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.
Differences between the Fuji X100 and the Fuji X100s
- The resolution has been increased – 16 megapixels instead of 12 megapixels.
- A 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.
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 (affiliate) 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 (affiliate) at full power with the Profoto beauty dish (affiliate) and a 22″ sock (affiliate)
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’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 (affiliate) which has similar wonderful image quality, or the Fuji X-E2 (affiliate). The Fuji EX-1 with the kit zoom lens is about the same price as the Fuji X100s (affiliate). 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 (affiliate) looks sexy, and it feels sexy .. and better yet, makes *you* look sexy. And that’s worth the price of the camera already.