A little over a week ago I got the opportunity to borrow an X100s while its owner was trialling a Sony A7. I've been aware of the Fuji system for a while, since the Xpro1 was announced and I've quietly been tracking their progress. Slowly watching the Fuji camera and lens lineup grow I have found myself becoming even more curious about their X system.
So here's are little write up about my experience and time spent with the camera over 10days or so.
Firstly a little disclaimer I'm not affiliated in anyway to FujiFilm or their cameras and should point out that this is all my own experiences and viewpoint. The camera was lent to me by a friend not by FujiFilm.
First impressions of the camera is its built very well, its solid looking yet surprisingly light. The manual controls/dials are great, in my opinion they offer just the right amount of resistance - not too stiff, however I felt the aperture ring could do with being a little stickier to avoid accidental changes.
It took a little while to get used to the handling of the X100s and finding my way around the controls (having been a Nikon user for years) If you've ever shot film cameras be it SLR or rangefinders then the X100s feels very familiar, so much so you feel like you can just go off and shoot straight away - and you can! But... if you want to get the best out of the camera, its totally worth investing some time reading the manual. There are a few things in there that will help speed things up while your are shooting. It's also worth investing a bit of time setting up the custom menus C1, C2 and C3 for different shooting scenarios. e.g. C1 for landscapes, C2 for portrait C3 for general shooting with jpeg.
I won't go into the menu system in detail, there are plenty of other reviews that cover that. What I will say is its pretty straight forward to navigate and packed with features that take a little mining with the manual close to hand. It's great to see back button focussing available on a small camera and the Q system is a great feature for changing things on the fly.
This is this first thing I showed off to others, "check it out! look through here, now flick that switch!" then wait for the oohs and ahh's. The optical viewfinder as expected has great clarity and the HUD style makes it great for adjusting whats in your frame - being able to see the area outside the frame really helps make you think about what you are shooting a bit more. Alternatively you can flick it over to the electronic viewfinder and see exactly what the camera will see. I continuously found myself flicking back and forth and don't think I preferred using one more than the other, they just complimented each other well.
The f2 lens combined with the sensor really really make it a great tool for lowlight. As others have said in reviews - if you can see it the camera can photograph it.
Combining this with high iso performance allows you to get some great results straight out of camera. This first image was taking bouncing down the street in a van aperture priority and auto ISO just to see how the camera could cope with the conditions. The answer? very well!
I wanted to play around with the inbuilt film representation modes and thought this scene would be good in B+W so I put the camera into B+W JPEG and shot this handheld! Minimal processing in lightroom, a contrast and clarity boost and black crush.
I even managed some handheld night shots down to 0.5s. not super super sharp but hey im not complaining at those sort of speeds. The camera I was using had a bit of a sticky shutter button so suspect some of the shake was a result of this. My friend told me it was due for a repair and not a known Fuji issue, rather its just him and how he stores and abuses his gear.
One of the things I did notice when shooting Jpegs was the camera seemed to be applying a heap of unnecessary noise reduction to the skin tones in images shot at high iso. As an example heres a shot of my good friend Dan while in the pub. If you look closely you can see its applying some horrible skin smoothing which can only be described as giving the complexion of an action man doll. Now I'm sure Dan likes it because it makes him look young but in reality it just looks....well, fake.
After revisiting the manual I found that I had the noise reduction in the camera set to 0 (which you would think means off) well no, it needs to be on -2 for minimal NR. I'm still not entirely happy that you cant just turn NR off but I guess its not too much of a problem if you are going to shoot portraits, as its likely you are going to be shooting RAW to give yourself more to work with in post.
The appeal of the X100s is its size and weight. It makes the ideal everyday camera so I wanted to see how it performed in some everyday scenarios with less than ideal lighting conditions. I took it to the beach one day to see how it handled the bright midday sun, after all everyone loves to show off their beach snaps. I found a scenes that would test most other cameras dynamic range and in my opinion the camera just nailed it. There's still detail in the blacks, ok the highlights might by blown in the sky but for a camera this size its certainly useable and more than acceptable. Also those midtone colours are just gorgeous.
I have to say overall the colour representation has been outstanding. I've shot both Raw and jpeg with the X100s and Ive barely had to do anything to the colours in post production.
While having an early morning coffee another challenging scene popped up, a low sun backlit portrait. This was the first time i'd seen the autofocus struggle to lock on and it took a fair bit of hunting so I switched to manual focus. Manual focus is normally a pain in the ass on smaller cameras, its tough to tell if you've really nailed it. FujiFilm have clearly thought this through and the X100s comes with a two different MF assit tools. Firstly you have focus peaking which gives a white shimmery line around elements as they come into focus. Second and possibly my favourite is the split screen focus tool. When using this a box appears in the centre of your image which is split into sections, just like an old rangefinder or SLR with a split screen prism as you adjust the focus the vertical lines in your image all start to line up. It's kinda hard to explain without images or examples so head over to DPReview for their video and explanation.
You can see I didn't quite nail the focus but it was pretty hard scene to shoot with deep shadows, to use the MF effectively you need to use the electronic viewfinder and it just couldn't render the scene with enough detail to allow me to use the either of the focus tools effectively. It just occurred to me its very likely I had the AF focus lamp disabled as I had the camera in full silent mode. If i'd checked this Im sure the AF would have had a much easier time (See always read the manual).
Macro and other effects
Like most cameras the X100s has a macro function letting you get as close as 10cm to your subject for some nice closeup shots with soft delicious bokeh.
The camera doesn't stop there though, in addition to the in-built film simulation modes (Astia, Provia, Velvia, PRO neg. std. and PRO neg, Hi.), buried in the menu system is another feature Fujifilm has called advanced filters. There are 8 different filters for your artistic experimentation, toy camera, soft focus, miniature, pop colour, dynamic tone, partial colour, hi key and lo key. The M&M's below show how these filters effect the image.
The filters all feel a bit gimmicky and are a bit at a contrast to the serious photographers camera vibe the x100s gives off. Having said that I was quite pleased with the miniature filter and its faux tilt shift effect.
In-built 3 stop ND filter
Brilliant. I wish all manufacturers did this. Its super handy especially when using it with flash to over power the sun. Its great to just be able to flick a switch and have the ND instantly, maybe its because I'm lazy and don't like digging around in a bag looking for additional filters to fix to the front of the camera while scenes like this are going on...
When I first read about the X100 one of the things that really piqued my interest was the addition of the leaf shutter. As well as being stealthily quiet the leaf shutter poses no limit on flash synchronisation. Most DSLRs have a max sync speed of 1/200s or 1/250s. With the X100 you can utilise flash all the way up to 1/4000s wide open at f2. We are talking full power flash at 1/4000 not the hyper sync stuff you get with TTL triggers, and it works with 3rd party gear. Combining this with the inbuilt 3-stop ND filter is fantastic for shooting portraits in the midday sun, it gives you the ability to dial down the ambient exposure and add some contrast with a small flash. There's no TTL metering though, so you have to use the flash in full manual control. I gave it a go with one of my Nikon SB900 flashes and an sc-28 flash extension cable.
So to summarise my little experience with the X100s, overall this is a fantastic camera. Sure there's a few niggly bits like the short battery life, soft images when shooting wide open and weird skin smoothing at high iso when shooting jpegs. But nothing that would seriously put me off this camera. All the important things are there, high iso performance, fast lens, image quality is excellent once stopped down beyond f4, the images are sharp and its a devilishly good looking camera. Fuji have done a great job at making this a great everyday walk around camera. Some would say its the perfect camera for street photography, not being a street photography I cant really say. When I first got it I was worried the 35mm lens wouldn't be wide enough but soon found taking 2 extra steps backwards solved this. In some ways shooting with this is like shooting with an iphone, you never hear anyone complain the lens isn't wide enough or long enough - they just get on and move their feet. Of course Fuji has released a couple of screw on lens adapters for those that *really* need the extra width. Personally I'm more intrigued by the telephoto adapter but the size of it kind of negates the point of the X100. As a friend once said, as soon as you have to carry a camera which doesn't fit in a pocket you may as well take your slr. I think I have to agree, yes you could get a small interchangeable system like the XE-2 but the whole point of the X100s is its size, its a light highly capable camera that can just be there in your bag or coat ready to go. After spending some time with it and allowing the excitement to wear off, would I consider getting one? Absolutely. I can see this fitting in nicely as one of my travel cameras. All thats left now is to convince the wife I need to add one in my camera bag!