Has the X100VI taken a little too much from Fujifilm’s other cameras?: Digital Photography Review

The author looking pensive, perhaps pondering whether he’s condemned to over-think every aspect of cameras.

It’s unusual for us to publish both a review and then follow up with an opinion piece. So why am I doing it here? Our reviews do their best to act as a guide for the ‘typical’ user of a product, and to provide enough information for you to make your own mind up.

But we all have different needs and expectations, myself included. I don’t believe my own personal perspective represents the ‘typical’ user, so didn’t want to weight the review too heavily towards it. Instead this is just my opinion, based on my experiences with the X100VI and how it worked for me.

So don’t you like the camera?

I really like the Fujifilm X100VI. It’s the best version yet of the kind of camera that we always hoped someone would make. Photographers who looked back longingly at the likes of the Contax T series or Olympus RC rangefinders were overjoyed when the X100 was launched, and the cameras have just got better. Hence the Gold award.

I understand that there are people who’d like a camera that’s smaller, or one with a lens that’s wider, or who don’t see the appeal when interchangable lens cameras exist. But, just as with the Ricoh GR cameras: the X100 is what it is and it isn’t (and isn’t supposed to be) anything that it isn’t.

And armed with this perspective, I don’t feel there’s any contradiction between giving the X100VI a positive review for what it is, and then saying what I wish were different about it. Because I’m not asking for it to be something it’s not, but instead that I wish it were even more what it’s trying to be.

In short, I feel that the X100 borrowing so much from Fujifilm’s other models risks detracting from its X100-ness.

Loss of focus

As the X100 series has continued, it’s gained the dual clickable dials from the other cameras in Fujifilm’s range, along with a using the focus ring as a control ring. This means there are more possible ways of controlling it but risks it taking longer for you to settle on your preferred way of doing so.

Noticeably, when you first switch the camera on, there are three settings assigned to the front dial, none of which actually does anything unless you hand-off control from the dedicated dial for each of those settings.

Given the number of direct controls on the camera, it seems odd to have four exposure parameters also assigned to the front and rear dials. And while I appreciate being able to use a press of the rear dial to punch in on the camera’s live view, I feel that one or both dials being non-clickable dials would still allow for most people’s preferred way of controlling exposure while also giving a higher-quality feel and less chance of accidentally pressing a dial and changing the function.

A control point that does do something out-of-the-box is the manual focus ring when you’re not in MF mode. It’s a free-rotating ring, ill-suited to the stepped variables that can be assigned to it, and it’s all too easy to knock and only later wonder why you’ve spent the last two hours shooting in an unexpected Film Simulation mode or Small image size.

The X100’s manual focus ring now acts as a far-too-easy to nudge control ring. I’m not sure who thought it would be a good idea to make it so easy to accidentally change film simulation or switch to Small image size, but I doubt we’d get along.

Of course, it’s quite possible that this only stands out to me because, as a camera reviewer a) it’s my job to explore the ways in which the camera could be used, rather than just picking one and getting on with it and b) because I’ve used all the other cameras its UI resembles, such that I recognize that the X100VI feels like the do-everything X-T5 but can’t do as much. Upon tapping the front dial, I found myself having to think about how to configure and use the camera before I could start to fall in love with it.

Inappropriate features

The hybrid X-H2 models, which are designed to cover a wider range of photo and video pursuits than the X100VI, have fewer dedicated dials, yet don’t have clickable command dials. So why does the X100VI need them?

From a development (and cost) perspective, it makes sense for Fujifilm to offer as much commonality across its cameras as possible. And there’s no-doubt some added concern about appearing to be withholding features if you omit something that the hardware is capable of offering. But does the X100VI need all the X-T5’s features?

The X100VI has the same machine-learning-trained subject recognition system as the X-H2S and X-T5, but its much slower-moving lens means it can’t focus on moving subjects with anything like the hit rate they offer. Likewise, do enough people capture pictures of birds with a 35mm equivalent lens to make the presence of bird detection AF worthwhile? Maybe other people are better at quietly approaching birds without disturbing them, but even with a 40MP sensor, I think I’d need to crop extensively to get anything useful.

And, even as someone who’s written about why virtually all cameras include video, I’m not sure the X100VI would be any worse for not being able to capture cropped, rather rolling-shutter prone 6K video. Though I accept it may be more expensive, if it meant establishing parallel development streams for its firmware.

Overlooked quirks

Finally, I worry that carrying over so much code from other models means that the unique properties of Fujifilm’s rangefinder-style cameras aren’t as fully developed as they could be.

Take, for example, the behavior of the pop-up tab in the optical viewfinder, onto which an electronic preview can be projected. This retracts every time you nudge the AF joystick, then pops back up when you try to focus. But it only does this with the joystick’s default behavior. If you set the joystick to simply position the AF point, rather than moving and letting you change its size, then the pop-up tab remains engaged.

This is a little odd, but becomes even stranger when you remember that it’s not actually possible to change the AF point size when you’re looking through the OVF. So why doesn’t the joystick simply switch to position-only mode, when your eye is up to the finder?

Similarly, the pop-up tab can show a magnified version of the chosen AF point, for confirming critical focus position and accuracy. But only in AF-S mode. If you set the camera to AF-C (though why would you?), the tab shows a tiny version of the entire scene: the thing you’re already seeing through the viewfinder itself. Both of these are really, really minor oddities, but could they have been better if Fujifilm had time to focus solely on what the X100 can do, rather than sharing firmware more widely?

And yet?

For all of my nit-picking about the X100VI, I think it’s a superb photographic tool.

To be clear, none of this stops the X100VI being an excellent camera. But part of me misses the simplicity and, perhaps, inflexibility of the early models. If you’ve decided to straightjacket yourself with a slow-to-focus camera with a fixed focal length, would it be so terrible to have to adapt to the way it’s designed to be used, rather than even having to think about how to configure it and deal with its foibles? And would a few fewer features in any way diminish the appeal?

Perhaps Leica, whose SL cameras are full of functions but whose niche manual-focus rangefinders have had their video capabilities excised, is onto something.

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