Fuji X100S; Review

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In my previous post, I mostly reviewed the Fuji X100S as a street photography camera at which it excels. I still need some time to properly review it for landscape and long exposure work (teaser, you can capture the milky way and what appear to be shooting stars), so this post will be my general impressions. Nothing crazy technical, just my user experience. I’ll also make comparisons to the X-E1 and—more ridiculously—the D700 I used before this camera.

Here goes.

Autofocus

“Blazing Fast!” You can’t click past search results without reading those words about the X100S. It’s true that the phase detection autofocus of the X100S is very fast, but it comes with a huge caveat. In the Fuji Guys’ “Top Features” video, Billy says:

“once you move it (the AF point) past from the centre of the focus points … you kinda lose the phase detection side of the focusing.”

By “sort of” I’m pretty sure he means “entirely”. Commenters had Billy confirm that it’s the centre 3 x 3 grid of AF points that use phase detection AF. Outside of the grid, the camera moves to contrast detection which is noticeably slower. Maybe it’s fast compared to a point & shoot, but for me, coming from a D700 with pro lenses, it ain’t fast. Is comparing a compact camera made in 2013 to a pro body and lens combo from 2007/2008 fair? Maybe not, but it’s the camera I came from. If memory serves, I can also say that the D300 and 17-55 ƒ/2.8 combo handily bests the X100S in AF performance. Given what I’ve heard about where AF speeds were with the X100 (non S) when it came out, Fuji is definitely on the right track as far as AF performance is concerned.

Close Focus: Browsing around on either Fuji X Forums or Fuji X Series lead me to a post about AF errors and the close-focus capabilities. It was suggested that after you get within 3-5 feet of your subject, it’s a good idea to switch Macro mode on, particularly in low light. I haven’t tested this enough to know for sure if Macro mode solves the problem consistently, but I can say that I have run into issues where the camera looks to have focused on my close subject when in fact, it’s focused on something pretty far in the background. I can also say that Macro mode is *way* slower. The camera seems to rack through the entire focus range every time I focus and it feels interminable. For inanimate objects it’s no problem, but using this as a solution when you’re taking close up candids at dinner with a group of friends or something, forget it.

A photo of my 24 ƒ/1.4 shows the dreamy effect of shooting in Macro mode wide open. For the right subject, it could actually be quite pleasing. Click to embiggen.

Another thing of note when in Macro mode is hazing. You’ll need stop down to ƒ/4 if you want to avoid the dreamy effect, but stopping down does the trick.

Manual Focus

I’m not much of an MF shooter, but I can echo all the folks creaming themselves over how nice focus peaking is. If manual focus is your thing, you’ll like the X100S. Yes, there could be options for the peak colour, but otherwise it’s fantastic. There’s also “focus check” where the camera shows you a highly zoomed view of the area you’re trying to focus on. It works, but usability-wise, it’s not for me. I prefer to leave it off and check manually on occasion using the middle button in toggle switch (above the main D-pad).

Picture Quality

I won’t be pixel-peeping, shooting brick walls, or doing any head to head comparisons here. A lot has already been written about the X-Trans sensor, how great the pictures it produces are, the sharpness, the colour, etc. It’s all true. This camera produces very sharp images with pleasing bokeh at large enough apertures and fantastic colour rendition. The high ISO performance is superb, but I’ve lowered my auto ISO max down to 3200 as the noise reduction at 6400 is too aggressive for me. Plus I’ve managed to get sharp photos at 1/4 of a second. Handheld. Seriously.

 There’s something about the way the internals of cameras, and Fuji cameras in particular render colour. It’s extremely difficult to replicate via Lightroom.

There’s something about the way the internals of cameras, and Fuji cameras in particular render colour. It’s extremely difficult to replicate via Lightroom.

Speaking of auto, I decided pretty early on that I would be letting this camera do as much work for me as possible. This includes shooting *gasp* JPEG. I know, I know, I can get more out of RAW, but it also means I have to process the RAW files and that takes time which is something I value. Sometimes I really enjoy spending hours tinkering with RAW files, but sometimes—and especially with casual shooting—I don’t want to have to process my photos. It’s been nice to shoot JPEG again and just shoot.

Fuji also give you the option of rendering each exposure in 3 different “Film Simulations” almost instantaneously. I love the functionality, but it could be extended even further to allow only 2 simulations or more than 3. Maybe banks of film simulations sets.

The big RAW converters were a little slow to support the X-Trans sensor and even now, conversions aren’t quite up to the level they are with Bayer sensors. At the time of writing, my understanding is that CaptureOne is currently best at converting RAFs. I’m a Lightroom user and I own Aperture. Both support Fuji’s latest cameras and are improving. To date, DxO has said they aren’t going to bother with support for the X-Trans. This is surprising and disappointing, but there you have it. As mentioned, I went JPEG with this camera, but plan to do some RAW shooting and tinkering. In the small amount I’ve done so far, I found converting RAF’s in Lightroom 5 to be perfectly acceptable.

Hardware

The styling and the feel of Fuji’s recent cameras is outstanding. People actually do ask if it’s a film camera. The buttons, knobs, dials, and switches are all satisfying to use, but might be problematic if you have sausage-fingers. The shutter release button seems a little loose and this is emphasized if you add a soft shutter release like I did. Otherwise the camera oozes quality, however, Fuji cameras are built much more for style than they are durability. During the first week of our recent honeymoon/vacation, I had the misfortune of setting my tripod down, camera attached and one leg not fully kicked out, on uneven ground. The tripod tipped and the camera fell about 2 feet and landed almost squarely on the shutter release/power switch. Both popped right out of the camera, rendering it inoperable for the rest of the trip. That was a bad day. $480 is what Fuji Canada charged me to fix the camera and, disappointingly, I’ve lost about 8 months of warranty as any previous warranty is void and a new repair warranty takes its place when a repair is done. This would work out better if my warranty was about to expire. Not so great if you’ve just bought the camera.

Aside from the shutter release/power switch, the camera suffered only minor scuffs so I was left thinking the finish was pretty resilient. Nope. Shortly after while walking through some loose scree I lost my balance and my wife’s X-E1 bumped some rocks. The camera didn’t hit hard at all, but it was left with a bunch of nicks and scuffs. The bottom line is these Fuji cameras aren’t built to stay looking new. Unless you really baby them, they’ll show wear and quick. This may or may not be a problem. Some people really like keep they’re gear looking perfect. I’m never happy about the first scuff or scratch, but afterwards it becomes sort of liberating to be able to just use things. That’s where I am with my Fuji. In both of my unfortunate mishaps though, had I been using my Nikon gear, I’d still have been shooting with my camera and my wife’s wouldn’t have shown as much wear.

Comparisons & Conclusion

I bought my Fuji intending to supplement my Nikon system which included a D700, 24-70 ƒ/2.8, and 14-24 ƒ/2.8. I loved my D700. I suppose the fact that I sold it (the lenses are also listed for sale) is the second biggest compliment I can pay the Fuji. The difference in size and weight can’t be overstated and the Fuji sensor keeps pace with the D700 overall.

The biggest compliment is that I’m shooting again and enjoying photography. For the last couple of years, photography became a vacation activity along with a few events I’d shoot and some portraiture. It almost wasn’t a hobby anymore. It felt like work. Having to lug a camera that size around (yes, even with a prime on it) wasn’t appealing to me. I left it at home. And while everyone goes on about the iPhone replacing dedicated cameras, it hasn’t even come close for me. The iPhone is still a “last resort and the occasional video” sort of device for me. In my opinion, the X100S smokes my iPhone 5 for even the most casual shooting.

I used the cash from the sale to start building a Fuji system which includes the 14 mm ƒ/2.8, the 35 mm ƒ/1.4 and the 18-55 mm kit lens along with my wife’s X-E1 so far. My thinking is that I can use those lenses on the X-E1 until an X-Pro1 successor is released. That day can’t come soon enough though ’cause while my wife absolutely loves her Fuji, and it’s certainly a capable camera, I don’t really like the UX compared to the X100S. I don’t like the AF button on the left, that a minimum shutter speed can’t be set for auto ISO and the X100S feels faster. 

Now I’m hoping the X-Pro2 or whatever it’s called leapfrogs the X100S in performance and usability while adopting its button layout. I’ll then add the 56 mm ƒ/1.2 and the 10-24 mm ƒ/4 to the lineup for a very complete and capable mirrorless system.

So long, Nikon. It’s been a great 6 years.

Posted on October 8, 2013 and filed under Photography, Reviews.