Fuji X100T: What's the future now for the X100 series?
As I walked past my camera shelf yesterday I heard what I can only describe as a soft whimpering. I searched for the source and realised it was coming from my Fuji X100T. I lifted it up to face me and looked quizzically into its little viewfinder window. I could swear I saw a tear there.
"What ails you, little camera?”, I asked.
After a moment of sullen silence it replied in a small voice: "I feel unloved" it said. "Mr. Fuji is bringing out new cameras and lenses that make me feel insecure."
"First there was the X70. It's like me after a crash diet. It fits in a pocket—a pocket! It has a tilty touchscreen too..."
I snorted derisively
"I know YOU don't like such things, but the Snowflake Generation does, brought up on smartphones and all."
"But you have a viewfinder. An OPTICAL viewfinder. And that lovely 23mm lens."
The little camera shuffled in my hand, turning its back to me
"That won't help me much now that Mr. Fuji has announced the 23mm F2 R WR, will it? Now anyone can turn their X-Pro2 into a better version of me—faster, better AF, weatherproofed— and with an optical viewfinder."
I didn't know what to say. I started to speak but the little X100T cut me off.
"YOU'VE ordered one, haven't you?"
"Don't try to lie to me—you were seen. The X-E2 was in your bag when you went into the shop. She heard you, you unfaithful man!"
"Alright—yes. I have ordered one. But I still love you. I'll still take you out, and..."
The little X100T hopped off my hand and back onto the shelf.
My X100T has a point. Its predecessor, the original X100, started the whole Fuji X line when it was announced back in September 2010. The current iteration, the X100T, is a vastly improved version of that first camera both in performance but particularly in handling. To be fair, it has always been what might be called a niche camera—an acquired taste—a fixed focal length compact camera with an optical viewfinder in an era of EVFs (if you're lucky) and zooms; a compact camera for photographers, not what I believe the Americans refer to as "soccer moms". It was a risk on Fuji's part to bring it to market, but it was a risk that has paid off handsomely. One thing led to another and to the X Series we have today.
I have written at length already about my own journey with the cameras. In short I had an X100 and disliked it. I then had an X100S and struggled with it before finally getting my X100T and using it extensively until it grew on me. Now I appreciate that this may sound as if I am not wholly convinced by the X100 concept; that's not strictly true but I did find that the iterations before the X100T were just too quirky in their handling to work for me.
But all that's a thing of the past. The X100T is an integral part of my X kit, as a go-everywhere discreet picture taking machine. The TCL and WCL-X100 adaptors give me 50mm and 28mm and the whole setup fits in my Domke F5XB. What's not to like?
Problem is, the X100T, announced in September 2014, is starting to look a little long in the tooth. It is part of the same generation as the X-E2, and the X-T1 with the admittedly excellent (and well proven) 16mp sensor. The last new camera that I expect to see from Fuji with that sensor is the X70; the 24.3mp sensor introduced in the X-Pro2 and now equipping the X-T2 is the way of the future. So surely the X100T replacement will follow the same trajectory?
Maybe not. There are two things that militate against it; the X70 is a well-made, consumer-orientated compact camera with an 18mm lens (28mm equivalent). It is smaller and cheaper than the X100T and significantly less complex and expensive to make, since it has no EVF let alone a hybrid viewfinder. I can't say that I'm a fan of the X70; I've made no secret of my dislike of the tilty touch screen and given that I already have a perfectly good GR it has never appealed to me as a camera. I also can't get away from the thought that it is a way of using up the stock of 16mp sensors... Still, it is by all accounts selling well and I have no doubt that some people who would have been considering an X100T have sprung for an X70. Our colleague Klaus Sassenberg has one and loves it.
The second and more serious threat comes from the newly-announced 23mm f/2 R WR. This is a lens that I and others have been asking for for some time. The 23mm f/1.4 R is an exceptional lens but the size of a biscuit barrel and the weight of a baby hippopotamus (okay, I exaggerate, but you know what I mean). It is one of the very few Fujinon lenses that I have owned for a time then sold on. You have to be really dedicated to the 23mm (35mm in full frame terms) field of view to really make it worth it. When the 35mm f/2 R WR appeared my hopes were raised, and now have been realised. An f/2 means a sensible size and weight—a boon for the travelling photographer—and the WR designation gives a degree of ruggedness that is welcome in daily use.
So, in a couple of months time an awful lot of people will be putting an X-Pro2 and 23mm f/2 combination alongside an X100T —both figuratively and literally—and wondering why they should bother with the little fixed lens compact. The X-Pro2/23 is fully weatherproof. It has the bigger sensor, better handling, better AF, better everything. It knocks the X100T out of the game in almost every way...
Except two. Firstly, the X100T is significantly smaller than the X-Pro2, and lighter too. If we look at the specs, we see that the X100T is a comparatively svelte 440g while the X-Pro2 body only comes in at 495g. The 35mm f/2 is 170g so we can expect the 23mm to be there or thereabouts, probably tipping the scales at about 150-160g. These extra grams can make all the difference when packing for a trip, or when walking about a city for hours on end. Secondly the X100T has a leaf shutter; this equals near silence in use and more significantly the benefit of being able to flash sync to much higher speeds.
The X100T occupies a niche; the X70 and 23mm f/2 make that niche smaller, but it is still there.
So what next for the X100 range? The pessimistic view says that it will cease to exist, rendered no longer relevant for the reasons already stated. That would be a short-sighted shame. The optimistic view says that before the end of the year we will see the X100U, with weatherproofing, the 16mp sensor replaced by the 24.3mm and improvements across the board in AF performance and handling. The joystick from the X-Pro2 and now X-T2 will make an appearance and we may—may—even see the tilty screen making an appearance (sigh). I wouldn't bet the farm on dual SD card slots though—the X100T has always been more of a sniper's weapon than a machine-gunner’s. But a bigger grip and the adoption of the bigger battery from the interchangeable lens models would be welcome additions. I'll be honest and say that I think at this stage we are more likely to see a next-generation X100 than an X-E3. I think the bean counters will kill the latter off as being too middle-of-the-road for the current marketing trajectory.
But—and here is an interesting thought—if I were sitting in the Fuji design studios at the moment and I wanted to re-establish the X100 line as a stand-out flag-bearer for the brand, I would do something a little radical. I would differentiate from both the 23mm-equipped X-Pro2 and all the other manufacturers out there by once again reaching into the past and learning from it, just as they did when the X100 first burst upon the scene over a lustrum ago. I would take the 27mm f/2.8 formulation and use that as the basis for a brand new lens for the X100 line; a 40mm equivalent. This would at a stroke put clear blue water in the range between the X70 and the X100U and also offer a classic fixed lens focal length in a compact and portable form. It would be a higher quality lens than the interchangeable, entry-level 27mm so the X-Pro2 would not compete. Back in the day, Leica did it, Rollei did it, Olympus did it and many others. I do it today, after a fashion, with the Fujinon 27mm mounted almost permanently upon my X-E2. If I were Fuji I would grasp the nettle. In the mirrorless market, as in so many others, differentiation is king. And nobody else is doing a fixed 40...
I went back to the shelf and told my X100T in no uncertain terms just what I thought. I told it that it has a special place in my Fuji lineup and that no mere lens—or camera with flashy tilty screens and all—would ever replace it in my affections. Then I nestled it back into its Domke. Tomorrow we're going out together. Just because.