Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fujifilm X100S - "It's not an 'S', in my world it means . . ."

My new FUJIFILM X100s.  It's a truly desirable camera although its beauty goes beyond it's gorgeous looks.

Oh . . . like the 'guy' who said that, the Fujifilm X100S is both speedy and stylish.  When mine was finally delivered to my office, our receptionist kind of saw the price of the package and she was curious to see what's inside.  So I showed her and she said, "Yeah, nice camera."  But . . . with a puzzled facial expression that says otherwise.  She can't seem to understand why I would pay a thousand dollars plus for an "old camera".  Then I showed it to my Project Manager, and then to another Project Manager, and then to a few colleagues.  They all had the same reaction.  No one, not even the photography hobbyists were impressed.  If you have not heard of the buzz that Fujifilm has been making for the last couple of years, chances are you won't get it either.  That's not to say it's a bad thing.  It simply proves WHO this camera was made for - for real photographers, not for the "guys-with-camera".

I bought Fujifilm X100S primarily out of desire - because it has it, that desirability factor.  It has character, it has a soul.  It's somewhat different from the DSLR's we got used to.  It is extremely well made.  Leather (or pseudo-leather) and metal with fit and finish that reminds you of a high precision Swiss watch.  But its beauty does not end with fine craftsmanship.  The image quality is very good - in a way, I guess that is where you get your money's worth.  The X100s also has unique technology that are not found in other brands.  None of these are gimmicky and the thing is, they actually work and add to the whole photographic experience.  Take for example the hybrid viewfinder - both optical and electronic VF are excellent and  uncompromised.  I would normally use the OVF and occasionally shift to EVF (in a flick of a switch) whenever it's more practical to use.  X-Trans sensor, split-image manual focus assist and more.  Sorry, I won't do a "laundry list" of  technical specifications here.  I'm just going to mention what I have tried so far.  If you want it you can find it at DPReview.  

The last time I felt like this for a camera was about 8 years ago, when the Canon EOS 20D was announced and I bought one.  At the time, it was THE default APS-C DSLR, it was fast (5fps), hi-res (8Mp, can you believe?) and gorgeous clean files.  The very best of the best APS-C DSLR that a poor hobbyist like me can buy . . . at that time.  The reason for buying the subsequent DSLRs was mainly to replace their aging predecessors.  

But with the Fuji X-series, it was desire.  And of course, it is a really really good cameras too, but it was desire that made me buy.  I had the X10 first and didn't really wanted to sell it but I can't afford to keep them both.

Now, going back to the X100s.  Yes, it is a compact with a fixed, non-zoom lens that is neither wide and not by a long shot . . . long.  That lens, as good as it is, but with fixed focal length, WAS the deal-breaker for me.  I like zoom lenses!  However, shooting with an X100 in Dubai for a day during the last GPP 2013 proved that I can work with just a 35mm equivalent prime lens.  The sample pictures, the tweets, the live demonstrations in Dubai and direct communication with one of its endorsers - that combination sold me to it.    


Okay, I know what the big question is - how's the image quality?  Well, I'm not a pixel-peeper but to simply allow the camera to speak for itself, here's a sample photo and a 100% crop - so go ahead, count as many of this Arabian horse's hair as you can!  You need to click the pictures for a bigger view.

The sharpness could be more attributed to the combination of the well crafted fixed prime lens, EXR II processor and the new X-Trans sensor with optical low pass filter removed.  It's a little too technical for my understanding but the sum of all things is high-quality images that - do I dare say? - rival full-frame CMOS sensors.  Not only are the images sharp, colors are rendered rather beautifully too and oh . . . the dynamic range is so wide.  It does a very good job at retaining details in both highlights and shadow areas that I can now shoot exclusively in JPEG.  Of all the cameras I've owned, this one is the best performer at hi ISO.  Clean files up to ISO 1600, unnoticeable noise at ISO 3200 and very usable files at ISO 6400.  I am now getting used to the habit of shooting in Auto ISO with maximum ISO set at 3200.  Check out the pic below shot at ISO 3200, f/5.6 in Aperture Priority.  Again click the picture to pixel peep.

ISO 3200
Here's a more extreme example taken handheld from a moving boat in the dark of night at 11:00 p.m. near Doha Port.  

Shot in aperture priority and auto ISO (f/2.0, 1/17, ISO6400).

This is the 100% crop.  Click the pictures to view large.

Again, this was ISO 6400 and handheld!

The X100S has a combination of features that is huge to me as a lighting photographer.  The first is its leaf shutter's listed maximum flash sync speed of 1/1000 sec wide open at f/2.  Unofficially, according to David Hobby in his Strobist blog, you can make it sync up to its maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 hard-wired.  Meaning no Pocket Wizard, IR triggers or any third-party wireless triggers - wired, as in OCF or TTL cords.  If all that is not enough, the X100s has a built-in 3-stops ND filter to cut down light further.  With those numbers, you can totally "beat the sun" - kill  off daylight - turn day into night, while shooting wide open at f/2.  It is now possible to shoot wonderful bokeh portraits in broad daylight.  Sswweeetttt!!

I love the optical viewfinder - it's what I use 90% of the time, occasionally switching to EVF when more practical.  But it needs a little bit of getting used to especially if you're used to looking at a DSLR viewfinder.  The LCD screen?  Sure, but mostly for reviewing pictures - not for shooting.  I mean, it's good just not what I would prefer to use.

I like that you can adjust aperture right on the lens and shutter speed with a milled steel knob.  This method is very old-school and I can see why this camera appeals to the more seasoned photographer.  For those of us who are used the DSLR mindset, either you will find this strange but will get used to eventually or you will not totally like it.  Well, I like it.  

You'd think this camera is all-manual but it, too, has Aperture and Shutter Priority mode - even P-Mode!  But again, applied differently from DSLR's.  If you set the shutter speed knob to 'A', you're in Aperture priority mode.  If you set the aperture ring to 'A', you're in shutter priority mode.  Set them both to 'A' and you're in P-Mode.

It's got 2 manual focus assist and both of them works.  One is called split-screen which is more or less similar to what you'll see in a manual-focus SLR film camera viewfinder . . . before auto-focus was invented.  The other one is called focus peaking which highlights objects that are already in focus.  Both of them works really well and are actually useful.  Personally, I'd use AF all the time since it's really really good.  But sometimes, in the dark where AF will struggle and in macro mode, I think I prefer split-screen.

Well, those are the major things that I really like and that matter to me.  The rest are just extras that may be important to other owners of this camera but to me, it's nice to know they are there and they work well and that I can pull them off from time to time.


These, I'll probably not use that often but they are there and those that I've tried works well too.  I haven't tried them all (and will most likely not) but here are some of them.

Advanced Filters.  There's toy camera, miniature, soft focus, high key, low key, a bunch of monochrome filters, color selectives and some more.  I've tried toy camera filter so far.  If you're big on lomography, iPhonography or Instagram, the X100 can make pictures like that too - only at a higher resolution and will look good not just on your smart phone but even on your 100 inch 4K HDTV.

The "lomo look"  is there but the picture quality is much higher.  You could be accused of post-processing a DSLR photo into this kind of effect.

In 1:1 aspect ratio plus the toy camera filter, photos look more like a real Instagram photo.
Another filter I have tried is the "miniature filter".  This essentially gives you something similar to tilt-shift lens.  It's the kind of effect that many of us have tried to replicate in post-processing - those of us who can't afford a real tilt-shift lens.  It works well and I think it's kind of cool that I can try this kind of photography again without spending a lot of time behind the desk in front of the computer - or spending a lot of cash on a real t/s lens.

Miniature effect filter used here.  Not exactly my thing but will probably experiment more on this in the future.
I didn't bothered to try the other creative filters.  I'm just not that interested right now.  Perhaps when there's a need for any of them, I might.  Or you can try them for yourselves should you decide to buy an X100s.

What about video?  What about it?  Frankly I don't really care and it's not what this camera is for.  If your thing is video then this is not the right camera for you.  You should be looking at Canon's lineup of EOS cameras.  The X100S does have video capabilities - 1080p at either 30fps or 60fps, and that's it.  Not much manual control.  To me it's more than I need to capture short clips during travels or photowalks.  It's not designed for making full video productions or music videos (although a stereo mic is available as an accessory).  Like I said, the X100s is a photographer's camera, not a videographer's.  If you buy this camera and then complain about the limited video controls, well I'm sorry, you're just missing the point.  Below is a 34 seconds sample clip.  View in HD mode and full screen and then you be the judge.  It's not bad, actually I think it's quite good but . . . yeah.


Well nothing is. There's only "the perfect camera for someone."  Or "somethin".  For me this is the perfect camera for my everyday use.  I still have a few issues, well, they're more like things that I wish this camera has or could improve on.  First is battery life.  This seems to be part of the X-Series genes.  I had the same issue with the X10, and the X-Pro1.  I get it, you can always buy spare batteries - if you're lucky to find one available.  I've tried with the same dealer in Dubai where I ordered my camera unit - not available.  I tried B & H and Adorama - out of stock.  I tried the local dealer in Doha - out of stock.  If you do find one, it's rather expensive.  I think Fuji is encouraging us to buy 3rd party batteries.  Fuji needs its supply to keep up with the demands.

(Update, 19 September 2013: Fuji seems to have heard its customers.  There is now ample supply of spare batteris available in the market.  Price has remained rather high though.)

2nd would be a tele-converter lens.  There's already a wide-converter available and that is a good move on the part of Fuji.  Now, a tele-converter will make this more appealing to the portrait photographers (like me).  Somewhere between 85 to 135mm would be nice (but then again, just wishing).  The fixed lens it has right now is good enough for environmental portraiture but not for head shots and close-ups.  Give me a tele-converter and I'd be a happy camper.

3rd is better power control for the built-in flash.  Right now it only allows you to go up or down by just 2/3 stop to be really useful for off-camera-flash works.  This one's not really that big of an issue because I have a few of those tiny 3rd party Chinese made radio triggers.  But still, it would be nice if you could use that built-in flash to just wink at slave flashes to trigger them.  The built-in flash can be used now for that but with no way of powering it down further, it's definitely going to appear in your pictures.

4th wish is face-detection AF mode.  I love that feature on the X10 / X20.  It makes the camera virtually "idiot proof".  I find this very useful when I travel and I want a picture of myself (or myself and my wife or friends) and I don't  have a tripod.  I could just ask anybody to take our picture for us by just telling which button to press to shoot. There is no need to give a "crash course" on how to pre-focus and reframe.

5th wish would be a built-in intervalometer.  It has a comprehensive list of drive modes including 2 options for bust mode (3 and 6 fps), multiple exposure and a host of bracketing modes.  With time-lapse being popular, a built-in intervalometer would be nice.

6th on my wishlist is considerable weather sealing.  I'm not sure if anyone has complained about this yet, but if this camera is meant to be out there shooting on streets, it needs to be able to take a little splash here and there.  It's probably gonna drive its price even higher but then again, yeah . . . wishful thinking.

What else, hmmm . . . maybe an optional battery grip . . . NNN0000000000!!!!!!!!.  Just kidding, I wouldn't want a battery grip on this.  Again, it's not a DSLR.  What I want is better battery life - either improved consumption or a new higher capacity battery.  Perhaps instead of "fly by wire", Fuji could probably make that manual-focus and aperture ring of the lens purely mechanical (electronic in AF mode, of course) then that could take some load off the battery.  


It's basically a manually operated camera that requires some skills to work with.  

However the X100s is every bit as good as they say it is.  The image quality, the sharpness of the lens and sensor and the exquisite craftsmanship is a compelling enough combination to warrant that price tag.  It surely is not for everyone but Fuji definitely knows who they want to sell it to.  You will love this camera if you prefer making pictures on-capture and have shot with an old film camera before - that point in time before cameras became super computers.  You'll find its knobs, rings and dials to be reminiscent of the days when cameras like these were built to last.  

I think that's one of the beauties of the X100S.  It looks simple but not cheap.  Looks old but beautiful in a classical way.  Discreet but effective.  


P.S. There are also a couple of very well written reviews here and here.  I am also currently trying out an X-Pro1 on loan from Gulf Photo Plus and Fujifilm ME for about a week or so.  I will also write my thoughts on that camera in the coming weeks.  I know lots of reviews have been written about it but a more personal 'review' may be of interest to the followers and readers of this blog.

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