I'm about 3 months into shooting with the Fuji X100s. I primarily bought it as a day-to-day carry camera and I've very rarely left the house without it. Though the body isn't much smaller than my other digital kit, the Sony NEX 7 with the Zeiss 24mm f/1.8, the all-in-one nature of its fixed pancake-ish 23mm f/2 lens makes it a little easier to grab and go, or to slip into my bag.
One of my good friends, Aaron Courter has been shooting with one of these since right about the time the predecessor to this one - the X100, was released. He says it's his favorite camera ever. That enthusiasm and his photos were largely what convinced me to pull the trigger.
I like reviews with lots of photos. You can click on them to pull up a Lightboxed larger version. Also note that all of the photos of the X100s were made with my Sony.
There are plenty of great reviews out there of this camera, so I'll let you go there to see the crazy 100% crop at each ISO and f-stop. In fact, I specifically want to give you a feel for what it's like to use this camera as someone who is accustomed to the wysiwyg/ EVF / LCD method of shooting. I'm not coming from a rangefinder background, so the optical viewfinder doesn't hearken back to some warm spot in my past. I also have limited experience shooting with a DSLR.
In fact that's as good of a place to start as any. Let's talk about the differences between these.
Wysiwyg stands for What You See Is What You Get. This is also called live-view mode on most DSLRs. In essence, as you frame your image on the screen, the camera is also showing you what is in focus and a close approximation of exposure values. The general idea is that the image you see on the screen, is similar to what will be captured when you depress the shutter button.
This is how most digital point and shoot cameras operate and how every smart phone camera operates. This is also how most mirrorless cameras function. In essence, the electronic display is showing you what the digital sensor is "seeing".
A DSLR has a mirror called a pentaprism which shows you the light and image coming in through the lens of the camera, allowing you to frame the shot and see focus. The viewfinder has framelines to show you an approximation of what will show up in your image. The camera has sensors that allow it to either automatically adjust different settings to provide an image with correct exposure or you can also shoot in manual mode, choosing each parameter yourself. While you can't see a preview of the exposure in this optical viewfinder, most DSLRs have a live preview that is accessible on the rear LCD screen.
A Rangefinder is a camera that has an optical viewfinder. Older models have two veiwfinders. One of the viewfinders is used to frame the shot, and the other is used to focus. In other words, this is a very manual process. Newer models have a single combined viewfinder with a parallax or ghost image that lines up when focus is achieved, but there is no exposure or focus preview. I don't mean to imply that it's an inferior process as there is certainly a method and an experience to it. The newest digital Rangefinders have an LCD which can be used for a live preview as well.
Where does the X100s Fit in?
The Fuji X100s is a hybrid. The body design and the optical viewfinder look and feel like a rangefinder, but the LCD and the Electronic viewfinder give you a mostly WYSIWYG experience. I say mostly because the camera doesn't always give an accurate preview of the image. It took me a few weeks to get used to this and to compensate for it in my daily shooting.
There are a couple reasons for this lack of accuracy. First of all, if you are using the optical viewfinder, there is a focus box that illuminates green when focus has been achieved. This autofocus confirmation feels similar to what you would get with a DSLR. It is generally pretty accurate and the viewfinder gives you an immediate view of the image as soon as the shutter is released.
If you are using the Electronic viewfinder or the LCD, you do get a preview, but there is one particular situation where the preview is unreliable, but I'll come back to that.
Electronic Viewfinder vs Optical Viewfinder
As I mentioned earlier, while I have owned (and still do) film SLRs, I don't have a ton of experience shooting with an Optical Viewfinder (OVF). I'm used to and LCD or an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). I find the EVF in the X100s to be good, but not as true to life as the EVF in my Sony NEX 7. The EVF has a tiny bit of lag, and the blacks aren't quite as deep. The resolution is really pretty good, but not quite dense enough to allow you to forget that it's a screen like I often do with the NEX. I do like the information displayed in both EVF and OVF mode, except for the digital focus scale which covers up the bottom part of your image when framing. I've got that turned off permanently.
I've found the OVF to be convenient when I'm framing larger landscapes and/or when I need a larger depth of field and am shooting at f/5.6 or smaller. They have built a really cool digital overlay for the framelines and all the system information. Really slick. I like this mode as the framelines allow you to see what is outside of the composition and shift slightly if needed to line it up. As I mentioned already, there is a green confirmation box which lights up when you have focus lock. One thing that you have to turn on in the menu is the ability for the box to shift according to composition and distance to subject to make up for parallax shift. Not a big deal, but good to know about if you are shooting portraits or detail shots at close range.
I leave it on EVF mode about 90% of the time. If you want to see what the different viewfinder's look like, there are some great photos and technical information on Fuji's own site.
How Do the Photos look?
I'll say this right up front. I really love the color of the JPEG photos that this camera produces. Fujifilm has managed to create a color palette that is exceptional. It feels vintage and modern all at once. I know that there are plenty of folks out there that think of this camera as only being about an attempt to mimic film, but I think it's more than that.
I'm not generally a fan of film emulation. I don't like the jagged borders, the simulated flaws of expired film, fake grain, light leaks or faded prints. I do use apps like Instagram and VSCOCam, but I stay far away from all this stuff. What I do like are the colors. I've always been a fan of the punchy saturated and vivid tones that come from films like Kodachrome and Fuji Velvia. This camera has that built right in but without all the extra fake stuff.
It also does black and white wonderfully. You can switch to Black and White mode for composition which is kind of cool and you can choose presets that include different filters. I like to add the yellow filter. Most of the time I generally just shoot in color and then convert to Black and White in Lightroom.
If you switch the camera over to RAW mode, you are choosing to bypass the film color simulations. You can shoot both JPEG and RAW, but your hard drive will hate you for it. I shot for the first few weeks in RAW just to really try it out as that is how I shoot my Sony NEX 7. The Sony has beautiful, malleable RAW files that need very little work right out of the camera. In fact, those files sometimes have a little too much dynamic range and need to have the highlights or shadow detail dialed back a bit. Overall, the files are rich, Blacks are rich, colors are vivid, contrasty and detailed which is a great starting point.
The X100s is different. I find that the color is a little washed out, and the RAW images need a lot of work to land on something that's my style, but that's a drastic contrast to the JPEG files which are the exact opposite. So, a few weeks in, I switched to JPEG full time on this camera. My friend Aaron shoots his Fuji cameras RAW for pro work so I know that it's possible, but he also does some magic in Lightroom that is beyond my level of expertise.
There are certainly a few times where I wished I had a RAW file to work with when I didn't really nail the exposure, but it's rare...and it probably forces me to get better at my craft.
Thanks to Jens Rhode's comment, I discovered that Lightroom has calibration profiles that match the Film simulations on the X100s. I've loaded 4 different versions of a photo below for comparison. Please note that I have not adjusted color outside of the calibration profiles. I just added some contrast to attempt to match the JPEG and a little more on my second RAW edit to bring out the detail.
I find that it's pretty close after adding the contrast curve, but I'm not particularly crazy about having to add this to every photo. I'm wishing there was a way for Lightroom to pick up the Film preset from the camera in EXIF and auto apply it on import. I'll probably try shooting RAW + JPEG for a few weeks and see if I find that there is a noticeable benefit.
Ultimately, they are awfully similar and there just isn't much difference. It's great to know that the JPEGs are likely good enough for just about any use.
This lens represents a few firsts for me. This is my first leaf shutter, and my real camera with a fixed lens. Sure I've had cameras without removable lenses in the past, but never anything that I took seriously. Come to think of it, I also own an old 126 Film point and shoot with a leaf shutter, but they really aren't the same.
What I've found is that this lens is really well designed for what it does. I've noticed minimal if any distortion or odd artifacts with the aperture stopped down or wide open. That should come as no surprise as the lens is custom designed for this exact system, but still — it is nice. The lens uses 9 rounded aperture blades which means that the aperture is very close to round at all apertures. This is pretty unusual, but welcome as out of focus areas have a very pleasing creamy texture and bokeh orbs stay relatively circular. One side effect of the rounded blades is that there is a purple halo when shooting into a light source stopped all the way down. I've used it a couple of times, but it can get gimmicky.
It is good to note that though it has a Macro mode, photos tend to be pretty soft at shorter distances even when the aperture is stopped down. I find that the minimum distance that still yields photos I would consider keepers is about 1 foot.
The leaf shutter is so quiet! I'm used to the loud ca-chink of my Olympus Film camera or the electric tinged click of the Sony, but the X100s is nearly silent. I found that it actually took me a few weeks to get used to this lack of feedback as I'm so used to it on my other cameras. Of course, they have a chintzy set of electronic shutter sounds you can turn on, but they all sound just that — electronic.
One behavior that is a little strange compared to what I'm used-to: The lens doesn't just move to the aperture you've selected Instead, the camera automatically adjusts the blades depending on the ambient light, usually to around f/5.6 in bright daylight and wide open in darker situations. Once you half press the shutter, the aperture moves to whatever you've selected on the aperture ring. It almost feels like there's a standby mode and then a half press is required to get a depth of field preview. I find it annoying as what is in focus changes and you can hear the blades moving. It seems like a lot of unnecessary movement and an extra button press that shouldn't be needed. Just give me the straight aperture I've selected. I'm pretty sure this isn't just a function of the lens and likely has something to do with auto exposure compensation.
Bayonet Filter Stuff
The lens has a couple design quirks that I don't really understand as anything other than money making schemes. I mentioned that this lens is compact, and that's a great feature, but they have done one thing that I think is pretty stupid. Instead of adding standard 49mm filter threads and a bayonet mount on the front of the lens, they have kept it ultra short and added male 49mm threads. So, to install the factory bayonet mount Fujifilm hood or use a standard 49mm filter, you have to buy a bayonet adaptor which screws into these backwards threads. You could just screw on a 49mm filter backwards, but then the lens element runs into the filter glass in macro mode. Some folks have taken to popping the glass out of an old filter and then stacking them to get enough clearance, but there is an easier way. Instead of paying $139 (retail) for the official Fujifilm hood you can buy this one by JJC which is identical and in my case fits just a little better. Fuji, you are better than this.
Aside from the hood/thread shenanigans, I'm pretty pleased with the quality of the lens on this camera. I would love to have a similar pancake lens for my Sony. It's my favorite focal length and just the right speed for a compact walk around lens.
Shutter Speed Limitations at Maximum Aperture
For some reason, Fuji has designed the X100s with the thought that the leaf shutter can't handle anything faster than 1/1000 sec when the aperture is wide open at f/2. After searching for a while, it appears that they don't believe the leaf shutter can clear the whole lens fast enough when the blades are wide open. Because of this limitation, the camera maxes out at 1/1000 when in the Automatic position on the speed dial.
What I find particularly frustrating about this limitation is the fact that the camera works just fine at f/2 at the fastest 1/4000 that is available. All you have to do is manually set it to 4000 and press the shutter. At first I expected to see heavy vignetting or other artifacts, but they just aren't there. I've found some comments in forums talking about slightly different character in the out-of-focus areas, but I haven't seen anything like that. I'd love to be able to disable this limitation.
They have added a physical 3 stop Neutral Density Filter inside the lens which you can activate for these bright light wide open shots, but it makes you ask why the camera can't just turn this on itself automatically as it is activated electronically.
Perhaps the oddest thing about this camera is how it handles these bright day light situations. When I first received the camera I had a dozen or so situations where I composed a photo using full manual controls and everything looked good in the veiwfinder, but then when reviewing my image, it was extremely blown out.
In essence, it was showing me an incorrect preview at it's own limitations (max shutter of 1/1000) instead of what the settings I had chosen would actually give me. Luckily just a week or so after, I was able to update the firmware which added an option in the Screen Set up menu. This option is called "Preview Exposure in Manual Mode" and makes the camera show you an accurate preview. Go turn this on or you will get frustrated pretty quick.
Controls and Design
I can't even count the number of times I've been out shooting and someone has come up and asked if this is a film camera. Obviously, the silver and leatherette finish and the manual controls give off a certain vintage / manual vibe. It looks an awful lot like a Leica rangefinder and the cold metal feels great in your hand. I've heard people wonder whether this is more form than function and I'll say that even if it is primarily form, the function works. Here's the rundown:
There is a EV compensation dial on the far right hand side right behind an old school threaded shutter button that is ringed by the power switch. Next to the EV is a dial for shutter speed. Both of these dials have just the right amount of resistance to not get moved accidentally. Aperture is on the lens barrel in full stop increments. You can pull your 1/3 adjustments with the jog dial on the upper right back of the camera body. This jog dial also controls zooming in on the electronic displays for focus. Out of the box, the FN button, which is a little black button right next to the shutter release takes you to the ISO menu. I have custom assigned that button to turn the ND filter on/off as I use it a lot. There is also button labeled Disp/Back which changes the information on the display or takes you back in a menu.
There's a button on the back labeled Q, which accesses a menu that has almost every option you need on an everyday basis. ISO is the second option so I just get to it from there. I usually leave mine in auto ISO with an upper limit of 3200 because the files still look great. There's a standard dial with a menu button in the middle and an AFL/AEL button which can be custom assigned to a few different AE/AF functions. I primarily use it as an AF Back button in manual mode.
The left side has a Play/Review button, AE mode button, Drive, and view mode which allows you to switch between the viewfinder and the rear LCD. The front of the body has a spring loaded lever to switch between the viewfinder modes and the left side of the body has a sliding switch to choose Auto Single, Auto continuous and Manual focus modes.
Manual focus is an electronic-by-wire system and contrary to other systems like this, it doesn't feel very linear. There is certainly an electronic disconnect between the focus ring and the changing of focus. I've handled a few other Fuji lenses and they all have this feel. The ring turns, but has intermittent resistance, like there are servos that are alternately catching and letting go. None of the Sony E mount lenses have this feel and are completely smooth through the entire focus range. The few Micro Four-Thirds lenses I've tried are somewhere in the middle. I can see why focus-by-wire systems bum out traditionalists that are used to linear systems, but I will say that these small systems are fast and quiet. I generally keep it in Auto S.
As much as people have talked about how much better the manual focus is on the X100s, over the X100, I still find it to be awkward and imprecise so I rarely use it. That's ok as the auto focus on this camera is very good. It isn't lightning fast, but it is accurate and gets the job done.
Overall, the menus are pretty straightforward and I really haven't found anything that's hidden. In other words, if you can't find it pretty quickly, it's probably not an option. I'd like to see a few more options. Namely the ability to have the camera automatically turn on the ND filter when needed and the ability to turn off the aperture hunting "feature".
In terms of the body design, it's really pretty straightforward. Theres just a hint of a bump on the front to help with grip, but other than that it's your basic rectangle camera. There's a slight rise in the middle where the hot shoe is located and this helps provide room for the viewfinder and flash.
Ultimately, the value of a camera rests in three things.
- Does it make you want to go take pictures?
- Does it get out of your way when it's time?
- Does it work well to make the type of photos you want?
The X100s, is convenient, fun, quirky and dependable. It is small enough that I generally always have it with me. Because it's got a fixed focal length, there's just the right amount of limitation, which means there aren't a ton of accessories to rely on or use as a crutch. Sometimes not having to decide which lens to use helps you to make things happen.
Is this camera perfect? No, it has its issues. Sometimes quirky is fun, but sometimes it's annoying. Obviously, if you need a camera for sports or wildlife, this probably isn't the best fit. In addition, I usually go for a longer lens for portraits or shallow depth of field. I'd also like to see better battery life, perhaps a slightly faster lens and some basic changes to the menu system.
I wasn't sure that this type of camera would be a good fit for me, but I've found it to be refreshing and inspiring. I'm making photos that I wouldn't have before and I'm more inclined to bring along a camera, even if it isn't this one. In other words, it answers all three questions with a "Yes". I believe I will continue to have a camera that fits this role for the foreseeable future.