conclusion is what you could get from DPReview, Wired, or Engadget — it’s a good camera, Brent. The X100 series’ reputation as “fun” cameras is well deserved. If anything is less than great about the X100V, it’s that the sheer number of ways to get good images out of it can feel overwhelming.
There are manual controls for every significant setting, plus quick menus, touch commands, and function buttons. You can set the camera up for your perfect workflow, with sensible defaults if you don’t want to do that. I like the Q’s (relatively) minimal design because you have manual control over the most important things. Leica’s design is opinionated — really, the best way to use a Leica camera is to ’trust the glass’ and just focus on getting a good exposure. In fact, some of my worst Leica shots were taken when I’d fussed with one setting or another then forgot to change it when the lighting situation changed.
This Fuji is similar in that you’ll have a great time if you can avoid getting in your own way with all the switches and knobs. But Fuji also has done a good job of surfacing more controls that are important to capturing great images, especially exposure compensation and ISO, which have their own dedicated dials. I rarely set ISO to anything other than automatic, and exposure comp is almost always -1/3 stop, but when I want to change them, I can do it without a trip to the menu. In fact, it’s easy to change them without taking my eye off the viewfinder, which is pretty badass.
All in all, I had fun shooting with the X100V on our vacation, have continued having fun carrying it around town, and am looking forward to the shots I’ll get over the rest of the summer.