By Ken Kwok, Los Angeles Times
A sumptuous blend of modern digital imaging technologies packaged in an old-school-style rangefinder, the Fujifilm X100S is a standout in a crowded field of cameras clamoring for eyeballs and market share. Priced at around $1,300, the 16.3mp X100S is not for everyone. Some shooters won’t appreciate being stuck with a non-interchangeable 23mm prime lens (35mm full frame equivalent) and some will bemoan the price. And it’s unlikely that pros will be using it as their main camera on a big shoot. This camera is no DSLR killer. Rather the X100S is a niche camera imbued with so much soul and serious fun that it will be hard to leave home without it.
At first feel, the X100S lacks the heftiness of the venerable Leica, but it is well constructed and durable with a die-cast magnesium body wrapped in a grippy synthetic leather material. In traditional silver and black as well as a recently released sleek all black body, the X100S is handsomely compact and unobtrusive. Best of all your back will thank you for leaving the 25-pound Domke bag with the two DSLR bodies and lenses at home. At 15.7 ounces, this camera at times feels too light, and you almost forget it’s on your neck until the moment you reach for it, when the perfect light hits the pretty girl in the Paris cafe as she is perfectly framed in the rustic doorway.
The large-numbered dedicated dials for the shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation are standard rangefinder issue; they are easy to see and adjust on a whim. The shutter dial speed dial stood out as feeling very traditional, giving users a range of 4000 to bulb as well as an automatic choice. An ISO dial would have been a nice touch to add to the X100S. Unless you choose the automatic ISO setting, users have to go into the menu to make the adjustment, which can be a problem on the fly, especially if you move from indoors to outdoors quickly and forget to change. A smaller dial conveniently placed in the back corner on the top of the camera is dedicated to exposure compensation, another fine rangefinder-esque touch.
Perhaps one of the nicest things about the X100S is a hybrid electronic viewfinder, giving users a choice of ways to frame a shot. In addition to a traditional optical viewfinder mode (OVF) with an electronic viewfinder mode (EVF) and a rear 2.8-inch LCD only mode, there’s also an eye sensor mode, which senses when your eye is up to the viewfinder and jumps into OVF mode. Take your eye away and it gives you the LCD view mode if you prefer to compose your shot that way. The LCD view mode is probably the weakest of viewfinder modes, as image quality is a mere 460K dots compared to the 2360K dots of the electronic viewfinder. Rangefinder lovers and purists will be inclined to use the optical viewfinder mode anyway.
Peer through the viewfinder and the subject is viewed as is, bright and crisp with no digital display lag. Because of the parallax factor, what you see is not what you get, but as long as you stay within the superimposed frame in the viewfinder, the final photograph will be pretty close to how you saw it, with a 90% field of view captured by the sensor. The downside is that you won’t be able to see the adjustments you’ve made in real time. Flip the switch in the front of the camera to jump to EVF mode and you will see your shot rendered digitally with all your adjustments, giving you a 100% field of view. Both viewfinder and LCD modes offer quick previews of your handiwork immediately after the picture is taken.
The X100S’ LCD screen is bright with nice contrast, albeit a bit on the small side at 2.8 inches. This is a compact camera after all, and I am hoping that later incarnations of the X100S will give users at least the benefit of a 3-inch screen for maximum “chimping” pleasure. And chimp you will. With an updated imaging sensor from its predecessor, the X100, the X100S’ DSLR-sized, 16.3-megapixel, APS-C-sized X-Trans CMOS II shows up to the party ready to rock. Fujifilm claims that the new sensor is 30% lighter on signal noise and a 25% increase in resolution compared to the X100. Thanks also to a top-notch 23mm f2 Fujinon aspherical fixed lens with a range from f2.0 to f16 and a turning aperture ring to boot, images are crisp and razor sharp with nice contrast and brightness.
In this era of zoom-crazy photographers planted in one spot, the dreaded fixed lens was a nice change, forcing me to zoom with the feet and finding shots that way. Autofocus is quick and responsive with Fuji’s on-sensor phase detection, boasting 0.08 seconds if you can count that fast. Low-light focusing is a bit slower and trickier, but a switch on the side of the camera enables users to use manual focus using a digital split image option. Both can be magnified when using the manual focus assist modes to produce tack-sharp images.
When inspiration strikes, or when the aforementioned pretty girl steps back into the nice light, the camera is ready to go within one second of turning it on. Users have the usual choice of four metering modes from fully manual to automatic, with everything in-between with the exposure compensation dial to fine tune. Shooting with the X100S is a joy, producing raw or jpeg images in vivid film-like grain pattern with nice detail and sharpness under a variety of lighting conditions. In Film Simulation mode, users have their pick from Fuji’s acclaimed line of films from a bygone era like Provia (Standard), Velvia (Vivid), Astia (Soft) and others, mimicking their respective tonal qualities rather nicely.
Available-light shooters will delight in the wide range of ISO choices, from 100 up to 25,600, though 3200 was about as far as I pushed it, with startlingly good results and low noise. The X100S also comes equipped with a small integrated flash for the occasional happy snappy photo op, as well as a TTL dedicated flash compatible hot shoe that can sync up to 1/4000 of a second. There’s also a decent buffer, enabling continuous six frames per second in jpeg, maxing out at 31 frames. Battery life is perhaps the biggest downfall; within two days of shooting a for few hours each day along with the requisite “chimping,” the lithium-ion battery faded quickly and drained without warning.
Not recommended for beginners or the casual photographer, the X100S takes some getting used to and time to master with its multitude of features, but rewards with superb image quality. There are five pages of menu items and far more bells and whistles than you’ll probably ever use, including Full HD video (1920×1080). The X100S won’t replace your DSLR, but certainly worth considering alternating with the big guns for documentary fly-on-the-wall type shooting.
Professional photographers and serious photographers alike will find this camera hard to put down, a great little walk around that’s more than just a pretty piece of neck candy. The X100S inspires your inner street photographer and will take you back to the golden era of photography, when photographers took their sweet time to make photos and the cameras were precision instruments of reverence and potent power.
The color photographs included with this review were made by Ken Kwok with a Fujifilm X100S.