April 1, 2013

review: Fuji X100s

One of the most compelling cameras in recent years, was the Fuji X100. It had a slick retro look, solid build, and some interesting features such as the hybrid optical viewfinder. The camera looked quite sexy slung over your shoulder, and felt great in your hands. But it had a few flaws. Sluggish handling at times, and more crucially, erratic auto-focus. It tended to grab the background when focusing in low-contrast light. I loved my Fuji X100, but eventually sold it because of these frustrations.

Well, the Fuji X100 was updated with the Fuji X100s (vendor).
To sum it up: the Fuji X100s is what the original Fuji X100 should’ve been!

differences between the Fuji X100 and the Fuji X100s

  • The resolution has been increased – 16 megapixels instead of 12 megapixels.
  • new sensor (Fuji’s X-Trans CMOS II sensor) which doesn’t need a low-pass filter, so the images are extra-sharp.
  • The Auto-Focus has been beefed up – the Intelligent Hybrid AF system uses both contrast- and phase-detection methods. This was my biggest gripe about the Fuji X100 – the auto-focus was the biggest downfall of an otherwise charming little camera that had wonderful image quality. With the Fuji X100s … I was pleasantly surprised. Even in the low light in my study, it would grab focus easily.
  • Full 1080p video at 60fps, instead of 720p video of the X100
  • A faster processor means the start-up and response of the camera is better.
  • The Q button on the back of the camera allows you to quickly change the settings that are most often accessed. There is the Fn button at the top, which is probably best left as the ISO button, same as with the X100.

 

the awesome stuff that has remained the same

  • The hybrid optical viewfinder is still as wonderful to behold! I love showing the X100 / X100s to friends, and waiting for the WOW! as the optical viewfinder kicked in as they held it up to their eye. More about the hybrid optical viewfinder later.
  • Manual focusing has been greatly improved. In manual focus mode, touching the focus ring, instantly brings an enlarged view which makes it easier to fine-tune the focus. You have three options with the manual focus – just the electronic viewfinder magnified; or the Digital Split Image function or manual focus peaking. I preferred the plain version with just the electronic viewfinder enlarged. But you have options now.The manual focus has been improved to such an extent, that it even makes sense now to use the Fuji X100s as a manual focus camera!
  • That retro classic design with the metal body. Seriously, just look at this camera, and tell me you don’t want one? The styling is perfect. And it feels good too. There’s a nice weight to it. It feels solid. The shutter dial feels smooth. The aperture ring feels smooth. This camera really feels good to handle. To quote the spec sheet for the Fuji X100s: The top and base components are constructed from die-cast magnesium for durability. The aperture ring, shutter speed dial, and exposure compensation dial are all constructed from precision-milled metal. 
  • The superb 23mm f/2 lens which is equivalent to a 35mm view with a full-frame DSLR / 35mm camera. The lens is crisply sharp.
  • A built-in 3-stop Neutral Density filter. This helps with maintaining a wider aperture.
  • The shutter is very quiet. It’s a barely audible little *snick* of a sound. In normal office or work conditions, you wouldn’t be able to hear it. And because there is no mirror that slaps around, you can handhold this camera to lower shutter speeds than you normally would with a DLSR.
  • Changing between Exposure Modes is still easy and logical. You set the aperture dial to ‘A’ if you want Shutter Priority. You set the shutter dial to ‘A’ if you want Aperture Priority. Or, you set both dials to ‘A’ if you want Program mode.

 

I’ve had the camera in my hands for the past two weeks, trying it out wherever I could – including a few trips to New York, exploring Manhattan on foot. But this Street Photography thing is tough – waiting for serendipity to kick in, looking for that beautiful intersection between moments, light and composition.

To illustrate this review, I met up with a model, Viktoria (MM portfolio 19866652454407), who is also an elegant ballet dancer.

The two images above, were shot using available light:
1/320 @ f/2 @ 400 ISO

For these two images, I pre-focused on Viktoria where she stood, anticipating where her movement would end up. It made most sense to use manual focus here. Then, at the peak of movement, I had a split second to time my shot.

In the image right at the top, you can see her foot still move, and there is some motion blur.

 

syncing flash with the Fuji X100s

What really interested me with the Fuji X100s (and is something you could do with the X100 as well), is sync your flash at higher than max flash sync speeds. The manual states that you can sync flash up to 1/2000 of a sec. Yes, 2000-th. That isn’t a typo.

For this setup, shooting directly into the sun, I didn’t want the sky to blow out to white, except the area where the sun is.The trees nearly silhouetted, with Viktoria entirely under-exposed. (See the comparison shot.)

Having done some tests in the studio to see how the flash’s effective power diminishes as the shutter speed is dialed up, I knew I would have to bring out something bigger than a speedlight.

So I brought the Profoto Acute B2 600 W/s powerpack (vendor) to give enough juice.

To still use the wide aperture, I engaged the built-in ND filter, which cut the light by 3 stops.

camera settings:  1/2000 @ f/2 @ 200 ISO (with 3-stop ND filter)
(I had the camera set to Daylight WB, but had to warm the image in Photoshop.)

Since the Fuji doesn’t use a focal plane shutter, you don’t have the limitation of that ceiling with maximum flash sync as you do with DSLRs. You can sync at higher shutter speeds. But … before you get excited about this, there isn’t really any gain here. As you increase the shutter speed, the flash power is effectively reduced. It’s a near-linear progression, similar-ish to what you’d see with high-speed flash sync (HSS) on a DSLR.

In fact, the power of the flash was cut down so dramatically for 1/2000 and the ND filter, that we used the Profoto Acute B2 600 W/s powerpack (vendor) at full power with the Profoto beauty dish (vendor) and a 22″ sock (vendor)

We had to work fairly close to Viktoria to get enough light on her for that shutter speed setting (and ND filter). Here is the pull-back shot to give you an idea of the distance. (Viktoria had to stay warm while we were setting up.)

The idea that you can sync up to 1/2000 with the Fuji X100s sounds interesting, but in practice, it doesn’t offer a huge benefit. I certainly wouldn’t trade a DSLR and high-speed flash sync just for this. Still, an interesting idea to play with.

Ultimately, the effective 35mm focal length just doesn’t offer that much separation from the background at f/2 that a longer focal length would’ve. Now, if the Fuji X100s came out with a twin camera offering with a matched 85mm f/2 lens, then we’d be onto something!

 

high-ISO noise performance

When I first wrote about the Fuji X100, I was very impressed with the high-ISO. Even though it was an APS-C sized sensor, the image quality was nearly on par with my Nikon D3 body. The high-ISO noise of the Fuji X100s looks even better. I don’t have a Fuji X100 on hand to directly compare though, but have a look at the 3200 ISO images in the following links! I think you’ll be amazed.

I’ve placed various full-rez images in a folder so anyone can download them to have a look.
low-contrast scene: warehouse wall
medium contrast scene: castle

other sample images shot with the Fuji X100s

I’ll keep adding more images over time.

For these sample images, which are all JPGs from the camera, the Dynamic Range was set to Auto. The Film Simulation was set to Standard. Color, Sharpness, Highlight Tone and Shadow Tone were all set to (0) Standard.

 

 

is the Fuji X100s for you?

This is a question that has multiple answers.

The Fuji X100s certainly has a distinct character of its own. If you need more than just the 35mm-equivalent lens, then you’re better off checking the Fuji X-Pro 1 (vendor) which has similar wonderful image quality, or the Fuji X-E2 (vendor).  The Fuji EX-1 with the kit zoom lens is about the same price as the Fuji X100s (vendor). So it is a strong contender for your attention. But the Fuji EX-1 doesn’t offer the Hybrid Optical Viewfinder. The OVF is such an amazing part of the X-1 Pro and the X100s that it is something that would sway me. There is a slight lag with the EVF that is disconcerting to a long-time DLSR user that is used to the optical view in the viewfinder.

You have to get used to to the Fuji X100s to really appreciate it. The camera handles very well, and the controls such as the aperture ring and shutter dial are beautifully crafted and properly placed. BUT, you have to get to know the camera, and you have to get to know the menu.

There are all kinds of gotchas that will trip you up initially.

For example, I wanted to show the hybrid optical viewfinder (OVF) to a friend, but I could only get the electronic viewfinder (EVF). It took me a while to figure out I had accidentally engaged the macro mode. Then you only see the EVF. This makes sense. Because the Fuji X100s doesn’t give you that direct view of your scene like a DSLR would (via the mirror and prism), you get parallax error the closer you get to your subject. By the time you’re in Macro mode, you need to see exactly what you’re going to get, and then you need to look at the EVF. Fuji makes that your only option then. Rightfully so. But you need to know about this, or else spend a while foolishly going through the menu to try and figure out why the OVF doesn’t show.

So in many such ways, you have to take the time to know this camera. But once you get there – and it isn’t a difficult camera to  get to know – this little gem is a pleasure to work with. It is a very capable camera with wonderful image quality … as long as the single focal length isn’t a limitation.

The Fuji X100s is a camera for the photography enthusiast in all of us. And let’s get a little elitist about it – yes, this is a camera for the the connoisseur. If you love photography and the toys, you will find this camera very appealing.

The the Fuji X100s (vendor) looks sexy, and it feels sexy .. and better yet, makes *you* look sexy. And that’s worth the price of the camera already.

 

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{ 25 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Denny April 1, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Thanks Neil for the review!

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2 Phil April 1, 2013 at 3:16 pm

The Fuji X100s is not for me for the very simple reason that the wife would kill me if I came home with one having just moved to Nikon’s FX system.

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3 Chris S. April 1, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Just to be technical, “What really interested me with the Fuji X100s (and is something you could do with the X100 as well), is sync your flash at higher than max flash sync speeds.” Isn’t really true. That would be HSS, no? One isn’t going over the sync speed, the difference (as I know you are well aware of) is that the max sync speed is simply higher because of the shutter.

Thanks for the review! Mine is on order ;-)

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4 Neil vN April 1, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Chris .. true. My phrasing there is clumsy.

What I tried to say is that with a flash system like the Profoto, there would be a distinct ceiling of 1/250 or 1/200 or whatever is the max sync speed for a particular camera. You can’t go into HSS with that flash system.

But with the Fuji X100s, you can go higher, but with a HSS type penalty.

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5 Howard April 1, 2013 at 7:16 pm

I love the juxtaposition of Victoria glamorously en pointe and she huddled in her coat! So cute! She probably hates me for saying that but she looks adorable in contrast to beautifully glamorous. Great shots!

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6 Neil vN April 1, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Howard .. I’m glad you wrote to say that, because Viktoria was very iffy about me posting that photo. So now I feel vindicated!

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7 John Y. April 1, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Great shots of Viktoria and great pose by her as well.

“As you increase the shutter speed, the flash power is effectively reduced.”
I’m not sure exactly how the X100 and X100S’ shutter system works but is the loss of flash power due to the flash not being able to release all the energy out of the bulb fast enough? In other words, if it takes 1/1000th of a second to perform a full power flash, at 1/2000th second shutter speed the power will be less? The loss of power would be depend on the light intensity versus time curve at full power?

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8 Steve Holmes April 2, 2013 at 9:02 am

“As you increase the shutter speed, the flash power is effectively reduced.”

The reason for this is because of the flash duration of the AcuteB2, which is actually pretty slow. At full power, it has a t0.5 duration of 1/1000s of a second, which means a useable t0.1 duration of about 1/320s. That means if you were to shoot at full power with this pack at 1/2000s, you’re really only getting about 1/6 of the power from the pack.

To work at high sync speeds like this, you really need something with a shorter flash duration, like an Elinchrom Quadra with an A Head, a Profoto ProB4 or most speedlights. Flash duration changes with power though, so you have to be aware of what the range of flash durations is for the light you are using. You also need a trigger than can shoot at these high sync speeds. I believe Pocket Wizards max out at 1/500s. Elinchrom Skyports and the Profoto Air system both work at higher sync speeds.

High sync speeds can be a huge advantage if the are matched with the right gear.

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9 Neil vN April 2, 2013 at 9:30 am

Steve .. thank you for the additional info.

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10 Chris April 2, 2013 at 9:41 am

Great review, thank you.
I am very excited to leave all my heavy gear behind.

Not sure if I can post a link but I wanted to make sure you all saw this just in case, as it addresses the HSS capability of the X100.

http://jonathanfleming.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/fuji-x100-super-high-speed-sync/

Pretty amazing results for just a speed light.

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11 Trev April 2, 2013 at 10:56 am

Chris: Pretty amazing results for just a speed light.

You ain’t kidding! Damn, and through a few layers of diffusion panels to boot.

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12 Neil vN April 2, 2013 at 12:47 pm

That is impressive.

It appears that the amount of light from the flash, at these shutter speeds, will depend on the width of the pulse of the flash. ie, the T.1 of the flash pulse.

More about this in this article where I used a Quantum flash at higher than max sync.

What I got there with the Quantum flash, I wasn’t able to replicate with the Profotos.
So it definitely depends on the flash system itself too, and not just that the camera’s shutter isn’t a focal plane shutter.

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13 Chris - Smudged Photo April 2, 2013 at 3:40 pm

The more I read about this camera the more I want it.

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14 Malaga Photography April 3, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Tremendous photo of Victoria in the black dress at full flight. I saw this in a previous facebook post and meant to respond at the time but didn’t get around to it. There was a side on photo against the arch in that previous article which was also lovely. I don’t have the camera on my radar for the moment but suffice to say, the results seem truly impressive.

David

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15 Nancy C. Faria April 4, 2013 at 11:12 pm

The series is absolutely stunning! Model and photographer and camera!

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16 Shawn Read April 5, 2013 at 6:11 am

Excellent article as always, Neil, thanks! I am considering picking up an X100s as a second camera at weddings, especially for the “documenting the day” shots, which I think it would excel at. Do you think it would be useful at receptions? Any plans to use yours at weddings this season?

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17 Neil vN April 6, 2013 at 4:32 am

Personally, I wouldn’t use it at weddings. I am used to my Nikon D4 bodies and how they respond. Also, I rely heavily on zooms.

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18 Sašo April 8, 2013 at 2:42 am

Neil, did you feel any limitation because of the fixed lens?

How about postprocessing? LR4 knows RAW files?

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19 Neil vN April 12, 2013 at 4:34 am

The single focal length is obviously a limitation. But for personal photography you can take it as a challenge, and then adapt how you look at the world around you – trying to find those scenes which make most sense with that 35mm angle of view.

For professional work – even though the camera is capable of superb results – I wouldn’t use it in a professional capacity. It’s just not as responsive as my “proper” camera.

LR4 will catch up, as it always does, with the new releases.

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20 Frank June 16, 2013 at 8:02 am

X100S Autofocus question:

I am trying to understand how the AF Multi sub-mode works?

I can see how to move the ‘area’ spot around in the Area mode.
This is similar to Sony’s “flexible spot”.

But when I dont have time to move the focus spot to the desired point in the frame & just want to use the”Multi” , it most often ‘misses’

Is the Multi focus mode based on what is closest, most contrasty, face recognition, or a combination ?

Thanks for any help,
Frank

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21 chaim meiersdorf September 8, 2013 at 1:10 am

Are any of the fuji cameras presently ready to replace the Nikons? I am still using a D700. Will any of these cameras do the same job as the D700?

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22 Neil vN September 9, 2013 at 1:07 am

Not with the same speed. There is no way I would trade my Nikon D4 bodies for anything lesser.

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23 Andrew Bowen September 23, 2013 at 1:08 pm

My X100s is on its way to Fujifilm for a second time now. We will see what happens this time. After a couple months of very light use, the PCB went south and they replaced it. After it came back, the aperture ring no longer works. The customer support people are very nice to talk to, but I’m a bit unimpressed with the build quality. Hopefully I just have the one lemon in the pile since the camera is (by its specification) pretty amazing.

Once they get it and decide what to do, I’ll post anything I learn about why something apparently unrelated to the first problem popped up after first fix, and what their rationale is for how it got past quality check. Aperture controllable seems like a pretty basic check.

Last little item. They were going to mail me the FedEx label to send it up for re-repair. Smart not asking me to pay for another UPS/FedEx shipment. However, sending it to me USPS seemed like the dumbest thing ever, especially since one can print a UPS label from ones computer. Their solution was to overnight the label to me. Better than USPS, odder than providing a pdf to print and tape on the package.

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24 Carlos Sandoval August 2, 2014 at 4:39 am

How can you set up shutter speed at 1/320 s on an x100s when the dial does not offer that speed? Just my ignorance! Thanx!

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25 Neil vN August 2, 2014 at 5:05 am

You can adjust the shutter speed in third stops intervals by nudging the thumb level / dial.

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