While we've all moved to digital by now, more and more companies are starting to see that there's quite a market for digital cameras with a more retro style.
Heck, companies like Olympus have basically bet their entire business on cameras that are styled to look more like their old camera models, even going as far as to call all their latest digicams Pen, the model name from their classic camera series.
Fujifilm is the latest in the line to discover the public's pent-up desire for retro-styled cameras when they released the X100, a camera which takes the whole concept of retro styling to its logical extreme, even down to putting in a rangefinder window into the camera, although with a modern twist using the funky hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder system.
The problem was that at RM3,888 (S$1,593) list, you'll be paying a lot for the quality and the retro styling of the X100.
Perhaps realising this, Fuji introduced the X10, a camera that shares the retro styling, but is cheaper and adds a zoom lens for more shooting versatility.
Nice heft, some quirks
From the front, the X10 gets all the styling cues of a 1960s camera right - the leatherette finish, the angular body shape, the rangefinder window, metal lens cap and even the threaded shutter release looks just like it would on a classic rangefinder film camera.
The camera feels really good in the hands, with a nice heft but not so heavy that it will weigh you down.
The threaded shutter release on the camera allows you to attach a relatively cheap remote cable release so that you can trip the shutter while the camera is on a tripod to prevent camera shake.
The reason I mention this is that I am increasingly meeting younger photographers who have no clue as to why there is a little hole with a screw thread on the top of the shutter release of some cameras.
On top, the retro styling continues, with a shooting mode dial, a tiny customisable FN button, an exposure compensation dial, flash hotshoe and a small, well-hidden pop-up flash.
Interestingly, the X10 has an unusual method for powering on - instead of a power switch, you just rotate the lens from the Off position to the first number on the zoom range (28mm) and vice versa to turn it off. Pretty intuitive.
On the back of course, the X10 has to make concessions for a modern digital camera - you get a 2.8in LCD screen and a plethora of buttons which look just like the ones you find on most compact cameras, along with a small jog dial.
Unlike the funky and wonderful hybrid viewfinder of the X100, the X10 goes for a simple optical rangefinder which zooms in tandem with the lens.
The optical rangefinder has no information displayed in it and of course suffers from parallax - because it's slightly off from the lens axis, what you see isn't exactly what you get, especially as you get closer and closer to your subject matter.
In any case, the rangefinder window is more suited for quick street photography in bright light, while the camera's live view LCD screen is probably better when shooting close-ups.
The one problem I have is that the camera doesn't have an eye-level sensor so that the LCD will automatically turn off when you put the camera up to your eye which can be distracting with the brightness of the LCD.
You can however, turn off the display completely in the custom settings although this isn't an ideal solution since you'd have to turn it on and off all the time if you regularly alternate between using it at eye-level and composing using the LCD.
The option to turn off the Live View permanently is also only available when in single servo autofocus, and strangely absent when the camera is set to continuous autofocus mode
Another thing - while I certainly appreciate the exposure compensation dial being easily accessible, I
would have liked to see Fuji implement a lock on it as I occasionally accidentally set exposure compensation while taking the X10 out of my camera bag.
One thing to note is that the tripod mount is not centrally located under the lens, which means shooting a panorama on a tripod might be a problem, but on the upside, the card slot and battery compartment are easily accessible even when the camera is mounted on the tripod.
Surprisingly, I had a better experience with the autofocus on the X10 compared with the X100 - autofocus was reasonably quick, even in low light.
The only time when the autofocus seemed to fail was shooting video in continuous autofocus in low-light situations - in these situations, the camera tended to hunt quite a lot, resulting in videos that alternately between blurry and in-focus.
Shooting speeds were good, with shot-to-shot times in JPEG mode averaging about a second or two, although RAW shooting is quite slow at about six seconds between shots.
ISO performance of the X10 is actually pretty decent for a camera with a 2/3in sensor - noise was very well controlled throughout, although at higher ISOs, this is at the expense of detail. ISO 100 to 400 performance was above average, with very low noise throughout and a good amount of detail preserved.
ISO 800 noise levels were still pretty low and perfectly usable, although the noise reduction was turned up a little higher here, resulting in some loss of detail.
By ISO 1600, noise reduction was a lot more aggressive and there is a noticeable loss of detail, and of course, by ISO 3200 noise levels were already past my threshold of acceptability.
No complaints about the battery life - I could easily use it for moderate shooting for about a week with no problems. Even heavy shooters will probably find it lasts a few days.
So here we are at the part where we say we recommend or don't recommend getting the Fuji X10.
The decision whether to buy or not to buy isn't an easy one in this case - in terms of feature set alone, the X10 is a decent, if not outstanding performer.
However, a large part of the appeal of the X10 lies not in the features, but in the retro design and the premium feel of the all-metal body and the leatherette finish.
So if you're simply looking for a well-featured compact camera, perhaps the X10 isn't quite for you, since at a list price of RM2,288 (S$937), it's fairly expensive for what it offers, especially when you consider higher-quality entry-level DSLRs are available for the same price.
Nevertheless, it's far cheaper than its elder brother, the X100, and in many ways, it's a lot more usable as a camera - autofocus seems more positive and there's a zoom lens, just to mention two.
Sure, you don't get the cool hybrid viewfinder of the X100, but it's also more than RM1,000 (S$409)cheaper and still feels quite solid and produces very high quality images.
So what I'm saying is that with the X10, you are buying with your heart and not your head - I for one, have a particular love of retro styling in cameras, and the X10 is certainly one of the prettiest around.