When Fujifilm announced its FinePix X100 retro-styled compact at Photokina 2010, it instantly captured the imagination of serious photographers. With its fixed 23mm F2 lens and SLR-sized APS-C sensor, it offered outstanding image quality, while its 'traditional' dial-based handling and innovative optical/electronic 'hybrid' viewfinder gave a shooting experience reminiscent of rangefinder cameras. On launch its firmware was riddled with frustrating bugs and quirks, but a series of updates transformed it into a serious photographic tool. Certain flaws remained, apparently too deeply embedded into the hardware to be fixable, but despite this, it counts as something of a cult classic.

The X100S sees Fujifilm revisiting the concept, but while the external design is essentially unchanged, it's a very different camera inside. It uses a 16.3MP X-Trans CMOS sensor similar to that seen in the interchangeable lens X-Pro1 and X-E1 models, but now with on-chip phase detection promising much-improved autofocus speed. This is supported by a new processor, the 'EXR Processor II', which includes a new 'Lens Modulation Optimizer' function. According to Fujifilm this 'overcomes' lens aberrations such as diffraction and peripheral aberrations, and should give improved image quality at the largest and smallest apertures. The electronic viewfinder has been upgraded to a higher-resolution 2.35M dot display (from 1.44M dot); however this isn't the OLED unit used in the X-E1, but an LCD instead.

Two additional manual focus aids are available when using the EVF or LCD - a focus 'peaking' display that outlines in-focus elements, and an all-new 'Digital Split Image focusing' display that uses phase detection data from the sensor, and is designed to offer a similar experience to manual focus film cameras. In addition, the movement sensor on the manual focus ring has been upgraded to detect movement with greater precision - which Fujifilm says will make it more responsive.

The user interface gains all the improvements Fujifilm has made in its X-series cameras over the past few years, including an onscreen 'Q' menu to access major settings, and a much-improved tabbed menu system.

Fujifilm X100S key features

  • Fujifilm-designed 16.3MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS II sensor
  • On-sensor phase detection autofocus
  • Novel color filter array designed to avoid color moiré, no optical low-pass filter
  • EXR Processor II image processor
  • Hybrid optical / electronic viewfinder with 2.35M dot LCD
  • Dedicated dials for shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation
  • Fixed 23mm F2 lens (same as X100)
  • Improved manual focus system (more responsive focus ring, focus peaking and split-image displays)
  • 2.8" 460k dot rear LCD
  • On-screen 'Q' control panel and tabbed menu system
  • Full HD 1080 60p/30p movie recording, (H.264 MOV - 36Mbps bitrate)
  • Socket for electronic remote release/stereo microphone

Aside from these headline features, Fujifilm is promising a whole host of smaller tweaks and improvements covering every aspect of the camera's design and operation - no fewer than 70 in total. Many of these address bugs and quirks highlighted by users and reviewers, demonstrating once again Fujifilm's laudable desire to listen to feedback and learn from it. Some controls have been subtly tweaked, movie mode is much improved, and small but important operability issues have been addressed.

Side-by-side with the Fujifilm X20

Here's the X100S side-by-side with the X20 that Fujifilm announced at the same time (we reviewed it earlier this year). The two cameras are very different beasts, of course, but share a lot of common features, and the family resemblance is obvious.

Here's the X100S alongside the co-announced X20 zoom compact. Both cameras feature X-Trans CMOS sensors with on-chip phase detection AF, optical viewfinders with detailed information overlays, and lots of external controls. Their on-screen user interfaces and menu systems are very similar too. The big difference is that the X20's fast (F2-2.8) 28-112mm equivalent zoom is coupled to a much smaller, 2/3"-type sensor.

Compared to Sony Cyber-shot RX1R

The X100S's most natural peer (forgetting the massive price difference) is Sony's RX1R, which offers a full-frame 24MP CMOS sensor and a similar 35mm (equivalent) F2 lens as the X100S.

The X100S is slightly taller and wider, but on the plus side, it has a better-defined grip, and of course that unique Fujifilm built-in hybrid viewfinder. Given that the RX1R is packing a full-frame sensor inside it though, the Cyber-shot is impressively compact.
From behind, its the X100S's viewfinder that represents the main difference between the two cameras. The rear control cluster on both models is pretty standard, but the RX1R does have a larger display (which partly makes up for the lack of a finder).
From the top, it is very obvious just how big the RX1R's lens is compared to the almost pancake design of the Fujifilm's 23mm F2. Both cameras have manual aperture rings, and external exposure compensation dials, but the X100S also offers a manual shutter speed dial. The RX1R features an exposure mode dial, in the same position.