Fujifilm X100S Review
Body and Design
The X100 was (and still is) is a great-looking camera and wisely, Fujifilm has kept the X100S's physical design almost unchanged compared to its predecessor. The dual tone silver/black is an obvious echo of Leica's classic M-series rangefinders, and the faux leather texture of the body recalls classic SLR cameras from the 60s and 70s. Nerdy specifics aside, the overall effect is gorgeous (even if we do sometimes find ourselves wanting a reasonably-priced black version).
The X100S's build quality is superb, too. The top and base plates are die-cast using lightweight, high-strength magnesium alloy, and all the controls and dials are milled from solid metal. Some plastic makes an appearance on the back, of course, for the buttons and four-way controller/rear dial, and it’s also used for the battery/SD compartment door. Overall though, like its bigger brothers the X-E1 and X-Pro 1, the X100S gives a rare impression of solidity. The only thing that (literally) takes the shine off a little is the tendency of the metal to scuff rather too easily.
The X100S uses a distinctly traditional control layout, clearly inspired by fully-mechanical compacts from the 1960s and '70s, with top-plate dials for shutter speed and exposure compensation, plus aperture and manual focus rings around the lens barrel. The shutter button is even threaded for a good old-fashioned mechanical cable release, and the rangefinder-esque layout is completed by the big, bright finder at the top corner of the body. Of course these controls aren't at all the same as those on a Leica M6 (for example), because they're electronic rather than mechanical, but the overall effect is almost the same.
Fujifilm has made a whole host of small improvements to the X100S's controls. Physical designs and layouts have been tweaked, and button customization has been expanded, too.
One of the most impressive aspects of the X100 was the inclusion of a high-quality electronic viewfinder. The X100S incorporates a higher-resolution EVF with 2.35 million-dots as opposed to 1.44 million, and that's great news (it means the display can offer 1024 x 768 resolution, rather than 800 x 600). When we reviewed the X100 we bemoaned the fact that interchangeable lens cameras with built-in EVFs tend to offer an ugly DSLR-style viewfinder 'hump', but since then we've seen the release of the Sony NEX-6 and NEX-7, as well as Fujifilm's own X-E1 and X-Pro1, all of which offer high-quality finders without compromising their smooth, compact lines. A welcome development, in our opinion.
The X100S’s trump card though is that its viewfinder is 'hybrid' finder that combines a conventional direct-vision optical viewfinder with an electronic viewfinder (if you prefer, you can also frame your shots using the 2.8" rear LCD, like any other compact camera). The diagram below illustrates how it works.
The EVF inside the X100S is large, bright and detailed, and offers all the usual advantages of an EVF, such as true 100% frame coverage, the ability to accurately preview exposure and depth of field, image magnification for critical manual focus, and the overlay of a wide range of useful information such as a live histogram. It can also 'gain up' in low light to give clearer viewing for more critical composition, although at the expense of slowing the refresh rate. As far as resolution is concerned, the difference between the X100S's EVF and the older version used in the X100 isn't hugely noticeable most of the time, but shallow diagonal lines of the sort you'll see when panning across a cityscape etc., are much cleaner, and free of 'stair-stepping'.
The optical viewfinder is a large, bright 'reverse Galilean' design that has most of the advantages loved by rangefinder users - most importantly the sense of immediacy and connection to the scene engendered by real time-viewing. It also shows a wider angle of view than the lens itself, which allows you to keep an eye on objects that are just outside the frame.
The big difference, however, is that the EVF display is also used to overlay data when using the optical viewfinder (such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO etc). This gives the photographer much more information about what the camera is doing than conventional optical viewfinders could ever do. For example, you can display a live histogram, or move the active focus area around the frame to line it up with the subject, eliminating any need to focus and recompose.
Fujifilm has radically overhauled manual focusing with the X100S, and a 'digital split image' can be displayed in the EVF when focusing manually, as well as a focus peaking overlay (with magnification of the active area available in both cases).
The optical viewfinder has a magnification of 0.5x, which given the 35mm-equivalent angle of view means it's about the same size as that on a typical full-frame DSLR.
The optical finder's viewable area covers a substantially wider angle than the lens’s field of view, and within it is projected a white frameline that covers approximately 90% of the frame. This conservative approach will be familiar to rangefinder users – it’s designed to ensure that everything within the frameline should be the final image area, regardless of parallax errors between the lens and viewfinder, or any change in the lens’s angle of view with focus distance. In contrast, the EVF offers 100% coverage, at approximately the same magnification.
At the heart of the X100S lies its fixed 23mm F2 lens, unchanged physically from the X100, which offers the same moderately-wide angle of view as a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera. This is considered by many to be a classic focal length: wide enough to get plenty of context in the frame, but not so wide as to obviously distort objects towards the corners of the image.
The lens is optically complex for a prime - 8 elements in 6 groups, including a dual-sided aspherical element - yet due to the use of a customized sensor with offset microlenses towards the edge of the frame, the camera is still relatively slim, despite the fast F2 maximum aperture. Indeed the X100S is similar in thickness to the smallest interchangeable lens cameras such as the Sony NEX-6 and Panasonic GF6 fitted with their smallest pancake primes.
The focus ring isn't mechanically coupled to the lens's focus group, but is instead 'focus-by-wire'. In principle the system is configured such that fast rotation changes the focus distance rapidly, while slow rotation allows for very fine adjustments. But, while this makes for high precision MF, it means that multiple complete turns of the focus ring are required to cover the full distance range. Fujifilm has completely overhauled manual focus in the X100S, and we've covered this in more depth in the operation and handling page of this review. For more information about the X100S's lens, and the logic of its aperture and shutter range, take a look at our review of the X100.
Filter converter and hood
Disappointingly, the X100S, like its predecessor, doesn't accept filters directly. You have to unscrew a ring at the front of the lens, then change it for an optional adapter that has a 49mm thread. The adapter also has a bayonet mount for the (also optional) vented hood on the outside.
WCL-X100 Wide-angle converter (and leather case)
Also available is the WCL-X100 wide-angle converter. Originally created for the X100, it fits the X100S too, and converts the 35mm equivalent lens into a 28mm equivalent, F2. Although it adds bulk, it's great to have the option of (relatively) quickly converting the X100S for a wider view. There's no light loss, and little noticeable image quality drop, either.
The only thing to watch out for is that the X100S doesn't know when the converter is attached - you have to tell it, via a setting in the shooting menu. When set, JPEGs will be automatically corrected for the distortion caused by the converter. That said, we've found that unless you're shooting architecture, horizons etc., you don't really need to have the automatic correction applied. You'll find a few examples of images shot with the WCL-X100 in our large gallery of real-world samples.
The leather case pictured above fits both X100 and X100S (although new X100S-branded versions have a button-fastened door on the base for access to the memory card/battery compartment) and is very lovely indeed. It comes in two parts, which button together to enclose the camera completely. As long as you don't have the hood or WCL-X100 attached, that is. Because we consider the hood an essential, rather than optional accessory, we ended up leaving half of the case at home most of the time, and trusting in the hood to protect the lens.
Mar 25, 2015
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