If you’ve been with me for a while you know that I have a love/hate relationship (90% love, 10% hate) with the widely acclaimed, previous-generation Fuji X100S mirrorless camera.
Well, for Christmas, I bought myself the newer model: The Fuji X100T.
Now maybe you’re wondering: Phil, why would you buy another expensive camera that’s almost identical to one you already own (and which has flaws that drive you crazy?)
I bought the X100T because Fuji added the one feature that I thought was most critically lacking in the X100S: Face-Detection Autofocus.
If you read my previous reviews, you know how frustrated I was with the failure of the X100S to consistently focus on my portrait subjects instead of focusing on the background.
Even in a near-miraculous camera (and the Fuji really is near-miraculous), that kind of flaw is basically a deal-breaker.
So, with the addition of Face-Detection Autofocus, I figured the X100T would finally be the perfect camera I’ve been looking for.
Better, But Not Perfect
So, after shooting with the X100T for a couple of weeks, including some heavy holiday-season family photography, the results are in:
Fuji has improved the camera, but it’s still not quite the perfect, all-purpose, walk-around camera I was hoping for.
(Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect camera. So I’m holding the X100T to an impossible standard. But it’s so expensive, and so widely hailed as the world’s best digital camera, that I feel justified in being picky.)
The addition of face-detection is certainly a plus. The camera does a pretty good (although strangely inconsistent) job of locating faces in the frame, and putting a focus box on them. I say strangely inconsistent because sometimes it seems to lock onto faces, even partial faces or profiles, with almost magical precision — and others times, it just doesn’t seem to find them at all. I haven’t yet figured out the conditions required for it to always work.
In general, the face-detection is slower and less accurate than that on my Olympus OMD-E-M5, which can locate faces quicker than a dog locating bacon.
But when it does find them, its focus is dead-on and, as always, the quality of the images is superb. There is no small camera today making better people-photos than the Fuji X100 series. The skin tones are gorgeous, and if you use flash, the camera does a brilliant job of balancing the flash and ambient light.
My main frustration with the face-detection system is its speed.
I tend to shoot a lot of people-photos from the hip (not necessarily literally from the hip, but without putting my eye to the viewfinder), partly because I like to do candid street photography, and also because I have a teenger who hides any time she sees a camera pointed at her.
So my ideal camera is one that can locate faces and focus on them, without me having to raise it to my eye, press the shutter button halfway, and wait for the camera to slowly find the faces before I pull the trigger.
But the Fuji is not that fast. Most of my from-the-hip quick shots have faces in them, but the camera was not fast enough to lock focus on them before the shutter snapped.
So it fails to be the super-fast and super-sneaky street photography camera that I was hoping for.
Nevertheless, when I do take the time to frame the shot with my eye to the viewfinder, and wait for the green focus box to find a face, I can usually capture my subject in focus. This is an improvement.
And perhaps with time, I will learn to pace my candid shots, aiming the camera discretely from the hip, giving a half-press to the shutter button to wake it up… wait, wait, wait…. and then snap.
Perhaps, with practice, this kind of routine will improve my candid-photo face-detection accuracy. I’ll let you know.
Other New Features
Of course face-detection is not the only new feature in the X100T.
One addition that I’m loving is a new menu option providing three different Auto-ISO presets, where you can choose a maximum ISO, maximum aperture and minimum shutter speed, so that the camera intelligently optimizes ISO within the parameters you specify.
Having three of these pre-configured to your specifications gives you an easy way to switch modes, from say, shooting kids in action in bright sunlight, to indoor nighttime photography by candlelight, without having to set all the parameters by hand. Very clever.
One big change is the loss of the spinny control wheel on the back, now replaced by four buttons arranged in a circle. I loved that control wheel for skimming rapidly through photos, and I’m still getting used to the new method which uses the Command Dial instead.
One great thing about the Fuji is the ease with which the buttons can have new functions assigned to them. Just hold the button down for a few seconds and a menu pops up allowing you to quickly assign any one of dozens of functions to that button. It’s the easiest customization of any camera I’ve ever seen.
Overall, I’m mostly inclined to agree with the chorus of camera geeks (including Ken Rockwell, David Hobby, Zack Arias, and others) who think the Fuji X100 series are the best small cameras being made, and I might even agree with Rockwell when he calls the X100T “best digital camera in the world.”
If you factor size and portability into the equation, perhaps that’s true.
But for sheer performance, my Canon 5D3 still runs circles around it. I’ve been shooting so much with small cameras lately, I’d almost forgotten what a racehorse the 5D3 is, until I picked it up for some photos the other day and felt like I had climbed from a Subaru into a Ferrari. Solid. Fast. Accurate. Sharp.
Even the best small cameras, like the Fuji X100T, still can’t compete with high-end DSLR performance.
But then again, my Canon 5D3 won’t fit in my coat pocket, and the Fuji will.
And remember, when you buy from my Amazon links you buy me a beer!