Those people who know me best have frequently heard me say, “I do not want to have any regrets in life.” To many of you, that might be a strange way to begin a post on a photography blog.
Please allow me to explain why I have done so.
In May of 2011 I purchased a Fujifilm X100 camera. It was the only camera of its kind in the mirrorless world with a hybrid viewfinder, a sharp 23mm f/2 lens (35mm equivalent), Leaf shutter and many extras – all in a beautiful, retro styled body. Despite it having numerous quirks, I found it a joy to use and was always pleased in the resulting (excellent) image quality.
I took my X100 everywhere with me – including to Antarctica and China. It was a camera that really made me think about composition, exposure and lighting – it was made for “intentful” shooting and thus it allowed me to create some of my best images. I vowed to never, ever sell this camera as I really loved using it.
Then I did the unthinkable: I sold it.
Why, you might ask? I had just acquired a second X-Pro1 camera body and given that Fujifilm had announced several new lenses for this system, I felt that my X100 was not going to see much use in the future. I already had the XF 18mm f/2 (28mm equivalent) prime lens which I thought would be a good substitute for the X100′s 23mm f/2 lens (until Fujifilm released its upcoming 23mm f/1.4 lens). It seemed like a good idea at the time, hence why I sold the X100.
It turned out to be a decision I came to regret – a lot.
Don’t get me wrong – the X-Pro1 and 18mm f/2 lens are a great combination which produces excellent images. There was something that I really missed about the X100, quirks and all. In a nutshell:
I even offered to buy back the X100 from the gentleman who purchased it from me – that is how much I missed it. The buyer was a wise man – there was no way he was going to sell it back to me as he loved using the camera. I guess I was out of luck.
In January of 2013, Fujifilm announced their new Fujifilm X100S (Amazon – Adorama – B&H Photo) at $100 more than its predecessor. It was not a revolutionary new camera, but rather, the logical evolution of something that already worked well. What do I mean by that?
Fujifilm Canada was kind enough to show me a pre-production copy of the new X100S back in February 2013. They let me use it for an afternoon at their office and even offered to let me borrow it for a few days. Since this sample did not have the final X-Trans II sensor, I was not able to show anyone the images created by this prototype camera.
Given that many other photographers had previews of the X100s published at that time, there was nothing new that I could add to what was already written. Plus, it is my belief that an article about a camera must include sample images if one wants to form a reasonable opinion about it. So, I turned down Fujifilm’s offer to borrow their pre-production unit and waited for my own production copy to arrive.
In late March 2013, my dealer called me to say that my X100S had arrived. I quickly marched down to the store, gave them my credit card and then hurried home to play with my new toy.
The purpose of this article is to outline my experience with the X100S over the past two months while using it as part of my normal camera kit. This is not intended to be a detailed a review but rather, a discussion of what I discovered during its use. I also assume that the reader is familiar with the previous X100 model.
A couple things to keep in mind as you read this:
As I unpacked my new X100S, I noticed that very little on the exterior had changed from the original X100. A few rear controls were relocated (or new) plus there was an “S” on the front of the camera in the lower right hand corner. Other than that, the X100S looked alot like its predecessor.
If you have used the X100 (or even the X-Pro1/X-E1), finding your way around the X100S is quite easy and overall, Fujifilm has done a good job with the new user interface (UI). It appears that they have listened to the user feedback (and criticism) about the original X100 as the UI design is much better.
On the original X100, you could set the “Fn” button to change the ISO value which came in handy at times, however, there was a limitation to it. Something that drove me crazy on the X100 was that you if used Auto ISO (like I do frequently), one had to go into the main menu to change the settings such as:
On the X100S, you are now able to change these Auto ISO values quickly and easily when the “Fn” button is pressed – without having to dive into the menus. In fact, Fujifilm has done a great job with this new implementation.
I would love to see this updated via firmware on the older X100 plus its siblings, the X-Pro1/X-E1.
One of the original (and biggest) complaints about the X100 was that its AF was too slow or it hunted a lot in low light. Fujifilm, through several firmware upgrades, greatly improved both the speed and the accuracy of the AF and although it was not blazingly fast, it was respectable for fairly static subjects.
The X100S now uses a hybrid AF system which incorporates both Contrast Detect Auto Focus (CDAF) and Phase Detect Auto Focus (PDAF) which Fujifilm claims is “the fastest AF in the world.“ This is quite a bold claim and is mostly marketing hype, IMHO. The AF on my wife’s Nikon V1 and a recently borrowed Olympus OM-D E-M5 is definitely faster than that of the X100S.
Compared to the original X100 though, the AF has definitely improved and in bright light, it is noticeably faster. In dim light, AF speed slows down considerably, however, when the AF locks focus in both lighting situations, it is extremely accurate.
I was not able to find any technical information as to when the X100S switches from CDAF to PDAF (and vice versa) but I suspect PDAF is used with lower light levels.
The original X100 used a “focus by wire” mechanism which was painful for MF aficionados to use as it took many turns of the focus ring in actual operation. The X100S still uses “focus by wire”, however, it now requires fewer turns of the focus ring. Also, Fujifilm have implemented two new tools that dramatically improves MF:
1) Digital Split Image
By making use of the PDAF pixels on the new sensor, the X100S offers a Digital Split Image feature to help you manually focus your shot. While checking the split image displayed on the LCD monitor or EVF, you can manually adjust for pinpoint focus – which is helpful when working with a wide aperture or shooting macro images.
Check out the following video to see a demonstration:
2) Focus Peaking
I first saw this MF feature implemented on Sony’s NEX cameras and thought it was really well done. Fujifilm’s implementation is similar except it uses “white” pixels (instead of coloured ones) to show that sections of your image are in focus.
When manually adjusting focus, “focus peaking” emphasizes the outline of subjects in the focus plane (with white pixels) allowing for better accuracy. It was easy to use, however, it would be nice if Fujifilm gave the user the option to change the colour of these pixels to something other than white, as I found it difficult to see them. I am hoping that this can be done in a future firmware update.
Check out the following video to see a demonstration:
A simple, yet extremely useful change to the UI was the relocation of the AF button from the left side vertical button bank to the 4-way controller on the right side. When you had your eye to the viewfinder on the X100, it was a pain to change the location of the AF point as it was previously a two handed operation (you pressed the AF button with your left hand then used your right hand to change the AF point using the 4-way controller).
Now with the X100S, you can move the AF point using only your right hand, making it easier when you have the camera to your eye. It appears that Fujifilm listened to the feedback from users about this as I found the former X100 a pain in this regard.
The original X100 had a “RAW” button – most users (including yours truly) informed Fujifilm that it was useless so in a firmware update, they gave users the ability to program it for other functions, such as the built in ND filter.
The X100S has replaced the “RAW button with the more useful “Q” button to bring up a “quick menu”. For those of you who have used an X-Pro1 or X-E1, it works exactly the same way. When pressed, it will show the following menu:
The “Q” button displays a menu of commonly used settings like ISO, JPEG/RAW, file compression, film simulation, white balance, etc, (see above image). After setting up the X100S, I rarely used the regular menu and most of my changes were made using this “quick menu”.
The X100S still uses a 23mm f/2 fixed (i.e. non interchangeable) lens and it does not appear to have changed from the original X100. It is still sharp wide open and corner to corner. There is a manual aperture ring with 1 stop indentations/increments. I would have preferred if Fujfilm had provided users with 1/3 stop indentations/increments as they do with their XF lenses for the X-Pro1/X-E1.
I did find a couple small issues (for me) with the X100S lens. First of all, it seems to flare more easily than its predecessor. In the above image I used the lens hood and still managed to get flare – fortunately, I was able to compose the image so that the flare enhances it a bit.
Also, in macro mode, the lens does not seem sharp wide open – I had to stop it down to at least f/4 to get a sharp image. Perhaps my previous X100 lens was an anomaly as I could get a sharp image wide open (f/2) when shooting in macro mode. Just keep in mind that macro mode on the X100S is not a substitute for a true macro lens, however, it is handy to have when you want to focus on a close subject.
A new 16 MP X-Trans II sensor (and EXR II processor) is at the heart of the X100S. It is a variant of the X-Trans sensor found in the X-Pro1 and X-E1 which incorporates phase detection pixels used in the new hybrid AF system. I was curious to find out if image quality has changed/improved over the X-Pro1/X-E1 and to my eyes, it appears the same.
I read on several sites that some people preferred the look of the images from the older X100 sensor. While the images from the older sensor were extremely good, I must admit that I prefer the images from the newer X100S. Then again, I was thrilled when I saw the output from the X-Pro1/X-E1 for the first time (and even to this day), so it does not surprise me that I really like the X100S output.
What is nice (for me) when I shoot the X100S alongside my X-Pro1 is that the output from both cameras is consistent in colour, sharpness, etc. It is almost as if they are coming from the same camera, which is important for me when I am doing client work.
I shoot both RAW+JPEG (Fine) and only use the RAW file when I have a difficult lighting situation. My preferred RAW converter is Lightroom (V4.4) and to date, I rarely encounter conversion issues, although they do appear from time to time. I know Fujfilm has given the technical specifications of the X-Trans RAW output to Adobe et al., however, it would have been nice they did this earlier in the game since Fujifilm uses a non-standard (i.e. non Bayer) Colour Filter Array (CFA) to avoid moiré.
X-Trans sensor cameras have been out on the market for at least 18 months and waiting for decent RAW support has been a pain, to say the least. I know I am not alone in those thoughts.
Having said that, Fujifilm’s major strength is the quality of the JPEG output (and its film simulation modes), and in this regard, the X100S excels in spades.
Overall, there are many small refinements to the X100S:
After spending two months with the X100S, I found it to be a decent update to its predecessor, primarily because of the new sensor. It was a pleasure to use and since I was already familiar with the X100, the learning curve was almost non-existent. Even those people who have used the X-Pro1 and X-E1 will be able to shoot with the X100S in no time at all.
During my travels and assignments, I always had the X100S alongside my X-Pro1. I did find one thing quite peculiar – then again, maybe not – every time I reached into my camera bag, I often pulled out the X100S first. It is such a joy to use, now that most of the annoying things about the X100 have been sorted out. In fact, I own two X-Pro1 bodies and all of the native XF Fujinon lenses (including the new 55-200mm zoom) and my camera of choice is now the X100S.
With the exception of modifying the “focus peaking” pixel colour (to something other than white), there is nothing I would want to change about the X100S. As I stated in the beginning of this article, Fujifilm kept what was good about the X100, updated the sensor, improved the performance and fixed the annoying issues.
As I have been writing this article, I am reminded of a conversation I had with my wife on the first day when I brought the X100S home. She saw me running around the house like a madman (like I usually do) with my new toy and checking everything out. She noticed something different about me – normally when I have a new camera or lens, I often make many comments to her about it. This time I didn’t.
She asked me how I liked the X100S. My response to her was, “Testing this camera today has been anti-climactic.”
That was not meant as a negative – it is just that using this new camera was not much of a change over its predecessor. There were no surprises and the positive changes to the camera, were subtle – and in most cases, were fixes to shortcomings in the previous model.
That is a tough question. For a long time, I wondered if I should “re-” purchase a used X100 or splurge for the new X100S. In the end, I am happy I picked up the X100S, but that is mainly because its updated sensor output matches that of my X-Pro1 (plus the other refinements are nice to have).
If you already own the X100, my recommendation is to keep your current camera unless there is a compelling reason to upgrade. If you really want to ditch it for its successor, I encourage you to check out the X100S in person to see for yourself if it is worth shelling out several hundred dollars to upgrade (the price of the new X100S+tax less the trade in value for your old X100).
If you don’t have either camera, used X100 cameras are a bargain right now (at the time of writing, about $US 650.00 for one in mint condition). That is half the price of a new X100S. Of course, the X100S is an excellent camera with an updated sensor (hence, slightly better image quality), but you will have to decide if it is worth the extra money for the newer model. Either way, you will still have a great imaging machine.
I have a really off the wall idea for a new product which I believe will make you a lot of money and it requires minimal engineering effort on your part.
I have been experimenting with the Sigma DPx Merrill cameras and even though the camera body leaves much to be desired, the resulting image quality is excellent (at or near base ISO). I also like the concept of having only 2 or 3 compact camera bodies with small, fixed lenses in my bag for travel.
During my recent trips, I discovered that I constantly used my X100S (35mm equivalent field of view) and my X-Pro1 with the 60mm lens (90mm equivalent field of view). In fact, I shot over 99% of my images with these two focal lengths alone. And if I am not mistaken, these are the two focal lengths that many photojournalists commonly use – plus I use them a lot in my wedding work.
Here is something you already know – your image quality from the X-Trans sensor is amongst the best in the industry.
My idea – create another camera (call it the X200) with the same body/sensor as the X100S but with a fixed 56mm f/2 lens (85mm equivalent field of view). You have done most of the difficult work in creating the X100S, now all you have to do is design an appropriate 56mm lens to go with it. I know the lens won’t be compact like the 23mm optic on the X100S, but I am confident you can keep the size to a minimum by making its widest aperture f/2 (I know f/1.4 is nice, but it would make the lens quite large).
I’ll even make this offer to you – since I am both an engineer and a photographer, I’ll even help you out with the design and beta testing :o)
I can tell you this – if you created an X200 with these specifications, that, plus the X100S would be the cameras I would use for over 90% of my work. That combination would be the perfect travel kit and all I would ever take with me on my trips. I would be in heaven if you did that. So would many other photographers.
I guarantee it.
As I started off saying in this article, I don’t want to have any regrets in life.
Although I regretted selling my original X100, I have no regrets in purchasing the X100S and I will keep it in my bag until one of us dies. It is an excellent fixed lens camera and I am sure it will give me many years of great service and images.
Fujifilm has done a good job with their X series cameras. In the beginning, new products (X10, X100 and X-Pro1 specifically) had a number of problems that needed to be sorted out, but now it seems that recent releases (such as the X-E1, X20 and X100S) have very few, if any initial issues – plus the Fujinon lenses are exceptional. That is good news for all of us in the Fujifilm camp and I encourage them to keep innovating and listening to user feedback.
One thing though – someone asked me recently if I was planning to purchase the upcoming XF Fujinon 23mm f/1.4 lens to use with my X-Pro1 now that I own the X100S.
The short answer is, “no.” The way I view the X100S is that it is an excellent 23mm f/2 lens with a great camera attached to it – which now has a permanent place in my bag.
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