In 2011, the Fujifilm X100 took the world by storm, offering the style of a Leica M but at a more affordable price. We test its successor, the X100S, with upgraded 16.3-million-pixel sensor. Read the Fujifilm X100S review..
Fujifilm X100S review – at a glance:
- 16.3-million-pixel, APS-C-sized, X-Trans CMOS II sensor
- Fujinon 23mm (35mm equivalent on full-frame) f/2 lens
- ISO 100-25,600
- Hybrid viewfinder
- Full HD 1920×1080 capture at 60fps
- On-sensor phase-detection AF
- 0.5secs start-up time
- Street price around £1,099
- See sample images taken with the Fujifilm X100S
Fujifilm X100S review – Introduction
To say that the design of the Fujifilm X100 caused a stir among enthusiast photographers is a bit of an understatement. An online poll put to Amateur Photographer readers suggested that almost half of those who took part were prepared to buy an X100, even before the camera had been tested and therefore before they knew what the picture quality was like. The camera commands the same kind of interest as the Leica red dot, and has been followed by a number of popular digital cameras with similar retro appeal, including Fuji’s own extensive X series and models such as the Olympus OM-D E-M5. Thankfully, as the successor to the Fujifilm X100, the Fujifilm X100S carries virtually the same stylish exterior, but with numerous improvements that address some of the handling issues we discovered when we tested the X100 in AP 23 April 2011.
Those who bought the X100 on looks alone will have been pleased with its performance – our test of the camera confirmed its impressive picture quality. The X100S now features an upgraded sensor, which is the same 16.3-million-pixel, X-Trans model as that found in Fuji’s X-Pro1 and X-E1. Not only can we expect improved handling, then, but better images too.
A key aspect of the Fujifilm X100S is that it uses a fixed focal length lens – the same 23mm (35mm equivalent on full frame) f/2 optic as its predecessor, so there is no option for zooming in and out. This focal length is associated with street photography, but is also suitable for reportage, landscapes and environmental portraits. There is also a WCL-X100 wide conversion lens, which shortens the equivalent focal length to 28mm. This is the lens used during this test.
Image: Detail when shooting at f/16 is sharp. However, there is still a noticeable difference in the same scene when shot at f/4, where detail is crisper
With much the same body and lens as the earlier X100, one could be forgiven for wondering just what the X100S has to offer. Fuji tells us that there are more than 70 improvements to the X100S over the X100, in several important areas. It appears we have already seen many of these in the company’s X-E1, which was released at the end of last year, but some are unique to the X100S.
As mentioned, the new camera’s imaging sensor is the same 16.3-million-pixel, X-Trans unit as that found in Fuji’s X-Pro1 and X-E1 compact system cameras. The sensor’s colour filter array has a random pattern (unlike the common uniform pattern of the Bayer array), which reduces the risk of moiré and means an anti-aliasing filter over the sensor is no longer required. This, in turn, should mean that images are sharper.
During the launch of the X100S, Fuji showed a graph with data claiming that the camera resolves as much detail as a 24-million-pixel, full-frame camera. Certainly, the X-Pro1 and X-E1 resolved more detail in our tests than we would have expected from a 16-million-pixel camera – the images were very sharp. We can therefore expect a clear improvement in the images of the X100S over those from the 12.3-million-pixel X100. Furthermore, raw-format images are now recorded in 14-bit, rather than 12-bit in the X100, which provides approximately 4x the range of tones.
Another improvement to the X100S’s sensor is the introduction of on-sensor phase-detection autofocus. In the central 40% of the frame, 142,000 pixels (which are interpolated by surrounding pixels) are used both for the final image and for phase-detection AF. Also known as hybrid AF, the camera automatically switches between phase and contrast detection. Phase-detection AF requires just a single motor movement to locate the focus area, while contrast-detection AF can be slower as it may need to hunt back and forth for the focus point. The use of hybrid AF has quickened the AF speed to a claimed 0.08secs, compared to 0.22secs in the X100. There have also been key improvements to the way in which manual-focusing operates (see the Build and handling section for more on this).
Like the X-E1, the X100S uses Fuji’s latest EXR Processor II, and the overall response of the camera is quicker than before (again, see Build and handling for more details). Given that data is processed at a faster rate, the shooting modes benefit directly. For example, the continuous high-speed burst of 6fps lasts for more than 30 frames, depending on the memory card in use. Other shooting modes include motion panorama, a two-frame multiple exposure, eight different advanced filters and a number of bracketing modes for ISO, exposure, dynamic range and ‘film simulation’ (colour mode).
New to the X100S is Fuji’s Lens Modulation Optimiser (LMO). This is hardware built into the processor that, through digital processing, calculates diffraction and aberration of the lens to minimise both of these distortions in JPEG images. Being less prone to diffraction should allow the use of slower apertures – f/16, for example – with minimal impact on image sharpness (see Noise, resolution and sensitivity). This is good news for those who want the greatest depth of field possible without compromising on image sharpness. Fuji informs AP that this hardware could be introduced to a processor of an interchangeable lens camera, too. The new processor further benefits the camera by giving a cleaner signal, elevating the signal-to-noise ratio by 1EV and resulting in a 30% improvement in noise reduction.
Image: The 35mm focal length is ideal for portraits that include the surroundings
Not only does the Fuji X100S feature an improved focus ring for manual focusing, but it also offers three manual-focus assist modes, two of which are new. Standard mode simply activates focus magnification in live view, which can be viewed on the LCD screen or via the EVF. Focus peaking is new, although we have seen it before in cameras such as the Sony Alpha 77. Again, it works via live view, adding a high-contrast black line around subject edges that are in focus. There is a low and a high setting, designed for differing degrees of precision focusing. I would like to see different colour outlines other than black for focus peaking, such as red, because the black outline can be difficult to view clearly.
Most intriguing is the new digital split-image focus-assist function. I have been hoping for many years to see split-image focusing, inspired by a conventional rangefinder camera, to make its way into a digital model. It is possible in the X100S due to the inclusion of phase-detection pixels on the sensor. The central 40% of the frame that is covered by the phase-detection pixels is displayed in live view (on screen or via the EVF) in black & white, and then split into left and right images. Turn the manual-focus ring and the central portion of the live-view image is magnified, from which it is easier to view and line up the two images to achieve accurate focus.
This does not have quite the same feel as when using the ‘traditional’ method via the optical display, but nevertheless this assist function is useful. The manual-focus assist that works best depends on the scene being captured, but the X100S offers virtually the most comprehensive handling for manual focusing we’ve seen in a digital compact camera.
Build and handling
The bodies of the Fuji X100 and X100S are the same size, weight and form, with the same button positioning. The X100S looks great, and is well made, with a solid metal top-plate and dials. ‘Made in Japan’ is etched onto the rear and bottom of the camera. The textured leather exterior both looks and smells the part. As on the X100, there is no pronounced handgrip or thumb grip for a firm hold, but the X100S is large enough and light enough that this doesn’t matter.
It is the ‘S’ on the frontplate that differentiates the X100S from its predecessor. There are also a few minor changes to the functions of some of the buttons: the raw button of the X100 is now a quick menu button, as on Fuji’s CSCs; while the drive-mode button has switched places with the AF button and is now on the left of the rear screen, rather than on the control wheel. AF-S and AF-C have also swapped places on the focus switch, with AF-S now at the bottom to make it easier to flick the switch to this setting from MF as AF-S is more commonly used than AF-C. These are all minor changes.
A function button remains, and can hold up to one exposure control at a time. By default, it is set to ISO. Handily, auto ISO can be limited to particular sensitivities, set to a default ISO, and a minimum shutter speed is permitted up to 1/125sec. Therefore, for general use, auto ISO can be relied upon.
Image: The X100S may well have a fixed 35mm focal length, but the wide conversion lens transforms the focal length to 28mm. There is virtually no impact on image quality, so the conversion lens is in effect a second lens
The fixed 23mm lens is just like a pancake lens, and therefore adds very little depth to the camera. The whole unit can just about fit in a trouser pocket. The aperture ring of the lens rotates in full aperture stops, with suitable resistance. A 28mm (equivalent) wideangle converter is available, and removing the front lens ring exposes the thread onto which it screws. There is an on/off option in the menu when using the converter, in order to view and compose the scene correctly.
Manual focusing is around twice as fast as that on the X100, with the X100S requiring half the number of turns of its focus ring to go from its close-focus distance to infinity. This has been achieved by doubling the encoder pitch of the electronic focus ring of the X100 and is a welcome improvement.
Given that this camera is likely to be popular with street and reportage photographers, a quick start-up time and response are vital to its effectiveness. Thanks largely to the new processor, start-up time has been halved to 0.5secs, which is the same as the X-E1. Shutter lag is measured at 0.01secs, and there is a shooting interval time of around 0.5secs, again halved from the X100. With the X100S and X100 side by side, the difference in speed is clear, and not an improvement to gloss over.
White balance and colour
The colour rendition of Fuji’s X-series cameras is one of their strengths. Hardly a tweak is needed for JPEG files from the X100S, as they are generally spot on. In bright daylight, the standard colour mode produces punchy and realistic colours.
Using the vivid colour setting in such conditions produces overly saturated colours. Likewise, AWB retains the warm tone of evening sunlight – I could see little difference between this white balance setting and the sunny preset.
There are many colour modes, including a full set of filters in the black & white mode. Each colour mode is named after Fuji’s various film stock, such as Provia and Astia, and aims to replicate the effect. Colour bracketing in JPEG-only capture can record up to three colour modes (film stock) simultaneously, although raw images can be converted post-capture using any of the colour modes and white balance settings. However, I found little need to shoot in anything other than the standard colour mode and then make my changes in-camera.
Like the X100, the Fuji X100S offers a basic spot, centreweighted and evaluative metering set-up. TTL evaluative metering utilises 256 areas and is, overall, accurate. An exposure-compensation dial is next to where the thumb rests, on the top-plate. However, despite an improvement to the torque of the same dial as that on the X100, it can still be knocked so check before shooting – it is not unusual to take a series of images before realising that the setting has shifted. When shooting raw, it is possible to push/pull the processing post-capture, from +3EV to -1EV.
Noise, resolution and sensitivity
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured with the 23mm lens set to f/5.6 . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.
Featuring the same 16.3-million-pixel sensor as the X-Pro1 and X-E1, it is no surprise that the Fuji X100S is just as capable of reproducing fine image detail. I cannot help but be impressed by just how crisp this detail is, whether it is hair in a portrait, blades of grass in a landscape or the textures of brickwork in a street scene.
For this test I have processed raw files using Silkypix, converted the images to Tiff files and then edited them, along with the JPEG files, in Lightroom.
Our resolution charts indicate that the X100S can resolve up to the 32 marker when shooting in raw format and using an optimum aperture such as f/4 or f/5.6, which is close to what we would expect from a 24-million-pixel camera with anti-aliasing filter. JPEGs aren’t as sharp as raw files, resolving up to the 31 marker and then tailing off more noticeably at the higher sensitivities.
Close the aperture down from f/5.6 to f/16 and image detail becomes a little softer, as we would expect, but the Lens Modulation Optimiser processing has reduced the impact of diffraction on JPEGs so that images at this setting are still very usable. This is good news for photographers wanting sharp images with good depth of field, such as when capturing landscapes.
The ISO 200-6400 sensitivity range can be expanded to ISO 100-25,600 in JPEG format only. Detail is sharp in good light using the lower sensitivity settings, and continues to be so in low light and when using higher sensitivities, with images remaining clean. At ISO 1600, detail in night-time street scenes is crisp. There is more of a decline at ISO 3200, but the X100S still performs well in both good and low-contrast light.
Image: This JPEG image has been shot at ISO 3200, where detail is still quite crisp because luminance noise is well controlled
One element of the X100 we said could be improved was its autofocus, and thankfully this has been significantly developed in the Fuji X100S. As noted in the Features section, the AF system of the new camera is a hybrid type that combines phase and contrast-detection AF, rather than using contrast detection alone. Phase detection is typically the faster system in low light because it does not rely as heavily on good contrast to find focus. The real innovation here is that the 142,000 phase-detection pixels built into the sensor are also used for image capture, so resolved detail is not affected.
With the X100S and X100 set up side by side to record the same scene, there is little difference in the response in bright daylight. Both models are very quick, although the X100S just has the edge. In low-contrast light, however, the difference is noticeable, with the X100S having a faster response and a better hit rate for accurately focused images.
Spot AF can further improve AF accuracy. Any one of 49 areas can be selected, and the spot area set to one of four sizes, with the smallest being very precise.
LCD, viewfinder and video
Unlike the Leica X2, which is another stylish fixed-focal-length compact, the Fuji X100S offers video capture. Movie files can be recorded in 1920×1080-pixel full HD at 60fps, while the X100 offers 720p HD capture only. Photographers benefit from video capture because, as a consequence, the camera offers live view – although, of course, it can be switched off if desired. With live view activated, however, I found I was using the rear screen just as much as the viewfinder when composing images, and the compact size of the X100S makes it comfortable to hold away from the body. With its modest 2.8in display and 460,000-dot resolution, the LCD screen remains the same as that on the X100.
Fuji’s unique hybrid viewfinder, used again in the X100S, offers both optical (OVF) and electronic (EVF) views. The EVF has been improved to the 2.36-million-dot display used in the X-E1. The benefits offered by this display include exposure preview and manual focus assist modes (see Features in use). However, the ‘reverse Galilean’ optical finder has a display that is noticeably brighter, and using it instead of the EVF or rear LCD conserves battery life – up to twice the number of shots, with 600 possible compared to a 300-shot life when using the electronic displays. It is, however, less clear what is going to be in the final image as the illuminated ‘bright frame’ shows the frameline, which shifts in the finder when pressing the shutter and covers approximately 90% of the final image. The OVF is not available when the macro AF mode is selected. All in all, I regularly switched between each viewing option, enjoying them all.
Image: The shadow areas in the original shot appear completely black, but brightening the exposure +3EV reveals plenty of detail
In its standard picture mode, the Fuji X100S is capable of capturing a wide range of tones. Like most other camera systems, there are options available that will extend this range. Dynamic range is available in various strengths, with 400% the strongest, which creates HDR-like images. This setting is only available when the camera is set to ISO 800 or higher. Generally, the dynamic range auto option can be relied upon. When shooting in raw format, plenty of detail can be recovered from shadow areas – brightening the image by up to 3EV shows that detail from shadow areas is mostly clean and unaffected by noise.
When we tested the X100 in AP 23 April 2011, its only competitors were the Leica X1 and compact system cameras. Two years later there are a few more, such as the full-frame Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1, APS-C-format Nikon Coolpix A and the Leica X2.
The sensors of the APS-C models contain around 16 million pixels, while the RX1 has 24 million. Of the APS-C cameras, the X100S has the fastest lens at f/2, compared to f/2.8 on the Coolpix A and X2. Equivalent focal lengths are 35mm, 28mm and 36mm respectively. Like the X100S, the RX1 uses a 35mm f/2 lens.
The Coolpix A is the smallest of the these cameras and lacks a viewfinder or accessory port. An OVF slots onto the hotshoe instead. The X2 has an accessory port for an OVF or EVF, while the X100S features Fuji’s built-in hybrid viewfinder. The X2 has neither video recording nor live view.
Fuji’s strategy for the X100S was to keep the good features of the X100, make changes according to customer requests and to evolve the technologies. On this basis, the X100S is a firm success. The elegant looks of its X100 predecessor remain. Several handling issues have been addressed, so while the X100S looks the same as the X100, it is more responsive. The new camera is quicker in its autofocusing, manual focusing, start-up and image processing. It works very well, and street photographers in particular will be pleased.
Image quality in the X100 is very good, but in the X100S it is better. With the same sensor as that used in the X-Pro1 and X-E1, the X100S resolves far more detail than its pixel count suggests. The camera may be more limited than interchangeable-lens cameras, but the wide conversion lens is a welcome high-quality addition, effectively becoming a second lens. If the 35mm focal length is a favourite, then the X100S is an excellent compact and stylish camera. In fact, it is less costly than proprietary versions of the 35mm f/1.4 lens, so it could just as well replace it in a kit bag.
Fujifilm X100S – Key features
When selected, the eye-sensor view mode automatically switches between the rear LCD and viewfinder displays when it detects that the camera is held to the face.
Controls on the top-plate include dials for shutter speed and exposure compensation, as well as a function button and shutter button with on/off switch. The on/off switch and exposure compensation dial can be knocked rather easily, so be careful to check their positions before shooting.
Close focusing is down to 10cm in macro mode, which is respectable. However, in a huge improvement over its predecessor, the X100S can focus down to 21cm when macro focusing is not selected, while the X100 can manage only 80cm.
Menu options for drive mode include single, continuous high (6fps) and low (3fps), exposure bracketing, two-frame multiple exposure, motion panorama and movie. For the movie mode there is no direct control elsewhere. In the X100, the drive mode is on the control wheel.
Whereas the X100 has a raw button here, the X100S instead features a quick menu like its compact system camera counterparts. The menu contains 16 regularly used settings for quick access.
There is a built-in flash in a central position on the front of the body, close to the lens. In the flash menu it can be set to suppressed, forced, slow synchro or used as a commander. Alternatively, an external flash can be used via the hotshoe.