Fuji X100s Review – the Good, the Bad and the Beautiful

6 Posted by - Photo & Video, Reviews & Buyers Guides
[Minor update 20130823: changed recommended dimmable LED in “Behind the Scenes”]

The Fuji X100s is an oxymoron: simple, clean lines belie a strange and quirky complexity.

Stylish and sized just right, it’s a carry-everywhere powerhouse combining great optics and an amazing sensor.

Ergonomics … Notsomuch. Some design choices just don’t add up.

His & Her's Fuji X100s'

His & Her’s:  our Fuji X100s Twins

Like finding dedicated dials for shutter and aperture. (Yay!)
Then discovering they only work in full stops. (Boo!)
Then finding out you can adjust the shutter or aperture in 1/3 increments. (Yay!)
But 1/3 increments require a spin of a separate Dial or Rocker. (Boo!)

Two controls for each? Really? And one that can easily be knocked out of position?

Kudos to them for including a dedicated exposure compensation dial. (Yay!)
But it’s entirely useless for full-time manual shooters like me. (Boo!)

Like drooling over the leaf-shutter promise of stealthy silence and high-speed flash sync. (Yay!)
Then finding you can’t shoot above 1/1000 at f2. (Boo!)
But then figuring out you can get radio-slaves to sync (somewhat unreliably) at 1/1000. (Yay!)
Then stumbling upon the fact you can’t select ISO100 when shooting RAW. (BOO!)

Strange Beast this Fuji is. Seemingly built with a pro in mind, but with training wheels still attached.

Other Quirks and Irks include:

ND Filter Implementation …

Like: To help get around the maximum shutter limit when shooting wide open, they built-in a 3-stop Neutral Density filter.

UnLike: Sadly, the ND Filter can’t be found in the easily accessible Q-button menu. Instead, that button conjures up stuff including Highlight and Shadow tone control, Sharpness and Colour.

Why it matters: Really? It’s like choosing chopsticks before discovering you’re only having soup*. The Q-menu should be dedicated to capture-centric tools including the ND-filter. The Fuji X100s includes the ability to convert RAW files into JPEGS in-the-camera after the shot is taken.  If you shoot RAW but prefer to use its excellent JPEG processing engine, you can.  So why bother with processing settings in the Q-menu?

Workaround: The top Fn button is typically best left assigned to change the ISO, which is useful in all shooting situations. However, you can press and hold the Fn button for 3 seconds to switch its function from ISO to the ND Filter when needed. Just don’t forget to switch it back after you’re done with the ND Filter or you’ll have to deal with an extra couple of button presses of the Q-menu to adjust your ISO.

Fuji see . Fuji take ~ Fuji X100s:  f2 . 1/125 . ISO200

Fuji see . Fuji take  ~  Fuji X100s:  1/125  .  f2  .  ISO200

RAW Limitations …

Like: It’s great to have the option to shoot RAW to retain the best dynamic range and flexibility in post-processing.

UnLike: When shooting RAW you can’t select ISO100 or anything above 6400.

Why it matters: I love shooting wide open at f2 to get creamy bokeh pretty much all the time.   I was also hoping to shoot outdoors with flash and take advantage of the leaf-shutter’s high-speed flash sync. And when shooting for clients I prefer to shoot RAW to maximize exposure latitude.

Workaround: Use the built-in ND Filter. But the laws of light (aka the Sunny 16 rule) dictate your optimum RAW ISO/shutter/aperture settings of ISO200, 1/1000, and f2 even with the 3-stop ND filter engaged will still be overexposed by a full stop on sunny days. Not a big deal to most I’m sure, but it throws a wrench in things for sunny-day shooters who (a) prefer shooting wide-open at f2 and (b) lighting-Geeks like me who want to turn day into night at whim.

Auto-Focus Limitations …

Like: In good light, the focus is pretty snappy and mostly reliable.  Not lightning fast like our Nikon D4’s, but acceptably quick.

UnLike: In less-than-bright light (not even really low light), auto focus hunts and often fails.

Workaround: In the video below you can see how we’ve set up our cameras to make the most of the included auto and manual focus systems.

Where’s the Love?

What keeps me coming back to this cam are the files … they’re gorgeous. Like *really* nice. Even in extremely low-light.

Extreme Low Light Fuji X100s: ISO6400 1/15 f2

Brothers in Low Light  ~  Fuji X100s:  1/15  .  f2  .  ISO6400

If you can get the camera to focus, it’s amazing at ISO6400.

Below is a 100% Crop of the above image:

Fuji X100s pixel crop: ISO6400 1/15 f2

Fuji X100s Pixel-Peeping 100% crop:  1/15  .  f2  .  ISO6400

And the leaf-shutter also means near-silent, hand-holdable slow shutters … like usable 1/15.  For the coffee addicted (like me) who can barely get away with handholding my DSLR at 1/100  – this is *amazing* 🙂

Ninja Stealth Cam Win!

Is it Worth the Trouble?

Its fixed lens and questionable auto-focus won’t make the Fuji X100s our first choice for shooting sports or moving targets.

It’s strange allure, however, is found in how it makes us slow down and become more deliberate observers … and photographers.  It’s the perfect counterpoint to our Nikon D4’s which we lovingly refer to as “the Beasts.”

There’s no mistaking when we’re taking a picture with the D4: it’s big, loud and decisive in every way.  Intimidating for those on the other side of the lens to be sure.

The X100s is none of these things … and that’s what makes it special.

Its unassuming nature and near-silent shutter allows us to unobtrusively capture moments and people at ease. Even when shooting our own boyz around the house, we notice a big difference in how they respond depending on which camera is in front of them.  It would also have been impossible to capture the boyz sleeping with our DSLR’s: the click of the shutter would have woken them up!

Fuji X100s taken by Fuji X100s: ISO6400 1/25 f2

Fuji X100s by Fuji X100s:  1/25  .  f2  .  ISO6400

If you can live with its quirks, the Fuji X100s is a great little camera for everyday-carry and available light shooting.

But I’m hoping for more: that with more testing it might be found worthy of a place in our pro kit.

Understandably my requirements are likely different than yours, so you’ll have to make up your own mind based on what and how you shoot.  But for us, it’s good enough that we don’t regret owning two … for now 🙂

Behind the Scenes:

Below is a setup shot of the light used in both the low-light bedroom and X100s shot above.  Taken after dusk, all our house lights were off, with the sole light source being a small Litepanel with an omnibounce for diffusion.  The Lightpanel is dimmable and was set to less than 1/2 power.  Definitely darker to my eye in real life than the image captured by the sensor.

Scary good.

[Note: Have since upgraded my Litepanel to the more powerful Switronix TorchLED and love it. ]

130423-Fuji-X100s-Low-Light-Test-010

Like most things in life, there’s the good, the bad and the beautiful.  But even with the Fuji X100s’ eccentricities, it’s a great camera and worthy of more testing to find out if it’s good enough for DQ.

*Ok: you Asians got me.  We can drink soup without a spoon similarly to how we eat rice: lift bowl to lips + do the chopstick shovel = YUM!  But hopefully you “got my meaning” anyways 🙂

31 Comments

  • Anna Kuperberg April 25, 2013 - 9:20 am

    Are the gorgeous children included or do those cost extra?

    • Dave April 25, 2013 - 9:25 am

      For you … .INCLUDED!!!! :D:D xoxo

  • Ty April 25, 2013 - 2:32 pm

    Thanks for the iso, ND tip.

    v1.02 Firmware is out, helps mitigate some of the focusing work arounds mentioned.

    http://www.fujifilm.com/support/digital_cameras/software/firmware/x/x100s/download.html

    • Dave April 25, 2013 - 3:23 pm

      Thanks for the link Ty! Looking forward to checking it out. What in particular did they fix/add/improve?

      • Gary Hayes April 25, 2013 - 3:56 pm

        Seems it was just the OVF brightness, but methinks they tweaked the focusing algorithms back to 1.0 – or so I am hoping 🙂 “1.The phenomenon is fixed that the brightness of the OVF bright frame doesn’t change according to a surrounding brightness in case of ISO 1600 and higher.”

  • Chris S. April 25, 2013 - 2:51 pm

    Interesting. I was able to get a fully lit frame at 1/3000 of a second with cybersync radio triggers and an Einstein.
    Awesome review though!

    • Dave April 25, 2013 - 3:21 pm

      Oh … should have noted I was shooting at f2 so was using the ND and maxing out. Good to know tho 🙂

      • Chris S. April 26, 2013 - 5:19 am

        Yes, shot this while playing with my son the other day.
        https://www.dropbox.com/s/t3hvdm1cfh09gng/flash.jpg
        1/3000s, f/2. ISO 200, ND filter on, cybersync radio triggers, Einstein 1/8 power

        • Dave April 26, 2013 - 8:42 am

          Wow! Nice Chris! When I’m at f2 and go above 1/1000 the shutter number displays in Red. Didn’t realize it will still let you press the shutter!!

          • Chris S. April 26, 2013 - 2:00 pm

            Yeah, pg. 38 in the manual (I didn’t read it first either!) says that the shutter speed will go red if the camera can’t achieve a decent exposure at the current shutter speed in Aperture Priority. In testing it. It seems to be doing the same thing in manual mode if the exposure is outside of the +/- 2EV.

  • Dave April 26, 2013 - 2:16 pm

    Thanks Chris! But Page 38 talks about Aperture priority mode in my manual, so I skipped it 🙂 Irregardless: Just tested in full manual mode, and something is weird. Even when the exposure meter is showing perfect (i.e. meter is at 0), when shooting at f2, 1/2000 and 1/4000 will be red …. Even stranger. When I click the shutter, it seemingly takes a decent shot. Add it to the list of quirks?? 🙂

    • Zlatko April 30, 2013 - 11:15 am

      It is a quirk and a design limitation. At f/2 the shortest shutter speed is 1/1000. At f/2.8 the shortest shutter speed is 1/2000. At f/4 the shortest shutter speed is 1/4000. Apparently, the two shortest shutter speeds don’t give the aperture enough time to open up properly. Even so, the camera *will* work even when the shutter speed shows as red in the viewfinder. However, it actually affects the bokeh — makes the bokeh look worse. Strange but true: the camera gives smoother bokeh at 1/1000 and f/2 than at 1/4000 and f/2. One would think that for bokeh purposes, f/2 = f/2, but that’s not the case. So consider the red shutter speed as a warning that your bokeh will look bad, and activate the ND filter to get a longer shutter speed and nice bokeh again.

      • Dave April 30, 2013 - 11:43 am

        Zlatko! Good to see you here 🙂 and Wow! Thanks for the info. Haven’t compared bokeh but strange how the aperture doesn’t wrongly expose the frame if the leaves are behaving differently at faster shutter speeds.

        • Zlatko May 7, 2013 - 12:29 pm

          Strange, I agree! I got those numbers wrong — so following up with this correction. At f/2 the shortest shutter speed is 1/1000. At f/4 the shortest shutter speed is 1/2000. At f/8 the shortest shutter speed is 1/4000. (P. 40 of the manual.)

        • Canllaith December 8, 2013 - 1:46 am

          The 1000/s at f/2 thing has to do with the the leaf shutter. The extra distance It has to cover to clear the aperture at f/2 means it cannot do so in time at faster shutter speeds. That’s what leads to the funny bokeh if you force it – it’s ‘chopped’ by the shutter not quite clearing the aperture in time. Hopefully that makes sense !

          • Dave December 8, 2013 - 2:12 pm

            Thanks for the technical explanation! Makes sense. Haven’t shot much past 1/1000 since flash sync pretty much stops there. Neutral Density filters to the rescue 🙂 Cheers!

  • […] Fuji X100s Review – Part 1: the Good, the Bad and the Beautiful […]

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  • Hamish June 13, 2013 - 12:14 pm

    Hi Dave, your review of the x100s is by far the best I have read – as you write with really clear non biased info that brings me to share with you my current dilemma today. Two weeks ago while stopping in Dubai I bought the s100x, after having read other rave reviews about it, but upon testing it I found the following things very frustrating: I normally shoot with my Nikon D700 – big, loud, but so ergonomic – even if too heavy. Anyway, the x100s for me feels stupidly small, compact and the buttons and the stupid dial thing at the back make me feel like I have to be 12 year old slim piano player to use it. The next thing is that I have Photoshop CS5 and after converting RAW files to silly DNGs – the quality of the images have this creepy slightly netting look over them – And for me as a photographer who shoots manual and only in RAW, I really don’t want to wait until Adobe fixes more apparent file problems as Steve Huff I think suggested or only shoot JPG. The next thing is that it hunts and hunts and … hunts in low light, taking away all the fun for me. Then there are all the points you mention that I agree with both pros and cons – but it leaves me feeling like I should sell it and get it out of my life – loose maybe 100 or 200 bucks – (that’s life) – but get most of my money back and wait a year until they come out with a x200s or something where the RAW file, low light hunting and possibly interchangeable lenses are all fixed/there. … So what is stopping me from selling it now? Well, I LOVE how light and quiet it is… and the files are or rather can be gorgeous – so it is tempting to hang onto it – However, the frustration of piss farting around with all the dials and the hunting seems to take away the ‘decisive moment’ for me and I keep thinking – ‘geez if only I had my D700 with my hot as 24mm 1.4 the shot would be done and dusted by now. … Enough said – should I keep it and persevere or an I going to find myself endlessly frustrated with it and watch it devalue month by month? Any suggestions or help here would be appreciated as again – your review and words rock! – Cheers, Hamish (Australian guy living in Germany).

  • So Barket September 7, 2013 - 7:15 am

    I am use to good color rendition and a bit disappointed with the color on the s100x. Took photos of my shed which is tan and looked at the monitor and it looks like gray. Any idea what would cause this to happen. Some times the sky which is blue looks washed out. Shooting in ISO 200 in A-A. I mages look sharp but the dynamic range seems off and color is a issue. My LX3 had better color rendition.

    • Dave September 7, 2013 - 12:57 pm

      It really depends what’s inside the field of view, especially if you’re using auto white balance. I typically set the WB to cloudy or shade when shooting outdoors and choose the Velvia mode. When indoors, these settings can become too warm, so I switch to normal and select WB according to the light sources available. I seldom prefer WB as any camera can be tricked into wacking out the colors.

  • randell ROWE March 3, 2014 - 12:58 pm

    Hey this is an awesome site and review. So glad I came across it. I’ve been planning both, to make a blog/review page and pick up a 100s for street an general life photography. I shoot with pro body canons and L glass and it’s too much to take around unless it’s a paid assignment. I miss a lot of great shots that just happen. That’s how life is, you gotta be ready, and my poor iPhone tries to get me there, but just can cut it unless lighting conditions are favourable.
    After reading your review and I have to get this camera to keep on my person at all times. I may even shower with it….just kidding…but not really.

    Peace from Toronto 🙂

  • Robin April 6, 2014 - 1:13 am

    Hi. Great review and video tutorials! I just bought this camera and love it too but I need an honest answer–is it good for taking pictures of kids? That’s the main reason I bought it, but all my pictures of my kids are blurry. Any tips or is this just not the right camera for the job. I’m looking for something much smaller than a DSLR and thought this was the one!

    • Dave April 7, 2014 - 10:02 am

      Hi Robin! As noted in the article, The X100s is NOT our first choice for shooting moving targets like kids. Blurry photos can be reduced to an extent by increasing ISO and shutter speed. But the real problem is the X100s’ slow focus motor. For active children it really is too slow to do a proper job. For sports and moving subjects, we still pick up our DSLR. Alternatively, many of our pro-photog friends love the Olympus OMD. Hope this helps!

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  • Dan May 3, 2015 - 8:32 am

    Hey guys, I’m only 2 years behind. So you have since sold your Fuji’s… What do you use now?

    • Dave May 3, 2015 - 9:14 pm

      Dan! Good to see you here 🙂 We sold our Fuji’s and have been happy taking all our personal pics with our Sony RX100M3 (review here: http://notsoancientchinesecrets.com/?p=1527 ).

      • Dan May 3, 2015 - 9:42 pm

        Thanks, Dave!

  • frazer November 7, 2015 - 3:12 pm

    Thanks for the autofocus tips – this has unleashed a whole new functionality for me. Until now I have been feeling very restricted by the autofocus limitations.

    Great work!

    • Dave November 7, 2015 - 5:46 pm

      Thanks for the kind words and glad to be of help 🙂 Happy shooting!