Stuck in Manual

Vintage metal type on building exterior
Superior. Flatiron district, New York.

I’ve been shooting my Fuji X100S for almost a year now, and I’m at the point where I’ve settled in with it and am better able to evaluate it. In most regards not much has changed, but there is one big difference to how I’m shooting it these days: for about the last eight months I’ve shot it primarily using manual focus.

At first I started using manual focus as a response to slow/unreliable autofocus indoors, and I would switch back to using autofocus when I had good light. But lately I’ve realized that I put it in manual and rarely switch it back. I only notice it when I hand the camera to someone else and they ask why it won’t focus.

I have two big issues with the X100S’s autofocus. The first is reliability: sometimes it’ll just absolutely fail to focus, even in good light. Or it focuses, but not on the thing you actually wanted (usually an object far in the distance).

The second issue is that autofocus gets (re)set for every single shot. I realize that there’s an AF lock button, and I could use that, but every other camera I’ve owned locks in focus if you keep the shutter half-pressed between captures. The Verge noted this quirk of Fujifilm’s cameras in their review of the new X-Pro 2:

It helps that this is inexplicably the first X-Series model to let you take multiple shots by keeping the shutter half-pressed — previous cameras forced you to refocus or use the continuous AF mode, unlike basically every other mirrorless camera or DSLR on the planet.

So I have some hope that future versions of the X100 will finally bring autofocus accuracy and performance to the point where I trust it full-time.

Now that I’m using it as a manual focus cam, I’ve noticed a few things:

  • I mostly shoot with the EVF + focus peaking.
  • Only having white for the focus peaking color has been mostly a non-issue.
  • The manual focus ring on my unit will sometimes fail to respond. I have to toggle to one of the AF modes and back, sometimes leading me to miss a shot.
  • Not having hard stops on the focus ring bothers me. Granted, I’m comparing it to the Zeiss 35/f2 I used on my Bessa/Leica. But still. The Leica Q has hard stops (despite still being focus-by-wire, IIRC).
  • The feel of the manual focus ring is miles away from how a good Zeiss or Leica lens feels. On my unit it’s alternately loose and stiff through the rotation, and does not feel precise at all. (I bought mine used, so there may actually be some mechanical issues with the ring.)
  • I still miss having a tilt screen. I have two small kids, and their world is a lot lower to the ground.
Team Lunch. Central Park, New York.
Team Lunch. Central Park, New York. A tilt screen would have let me capture the birds perching on the feed bucket before the horse shooed them back.

What about the images, though? I’m still pretty happy with them. High-speed flash sync using the onboard flash has expanded my options in harsh/backlit situations. On the other hand, I’ve given up my dream of only shooting JPG due to the heavy-handed noise reduction at high ISOs. I shoot everything in RAW, make small adjustments in Lightroom, crank out JPGs, and sync them to VSCOCam for editing on my iPad. Apparently the new sensor and processor in the X-Pro2 allows you to dial down the noise reduction; yet another thing that hopefully makes its way into the next iteration of the X100.

Northern Explorer
Northern Explorer. High-speed sync is still fun.

So that pretty much makes up my wish list for the next iteration of the X100 line:

But wait—what about manual focus improvements? Those would be welcome, but the ironic thing is that if the autofocus is much improved, I’d shift back.