Cell phone cameras are pretty darn good these days. The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max deliver stunning images that you can’t believe came from the communication device that fits in your pocket, especially when you’re shooting in Apple’s new ProRAW format.
But here’s the thing: cell phone cameras are still pretty limited. Despite all of the software assistants Apple uses to improve photos, iPhone image sensors are still relatively small compared to a specially designed camera. And the size of the sensor is really important when it comes to photography and resolution in low light.
The iPhone is also a problem if you want manual controls. All you can do is point and shoot and rely on Apple’s preset software. Many of us who grew up with film cameras or who have experience with DSLR or mirrorless cameras still want to be able to quickly and easily control things like ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. These features allow more creativity and often better photos.
All of these are the reasons why Sony have mirrorless cameras was widely used by the pros recently. The cameras are equipped with huge full-frame sensors that bring in lots of light, produce extremely high-resolution files, and perform superbly in low-light conditions. They are intuitive to use and there is also a wide range of high quality Sony lenses that can be paired with them. Of course, a Sony mirrorless camera is significantly larger than an iPhone and won’t fit in your pocket. Hence, portability becomes an instant concern when you are on the go Experience adventures. You will need to bring a camera bag and the extra weight that can get you stuck when you’re trying to cover a lot of ground.
All of these are why I was so excited to check out the new Fuji X100V ($ 1,399), which perfectly divides the difference between a Sony mirrorless camera and a smartphone. The X100V is about the size of two stacked iPhone 12 Pro Maxs and doesn’t quite fit in my pocket, but it does fit in the handlebar pocket of my bike and is small enough to slip into a belt pouch or small sling instead of one need a camera-specific bag. It’s ideal for those of us who love adventure – from skiing to gravel riding, climbing to overlanding – and who want to take beautiful photos along the way without being weighed down by a huge camera body.
Inside is an APS-C 26.1 megapixel sensor that’s smaller than Sony’s but bigger than what you’ll find in an iPhone. This sensor creates rich, sharp files that can easily be converted into 20-inch prints. (I won’t go beyond 11 inches with the iPhone as the resolution of the smaller sensors creates graininess.)
Apple has done a good job combining multiple photos to make it easier for users to take photos in low light. In the dark, however, the X100V’s performance is still better. I’ve used it to take a ton of clear photos of my kids in my dimly lit house, and I can easily highlight the shadows in Adobe Lightroom to reveal details that don’t get too grainy or pixelated.
The X100V does not come with an interchangeable lens, but has a fixed, sharp 35 millimeter equivalent that goes up to ƒ / 2. Certainly a fixed lens limit range, but 35 millimeters is my favorite focal length anyway. It’s wide enough to take in a landscape but makes a nice portrait and can make a solid action shot as long as my subject is close. At ƒ / 2 the lens also creates a nice, even bokeh effect.
(Photo: Jakob Schiller)
I love looking through the X100V’s viewfinder (as opposed to just looking at an iPhone’s screen) which I think helps take better photos. This is because a viewfinder focuses your attention and gaze and allows you to capture the entire image of the camera. This often leads to a better composition. At the top, the X100V has a dial that allows you to quickly set the shutter speed and ISO, and the lens has an aperture ring. I Don’t always shoot in manual mode, but when I want a tricky exposure these features really help.
I also tested the Sony a7C in this portable category. This camera is equipped with a full frame sensor so it surpasses the resolution of the X100V. But I would still prefer to wear the X100V for two reasons. First, the X100V is more compact than the a7C with one of Sony’s pancake lenses, so it fits better in my pockets. Second, the X100V is over $ 1,000 cheaper than what you would pay for a Sony a7C with a decent 35mm lens. Sony also makes the DSC-RX1R II, which has a fixed 35mm lens, is just as portable as the X100V, and comes with a 42.4-megapixel full-frame sensor. But this model is several years old and costs $ 2,000 more than the Fuji. Leica makes many high-end portable cameras, but they are very expensive.
A photo mentor once said to me, “Stop talking about all of your gear and take a goddamn picture.” With the X100V, I know I’ll do that more.
Main photo: Jakob Schiller