Great X-pectations: Fujifilm X100V

Fujifilm’s new products and a look back at the X100

Fujifilm have just announced a slew of new products live from their X Summit 2020 at the House of Photography in London (a sort of Fujifilm experience/concept store in Covent Garden).

Most noteworthy is the new X100V, the fifth-generation X100 camera and the first to feature a re-designed 23mm f/2 lens and weather sealing (hooray!). While the AV might not have been the best for the live feed of the product announcements, what came through clearly was Fujifilm’s passion for the products, particularly the X100 series.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the X100 for Fujifilm. It is the camera that (re)started it all for them and gave Fuji a relevance in the digital era that was otherwise missing. I was a proud and eager early adopter of the original X100 way back in 2011. 

It started out as a quirky proof of concept for Fujifilm, but after many firmware updates, became a serious and reliable photographic tool that spawned the incredibly successful X Series of cameras. 

This can’t be emphasised enough: without a successful X100, there would be no X-Pro, X-T3 or GFX cameras and we’d be stuck using electronic gadgets made by Sony instead of real cameras.

It’s almost strange to remember a time when the X Series wasn’t part of Fujifilm’s photographic portfolio, but it wasn’t that long ago that they were a consumer also-ran. Then it all changed a decade ago…

Photokina 2010

Photokina 2010 was the trade show that changed everything — not only for Fujifilm, but for digital photography more generally. Although Photokina had been home to more than its fair share of ground-breaking product announcements, Fujifilm’s reveal of the Finepix X100 caught the imagination unlike anything before or since. 

Its spec sheet ticked so many of the boxes photographers had wanted for years in a compact camera: large sensor? Check. Optical viewfinder? Check. Fast lens? Check. Compact body? Check. But Fujifilm’s engineers weren’t content to leave it there. The inclusion of a hybrid optical viewfinder and electronic viewfinder blew mine and many photographers’ minds and became one of the key points of difference between the X100 and other contemporary (and less successful) large sensor compacts such as the Leica X1 (no relation) and Sigma DP1. Assuming the X100 made it to market, this would be a winner.

It’s important to keep in mind that, up until Photokina 2010, Fujifilm was known mainly for their decent, if uninspiring compact cameras and rebadged Nikon SLRs (renowned for their colour reproduction). The X100 was very left field for latter-day Fujifilm and must have been an incredibly risky proposition for the company. Fortunately — and spoiler alert for those who have been under a rock for the past decade — it paid off.

“operational oddities, quirks and…bugs” meet Kaizen

On release, the X100 was praised for its design and image quality, but criticised for its “numerous” quirks and flaws. In their conclusion to their X100 review, DPReview repeated the work “quirk” seven times and even offered an entire appendix of “Bugs, quirks and eccentricities”.

While lesser companies would ‘solve’ these issues by releasing new products, Fujifilm instead offered firmware updates to existing products under the philosophy of Kaizen (改善), meaning continuous improvement. Almost unheard of in the photographic market, Fujifilm released their final major firmware update for the X100 in 2013, over three years after its initial announcement — with minor updates released, rather unbelievably, up to in 2015!! So substantial was this update, that it was numbered Version 2.00. Compared to my first years with the X100, this new firmware essentially gave owners a brand new camera with many of the advantages of later models at zero cost to the user.

If the specs sheet sold me on the idea of the X100, Kaizen made me fall in love with Fujifilm.

A photographic tool for the ages

I’ve captured so many important milestones in my life with my X100. For many years, it remained my go-to camera, even as its 12 megapixel sensor became less and less impressive in comparison to the competition.

My graduation, my wedding, the birth of my first child…it was there for all those moments because the design and functionality of this camera made it the best tool for the job. And with each iterative revision of the X100 series, the designers and engineers at Fujifilm have made the camera even better. Their latest release represents both the best of the new and old, adding functionality where possible (and required), but preserving the spirit which made the series such a hit in the first place.

In fact, while the original X100 deliberately channelled the design and aesthetics of the 35mm film rangefinders of yore (particularly Leica), the series has become a design icon in its own right, with many articles on the new X100V discussing what changes have been made to this “classic” camera. I bet you can’t name another digital camera that can claim (and deserves) the title of a “classic”!

X100 Through the Years

X and G and oh myy!

These days, I’m a very happy X-Pro2 user and have been delighted to see Fujifilm’s products develop and mature over the past decade. The passion of Fujifilm’s product developers and designers is contagious, as was seen today at the announcement and is particularly visible in two great behind-the-scenes videos focusing on the development of the GFX100 and X-Pro3.

Although I can’t agree with all the design choices made with the X-Pro3 (I’m looking at you, unusable LCD screen!), it’s clear they were made with a clear love for photography and a real zeal for cameras.

Fujifilm is now a serious player in mirrorless photography. Their focus on premium cameras has put them in good stead in a declining market. As the latest CIPA numbers indicate, the camera industry is in serious decline, but the value of mirrorless cameras shipped is going up slightly, suggesting enthusiast and premium models continue to sell.

It’s a tough market out there, but Fujifilm has made themselves a beacon for photographers in a market that is trending towards a gadgetry and technology focus. They continue to focus on product and photographers and for that, they have my support and, more importantly, my money!

Oh, and I think my X100 will soon find its way into someone else’s hands…not bad for a nine year-old digital camera.

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