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Fuji X-100 (Not a Scooter)

September 23, 2010

As a scooterist/reader of this site, you’ll surely know the feeling of consumerist love at first sight. I’ve become obsessed with countless vehicles at countless rallies and motorcycle trade shows, and I’m sure you have too. Once in a while, you get to the point where you see an early prototype and know you will eventually own that bike, as long as the manufacturer doesn’t screw up between the concept and manufacturing stages (sadly they usually do!)

Well, this week Fuji Co. (The film/camera concern, totally unrelated to Fuji Heavy Industries of Fuji Rabbit scooter and Subaru fame) unveiled the camera of my dreams, and gave me a lot of insight about the scooter market and the difference between what consumers want, what they think they want, and what they get. On top of that, I know of at least two other scooterist designer/photographers that are counting the days and saving pennies until it’s released, so maybe it’s of interest to scooterists in general.

For great background on the camera, read this great post from Enticing the Light and or this Digital Camera Info preview. I’ll try not to get into too much camera nerd detail, but in short, this camera features amazing styling that flawlessly mixes retro design with modern features, without feeling one bit superficial or compromised (aside from one brave decision that we’ll discuss later). I’ve said (way too many times) “vintage good, modern good, retro bad.” Maybe I’ve been wrong. Aside from the Genuine Stella/LML star which is far more “vintage” than “retro,” any attempt to outfit an honest-to-goodness retro frame with modern conveniences always feels like a compromise. Either the design is superficially retro (fake-chome doodad overkill), or it’s artificially retro (the La Vita’s plastic “Vespa” shell). This camera features a solid metal body with metal dials, subtle, retro branding, and only the screen and array of buttons on the back give it away. Sure, the back doesnt’ really go so well with the front, but the back is what the modern photographer expects and it’s a good design. Unlike most cameras, it doesn’t brag about its megapixels or video mode on the front, anyone shelling out $1000 for this thing knows what they want and did their homework and isn’t standing in a Target “photo” department comparing cameras.

Just as British motorcycles informed Japanese motorcycle design in the early 60s, the design of the Leica informed 60s Japanese camera design. And in the same way, the Japanese actually bettered the Europeans, keeping the best elements of the design but cleaning up some loose ends and improving performance and reliability. Eventually, the Japanese developed their own aesthetic (hello, Honda Elite and Canon T-70!) but it was fun while it lasted. My dream camera always looked like a 60s Japanese tourist camera, and here it is. Please don’t wreck it, Fuji.

The X-100 features an APS-C sensor, not the full-frame found only in high-end DSLRs, but still a very large sensor found in the best consumer cameras. A large sensor provides more depth-of-field flexibility AND less noise in low-light situations, two problems with most point-and-shoot cameras with tiny lenses and sensors. At $1000, it’s not cheap, but it’s priced around the cost of the lowest-end DSL kits (with arguably a better-quality lens with an f2 maximum aperture) And it’s got movie mode and most other features you’d expect from a modern camera (and even a few innovations over low-end DSLRs).

But there is one one HEFTY compromise.

This camera has a fixed 23mm prime lens (35mm equivalent at APS-C’s 1.6x crop factor) with no optical zoom. That’s a wider-than average lens (great for landscapes and street shooting, horrible if your daughter is on a stage 50 feet away and you can’t get closer.) Fuji argues that to nail the optics, get the best image quality and keep the price reasonable, this was a necessary compromise. Considering even disposable cameras and some cell-phones feature optical zoom now, this will be a dealbreaker for just about anyone. But not for me! As camera forums prove, there are PLENTY of folks that couldn’t be more excited about this camera. As I said, it’s my dream camera. It’s a lot of people’s dream camera (Mostly Henri Cartier-Bresson fanboys, it betters a very similar digital Leica at half the price!). The fixed lens might be my favorite thing about it, they didn’t sacrifice everything that’s great about it to make a camera that would appeal to everyone. If the image quality is as great as promised, it’ll sell great and build up a legion of fans, and people will realize that telephoto zoom isn’t everything.

Every scooter can’t be the top seller. Every scooter can’t have helmet storage, a 5-gallon gas tank, dual discs front and back, look retro, handle modern, go 90mph, and appeal to everyone. But it is possible to make a scooter that’s lovingly and carefully designed from the ground up, stands out from the crowd, and gives a certain subset of the population at large exactly what they want. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a scooter that got me as excited as I am about this camera. SYM’s Symba and Wolf are nicely-designed and well-built retro bikes with some modern conveniences. The Symba already has a limited, but devoted following, and I think the Wolf could too, with a few (very) minor styling tweaks. The Genuine Cruiser is a promising bike meant to please a specific underserved demographic, and someday it hopefully will. I don’t get the Aprilia Mana, but I’m glad it exists and has its fans. But aside from those and a few other exceptions, scooters seem to be designed around engines instead of people, and it’s hard to tell most of them apart these days.

So, scooter designers, start listening to the ranty nerds on the internet, and find out what they’re willing to sacrifice to get what they want. Enthusiasts (in any realm) are more than happy to rant at great length about their wants/needs. Sometimes they have good ideas. But don’t look at that body of information as a whole and try to make compromises to please everyone, you’ll end up with a boring bike that no one’s excited about. Watch for patterns. After a while it becomes obvious that there are different groups who have different dreams and expectations. Pick one of those groups and NAIL their expectations, and you’ll have a winner.

Now get over to Scootmoto and buy some stuff, I need $1000 by springtime.

Comments

24 Responses to “Fuji X-100 (Not a Scooter)”

  1. illnoiseNo Gravatar on September 23rd, 2010 9:29pm

    Before someone else says it, yes, I’m aware camera manufacturers don’t have the EPA, CARB, DOT, EU, or the NHTSA to deal with.

  2. illnoiseNo Gravatar on September 23rd, 2010 9:33pm

    Also if I do decide that no zoom is too much to bear, the Canon G12 is looking pretty sweet. I still use my G6 daily and argue it’s one of the best point-and-shoots ever made, and the G12 brings back the awesome flip-screen that I love so.

  3. BrookeNo Gravatar on September 23rd, 2010 10:12pm

    I have my eye on special little rig from Wetzlar and that nice Mr. Leitz.

  4. illnoiseNo Gravatar on September 23rd, 2010 10:19pm

    I’d love one of those too, and there are a fair share of people wondering why they can’t make this thing with an M mount, but the engineers insist it defeats the whole purpose. I can see that. If you’re gettng into M mounts, you can afford something better than this. This thing is like a Stella, expensive when you compare its specs and features to other bikes in the same price range, but still a lot cheaper than the real thing, and for the people who dig it, there’s no alternative (or at least no affordable one).

    The wikipedia article referenced in the Enticing the Light story shows a few similar-featured Fujis from the past and says they were designed specifically for Japanese tour bus group photography. What could be nerdier than that!?

  5. SydNo Gravatar on September 23rd, 2010 11:51pm

    Very pretty. Very tempting, too. The rangefinder was always a nice design. I laughed when I read: “From behind, it looks more like a regular camera”. Ha, from the front it looks like a regular camera.

    One worry I have is the three shutter sounds available. I hope that is one of the few concessions made for the modern consumer market. Unless silent is one of the three sounds, of course.

    The other worry is that no mention is made of shutter lag. Maybe that’s a thing of the past, but I’d be hard pressed to spend a grand on jsut a nice design.

  6. BrookeNo Gravatar on September 24th, 2010 5:45am

    I’m more of a C-mount kind of guy. I was talking about microscopes.

    I can definitely see the parallel you draw with other objects of desire. We can’t have it all. If the trade off between quality and the function of optical zoom and other attributes is real it sounds worth it. If you want to spy on celebrities from a mile away buy something else, right? But if you want to take fantastic pictures of the world around you this is the brick?

    While it’s damn gorgeous, if the collective spec set is so sensible, can this be made in good plastic or composite materials instead of the alu and leather to bring the price down to the realm of the G12 an others? Simply, will this ever be available in Glock form? (I use a firearm reference because I don’t find any appropriate scooter analogy.) Or is that left up to the Sigma?

  7. illnoiseNo Gravatar on September 24th, 2010 6:14am

    Re: Shutter lag, it’s been getting better on most P&Ses, but it’s still a concern. My several-year-old Canon G6 was great for it’s time but it’s still noticeable. It’s certainly not going to be as fast as a SLR by nature, but an alleged 5 frames per second (compared to 2fps on the G12) is promising (though those 5 frames will still be delayed to some degree, and probably bring the camera to a grinding halt while the process). In any case, that’s one a few things I’d certainly want to know more about before diving in.

  8. mattyNo Gravatar on September 24th, 2010 6:37am

    That’s very cool. My first “real” camera was a very similar looking Yashica rangefinder.

  9. illnoiseNo Gravatar on September 24th, 2010 6:59am

    Brooke, as far as a ‘cheaper’ version, I think that misses the point. I could buy the cheapest Canon DSLR with a kit lens for less money, and it’s tempting, and that’s what most people would do. But my friend has one of those and it just feels cheap, and the kit lens is pretty lame. I’d have everything I thought I wanted, but I’d be disappointed with the quality and performance. This camera is more limited in capability, but if it can really kick ass at what it does, I’d be happier.

    It’s like the difference between a Black Jack 150, which is basically a 50cc frame pushed to its limit, versus a bike like the Blur, which was engineered for 150cc from the start. Both have their merits, but I like the more-purposefully-engineered Blur.

  10. BrookeNo Gravatar on September 24th, 2010 7:52am

    I think there’s a disconnect then. Is the cost down to the nicer single purpose aspects that are technical or is it about the appearance as well? I think you can separate the two in some respect. The maker of the low end DSLR has spent their manufacturing money on adding many things. Did Fuji spend it all on a really good sensor and the aluminum and leather is a pittance? My question should have been, can I get that camera that has limited capability but kicks as at what it does in a cheaper ‘shell’, or is this the ONLY camera that has this limited capability but kicks as at what it does? Is this camera build as rare as the modern scooter without under seat storage and cavernous embellished bodywork? I just get the feeling that if Piaggio made a Vespa LX at 80% of the size in every respect with no under-seat storage it would cost the same as a regular LX. And if Kymco made a Super 9 at 80% of the size with no under-seat storage it would rock just as much as the mini-LX, but still be 1000.00 less. Now who makes the Kymco version of the X-100? Or is this the Kymco version and they just have come up with a better vision for the product than even Leica?

  11. illnoiseNo Gravatar on September 24th, 2010 8:33am

    How about this: This camera is the Kawasaki W650, a high-quality modern Japanese knockoff of a vintage Japanese knockoff of a Triumph Bonneville. Meanwhile, Triumph is marketing a modern Bonneville closer in lineage to the original at a much higher price, but someone less interested in brand name but still in love with the style of the Bonneville would be perfectly happy and save some money with the W650. And would likely have a better experience with the product in the long run (possibly more reliable, cheaper to maintain, less baggage).

    The W650 has (had) other competitors (anything in that CC range) that are cheaper and more versatile, but just don’t feel the same. And there are other vintage-inspired bikes that are maybe cheaper (maybe the Ural and Royal Enfield, don’t make me look it up) that are more slavishly retro/vintage, but not Japanese quality and lack modern conveniences.

    Wait, maybe this is a Ural. Maybe this whole post is stupid.

  12. BrookeNo Gravatar on September 24th, 2010 8:59am

    I don’t think it’s stupid at all. I think there is a common thread somewhere. I just don’t know where.

    I was under the impression that this was like a Rokon, but they made it in the sweet design and construction of a old BMW R60. I’m just wondering if one can buy the Rokon?

  13. orinoNo Gravatar on September 24th, 2010 12:14pm

    Bryan, the point that needs to be made is that this thing is aimed at people who are into cameras, not photography. Fuji is not a major player in the digital camera market, so they need to find some niche to call their own, and more importantly, find a way to stand out in the crowd. The digital guts for this thing are practically free, and if they can charge (and people will pay) a grand for it, good for them.

    Same deal with scooters. I actually rather like the smart escooter; it has some clever features. If it goes on sale, it will be purchased by upscale urban dwellers (which is why it’s evocative of a vintage vespa) who want to show the world how green (or “green”) they are. That it’s considerably less useful (and green) than a bicycle won’t matter. It would be useful with a 125cc gas engine, but that probably won’t happen. Consumers are going to buy what they want. They seldom ask themselves why they want something…

  14. illnoiseNo Gravatar on September 24th, 2010 1:52pm

    Here’s your story, Brooke: Leica has rebranded several Panasonic cameras lately, and charging an extra $250 for badge engineering.

    http://www.engadget.com/2010/09/21/leica-slaps-d-lux-5-badge-on-panasonic-lx5-hitches-up-the-price/

  15. illnoiseNo Gravatar on September 24th, 2010 2:02pm

    Orin, good points. And I’ve never denied that it’s the styling of this thing sucking me in.

    Maybe Stella and vintage Vespa owners are into SCOOTERS, not riding. I definitely fit into that category too, Riding is OK, but I much prefer talking about scooters, staring at scooters and drinking next to scooters.

    It’s also folly to think this camera’s going to make me a better photographer, it’s always folly. A great photographer can do great work with any camera (I just looked to see what kinda camera W. Eugene Smith used, and you can find photos of him holding just about any kind of camera you can think of). I just see the lens limitation as an interesting challenge and the form factor as something I’d really like to carry with me everywhere I go, unlike a bulky SLR or my sort-of-horsey and-not-so-durable G6 (the newer Gs are a much more convenient size). I DO feel like I learned more stretching the capabilities of my G6 for all these years than I would have if I’d had a top-of-the-line DSLR all along. I’m comfortable in Manual mode now and I feel like I understand the basic physics and optics of a camera better than lots of people who own far nicer gear. I spent several months trolling camera forums and learned a lot, but the most important lesson I learned is that anyone bragging about what a “Professional” they were and listing all their flashes and lenses (with font tags to make sure the “L”s were red) in their footer were usually blowhard frauds with too much disposable income.

  16. BrookeNo Gravatar on September 24th, 2010 2:24pm

    No, that’s a Chiang Jian with a BMW badge. I’m looking for a Rokon. Something without interchangeable lenses or optical zoom with a sweet sensor, and in plastic rather than magnesium and leather. Theoretically.

  17. illnoiseNo Gravatar on September 24th, 2010 2:41pm

    I think the $2000 Leica that’s very similar to this one is plastic, but I could be wrong. If there is a competitor with similar features, even with a plastic body, it probably wouldn’t cost much less just because the market categories define pricing more than actual production cost. A camera like this would be priced higher than a prosumer camera like the G12 just on principle, just as the G12 must cost more than a consumer p&s, and just as Canon and Nikon have a huge pricing wall between APS-C and full-frame DSLRs just to make the pros feel like they’re using gear most people can’t afford (and to make rich jags feel like they’re pros for spending $8000 on a camera they don’t know how to use)

  18. BrookeNo Gravatar on September 24th, 2010 3:39pm

    I think we are on the same page now. So regardless of mag body and leather wrap, it’s a unique piece of hardware that would cost as much if it had a crap plastic shell?

    You know I think of optics in a completely different way. That lens and sensor arrangement with the greater depth of field just reminds me of my recent (the last year or so) love of the 10X air (versus oil or water immersion) objective that has a depth of field measured in tens of microns, but the lower magnification and much longer working distance makes it more fool proof for imaging a larger field, as well as reducing photobleaching.

  19. illnoiseNo Gravatar on September 24th, 2010 5:53pm

    Yeah I was just going to say that.

  20. Eric AlmendralNo Gravatar on September 25th, 2010 12:28am

    Bryan, love the W650 analogy.

    It took one look and a cursory glance at the specs for this camera for me to start swooning.

    Only more surprising to me than the price tag was reading that the bloggers seemed surprised it didn’t cost much more.

    I have historically made very poor choices in digital cameras. Didn’t matter how much research I did and how many reviews I read; I was ultimately disappointed. So maybe I’d be happier being disappointed in something beautiful and expensive.

    That may explain why I also own a (modern) Vespa. Ha.

  21. illnoiseNo Gravatar on September 26th, 2010 7:21pm

    I shot with a borrowed prime that works out to about 50mm all weekend and I think I could be very happy with that. Of course 35mm is even wider, but not all that much.

    UPDATE: It was a 26mm, so at my (borrowed from work) 30D’s 1.6 crop factor, that’s close enough (41.6). I’m sold on the focal length.

  22. illnoiseNo Gravatar on September 26th, 2010 7:26pm

    Eric, originally i thought it was a full 35mm sensor, so $1000 was a steal, you can’t buy anything with a fullframe sensor for under $2500K (body). But even with an APS-C, when you think about it, even the bottom-of-the-line Rebel with a cheap prime lens isn’t much cheaper than $1000. I think the bottom-of-the-line Rebel feels kinda cheap. If this thing is built really solid, has a fantastic lens and the image quality is great, it’s well worth $1000. I paid almost $800 for my G6 several years ago, and that camera has served me so well. I think the newer Gs are a real bargain at $500ish or whatever, but I wanna try something different (I’d keep my old G6, too, so that’s not going anywhere).

  23. SkeeveNo Gravatar on February 5th, 2011 1:15pm

    Needs interchangeable lenses. I don’t mind not having a zoom, but a fixed semi-WA? [barf!]

    I only need 3 lenses to be happy: a good macro, a semi-telefoto for portraiture [85mm -120mm in the old 35mm film cam scheme; my Nikon 105 was a dream, but I'd rather have an 85mm w/ an f2 than the 105 w/ its f2.5 max aperture], and a good WA in the 20 to 24mm range [again, based on focal lengths in the old 35mm film camera lenses.]

    If the portrait lens has an extended tube to be a combined macro/portrait, then I can get away w/ only two lenses. A nice superfast 50mm f1.2 is great for night shots, etc, but was the least effective use of my money when I was into film photography [back before most of the readers here on 2SB were born... ;) ]

  24. illnoiseNo Gravatar on February 6th, 2011 10:39pm

    I dunno, the more I see, the more I like. Sure, 35mm’s not for everyone, but again, the point is to simplify and optimize the lens/sensor for one focal length and really perfect it. 35mm’s a great street-shooting focal length, and surely other versions are in the works if this one succeeds.

    Ironically, since I wrote this, my job bought me a fullframe DSLR, so I’ll probably end up without the Fuji, even though I’m still drooling on it and the size would make it a lot better to carry around. Skeeve, I agree with you, I bought an 85 f1.8 and a 24 f2.4 , and then found a cheap used 50 f1.8, so the only thing I kinda feel like I’m missing is macro, but I don’t shoot much macro anyway.

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