Compact cameras can be much more than a pocket-size point-and-shoot. With a host of professional-level features, the Fujifilm X100s could be the ultimate compact for serious enthusiasts and professionals looking for a fully-featured small camera.
If we were to say petite, classy, discreet and with looks that could silence a room, would you think we were describing a camera? We’re rarely bowled over by the looks of DSLRs or CSCs we have coming into the office. But we could sit and stare at the Fujifilm X100s for hours. So we’ve established this is a good-looking camera, but what makes it stand out?
The X100s is modelled on film-based rangefinder cameras, and like all of Fujifilm’s recent models has a strong retro appeal. But where it differs is that it not only looks and feels like a traditional rangefinder camera, in many ways it performs like one too.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with rangefinders, they’re small, lightweight and discreet, making them ideal for street and travel photography. Not to mention quick and easy to shoot with, which is ideal for capturing spontaneous situations. There’s no getting around the fact that DSLRs are bulky. Even the smallest options stick out like a sore thumb, and can make your arm ache after just a little shooting. So here’s a great alternative, albeit one that comes with a few compromises.
The X100s uses a new 16.3MP APS-C X-Trans II sensor coupled with the EXR Processor II. The sensor incorporates a unique colour filter array with a more random pattern than most other sensors. This means that Fujifilm can get away with removing the optical low-pass filter for improved image quality. This filter is essential for most sensors and helps to reduce moire and other artifacts, but at the expense of sharpness and resolution. The X100s has a standard ISO range of 200-6400 in both RAW and JPEG modes. However, the expanded range of 100-25,600 is only available in JPEG mode, which is a shame if you prefer to shoot RAW, but isn’t the end of the world. Continuous shooting is possible up to a respectable 6fps.
The hybrid viewfinder has to be one of the jewels in the X100s’ crown, and it seems Fujifilm has pulled out all of the stops when it comes to manual focusing. This provides photographers with a shooting experience as close to traditional rangefinder shooting as possible. And with the X100s there is a real choice between manual and autofocus depending on which you prefer to use. For me personally, autofocus is what I shoot with 95% of the time and with phase detection pixels on the sensor it’s certainly very fast. But it is good to know there’s a useable manual option for the remaining 5%.
The electronic viewfinder is the best way to focus manually, thanks to the world’s first Digital Split Image feature – this displays dual images in a small box in the centre of the frame that are brought together to show a subject is in focus. It’s similar to the focusing method used with traditional rangefinder cameras, and it’s great to see it again. It’s a shame the optical viewfinder doesn’t have one, but I suppose you can’t have everything. Another EVF manual focus delight is the Focus Peak Highlight function that emphasises the outline of the subject to show when it’s in focus. It’s not as good as the split field, but may be preferable for some people. In both modes Focus Check automatically zooms in close to the subject for focusing then back out to release the shutter. This can be switched on or off as you wish.
With a 2360k dot resolution the EVF is clear and shows depth-of-field and white balance effects, unlike the optical viewfinder. It is less clear and bright than its optical counterpart though. When the camera is switched to macro mode the viewfinder automatically switches to the EVF because it provides 100% coverage and a through-the-lens view, which is essential when minimum focus distance has been reduced from 50cm to 10cm. Like most cameras with an EVF, the X100s allows you to view images and navigate menus using the viewfinder.
The bright optical viewfinder is clearer than the EVF and digitally overlays all the main settings you need to see. A rectangular box shows you where the edges of the frame are, and a very clever parallax correction shifts this box to show you the actual composition as a result of the difference between the position of the viewfinder and the lens. The closer you are to a subject the more it shifts; the further away you are the less it shifts. Once the box has shifted you can recompose accordingly. In both viewfinder modes the viewfinder can be set to activate when the camera is raised to the eye. A switch on the front of the camera allows you to quickly toggle between viewfinder modes.
The X100s comes equipped with ten Film Simulation Modes replicating the colour effects of popular Fujifilm films including Velvia, Provia, Astia, Pro Neg, Std, Pro Neg Hi and monochrome options. These are applied to JPEGs while RAW files are, of course, left untouched. There’s also film simulation bracketing where you can choose three film simulation modes and the camera will process three JPEGs at the chosen settings.
If you’d like to push image styles further there’s also Advanced Filter. This provides eight artistic filters to choose from, namely Pop Colour, Toy Camera, Miniature, Dynamic Tone, Partial Colour (colour popping), High Key, Low Key and Soft Focus. These effects show up over scenes when composing with either the EVF or LCD. They provide fun options to apply to your images but file type is limited to JPEG, and in this mode ISO switches to Automatic, so you lose ISO control.
The X100s is a great looking camera and it feels equally good in the hand. The controls are where you’d expect them to be, with direct access dials, switches and buttons making it easy to change settings when the camera is held to the eye, which is exactly what you’d expect from this type of camera. The whole ‘hands-on’ approach to using the camera with classically inspired direct access controls is a breath of fresh air when so many similar cameras rely heavily on menu-based settings. The X100s even features a traditional screw-in thread for the cable release in the shutter button, as do most Fujifilm cameras now. On the top of the body is a shutter speed dial, and on the lens you’ll find a manual aperture ring. The latter can be fiddly when using aperture-priority or manual mode, but is something you’ll get used to. Despite the small size of the camera, it doesn’t feel too small the way that some compacts and CSCs can. This makes it ideal for reportage, travel and people photography because its size and weight allow for freedom of movement while shooting.
The menu system is fairly easy to navigate and the Q menu button provides fast access to the most commonly used settings. This can be viewed on the LCD or through the EVF. When you press the Play button to view images they will show in the EVF or on the LCD depending on which setting you’re using. However, it’s not always obvious which setting you’re on and images may show up in the EVF when you want them on the LCD. It’s another one of those things you’ll inevitably get used to, but in the beginning it is annoying.
Image quality is one of the main things you’ll no doubt be waiting to hear about. And it is very impressive to say the least with the 23mm lens producing sharp and highly detailed results. Colours appear natural from RAW files and JPEGs when at the Standard setting. Overall, JPEGs straight from the camera look very good with just a slight Levels adjustment required in Photoshop to boost the white and black points, but this is the case for most cameras. ISO performance is also very impressive for an APS-C size sensor, with very little colour noise visible at higher settings. Overall image quality is easily good enough for professional use, and at 16.3MP the sensor provides files large enough to cover the printing needs of most photographers.
The Fujifilm X100s is a pleasure to use and really does capture the look and feel of a film-based rangefinder camera. You won’t get much closer than this without actually buying a film camera. The classically arranged and styled controls give a manual feel to what is a very sophisticated device, and the hybrid viewfinder adds to the overall experience. The X100s features a small flash that can actually pack a reasonable punch – enough to illuminate a portrait with a shutter speed of 1/2000sec. This is thanks to a lens-based leaf shutter that allows for a faster flash sync speed. There’s also a hotshoe for connecting accessories. At £1099 it is very expensive, even for a fully-featured prestige compact. It’s high on my desirability list, but more expensive than we’d pay for a camera with just two lens options.
- Street price: £749 (Secondhand price as of June 2016)
- Effective resolution: 16.3MP
- Sensor type: 23.6x15.8mm APS-C
- Lens: 23mm f/2 (full-frame equivalent 35mm)
- Autofocus: 49 points
- ISO range: 200-6400 (expands to 100-25,600)
- Metering: 256-zone TTL
- LCD: 2.8in 460k dots
- Shooting speed: 6fps
- Video: Full HD (1080p)
- Battery life: 330 shots
- Card type: SD, SDHC, SDHC (UHS-I)
- Built-in flash: Yes
- Hotshoe: Yes
- Weight: 445g
- Visit: www.fujifilm.eu/uk
This review was first published in the May 2013 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.