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Fujifilm X100S review: A great camera improved, but still a bit quirky

The X100S improves quite a bit over its groundbreaking predecessor.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice

I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.

Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
8 min read

Despite an almost identical appearance to its predecessor, the X100, the Fujifilm X100S offers enough enhancements to deliver a significantly more fluid shooting experience and notably improved photo quality. It still suffers from a few annoying issues that I don't expect from a camera in its price range, including autofocus inconsistencies, middling lens performance at f2 and an irritating control dial. But overall, I like the camera quite a bit and find it more recommendable than the X100.

Fujifilm X100S
7.8

Fujifilm X100S

The Good

The <b>Fujifilm X100S</b> produces excellent photos, and an updated viewfinder adds to the camera's increasingly streamlined shooting design.

The Bad

The lens has a few quirks, as does the autofocus system.

The Bottom Line

A great enthusiast compact for manual-focusing fans.

One note on the rating: if it seems low -- the same as the X100 despite all the improvements -- that's because it now has competition that it didn't have two years ago when the X100 debuted. That includes the vastly more expensive but full-frame Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1, but more importantly a direct challenger in the Nikon Coolpix A. If necessary I will adjust the rating on the X100S in mid-April after I've gotten a chance to test the Nikon.

Image quality
Two years ago, I considered the images delivered by the X100 as class leading with some caveats; I still think they're excellent -- and visibly better than those of the X100 -- but with more qualifications. The new version of the X-Trans sensor and updated image processing really shines on JPEGs. Thanks to a lack of color noise even as high as ISO 1600, they're clean up through ISO 800 and very good through ISO 6400; while the higher-sensitivity JPEGs don't stand up to pixel peeping, they do stand up to 13x19 prints. I wouldn't venture into expanded high ISO territory except at small sizes, though; they're soft and grainy, and the camera doesn't support raw for ISO 12800 and ISO 25600 (or ISO 100, for that matter), which decreases the tweakability quotient.

Fujifilm X100S photo samples

See all photos

One of the big qualifiers I have about photo quality stems from the lens. When I reviewed the X100, I blamed myself for the poor results I got at f2, but I see it again here: f2 is close to unusable, bad enough that if I hadn't seen the same problems after looking back at my X100 shots I would have thought I had a defective unit. It's not too bad beyond about 10 feet, but for anything closer it's fuzzy in the center with what looks like convergence issues and extremely distorted at the corners of the image. At f2.8 it almost looks like a different lens, snapping into sharp focus in the center; you have to bump up to f4 before the edges are all relatively sharp. It does manage to maintain both center and corner sharpness through the top of the aperture range, f16. That said, the camera didn't display any of the sticky aperture blade issues that seemed to plague the X100 (though I didn't experience them). The lens also seems a bit more susceptible to flare than I'd like.

Click to downloadISO 200
http://i.i.cbsi.com/cnwk.1d/i/tim/2013/03/26/_DSF0454.JPG
ISO 800
http://i.i.cbsi.com/cnwk.1d/i/tim/2013/03/26/_DSF0287.JPG
ISO 3200
http://i.i.cbsi.com/cnwk.1d/i/tim/2013/03/26/_DSF0389.JPG

The camera produces extremely pleasing colors, though getting accurate colors is a bit tricky, since there's no really neutral color simulation and the defaults seem to push the contrast to the point where you lose a lot of shadow detail (though it's all there in the raw file).

Video looks improved over the X100 as well, mostly because it's been increased to 1080p, and it's extremely sharp. But there's tons of edge artifacts -- crawling, aliasing, jitter -- thanks to the downplayed filtering. Low-light video actually looks better than daylight, I suspect because it drops the shutter speed, which decreases the appearance of some artifacts (you can't control the shutter speed during video on the X100S, just the aperture). It crushes blacks in low light, but it has an appealing tonality nonetheless.

Performance
Though the X100S won't break any speed records, it's a lot faster than the sluggish X100, with much improved autofocus performance. Fujifilm incorporated phase-detection autofocus for a hybrid phase/contrast AF system. That said, the AF has consistency problems: even when there's no change in subject or position (on a tripod facing our test scene, for instance) it will frequently fail to achieve a focus lock after a successful lock. I suspect that accounts for the large variation in results for autofocus-related tests, including shot lag and shot-to-shot times. In cases with a significant variation among the values, I averaged the fastest three results.

Time to power on, focus, and shoot runs about 1.5 seconds; time to focus and shoot in bright conditions is about 0.6 second, rising to 0.7 second in dim light. Two sequential JPEG or raw shots averages about 1 second (though it rose as high as 1.4 seconds), increasing to 1.5 seconds with flash. The continuous shooting rate zips along at about 5.5fps as long as you stay under the buffer limit -- it slows at 8 raw frames but didn't slow as high as 36 frames JPEG with a 95MB/sec SD card. However, continuous-shooting mode only works by fixing exposure and autofocus on the first frame, which doesn't meet our performance-testing criteria (and therefore isn't in the chart).

I really like the viewfinder; it's even better than the X100's, with peaking and a simulated split-screen for manual focusing that make it much more usable, though neither works when shooting video. And given how washed out and difficult to see the LCD gets in bright sunlight, the viewfinder's pretty essential.

Design and features
The X100S uses the same body as the X100; it's no lightweight and can only be considered compact compared to a dSLR, but the extra heft of the well-built body imparts a solid, grippable feel. And of course it's got the cool retro design that makes you feel like an old-school street shooter. The only outward difference from the older model is the replacement of the raw override button with a quick-menu button, so the X100S now has the same interface as the rest of the company's cameras. But that small change plus the aforementioned tweaks to the manual focus have significantly improved the shooting experience.

It still has the great manual aperture dial on the lens as well as shutter-speed and exposure compensation dials on top; in its default configuration, the Fn button brings up the ISO sensitivity options. Despite the retro look of the front and top, the back has the typical layout of a digital camera. On the left side is a switch for selecting among manual, single-shot autofocus and continuous AF. The AE button brings up metering choices, while AF lets you choose the AF point (when in the default area AF mode). The jog dial Command Control in the upper right cycles through the zoom view, split viewfinder and peaking view in manual focus.

While I still dislike the command dial/navigation control, which is nearly impossible to operate without fumbling, shooting doesn't require nearly as much menu hopping as it did for the X100. The self-timer doesn't sit with the drive modes, but it does appear in the Quick Menu, which is as good if not a better location. Movie recording resides under the drive modes, though, and there still isn't a dedicated record button.

You can lock most of the back controls by holding down the menu button for a few seconds, which is a nice touch, but the "sorry, I'm locked" screen should really indicate how to unlock it. I locked the controls by accident and lost an evening of shooting trying to figure out how to unlock them to turn off the flash. I had to look it up in the manual.

One minor irritation I had with the X100 but didn't mention before persists: the battery compartment isn't keyed to a particular direction. Though the battery itself is asymmetrical, the compartment is rectangular, and it's not clear which way the battery goes in; you have to memorize that it's label-side out. It's too easy to put it in backward.


Fujifilm X100Fujifilm X100SLeica X2Nikon Coolpix ASony Cyber-shot
DSC-RX1
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
Sensor (effective resolution)12.3MP CMOS16.3MP X-Trans CMOS II16.2MP CCD16.2MP CMOS24.3MP Exmor CMOS20.2MP Exmor CMOS
23.6 x 15.8mm23.6 x 15.8mm23.6 x 15.8mm23.6 x 15.7 mm35.8 x 23.9mm1-inch
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 (exp)/ 200 - ISO 6400/12800 (exp)ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp)ISO 100 - ISO 12500ISO 100 - ISO 3200/ 25600 (exp)ISO 50 (exp) / ISO 100 - ISO 51200 / ISO 102400 (exp, via multishot NR)ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Lens
(35mm-equivalent focal-length multiplier)
35mm
f2
35mm
f2
1.5x
24mm
f2.8
1x
28mm
f2.8
35mm
f2
1x
28 - 100mm
f1.8-4.9
3.6x
Closest focus (inches)3.93.911.847.91.9
Continuous shooting5fps
10 JPEG/8 raw
(burst only available with focus and exposure fixed at first frame)
6fps
31 JPEG/ n/a raw
(burst only available with focus and exposure fixed at first frame)
5fps
8 frames
(raw + JPEG)
4fps
n/a
2.5fps
(5 fps with fixed exposure)
n/a
2.5fps
(10fps with fixed exposure)
n/a
ViewfinderOptical/EVF switchableHybrid
Reverse Galilean
90 percent coverage
EVF
0.48-inch/ 2,360,000 dots
100 percent coverage
Optional
EVF
Tilting LCD
n/a
($449.00 est)
Optional
Reverse Galilean
($449.96)
Optional
Reverse Galilean
Zeiss
n/a
($599.99)
EVF
Tilting OLED
0.5-inch/ 2,359,000 dots
100 percent coverage
($404.99)
None
Autofocus49-area
Contrast AF
n/a
Contrast AF
11-area
Contrast AF
n/a
Contrast AF
25-area Contrast AF25-area Contrast AF
Metering256 zones256 zonesn/an/an/an/a
Shutter30 - 1/4,000 sec; bulb to 60 min20 - 1/4,000 sec; bulb to 60 minutes30 - 1/2,000 sec30 - 1/2,000 sec; bulb30-1/2,000 sec; bulb 30-1/2,000 sec; bulb
FlashYesYesYesYesYesYes
Hot shoeYesYesYesYesYesNo
LCD2.8-inch fixed
460,000 dots
2.8-inch fixed
460,000 dots
2.7-inch
230,000 dots
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
Image stabilizationNoneNoneNoneNoneElectronic (movie only)Optical
Video
(best quality)
720/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV Stereo1080/60p/ 30p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
Stereo
None1080/30p/ 25p/24p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
Stereo
AVCHD: 1080/60p/ 50p @ 28Mbps; 1080/60i/50i @ 24, 17Mbps; 1080/24p/ 25p @ 24, 17Mbps
stereo
AVCHD:
1080/60p/ 50p
stereo
Manual iris and shutter in videoIris onlyIris onlyn/an/aYesYes
Optical zoom while recordingn/an/an/aNon/aYes
External mic supportNoNon/aOptional
(with WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter)
YesNo
Battery life (CIPA rating)300 shots330 shots450 shots230 shots270 shots330 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches)5.0 x 2.9 x 2.15.0 x 2.9 x 2.14.9 x 2.7 x 2.04.4 x 2.6 x 1.64.5 x 2.6 x 2.84.0 x 2.4 x 1.4
Weight (ounces)15.815.512.2 (est)10.6 (est)17.68.5 (est)
Mfr. Price$1,195.95$1,299.95$1,995 (est)$1,099.95$2,799$649.99
AvailabilityMarch 2011March 2013August 2012March 2013November 2012July 2012

There aren't a lot of glitzy features aside from the viewfinder, just basics (for its price) like a built-in neutral-density filter and the ability to adjust color, sharpness, highlight tone, shadow tone, and noise reduction. Other features carried over from the X100 include Motion Panorama, which operates like Sony's Sweep Panorama: as you pan it records a 120- or 180-degree scene either horizontally or vertically. You can 3-shot bracket the dynamic range and film simulation presets, as well as ISO sensitivity and exposure, but as with the X100 I couldn't help but think it should have more exposure bracketing latitude than 3 shots up to 1 stop for HDR work, and how nice it would be to have an intervalometer.

Conclusion
There's enough improved in the X100S over the X100 that I think it's worth the extra money over the now-reduced-price model: it delivers better performance, photo quality and usability. While the photo quality and lens can't match that of the Sony RX1, it's still a great camera at $1,000 less. And though I haven't yet tested the Nikon Coolpix A, that camera lacks a viewfinder, which for some folks may merit the X100S' extra cost.

Shooting speed (in frames per second)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

















1.5110.70.6

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1

2.30.30.30.70.7

Fujifilm X100S
7.8

Fujifilm X100S

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 7Image quality 8
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