Fujifilm X100S Ken McMahon, May 2013
 
   
 

Fujifilm X100S verdict

The Fujifilm X100S is the successor to the X100, a model that almost single-handedly rekindled the market for high quality advanced compacts with fixed lenses. With its hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, bright f2 lens and retro rangefinder styling, after a shaky debut, solidified with a succession of firmware updates, the X100 attracted an enthusisatic following.

With the X100S, Fujifilm has sensibly retained the most popular aspects of its predecessor, namely the design and control layout, but on the inside much has changed. At the heart of the X100S is a new 16 Megapixel APS-C sensor, similar to the X-Pro1 and X-E1 interchangeable lens X-Series models but with phase-detect points on the sensor for faster, more confident AF.

The viewfinder is updated with a new EVF increased in resolution to 2,360k dots and sporting new split image and peaking aids for manual focusing. The manual focus experience has also been improved with a more responsive lens focus ring which adjusts focus in varying amounts depending on the speed with which the ring is turned. For those who like their retro, but aren't averse to a little digital manipulation there are new 'Advanced filters' - art effect filters including miniature and soft focus, albeit not applicable to video. The earlier model's film simulation options are retained with the addition of the Pro Neg options from the X-Pro 1. The 720p video mode is dropped but you now have the option of full 1080p HD recording at 60fps as well as 30fps.

While the biggest changes are of course the new sensor, improved AF and upgraded viewfinder, there's a raft of smaller improvement and enhancements like faster start-up time, faster continuous shooting with a larger buffer, 1:1 aspect ratio, and a protective coating on the viewfinder. There are some minor niggles; the problem with unresposive buttons persists and the X100S can be difficult to wake from sleep. the new 1080p60 movie mode is a welcome addition, but movie shooting otherwise still feels like a bit of an afterthought. And though it supports Eye-Fi cards, built-in Wi-Fi and GPS would be a welcome addition. But it's hard to be disappointed in the X100S, it's a superb camera that's, highly capable, beautiful to look at, and a pleasure to use.

   
 

 

Compared to Nikon COOLPIX A

     
 
 
     
     

The Nikon COOLPIX A has a lot in common with the X100S, but though they share similarities in the specifications, the approach and ethos of these two models is very different. The COOLPIX A is a smaller, lighter, more portable compact with an integral lens cover, it's much more of a 'take anywhere' camera than the X100S.

Nikon has opted for a fixed focal length 28mm equivalent wide angle, compared with the 35mm equivalent on the X100S. While the 28mm is great for landscapes, indoor shots and large group photos, it's not a great all-round focal length, it isn't well-suited to portraiture and you really need to get close in to your subject. The X100S's 35mm lens can't match the COOLPIX A for broader wide angle coverage but is much better for all-round shooting. It's also a stop brighter which means you can choose lower ISO settings in poor light and the larger aperture and slightly longer focal length provide shallower depth of field.

Both models have sensors that share the same physical size and 16 Megapixel resolution, but the COOLPIX A sensor uses a conventional Bayer colour filter array and the X100S has an unconventional architecture which does away with the need for a low-pass optical filter. Whatever the technicalities, both cameras produce excellent quality images, but the X100S trounces the COOLPIX A at higher ISO sensitivites, where it keeps the noise levels impressively low. The X100S also has on-sensor phase detect AF points making for faster AF performance. In its favour, the COOLPIX A offers Face-priority and subject tracking, AF options absent on the X100S.

While the COOLPIX A may be smaller and lighter than the X100S its compactness is largely due to the absence of any kind of viewfinder compared with two on the X100S. You can buy an expensive optical viewfinder for the COOLPIX A, but it's really no comparison for the sophisticated hybrid optical/electroninc viewfinder on the X100S. The COOLPIX A's 3 inch screen is slightly bigger than the 2.8 inch screen of the X100S and is higher resolution with 921k dots compared with 460k, but this is small compensation for the lack of a viewfinder, something that buyers in this market tend to place a value on.

Both models offer a built-in flash with the ability to control other off-camera units and both provide a hotshoe. And, as you'd expect, they both also offer fully manual control over exposure, though they go about it in different ways, with conventional aperture and shutter speed controls on the X100S and a command dial and rotary selector on the COOLPIX A. They both offer similar auto bracketing with 3 frames at up to +/- 1EV on the X100S and +/- 2EV on the COOLPIX A. The X100S has faster continuous shooting at 6fps compared with 4.5fps on the COOLPIX A, but the latter offers built-in interval timer functions for time-lapse photography.

The COOLPIX A offers a wider range of HD video modes than the X100S with full 1080p HD at 30, 25 and 24fps compared with 1080p30 and 1080p60 on the X100S. Though both have built-in stereo mics, the X100S also allows you to attach an external mic. Neither has a dedicated movie recording button, requiring you to select movie mode from the drive menu before shooting. Both will allow you to change the Aperture before you start recording, but the COOLPIX A also lets you select the shutter speed and ISO sensitivity, so is a better choice if exposure control for movies is important to you.

With both models similarly priced you'll need to decide what's most important to you. Differences in specifications and features aside, the COOLPIX A offers compactness and portability along with a capacious wide-angle, the X100S is bigger and bulkier and better suited to those with a hankering for conventional controls and eye-level shooting.

See my Nikon COOLPIX A review for more details.

 

Compared to Sony RX1

     
 
 
     
     

Anyone in the market for a fixed lens advanced compact with outstanding image quality must, at some point include the Sony RX1 on their wish list. If it doesn't remain there very long, for most people the reason will be the price. But while not everyone can justify spending upwards of $2500 on what is, when all's said and done, a compact camera, the specifications do mark it out as something very special.

First, there's the sensor. The RX1 is the only fixed-lens compact that sports a full-frame sensor. With a resolution of 24.3 Megapixels that really does make it a pocket pro camera. Having said that, Fujifilm claims the 16 Megapixel X-trans sensor in the X100S can compete with full-frame sensors when it comes to quality, and that's something I plan to test in the future. The RX1's sensor is based on the one used in the SLT A99, but it lacks on-chip phase detect AF points, one of the key enhancements in the X100S.

The RX1 has a 35mm f2 lens, equivalent in both focal length and maximum aperture to the X100S. While that will give you the same field of view and low light performance, the RX1's bigger sensor will provide shallower depth of field. It has a larger higher resolution screen than the X100S - 3 inch 1228k dots compared with the 2.8 inch 460k dot screen of the X100S, but it lacks a built-in viewfinder; like the COOLPIX A there is an expensive optical viewfinder accessory, but Sony also manufactuers a cheaper 2.4m dot EVF, the FDA-EV1MK. One of the strengths and unique selling points of the X range are its viewfinders and the X100S offers a built-in hybrid optical / electronic viewfinder with a 2.35 million dot LCD.

The Sony RX1 is a more versatile video camera than the Fujifilm X100S, with a much wider choice of modes from VGA all the way up to 1080p60 at 28Mbps. It offers greater control over exposure during movie shooting and has a dedicated movie record button as well as a movie position on the mode dial. The X100S has no direct record button, so you have to first select movie shooting from the Drive mode menu and it offers only Aperture priority and Program exposure modes.

As much as it's worth weighing up these differences in specification though, as with the Nikon COOLPIX A, there's a difference in approach here that's just as, if not more important. The RX1 is a thoroughly contemporary design with minimal controls. Where they exist, physical controls are in the form of command dials, though it does have a dedicated aperture ring. The X100 on the other hand is a celebration of traditional camera styling and handling.

Then, of course, there's the price. You could by two X100S's for the price of one RX1 and still have enough change for a leather case and wide angle conversion lens. For professionals this won't be so much of an issue, but for those who take pictures for pleasure, rather than for a living, the X100S looks like a much more practicable and no less desirable option.

See my Sony Cyber-shot RX1 review in progress.

 

 

Fujifilm X100S final verdict

The Fujifilm X100S builds on the success of its predecessor, the X100, with a new sensor, faster, more accurate focusing and a raft of other improvements. Fujifilm has concentrated on improving what needed it and fixing (most of) what was broken, while leaving what what best and most loved well alone - namely the X100's retro styling, composition and traditional controls.

Those who came to appreciate the unique qualities of the X100, will like the X100S even more and it's a fair bet that it will continue to appeal to enthusiasts looking for a high quality advanced fixed lens compact as well as those casual photographers with an eye for beautiful design as well as cash to spare. The joy of using the X100S was only slightly marred by the occassional reluctance of the controls to respond, particularly when waking from sleep mode. And, though it goes against the retro grain, it would be nice to see built-in support for Wi-Fi and GPS. Those fairly minor criticisms aside, the X100S is a great success that will undoubtedly prove to be even more popular than its predecessor and comes Highly Recommended.

 



Good points
16MPX X-Trans CMOS sensor.
Fast Hybrid AF with manual focus aids.
Hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder.
Bright f2 35mm equivalent fixed lens.
Excellent high ISO noise performance.

Bad points
Viewfinder prone to light leaks.
1/1000 min shutter speed at f2.
Lacks built-in wi-fi and GPS.
Limited movie exposure options.
Buttons occassionally unresponsive.






Scores

(relative to 2013 High-endcompacts)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

17 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
17 / 20
16 / 20

86%
   

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