Oh no, not another Fujifilm digital disaster!

Looks like the web is all a-flutter about a prototype from Fujifilm being shown at this year’s photokina.* The X100 has been called everything from a Sigma-killer, or a a Leica-lite, to a challenger to the Micro-Four-Thirds format. All of these predictions are not without merit, but people seem to quickly forget how quickly Fujifilm can screw up a damn good thing…

Lest we forget that we are talking about Fuji… the company that has a digital division produced under the name of Fujifilm. When it comes to professional-grade digital cameras with the Fujifilm name on it (excluding Hasselblad H-series cameras etc.), it is safe to assume that the X100 will be like its Fuji predecessors with these three characteristics:

  • It will be released too late for the trend that spawned it. When the S5 Pro was announced, the 6MP/12MP was on par with the competition. By the time it hit shelves, the rest of the digital world had rendered it all but passé. The X100 is shown with the “specifications subject to change” disclaimer, so who knows what it will have onboard by the time it arrives at your local camera shops.
  • It will be overpriced. Again, using the last Fujifilm S5 camera as an example, by the time the 6MP Fuji S5 was released, it was priced nearly twice that of the soon-to-be-replaced 10.2MP Nikon D200 that the camera was based upon.
  • It will be rife with software, firmware and/or mechanical glitches that anger users. I loathe navigating the menu system on the S5 and its predecessors; its retro, and not in a good way. The clunky RAW conversion software, sexily titled HS-V3 is atrocious, but since Adobe, Apple, and the other RAW processing programs were not given the RAW decompression algorithm by Fuji, there was no way to adjust dynamic range in post-processing and all other adjustments were too rough using non-Fuji applications.

As a postscript – I am someone who has owned and heavily-used every Fuji S-series camera. Fujifilm always develops a stunning sensor, then crams it into a painfully pricey, second-rate camera, with unintuitive and incompatible software and onboard menus that are reminiscent of DOS. I really doubt that the X100 will change the pattern established by Fuji’s digital division. On the other hand, I noticed that the X100 seems to be sporting an APS-C size sensor that used a CMOS architecture rather than Fuji’s SuperCCD. The only reason I ever purchased a Fuji camera was for the SuperCCD sensor that produced results that I would describe as a low-res Dalsa chip found in a medium format digital back. Excellent color palette and wide dynamic range were the two main benefits of the Fuji cameras, and even then, exposure had to be spot on, otherwise you would wind up with images with that awful gray wash that so frustratingly mars nearly all of our digital images.

Ironically enough, with the announcement a few days ago of the Nikon D7000, I decided to sell my S5 on eBay to end my decade-long love/hate affair with the SuperCCD. I was hedging my bets on the line of S-series cameras ending, with no S6 to ever come into fruition. Now, I’m not so sure. With my past connections inside the heart of the photo industry, I had heard strong rumors suggesting that Fuji had sold off its sensor-building division and engineers to Nikon which turned around and produced some of the most highly-rated chips in the history of DSLRs. If I recall correctly, around the time the D700 was announced, there were whispers that the boys at Fuji had been the ones to put the magic touch on its Sony-based sensor. So where does the CMOS chip in the X100 come from? I’m sure the answer will be as vague as Nikon is when pressed about details on their chip-making background. I’m still sending the S5 onto the next sucker aspiring artist, but I am awfully tempted to backup my soon-to-be D7000 with the X100. Maybe Fuji will finally live up to its potential, maybe…

*Editor’s note, I recently discovered that ‘photokina’ is officially and properly spelled with a lower-case ‘p’ – who knew?

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