Review: Fujifilm X100s

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Last year, i took a look at the Fujifilm X100 when it was released, and i seriously considered buying it. There was a great feel to the camera, and as Ming Thein would say, the haptics of a camera can make all the difference. I’ve always believed that a good camera is one that you feel happy taking photographs with. This translates well to the photographs, and it may even determine whether you take any photographs at all — if the camera feels terrible in the hand, you’re that much less likely to take it out and use it.

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But there were several deal breakers for me with the X100 then, chief among them the relatively slow auto focus. To be fair, it wasn’t molasses slow. But it just wasn’t quick, and that was in good light! In poor light, forget about it. Despite the X100 boasting some pretty impressive low light performance numbers, what’s the point if it won’t focus. Since i do quite a bit of my shooting out in the streets where fast snapshots are a must most times, i just had to take a pass.

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I was pleasantly surprised when the Fujifilm X100s (henceforth, “X100s”) was announced — the early claims were that it fixed many of shortcomings of the X100, but still kept all the strengths, namely the great form factor, ease of handling, great 35mm-equivalent f2.0 lens, superb APS-C X-Trans sensor (which was bumped up in resolution from 12M to 16M), and brilliant hybrid OVF/EVF. I held my breath.

When i exhaled, with the X100s in my hands, i was suitably impressed. The AF speed is, while not zippy like the Olympus OM-D, was much, much faster; in most scenarios, perhaps a shade slower than the excellent OM-D, but not slow enough that it’d make me miss a shot. The OVF is amazing — the closest thing i’ve seen to the rangefinder experience of the Leica Ms. Bright, accurate, and large. All the information i need to make the shot, but not too much that it becomes distracting.

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The shutter is virtually silent: useful in the streets when you don’t want to attract attention. The X100s even has a one-button “super stealth” mode — press that button, and it switches off everything that would draw attention to yourself i.e. the flash, the shutter, the focus confirmation beep, the focus guide light. Lovely.

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Also, another note about the shutter. Being a leaf shutter, it opens up some wicked possibilities with my flashes. 1/8000 synchs are now possible. Read this good primer about why leaf shutters are awesome sauce for flash photography.

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Lastly, the X100s has all the right buttons in all the right places. Dials for shutter, EV compensation, the aperture is controlled on the lens barrel. It’s terribly convenient, all packaged within a light, non-descript body.

Aesthetically and ergonomically sound, how about the photographs it takes?

There is much to learn still about it. It generally takes me a few weeks of solid shooting to figure everything out about a new camera, and to develop an instinctive shooting workflow. Having said that, the first few days have breezed by easily, and putting it through a series of scenarios have yielded good results.

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Low-light performance — the photograph above was taken in with very little light. Just a single bulb of light 15 feet away. The X100s handled AF without missing a beat, and managed terrific auto white balance, enough to give the skin tones a very pleasing tone.

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Colour reproduction is vivid and authentic. Sharp across the frame even at f2.0 and f2.8. No issues there at all. I don’t expect much bokeh, but what little there is looks generally creamy, just like it should be.

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This photograph was taken on a moving escalator. AF was speedy, no issues. The camera was responsive from power on, flick of the aperture, then snap. Despite only having it for two days, the usability learning curve was very shallow — a sign of a well designed camera by cameramakers who have a photographer in mind.

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Wide open. Super sharp right across the frame. No issues there. By the way, this man pictured is famous — he has been making and selling the same treats for 25 years. Do look him up whenever you visit Petaling Street here in Kuala Lumpur.

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The two photographs above demonstrate the quality of B&W conversions possible with RAW files from the X100s. Notice the lovely deep blacks. The dynamic range in the street photograph of the crossroads? There must be at least 11 stops of DR there. Very nice for an APS-C class sensor.

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A good example of how the OLPF-less (optical low-pass filter) sensor delivers amazing resolution. This is definitely a sign of the times. With sensor technology pushing new highs, OLPF-less with be the norm now; see the new Nikon D7100 that does the same.

Overall, i’m pleased with the Fujifilm X100s. It delivers on the earlier promise of the concept behind the X100, which in itself is a lovely camera. Take a great lens, pair it with an advanced sensor, and package it into a retro-designed, photographer inclined body, and you’ve got a winning formula. There is a lot to love about this, and if there is something to dislike, i haven’t found it yet.

Edit 28 April 2013: Long-shutter photography at dawn in Bali, Indonesia (with the Fujifilm X100s)

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3 thoughts on “Review: Fujifilm X100s

  1. Owner of the X100, and made the jump to the X-pro1. I must say that the original X100 minus the X-trans sensor had a certain charm to it. The colours were definitely bolder on the X-pro1, but the X100 somehow retain this love affair with the film era. Now, that the X100S released, I decided to take the original X100 on a trip to Japan, and yes, my heart is still with the X100, it quirks and all ….

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    1. I’ll have to agree on this. I have both the original X100 and an XPro1. It’s normally the photos from the X100 that warms my heart. But I’m not sure if it’s the sensor or the lens. I feel that the XPro image is too sharp and feels “digital”. Having said that, when coupled with legacy lens (nikon 50 f1.8 in my case), the XPro1 does produce pleasingly softer image. It’s subjective though, like CCD against CMOS..

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      1. I’ve been comparing the IQ from the X100s and the OMD and i must admit that the OMD RAW files are far more “transparent” and pleasing to work with in post-processing. It’s quite a struggle to bring the best out of the X100s files.

        But having said that, i find the X100s image character (IC?) to be very pleasing and naturally vibrant.

        It’s kinda like having different children — you really shouldn’t compare them, because each are different, unique and offer their own value propositions and talents.

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