Fujifilm X100s: The Best Damn Camera I’ve Ever Owned
It seems somehow wrong to say that something as silly as a piece of gear made me love photography in a completely new way, but the Fujifilm X100s did just that. I wasn’t able to get my hands on one before leaving for Bangkok, but when I learned that AV Camera had this guy in stock for cheaper than I would have paid in Canada, I took a trip over there and made the decision to wreck my budget by buying this little life-saver. It was so hot in Bangkok at that time of year, that I was finding it extremely difficult to hump my SLR and associated junk around town with it. The SLR felt obnoxious and intrusive, and the bag required to carry everything left me sweaty and exhausted. Switching to the X100s for my street photography gave me the opportunity to move freely and without burden, and to shoot in conditions that my D300 just couldn’t handle. I’m talking handheld ISO 5000 ƒ/2 at 1/60s after the sun has set. And the images at that ISO are GOOD. Not amazing, but completely useable for printing full page in most magazines or displaying on any website.
What really got me was the fixed 35mm lens. I was very close to buying the Olympus O-MD E-M5, but I just didn’t want to deal with interchangeable lenses. I wanted simple, and the X100s delivers that in spades.
The X100s just feels good in my hand. The dials and buttons all make sense and are easy enough to access, and I LOVE the manual aperture ring. I was shooting almost entirely with the OFV (Optical Viewfinder), but lately I’m using the EFV (Electronic Viewfinder) to get a better idea of what how my settings are going to handle the scene. I have image review turned off, and I try not to spend too much time chimping playback. The high ISO performance lets me shoot late into the evening without having to resort to a flash or tripod, and the leaf shutter means I can sync way the hell over 1/200s when I pair with my Elinchrom Quadras. The camera is light, low-key, quiet as a whisper, and just super fun to use. I find people aren’t nearly as intimidated by the X100s as they are when I’m shoving my D300 with battery grip and 24-70mm ƒ/2.8 in their face.
I almost forgot the built-in 3 stop neutral density filter. I’ve remapped my Function button to engage the ND filter, and I use it all the time to shoot wide open apertures in bright conditions.
The Not So Great
I struggle with the minimum focusing distance when using the OVF (50cm). I’m aware of the manual focus AFL/AEL trick, but I’ve yet to switch over to it. I’m reasonably quick at switching over to Macro mode with out taking my eye away from the viewfinder, but that’s a pain in the ass for the distances I often shoot portraits at. I’ve blown focus on a few street portraits after I’ve asked someone if I could get in their face. Now that I’m working with the EVF more, this is much less of a problem as the minimum focusing distance is reduced to 21cm.
Other than that? Um… nothing to complain about. Some people have complained about the menus being confusing, but I found them completely intuitive. At $1,299 MSRP, It should really come with a filter adapter and lens hood.
This camera really should come with a filter adapter and lens hood. The stock cap is good enough for casual use, but most people are concerned about losing it and having the front element exposed. Since I don’t want to have to send the whole camera in for a scratched lens, I knew I wanted a UV filter and hood so I could ditch the cap altogether. The problem is that the Fujifilm version is ridiculously expensive, and the aftermarket options just don’t look that great. After a lot of procrastination on ordering something, I finally found my solution in Camera Traders in Victoria, BC. In five minutes they’d knocked the glass out of a crappy old 49mm filter to use as a spacer, mounted a UV filter, and found me a Asahi Takumar lens hood from the 70s. Total cost? $20 instead of the $90+ I would have paid to buy branded, or the $60 to buy aftermarket. I’m still looking for a better strap, but the one I’m using now cost me all of $3 and is long enough that I can carry it across my body and still lift it quickly to grab a shot. The lens hood does get in the way of the OFV, but I find I’m working more with the EFV anyways.
As loathe as I was to switch over, I’m shooting almost exclusively in JPEG these days. I’ll switch over to RAW if something is really important, but after tweaking my presets to where I want them, I’m very happy with what I’m getting straight out of camera most of the time. I tend to leave the shutter speed set to A so I can run it in aperture priority mode, and I have no problems letting my ISO run up to 6400 when it needs to. The default ISO is down at 200 except where my C1 preset has it higher in order to run a constant Dynamic Range of 400. C1 is my low light and everyday setting, C2 is what I use when shooting nature on perfectly bright days, and C3 is for portraits and times when I want to play a little softer with my processing.
Here’s a handful of X100s frames from the last few months. Click on an image to pull up the gallery. Basic EXIF is displayed, and I tried to include whatever post processing I’d done on any of the images. The shot of the soldier and the woods had dramatic work done, but the rest are quite close to how they were shot. Had I dialled in my presets when I shot those frames, I probably wouldn’t have need to fiddle with contrast adjustments after the fact.
These images are intended to represent a range of conditions where I would not have bothered taking my dSLR, or where my dSLR would have failed miserably without a tripod and stationary subjects. It is not a collection of my best photos, merely representative of my experience with the X100s.