first contact with the Fujifilm X100s: my impressions and short review

Fujifilm is on a roll recently. Since the launch of the X series of cameras, the company has managed to create a lot of waves in the digital camera world. The just released Fujifilm X100s is the update to the acclaimed X100. It brings faster focusing, a new sensor, a new viewfinder, faster operation – a lot of improvements. I shot with the Fujifilm X100s and it behaves like a  different camera! As I own the X-E1 the Fujifilm X100s might seem unnecessary  but is it really so? Or would the Fujifilm X100s be a good addition to my (growing!) collection of Fujifilm cameras?

Fujifilm X100s the street photography camera
Fujifilm X100s the street photography camera

I owned the lovely X10 (the only camera I ever felt sorry for selling) and now shoot almost exclusively with the Fujifilm X-E1. In theory I have everything I need, but when the occasion to try a Fujifilm X100s presented I could not say no. I didn’t like the old model (the X100), but the Fujifilm X100s really is something else.

I feel the Fujifilm cameras have an interesting characteristic in common. Shooting with them  I encounter little annoyances, hiccups, things that could be done better. I miss-focus and shoot lovely white orbs. But when everything clicks into place the pictures are just “wow”. I never really had this feeling with my older cameras. The Fujifilm X100s is no exception to this, but the balance is even more slanted towards the “wow” pictures. And the best news is that the Fujifilm X100s has become available on Amazon.

growing-up – the X100s vs X100

The Fujifilm X100 is an amazing camera. A bit sluggish, but the image quality is stellar. The new model brings improvements to several areas:

  • new sensor design
    This is the big change. Fujifilm got rid of the anti-aliasing filter (optical low-pass) and implemented the X-Trans color array from the X-E1 / X-PRO1. The X-Trans sensor brings better micro-contrast and files that people likened to full-frame DSLRs. (a bit of a stretch though). This type of sensor created some headaches with RAW processing, but this is solved now.
  • faster autofocus speed
    This is an important change. The new EXR processor is twice as fast as the last model, and Fujifilm claims 0.08s autofocus in good light. I cannot say how fast it is, but it is faster than the old X100. It feels also deffinitely faster than my X-E1! I tested the Fujifilm X100s near an Olympus OM-D, and in informal testing there is no speed difference.
    The Fujifilm X100s combines the speed of phase-detect with the accuracy of contrast-detect autofocus. All I can say is that I want this on my X-E1!
  • the 23mm F2.0 lens on the Fujifilm X100s
    the 23mm F2.0 lens on the Fujifilm X100s

    same Fujinon 23mm F2.0
    The X100s keeps the same lens as the predecessor, with all the nice features: aperture ring, great optics, small size and fast aperture. Fujifilm also added Dynamic Lightning Optimization which is a software adjustment helping with peripheric sharpness. This should help especially at small apertures.

  • larger buffer and improved play mode
    These two changes mean it is easier to check images after a burst shot. The camera no longer waits for the file to get written before entering play mode. This is very nice when you want to check some film simulations, focus bracketing or white balance changes. I usually check the images on the computer, but faster play mode is a nice improvement. The larger buffer – up to 30 JPEGs – is great when in a photo journalistic spree.
    Even if you do not use hi speed shooting, a more responsive camera makes shooting more pleasant. The less I notice the camera, the more I can ignore it.
  • Pro Neg film simulations
    The Pro Neg Hi is my new favorite film simulation on the X-E1. It looks less saturated than Velvia and with more contrast than Provia. The Pro Neg Std (standard) is great for portraiture, even more than old Astia.
  • 14bit RAW files
    Now that Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop treat our RAW files better, shooting RAW with the Fujifilm cameras become a possibility. Since the old X10 I became a JPEG shooter, but I like the potential in the RAW files.
  • better viewfinder
    The optical viewfinder the same from the X100 but the electronic viewfinder has now 2.36M beautiful dots.
    The X100s also brings focus peaking for manual focusing and a new digital split-focus. It looks a bit like the old split screen manual focus from film-days. I prefer the focus-peaking mode (like on NEX-6), but I can see myself getting used to this feature.
  • improved movie mode
    On Fuji cameras the movie mode is just a nice feature. A bit of an afterthought maybe.
    Things are getting better though. The Fujifilm X100s can shoot a very respectable 1080p @ 60fps. With a bitrate of 36Mbps it can produce beautiful videos.
    The drawback is that with the lack of optical stabilization comes jittery filming.

The complete specification list for the Fujifilm X100s is a joy to read. The comments of Amazon purchasers are also good, with people giving good grades already.

Fujifilm X100s and my X-E1 – competition or team-work?

Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon XF 18-55mm
Will my X-E1 get a new companion?

The obvious difference is that the Fujifilm X100s has a fixed-focal non-changeable lens. But it is a good, useful focal and pretty fast lens (23mm F2.0 – equal to 35mm). My X-E1 can match that focal length only with the not-yet available Fuji XF 23mm F2.8, or with the kit lens (which I do have).

One thing is clear from the beginning: the Fujifilm X100s is more compact, faster in operation and quieter. The X100s can run circles around the X-E1 with the XF 35mm in terms of speed. And it is svelter than the XF 18-55mm combo. But this is the price of an interchangeable lens system.

The X100s is quieter. The shutter noise is very discreet, although not completely silent. This is a nice feature in concert halls, theaters, or even in street and candid photography. The less intrusive I feel, the more pleasure I have in shooting. This should not be the buying factor, but I feel a lot of Fujifilm X100s reviews do not touch this subject much.

finally a powerful Auto-ISO
You can set minimum ISO (200), a maximum ISO (I feel very comfortable shooting at ISO 6400) but also a minimum shutter speed (such as 1/125s). The Fuji X100s brings a feature that my Fuji X-E1 only dreams about. I know that I want it for all of my cameras!

The faster autofocus of the X100s (like in the co-announced Fuji X20) is done by the on-sensor phase-detect autofocus. Compared to a contrast-detect autofocus this is a big deal. In good light the Fuji X100s is just as fast as my X-E1. But when light goes down there is no competition.  Compared to the predecessor Fujifilm X100, the new model solved one big issue.

Equivalent (or close enough) lenses in the Fuji X system:

  • Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4
    Fujifilm X Mount lens roadmap, as of April 17
    Fujifilm X Mount lens roadmap, as of April 17

    The exact focal length as the Fujifilm X100s, and a bit faster. The bad news is that this lens will be large and heavy (compared to the diminutive lens of teh X100s of course).

  • Fujinon XF 27mm F2.8 pancake
    While different focal length, this lens is small enough to make the X-E1 a close approximation of the X100s. However pancake lenses suffer sometimes from mediocre optics. Fujifilm has developed great lenses but a lot of people feel the current pancake is the weak lens in the line-up.
  • Fujinon XF 35 F1.4
    The “classic” lens for the X-E1. Great bokeh, faster aperture – and a lens I have and love.
    The lens alone costs half of a Fujifilm X100s. So if you do not own it, it’s an interesting trade-off.
  • Fujinon 18-55 F2.8-4.0 (kit lens)
    I feel this lens might be reason enough to get into the Fuji X system. Optical stabilization (the Fujifilm X100s lacks it, but it is not very important), zoom, great optics, and a very decent price in a kit are all great arguments for this lens. Where the X100s wins is in its simplicity and ease of use. I enjoy prime lenses so i can see myself using only one focal length.

Would I buy the X100s as companion to my X-E1 system? I would not replace the X-E1, just add the Fujifilm X100s. Well, it depends on the price of the Fuji XF 23mm. If the 23mm or the new pancake are priced around the $500 mark I would go with a lens. Otherwise? I might get the X100s.

Right now the Fujifilm X100s is available on Amazon for $1299.

what I like about the X100s

  • size and weight compared to the Fuji X-E1
    The X100s seems a lot smaller than my main camera. As the X100s lens is dwarfed by even the XF 35mm, the camera is easy to hold all-day long.
  • beautiful JPEG rendering and low noise
    Really if you need a camera that takes amazing pictures, and you are ok with a fixed lens this is the camera!
  • ideal street shooter camera
    A small form-factor, fast autofocus and quiet shutter make this a great camera to take always with you and capture street life.
    I carry my X-E1 with the XF 35mm F1.4 with me all the time exactly for this. The Fujifilm X100s is even better. I think I like the field-of-view of the 23mm lens in the Fuji X100s better.
    Zack Arias takes a Fuji X100s on the streets of Istanbul, and finds the camera perfect for street photography.

  • second generation
    The X100s comes 2 years from the old X100, and it shows.
    It has great image quality from the X-Trans sensor and EXR processor. The X100s sets new autofocus benchmark in the Fuji X camera line-up
  • handling
    The X100s (like the earlier X100) feels “right” when used. I find it hard to say exactly what feels right, but when I pick up a Fuji X camera I am eager to use it. It is the exact opposite of what happens when I pick a very simple P&S camera, where I struggle to find the controls.
    I understand this is a very relative feeling, so I can only urge you to try an X100s in a shop.
  • I really like the ND filter
    A phisical aperture ring calls to me to try different effects, from shallow depth-of-field photos to deep dof landscapes. However too often I run into the limitations of the shutter speed. An ND filter like the one in the X100s loses 3 stops of light and offer more creative opportunities.

what I do not like about it

  • well, the obvious drawback is the price (at $1299 the X100s is not cheap)
  • on a distant second place is the fixed lens
    I always feel that sometime in the future I will want another lens.
  • lack of optical stabilization
    For a wide-angle lens OIS is less necessary. But I feel the lack of OIS puts a huge brake on the movie capabilities of the X100s.
  • the eternally re-adjusting exposure control
    The wheel is harder to turn than on my X-E1, yet I still managed to get it to -2/3 EV and not notice.

price and availability
The camera has become (finally) available on Amazon.

update: I found a very beautiful portrait photo-shoot, done with the Fuji X100s.


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