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Op-Ed: My Time With the Fuji X100s

Gear Talk

It’s been a while since I first got my hands on the Fuji X100s, and in that time, I’ve carried this little thing with me just about everywhere I go (including on my honeymoon). I’ve also gotten a few questions about it that range from my general opinion of the Fuji cameras, to what settings I shoot with.

In this Op-Ed, I’ll answer a few of those questions and also put down some of my thoughts about why this camera has turned out to be the sensation that it has. It’s not a full review – for that you’ll have to head over to the one I wrote for Chase Jarvis’ website.

First, the questions….

The Fuji X100s

The Fuji X100s

Is the X100s really that much better than the X100?

Yes. Yes it is.

Really?

Yes, really.

Why?

Well, for starters, it focuses a heck of a lot faster. In fact, it’s one of the quickest-focusing compact cameras out there. I love the X-Trans sensor in it, too; I trust this thing to put out great images with solid dynamic range and color accuracy. Low-light performance is incredible, all the way to ISO 6400. Manual focusing aids like Peaking are a nice touch, and welcome.

Okay. What’s your one key favorite feature?

Low-light performance. Love it, love it, love it.

It’s that good?

Yes. Here, look:

The Transamerica Pyramid building at ISO 6400.

The Transamerica Pyramid building at ISO 6400.

That’s at ISO 6400, straight out of camera JPEG.

Also, that’s shot at 1/8 of a second and is plenty sharp. Leaf shutters for the win.

Cool. Would you replace your DSLR with it?

Nope. I know some photographers have, or have augmented their Medium-Format systems with a combination of Fuji X-Pro1/X-E1 and X100s cameras. I’m not in a position to do that; as a generalist, I shoot enough of a variety of projects that I need the flexibility of a DSLR system that can be adapted to shoot everything from Macro to birds in flight.

Fuji still lacks a solid lens in the 70-200mm f/2.8 category (the new 55-200 is a bit too slow on the zoom end), as well as anything in the tilt-shift range. Also, I need blazing-fast Continuous AF (like the one on the 5D Mark III), and even with the new AF system, the Fujis aren’t fast enough.

What do you not like about it?

I don’t like the grip. Without additional add-ons, it feels like it’s slipping in my hands when I carry it around in one hand sometimes. There are add-ons available for this, but I wish Fuji had given it little something in the front to make it more “grippable”.

What sort of settings do you normally shoot with?

I like the B&W JPEGs coming out of the Fuji, so I shoot in RAW+JPEG mode (so I can have the best of both worlds) and treat them as separate files in Lightroom. I usually chose the Red filter setting for B&W images for high contrast, and I turn on the Dynamic Range (DR) setting to 400%, the maximum. My ISO is set to Auto, with a range of 200-6400 and my minimum shutter speed to 1/30th. Usually, this means that my shots are taken at a minimum of ISO 800, all the way up to 6400. If necessary, the X100s will let the shutter speed drop down below 1/30 in low-light situations.

I also shoot mostly in Aperture Priority mode, with the electronic viewfinder on. I turn on the leveling display so I can keep my camera as level as possible, and I turn off the LCD to conserve power.

These settings generally provide plenty of flexibility for a variety of shooting situations. I will occasionally switch the film emulation mode to Velvia or some other setting, but roughly 80% of the time, it’s set to B&W.

Monochrome + Red Filter: My personal favorite settings on the X100s.

Monochrome + Red Filter: My personal favorite settings on the X100s.

Is the dynamic range setting really all that effective?

The results are subtle, but they’re there. I’d rather have the benefit of it, given it doesn’t hurt me in the process.

Any last words?

Yeah. The X100s is an exceptional camera, and it has put a new spin on my shooting.

I spent a while talking to an artist friend of mine a while back. She has this set of brushes she uses, from a manufacturer named Winsor and Newton. They’re made from Kolinsky Sable hair, and some types are expensive as $150 or more. She’s had her set for some time now, but recently managed to snap the stem of one of the brushes.

The local art supply store didn’t carry this brand, so she bought a replacement. She hated it; hated the feel of it, the way it held paint, the lines it created, even the feel of it. She put that brush down and went to work on other parts of her canvas till her replacement, ordered online, came in.

The W&N Series 7 Standard Kolinksy Round 8 brush. Priced at $166.97.

The W&N Series 7 Standard Kolinksy Round 8 brush. Priced at $166.97.

As artists, we can be finicky like that. We tend to obsess over our tools, and the argument that gear doesn’t matter, while true enough at its core, doesn’t account for individual tastes and preferences. As a painter, my friend didn’t want to fight her brush to create her painting. As a photographer, I don’t want to fight my camera. Moreover, I suspect that there’s a feedback loop at play here; the more pleasure we gain from (among other things) using tools that suit us, the more inspired and productive we are in our creative endeavors.

The X100s is like that for me. It’s a tool that suits me well, and I don’t have to fight it to get the results I want (I did with its predecessor). Moreover, it’s a camera that, because of its design and handling, simply feels good in my hand. It brings to mind something that writer Manjula Martin said of San Franciscans: ” [we] may love new tech, but we love things that look old.” The X100′s retro styling catches the eye surely enough, but through its looks and build, which are evocative of the Leica rangefinders of old, it also connects you to the rich and storied history and heritage of photography. Indeed, photographer Zack Arias has gone so far as to call Fuji “the new Leica.”

That’s a lot of artsy-fartsy stuff there, dude.

Kinda, yeah. But that’s part of the beauty of the Fuji. It’s one of the few digital cameras I’ve worked with that has soul. Looking through the viewfinder, zooming with your feet, framing the shot, then hearing the soft, barely audible click of that leaf shutter; this camera just distills photography down to the barest essentials: great glass, a small body, and the kind of styling that a modern-day Henri Cartier-Bresson would have been happy with.

The Fuji X100s is available for rent now.

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. You can find his portfolio on his website at sohail.me as well as on 500px and Flickr.

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Comments

  • leehamm says:

    The x100s is a great camera, that has re-invigorated my enthusiasm for photography! It takes me back to my first rangefinder camera, a Hanimex, at the age of 9 or 10. And the x100s can be used with one hand! It can shoot infrared, with only an external filter.

  • Mark says:

    The X100s is fantastic, and I recently went so far as to say on Twitter it’s the best overall camera I’ve ever owned (I currently own about 20 cameras, including an X100), but it is not without its faults. The most glaring one to me is it, like other Fujis, have problems rendering pure fire engine reds. An example: http://www.flickr.com/photos/coffeegeeker/9235406427/ . I have similar problems with the XF1 Fujifilm I own, and the X100 had some problems too, but not as bad as the X100s (considering the very different sensor technologies, I wonder if this is a firmware issue with Fuji). It’s especially noticable when shooting with the Velvia film simulation, but also with Provia and Astia.

    Shot to shot time is not great either, but I live with it. Very happy with the focus improvements. And while I love the immense improvements in the X-Trans sensor, I do feel the X100 (vs the X100s) offered a more “film like” monochromatic grain in higher ISO images – it seems more random, chaotic like film is for grain (noise on the X100); the X100s’ high ISO noise is more uniform and distinctly digital, though it retains most of the monochromatic nature of the X100.

    The other problem is just a problem I don’t expect to be fixed: the X100s, like the X100, doesn’t handle flare very well.

  • [...] more reviews on mirrorless systems, be sure to check out Sohail Mamdani’s Op-Ed on the Fuji X100s and his Leica Diary [...]

  • […] Another retro beauty, the X100s comes equipped with film simulations, a fast 23mm fixed lens, and a 16MP sensor. It also shoots full HD video and supports a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder. Don’t like the idea of a fixed lens? Try out the Fuji X-Pro 1 instead. It shoots RAW, sports cool analog dials and pairs with the following lenses: Fuji XF 18mm f/2.0 R, Fuji XF 35mm f/1.4, Fuji XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro, and the XF 27mm f/2.8. More info on the Fuji X100s here. […]

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