So, I’ve now spent a week or so with the new offering from Fujifilm and here is my little Fuji X100S Review.
This won’t be a pixel-peeping technical breakdown. There are loads of those across the internet. I’m approaching this as a professional, using the camera and hopefully from my experiences you can decide if the X100S is a camera you would be interested in buying. Needless to say, the important stuff is that the Fuji X100S is a new 16-megapixel X-Trans CMOS II image sensor and a new EXR processor paired up with the same 23mm f/2 lens as the X100 had. A winning combination?
Now, when I was a little bitty teeny boy I had a Canon AE-1 program camera. I loved everything about that camera from its weight, its size, its form factor, its tactile feeling and its resultant images (OK, I was pretty poor with film, so let’s not bring image quality into the equation here).
This was probably something like the mid to late eighties. I had and Amstrad CPC464 computer and a Chopper bike rusting in the garage. I used to watch films hired from the shop on a massive Betamax video recorder and I really liked a girl down the road called Rachael and playing rugby.
I no longer have the Amstrad, nor the bike, nor the video recorder. Rachael became a Buddhist and I’m now married to Gemma. I do still have my AE-1 though. It sits on my shelf in my office.
Fast forward to 2010 and I’m a professional wedding photographer. Crazy how the world shifts and tilts and we find ourselves doing things we just never thought we would be. I was shooting weddings in a documentary approach and still do. I was carrying a Canon 5D and a Canon 1 Series body with me to each wedding. My back wasn’t happy but to be fair, I did love those cameras and they were (and remain so) very capable and have a place in the “fond” section of my memory.
I wanted a camera that was small, felt good, worked well, produced great images and a camera that I felt had a spirit about it. Like my AE-1 did. I wasn’t getting that with my DSLRs, even though they were very able machines, I wanted something to bring enjoyment back into photography for me.
I recall seeing some adverts for this small form camera from Fujifilm called an X100. I read reviews in the press from its debut showing over at Photokina and was instantly mesmerised. Why? Because it reminded me so much of my beloved AE-1.
I wanted one, and I got one and I loved it. I genuinely did. It came with me to some weddings and we became very good friends.
As we all know, the AF system in the first batch of original X100′s (that’s plural X100, not an X100s!!!! – phew) was limiting, especially in low light, but to a certain extent Fujifilm diligently worked with users to produce a series of firmware updates for the X100 which made it a much more viable camera. The X100 was much loved by me, and many, but a little bit like a politician it was very much subjective.
Wooooosh….. fast forward again to 2013 and we have a new iteration, called the Fujifilm X100S. An update in every sense bar the look and feel (which is, actually updated slightly).
The Fujifilm X100S (shot taken on an original X100)
So, here is my old AE-1. Shot in macro mode on the X100S. The macro mode, by the way, is much more responsive than the X100 and to me it seems focus’s even closer. This was shot at F/2. It’s sharp enough for me for this picture but Fuji recommend not shooting in macro mode at less than F/4 to ensure sharpness in macro mode.
My beloved Canon AE-1 (shot taken with the Fujifilm X100S)
I’m a professional photographer and most Saturday’s I spend my time photographing weddings. I took the X100S to some weddings (more on that later) but I think where a majority of people will see the benefit of this camera is as a “go-to” camera that produces amazing professional-quality images. For family photographs, travel and street photography I can’t see me using much more than this camera going forward.
Its simple, pick the camera up and shoot. Without disrespecting DSLRs too much, I simply wouldn’t have done that with my big cameras. To a certain extent even the X-Pro1 makes me think about lens choices etc as I’m reaching for it. But the absolute beauty of the X100S is that there is no decisions to be made. Its a fixed lens – the decisions are at the behest of your creativity alone.
Albie, my son: Shot at F/2, ISO 800 & 1/125th
Fuji X100S Focusing
Let’s talk a little about Auto Focus first. I’ll say this right away – it’s eons better than the original X100 and I mean that with all sincerity. However, it’s still not “perfect” in some conditions. Fuji claim the AF is now one of the fastest in the world on mirrorless cameras and perhaps that is true (I’ve not used any other in anger so can’t compare). The AF is extremely responsive and in good light, pretty much instantaneous. In low light, it’s slightly less responsive. It does take a little longer in some instances to focus. Buy you know what? So does my Canon 5D Mark III.
My preferred method of shooting with the X-Trans cameras (including the X-Pro1) is to use manual focus and use the AFL/AEL button as a back button focusing option. I set the AE/AF-Lock Mode to AE&AF On/Off Switch and this in effect decouples the AF from the exposure button.
If you switch the image review mechanism off, and employ this configuration, you can shoot much more rapidly once your focus has been achieved. It works amazingly well and whilst I’d like to see a bit more configuration options around the AE/AF on the X100S this ability to focus, then fire frames when you are happy has made shooting with camera much more pleasurable.
Something to remember is that the Fuji X100s actually uses a combination of Phase Detection and Contrast Detection auto focusing. The camera will decide what to use and it’s my understanding you can’t influence that. The new phase detection is faster but only really in good light (plus it only works on the central nine focus points) and that might explain why, in good light, the AF speed is so much improved.
One of the things that I admire about Fuji is that they do listen to us users. This is evident in the firmware updates they have put out for all of their recent cameras. I think one of the biggest gripes amongst professionals with the original X100 was the manual focus functionality. A camera that was destined to be used by street photojournalists the world over and the manual focus was a big disappointment.
Not any more. The new manual focus system works and works well. Fuji have also introduced two new aids to manual focus shooters; Digital Split Image Focusing and Focus Peak. I can hands down say that the Focus Peak feature is worth the money alone. If you have an X100 and shoot manually (or want to) and you are on the fence about whether to upgrade; the Focus Peak is the reason to upgrade.
The focus ring is more agile and pulls together far quicker. This was perhaps the biggest gripe of X100 users and Fuji have addressed it head on with the Manual Focusing features of the X100S.
Rosa, my daughter: Shot at F/2, ISO 500 & 1/125th
Low Light Performance
I don’t think anyone who has used any of the X-trans cameras from Fuji can fail to be astounded by the level of image quality they produce. For me, as an available light shooter, I rarely use flash in any form. The X100 was good at low light shooting but I wouldn’t head north of around 2,500 ISO in extreme circumstances.
The Fuji X100S inherits the superb low light processing of the X-Pro1 and X-E1 as far as I can tell. The extended range goes all the way up to 25,600 but for me, the real power in low light is the ability to set the Auto-ISO to top out at 6,400 where needed (taking into account a minimum shutter speed).
A lot of people ask me if I’m comfortable using the Auto-ISO settings and the answer is yes. In fact, I use it pretty much all the time. However, I have different settings for different situations. You can save the different Auto-ISO settings for each of the three camera custom shooting profiles so I have one setting that shoots between 200 ISO and 6400ISO with a minimum shutter speed of 1/125th (that’s my standard). I then have a couple of variants for outside shooting and for shooting in much darker scenarios (where the shutter speed is a lot lower). Using the new Q button I can switch between these pretty rapidly.
As ever, the famed Fuji colour rendering is just amazing. However, as I tend to shoot JPG with my cameras these days I’ve noticed the NR setting in camera can be a little harsh and for that reason I usually set my NR setting to -1 in the configuration menu.
In my tests , the colour accuracy, sharpness and noise is markedly better than the X100 and certainly on a par with the files my X-Pro1 produces.
Rosa, asleep: Shot at F/2 ISO 6,400 1/15th Second (spot metered)
Malmesbury Abbey: Shot at F/2 ISO 6,400 1/20th Second
This next shot was taken on the weekend at just before 8:45pm. Hence the high ISO and slow shutter speed to bring the ambient light in as much as possible. Shot with an exposure compensation of +1. I’m not sure if I could get this kind of image, hand held, from a large DSLR and to be honest, I’m not sure if I’d get it hand held using the 35mm lens on the X-Pro1.
Malmesbury: Shot at F/2 6,400 ISO 1/55th of a second
X100S in Real Life
As a documentary wedding photographer the Fuji X cameras have been a bit of a Godsend. I shoot a lot at each wedding now with the X-Pro1 and whilst I did take the original X100 to a few weddings in the early days it soon became redundant with the advent of the X-Pro1.
Would I take an X100S with me to a wedding? Yes. Definitely. I’m not sure it would be a primary camera but I think it’s a wonderful addition to the kit bag. I took it to a couple of weddings last weekend and whilst I only took a very small amount of images with it, I was very pleased with the results.
As with the X100 it’s silent. Absolutely deadly silent which is great for candid photography. As a point of fact, one of the weddings I took the camera to the weather was pretty appalling. The guests made the most of it of course, but were all in a confined marquee for a major part of the day. Using the X100S allowed me to really get amongst the guests and shoot candidly and with as little notice as possible being taken of me.
For wedding photographers and street shooters, the X100S will be a powerful tool. In situations where shooting is restricted, or where there is a large amount of guests in close quarter I can’t think of a better option right now.
As mentioned previously all the images I shoot these days are shot in JPG. Decent raw support for the RAF files of the X-Pro1 and X-E1 has finally arrived in Lightroom 4.4 but I would still like to see some camera profiles added. I’ll wait for (what will probably be) Lightroom 5 before investigating the RAF support of the X100S there.
The ergonomics of the camera itself have changed a little from the X100. There is the now ubiquitous Q button which is remarkably useful when I remember to use it. Notably, the AF selection button is now at the top of the back dial. This is great as you can very quickly move your AF point across the frame. Perfect for those who don’t re-compose and shoot.
The dials are more rigid and I haven’t once knocked my exposure compensation dial unlike I do all the time with my X100 and also do with my X-Pro1.
And quickly, whilst using the camera I found the following quite useful:
- In MF press and hold the command dial to choose quickly between Digital Split and Focus Peak
- Holding the Q button down switches the brightness of the LCD
There are some additions to the film emulations and some pretty cool “features” to the in camera editing such as Toy Camera and Tilt-Shift emulation (in fact, take a look at David Cleland’s great series A Mini Adventure)
I’m sold on the camera – you can tell right? There some minor irritations still; I’d still not 100% comfortable with the button configuration on the back. I’d like to see a dedicated AF button over on the right hand side. Another customisable function button, perhaps on the front of the camera would be awesome too. At present, I use the Fn button to switch the ND filter on and off. That’s about it though!
The Fujifilm X100S is a wonderful camera, and I genuinely mean that. Zack Arias said it is the best camera he has ever owned and you know what, I think I may well agree with him.
So here they are. The old master and newly crowned favourite. You see – they are so close…. The Fujifilm is actually a little smaller and lighter. But they breathe life into your photography. In a modern digital world where everything can be so automated using a camera should be a joy, as well as functionally productive.
The Old Master and New King: Fujifilm X100S and a Canon AE-1 (shot on an original X100)