May 22, 2014

Fujifilm X100s Review


In April of 2013 while on vacation with my family in Florida, massive camera backpack in tow (admittedly with a 500mm f4 inside) I decided it was time to find a way to diminish the amount of gear i carry to make decent photos.


For several evenings I researched different camera brand offerings and one camera truly captivated me.  I had read about it's predecessor a year or two previous but admittedly gave it little thought, let alone seriously contemplate purchasing one.  Now I could see it's niche.  If this camera was small and had great image quality I would be happy to leave home the plethora of gear I had been dragging around with me.


Upon my return to Newfoundland my search for a Fujifilm X100s began.  My local camera store wasn't a Fujifilm dealer so my search began elsewhere.  I made a few phone calls.  There seemed to be no stock.  As fast as they were arriving in stores they were being purchased.  It was a promising sign that it was a good camera, but frustrating to someone ready to lay down the coin.


An employee at another camera store on the other side of Newfoundland reached out via social media and mentioned that they would add my name to the wait list and would call when one arrived.  Mid June came and they still had no stock.  Instead of waiting longer I called Fujifilm Canada who gave me the name of several stores in Atlantic Canada that may have one.  A few phone calls later I found an X100s at a location in Halifax.

My journey into the world of Fujifilm had began.


It's currently late May of 2014 and I've now had this camera for eleven months and have shot over fifteen thousand frames with it.  When I lift it to my eye I no longer need to think about where each button lays.  I now feel like I know it well enough to be able to highlight the strengths of the Fujifilm X100s.


My first impressions were that this was great looking camera.  It was very well crafted and felt very solid in hand.  It has no mirror assembly, no pentaprism and no prominent hand grip.  The result is a camera that is much smaller than the average DSLR.  With a lens it weighs half the weight of my Nikon bodies!  It's size is not intimidating to those in front of it's lens and due to it's rangefinder like design with the viewfinder on the left (when viewed from the rear) your face isn't hidden behind the camera if you shoot with your right eye.  You can speak with your subjects and they can see much more of your face.  Along with the camera's small stature it is less intimidating to most people when compared to being photographed with the average DSLR.


One of the reasons this camera is truly revolutionary is that is has both an optical and electronic viewfinder.  Within reach of your right index finger is a lever to switch between viewfinder modes.  Surprisingly I've come to enjoy shooting with the electronic viewfinder (EVF) much more so than the optical viewfinder.  It offers exact framing and a preview of how your images will look with film simulations and white balance applied.  What you see is what you get!


The X100s features a fixed focal length 23mm (35mm equivalent) f2 lens.  The lens is very small in comparison to the 35mm f2 AF-D Nikkor I had owned and offers much higher image quality.  Photos are sharp even when shot wide open and show very little aberrations.  The only weaknesses I have found is that is isn't sharp at close to minimal focus distance and shows some field curvature when focused closer to infinity.  Given the limited depth of field at close shooting range most would want to stop the lens down.  By f4 sharpness returns.  Along with lens sharpness the lack of a mirror allows one to handhold to very low shutter speeds.  I've had great success at 1/8th of a second!


Instead of a focal plane shutter mechanism of most DSLRs the X100s features a leaf shutter which offers several benefits.  The first is that it is almost inaudible.  It is the quietest camera I've ever used.  Add in some background noise (on the street, at a party, restaurant, etc) and the shutter sound is non-existent.  It will make your previous camera sound like a machine gun.  Seriously.  The second benefit of the leaf shutter is the speed at which it can sync with flash.  Maximum sync speed is 1/4000th of a second!  The limiting factor is no longer the sync speed but the duration at which your flash can dump it's output and/or transmitter latency.  This is huge.  If you understand these terms it means that the X100s is a slayer of daylight.  It means that your little speed lights now act like they have about 4 times the power they did with your 1/250th second flash sync limited DSLR in bright sunlight.


There is one little catch with a leaf shutter.  It limits what aperture can be shot at specific shutter speeds.  The limit for f2 is 1/1000.  f4 is 1/2000th and f8 is 1/4000th.  Unfortunately one can not shoot f2 over 1/1000th in bright sunlight.  Fortunately for X100(s) shooters Fujifilm added a 3 stop neutral density (ND) behind the lens which can be programed to enable instantly via the function button.  Brilliant!  An ND is one of the most useful filters to have available and not having to purchase one specific to this camera or to ever have to remember to put one in your bag is truly awesome!


Although the camera offers autofocus manual focusing this camera is a dream, however I do wish the focus ring was a few millimetres wider.  The EVF offers three options to manually focus your images.  One can opt for Standard which looks like your typical EVF.  The second option is Digital Split Image where the EVF splits the center of the frame into four black and white bars.  When your subject is in focus the bars disappear.  They reappear once your subject falls out of focus.  It is somewhat reminiscent of optical finders with split prisms.  The third and my favourite is Focus Peaking.  By utilizing focus peaking what is in focus shimmers with white.  It couldn't be easier.  In all three focus modes a touch of the rocker switch which falls under your right thumb magnifies a section under your selected focus point which allows you to check with utmost certainty if your subject is in or out of focus.


Something else I've come to love about the X100s is the built in flash.  Yes, the built in flash.   I rarely if ever rely on flash as main light but as fill light this little thing is great.  I usually set it to -2/3's and fire away when i feel a little fill is necessary.  It never seems to over do it as many other brands would and the quality of the light is pretty darn good considering.  It's soft and subtle.  It can also be used as a commander to fire off camera flash which is quite handy.


When it comes to images quality I feel the files produced by the Fuji are hard to beat.  Skin tones are much more pleasing than that of any of the DLSR's I had previously photographed with.  I shoot a lot of weddings in summer and fall months and this is especially important to me.  However I also love to shoot landscapes and the palette of colours produced, especially with the Velvia film simulation are equally stunning.  It seems that Fuji paid particular attention to the rendering of colours.  Incredibly I find JPEGs straight out of camera to be of such high quality that I don't have to rely on post processing nearly as much as I did.  I will be honest and say that I do still shoot RAW + JPEG as old habits die hard.  RAW output is 14 bit which does create rather large files, but considering how cheap memory is getting and the fact that we are getting such high quality files this is certainly not a bad thing.  Something else that really stood out to me as compared to other cameras is the ability to change how both the highlights and shadows render independently of one another so you can dial in exactly how you would like your image to render.  And if you don't get it right in camera your RAW file can be edited in the 'in camera' RAW converter.  You can adjust exposure, white balance, shadows and highlights (again, independently), film simulation, sharpening and so on.  High ISO is handled wonderfully in camera with images being usable up to and including ISO 6400.   Do take note that Fuji seems to use noise reduction rather heavy handed on skin tones at ISO 3200 and above which offers the appearance of somewhat waxy skin.   It can be dialled back somewhat in camera, but can't be turned off completely.  If this aspect of JPEG rendering becomes bothersome the workaround is to shoot RAW and deal with noise in post.  One of the most unexpected findings with the X-trans sensor found in the X100s (and other Fujis) is that quality of the files produced with long exposures is wonderful!  I also own a D800 and have been forced to shoot shorter exposures at higher exposures as longer exposures (10 mins for instance) require long exposure noise reduction (LENR) to combat long exposure noise.  LENR requires the camera to shoot a second exposure of the same duration with the shutter closed.   The second exposure creates a 'dark frame' for the camera to compare to the original which aids in removing noise generated by the sensor over such a long period of time.  I've yet to use LENR with the X100s and exposure have been as long as 20 minutes!


To sum up I've been more than pleased with my purchase of the X100s.  I would even go so far as to say this camera has changed the way I view photography and make images.  I've since spent time with the X-Pro1 and have purchased the X-T1 and a few fast primes.  My DSLR's have been collecting a lot of dust as of late and it feels great not to be hauling around a boat load of gear!



Disclaimer - I am an official Canadian Fujifilm X-Photographer but am not paid to endorse their products.  I am privileged to try out Fujifilm photography equipment and was asked to give honest feedback on what I use.  This spoke volumes to me about the company.  This tells me they are listening to us photographers!



If you would like to contact me please do so via email at 'scott@roninphoto.ca' or call at (709) 639-5335.  I'm located in Steady Brook, on the west coast of Newfoundland, in Canada.

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4 comments:

  1. Great review of what is already a true classic.

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    1. Many thanks Curtis! I have to agree with you.

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  2. Scott:
    Thanks so much for posting this..it helps all of us X100S reaffirm our love for this camera. It would be great if you could do a follow-up article sharing any tips and techniques you've accumulated that might be beneficial to other owners. Also will you be doing a similar piece by chance on your X-T1 and do you use a particular external flash with your X100S? Cheers, Fred

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    1. Hi Fred! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

      Both are great ideas! I'd love to share some of my tips for the X100s. For external flash i use my old Nikon kit which consists of an SB-26, SB-800 X 2 and an SB-900 triggered via pocket wizards or a Wein IR trigger.

      The X-T1 i've been hitting hard as i wanted to understand it inside and out for wedding season which started last weekend. Considering it acts much like the X100s i feel i have a good grasp on it also. Hopefully i can put something together real soon.

      Thanks again!

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