Cigar Aficionado

You know the Fujifilm FinePix X100 is unusual the minute you lay eyes on it. The camera looks like an old Leica rangefinder. There’s an optical viewfinder on the left side (who includes optical viewfinders on compact cameras?). And there are dials for setting aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation. Didn’t Fujifilm get the memo that we’re supposed to muck around in annoying on-screen menu systems if we want to change settings by hand?

Next in the cavalcade of peculiarity: the lens. It doesn’t zoom, and you can’t swap it out for a lens that does. This is the kind of old-school lens that makes photo enthusiasts drool. It’s largely distortion-free and very fast—at f/2.0, it’s ideal for low-light and nighttime photography.

Another oddity lies under the hood: its 12.3-megapixel image sensor is the same size you’d find in a full-size digital SLR. Combined with that superb lens, the X100 delivers professional-quality images in a camera you can carry anywhere.

The shooting experience is mostly a pleasure. The camera handles well, and the rear LCD display can be customized, from a clean shooting environment to one overlaid with such setting details as a grid for precisely lining up shots and even an on-screen level indicator.

Fujfilm created a unique hybrid viewfinder system combining the best of optics and electronics. The optical viewfinder lets you see everything clearly, even when brilliant sunlight makes the LCD hard to read. Thanks to clever engineering, electronic data can be displayed as an overlay on that optical image. Sometimes, though, an optical viewfinder falls short —if you’re shooting a tight close-up, for example, and need to see exactly what’s in the shot. In that case, just flick a switch and a fully electronic display, same as on the rear LCD, is displayed in the eyepiece.

Then why “mostly a pleasure”? The rear command dial is hard to press accurately and the settings menu disappears too quickly. Autofocus isn’t as fast or accurate as it should be, and it can feel sluggish between shots.

The price is another oddity for a compact camera. At $1,200, it’s in line with a mid-level SLR. But, thanks to top-tier photo quality, easy-to-operate manual controls, innovative viewfinder technology and great portability, serious shutterbugs are snatching these off store shelves as soon as they arrive.