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Fujifilm X100S Ken McMahon, May 2013
 
 

Fujifilm X100S review

Fujifilm's X100S is a compact, retro-styled camera with a large APS-C sized sensor, fixed 35mm f2 equivalent lens and the choice of screen or viewfinder for composition. Announced in January 2013 it's the successor to the X100, a model that revitalized the market for fixed-lens cameras aimed at enthusiasts. The X100 proved there was demand for such a camera but suffered from a number of issues. The X100S attempts to resolve those issues and deliver excellent performance without losing the retro charm of its predecessor.

Externally the X100S greatly resembles the earlier X100, and shares the same hybrid optical and electronic viewfinder, exposure dials and fixed 23mm f2 (35mm equivalent) lens, but inside are a raft of improvements. Most notable is the 16 Megapixel X-Trans sensor, delivering the same quality as the X-Pro1 and X-E1, but now with the benefit of on-chip phase detect sensors for quicker and more confident autofocus. There are new focus peaking and split-image displays, not to mention a more responsive focusing ring on the lens making the whole process much easier.

The movie mode has been improved with 1080p at 60fps and, again, enhanced autofocusing thanks to the on-chip phase detect sensors. There's also a new 1:1 shooting mode, 14 bit RAW files and new advanced effect filters in addition to the film simulation filters inherited from the X-Pro1 and X-E1. It all adds up to a camera which promises much better quality and handling than its predecessor while retaining the compelling analogue controls, hybrid viewfinder, retro styling, and of course the excellent optics.

While Fujifilm may have reignited the passion for fixed lens big-sensor compacts, it's not the only player in this market, though the X100S does strike a very compelling balance between luxury styling and performance on one hand and price on the other. Anyone considering the Sony RX1 or Leica X2, which cost around twice as much, could easily be tempted by the X100S. Then there's the Nikon COOLPIX A, which undercuts the X100s in price while promising similar big sensor quality and noise performance. In my review I've tested the X100S alongside the COOLPIX A and drawn comparisons with Sony's RX1. Read on to discover which of these advanced large-sensor compacts provides the best balance between image quality, handling and specifications for the asking price.

   
 


Fujifilm X100S design and controls

Aside from very minor cosmetic changes, externally, the X100S looks almost identical to its predecessor. From the front, were it not for the S badge on the newer model, you'd have a hard time telling them apart. That's no bad thing though, as the retro styling is one of the best things about them. The front and rear panel are finished in synthetic leather which is more resilient than the real thing and provides a secure and comfortable grip. The top and bottom panels are made from Magnesium alloy coated to look like steel and the dials and rings are solid metal, so it looks and feels like a well-engineered piece of equipment.

The dimensions are 127 x 74 x 54mm and it weighs 445g with the battery and card fitted. That's not amazingly compact, and no-one would describe the X100S as pocketable unless it was a coat pocket, but then it isn't a camera that you'd want to hide away. Another compact convenience the X100 lacks is an integral lens cover, like the one on the Nikon COOLPIX A, but its fabric-lined metal push-on cap is so beautifully designed it's an omission that's easily forgiven.

The COOLPIX A is the smallest camera to pack-in an APS-C sensor, measuring 111 x 64 x 40mm and weighing 299 grams. This makes it comfortably smaller and lighter than the X100S, and can truly be described as pocketable, but it does lack the X100S' viewfinder.

Another large sensor / fixed lens compact that lacks a built-in viewfinder is Sony's Cyber-shot RX1, but the unique selling point of the Sony over the X100S and COOLPIX A is its even larger full-frame sensor. So it's particularly impressive to find it's smaller overall than the X100S too, measuring 113 x 65 x 70mm, albeit weighing a tad more at 482g with battery.

So it's the viewfinder that makes the X100S noticeably larger than its rivals, but it's so central to the overall experience of this camera that it's impossible to imagine it without one; I wonder how many people think the RX1 is better off without one and won't add either the optical or electronic accessory viewfnder?

 
 

The X100S's front panel lacks a grip, but there is a slight bulge on the right side which gives your fingers a little bit of extra purchase. This is the one area of the X100's design where I think that form has been allowed to compromise function and, in the absence of any kind of thumb grip on the rear the X100's only really feels safe when held in both hands.

The only control on the front panel, other than those on the lens, is the lever for switching from the optical to the electronic viewfinder which is at the top of the front panel to the right of the lens (as you're holding the camera), right next to the AF illuminator LED. The built-in flash is located above and slightly to the right of the lens on the top silver section of the front. Two tiny, widely spaced holes give away the location of the stereo microphones and the big optical viewfinder window sits at the top left corner.

The X100's top panel is unchanged from the earlier model. It's a split level design with nothing other than the branding and hotshoe on the raised left-hand side. The lower right side is dominated by the large shutter speed dial with the smaller exposure compensation dial in the rear corner. The metal shutter release, threaded for a traditional cable release is located in the centre of the on/off switch which protrudes at the front and is operated with your index finger, so you can switch on and shoot in one quick fluid motion.

On the rear panel, once again, not much has changed. The viewfinder is top left with a thumbwheel for dioptre adjustment on its left and proximity sensors to automatically switch the monitor off (and the EVF on, if you're using it) to its right. On the opposite side, positioned for your right thumb is the command control - a three-way switch used for additional exposure control.

The lower section is dominated by the 2.8in LCD screen with a column of four buttons to its left. The topmost one is for playback and the remaining three select metering mode, drive mode (previously on the Command dial) and toggle the view mode between the monitor and EVF, or automatic selection.

 
 
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On the right side of the screen are the Command dial, a wheel with four cardinal positions and a menu button at the centre. These are slightly changed from the X100, the Drive mode and AF buttons positions having swapped, with, clockwise from the top, AF area selection, flash mode, white balance and macro focus. AFL/AEL and Disp/Back buttons are above and below the command dial respectively, as before, but the old RAW button is replaced with a new Q button as on other X-series models for accessing the Quick menu.

The focus mode is selected via a sliding switch on the left side of the camera body. On the right a small hinged door provides access to USB and mini HDMI ports. Even the bottom of the X100S looks quite stylish, basically a flat metal plate punctuated only by the tripod bush, (surrounded by six screws) speaker grille and the combined battery and card compartment door. There are four little dimples at each corner of the base plate, presumably to stop the bottom getting scratched when you put the camera down, which is a thoughtful touch.

The X100S uses the same NP95 Lithium Ion battery as its predecessor, managing to squeeze 330 shots on a full charge, a 10 percent improvement, though this will vary depending on how much use you make of the EVF and the screen. 330 shots isn't terribly impressive by DSLR standards, but it it significantly more than you'll get from either the Sony RX1 which manages only 220 shots, or the COOLPIX A with 220 shots, though with no viewfinder both of those models rely on the screen 100 percent of the time. Remaining X100S battery life is indicated by a three-segment graphic on whichever of the three screens is in use.

The X100s has a built in flash which, in keeping with the retro styling isn't a pop-up design but is mounted in the middle of the top section of the front panel. In fact it's exactly where the rangefinder window would be on a traditional rangefinder model. It has a range of 9 Metres at 1600 ISO, at the base 200 ISO setting that equates to a little over three metres. In use the flash proved bright and even, it fires automatically when the lighting demands it in Auto mode. You can also force it to fire or disable it, use it in slow synchro mode or to wirelessly fire an external flash. There's also a standard hotshoe to which you can attach an external unit, the X100S is compatible with Fujifilm's EF20, EF42 and EF-X20 units. Thanks to its leaf shutter, the X100 has a fast x-sync speed of 1/2000.

The RX1's built in flash has a slightly more powerful flash with a range of over four metres at 200 ISO and it too has a hotshoe for an external flash. With a range of just under 3 metres at 200 ISO, the COOLPIX A's pop-up flash is slightly less powerful, but they're all in the same ball-park. The COOLPIX A's built-in flash can also be used for wireless control of external units and its hotshoe can also be used to fit Nikon's optical viewfinder accessory.

Fujifilm X100S viewfinders and screen

The X100S features an enhanced version of the hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder introduced on its predecessor and refined for the flagship X-Pro1. The hybrid viewfinder really is unlike anything else on the market. At first glance it's a simple optical viewfinder, but if desired you can superimpose electronic guides like a proper heads-up-display. This means the X-100S's viewfinder can indicate coverage with a thin frame, along with exposure and focusing details, while still benefitting from the brightness and low power consumption of an optical system and its real-life view.

 
 

The electronic viewfinder in the X100S is the most advanced yet with a 2.3 million dot panel, a substantial increase in resolution over the 1.44 million dots in the X100 and X-Pro1, it shares the same resolution as the X-E1's EVF but rather than an OLED panel uses an LCD screen.

The optical viewfinder's electronic overlay displays a frame guide to indicate coverage and, in the standard view, the flash mode, metering mode, number of shots remaining, image quality and size, and battery level outside the frame at the top of the screen. Along the bottom you'll find the shooting mode in the bottom left and the ISO in the bottom right and on the left hand side an exposure compensation scale

It strikes a good balance between showing what you need to know without cluttering up the view. But should you want to add, or remove details there's a custom display that can be used to turn everything off, bar the frame, AF area and shooting mode indicator. Alternatively you can display just about anything you want from a long list that includes a grid, two-axis electronic level, focus distance scale, live histogram, exposure details, exposure compensation, film simulation, and Dynamic range.

As with the other X-series models that feature optical viewfinders (The X-E1 only has an EVF) you can't fail to be impressed when looking through the OVF. Although there's been a lot of progress with electronic viewfinders recently, the brightness and immediacy of looking directly at the scene in front of you with only a piece of glass intervening can't be beat. And the ability to overlay the optical view with exposure and focus data, framing grids, an electronic level and histogram is outstanding.

In true rangefinder style, the image frame sits well within the physical bounds of the OVF providing the advantage of being able to see 'outside the frame' and compose accordingly. It's also not untypical for such guides to underestimate the frame boundary so that you capture a slightly larger area than indicated. This is fine, it just takes a little getting used to.

With a fixed focal length lens, X100S doesn't have to deal with problem of representing different view magnifications in an optical viewfinder as the X-Pro1 does, but it does have to cope with parallax - the difference in framing that results from the different lens and viewfinder positions. It handles this very cleverly, shifting the frame guide down and to the left depending on the proximity of the subject as determined by the AF. This of course means that the frame doesn't move until after you've half-pressed the shutter release, but you can quickly recompose once that's done. The degree of correction required for close-ups would be too great for the optical viewfinder to accommodate, so when you switch to macro mode the X100S automatically switches to the electronic viewfinder.

Of course, you can choose to use the EVF in any of the shooting modes simply by nudging the front mounted lever with your shooting finger. Do this and you get a 100 percent view with accurately positioned framing guides. The X100S's EVF is a 0.48 inch LCD panel with 2,360,000 pixels.

Switching from the optical to the electronic viewfinder is a bit of a shocker initially because the latter is so much less bright. In fairness, the EVF in the X100S is on a par with other similarly specified models - I compared it with the Olympus VF-2 accessory viewfinder which was marginally brighter, (though smaller and with a lower 1.44 million dot resolution). You can adjust the brightness in five steps and I found that shifting it up just one notch provided a much better view.

When the camera is stationary, the EVF provides a detailed and stable image, but start to move around and the image becomes indistinct and there's a perceptible lag that I found quite uncomfortable. The image brightness also steps perceptibly when the aperture adjusts to different light. As we, know, though, these experiences can be subjective, so others may not find it quite so off-putting. These might be significant issues in an EVF-only model, but the optical viewfinder is so good it's possible that you'll find yourself relying on the EVF only for focus-critical and macro photography.

Whichever of the two viewing options is in use, though, light leakage from the viewfinder is a real problem. Despite the substantial and comfortable soft rubber-like surround, I frequently found myself having to cup my left hand around the top left corner of the camera to prevent extraneous light creeping in. This problem isn't exclusive to the X100S, both the X-E1 and X-Pro1 suffer it to a similar degree. Having said that, for when accurate framing is required and for previewing film simulations, it's a very useful alternative to the optical viewfinder. Don't forget the X100S also has a very respectable screen, employing a high resolution 2.8 inch panel (slightly smaller than the 3 in panel on the X-E1) with 460k dots. The camera can be configured to use either the screen, or viewfinder, or to switch between them when your eye is detected in close proximity to the viewfinder by the sensor mounted just to the right of it.

None of the X-series sports articulated screens, no surprise for models that place so much emphasis on the viewfinder (not to mention classic rangefinder design). From a practical perspective the rear screen is most useful in detail mode when it displays no image, just exposure and focus information and other camera settings. But you can, of course use it as an alternative to the viewfinder and for this it works very well with a bright contrasty image that is easy to see at a wide range of horizontal and vertical viewing angles.

 

Fujifilm X100S lens and stabilisation

The X100S has a fixed 23mm f2 lens which, with the APS-C sensor's field reduction of 1.5x has a full-frame equivalent focal length of 35mm. Fujifilm claims the lens is designed specially for the X100S, but the specifications remain the same as before, with 8 elements in 6 groups and a 9-blade diaphragm. The lens is designed to produce a fixed angle of incidence of light into the lens, improving performance a the edge of the frame.

As before, the lens features a dedicated aperture ring with marked f-stops as well as an electronically-coupled manual focus ring which is very smooth and responsive. Indeed, Fujifilm says it has improved the responsiveness of the focussing ring - something I'll talk more about in the handling or focus sections below.

Fujifilm X100S 23mm (35mm equiv) coverage
COOLPIX A 18.5mm (28mm equiv) coverage
23mm (35mm equiv)  

18.5mm (28mm equiv)

The 35mm equivalent focal length is, for my money, the best choice for general purpose shooting with an angle of view that's respectably wide without ruling out portraits and close ups, though, of course it's much more of a challenge for wildlife and sports. Both Sony and Leica would appear to agree, opting for 35mm and 36mm equivalents on the RX-1 and X2, respectively. If you're looking for a fixed focal length compact with a wider angle of view then the Nikon COOLPIX A is the one to go for, but while it's great for interiors and landscapes, the COOLPIX A's 28mm f 2.8 lens is more limited when it comes to other kinds of photography. The comparison above shows the difference in field of view with the X100S compared with the Nikon COOLPIX A.

The f2 maximum aperture means you can achieve respectably shallow depth of field with the X100S, which puts it at an advantage compared with the COOLPIX A. While both cameras share the same physical sensor size, the COOLPIX A's maximum f2.8 aperture is one stop smaller and that, combined with the shorter focal length of it's lens makes it harder to throw the background out of focus. The examples below show portraits shot in the same location with the X100S (left) and the COOLPIX A (right) with both cameras in Aperture priority mode with their lenses wide open. For the COOLPIX A shot the photographer moved closer to the subject to maintain similar framing.

Fujifilm X100S 23mm (35mm equivalent)
COOLPIX A 18.5mm (28mm equivalent)
23mm f2 200 ISO  

18.5mm f2.8 100 ISO

The lens isn't stabilised, which doesn't put the X100S at a competitive disadvantage as neither the Sony RX1 nor the Nikon COOLPIX A offers stabilisation either. The RX1 does at least provide electronic stabilisation for movie shooting though. While you can get by without stabilisation on a wide angle lens for stills shooting, it's still very handy to have it for movies and the RX1 wins out here.

 

Fujifilm X100S shooting modes

The X100S broadly replicates the shooting modes of the earlier X-series models, adding a new range of 'Advanced' filter effects emulating those that have gained in popularity and can now be found on everything from the most basic point-and-shoot compact, right the way up to DSLRs.

One thing that's central to the philosophy of the X-series is their adherence to the conventional method of setting the aperture and shutter speed, so you won't find a shooting mode dial of the sort commonly found on many other models, like the Sony RX1 and the Nikon COOLPIX A for example. Instead the X100S opts for a conventional shutter speed dial marked with speeds from 1/4000 to 1/4s plus T for timed exposures of half to 30s and B for Bulb exposures of up to an hour. Setting the shutter speed dial to the A position sets the speed automatically.

Setting the lens aperture ring to the A position sets the aperture automatically. Selecting A for both the shutter and aperture sets Program AE completing the full PASM set. So there's no exposure mode selection as such, it's determined by the relative position of the aperture and shutter speed rings and the conventional simplicity of this approach has a lot to recommend it.

Earlier X-series models lacked the digital filters and creative modes that have found their way from point and shoot compacts to mirrorless models including the EOS M, Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Pen range and the NEX models. Their popularity is something Fujifilm clearly no longer feels able to ignore and so the X100S is endowed with a range of familiar-sounding filters including, shown below, Toy camera, Miniature, Pop colour, Low key, Dynamic tone, and Soft focus, there's also (not shown) High Key and a range of partial colour effects.

 

     
     
     

There's no denying the popularity of these in-camera effects, you either love them or hate them, but few are indifferent. If you fall into the latter camp, as they are buried away on page four of the shooting menu you can forget about them and pretend they don't exist. Whatever your view though, it's a bit disappointing to discover that you can't shoot RAW with the Advanced filters, providing yourself with the option of an unfiltered backup version. Neither can they be used for movie shooting, once an Advanced filter is selected the drive mode button is disabled - so no miniature movies here.

Like other X-series models the X100S also includes the film simulation modes that reference Fujifilm's legacy film stock. The default colour rendering mode is Provia, replicating Fujifilm's colour slide film stock, there's also Velvia - a high saturation transparency film popular with landscape photographers, and Astia (for portraits). Other film simulation modes include Pro Neg Hi, Pro Neg Std, Monochrome, several filtered monochrome options and finally sepia.

The X100s also includes Motion Panorama mode similar to the Sweep Panorama mode on the RX1 and many other compacts. It takes a series of shots as you pan the camera and then stitches them together. You can shoot panoramas with the camera in landscape or portrait orientation with a maximum resolution of 9600 x 1440 or 2160 x 9600 respectively. The size is determined by the horizontal angle of view which at its widest setting can capture a 180 degree view. The example below shows a 120 degree panorama shot with the camera in portrait orientation with an original size of 6400 x 2160.

 

Motion panorama: 7.29MB, Program auto, 1/250, f10, 200 ISO, 23mm (35mm equiv)
 

 

Motion Panorama mode is selected from the Drive menu which in addition to continuous shooting and movie modes offers a range of bracketing options including AE, ISO, film simulation and dynamic range bracketing. AE bracketing shoots just three shots at up to plus or minus 1 EV at 1/3rd EV increments, so not the best tool for HDR enthusiasts There is, however, a dynamic range setting which can be moved from its default 100% position to 200% or 400% increasing detail recorded in the shadow and highlight tonal ranges. Dynamic range mainly affects highlight detail and it's not as effective at improving tonal reproduction as Sony's DRO on the NEX-7. Another drawback is that you can't select the 200 percent DR setting below 400 ISO and for 400 percent the lower ISO limit is 800 ISO.

 

Fujifilm X100S movie modes

The X100S improves on the single 1080p24 HD video mode of its predecessor and other X-series models with full HD 1080p recording at both 30 and 60fps. Video is encoded using the h.264 codec at an average bitrate of around 40Mbits/s and saved in a QuickTime .mov file. However, the lower resolution 720p24 HD mode has been dropped. Stereo sound is recorded via twin mics located on the top section of the front panel, one on the right of the OVF/EVF switch and the other to the left of the built-in flash. The maximum single clip recording time is rather meagre ten minutes and if you shoot a clip of that length it'll occupy around 3GB on an SD card.

With no dedicated movie record button on the X100S, you must first select movie mode from the Drive menu before pressing the shutter release to start and stop recording; you can assign the Fn button to switch to movie mode, but you still need to press the shutter release to begin recording.

The X100S suffers from the same quirk I reported on the X-Pro 1 and X-E1, where a second press of the Fn button returns you to the still image capture mode - not the mode you were previously in. For example if you're continuous shooting and you decide you want to shoot a short video clip you must first press the Fn button, then press the shutter release to start and stop recording. Pressing the Fn button a second time returns you not to continuous shooting drive mode, but to single image capture mode, so if you want to carry on in continuous drive mode you have to reselect it from the Q menu.

Prior to recording you can set the aperture, exposure compensation, white balance and film simulation, but the shutter speed is set automatically regardless of the position of the shutter speed dial and the ISO sensitivity setting is also automatic. Once you've started shooting the settings remain fixed regardless of any dial twiddling. The X100S isn't the most versatile of movie cameras. You can't use fully manual exposure mode, set the ISO automatically or adjust exposure settings during movie recording, all of which is possible on the Sony RX1, and some of which, for example setting the exposure and ISO manually before starting recording, is possible on the COOLPIX A. But the choice of 1080p at 30 and 60fps, along with the limited exposure control provided is a step up from what earlier X-Series models offered and will satisfy all but the most demanding videographers.

The X100S has one further enhancement that has a major effect on video quality. Its new sensor incorporates phase-detect AF points on the chip to augment the contrast-detect AF system. This works in both movie and still modes, but its effect when shooting video is much more apparent as its not just the end result that matters, but how you get there. Even the very best contrast detect AF systems can't tell whether your subject is behind or in front of the current focus position and must therefore focus through the subject before returning. At its worst, this can result in several back-and-forth passes before the AF finally settles on the subject. With it's phase-detect sensors the X100S is able to tell whether the subject is front- or back-focussed and hone in on it directly, generally nailing the focus first time.

That's the theory at least, in practice, many hybrid AF systems haven't fully delivered on that promise, but I'm happy to say the X100S does a very good job of focussing in continuous AF mode, even in low light conditions, as you can see from my coffee cup example below.

Compared with the RX1 and other high end compacts, with only two HD modes, no dedicated record button and lacking fully manual exposure control, on paper, the X100S may look like like it has less to offer. There's no disputing that the lack of a dedicated movie record button rules out spontaneous movie shooting, but if you assign the Fn button to movie mode it's almost as quick. As for fully manual exposure control, manual ISO settings and the ability to change exposure settings during recording, they're nice features to have, but most people will be happy to get by without them.


Fujifilm X100S sample video 1: outdoors, sunny, handheld pan
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This clip, like the others below was shot using the X100S's 1080p30 HD video mode. The level of detail is excellent and the X100S has made a good job of the exposure and white balance. Like the COOLPIX A the X100S lacks any kind of stabilisation and suffers for it a little with handheld shots.

 

Fujifilm X100S sample video 2: outdoors, sunny, tripod pan
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For this tripod mounted pan I set the X100S to its AF-C autofocus mode. The focus shifts a little during pan, in the middle section it can't quite make its mind up, but eventually settles on the boats. On the whole, in good light like this outdoor scene, continuous AF for movies produced good results. The slight stepping of the exposure as the light changes is a little disconcerting though.

 

Fujifilm X100S sample video 3: indoors, low-light, handheld pan
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The low light conditions and the profusion of surfaces in this scene causes many cameras to come to grief when in continuous AF mode, but not the X100S, it loses its way a little in the middle, but recovers unobrusively. Exposure and white balance is good, though where the COOLPIX A overeacts to the exterior light in this scene, the X100S does the opposite.

 

Fujifilm X100S sample video 4: indoors, continuous AF
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The coffee cup example tests the X100S's continuous AF mode in more demanding circumstances than the previous clips. After a hesitant start, the focus transitions from the bar to the coffee cup are sure and smooth, though at the end it takes a while to refocus on the coffee cup.

 

Fujifilm X100S handling

Like the other models in Fujifilm's X-series, the X100S offers a simple, reliable and time-trusted system for setting exposure that's been in use for for the best part of a century: a dial on the top plate to set the shutter speed and lens ring to set the aperture. There are a whole host of modern embellishments and enhancements to the original concept, of course, but this basic setup is one of the X-series' big selling points and what fans of the range, of whom there are many, find most appealing.

Personally, I really like this setup and find it quick and intuitive, but then it's something I'm familiar with having grown up with it. If you're more used to a mode dial and electronic controls for exposure settings it may not be for you, though if you're considering the X100S you've probably already decided that the 'old school' method suits you.

     
     


With both dials in the A position you get fully auto Program AE mode, Shutter and Aperture priority is set by moving the shutter speed dial or aperture ring onto one of the discrete settings and fully manual mode by setting both the shutter speed and aperture manually. This can all be done with your eye to the viewfinder with absolute certainty that you've got the right control. The same goes for exposure compensation, I think it would have been nice to have had a physical dial for ISO settings too, but at least you can assign this to the Fn button next to the shutter release.

The X100's Raw button, which was extended via a firmware update, is updated to a fully functional Q menu button which displays a function grid from which you can select and directly change a range of settings including Custom settings, ISO sensitivity, Dynamic range, White balance, Noise reduction, Image size, Film simulation, Self-timer, and AF mode. It's a lot like the Super Control Panel on the Olympus PEN Micro Four Thirds mirrorless compact system cameras, right down to the navigation. You navigate across and down the grid by pressing on the Command dial and change the selecting setting by rotating it. This Command control thumb switch can also be used to change settings; apart from emulating the Command dial its other function is exposure control, either for Program shift or adjusting the aperture setting in 1/3EV increments between the physical whole stop settings on the lens ring.

One of the advantages of the X100S's fixed focal length lens is that it's much quicker to start up than a compact, which has to extend a motorised collapsible zoom. Though, to be far, the Nikon COOLPIX A is no slouch in this respect. Fujifilm claims a 0.5 second startup for the X100S, a 0.5 second shooting interval and a shutter time lag of .01 second, in practice, it took a little longer for the X100S to take the first shot after switching it on and if you're in a hurry and press the shutter release before it's ready, nothing happens, so you have to release it and try again. With a little practice you can guess the delay and fire off a shot in a little over a second.

 

Fujifilm X100S Focus

Fujifilm has been steadily improving the AF performance of X-series models so that, from the disappointing initial performance of the X-Pro1 (since improved with a firmware upgrade), things have improved to the point where the X100S competes on an equal footing with the fastest AF systems available in compacts and mirrorless system cameras. The X100S builds on the contrast detect systems of earlier X-System models, adding phase detect AF points on the sensor in addition to the existing contrast detect AF system.

In theory, the hybrid system should provide faster, more reliable AF and Fujifilm claims AF speeds as fast as 0.08 seconds. Whether the X100S can actually focus faster than 10th of a second it's hard to say, but it is significantly quicker than the COOLPIX A. In good light, with distant subjects the X100S locks focus and beeps almost instantaneously. I also tested the X100S alongside the Olympus XZ-2 and it's faster than that too.

The X100S has three AF modes, AF-S, AF-C and Manual which are selected by setting a switch on the left side of the body. In AF-S mode you can select one of 25 AF areas using the Optical viewfinder, or from 49 areas if you're using the screen or EVF. But you can't change the size of the AF area and the X100S lacks the COOLPIX A's Face priority and tracking modes.

Push the focus mode selector to Manual and you can use the electronically-coupled lens ring to set the focus. If you're using using the screen or the EVF the image will look blurred if it's out of focus, but that's obviously not the case with optical viewfinder. A distance scale is provided on all three displays with a scale that can be displayed in Imperial or metric units, but for the electronic displays the X100S places a couple of other useful manual focus aids in your field of view. The first of these, a kind of homage to the original rangefinder, is the World's first digital split image display, which displays a monochrome area in the centre of the screen which splits the image into three horizontal strips which must be aligned for accurate focus.

If you prefer a more modern kind of manual focus aid, the X100S also offers Sony-style focus peaking, which surrounds in-focus detail with a white halo. It's quite effective, but unlike the Sony system you can't change the colour or level of the highlighting. Both of these systems are a real bonus in low light conditions where its often difficult to tell if the focus is spot on. And this is also an advantage the X100S scores over the RX1 which, remarkably, lacks Sony's focus peaking feature. One final point worth mentioning is that the focus ring on the X100S's lens is now much more responsive, allowing fine tuning in small increments if you move slowly, but also covering the full range with a quick twist.

 

Fujifilm X100S Continuous shooting

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The Fujifilm X100S offers two continuous shooting speeds - 3fps for a burst of 44 JPEG frames or a faster 6fps rate for a burst of 31 JPEG frames. For RAW+JPEG shooting, both modes are limited to 9 Frames. That’s a slight improvement on the 5fps top speed of its predecessor and a considerable increase on its buffering capability of up to 10 JPEGs or 8 RAW frames.

To test the continuous shooting performance of the X100S I fitted it with a 16GB Sandisk Extreme Pro UHS-1 card with transfer rate of 95MB/s and set it to Large Fine JPEG quality. I set the drive mode to the fastest 6fps setting, set the shutter speed to 1/250 and held down the shutter release. The X100S fired off more than 100 frames and probably would have continued until the card was full. The first 60 frames sounded pretty consistent and I timed them at a rate of just under 6fps, after that the rate slowed to an average of 4.5fps for the remaining frames.

Switching to RAW, the X100S shot 8 frames slightly faster than 6fps before slowing to a rate of around one frame per second. The buffer took 8.6 seconds to empty RAW files and 4.6 seconds to empty JPEGs.

If you're shooting JPEGs the X100S provides respectable continuous shooting close to the claimed 6fps rate. By comparison, the COOLPIX A can shoot a 100-frame JPEG burst at a slightly slower 4.5fps, but it manages an 18 frame RAW burst at that speed, so, for JPEGs at least, the X100S is faster. It's also worth noting that, with its hybrid optical viewfinder, the X100S provides a continuous view of the action while you're shooting, greatly increasing the chances of a successful sequence, whereas with the COOLPIX A and other models that rely on a screen you're always one frame behind the action.

Fujifilm X100S Sensor

The X100S uses the same 16 Megapixel X-Trans CMOS sensor developed for the X-Pro 1 and X-E1 mirrorless compact system models. The key difference between it and conventional sensors is the colour filter array. In a traditional digital camera sensor, each photo site is covered by a coloured filter arranged in a repeating pattern. The most common pattern uses a two-by-two square array with one red, one blue and two green filters; this is known as the Bayer pattern after the Kodak engineer who invented it. Software then interprets this data to generate a full colour image in a process known as de-mosaicing.

The problem with the Bayer pattern is that very fine details can cause undesirable colour artefacts known as moiré. The solution on traditional camera sensors is to slightly blur the fine detail using a low-pass filter placed in front of the sensor. This effectively reduces moiré, but at the cost of losing the finest details.

  Bayer pattern: 2x2   X-Trans pattern: 6x6
   
       

Fujifilm's X-Trans sensor claims to avoid moiré by employing a different pattern of filters which more closely resembles the random nature of film grain. So instead of the traditional two-by-two Bayer pattern, the X-Trans sensor employs a six-by-six repeating pattern with a less regular arrangement of coloured filters within. You can see how this looks in the diagram opposite, reproduced from the Fujifilm brochure.

Fujifilm reckons this new pattern is so effective that moiré is reduced to an extent that eliminates the need for a low-pass filter altogether. This means the full resolution of the sensor is unlocked and the company claims the 16 Megapixel X-Trans will match or even out-perform full-frame sensors.

The more complex pattern does, however, require a more intensive de-mosaicing process to generate a full colour image, and to cope with the number-crunching, Fujifilm has equipped the X100S with its new EXR Processor II. A new and complex pattern also needs more involved RAW processing, at the time of writing support for the X-Trans sensor's RAW files is slowly materialising with improved support in ACR 7.4.

Moving onto the actual photos, the X-Trans sensor delivers 3:2 shaped images with a maximum resolution of 4896x3264 pixels. 16:9 and 1:1 cropped aspect ratios are also available, and each shape is additionally offered at two lower resolutions if desired. Images can be recorded as JPEGs, RAW files or RAW plus JPEG. The sensitivity ranges from 200-6400 ISO and is expandable down to 100 ISO and up to 25600 ISO. Auto ISO can be limited to a maximum of 400 to 3200 ISO.

Whereas the interchangeable lens X-series models have a focal plane shutter, the X100S is fitted with a leaf shutter. This has a shutter speed range of 30 seconds to 1/4000th, but one of the limitations of the leaf shutter is that is has a maximum speed of 1/1000 with the aperture wide open at f2.0

To see how the quality of the Fujifilm X100S measures-up in practice, take a look at my Fujifilm X100S quality and Fujifilm X100S noise results pages, browse my Fujifilm X100S images, or skip to the chase and head straight for my verdict.

 

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Photographing the 4th Dimension: time
eBook by Jim M Goldstein
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A great-looking and highly informative eBook for anyone interested in long exposure photography. Whether you're into painting with light, capturing star-trails or creating timelapse video, author Jim M Goldstein has the answers. One of my favourite eBooks to date and one you'll want in your collection even if it's just to browse the great images.
     
All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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