Sometimes you come across a camera that's as much a work of art as the pictures it produces. In this case, it's the Fujifilm X10.
With a retro design, magnesium alloy body and most of the key controls moved out of the menus and onto buttons and switches scattered about the body, it's as much about the experience as it is the results.
It can be bought now for £430.
Design and build
Fujifilm's engineers have turned back the clock with the X10, as is clear the first time you pick it up. The body is finished in the kind of leather-imprinted plastic we last saw in the late 70s. This is a good thing, both making it easy to hold and taking the chill off the metal that sits beneath it.
The lens cap is a plain slip-on, slip-off affair, lined with a velvety cloth that's just thick enough to keep it wedged in place. You want the flash? Well pop it up yourself. Exposure compensation? That'll be the wheel on the right of the body marked out in 0.3EV steps, -/+2.0EV.
There's no power switch per se. Instead, you slip off the cap and twist the lens. The lens itself pops out of its rest position with a satisfying click, simultaneously extending the glass and switching it on.
We performed our tests with the X10 set to aperture priority, leaving it to decide on sensitivity and shutter speed. We found it fast and responsive in this mode, which still gave us sufficient latitude to make changes to the exposure, focus and depth of field to achieve the results we were after.
There's an optical viewfinder that zooms in sync with the 28-112mm (35mm equivalent) lens. As it's offset, rather than sampling what the lens sees, you'll have to account for this when framing subjects close at hand to avoid poorly composed shots.
Alternatively, switch to framing through the 2.8-inch rear LCD. It's bright, fine-grained and quick to refresh, and comes with some neat features. These include a built-in level guide that supplements the regular rule of thirds overlay; line it up with the horizon and tilt the camera until it changes from white to green and you're guaranteed square results.
In some instances you can't help but use the rear display. The focus mode selector is a physical switch on the front of the body, but the controls are very much screen-based. Switch to spot-focus and you can pick from 49 different focal positions and change the size of the sample. As those points aren't replicated in the viewfinder, you'd be advised to switch the rear display from information to framing mode to make use of them.
Likewise there's full manual focusing, implemented extremely effectively, not through a ring on the lens barrel, but a thumb-wheel on the back of the body. Turn it and the display automatically enlarges the central portion of your image so you can see clearly when it's pin-sharp.
Everything works so well together. Where build and design are concerned, it's easy to fall in love with the X10 and the fun you can have scouting for shots. The true value of its worth though comes only through examining what you've captured.
You can set it to shoot raw, JPEG or both together. Even if you've selected JPEG as your default, you can shoot a raw file or two without resorting to the menus, courtesy of a dedicated raw button on the back of the body. This way is always a temporary option that disappears the next time you switch off and on again.
More accomplished photographers will likely opt for raw over JPEG, but you shouldn't be put off shooting JPEGs when the card is running short of capacity. JPEG mode has a light touch, so although you're throwing away a lot of data that could otherwise be used to recover detail lost through poor exposure, there's no evidence of compression artefacts or noise.
The level of detail captured by the X10 is truly impressive -- particularly in macro mode. Minimum focusing distance is 1cm at wide angle and 50cm at full-telephoto, at which point it throws the background into a silky blur to really bring forward the detail of your subject.
Colours, in all instances, were realistic. With a choice of simulated film types you can make subtle improvements to your shots, boosting colours in landscapes by picking Velvia or opting for Astia for smoother portraits.
A particularly neat touch is the film bracketing mode, which supplements the regular exposure bracketing to shoot your subject using all three film types so you can choose later which you prefer. Beyond this are four black and white modes, which simulate filters to accentuate particular tones. They will be welcomed by more accomplished photographers who prefer to achieve the results they're after in-camera rather than in post-production.
In the image below, we have shot the same scene twice -- once using the standard Provia film simulation, which appears on the right half of the frame, and again using the more vivid Velvia film simulation on the left. As you can see when enlarged to full size (click it to load the full image), the Velvia gives the scene a considerable punch, particularly on the forest floor and tree trunks, where the fallen leaves have a richer tone and the bark is more colourful.
The lens makes great use of the available light, with a maximum aperture of f/2.0 to f/2.8, the latter of which is particularly impressive at 112mm. Combined, these let you choose very precisely which slice of your image you want to keep in focus at any zoom level.
Turning to our indoor still-life shot, we set up a collection of objects with different surface textures and colours and shot them three times: under studio lighting, ambient light and with the onboard flash. As with all cameras, it performed best under studio lighting, with realistic colours and very fine detail, right into the corners of the images.
The difference between this and the flash was extremely slight, however. Although the flash bleached out a little of the detail in flat surfaces directly facing the camera, it actually enhanced the natural grain in wooden objects and preserved the colours that we had seen under studio lighting.
When we resorted to using only the ambient light available at the time of shooting, the results were warmer than reality, with a slight amber cast. This was quickly fixed by fractionally dialling down the colour temperature to introduce a small amount of blue into the image.
Combined, these three tests capped an impressive set of results overall for the X10, whose output is certainly a match for its good looks.
The X10 puts in a great performance on the video front. As we found when taking pictures, colours were realistic and detail finely rendered. The option to simulate a film style applies here too, along with sepia and the four black and white modes. Without a wind noise reduction option though, the soundtrack was sometimes distracting.
There's no powered zoom, so if you want to change the focal length you'll need a steady hand when turning the barrel. That's not a problem, but we were surprised that we could still hear noise on the soundtrack as we zoomed in and out.
It coped extremely well with changing light levels, compensating smoothly as the sun passed directly through the lens on a smooth sweep of our surroundings and still keeping colours bright and true.
The X10 exceeded our expectations. Taking the time to learn how its advanced features work and weaning yourself off auto mode pays serious dividends, making the X10 both satisfying and fun to use. Where looks are concerned, it's a camera you'll be proud to be seen with. The output is sharp, bright and something you'll want to share with friends.
Shop around and you can pick one up for £430. That's certainly not cheap -- it's close to what you'd pay for an entry-level dSLR. But remind yourself that this is a camera you'll use -- and enjoy -- for years. It's built to last and isn't a disposable point-and-shoot from which you'll upgrade in 18 to 36 months.
We could see a camera like this keeping us happy for the rest of the decade, by which point it will have proved itself very good value indeed.