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Fuji X100s Review: Retro Looks Meets Modern Tech
by Chris Gampat -  3/31/2013

Remember when Fujifilm first announced the X100 camera? Photographers everywhere became smitten immediately in a way synonymous to an awkward teenager experiencing love at first sight. That is the camera that also helped changed everything. If you had previously read in forums everywhere, many shooters wanted a retro looking camera that was small and housed a big sensor. They got it with the X100. It wasn't perfect though. This year at CES 2013, Fujifilm announced a refresh in the form of the X100s. The company specifically honed in on the initial complaints about the camera and stated how they went about trying to improve on them.


The X100s is now being marketed and looked at as perhaps the perfect camera for street photography and candids. Indeed when you pick up a DSLR or a mirrorless camera and then hold an X100s, you'll be astounded at the differences. Granted, you're stuck with one lens--but that lens still offers the quintessential field of view for documentary shooting.

So what's all the hype about? Besides having some heart-palpitating good looks, the X100s has many other things going for it. For starters, the camera's heart is a 16.3MP APS-C sized X Trans II sensor. While that right there is a lot to swallow, note that the sensor has been revamped for better high ISO noise processing and there are now phase detection sensors on the semi-conductor. And in front of the heart is the other lip-biting feature--the lens. The X100s has a permanently fixed 23mm f2 lens with Fujinon glass comprising its design. Fujifilm has been in the business of optics for many years and have made what many professionals may consider some of the best lenses ever made in the medium format and large format territory. Bringing that knowledge down to the APS-C level, this lens renders a 35mm field of view due to the 1.5x crop factor of the APS-C sized sensor. Around this lens is an aperture ring--which will tug at the nostalgic memories of many experienced film photographers and retro-infatuated enthusiasts.

The X100s is mostly the same camera as the X100 except for the new autofocus, a few new button placements, revamped autofocus and new manual focusing methods. Users now have the option of using either a split prism display in the EVF mode or they can use focus peaking.

Otherwise, all the knobs and dials that photographers loved are still there--including the exposure compensation dial. And yes, the EVF/OVF switch is also still carried over. This was extremely important to many shooters.

But is the camera perfect?

Fuji X100s

Build And Design
For those not in the know, before the demise of film cameras to the digital age there was a single legendary film point and shoot known as the Hexar AF. It had a fixed 35mm f2 lens that was a Leica copy. A very valid argument can be made to say that this camera is what inspired the X100 and X100s. It was beautiful, simple to use, small, quiet and is still going for loads of dollars on eBay.

With that said, the X100s shouldn't be called a point and shoot. It is a fixed lens camera instead. If one calls it a point and shoot, they need to consider the fact that this camera is marketed toward those that reach for higher fruit from the tree. There are loads of buttons right where you need them and in the right hands, this can be one heck of a killer camera. Indeed, there aren't even any automatic modes--the closest one could be program mode. But if you put this camera in the hands of the inexperienced, then the exposure compensation dial might be tweaked and the user might not have any idea what's going on with their images.

To that end, the design will once again be something best suited for the veterans.

The camera has size dimensions of 5.0 x 2.9 x 2.1 inches / 126.5 x 74.4 x 53.9 mm and weighs in at 15.70 oz / 445 g. This camera is really light and one can walk around with it around their chest or shoulder all day without feeling any fatigue.

And for the photographer that used to shoot weddings and events with many cameras strapped around them, this can be quite a liberating feeling.

Ergonomics and Controls
The Fujifilm X100s, once again, has nearly an identical camera body to the X100. The front of the camera is characterized by some extremely low profile looks. There isn't a Fujifilm logo on the front at all because otherwise that may draw too much attention to it. Instead, you'll find the lens, OVF/EVF switch, the flash, and the front of the viewfinder. Just because they needed some other way to designate the camera, a little "S" is on the bottom front of the camera. The lens retains the X100's aperture ring for control.

Head over to the top of the camera and you'll see some more business going on. There you'll find the Fujifilm branding, hot shoe, shutter speed dial, on/off switch/shutter release, and the exposure compensation dial. The only other hard button up here is the tiny Fn button--which we programmed to control the ISO.

Circle around to the back of the camera and you'll see the main control deck, captain! Here you'll find another control switch, the AEL/AFL lock button, four way control dial with settings to access many controls, display/back button, and the quick menu addition. Then there is the huge LCD screen of 2.8 inches--and it's not bad but we wish it were more detailed since it is only 480K dots. To the left are the playback button, AE button, drive button, and the view mode.


And towards the top is the viewfinder with the diopter and eye sensor next to it.

On either side of the camera are the ports and the focusing switch. While on the bottom is the battery plate that also holds the SD card in place.

Menus and Modes
This camera has loads of different menus. There are different drive mode menus, different playback menus, and different control menus. They're all color coded for easier access, but you'll need to still do quite a bit of digging to get through to many of the minor and specialized needs. For example, activating the ND filter requires you going through the menu. Additionally, if you want to change the film simulation, you'll need to do the same. It can be a bit of a pain.

Display/Viewfinder
Fujifilm's X100s has a 2.8 inch LCD with 480K dot resolution screen. We have to admit that we wish that it were better though. When it came to reviewing images on the LCD screen, it was sometimes tough to see the details. This is a major problem when shooting events or candids--especially when you mix in a lens being shot wide open and not always accurate AF in low light.

In contrast, the camera's EVF has 2,360K dots of resolution--and it is positively stunning. The user also has the option of using the OVF, but that also slows down the focusing and won't always be the most accurate in telling you what's in focus and not. Additionally, one needs to consider parallax correction when focusing. When using the EVF, what you see is what you get--and that's quite liberating.

We experienced no major lag at all with the EVF, so thankfully you won't be seeing the world as a slow-motion video at all. In fact, if you turn it on and shake it around, you might even get a bit dizzy as the frame rate keeps up that much.

Note that when you're in manual mode that you will also experience exposure simulation. Keep this in mind if you have a flash on the camera and you're stopped down to f8 at 1/1000th set to ISO 200. But when that flash goes off, you'll have the image you imagined. In our tests, we had lots of fun using Lomography's Diana flash.

Performance

In the best of lighting situations, the Fujifilm X100s is right on par with the Olympus OMD EM5. Take it into low light though, and you'll have more trouble. Also consider the fact that the X100s also lets the user control how large the focusing point is. The smaller the point, the slower the focusing will be. When the point is larger, then you'll have more area to work with and it will be easier for the camera to focus as well.

Despite this being a point and shoot camera, we didn't experience much shutter lag if any at all.

Fuji X100s

Shooting Performance
The Fujifilm X100s is one of the highest performing point and shoot cameras currently on the market. But we hate calling it a point and shoot--instead we prefer the moniker of, "fixed lens camera." The real world test results support this belief as the lens is extremely sharp and also does an excellent job in keeping down distortion, chromatic aberration and other problems--unless you're really looking for them.

The company has also mostly addressed the issues with the auto focusing performance that plagued the X100 but that were mostly fixed with firmware updates. The X100s focuses at almost the speed of the Olympus EM5 OMD, but in low light suffers considerably. Another factor to keep in mind is how large the user makes the focusing point/area.

Fuji X100s

Fuji X100s

The battery life of the X100s is quite excellent. We've shot with it for a number of hours starting in the early afternoon and spanning into the wee hours of the next morning with the battery still able to keep clicking and only faltering in the coldest of weather the next morning. In otherwise casual use though, we've easily gone for a week without needing to charge it. The excellent battery performance of the X Pro 1 is now in the X100s. Street photogs: breathe a sigh of relief.

Lens Performance
The lens attached to this camera is a 23mm f2 optic. One could call it a pancake lens if they want--but it is permanently attached. In full frame terms, this camera will render a 35mm field of view with an f3.5 aperture when shot wide open.

Fuji X100s

This lens is sharp wide open--but we've seen better out there. Granted, these other lenses are detachable--and this camera still has some excellent optics. It reaches its peak at around f5.6 and when a flash is added to bring out the specular highlights, you'll be absolutely astounded at what type of details can be pulled from the images.

Fujifilm didn't bother updating the lens, but we think they should have due to the bump in megapixels. Additionally, some users might complain about the purple fringing that we found to be probematic in the higher contrast areas. Granted, if you're shooting in RAW we still encourage you to use Adobe Lightroom to get rid of fringing. It rarely happens, but when it does, it's really bad.

Fuji X100s

The lens also suffers from a tiny bit of distortion, but you'll mostly see this when focusing up close and personal on an object. Otherwise, there isn't much to complain about with this lens.

Fuji X100s

Video Quality
The Fujifilm X100s wasn't exactly designed for video capture, and to that end we're not even sure why the company decided to put video capture in the camera. It is capable of shooting video at 60fps or 30 fps at 1080p HD. Before recording, the user can set the aperture, but not the shutter speed. Manual focusing is also possible. However, one that that really bugs us is that fact that the ND filter cannot be activated while in video mode. Videographers use ND filters in order to maintain the correct exposure while shooting video, and it would have been a nice addition on top of manual control. Additionally, you cannot change settings during recording.

While the video captured with the X100s can look good, we're baffled as to why it wouldn't allow for full manual control. This is also probably why it is hidden in the drive menus.

Image Quality
The Fujifilm X100s' RAW files are not only extremely versatile, but also jaw-droppingly good. The files are nearly devoid of image noise at the higher ISOs, but they do indeed require some minor editing to get rid of all image noise. Any noise that is there though is almost negligible. At certain times, you can see banding in the blacks, but that's also quite rare.

Fuji X100s

As far as RAW file versatility goes, the X100s' files are almost as versatile as the X Pro 1's and can even start to edge into full frame sensor territory.

Once the ND filter is applied, we saw a little bit of quality loss--but it's nothing that a little bit of post-production can't fix.

JPEG file output was also very good, however we still must state that the best quality that comes from this camera is in the RAW files.

Fuji X100s

Additional Sample Images

Fuji X100s

Fuji X100sFuji X100s

Fuji X100s

Fuji X100s

Fuji X100s

Fuji X100sConclusion

When you hold the Fujifilm X100s, all you can think about is just how much power you have in a small package. And depending on your hand size, it overall might be too small or just right for you. Put the camera up to your eye, focus and shoot--and you'll be astounded at just how simple it is to capture great images. The X100s has all the marks and traits of being a constant companion. In fact, we're a bit sad to have to send it back to the company.

The X100s boasts excellent image quality, blazing fast AF in the right situations, faster processing, a small size, an excellent lens, and wonderful ergonomics. I was trained on Leica cameras, and this thing reminds me of my old film Leica cameras very much. In fact, I believe that it is everything that the Leica X2 should have been but isn't.

The image quality is more than good enough to also be considered professional. The user can attach PocketWizards to it and take advantage of the leaf shutter, plus they can use conventional flashes with nearly no issues at all.

The X100s' major problem to fix was the autofocus. Indeed, Fujifilm has done it and it is about on par with the Olympus OMD EM5. However, when it comes to low light, the camera will struggle. Still though, the image quality bests that mirrorless camera.

Then there was the manual focusing issue--which is solved by using a split prism form of digital focusing. It is very useful in real life practice, but isn't always totally and perfectly accurate.

The X100s has the ability to focus with an EVF or an OVF. The OVF is a bit limited as well and in fact slows the focusing performance down. Besides this, you can't always see exactly what is in focus. This should be something that Fujifilm should try to improve. Perhaps adding the digital focusing display in the OVF mode could work. For the best use though, we would recommend that it instead works like a rangefinder (such as Leica or Voigtlander's) vs working as a split prism.

Overall though, the X100s is an extremely solid camera. And it wins our highest praises.

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