Camera Review: Fujifilm X100S

September 5, 2013

By Jesse Will

When it first arrived in 2011, the Fujifilm X100 got style-conscious photographers talking, thanks to its throwback, rangefinder-inspired body that wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Mad Men. Most tech products that boast great looks like that seem to fail in the usability department, but the X100 proved to be an outlier. Its extensive manual controls, sharp fixed 23mm lens and 12.3-megapixel APS-C sensor delivered nuanced images that were just as surprising as the camera’s cosmetics—and still are. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that when updating the X100 with the X100S model, Fujifilm largely stayed away from cosmetic changes and instead focused on the internal stuff, giving the X100S the same upgraded 16.3-megapixel X-Trans CMOS II sensor that can also be found in Fuji’s higher end X-Pro1 (they also bestowed the sensor on the recently announced $699 X-M1 ILC body). Similar to other sensors we’ve seen lately, such as those used in Nikon’s Coolpix A and D7100 and the Pentax K-5 IIS, the CMOS II has a new-school, randomized color filter arrangement that ditches the optical low-pass filter, traditionally used to prevent anti-aliasing, off colors, and moiré effects in order to soak up more light and obtain more data from a scene.

We spent a couple of weeks shooting hundreds of images with the X100S to check in on how this classy compact has evolved. First we banged around New York City with the diminutive snapper strapped around our neck, then carried it for a week during a Virgin Islands vacation (sorry about that sand, Fuji).

What’s New?

Minus the small “S” badge up front, there’s not much to visually distinguish the X100S from its handsome predecessor. Its lens is still the FUJINON 23mm F2 single focal length (a 35mm equivalent); the magnesium-alloy body and hard-wearing pebbled faux leather are the same; and the new model still weighs in at just under a pound. Aside from the new sensor, the X100S benefits from a faster new processor, called the EXR Processor II, which Fuji says can reduce noise by more than 30 percent over the X100, and shoot cleaner at high ISOs. The new processor allows for shooting that’s twice as fast. At full resolution, it snaps up to 6 frames per second, while shutter lag is just .01 seconds. Start-up time has similarly been quickened—the camera shudders to life and is ready to shoot in just a half of a second. The new brain allows the X100S to focus faster (slow focusing was one complaint heard from X100 shooters) and shoot from twice as close as the previous version, starting at just .21 meters (a little over eight inches). Its unique hybrid optical-digital viewfinder gets better resolution and adds a split-image focusing display to assist in old-school focusing—the kind where your eye is at the viewfinder and your thumb and forefinger are at the focusing ring. (You can also use the camera’s LCD screen to tap-to-focus, if you’re feeling modern.)

Shooting With It

Anyone who’s shot with a manual camera should feel at home with the X100S’s manual controls, which for the most part remain unchanged. A round dial at the camera’s top center right clicks satisfyingly to your desired shutter speed, from bulb to 1/4,000 of a second. Its aperture can be manually controlled via a ring around the fixed lens, which also has a toothy click. One manual control that is not seen on many modern cameras, but is on the X100S, is an old-school exposure compensation dial that can quickly be set to up to two f-stops lower or higher than the camera’s sensor asks for. It’s refreshing to be able to adjust this right on the body of the camera, rather than having to wade through menus to get there. A focusing ring up front is shallow but usable; it works with the hybrid viewfinder’s split-image focusing, which uses both phase-detecting and contrasting methods to line up four stripes when your image is in focus. With autofocus on, we found the X100S reacted snappily, with minimal hunting, even in darker locations.

The Images 

Pulled up in Lightroom, the X100S’s shots look excellent across the board, with detailed highlights and shadows and an impressive dynamic range, even at higher ISOs. The X100S shoots at up to ISO 6400, including RAW files, and we were able to coax worthy shots during a candlelit dinner and in a dim subway station. Perhaps the most interesting facet of the X100S’s image-making is its pleasing, out-of-focus bokeh. Shot wide open at f/2.0, a subject’s foreground and background are impressively blurred, noticeably more so than the camera’s fixed-lens competitor the Nikon Coolpix A, which has a maximum aperture of f/2.8. In addition, the X100S has a physical three-stop neutral density filter that automatically slides in front of the lens, allowing you to shoot wide open in bright sunlight. The net result is photos that don’t look like they’ve come from a compact, fixed-lens camera. They look like shots from a DSLR.

The Alternatives

Nikon’s Coolpix A offers similar image quality in a more compact, almost pocketable body, and has the added benefit of a menu tree that’s quick and familiar if you’re already a Nikon user. But it doesn’t offer as many manual controls, and feels a bit more delicate than the sturdier X100S. Interchangeable-lens models like Fuji’s X-Pro1 have an edge on the X100S if you’re looking for a camera to seriously sub in for your SLR and want to be able to change its optics. But even considering the alternatives, the X100S proves a worthy carry. With its automatic controls on, this camera can grab great photos with minimal fuss; what’s really cool about it, though, is that by making its manual controls so easy to manipulate, Fujifilm is basically admitting that in at least some scenarios, you are smarter than the camera. With the X100S they’ve made it easier to get the shots you really want.

Pros: Fantastic SLR-like image quality, even at high ISOs; nifty hybrid viewfinder; cool look
Cons: It’s expensive; Fuji’s menu system is less intuitive than alternatives
Price: $1,299;

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