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Fuji X100 and X100S Review

As a full time commercial performance photographer who specializes in theatrical, symphonic and dance photography, both for production as well as publicity I questioned the viability of using an X100S in the commercial world. I have waited to review the X100S I purchased from Amazon and received on March 28 2013 simply because I wanted to take some time to use the camera before writing a review.

I had purchased an X100 just before the S model was announced and found the image quality to be remarkable. Because I was late to the game in purchasing the X100 many of the ‘quirks’ others complained about I did not experience due to the numerous firmware updates Fuji had released since the camera’s inception. Because the X100S had features that could not be fixed through a firmware update such as the Q button and moving the focus point selector from the left to the right I opted to sell my X100 and preordered the S model.

I have experimented with the X100S over the past two months using it in both personal and commercial work. Yes I said commercial work. There are several features I find quite remarkable on a camera in any price range:

1. The sharpness of the images due in part to the elimination of the optical low pass filter

2. The noise performance of the camera

3. Having an (almost) unlimited flash sync speed due to its leaf shutter

4. Built in 3 stop ND filter

5. An almost completely silent shutter (again due to its leaf shutter)

What I would like to see improved:

1. A bit more resistance to the on/off switch

2. Allowing the user to customize the Q menu to allow for ALL camera operating choices

3. Allow shooting in RAW mode to include 100 ISO (200 is currently the lowest ISO in RAW)

4. Allow shooting at any shutter speed at any aperture. (this may not be physically possible…)

5. The camera has a tendency to overexpose by about 2/3 of a stop

6. Even though the X100S has a dedicated EyeFi card menu selection, the transfer speed of small JPGS to an iPad is very slow. Much slower than a 5DIII and in some cases makes using it as a wirelessly tethered camera almost useless.

The OVF and EVF viewfinders are absolutely brilliant. I find that I have used both equally depending on the shooting situation. In very low light I have found the EVF invaluable. In situations where I need to keep an eye on the environment, the OVF is just killer. While I’m on the subject I personally would never consider a camera that does NOT have a dedicated viewfinder. Since I grew up using SLRs and DSLRs I just cannot effectively use a camera where my only option is to use an LCD screen. I’m also not a fan of having to purchase an ‘optional’ EVF viewfinder for any camera. Just a personal preference.

Did I consider other non DSLR cameras before purchasing the X100S (originally the X100)? Yes, I considered the Canon line for a couple of reasons; their G series has a viewfinder and my primary gear is Canon. Others? Only those that had a viewfinder and I found that those which only have an EVF were a bit too ‘jerky’ to me. I also tend to put more stock into reviews from people whose body of work I respect. There are plenty of sites on the Web that give tech details and masturbatory reviews of tech specs, but in the end what I produce from any camera is what’s more important. I respect Zack’s (Arias) work and put stock into how he feels about a camera simply because of his body of work. Although we shoot different types of imagery I trust his and other photographers I respect more than technical sites. A personal view which has served me well.

I have always wanted a camera that is lightweight and compact (relative to my work gear) that I can carry with me everywhere. No the X100S is NOT something I can slip into my pocket, but that’s OK by me. I simply wear it across my chest using a Luma Labs Cinch strap and I barely notice it’s there. My plan was to use it primarily for street shooting, which is something I have a voracious appetite for and have done quite a lot over the years. At least when I have time! Yes I miss a zoom which I found I depended upon quite a bit for my street shooting. But something that a fixed lens camera forces me to do is to immerse myself into the environment for street shooting. It also allows me to grow as a photographer, to get more context into my shots. I have personally found that using the Fuji at night rather than the day makes it easier for me to street shoot. The ISO performance of the X100S is on par with my 1DX up to 6400 ISO and a tad better than my 5DIII. The f2.0 lens allows me to bokeh scenes in a wonderful way. Of course that all depends on how close I am to the primary subject, aperture, etc but I’ve found it quite lovely.

One of the most remarkable features for me is the ability to use small hand held flash units as fill flash with the X100S due to its leaf shutter. I was literally blown away that using a single Canon 580II through a modifier could produce results that in the past required me to use a studio strobe and an ND filter to achieve. I love the fact that I can carry a small flash unit in my bag and take almost commercial level portraits. I’ll try to upload some examples with this review. I had mentioned that one of my wishes was for Fuji to enable the X100S select any shutter speed with any aperture. Currently they recommend 1/1000th at a minimum aperture of f2.0. If you want to use 1/2000th, then you must use f4.0 or smaller.

I have found that if I’m using a radio trigger to activate the off camera flash 1/1000th and f2.0 works. Anything faster in speed results in funky exposure results. However if I use a cable rather than a radio trigger I can squeeze 1/2000th with f2.0. In terms of flash, milliseconds count so a wired connection is better in some circumstances. It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

In terms of the ‘silent shutter’ I had firsthand experience with that feature this past week. I was hired to photograph both a live and rehearsal performance of a major US symphony. Since I use two cameras whenever I shoot production had I not had the X100S I would have only shot with my 5DIII in silent mode during louder passages. I never even considered my 1DX because even on ‘silent’ mode it is way too loud. And when I was told the last commercial shooter was kicked out by the world renowned conductor due to his camera noise (understandable) and attitude (bad) I didn’t intend to make the same mistake. So during passages where the musicians were playing very softly I was able to make images with the X100S. Again, a remarkably useful feature for my work.

I won’t go into the things I ‘love’ about this camera since that is all relative to each user. I also won’t ever be able to completely replace my commercial gear with only mirrorless cameras. Because I shoot dance and live theatre the X100S along with other cameras of this type are just not fast enough from a focusing/shutter release standpoint. But for portraits and publicity work I have and plan to continue to use it for client work; it’s that good.

Who should buy this camera? Who am I to say!? I can only say (in no particular order) that with its remarkable shutter sync speed, image quality, hi ISO performance and build quality I’m very happy to have purchased this little camera. It’s THAT good. And like any tool (rather than looking at gear as a ‘jewel’) it’s perfect for the right job. Will it make you a better photographer; nope. Only improving your skills and executing your imagination will do that.

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