What makes a great camera?

A belated review of the Fujifilm X100V

Through most of December I have been making photos with the Fujifilm X100V for the purpose of publishing this review. And the question that has remained on the back of my mind all the while is “What makes a great camera?” I unboxed the X100V with this in mind and shot with this in mind, and as I finally sit down to pen this review I think I have a fairly good answer.

I have not been an ardent subscriber to Chase Jarvis’s idea that “the best camera is the one you have with you” in the sense that you never need a more capable camera. We all outgrow the capabilities of the instruments we wield at some point—even if this is not as soon as we usually fancy—but the best camera is the one that helps you realise your vision and gets out of your way while doing so. The most convenient camera, and the reason you ought not make excuses to practise your photography, is whatever camera you have with you. Sometimes these are one and the same camera, other times not.

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The X100V is poised to be that mythical “best” camera lying around that you can take with you everywhere. Its form is compact enough and that it can be slipped into the pocket of a coat or awkwardly hung around your neck without much fuss. I took it, with some exceptions, nearly everywhere every time I stepped out.

Compared with a smartphone

“Why not use your phone?” one may then ask. The honest answer to this question is that you probably can do just that and everything will still be fine, but there are occassions where a phone simply cannot serve a photographer’s needs and manual controls are one of them. I find the manual controls of a phone camera lacking (e.g. aperture dials) or clumsy (e.g. swiping across a screen to set focus, shutter speed etc.) Moreover, the smaller sensor in phones means you can only dial up the shutter speed so far before it costs you in other ways.

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Technologically, smartphones also went the way of telephoto lenses rather than fixed focal lengths with variable apertures. This has been a folly photographically but a shrewd move in terms of business growth. Most people are fascinated by being able to zoom in, especially when their entry into photography was in the digital era. However, zooming (not as in compression) can be done with feet, and photography has always prized aperture control over longer focal lengths. The X100V offers this and the fact that it comes at the cost of a fixed prime lens no longer makes a difference.


The X100V shoots at 4160 x 6240 in the popular commercial aspect ratio of 3:2 like any dSLR. The iPhone, by comparison, shoots much larger photos at 6048 x 8064 in 4:3 ratio. I dislike both these ratios but that is talk for another day. Both photos are good enough—and large enough—to print for posters and decorate walls at home or pin up in art galleries.

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Do not make the mistake of interpreting the larger dimensions of the iPhone to mean better photos for larger prints. What really matters is the sensor size, not the resolution. The sensor on the X100V is the standard APS-C 23.5 x 15.6 mm affair you may find in a “proper” dSLR. The iPhone 15 Pro has a tiny one by comparison at just 9.8 x 7.3 mm. This is what makes photos from the X100V objectively superior.

For the curious, a “proper” dSLR or mirrorless camera, such as my main one the Sony ɑ7IV, has an even larger 35.6 x 23 23.8 mm full-frame sensor. As someone who shoots primarily landscapes the full-frame makes a huge difference to my work. But for street scenes the cropped sensor of the X100V offers an advantage by narrowing the focal length: the 28mm pancake lens actually offers a 35mm field of view. The same lens on my full-frame Sony would have offered a 28mm field which may prove to be too wide for these purposes. (Medium format cameras are an even bigger deal but beyond the scope of our discussion.)

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Tip I made a horrible mistake through the first few rounds of making photographs with the X100V, transferring photos over to my iPhone wirelessly using the Fujifilm X app assuming it was transferring the full resolution files. I am now left with a bunch of 2k photos as a result (some of which are on this page since 2k is sufficient resolution for this purpose). Transferring tethered directly into Lightroom or an external hard disc brings over the full resolution files. In wireless transfer there does exist a “resize” toggle that you can turn off but you need to do this every single time as it does not remember the state.


An important characteristic of a good camera that I hinted at in the beginning of this review is that it gets out of the way. The X100V does this in an old-fashioned way: all key settings are placed on hardware dials on the camera body. If you so choose, you can use this camera without ever getting into the touchscreen. As someone coming from a Nikon and then Sony system, this is great news: both these systems also rely heavily on hardware dials. Unlike several others (Canon) these also have front and rear dials. Surprisingly enough, the X100V follows suit, despite its compact form factor, and brings in two dials.

The ND filter built into the camera is somewhat of a boon and allows you to shoot a stop higher (or more in some situations) without overexposing your photo. This was a clever addition on Fujifilm’s part that beautifully offsets the limitations of the camera compared to, say, the XE-4 by allowing the photographer to extend the many ways in which they can play with light without hitting the ceiling on what a camera like this can help accomplish.

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Fujifilm’s roots lie in film photography and that shows. I have always admired Fuji for making this leap in a way Kodak never did. They retain their colour science, transferring it as best as possible, going from film rolls to digital sensors. This results in two effects on the photographer: first, better highlight roll off than most other cameras I have seen; and second, the constant and irritating need to underexpose.

The second effect is easily handled: I used a Tiffen Black Pro-Mist filter all the time which allows me at least 2/3–1 extra stop to expose. Specifically, I chose the 5% filter as a nice middle ground between sharpness and better exposure. Others prefer the Moment Cinebloom for this, even at 10%, with a handful being bold enough for the 20% filter.

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The first effect is more pleasant. In shooting film I have experience only with Superia and Astia (the Ektar 100 is my go-to and the HP5 is my all-time favourite for black-and-white) so I cannot comment on all the film simulations the X100V offers. Those which I am familiar with are accurate enough to justify their continued presence and popularity. I would even go so far as to say that if you got your comfortable set of 5 films loaded onto the camera you can get away with shooting JPEGs perfectly usable straight out of the camera. This brings the convenience of the X100V a lot closer to a smartphone than one might expect.

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Another benefit of the X100V, rather like a smartphone camera, is that it is inconspicuous (even in silver) and does not draw people’s attention while you are out making photographs—even of those people themselves. People not responding to your camera is a great thing for a multitude of reasons.


To be honest there are not too many complaints I have with this camera. If you understand it for what it is: a prime lens camera with decent capabilities that is great for everyday use but will not replace your “main” camera instead stand in for it as a more compact side-kick, you will enjoy it thoroughly. It is better than whatever is on your smartphone without being too bulky by comparison. To anyone invested in photography that makes all the difference.

Given its prime lens the camera does come with restrictions built in, but a case can be made for how it might squeeze out those creative juices flowing within all of us. Shooting with a single focal length is known to force us to re-think our composition and just get those extra steps a zoom lens would have spoilt us without otherwise. But the 35mm-equivalent focal length is a good choice: it is good for everything from contextual portraits to street to landscapes. In every case a better focal length may exist, but as a do-everything number the 35mm is hard to beat.

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The X100V is missing a proper grip which is no doubt the result of its compact form factor. Aftermarket grips are a solution but they come at the price of convenience, making the camera heftier and not as pocketable as it is out of the box. The straps that Fujifilm provides are also tough to slip off and on easily, but I am willing to go with them simply because better alternatives—such as those from Peak Design—are too expensive a purchase to justify.

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The photography experience

No camera is going to forgive bad shot discipline, and no camera is going to paint over bad composition, exposure, aperture or shutter speed. So the X100V is not going to give you better photos if you were not making good photos already.

With that out of the way, just how is the photography experience with this camera? In one word, fun. There are cameras that are awe-inspiring, technically capable and robust to a deadly extent. But not a lot of cameras that are technically masterful are also fun. The X100V is one that ticks this rare combination of boxes. Despite knowing what I could not shoot—and that I could not shoot everything I did want to shoot—I always found myself reaching for the X100V and looking forward to making pictures with it.

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I would not let go of my Sony for more dedicated, proper travel experiences. That body coupled with Sony’s 24–105 or the Zeiss 85mm Batis can blow the X100V out of the water. But to make such a comparison is foolish because that is not what the X100V promises to be at all. Instead, it promises to be a high-quality camera and lens combination with clear-cut restrictions but stellar performance in all that it is in fact designed to produce.

The autofocus is reliable but falters and throws errors with a close-fitted mist/cinebloom filter. In practise, despite encountering this focus error a few times, it did not affect my experience with the camera negatively. If you pick a good, high-contrast focus point the error almost never occurs. Behind the sensor is Fujifilms tried-and-tested XTransIV processor, one generation behind the latest XTransV that the X-T5 comes with; but the 4th gen does not show age.

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The Fujifilm X100V is a premium compact prime lens camera. This means it comes with a few perks and a few caveats. The great thing is that it does not come with strings attached, and what it promises to do it does exceedingly well.

If you nail the exposure, provide it plenty of light and pick a good shutter speed, the X100V will deliver all that you are hoping from a camera and more. The limitations built into the X100V, such as its prime lens, force you to look for different ways to caputre a scene for which you would otherwise have resorted to switching lenses or pushing your more capable camera to its limits.

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As a camera intended to work on your photography, the X100V is the best option currently on the market, even at the end of 2023. To me anyway, this is what the camera really is. It is a great second camera that can tag along with your main, being more compact, fitting nicely in your coat, and—with Fujifilm’s image processing—producing beautiful JPEGs that can take some of the less important technicalities out of the way, making photography more fritcionless while still offering you all the controls you need to realise your vision as a photographer—both figuratively and physically, as dials.

The X100V is a great buy and, thanks to its retro looks and functional design, can be a camera that will remain your workhorse for several years, during every stroll, every drive into the city, and every photography self-improvement project you can think up.


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