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

[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. ]


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 🙂


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