This last weekend we drove out to Cedar Mesa, Utah for one last desert camping trip for the season. We arrived a few hours prior to sunset, found a nice spot to car camp, and eventually lit a little fire to enjoy. After being glued to the computer the last few weeks, the fire, stars, and open space were balm for my soul! The next morning we would wake up early and embark on a three-day backpacking loop through Fish Creek and Owl Creek Canyons.
For this trip I decided to leave my workhorse Canon camera and lenses at home, instead opting to travel light with only my new little Fujifilm X100S large sensor compact camera. These three days in the canyons provided a good opportunity to get to know the X100S. Since it’s a popular new camera I will write a “mini review” of my first impressions below, and this post will be more of a camera report than a trip report. All these photos were taken with the X100S, but please note that some are stitched panos and most of them are adjusted in photoshop to some degree.
The photo above is a two-shot stitch taken with the X100 28mm wide-angle conversion lens (the X100S has a fixed 35mm equivalent lens, and the 28mm conversion lens screws on top of that).
My main purpose for purchasing the X100S was as a supplemental snapshot/action camera. My full frame Canon with tilt/shift lenses is definitely my go-to camera for serious landscape photography, but it’s nice to have a compact camera that I can carry on the chest strap of my backpack for shots while hiking, snowboarding, etc. For the last several years I’ve been using Panasonic GF1 and GX1 cameras with 20mm (40mm equivalent) pancake lens for this purpose. From what I read the X100S seems like a major upgrade in this department, with a similar focal length but with far superior resolution and high ISO capabilities (the achilles heel of the micro-4/3 cameras).
Despite my original intention of using the X100S solely as a supplemental action/snapshot camera, I wanted to give this camera the full test on this trip to see if it would be possible to use as primary system when I really want to travel fast and light.
Like many photographers, when I’m interested in new camera gear I do lots of research – probably too much. Most reviewers of the Fujifilm X100S have been enamored with the camera, singing praises like “It brings the joy back to photography!” and “the X100S is the greatest camera I’ve ever owned.”
My crash course experience with this camera in the field was not quite so rosy; in fact, I was repeatedly frustrated and had to refer to the owner’s manual to figure out how to do certain simple things. Granted part of this is just a steep learning curve for a new Fuji user, but I do think that the camera operations and menu systems are inherently quirky and unintuitive compared to other cameras I use. I often found myself having to take two or three steps to do things that should be accomplished in one. More on that below.
This photo is another two-shot stitch with the wide-angle conversion lens, each exposure at 30 sec, f/2.8, ISO 5000.
After three days working with this camera, I have decided that I will be returning the wide-angle conversion lens. The main deal breaker is that when you put the conversion lens on, you’re supposed to change a camera setting that applies some image distortion correction to the image files. The lens is not automatically detected; you have to change this setting manually. To avoid diving into the menu system every time, I programmed the customizable Fn button to make this menu option more quickly accessible, but still it’s nearly impossible to always remember to switch this setting! Numerous times I accidentally shot a series of photos with the wide-angle lens on and the correction off, or vice versa. Just maddening. I can only imagine how many times this would happen when some killer shot (or series of shots) is marred by having the wrong lens correction setting.
Both of the images above are two-shot vertical stitches put together in Autopano Pro; the one on the left with the standard/fixed 35mm lens, the one on the right with the add-on 28mm conversion lens. The 35mm lens seems to have very low distortion and makes for easy panorama stitching. The wide-angle conversion lens has quite a bit of distortion and about half my pano attempts with that lens failed.
The photo above was another pano, this time a vertical stitch of three horizontal shots also taken with the 28mm conversion lens.
So far, I’ve griped a bit about the X100S’s menu operations and the wide-angle conversion lens, but there’s a whole lot of great things going for this camera.
FUJIFILM X100S: WHAT I LIKE
• Compact size with very high image-quality/weight ratio.
• Very impressive image resolution! The innovative X-Trans sensor technology delivers sharpness of detail greater that you’d expect from a 16 megapixel camera.
• Really good high ISO image quality. I can’t really tell any difference between ISO 200 or 800; even ISOs of 1000, 2000, or even higher are very clean and useable. Combined with the large f/2 maximum aperture, this is definitely a low-light shooter’s camera!
• Out of camera JPG files are very sharp – every bit as sharp as what can be produced from RAW files. This is quite rare in the camera world, and it is very very tempting to shoot all JPG with this camera!
• Fast 6 frame per second continuous shooting.
• Quick and reliable autofocus.
• Manual aperture ring, shutter speed dial, and exposure compensation dials make for easy manual exposure shooting.
• Short macro focus range of 10cm allows for close up framing options.
• Focus Peak Highlight feature is great for quick manual focussing. (Though magnified manual focussing is terrible, see below).
• Almost totally silent shutter noise could be advantageous in certain situations.
• The camera uses the same NP-95 batteries that Fujifilm has been using for years. That means the extra batteries I had from my ancient Fujifilm F30 camera still work with the X100S. Very cool.
FUJIFILM X100S: WHAT I DON’T LIKE
• Magnified manual focussing is flawed. When you need to zoom in to check focus on certain parts of the image, you cannot simply move around the image while zoomed in; you have to press the AF button, change the focus point selector, then zoom in again. So dumb.
• The camera resets the Timer setting every time you turn it off. This means that if you’re shooting on a tripod with the 2 second timer to reduce camera shake, you have to reselect the 2 second timer from the Q menu every single time you turn the camera on. Again, dumb.
• The three programmable custom settings are too limited in what they can remember. For example they don’t remember the Drive mode, Timer setting, or Wide-angle conversion correction setting – all of which would have been the most useful to me for the custom settings.
• The Wide-angle conversion lens image correction setting must be selected manually and it’s easy to forget to switch it on, or to switch it off after removing the lens – which can result in many ruined images.
• Playback options are too limited. For example, I always set my cameras to show the blinking blown highlights, but with the X100S you can only view those on the histogram display screen, where the image is super tiny. Pretty useless.
• Continuous Drive shooting mode generates different filenames than Single-shot mode, with a convoluted numbering system that jumbles up the file sequences when viewing the images on the computer.
If you’re an optimist, the bright side is that all of the bad things I just listed are firmware-related issues that could potentially be solved by future firmware updates.
FUJIFILM X100S: TIPS
• The Lowepro Apex 60 AW is a perfect size pouch for the X100S.
• The tripod screw thread is located right next to the battery door, which is kind of a poor design since most quick release plates will then block the battery door. However, Hejnar Photo’s 1.25 inch plate with ridge, model D20 is a perfect quick release plate for the Fujifilm X100S – small and minimal, allowing access to the battery door.
• They ship this camera with a battery charger that has an enormously long thick power cord which is bigger than the camera itself. Why do so many camera manufactures do this?! Anyhow, a hack for this is to replace the power cord with an Apple power adaptor plug, which fits perfectly and is far more compact for traveling. You can pick these up on eBay for a couple bucks.
FUJIFILM X100S: IN A NUTSHELL
My three day trial by fire of the Fujifilm X100S gave me a clear perspective on this camera and where it will fit in my photography pursuits. I had some small hope that this camera could be a viable option as a streamlined standalone camera system for fast and light backpacking trips. But, I have concluded that this is not feasible due to the inherent limitation of a fixed 35mm lens, the usability issues with the 28mm conversion lens, and the flawed manual focus operation and other frustrating operational quirks.
I should mention that most of those operational quirks are mainly relevant to tripod work, something that I will normally be doing with my Canon SLR setup anyways. For what I bought the X100S for – as a supplemental compact, handheld, autofocus, snapshot/action/street camera – this camera will do its job and will do it very well, with its superb image quality and high ISO performance. And for this type of photography, I’ve found that in some ways having a fixed focal length is liberating in that once I’ve grow accustomed to it, I’m able to visualize and frame shots faster than with a zoom lens. When I absolutely need a wider angle of view, I can take two or three photos to stitch together later.
I would not recommend the 28mm wide-angle conversion lens for the X100S, mainly because of the annoying lens correction setting issue that I described above, but also because one of the main advantages of the X100S is its compact size, and once you add the conversion lens you’ve got a bigger camera necessitating a bigger pouch. If you’re looking for a similar do-it-all camera system, consider the Fujifilm X-E1 instead, which is a small interchangeable lens camera.
All in all I’m stoked on the Fujifilm X100S – it’s not a do-it-all camera but it’s a real upgrade from the Panasonic GX1 that it’s replacing, and I look forward to sharing many more photos from it over the next years.