Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Great low-light performance, great build quality.
Cons: Expensive, bad autofocus, difficult for beginners.
Best Uses: Supplemental camera to a DSLR kit, street photography, travel.
Fuji’s X100s immediately set itself apart from the rest of the field as soon as we opened the box. It was…sexy. Picking it up brought back memories of simpler times — shooting small, compact film rangefinders with sleek controls and leather body grips. We could almost smell the fixer from the darkroom in the air. But we snapped back into reality and realized this well-designed camera is actually a strong competitor in the compact camera field. Boasting the largest sensor, six frames a second shooting, and quick access to basic controls, the x100s quickly became a favorite.
While we really loved the X100s for a take everywhere walk around camera, it’s definitely not for everybody. It's a better candidate for experienced photographers who are looking for a lighter and more compact walk around camera. If you’re looking for a do-everything, compact, and high quality camera, we suggest the Sony RX100 II.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
It's no surprise that the X100s proved to have the best image quality of the whole pack. With a larger than average sensor, solid processor system, and a sharp prime lens, the X100s blew us away in terms of image quality.
Many of the cameras we tested were plagued with pretty nasty edge distortion, both with linear distortion and with fringing, soft corners, and vignetting. It was a pleasant surprise that this 23mm lens seems to be corrected without having to fuss with it in post-production.
Low Light Performance
Ease of Use
Immediately, the X100s felt comfortable in our hands, and flashbacks to “simpler times” of film started running through our brains. The aperture is on a traditional wheel found on the lens, the shutter speed is up front and center on the top, and the ISO is adjusted reasonably fast through the Fn. button by the shutter. However, as we started to get into more tedious details of the camera, such as auto-focus point selection, EVF configuration, and playback, the camera became a bit frustrating. In comparison to most of the cameras tested, we really enjoyed shooting the X100s through the viewfinder, which was reminiscent of old rangefinders like the Leica M series. But, just like old rangefinders, the X100s viewfinder has its drawbacks. What you see is not what you get. Not only is focus not shown in the viewfinder as on a SLR, the framing seems to shift around, which can be frustrating while shooting tight frames.
The overall basic functions are very well laid out and simple. Though the shutter speeds and apertures are listed at whole stops, the thumb wheel in the back lets you adjust third stops within the range. For example, if you’d like to shoot at f/7.1, you simply put the wheel at f/8, and then bump a 1/3 stop with the thumb wheel. Though we do have some beef with the viewfinder’s shiftiness and lack of precision around the edges, it’s very informative and usually warrants a “woah” from first time users as they put their eye into it. Overlaid on the actual viewfinder is a grid, a level, histogram, aperture, shutter, speed, battery power, and the crop marks, among many other customizable display features. The crop marks are what is most important for the beginner user — similar to traditional rangefinders, these crop marks will be an approximation of where your frame is, However, as previously mentioned we didn’t find these crop marks to be incredibly accurate.
One consistently frustrating feature was image playback as it relates to us chimpers. We are folks who compulsively check the LCD to see how the last frame looks (named after the resemblance to a chimpanzee). It’s poor form and can lead to missing moments, but with a camera that has questionable framing like the X100s we found ourselves chimping more than usual. However, unlike most cameras, the X100s wouldn’t play back our images immediately. Instead, we had to push the play button, wait for the viewfinder to close and then the image would appear. We’d become impatient, hit the play button, and then hit it again which would effectively stop the process, then we’d hit it again. We don’t want to be looking down at the camera for 15 seconds to make sure we bagged a shot; instead we want a very quick reference to our exposure and our composition so we can keep moving. When the image did finally appear, we found the interface to be quite smooth, with the ability to zoom in to check focus pretty good.
Our next issue with the X100s is focus. Outside of the macro mode, the minimum focus distance is surprisingly far away, especially for such a short lens. This limits your ability to move quickly with close objects. The X100s is built with three focus modes — continuous autofocus, single autofocus, and manual focus. The autofocus seems to act a bit more consistently with the single autofocus mode, which is easily activated with a convenient switch found on the side of the body. AF-C, the continuous feature, is more or less…not continuous. The entire point of focus modes like this is to track moving subjects, most useful while shooting in burst mode. However, the AF-C will quit tracking as soon as you shoot the first frame, rendering the rest of the photos out of focus. Additionally, unlike a DSLR, it doesn’t start continuously focusing when the shutter is half-depressed, but instead always is trying to focus. This is a huge waste of battery. We quickly switched off of AF-C and never went back. Once we ditched that, we were much happier. The autofocus zone is customizable in size, which is pretty cool, and also very easy to do. We found that running the focus zone a bit larger helped with AF speed. The viewfinder, which we loved, doesn’t display focus information well, similar to all rangefinders. But we had more focus issues than expected. In situations that very few cameras would fail, we found the X100s failing us. Bright, contrasty subjects in the middle of the frame would occasionally be discarded and instead the background would be in focus. Paired with the playback issue we would consequently waste tons of time. We found manual focus (as with most of the cameras in this category) to be largely inefficient when using the focus ring on the lens. The ring takes too much time. The viewfinder gets automatically switched to the EVF, which displays what the camera is actually seeing, and shows the focus plane. However, after becoming spoiled with the bright, real-time, physical viewfinder, the EVF felt suppressing. But, there’s one ace in the hole with manual focus — instead of using the ring, you can hit a button on the back, which will point autofocus quickly and usually accurately. This was by far the most effective autofocus mode, even though it is switched to manual focus. Many professionals set up their DSLRs similarly, with the autofocus being removed from the shutter release and assigned to the back of the camera. This dramatically helps you control your focus points and work quickly.
You may wonder why we like this camera after all of those usability issues just listed. Yes, they’re a bit pesky, but we figured out how to work around them after some practice. It’s not impossible to use this camera efficiently; it just takes some work to figure out the quirks. The image quality, basic functions of exposure, low-light performance, and feel of the camera was enough to make us a fan. Hence, we suggest this camera for experienced photographers, people with patience, and a sharp eye for image quality. It’s a great camera as a supplement to a DSLR kit that offers portability, conceal ability, and image quality rivaling that of big cameras.
The video features of the X100s feel pretty tacked on — sure, it can shoot video, but the type of person buying this camera most likely will want more features for shooting video. There’s no manual control, and the video feature is only available through a series of menus, which is inefficient. If you’re witnessing some insane act that will make every news station in the planet, it’ll get the job done. But if you and your buddies are trying to make a short film, look elsewhere. If you’re looking to a killer video camera in this category, check out the feature-rich Panasonic FZ200.
The X100s is a fantastic camera for certain types of photographers looking to supplement their current setup. If you’re a pixel peeper, practiced photographer, or passionate imagemaker, the X100s is a great choice. For more amateur photographers looking for a do-everything versatile camera, we suggest the smaller, lighter, easier-to-use Sony RX 100 II, which rivaled the X100s in image quality.
The X100s isn’t cheap. For $1200 you expect a lot of camera. While the camera is incredibly well built, and fits an interesting niche, it’s tough to spend $1200 on a camera that might end up as an accessory in your kit. Careful searching through used camera boards can lead to finding a DSLR and a decent lens for the same price, although you will be sacrificing portability.
We had a ton of fun with the X100s, and even shot an entire photo story with it. It’s a marvelous piece of equipment in terms of build quality and image quality, but its quirks and limited versatility make it a hard to justify purchase for many people looking for an easy to use camera that will tackle any situation. For overall performance in all situations and ease of use, we preferred the Sony RX 100 II. If you can get your hands on an X100s before purchasing, take a look and see if it’s a camera you can live with. Some people will love this camera and it will only be pulled from their hands post-mortem; others may find it difficult to use and limited in ability.
Other Versions and Accessories
Fuji offers a whole line of cameras similarly styled, including cameras with interchangeable lenses and full frame sensors, which we’d image are pretty freakin’ sweet. Additionally, the X20 offers a smaller and more versatile lens and it’s pretty easy to use. If you are seriously considering the X100s, take a look at the whole line; it’s impressive.
— Tommy Penick
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: December 31, 2013
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