Classic Is Cool
My first foray into Digital Photography was back in 2003 when I bought a Fujifilm S602 Zoom Bridge camera. Back then, digital was still very much in its infancy, the “new kid on the block”. I still had my Canon EOS 5 35mm film SLR and, quite frankly, still preferred it. I wasn’t convinced about this digital thing and I wasn’t inspired although the benefits were very clear. It wasn’t until 2006 when I purchased my Nikon D200 that digital began to rock ‘n’ roll.
When the Fujifilm X100 came out in 2010, I was, like many others, more than a little interested. Here was a camera that was breaking the mould and offering up a gorgeous looking, retro style compact with an APS-C DSLR sized sensor giving equally gorgeous image quality and ground-breaking features such as the hybrid OVF/EVF. It was a camera that took you back to basics with a fixed 24mm lens. Light and unobtrusive it was a walkaround street photographer’s dream come true. Was it too good to be true? Well… sort of, because along with the good came the bad. Slow AF, an almost unusable manual mode, a buggy less than user friendly menu system and a few other quirks meant that the quick-fire performance needed for street photography, for example, just wasn’t there. Well documented issues such as the “sticky aperture blades” that filled discussion forums didn’t help either so the purchase of said camera was put on permanent hold. I was to wait until the release of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 before acquiring my next camera which, in itself, was pretty revolutionary but that’s a different story.
Fuji did address many of the issues related to the X100 with subsequent firmware updates but, by then, other cameras were appearing onto the retro scene and it took a quiet backseat albeit with a firm following and fanbase.
Enter the X100S. Fuji listened to the people with a little more than firmware updates and introduced a “fixed” X100 and then some. I got excited again and almost pressed the “Buy Now” button last week but didn’t. However, when visiting a friend in Newcastle at the weekend I wandered into a camera shop and there it was sitting very prettily in a glass case. I couldn’t help myself. Terminal GAS set in immediately and I walked out of that shop with my very own X100S.
S is for “Sorted!”
Now, I’m no Steve Huff, Zack Arias or DPReview, all of whom have done far more detailed and knowledgeable reviews on this camera already (along with others) so it’s not going to be my bag to spend a lot of time on this review when you can read theirs (if you’ve not already done so). I’ll include the links to their excellent reviews at the bottom of this post. The objective here and in any “review” that I currently do will be to offer up my personal perspective and thoughts, end of.
So. Why did I buy it? There’s no doubting it’s a camera for a niche market and at £1000 not cheap. I have an Olympus OM-D E-M5 which is a terrific camera and isn’t any larger with the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 lens attached. It has the wonderful tiltable touch screen that offers a high degree of street stealth, superb image stabilisation and lightning fast AF. Why couldn’t I have just been happy with that for gawd’s sake? Well, in an attempt to reconcile with the bank manager in me, there’s something inherently pleasurable about a camera that looks and feels like the ones that fascinated you as a kid with its manual dials and classic black and silver skin. I remember my Zenit E and Canon AE-1 with great affection. I have longed for the day when Nikon decide to bring out a digital version of their S3 rangefinder (mint condition examples of these are going for the same price as an X100S). Equally appealing is having the option to just pick up a camera that doesn’t burden your mind with lens choices or physical well-being with weight or size and yet gives you superb DSLR comparable image quality. Yes, it’s not that difficult to adjust the aperture, shutter speed or exposure compensation on my Olympus or Nikon but it just seems so much easier to do with an aperture ring and dedicated dials. On one of my first exploratory outings with the camera, I found myself constantly playing around with these settings on almost every shot – something I rarely do on the other cameras. The Optical / Electronic Viewfinder has to be the best in the business. Bright and clear giving you all the info you need or want. Quite simply, this feature is a deal breaker for me. I don’t care what anyone says, an LCD screen just doesn’t cut the mustard at times when you’re a serious photographer. I almost invariably want to put my eye to a viewfinder when taking shots and it will only be under certain circumstances I’ll want to use the LCD screen.
Apart from the looks, the other factor that initially appealed to me about the X100 was the image quality. Steve Huff did some “real world” tests with the X100 and comparison cameras, one of which was a Nikon D7000 and I distinctly remember that I preferred the look of the X100 images even though I’d got a D7000 at the time. The X100s has a different sensor to the X100 – it’s the same one as in the X-Pro 1. I learned this AFTER I’d bought the camera and my initial reaction was one of concern. Would the image quality have the same “pop”? Being honest, my first OOC jpeg shots on standard settings weren’t too inspiring. The images looked a little too clinical and “digital” for my liking and I was getting a weird “smearing effect” not on foliage that some were reporting but on skies but after reading a few other reviews, it became obvious you have to play with the camera settings to achieve the look you prefer. There’s also more than enough discussion going on about excessive Noise Reduction so, Fujifilm, keep up the good work listening to your customers and get a firmware update released that reduces the NR… please!
A clear target market for the X100 was the street photographer but with the slow AF and useless MF it missed the bullseye quite significantly. It’s better now, of course, with the firmware updates but not as good as the X100s with much improved AF and a manual focusing system that includes focus peaking. I went for a walk around my local town equipped with my new toy and you can see the results in the slideshow below.
What about the competition? Are there any cameras currently on the market that do a better job of it than the X100S? Well, I’ve already mentioned my OM-D and, for my money, that’s got to be one of the closest competitors. I will be carrying out a comparison over the next few weeks of these two. The full-frame Sony RX1 springs to mind but this is twice the price and doesn’t have an OVF/EVF (unless you pay for the outrageously priced option). The Leica X1 for a little more money gives you the prestige badge but half the features and performance.
To be honest, it’s difficult to see this camera being a part of my working setup. I think the OM-D provides better features for that and as a backup to my Nikon D800. No, this is a personal walkaround camera, a camera to enjoy the look and feel of and one that brings back fond memories of my early days with 35mm film, it’s not a tradesman’s tool. It has character and it frees the mind of optional choices to concentrate on creativity. It also delivers results that are intensely satisfying once you work on the settings. It’s still not perfect but it’s certainly a camera that you’ll bond with and reach for over others on that casual day out.
Best features of the X100s
- Gorgeous retro looks and design takes you back to your childhood.
- “Back to basics” single fixed 23mm lens.
- Immediate adjustment of Shutter Speed, Aperture and Exposure Compensation via external dials makes for a camera you really want to play with.
- Superb hybrid OVF/EVF. Got to be one of the best in the business.
- Light, small and unobtrusive with a totally silent mode now combined with good AF performance makes it an ideal candidate for the “King Of Street”.
Reviews of the X100s from;
Steve Huff, Zack Arias, David Hobby, Kevin Mullins, DPReview
There’s a good comparison between the X100 and X100s here at “The Visual Experience”
Here’s my sample gallery: