Knowing When to Color

Those who follow my Flickr photo stream have probably noticed my gravitation toward B&W images lately.  I have been dabbling with predominantly B&W images of urban landscapes, including some work with B&W film.  Shooting in B&W primarily is teaching me to visualize things in B&W (not a huge stretch for my mostly color blind eyes) and I'm figuring out when it works for a subject and when it is less than optimal.

It was the bright orange color of the above building's facade that grabbed my attention.  Orange is a weird color to me.  I have trouble discerning it from red a lot of times.  Orange seems to "glow" more.  The color really jumped out here in the late afternoon sun.  My Fuji X100 was set to record a raw file and a B&W JPG.  The JPG immediately looked flat upon reviewing the image on the LCD.  Without the punch of the vivid color, only a flat gray remained.

Since I had the raw file, I cooked up a color and B&W version in Lightroom.  The B&W version isn't bad.  There is too much of one shade of gray for my tastes though.  I think it would worked better if the windows hadn't been boarded up and painted the same color as the bricks.  While I would have liked to have used B&W to match up with the other shots I took in Smithville, TX that day, the subject just didn't seem to work as well in monochrome.  Which do you prefer?

Sometimes Life is Little Blurry

On a recent trip to New York City, I was standing at a train station waiting for the train to stop.  I had just made a dash through a thicket of people as rush hour was starting, having lost track of time while walking around the financial district.  I needed to get back up to mid town Manhattan to meet a friend and was worried I would be late.  I made it to the platform just as the train I needed arrived.

As I waited for the train to come to a complete stop, I glanced left and saw the gentleman engrossed in his electronic device.  With only seconds before the train doors would open to a flood of people exiting and entering, I reached into my bag, retrieved my Fuji X100 while making quick guestimate exposure settings in one fluid movement and held it up one handed to snap this shot.  There was no time to get a proper focus or check settings.  Luckily, the camera was set to auto ISO up to 1600 (which it needed in the low light).  I spun the aperture to its widest of f/2 as I pulled it from the bag.  The shutter happened to be at 1/30, way slow for a one handed operation.  I mashed the shutter button with no idea where the focal point was - not that it mattered under the shooting conditions.

Of course, the image was a bit blurry.  It was also a bit grainy.  The more I looked at it later, the more I didn't care.  Something about it just works for me.  Some of you might be thinking by now, "So you took a crappy picture, converted it to B&W, and declared it an artistic shot!"  I don't want to be that guy.  Believe me, I'll delete an image without hesitation before I'll try to force a bad shot to work.  Before I took this I had decided that the majority of my shots on this trip would be in B&W.  I was going that route anyway.  I will say that the B&W rendition is more conducive to an effective image with it being out of focus than the color version.  Funny how that works.

I think the image is effective because all the important bits of information are defined just enough.  You can tell the guy is intensely focused on his device.  The people in the background are just enough in focus to show that many of them are similarly engaged in a book or electronic device while waiting.  The train is just slightly in motion.  The moment is a blur, which is how it felt at the time.  Not a second or two after this was captured, it all changed and a flurry of activity erupted as the doors opened.  Sometimes a blurry glance is all you get of a moment.  Sometimes that is all you need.

Location Portraits with the Fujifilm X100

I enjoy doing portrait photography on location.  Dragging around a heavy bag of equipment can really take the fun out of it though.  It's especially unpleasant in the Texas summer with temperatures hitting the triple digits all too often.  Lately I've been leaving the heavy DSLR at home and shooting with a smaller rig using my Fujifilm X100.  I have to say, I'm really loving it!

The X100 probably doesn't sound like much of a portrait camera.  It sports a wide angle lens with a 35mm equivalent focal length.  That puts it more into an environmental portrait perspective and I'm OK with that.  Take some of the features of this little camera into account and it is a actually a superb tool for location portraits.

Model: Brittany - 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 400

First, you have the image quality.  The APS sized sensor in this camera is awesome.  I really don't miss my full frame Canon 5D when I shoot with the X100.  Yes, the image quality is that good.  Then there is the f/2 lens.  It captures great images wide open.  I usually stop down just a bit, maybe to f/2.8 to make sure I've got all the facial features in focus.   The sensor is large enough that you can get great background bokeh if that's what you want.

Model: Stephanie - 1/60, f/2.8, ISO 400

The X100 keeps the noise low.  I have shot portraits at ISO 1600 and the images are fine.  I have to admit that I haven't always done that on purpose.  Daylight in the sunflowers didn't need it but after a long day I forgot to check my ISO setting and fired some shots.  It didn't really matter and nobody knew without me telling them.

Model: Eight - 1/1000, f/5.6, ISO 1600

I was able to keep a hot shoe flash on a low setting, popping it into a decent sized softbox as fast as I wanted to click the shutter at ISO 1600 in the moody shot below.   For a shot like this, the higher ISO grain is pleasing.  Meant to do it that time!

Model: Eight - 1/500, f/8, ISO 1600

When I'm shooting with a flash I can confidently take my ISO up to 400 or 800 to keep my strobes at a lower power for faster recycling or to boost ambient light.   The results above at ISO 400 and above are cleaner than what I get out of my 5D.

Model: Carol - 1/15, f/4, ISO 400

The coolest thing about the X100 for flash photography is the leaf shutter Fujifilm used in this lens.  We're talking blazing fast flash sync speeds.  Have to shoot in harsh daylight?  Drop the ISO down and crank up a fast shutter speed.  My Cactus V radio triggers and Nikon SB-28 flashes have no problem firing at 1/1000 sync.  That's how I get shots with the sun blazing in the background.

Model: Brittany - 1/1000, f/2.8, ISO 200

Another really cool feature is the built-in ND filter.  It comes in handy for bringing down the daytime ambient when a wide aperture is desired or for making a cloudy day even gloomier.

Model: Carol - 1/500, f/2.8, ISO 200, built-in ND filter

The small size and weight of the X100 makes it great for quickly moving around to different locations.  I find that I am more apt to stay out longer with a willing model, seeking out suitable locations to set up a shot on the fly.  A strobist kit built around the X100 carries in a small shoulder bag, perfect for run and gun flash portraits around town.

Model: Eight - 1/125, f/8, ISO 400

The X100, of course, can't match the versatility of a DSLR.  It's a one trick pony with its fixed lens and the 35mm focal length isn't for everyone.  If your style can accommodate it, the X100 is sure easier to carry around and its features give a DSLR a run for the money.  I find it creatively liberating.

Model: Eight - 1/200, f/5.6, ISO 200

Mind Your Settings

One of my goals in writing this blog is to share the things I learn in photography.  I learn a lot from others out there who share freely and I like to give back to the community of photogs through the sharing of my experiences - even if it means embarrassing myself a little.

Recently, I met up with my good friend and model, Eight.  For those scratching their heads already, "Eight" is her modeling moniker.  Cool name, huh?  Anyway, we were working on some product shots for a mutual friend in the jewelry business.  Eight had some time to spare so I got her to pose for some quick shots that I wanted to do with my trusty Fuji X100.  I'd noticed some yellow flowers nearby and she had a yellow dress.  Perfect!

I'd worked a long day already and we spent a couple hours on the product shots by this time.  We were both rather tired.  I intended for it to be a quick shoot so I grabbed a couple of flashes and stands and we walked out to a nearby field.  OK, maybe not as nearby as I thought for a model wearing not so comfortable heels (sorry, Eight!)

We got out there and I found a good looking spot - at least as good as it got.  Sadly, the brutal sun was already wilting the blooms in our drought stricken area. "Let me make sure there aren't any rattle snakes," I said as I used a light stand to rustle through the weeds and tall plants.  Wrong thing to say to a model.  After some reassuring and quick setup, I told her it will just take a minute.  OK, anxious model in place, nervously looking at the ground and listening for rattles.  So much for putting the model at ease.

Normally, I'm a stickler for using a light meter to dial in the exposure.  Being that I was tired, hot, and had inadvertently freaked out my model, I just winged it.  I dialed up an exposure, got the light power set with a couple of guesses, and got a test shot that looked fine on the LCD.  Cool.  I fired a few frames.  Done.  Back inside to the AC where there are no snakes to worry about.

Later on at home, I imported the files from my SD card into Lightroom.  Immediately, I saw that something wasn't right.  The images looked a little noisy and not as sharp as I expected.  What the...damn it...ISO 1600?!  How the hell did I manage that?  Well, last time I used the camera I had turned on auto ISO.  The base setting had been set to 400 and that was what the camera showed when I glanced at the ISO setting - failing to see that auto was enabled!  I had dialed in a fast shutter speed intending to bring down the ambient.  It failed to click in my head that the shutter speed that was working was a bit too fast for the ISO I thought I was at.  The X100 knew and was happy to help me out and bump up the ISO to 1600.  It did exactly what I had told it do.  Stupid me.

Had I used my light meter, I would have figured this out.  In my haste, I cut some corners and made a silly mistake.  Thankfully, all was not lost.  The X100 produces incredibly clean images and it didn't take much to bring the noise down to a negligible level and sharpen the images back up a bit.  I don't know that I would have been so lucky with images from my Canon 5D.  The X100 gave me clean enough images to save the shoot and help me save face.

Lesson learned and hopefully I won't make that mistake again.  Know your equipment and mind your settings.  Turn on exposure details in your image preview, at least temporarily when dialing in your exposure, and check your values.  Surprises on your editing system back at your home or studio aren't fun.  

Photowalking in B&W with the Fuji X100

I recently attended a photowalk with a small group of Austin photogs on the University of Texas campus. To be perfectly honest, I was less than thrilled with the location.  I've been there, done that several times before.  Since it was a chance to hang out with some good friends, I went along with my Fuji X100.

A few days prior to the photowalk I had stumbled upon some fantastic B&W images posted by Todd Gipstein in a Fuji forum.  They were straight out of the camera and they looked absolutely amazing.  I had no idea that this temperamental little camera that I'm so fond of could produce such rich monochrome images.  Normally I will shoot in color and spend a good deal of time in post production when I want to create B&W images.  As much as I like crafting images in post and seeing the results come to life, it can be tough to find the time with what life throws my way lately.  Since I sit at a computer all day at work, I would really rather be out capturing images than sitting in front of my computer for hours when I get home.  For this photowalk, my mind was made up.  I was going to shoot with in-camera B&W.

Before I met up with the group, I set my X100 to record a RAW file and a B&W JPG.  The X100 includes several B&W filter modes (yellow, green, and red.)  Since I don't have any experience working with filters in B&W, I opted to keep the camera set to standard monochrome.  If anything, the images might be a touch flat and I could easily add a bit of contrast later if need need be.  Hesitant to relinquish full control of image creation to the camera, I saved RAW files just in case.  Having RAW files would also allow me to play around later with in-camera processing and experiment with different filter and tone settings.

Further entrusting the X100, I set my ISO to auto mode and gave the camera a limit of 1600.  The X100 has proven itself to me in producing very clean images at that level.  Since I was shooting in B&W, ISO 3200 probably would have been just fine as well.  It gets only a bit grainy there.  I enabled aperture priority mode to let the camera pick the shutter, with 1/60 as a minimum.  Normally I shoot in manual but this time I wanted to focus more on my compositions and this left me with one less thing to think about.  I would be able to quickly and easily bump the exposure as needed with the large EV dial on top of the X100 right by the shutter button.  With the camera setup with more control than I usually offer it, I was on my way.  Follow along and I'll show you a few things I found.

Texas State History Museum

I parked by the Texas State History Museum and took a couple of shots before meeting the group on the UT campus.  The huge star in front is one of my favorite Austin landmarks.  This is a shot where B&W was a good choice and the X100 did well in pulling out details from the shadows.  The sky is blown out for the sake of getting detail in the archways.  While I did like how the X100 handled the scene as you see it here, I did end up touching this one up a bit more in Lightroom.  Check that rendition out here if you like.

Under the Star

Across the street from the Texas State History Museum is the Blanton Museum of Art on UT's campus.  I like the archways in front of the museum and I noticed that they framed our state capitol building in the distance quite nicely.  The cool thing about setting my X100 to record a B&W JPG is that it lets me see the scene in my viewfinder as it will be recorded.  That makes it easy to adjust the EV setting to find the balance of tones.

View Down Congress from Blanton

The shot that makes me smile the most has to be one I caught of my buddy Alex's son, aka "Monkey Boy."  Good fun and he seemed to be enjoying snapping his own shots with an iPhone that you see laying on the sidewalk next to him.

Just Hanging Around

I'll readily admit that architectural photography is not my forte but I am fascinated by a lot of architectural details that I see.  I grabbed a few shots of these windows that attracted my attention.  Something about their uniform pattern that is appealing I suppose.  I especially liked the image with the stairway.  It is an interesting combination of shapes and lines to me.  One of my photographer buddies mentioned that the Fuji rendering looked a little soft.  I agreed in the case of these images and a bit of a contrast boost was applied in Lightroom.

Horizontal Windows

Vertical Windows

Boxes and Lines

This bicycle looks like it is ready for a trip to Mardi Gras.  It almost seemed a shame to render the image in monochrome and lose the colorful beads.  Black and white worked well for the scene as a whole though.  The happy photog who owns this bike stopped briefly to let me snap his portrait before riding off to our next stop.

Adorned with Beads

Photowalking the Easy Way

I've photographed the Littlefield Fountain on campus more than once.  Nevertheless, I couldn't pass up getting a shot in B&W.  With the bright late afternoon sun, it was a tough scene to capture and I was impressed with the X100's rendering of it.  Places like this are where the X100 can really show off its dynamic range.

Littlefield Fountain

The sun was getting pretty low in the sky as we came to the UT tower.  There was a nice warm glow to the tower and I'll probably process a RAW file or two in color later. The B&W rendering does more justice to the architecture I think.  It's just a classy look.

Ye Shall Know the Truth

Catching the Day's Last Light

There are a number of great statues on campus.  I usually end up getting a shot or two of some when I am wandering around down there.  Statues do make good subjects.  They don't blink anyway.  Barbara Jordan's stare is downright penetrating.  I always loved Umlauf's "The Torch Bearers."  The X100 really reached in there and pulled the details from the shadows created by the harsh backlighting.  The camera's lens resisted flare fairly well.

The Torch Bearers

Barbara Jordan Statue

One of my favorite features of my X100 is the built-in ND filter.  I noticed some flowers that I wanted shots of, but the background was really distracting.  With the ND filter enabled, I was able to open the lens wide open in harsh light to get an extremely shallow depth of field for a bokeh rich artistic image that I tend to favor over standard macro shots.  Rendering these images in B&W also helped with hiding bits of buildings in the background that would otherwise be very noticable.

Trumpet Shaped Blooms

A Pleasing Softness

The limitations I imposed on myself for this photowalk were actually quite liberating.  Armed with a single focal length and seeing the world around me through a B&W viewfinder resulted in a creative outlet that I found refreshing.  Letting the camera predominately decide my exposures allowed me to catch details I might have otherwise missed while fiddling with dials and menus.  Things like the warm glow coming through basement windows or an old bell hanging by a doorway.

Come In

A Basement in Austin?

The campus was almost eerily quiet.  Finals were wrapping up.  I guess students were holed up somewhere for last minute cramming.  The bulletin boards are still plastered with ads, many offering help for those not ready to face that last exam.  I don't think Rhodiola is going to help much.

Advertising Snake Oil?

Last stop on campus was the Littlefield house.  There's a great gothic look to it that I rather like.  You just about need some bracketed exposures and HDR to capture a scene like this.  The X100 again handled it well.  I like the B&W quite a bit over the color version that I could see with the RAW file.

Littlefield House

After cruising through the campus our group headed to Guadalupe St. (aka The Drag) for some pizza.  A few of us took our time on the way to the pizza place to grab some shots under the evening sky as the blue hour crept in.  I have to admit that I did revert my X100 back to color mode for a bit.  I mean, really, it is blue hour after all!  I'll share some of those shots another time.  For now, I'll wrap up with a shot of the restaurant store front in B&W.  I love shooting interesting store fronts at night with the warm light spilling out. They seem to work equally well in color or B&W.  So ends the photowalk.  Thanks for coming along.

Which Wich?

Return of the X100

I've been so busy with some model shoots lately and just realized that I failed to follow up my previous post about the sticking aperture problem on my Fujifilm X100.  Well, I'm pleased to say that the X100 is back and working better than ever!

My local camera dealer handled the shipping back to Fuji and it was gone for about 2 weeks.  I don't know how it was shipped to and from Fuji so I'm not sure how many days it  was actually at the repair center.  The repair statement said that the lens assembly was replaced, which is what I expected.  I also discovered that the firmware had been flashed to version 1.12.  At the time, this firmware revision was not released to the public (it wasn't on the Fuji support download site anyway.)

Due to a hectic work schedule and illnesses in my household, it was a couple of weeks before I got out to try my repaired X100 out.  I chose to take it into downtown Austin for an evening shoot on the streets.  I'm happy to report that it seems to be working just fine - better than before in fact.  The autofocus seems a little snappier now.  The new lens seems to be just a bit sharper at wide apertures than the first, although that may be a result of a bit more accuracy in the focus system.

This little camera can sure be annoying sometimes and having to send it back to the factory for a gross defect had me considering trading it off for something else.  Now that it's back in my hands and I'm looking at the great images coming off its sensor those thoughts are behind me.  The image quality truly rivals and in a lot of cases surpasses the full frame sensor in my old Canon 5D.  I'm not known for being a patient person when it comes to electronic devices.  I like what I'm seeing enough to put up with some glitches.  The X100 remains a keeper!

Here are a few shots from my first outing with my repaired X100.  All images were captured in raw format, converted in Lightroom, and touched up to varying extents with Photoshop.

Single long exposure.

Two exposures with a bit of blending.  The X100 has great dynamic range, although it wasn't quite enough to grab detail under the brightly lit solar canopy at Austin City Hall.

I'm a sucker for interesting window displays.  Single exposure through the window glass.

I love street light bokeh and these handlebars made a nice foreground piece.

Another shot through window glass.  The X100's dynamic range really shows here.

I love interesting signs and murals.  This mural was put up for SXSW I believe.  Single exposure with colors boosted in Topaz Labs Adjust.

2011 in Photos

Happy New Year!  Thanks to everyone who read my blog, checked out my images, and especially those who offered words of encouragement throughout 2011.   It was a good year for me with photography.  It was my second year engaged in the art.  It was a year of discovery of new photographic styles, subjects, and post processing techniques.  I learned quite a few things and feel like I have made a lot of progress in figuring out my personal style.

I found myself doing less HDR images this past year.  There were a number of reasons for this.  With the limited time I have to pursue my interest in photography, I found that I much prefer getting out and shooting to spending time in front of the computer processing.  Not that I don't enjoy the creative aspects of image crafting in post production and the HDR technique - it's just that I spend a lot of time in front of computer screens at my day job so I try to limit my gazing at the backlit screen at home.  I also discovered that as I have learned more about image exposure I am often happy with a single exposure or maybe a subtle blending of a couple of exposures over a full tone mapped blend of numerous exposures.  HDR is a powerful and wonderful tool that I can pull out of my photography tool box when needed.  I think I've gained more wisdom the past year about when it should be used.  I've come to appreciate the use of shadows in images, purposely limiting the dynamic range for dramatic effect.

A big turning point for me in my post production work came through a workshop I attended early in 2011.  I attended a weekend course in dramatic post processing taught by David Nightingale.  His instruction completely changed the way I process my images.  I learned how to give a dramatic, yet "plausible" look to any image.  Through simple but powerful tools such as the Curves adjustment in Photoshop I have learned to add depth and contrast to images.  I find myself relying less on Photoshop plug-ins since taking David's course.  I also learned a great deal about composing for dramatic effect, which changed the way I capture my images.  David's workshop was money well spent!

In 2011 I was introduced to Strobist photography and working with models.  Perhaps more accurately, I was dragged into it!  Early in the year I had volunteered to be a photography coach for newbies on a photowalk hosted by Trey Ratcliff.  A local model, who goes by the name 8, was on had to pose for folks.  At the time, I had never shot a model and honestly didn't have much interest in doing so.  Along the walk, 8 repeatedly asked me to take her picture.  I pretty much blew her off!  Thankfully, 8 doesn't know how to take no for an answer.  I was finally persuaded to take a shot of her with another model and I really liked the image I captured.  8 and I later hooked up for a photo shoot after I acquired a meager set of flashes, stands, and umbrellas.  I learned quickly thanks to a gracious and patient model.  We did a lot of great shoots together throughout the year and I have since worked with a number of talented models.  I discovered that I most enjoy on-location shoots in an environment portrait style.

I did a lot of shooting with prime lenses the past year.  I challenged myself by leaving the zooms at home and often just walked around with a 50mm prime on my Canon 5D.  On model shoots, I shot with either the 50mm or a 100mm prime.  I often walked around with only my Fuji X100 (35mm equivalent prime.)  Using a fixed focal length lens has really helped me compose better and think more about how best to capture my subject.  I highly recommend you "limit" yourself like this from time to time.  It really makes you think and move around more.  The results can be wonderful.

Speaking of the X100, I have also come realize that I love the simplicity and easy carrying of such cameras.  As much as I love my DSLR, it is like a lead weight that I drag around sometimes.  I am becoming a big fan of small cameras.  I can carry the X100 daily without it feeling like a burden.  The image quality and dynamic range of the X100 and comparable cameras in its class are truly astonishing.  I have even taken the X100 out in a strobist kit that fits in a small messenger bag to shoot models.  I look forward to the continual improvements in technology that will make shooting with a small rig even better.

I learned that I really enjoy shooting at night.  This comes partly out of necessity since I work during the day.  However, I really enjoy capturing urban shots using available light.  Some of my favorite photo explorations have been walking around with a camera and tripod taking long exposure shots in the city.  I also stopped by a few carnivals during the year and got some great shots of lights in motion.  I really enjoy combining lights, color, and motion under a night sky, particularly in the early hours of dusk.

So, what are my plans for 2012?  I hope to do more model photography in creative environmental settings.  I'm toying with the idea of doing some commercial portraits on the side to help support my equipment and web hosting costs if nothing else.  I plan to do more urban landscape photography.  Additionally, I plan to get out of Austin more.  My work schedule doesn't afford much time off for travel but I do want to make it a point to get out and capture the world that I can access readily.  Specifically, I want to get out to some of the surrounding small towns in Texas and capture some of life beyond the city.

Have a great 2012, folks!  Please enjoy this video clip of the images I uploaded to Flickr in 2011 and stay tuned for what 2012 will bring.

Fujifilm X100 Review

A few months back, I made a substantial change in my photography gear. I traded off my Olympus E-PL1 rig and my backup DSLR, a Canon 30D, for a Fujifilm X100. I had been studying the X100's specs, reviews, and image samples for quite some time until I couldn't stand it anymore and made the plunge. It was a bitter sweet decision to make. Let me first say that I liked my E-PL1 and if I could have afforded to pay the $1199 for the X100 outright, I would have liked to have held on to the E-PL1. With the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7, the only lens I really used on the E-PL1, I had a focal length close to the X100's fixed lens with faster glass and image stabilization in the camera body. I loved that Panasonic lens and it was tough to move to a slower piece of glass at "only" f/2.

So, why make the change? Well, my love for the Panasonic 20mm lens just wasn't enough to keep me married to the E-PL1.  That's not to say that there weren't some things that were great about them together. I really liked the form factor of the camera/lens combination. The image stabilization came in really handy. Color rendering was awesome. On the other hand, the E-PL1's quirky controls were a source of irritation. I always hated having to use arrow buttons instead of dials for shutter and aperture. My real gripe though was the sensor. I hate sensor noise and the E-PL1's max threshold for me was about ISO 800. I could work with images up to 1600 but I felt like I was giving up too much detail in the noise cleanup. I don't intend to make the E-PL1 sound like a dud. On the contrary, I still maintain that it's the best deal going in interchangeable lens compacts. I'm just a picky pixel peeper and I thought I could do better. While researching alternative cameras, I came across the X100. I tend to go look at images over specifications and I was really taken by what I saw. Exceptionally clean images up to ISO 3200 from the X100's larger APS-C sized sensor! I was intrigued.

Let's start with the physical characteristics of the X100. It's an attractive camera, kind of sexy (there, I said it.) It just feels good in the hands with it's retro styling and substantial weight. It feels like a quality piece of gear, which is refreshing in this age where everything is made of the cheapest plastic possible. The appearance might lead one to believe this is a rangefinder camera, although that is not the case. I find that styling to be pleasing, but I must admit that I haven't been into photography long enough to have ever used a rangefinder camera. It has a certain look and feel that harkens back to a time when things were crafted with precision. It's an overall solid build that makes me feel better about spending $1199 on a compact camera.  BTW, I'm not including any of my own pictures of the camera since there are plenty of really good ones here on the X100's official site.  Pictures I took with the camera are coming up soon, so keep reading!

The X100 came in an attractive black box, cradled in soft cloth.  A neat looking metal lens cap covered the lens.  Nice aesthetic touch, but I soon realized it was not very functional.  The loose friction fit made it all too easy pop off and I quickly replaced it with an aftermarket plastic cap.  The alloy body feels solid and the textured grip provides a reassuring grasp. The aperture and shutter controls are provided in traditional locations, on the lens and a dial on top of the camera respectively. The stop points have a nice positive feel. These controls move in one stop increments and finer 1/3 adjustments can be made with the two wheels on the back of the camera. I do find myself wishing that the aperture at least could be completely controlled in 1/3 stops on the lens.  The ISO setting is quickly accessible through a programmable function button on top of the camera. You can assign other functions to that button, but I don't know why anyone would want to. A secondary programmable button would have been a nice addition for something like quickly changing white balance.  There is a dedicated RAW button on the camera back, used to create JPEG files with differing camera settings, that would make an ideal candidate for a secondary function button.  Unfortunately its single function cannot be changed.

An EV adjustment dial is located on top of the camera. I've got mixed feelings about that. It's in a bit of an awkward spot that makes it easy to inadvertently change. This is the quickest way to make 1/3 stop exposure adjustments in aperture or shutter priority modes. You just have to be careful that you don't bump it during handling of the camera. I tend to shoot in manual mode much of the time and the EV dial does nothing in that mode. It would be nice if it could be assigned to modify the shutter (preferably) or the aperture values, as the dial is a bit easier to quickly manipulate than the back control wheels.

The shutter button is located in the typical location and Fujifilm went with a traditional style button that accepts a manual screw-in cable release. Kudos for that nice retro touch, but I'm disappointed that there isn't an electronic, preferably wireless, option built-in. Yes, the old fashioned cable style is neat. I'd much rather have a modern wireless option in this instance.

I'd like to report that Fujifilm didn't cut any corners on this handsomely styled body, but they did. My first big gripe is the battery door. It's cheap plastic and I fear that I will eventually break it. Really, Fuji? You couldn't have used a metal door with a more positive latch? The USB/HDMI ports are also covered by a rather cheap feeling plastic cover. That is more forgivable to me since it at least integrates well with the grip texture and I rarely use those ports. I'm also not crazy about the focus mode selector switch that lets you change between manual, single, and continuous autofocus modes. It's a fidgety 3-position plastic switch that really mars the look and feel of otherwise positive feeling main controls. One last gripe is the tripod adapter. The hole is right next to the battery door which means you have to remove your quick release adapter to get to the battery or SD card.

Manual focus is on the lens barrel as you would expect.  The movement is nice and smooth.  However, the rotation required to make significant focus adjustments is very excessive. My Panasonic lens was bad in this regard too.  Both the Panasonic 20mm and the X100's built-in lens are focus by wire.  I have to say, I hate focus by wire.  I find myself using auto focus to get locked on to something in the ballpark and then tweak manually from there.  There is a "back button" focus on the camera back that works quite well in manual mode (i.e. you can achieve autofocus even in manual mode and it stays locked when you release the button.)  I actually find myself using that button the majority of the time instead of  the typical half shutter press.

A key feature of the X100 is its optical/electronic view finder.  I love this feature!  I like to use the optical viewfinder when I can.  It is a wider area of view than the sensor so you use guide lines to frame your composition.  The distance from the lens can create some issues when focusing on close objects though.  I tend to switch to the electronic viewfinder for any close up or macro work, as well as portraits.  You switch between optical and electronic modes with a switch on the front of the camera.  When using the electronic mode, there is an eye sensor you can enable to automatically switch from the back LCD to the viewfinder when you raise the camera to your eye.  Very cool.

When I was researching the X100, I found a number of folks complaining about the menu system. I actually don't have any problems with it myself. It navigates very quickly for me. If anything, I could complain that the menu button in the middle of the main control wheel is a bit tough for someone like me with large fingers to hit. I find it's easier to hit it with my thumbnail. Standard drive, flash, and macro focus controls are available at the typical points for modern cameras on the control wheel.  If I could complain about anything it is that I have to scroll through the menu system to enable an external flash on the hotshoe.  It would be nice if that would just work automagically.

There are some annoying quirks in the firmware.  It looks like Fuji really rushed this camera to market and the initial firmware was very buggy.  I'm on the second update now and things are looking pretty good.  I really have only one complaint that drives me completely bonkers.  If you make any fine tune adjustments to shutter or aperture with the back control wheels and then view your captured images, those settings will be lost when you leave image view mode. That has bitten me a number of times!  Epic, epic fail!  This could easily be fixed in the software, so hopefully a fix will be forthcoming soon.  I noticed that the X100's little brother, the X10, does not have this problem.

So, enough babbling about the physical and functional characteristics.  Let's get to what is really important, the images it captures.  I started off by testing the camera in the worst environment I had readily available, my office.  It's fairly dark and the lighting is horrible, with an ugly color cast.  Perfect to shoot wide open, see how autofocus works in low light and to check the noise levels at high ISO.  One of our poodles, Chloe, was kind enough to be my subject.

f/2, 1/20, ISO 3200 (from raw)

I was very impressed with the high ISO performance.  Noise is well controlled and easily cleaned up.  Autofocus was a bit touchy, but no worse than my Canon 5D.  Sharpness at f/2 (wide open) is acceptable.  I have to be honest, it's not tack sharp but it is good enough to be sharpened up nicely in post.  Drop a stop to f/2.8 and then I see tack sharp.

A pleasant surprise in the X100 is the built-in flash.  I didn't expect much but it is actually quite good for a fill.  I snapped this shot of my friend Andy in a dimly lit restaurant (apologies, buddy!)

f/2.8, 1/30, ISO 800, fill flash (JPG straight from camera)

Another great feature in the X100 is the built-in ND filter.  This kicks butt.  Can you say f/2 in bright sunlight?  Heck yeah, drop out the background into soft bokeh in the middle of the day!

f/2, 1/850, ISO 200, ND filter

How about toning down the background on a portrait?  I used the X100's hot shoe in this next shot to trigger off camera flash.  The X100 has another really cool feature.  Flash sync is up to 1/2000!  It would have taken a lot more flash power to pull this off without the ND filter and the fast sync speed.  The 35mm focal length equivalent lens is great for this sort of environmental portrait.  I have used the X100 instead of my Canon 5D for environmental portraiture on several occasions now.

f/2.8, 1/500, ISO 200, off camera flash

I love night photography and this is another area where the X100 shines.  Long exposure noise is low and the dynamic range is quite good.  Here's a shot I took at a recent carnival.  This is a raw capture that I have tweaked minimally in post.  

f/11, 1sec., ISO 200 (from tripod)

The aperture produces round bokeh coins in the center of the image with lopsided ovals toward the edge.  There are some interesting, sometimes annoying flare characteristics.  In the upper left corner below you can see one type of flare.  I actually have grown fond of this sort of flare and have learned to position it creatively using the electronic viewfinder.

f/2, 1/45, ISO 1600

Next shot is the X100's lens flare at its worst.  I purposely composed this shot to illustrate the various flare characteristics I have observed.  I think I managed to get them all in one frame!  From the left corner you see nearby street light flaring across the frame.  That is easy enough to control with composition, a hood, or your hand.  Bright lights head on can produce the spikes of flare you see at the top.  Stopping down the aperture or tilting the camera can minimize or remove that.  You can also see some flare spots in the lower half in the center.  That may be reflections caused by the protective filter I had on at the time - not sure on that.  The one type of flare that is really kind of annoying to me is the light "ghosts" like you see off of the street light on the left down the street.  Again, changing the aperture or camera angle can reduce that.  The good part is that you can see this stuff on the LCD or in the EVF before you snap.

f/2, 1/9, ISO 800

I'm an HDR buff and while I have gotten some good bracketed sets to work with from the X100 I'm disappointed that it only captures 3 brackets at a max of 1 stop intervals.  I wish it would do 5 or 7 bracketed shots.  On the plus side, when in timer mode, it will rattle off all the brackets with one shutter press.  

f/8, 1/125-1/60-1/30 (3 shot bracket), ISO 200

Regardless of its shortcomings, I really like this camera and find my self preferring to work with it over my DSLR whenever possible.  Once you get used to its idiosyncrasies, it is a powerful photography tool.  It has an excellent sensor and a very good lens and that is what matters most.  It's not for everyone though.  This is not a typical point shoot (it's much better than that) and it's not a DSLR.  Many will find the prime lens limiting.  I personally love it and find that it makes me look at my compositions a little more creatively.  If you are looking for DSLR quality images from a small, rugged camera and can live with a prime lens, the X100 may be right for you too.