Fujifilm X100F Review: Magic Maker

With the recent improvements in smartphone photography, the case for standalone cameras has become shakier than ever. Smartphones are always connected, always with you, and now with augmented reality effects to boot. Portrait mode has replaced the expensive wide aperture lenses for most people. What would you need a standalone camera for?

When I saw the Fujifilm X100F though, it was love at first sight. There’s something special about this camera that draws you in — the brushed magnesium alloy body, the gorgeously crafted mechanical dials, the textured leather grip, the archetypal camera design — they all add to a product greater than the sum of its parts, not unlike a finely crafted luxury wristwatch. The retro body with all the latest tech is like a classic Cadillac with a Tesla touchscreen and self-driving inside, a concoction marrying the best of analog and digital.

35mm equivalent lens: Fixed but versatile

The most difficult decision you have to make with the Fuji X100F is embracing the 23mm (35mm full-frame equivalent) fixed focal length. I thought hard whether this would be suited for my type of photography which focuses on everyday scenes. I made the jump when I realized that my smartphone is also essentially a 28mm fixed lens, and that having the choice to switch lenses will simply add to the mental load and distract me from the core task of capturing moments.

The focal length has proven to be versatile for all kinds of situations, a jack of all trades and master of some. From my experience, I found it especially well-suited for environmental portraits and get-togethers, as well as street and night photography. It’s also close to the purported focal length of the human eye (42mm full-frame equivalent), making images look natural and realistic. It’s wide enough to take in landscapes, yet narrow enough to focus on your subject. It’s even decent for macro shots. The only shots I think you’ll miss here will be super telephoto (spectator/wildlife) and ultrawide (architecture/astro) shots.

Sample photos from the Fuji X100F

This flexibility coupled with the camera’s portability also make it an ideal travel companion. If you want to take in that building or landscape, you take one step back. If you want to hone in on a portrait, you walk one or two steps forward. That’s the great thing about fixed lenses — it essentially marries you to your focal length, and you start seeing the world from that angle. It weens you off your zoom lever and forces you to zoom with your feet and fully engage with your subject.

Controls and hybrid viewfinder: An ergonomic dream

The excellent mechanical controls further deepen that engagement. Having quick, accessible rings and dials to adjust make you more involved in the shot, in a way smartphone cameras never could. The dials, knobs, and buttons have a reassuring metallic ‘clickiness’ to them. The camera is in manual mode by default, giving you full control over the image. The joystick takes that to another level by manipulating focus and blur in your shot with a flick of the thumb. It’s exciting to see how twisting a mechanical dial can change a certain attribute of digitized reality and result in a totally different image. The other buttons to control the friendly interface are to the right of the crisp, spacious LCD screen, making it an ergonomic dream for right-handers.

Using the hybrid viewfinder is an intimate experience that melts your surroundings away – the world is just you and your subject. The optical viewfinder augments reality with gridlines and a focus point zoom-in overlaid on top. With one flick of a switch, you’re back to the digitally reconstructed version of reality with the Electronic Viewfinder, enveloping your surroundings with retro film filters like Velvia to highlight colors, Acros to erase them, and Classic Chrome to mute them.

After using it for the last six months, the only complaints I could think of are the wobbly battery door which mars the otherwise stellar build, the slightly yellow/green default white balance, and the absence of image stabilization which make slow shutter speeds and video tricky to shoot.

A love letter to photography

These shortcomings coupled with the high price and singular focal length may put some people off, but the X100F never pretended to be a practical all-purpose gadget. Instead, it is as an opinionated craftsman’s tool. Fujifilm has pulled off a masterclass in tradeoffs, with the constraints ultimately adding to the camera’s charms.

Indeed, the camera is charming and magical in all sorts of ways. Having a pancake 35mm F2.0 lens in a pocketable body is almost like cheating reality. The way it kisses the light and shadows bouncing off your subject add an artistic sheen to every shot. The colors it produces feel realistic yet otherworldly, making your subject pop and the moment feel alive. The leaf shutter is as silent as the flick of a watch hand, turning you into a discreet predator ready to pounce at any moment.

The Fuji X100F is a love letter to photography. Every time I see it, it calls out to me to pick it up, go out, and start shooting. It is a camera with soul that deepens my connection to the world and sparks joy. This is what smartphone cameras cannot replace, that joie de vivre of grasping a totem for the art of seeing, that romantic experience of handling a standalone instrument whose only function is to freeze time. Your life moments deserve this camera. Every time I take it out of my pocket, I feel like a wizard taking out a wand, ready to make magic.