Fuji X100S

Pentax Spotmatic, Leica M4, Canonet QL17, Fuji X100S
Black and chrome. Pentax Spotmatic, Leica M4, Canonet QL17, Fuji X100S.

For the last month or so I’ve been shooting with a Fuji X100S, a birthday present to myself. I’ve been eyeing the X100 series for about four and a half years now. When the original version came out I was definitely intrigued, but I was put off by the relatively high price and initial user reports of slow, quirky operation. I almost bought the S about a year ago, but then spent a large chunk of my camera fund on a phenomenal dinner with friends.

Output

It’s great, with one caveat. I recently started shooting JPG-only with my Olympus and Panasonic micro-4/3rds cameras, because I prefer editing photos on my iPad mini 2. The JPGs from the Fuji are really quite good…until you hit somewhere around ISO 3200 and the onboard processing obliterates fine detail and gives skin a weird waxy finish. Here’s what that looks like:

Amelia reading
Wax figure

The RAW files retain all that detail, however, so I have no qualms shooting at ISO 6400 when using RAW.

So I mostly shoot RAW+JPG these days, and for indoor shots I use Lightroom to generate JPGs that I drop into VSCO’s handy uploader utility. Seconds later the JPGs show up in the VSCO Cam iOS app, ready for editing.

The 23mm f/2 lens (35mm equivalent) is pretty good for being so compact. It distorts quite a bit, and I prefer the results out of the 25mm f/1.4 (50mm equivalent) Panaleica that I use on my Olympus/Panasonic cameras. But I’m finding the innate characteristics of lenses matter less and less these days when so much of an image rests on post-processing, whether that’s done in Lightroom or via a preset in VSCO Cam. Let’s just say that the lens is good enough. I’d say the X100S gives me about an extra stop to work with—it’s a stop slower on the lens front but gives me back two usable stops on the sensor end.

Amelia in a cape lit by the sunset
Superhero sunset

Fun

So if the output isn’t miles ahead of my micro-4/3rds gear, why bother? Well, it’s just plain fun to shoot with. It reminds me so much of the film rangefinders I used when I first got into photography. For a few years I shot with a Bessa R2A + Zeiss 35 f/2 combo and nothing else. When I stopped shooting film I kept wishing for something very specific—basically a digital version of my Canonet QL17: small body, small lens with a fast aperture, built-in viewfinder. There’s plenty of options (including interchangeable-lens ones) that have some of those things, but surprisingly few ones that tick all the boxes.

Having a real aperture ring again is fun—I can just count the clicks from wide-open to find the aperture that I want. (My only quibble is that it spins the reverse way from my Leica and Zeiss lenses, so it took about a week to rewire my brain.) The hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder is great—I can switch to optical for a crystal clear view that lets me see outside the frame, or I can switch to electronic for precise framing and exposure. Most days I shoot with the EVF, which surprised me a little. (I suppose if I were more of a street photographer I would use manual focus with the optical viewfinder, letting subjects walk into the frame.)

It also doesn’t hurt that it looks like a classic film camera, and people respond with curiosity when I’m shooting with it.

Oh, and because it’s a leaf shutter I can do high-speed flash sync. I have never explored flash photography before, but this makes it so easy to balance out exposures in daylight.

Cousins on a swing
High-speed flash sync. f/4, 1/1000s

Quirks

What do I not like? The thing chews through batteries—I keep three charged at all times, and I always carry a spare. The main dial on the back is a little fiddly. Autofocus is hit-or-miss sometimes, and I find that it’ll often lock onto something in the background by mistake. If the subject is heavily backlit, I know I’m going to have to use manual focus. It does have focus peaking but only in the color white, which is often hard to see (the T has different color options). That’s…pretty much it.

Bibingka and plum
Bibingka and plum

Why the “S”?

This year I actually had enough money saved up to buy the current model, the X100T. But I got a used S instead. Why? Well, for starters, it was $600 less. It also shares the same sensor and so the output is practically the same (the T does have a new film simulation, Classic Chrome, but more on that in a separate post). In a couple of years I can buy a used T or whatever ends up succeeding it. Until then I’ll keep clicking.

Dad and Milt eating corn
Row of corn
Amelia cutting basil
Cutting basil
Dad with a kite, waiting for a breeze
Waiting for the wind