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Fuji X100s Review

   
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Digital Cameras

  • Currently 4.0/5
Overall avg rating 4.0 of 5 based on 1 review. Most recent review: December 19, 2013
Street Price:   $850 | Compare prices at 1 resellers
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.
User Rating:       (0.0 of 5) based on 0 reviews
Manufacturer:   Fujifilm
Review by: Tommy Penick ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab ⋅ December 19, 2013  
Overview
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. A newer camera, the X100t retails for $1300 and is what Fuji refers to as the evolved model in the X100 Series. This camera also has what Fuji refers to as the world's first Advanced Hybrid Viewfinder with a rangefinder feature and it features an electronic shutter mode that allows the user to take silent photos with shutter speeds up to 1/32000 seconds. This camera is equipped with a 3 inch display, as well as 1080P HD video with a wide variety of options to choose from. Finally, a APS-C size X-Trans CMOS II sensor and high speed processor are the icing on the cake, with many other exciting new features to toy around with (such as controlling the camera from your smartphone).

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

Performance Comparison
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As outdoor enthusiasts, we know compact cameras are important. We can't all be Ansel Adams with a team of mules to carry around wet-plate cameras. Here, the Fuji X100s is shown fitting in the Napoleon pocket of a ski jacket.
Credit: Tommy Penick
Image Quality
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.
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The Fuji X100s blew us away with low-light performance and dynamic range. After we packed away the rest of the cameras, the X100s became our walk-around camera this night. This image is unprocessed. 1/30th, ISO 1600, f/2.8.
Credit: Tommy Penick
Prime lenses as a whole are easier to make than zooms, so we assumed the lens would already be a shining star. While we were impressed with the lens as a whole, we found it's best to not shoot the camera at f/2; instead, just work up from f/2.8 and you'll be much happier with the results. Otherwise, the equipped 23mm lens is stellar. Its color reproduction, sharpness, and overall operation is great. We loved having a traditional aperture wheel that allowed quick, on-the-fly exposure changes. While the aperture ring is set in full stops, you can adjust to 1/3 stops through the thumbwheel — read the Ease of Use category for more on this.


Sunset Photo


Fuji X100sCanon G16

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.
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A perfect example of the Fuji X100s dynamic range. There's detail in the sky, windows, lit areas, and it's all pretty even in brightness.
Credit: Tommy Penick
We all spend a ton of time talking about low-light performance, but dynamic range is often swept under the rug. The X100s has a nifty feature available while shooting JPEGs; so nifty that we quit shooting RAW on this camera. The X100s has a built-in high dynamic range option. This isn't the over-processed nasty fake sunsets you've seen your friends put up on social media. Instead, the X100s subtly holds more detail in the shadows and in the highlights by mixing ISOs internally. Without any processing, we were psyched with the results. A little bit of subtle work in Photoshop or Lightroom and we couldn't believe it.

Low Light Performance
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Well into the night with almost no sky illumination to the human eye, the X100s still picked a bit of light out of the clouds. This image is unprocessed, ISO 6400, f/2.8, 1/30th.
Credit: Tommy Penick
The low light performance of the X100s is outstanding and rivals high-end DSLRs from major manufacturers. Even at ISO levels typically used only in absolute emergencies, the X100s still looks darn good. After shooting one of our low-light tests, we packed away the rest of the cameras and walked around with a high-end DSLR and the X100s as the sun dropped. The results surprised us. We found ourselves putting the DSLR back in the bag and kept using the X100s. The small body and short focal length lens allowed us to handhold the camera down to 1/15th without any repercussions and we could occasionally pull off handholding at 1/8th. Obviously this comes down to user form and steadiness, but our own coffee addiction puts us a step down in the land of steady hands.

Night Time Photo


Fuji X100sCanon G16
All of the photos shown here have been unaltered. With modern digital image processing, noise can be cleaned up pretty easily as long as it's not over the top, and as long as the processor doesn't get too heavy handed.

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.
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Image from the Fuji X100s. This image was part of a larger series and toned to match with light processing.
Credit: Tommy Penick

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.
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The Fuji X100s has a great dynamic range expansion feature, that helped dramatically on this image. Without it, the sky wouldn't have retained as much information. Typically highlights in the sky take on a bit of a teal tint, but it's easily rectified in post. This image is part of a greater series and was toned to match.
Credit: Tommy Penick

Video Quality
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.

Flash Performance
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The X100s had the best fill-flash capabilities, which produced reasonably soft and well balanced light to subjects.
Credit: Tommy Penick
Similar to other cameras in the category, we were happy to see that the X100s has a hot-shoe, and Fuji also has a line of flashes that are supported. Additionally, the X100s has built-in commander/slave modes that allow for off-camera flash without too much additionally equipment. We couldn't get our hands on a dedicated Fuji flash to test, but we take this as a huge positive for flash performance, as on-camera flash typically looks harsh and nasty.

Best Applications
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.
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Image from the Fuji X100s. This image was part of a larger series and toned to match with light processing.
Credit: Tommy Penick

Value
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.

Conclusion
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 Fuji 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.

If you'd like a custom case to protect your X100, check out the X100 Leather Case.

Video

Tommy Penick

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: December 19, 2013
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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The Fuji x100s.
Credit: Tommy Penick
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