This is an in-depth review of the Fujifilm X100S mirrorless camera, which was released by Fuji on January 7, 2013 together with the X20 compact camera. After the success of the original X100, Fuji upgraded the sensor and the hybrid viewfinder, added some new features, addressed a few important firmware issues and added the “S” to the label of the camera. The long-awaited Fuji X100S debuted with a lot of fanfare, thanks to its big supporters like Zack Arias and David Hobby who provided plenty of coverage of the camera. Being tied up with reviewing newly released Nikon lenses and cameras, I did not have a chance to test the X100S out until the summer of 2013. Another reason was poor availability – the X100S was in such a high demand, that it was nowhere to be found for a long time. And it is still hard to find even today in the US market, with very few retailers like B&H Photo occasionally having limited stock.
I finally got a hold of the Fuji X100S in August of 2013 and I have been enjoying it since. I requested the X100S to be shipped together with other Fuji gear, as a part of my effort to review every Fuji camera and lens available. So far I have published three reviews: Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji X-E1, Fuji X-M1 and I am planning to start publishing reviews of Fujinon and Zeiss Touit lenses right after this. Having used the Fuji X100S for a couple of months now in different environments, I have a few things to share with our readers in regards to its overall performance, handling, usability and personal or commercial use.
1) Fujifilm X-100S Specifications
Main Features and Specifications:
- Lens: Fujinon 23mm f/2
- Sensor: 16.3 MP (1.5x crop factor), 4.8µ pixel size, same as on X-Pro1, X-E1 and X-M1
- Sensor Size: 23.6 x 15.6mm
- Resolution: 4896 x 3264
- Native ISO Sensitivity: 200-6,400
- Boost Low ISO Sensitivity: 100
- Boost High ISO Sensitivity: 12,800-25,600
- Sensor Cleaning System: Yes
- Weather Sealing/Protection: No
- Body Build: Magnesium Alloy
- Shutter: Up to 1/4000 and 30 sec exposure
- Shutter Control: Leaf Shutter
- Storage: 1x SD slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC compatible)
- Speed: 6 FPS
- Exposure Meter: TTL 256-zones metering
- Built-in Flash: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- Manual Focus: Yes
- LCD Screen: 2.8 inch, approx. 460K-dot TFT color LCD monitor
- Movie Modes: Full 1080p HD @ 60 and 30 fps
- Movie Recording Limit: 10 minutes
- Movie Output: MOV (H.264)
- GPS: No
- WiFi: No
- Battery Type: NP-95
- Battery Life: 300 shots
- USB Standard: 2.0
- Weight: 405g (excluding battery and accessories)
- Price: $1,299 MSRP
A detailed list of camera specifications is available at Fujifilm.com.
2) Camera Construction and Handling
Thanks to the magnesium alloy top and bottom covers and overall solid build, the Fuji X100S is a camera that is built to last. Although I wish the whole shell was made out of magnesium alloy like on the Fuji X-Pro1, it would have certainly added to the weight of the camera. Instead, Fuji used a plastic shell for the middle section and covered it with high quality synthetic leather.
The overall look of the camera has not changed from what it used to be on the original X100, whether you are looking at the front, top or the back of the camera. Fuji just changed the locations of some camera markings and swapped the “DRIVE” and “AF” button locations (the “AF” button used for selecting the active focus area has been moved to the rotary dial to the right of the LCD). The biggest change is in the guts of the camera, which I will go over later in this review.
The stylish retro design of the camera is certainly one of the factors that attracts so many people to the Fuji X100S. Having a similar look as old film rangefinders / compact SLRs, the Fuji X100S is a very appealing instrument with a unique “character” to it. Sadly, not something we see in modern mass-produced cameras anymore. I strongly believe that if it was not for this stylish retro design, the X100 probably would not have been nearly as successful. The X100/X100S have that “Leica” look in them, certainly grabbing the attention of those that appreciate such fine instruments.
The X100S handles extremely well. When you hold the camera, it feels “just right” in terms of weight, size and balance. The small 23mm pancake-type lens does not make the camera front-heavy like what you would normally see on a DSLR and it helps to keep the camera small enough to fit in your jacket pocket. When photographing in the cold mountains this fall, I hung the camera on my neck and kept it inside the jacket when not using it for extended periods of time. The weight did not bother me at all and when I needed to use the camera, I would simply unzip the jacket. This could be a great solution to those that often travel and do not want to advertise the camera to everyone, or have small pockets. This small footprint makes the X100S ideal for street and travel photography.
The fixed single focal length lens (which is equivalent to a field of view of a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera) might be a little limiting to those that want wider or longer reach, but if 35mm is your favorite focal length, you will surely love this setup. Personally, I favor 50mm over 35mm for my type of photography, so I am hoping that Fuji will come up with more X100-series cameras with different lenses. I am sure that many street photographers would certainly welcome the idea of walking around with a dual X100 setup, one with a 23mm f/2 lens and one with a 35mm f/1.4.
I am sure by now you have heard of the hybrid optical / electronic viewfinder featured on the high-end X-series cameras (currently on X100, X100S and X-Pro1) – it is one of the key highlights of the X100S. Having tried both, I personally favor the electronic viewfinder for several reasons. First, the optical viewfinder does not show accurate framing when photographing subjects at close distances. The white frame moves to a different spot when half-pressing the shutter, but it is often nowhere close to what the final output will be. Second, I have done a number of tests in both daylight and indoor low-light conditions and I came to a conclusion that autofocus works faster when the camera is in EVF mode. In OVF mode, for whatever reason the camera often switches to contrast detection mode, slowing down autofocus speed considerably. On top of that, if you have “OVF POWER SAVE MODE” turned on, autofocus gets even more sluggish. If you want the fastest autofocus, especially in low-light situations, my recommendation would be to use the EVF instead of the OVF.
The X100S comes with a similar thin strap as other X-series cameras, which is pretty uncomfortable to wear in my opinion. I would highly recommend to replace it with something better and thicker. Personally, I am a huge fan of neoprene straps from OP/TECH. The classic version of the strap would probably be ideal, although if you feel that it is too thick or too big for the X100S, they have all kinds of smaller sizes too. Just make sure to pick up a strap that is thin enough to go through the “ears” on the sides of the camera.
The X100S also comes with a compact built-in flash in the front of the camera. You can activate or deactivate it by pressing the flash side of the rear rotary dial. Compared to DSLR built-in flashes, this one is tiny and not very powerful. Do not expect it to light up a room for you, as the flash is only meant to be used occasionally. It works great as fill flash for a single subject or a small group at close distances, but nothing more. The good news is, you do not have to rely on it if you like working with flash – the standard hot shoe on the top of the camera will work with any speedlight or flash trigger system like PocketWizard. And thanks to the leaf shutter used on the X100S, you do not have to worry about slow sync speeds when using external flashes! This is one of the main reasons why flash gurus like David Hobby went crazy over the X100/X100S cameras. Personally, I have used the Fuji X series cameras with my Nikon speedlights both on and off-camera in manual mode and they worked out great! See the Flash section of this review for some more information and sample images.
My biggest handling complaint on the X100S is the tripod mount placement and the fact that the memory card is located in the same place as the battery (the same problem as in all X-series cameras). This issue is rather annoying, because the tripod mount socket is located off the center of the camera close to the battery/card compartment, making it painful to remove the card or battery while the camera is mounted. I use the Arca-Swiss quick release system and using a generic plate keeps the camera way off center. It would be great if Fuji could move the card slot to the side of the camera, or move the tripod socket away from the battery compartment to make it more accessible. Also, the original problem of allowing the battery to be inserted in any way is still there on the X100S. Although the battery has a slight curve on one side, the battery compartment has a square shape. Fuji can address this easily by changing the shape of the battery compartment a little. Not a huge problem, but something that should be addressed in the future in my opinion.
3) Camera Controls and Menu System
As I have already written in my prior reviews of Fuji cameras, I love the retro-style controls of the high-end X series cameras, including the X100/X100S. These controls are certainly not for beginners (the Fuji X-M1 has more intuitive controls that are more suitable for beginners). If you have only shot with a DSLR before, these controls certainly will take a little time to get used to. The main dial on the top of the camera controls the shutter speed and the 1 stop markings are engraved on this dial. If you want to go in smaller 1/3 increments, you can still do it by rotating the rear rotary dial in either direction to increase or decrease the shutter speed. The red letter “A” indicates Aperture Priority mode, so if you switch to it, the camera will pick the shutter speed in 1/3 increments for you automatically, based on the camera meter reading. The aperture of the lens is always controlled through the lens directly. Thus, the camera essentially has no “Manual” mode.
Operating the camera and navigating the menu system is a breeze. While the camera technically has ISO boost levels up to 25,600, you cannot shoot anything above ISO 6400 on the X100S. Unfortunately, the same problem is present on all current X series cameras. I do not understand why Fuji does not allow shooting RAW at boosted ISO levels such as ISO 100, 12,800 and 25,600. There might be a technical reason for this, but it pretty much makes the camera useless for shooting high ISOs above 6400 for those that prefer RAW over JPEG.
One feature that has been enhanced on the X100S, is a more enhanced version of Auto ISO. You can now finally set different thresholds for Auto ISO such as the minimum shutter speed and maximum ISO. To date, neither the X100, nor the X-Pro1 / X-E1 have this implemented. It should be a simple firmware update, so I am not sure why Fuji has still not taken care of it on those cameras. The new Auto ISO function works much better than the automated version on the X100/X-E1/X-Pro1, because you have much more control. In my experience, the shutter speed on previous implementations was not fast enough in auto mode, causing blur that could simply be avoided with a faster shutter speed.
4) Hybrid Viewfinder
Just like the original X100, the X100S also comes with a hybrid optical (OVF) / electronic (EVF) viewfinder. However, the electronic viewfinder is not the same – it is an upgraded version, with a lot more resolution – 2.36 megapixels versus 1.44 on the X100. Is the resolution difference very noticeable? I experimented with EVF on both the X100S and the X-Pro1 (which has an identical viewfinder as the X100) and to be honest, I cannot see a huge difference. The EVF on the X100S seems to be more saturated with perhaps a little more details, but it is not something very obvious. The EVF on the X100S also showed some strange interlacing and moire patterns when looking at fine patterns, while the lower resolution X100 / X-Pro1 seemed to handle those a little better.
5) EVF Diopter
The X100S comes with a very important feature for those of us that do not have perfect vision – there is a diopter adjustment dial to the left of the viewfinder, similar to the one on the X100 and X-E1. The X-Pro1 comes with a removable cover that you can replace, but that costs extra and is not convenient if multiple people use the camera. From that standpoint, I really like the X100/X100S/X-E1 cameras, because you can adjust the diopter to your needs and change it to a different setting if you are wearing glasses or hand the camera to someone else.