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Fuji X100S Review

Overview by and Roger Slavens
Posted: 01/07/2013

Shooter's Report by David Schloss
Posted:

Fuji X100S Review - front quarter view

The Fuji X100 launched the highly successful X-series of cameras, offering great image quality in a relatively compact body, with loads of enthusiast-pleasing features and a unique "hybrid" optical viewfinder. It was apparently very successful for its maker, with Fujifilm claiming sales of 130,000 units worldwide, not bad for a $1,300 rangefinder-style camera. The Fuji X100S is the successor to the X100, and while it looks very similar to its predecessor on the outside, the inside has seen some dramatic improvements.

Fuji X100S Review - sensor

Sensor. First and foremost, the Fuji X100S sensor uses Fujifilm's unique X-Trans technology, first introduced in the X-Pro1 in early 2012. We were very impressed with the X-Pro1's image quality, but the Fuji X100S ratchets it up a few steps better. Dubbed X-Trans CMOS II, the new sensor was designed to deliver 25% higher resolution than in the X100, a better signal to noise ratio (30% lower noise, or about a one-stop ISO advantage) and on-chip phase detection elements for faster focusing. The updated sensor also boasts 16.3 megapixels, compared to the 12.3 megapixels of the original. The result is image quality that's quite a leap over that of the original X100.

Fuji X100S Review - PDAF pixels

Phase-detect autofocus. On-chip phase detection autofocus is a pretty big deal, too. Compared to contrast detect focusing, phase detect AF tells the camera how much it needs to move the lens to bring the subject into focus after just a single "look" at the subject. By comparison, contrast detect AF requires the camera to repeatedly shift focus, then check whether the result is better or worse than with the previous setting. It thus unavoidably takes multiple steps to achieve sharp focus, greatly slowing the process, although it does have the advantage of confirming the precise point of focus very accurately. Cameras with on-chip phase detect typically take the best of both worlds, using a hybrid system that quickly approximates the focus correction needed with phase detection, and then fine-tunes the result for accuracy using contrast detection.

Fuji X100S Review - handheld

We've seen hybrid AF from a number of manufacturers now, but Fujifilm was actually the first to bring it to market in the F300EXR, launched back in 2010. It seems odd to us that Fujifilm has waited this long to bring the technology to their larger-sensor cameras, but we suspect there's more than meets the eye in making it work well. While a number of manufacturers are now using the technology in cameras, the results have been highly variable. Some of the hybrid autofocusing systems we've tested actually focus more slowly than competing models using contrast detect AF alone. At launch, Fujifilm claimed that the X100S was the fastest focusing camera in its class. In our review below, we investigate the assertion in both controlled laboratory and real-world settings.

Fuji X100S Review - split focus

Split-image focus resurrected. Fujifilm has recreated the look of split-image focusing in digital form for the Fuji X100S.

Digital Split-Image Focus Assist. You have to be of a certain age to remember split-image focusing screens, but we loved how easy they made it to achieve sharp focus. Features like focus peaking, which puts a colored outline around edges in an image that are sharply focused, help make it easier to determine focus, but we've always found the feature to be a bit too general for our tastes. (Does the fatter highlight mean it's more in focus, or is that just because the contrasty area is wider? Is a given part of the image slightly behind or in front of the plane of focus? It's simply not specific enough in the information it provides.) In a stroke of digital cleverness, Fujifilm has revived the split-image focus aid, but this time in digital form. The image inset above right gives an idea of what the effect looks like.

Fuji X100S Review - processor

Processor. Speed is about more than just focusing, though, and the Fuji X100S makes major strides with its image processor as well. The new EXR Processor II is claimed to have double the processing speed and pipeline depth of its predecessor, so even the increased data from its 16.3-megapixel chip is processed more quickly than in prior models. As a result, the maximum continuous shooting rate has climbed to 6 frames per second, from the previous 5 fps, startup time has been reduced to half a second from roughly 2 seconds, and the buffer depth for full-resolution JPEGs is now 31 frames, versus the relatively paltry 10 of its predecessor -- all times according to the manufacturer. Single-shot frame-to-frame time is also said to have dropped to half a second from the previous 0.9 second.

Fuji X100S Review - lens

Lens. While the original X100's 35mm-equivalent, f/2 lens had a lot going for it, it came up decidedly short in the area of flare. Put a bright object against a darker background, especially in the corners when shooting wide open, and you'd get some truly horrific lens flare. We commented at the time that it was some of the worst we'd seen. We were far from the only ones voicing this criticism, and Fujifilm apparently took it to heart, as one of the improvements they called attention to in their presentation was a new lens-coating technology, which they call HT-EBC -- High Transmittance Electronic Beam Coating. The proof is in the shooting, whether the company has managed to address a critical flaw in an otherwise ground-breaking camera.

Fuji X100S Review - viewfinder

Viewfinder. The original X100 introduced the concept of a "hybrid optical viewfinder," in which an LCD image is projected onto a prism in the viewfinder optics, allowing the overlay of typical EVF information readouts onto a conventional optical viewfinder image, or with the flip of a switch, an all electronic ("live view") viewfinder mode. We had mixed results with the system in our shooting, but Fujifilm has enhanced several aspects of the viewfinder in the new X100S. The new finder uses a much higher resolution LCD display, with approximately 1,024 x 768 pixels (or 2,360,000 red, green, and blue dots). It gives extremely high resolution when you're using it in the conventional EVF mode, and uses high refractive index optics to minimize distortion. The electronic viewfinder features ~100% frame coverage, while the Reverse Galilean optical viewfinder offers ~90%. -2 to +1 m-1 diopter adjustment is available, and IR sensors detect when an eye approaches.

Fuji X100S Review - flash

Flash. The X100S' built-in flash is pretty small, as you'd expect, with a guide number of just 4.6m / 15 feet at ISO 100. Range is actually not bad for its size, though (10.6 feet at ISO 200), thanks to the camera's relatively fast lens. Flash modes offered are: Auto, Forced Flash, Off, Slow Synchro, Commander and External Flash, and there's a red-eye reduction option. Note that Commander mode doesn't offer off-camera TTL exposure like other more advanced wireless flash systems. It's just used to trigger dumb remote flash units by skipping the preflash so that any remote flash can sync to the exposure. Flash exposure compensation is available up to ±2/3 EV in 1/3 EV steps, and maximum flash sync speed is 1/2000 second. A TTL hot shoe is provided for dedicated external flash units such as the Fujifilm EF-20, EF-X20 or EF-42, as well as non-dedicated third-party units.

Fuji X100S Review - ports

Connectivity. In addition to the flash hot shoe, connectivity includes USB 2.0 and Mini (Type-C) HDMI ports, available behind a door on the right of the body. The USB port serves double-duty, able to act as an external microphone input when using the optional MIC-ST1 external mic which includes a special adapter cable. The Micro USB Multi-connector does not however provide composite video/audio out as some cameras do. Of course, the Fuji X100S' shutter button is still threaded for use with a manual cable release.

Fuji X100S Review - battery and card compartment

Storage and battery. Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, including the latest SDHC and SDXC types. About 24MB of internal memory is also available, which can store 3 or 4 Large Fine JPEGs but no RAW files. Running on a Fujifilm NP-95 3.6V 1800mAh lithium-ion battery, the Fujifilm X100S is expected to capture 330 shots on a charge according to CIPA testing, up slightly from the X100's 300 shots. There's a channel into the battery compartment for a DC coupler cable, though we haven't seen an AC adapter listed anywhere.

Pricing and availability. The Fujifilm X100S began shipping in March 2013 in a two-tone black-and-silver style. Retail pricing was set at around US$1,300.

Update - May 2014: Click here to read more about the TCL-X100, Fujifilm's new 50mm eq. teleconverter designed specifically for the X100/X100S!

Fuji X100S Review - TCL-X100 teleconverter
Fixed lens no more. By adding the optional TCL-X100 teleconverter to your X100S, you can achieve a focal length of 33mm (50mm eq.). Click here to see how it performed in our tests.

 

Shooting with the Fuji X100S

by David Schloss

Fuji X100S Review - gallery image

At the start of this century, it looked as if Fujifilm had abandoned the professional photographer in much the same way photographers abandoned film, but in 2010 something unique happened. Responding to the pleas of professionals that wanted a small, capable camera that could create an image rivaling a DSLR -- but in a compact package -- the Fuji X100 arrived.

Fuji X100S Review - angle view

Borrowing the styling of cameras from bygone days, the X100 garnered so much attention at the Photokina tradeshow that the camera was soon backordered even before the first unit shipped. Every photographer I knew wanted the X100 and soon a sort of black-market grew on eBay with the X100 selling for hundreds above the sticker price.

I was one of those who bought an X100 above retail, desperate to get my hands on a camera that provided a compact form with a professional set of features. The X100 remained in my camera arsenal until early this year when the replacement X100S was announced. However, over time, I used the X100 less and less, mainly due to autofocusing problems. At first the X100 went everywhere with me, but as Micro Four Thirds systems flourished I found myself gravitating toward these smaller systems because their lightning-fast and accurate focusing was worth a stepdown in image quality. After all, I'd rather have a grainy picture that's in focus than an out-of-focus shot with smooth gradations and skin tones.

Needless to say, when the X100S was announced I did an internal dance of joy. Fujifilm boasted that the X100S would be a high-speed successor to the X100 with the world's fastest AF of 0.08 seconds. But did the upgrades to the X100S wipe out its predecessor's focusing and speed issues? Here's what I discovered after spending a few weeks with the camera.

Quick walkaround. One of the compliments I heard most often when shooting with my X100 was "nice Leica." To be sure, Fujifilm took a lot of design cues from the simple era of the Leica M series and Fuji's own Fujica cameras.

Fuji X100S Review - front view

For all intents and purposes, the X100S is a near-clone of its predecessor in terms of design. The camera is well built and solid, evoking a retro, rangefinder style with its classic lines. It's mid-size, and can be easily stored in a coat pocket though it's not something you can tuck in your jeans. One thing I wish they would have improved was the right hand grip -- it's just a small bulge and difficult to hang onto (despite the textured finish), especially if you're trying to shoot one-handed. I suppose Fuji wanted to keep the X100S design as boxy as possible. And while I'm airing my grievances, I also wish the camera's control dials up top weren't so easy to change accidentally. While they're indeed stiff to turn, they still can get bumped and moved while the camera's stored in your bag. The EV dial is especially vulnerable, as it's perched on the top right corner, right where your thumb can brush up against it when you're securing your grip.

Fuji X100S Review top view

There's not a boatload of controls on the X100S, with just two dials and a button on the top of the camera (not counting the Shutter release button) and a lever and aperture dial on the front. The rear features seven standalone buttons, a Command Control jog dial with integrated button, and a combined four-way pad/Command dial with central button in addition to the 2.8-inch, 460,000 dot LCD screen. On the left side of the X100S is a slide-selector switch for the camera's focus modes.

Particularly noticeable is the positioning of the viewfinder. This is the attribute that makes the X100S look most like a film-era Leica, as the viewfinder is located above and to the left of the LCD screen.

Fuji X100S - In comparison with the X100
Fuji X100S Review - rear view
X100S (2013)
Fuji X100S Review - X100 rear view
X100 (2011)
Design wise, the X100S is virtually identical in all aspects to its predecessor, the X100. The changes occur in the functionality of some of the physical controls (buttons and dial settings) and a few other minor changes (i.e.: moving "Made In Japan"). But physically they are the same animal.

Hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder. In my opinion, the X100S has one of the best viewfinder solutions of any compact camera, ever. It's a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder that allows the photographer to look at their images with a rangefinder-style optical viewfinder (with parallax corrected focus marks superimposed over the image) or switch to the incredible 2.36M-dot electronic viewfinder that covers 100% of the frame. Hands-down this is the winning feature of the X100S and it shows what tomorrow's cameras could and should have.

Fuji X100S Review - viewfinder rocker switch

The lever on the front of the camera switches between the hybrid optical and electronic viewfinder, and there's an eye-detect sensor beside the viewfinder that lets the camera toggle automatically between the rear LCD screen and the viewfinder as the camera is raised to or lowered from the face.

LCD monitor. Speaking of the LCD screen, it's a fairly meager offering, just 2.8-inches with 460K dots of resolution -- both specs far below what you might expect to find on a camera in this class. It also appears to be the exact same, flush-mounted, non-articulating screen used on the X100. Perhaps it's something of an afterthought when compared to the camera's excellent hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, much like the weak EVFs occasionally found on inexpensive compact digicams. Still, it's functional as a Live View monitor when it's not practical to use the viewfinder, as well as for playback of stills and videos. Don't count on using it in bright light, however.

Sensor and processor. Inside the camera resides a 16.3-megapixel, APS-C-sized X-Trans CMOS II sensor featuring a Fuji-designed pixel arrangement that doesn't arrange color filters in the traditional Bayer pattern, but instead in a special matrix that Fujifilm says gives the camera better image quality and less need for sharpening because it doesn't require an optical low-pass filter. In Fujifilm's past X-Trans cameras, we've seen extremely good results, and the second generation doesn't disappoint (see image quality sections below). The new sensor also boasts a greater level of detail and resolution from the X100, which only had 12.3-megapixels.

Meanwhile, the camera's new EXR II image processor was designed to alleviate one of the chief complaints about the X100 -- the slow speed of the camera's startup and image processing. I'll talk about this more in a bit, but in this regard, the upgrade really seems to do the trick.

Fuji X100S Review - side view

Lens and manual focus. Fuji has carried forward the X100's fixed-focal-length 23mm (35mm equivalent) f/2 lens on the X100S. However, the company has added a High Transmittance Electronic Beam Coating in an attempt to mitigate the flare problems that plagued so many shots on the X100. (More on that below.)  It's super sharp and has minimal distortion.

Thankfully, the focus ring on the lens has been improved so now it actually feels like making a manual adjustment is actually changing focus -- rather than spinning freely as on the X100 -- and manual focus is actually much more useful. In addition, the camera displays focus peaking on the LCD to help with manual focus compositions, and can display a split-image to simulate an analog camera's manual focus system. If the two halves of the image don't match, you're not in focus. Perfectly align them, and you've nailed it. Very cool.

Want to learn more about how the Fuji X100S' 35mm equivalent f/2 lens performs?
Click here to see our optical test results.

Operation. The X100S evokes the old Leica in many ways, most notably in its quiet and smooth operation. It's possible to turn off all the beeps and camera feedback tones and shoot nearly silently. This makes the X100S an excellent camera for candid photography.

It's also a great ice breaker. When on some commercial shoots I would first take out the X100S for casual portraits rather than reaching first for my full-size professional SLR -- a camera that I find makes subjects clam up or panic. There is something about the small, cute size of the camera that puts people at ease.

The sparse controls on the X100S are both a blessing and a curse. Clearly Fujifilm is positioning the camera as a solution for professionals or advanced enthusiasts that want a small-sized body, and for that, the camera layout is excellent and mimics the film cameras of yesteryear. To select an aperture setting, you turn the Aperture Ring -- none of that silly fussing with buttons or small control dials that some point-and-shoot cameras require (if they even provide aperture control). Likewise, to select a shutter speed simply turn the top Shutter Speed dial.

The X100S has an "auto" setting on both the Aperture Ring and Shutter Speed dial, and working together they help control the camera's exposure modes. Stick the Aperture Ring in "A" but leave the Shutter Speed dial to a manual setting and the camera is in Shutter Priority. Likewise, select an f/stop and put the Shutter Speed dial on "A" and you're in Aperture Priority. Putting both dials in the "A" setting puts the camera in Program mode, and flipping the focus switch on the side to AF-S makes the camera an ultra-capable point-and-shoot. Overall, it's a brilliant system that eliminates the need for a photographer to switch modes with buttons or menus.

Fuji X100S - In lieu of a mode dial
Fuji X100S Review - auto mode
In a clever nod to some film cameras from the past, Fuji elected to forego a Mode dial and instead simply placed an "A" for "auto" on both the Shutter Speed dial and the Aperture Ring. Placing both in "A" (as displayed above) puts the X100S into Program mode. Turn one or the other and you are in Aperture priority or Shutter priority.
 
Fuji X100S Review - control section

In many ways it is clear that the X100S is trying to forge a compromise between a professional body and an advanced amateur one. This is most obvious in the rear Command dial (four-way pad with an inset wheel), which unlike the top mounted dials, acts more like a control you'd find on a compact point-and-shoot camera -- in charge of selecting Macro, Flash mode, etc. When I use a professional DSLR body, the Command dial on the back of the camera, however, is typically dedicated to controlling the autofocus points.

The X100S adds the autofocus point selection function to this point-and-shoot Command dial layout, which I found a bit confusing at first. In order to change the autofocus points, you have to first press up on the Command dial (the trash can/AF direction) and then use the dial to change the focus points. For me, this proved to be fairly slow and cumbersome, and as a result I was constantly trying to change a focus point but instead activating macro focus or the flash by accident. I cannot begin to explain how many shots I missed due to this mental schism between what I thought the dial should do and what it actually does.

Fuji X100S Review - quick menu animation

In all other aspects though the Fuji X100S is a pleasure to use. Buttons are comfortable and well placed. Especially welcome is the addition of a "Q" button for quick access to commonly used menu items such as custom settings (up to 7 banks), ISO, dynamic range, white balance and more. In this regard Fujifilm really hits the mark when it comes to speed. Press the Q button and the display switches to a menu with rows of choices, navigate to a choice and then turn the control dial to change the setting. Unlike some menu systems that require an "OK" button press to confirm a choice, the Q menu doesn't require that extra time-wasting step.

Fuji X100S Review - main menu animation

Customization. A top-mounted "Fn" button can be programmed to perform one of a number of tasks. For a recent shoot with my family at a beach, I programmed the Fn button to activate the built-in 3-stop neutral density filter, but for most situations, I leave it set to ISO. Another nice feature on the Fuji X100S is the ability to create a custom view display for the LCD screen or EVF. Since I'm perennially unable to hold a camera level, I set my viewfinder with a virtual horizon, as well as histogram and exposure compensation information.

The X100S is at heart a very customizable camera. The five camera setting menu screens and three setup screens allow the photographer to configure everything from the startup and shutter release noise to the functionality of the AF illuminator. The menu also has the ability to configure an Eye-Fi WiFi SD card, which makes it a great choice for working in a mobile transmitting environment.

Fuji X100S Review - gallery image Fuji X100S Review - gallery image
Indoors and outdoors, the X100S delivered excellent image quality.
Fuji X100S Review - gallery image

Performance. For those who have used the X100 extensively -- like me -- you'll definitely notice an improvement in overall speed of operation. However, by no means is the Fuji X100S a fast performer like the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

There were several bottlenecks to shooting with the X100, most notably startup time. The X100 could take a good while (by IR's lab tests, 3.2 seconds on average) to power on and take a shot, and that delay often resulted in missed shots. (Like many X100 users I would walk around during shoots with the camera power on and occasionally half-press the shutter release, just to be sure that the camera was always ready.) Luckily, the X100S shaves more than a second off the X100's startup time. (If you want to decrease startup time, you can set the camera to High Performance mode. It's a good deal faster than default, but comes at the expense of battery life. High Performance mode also is supposed to improve AF speed, but we didn't notice any difference in real-life AF testing.) Shot-to-shot times with the X100S are also noticeably faster, although still sluggish compared to most DSLRs. And the camera clears its buffer pretty quickly with a fast card.

Just how fast is the Fuji X100S? Find out by clicking here to see our full battery
of rigorous, objective speed and operation tests conducted in the IR Lab.

One issue that persists from the X100 to the X100S is what I like to call startup-whiteout. When you turn the X100S (and the previous X100) on, the LCD monitor will fire up but the image will be completely overexposed before snapping into a correct exposure. It's an effect that's much like a TV show where the hero is knocked unconscious and then he comes to in a room with bright overhead lights. In my experience with the X100 this period could be painfully long, and with the X100S it's still there but only last a few seconds. My guess is that all cameras do this internally in order to determine the right ISO and shutter speed but that most mask this process by leaving the LCD inactive. The camera still functions during while the LCD comes to life, but it's impossible to see the subject until exposure has settled, so it could still hinder shooting if you're trying to capture a quick shot. My advice: Use the optical viewfinder.

The X100S continuous burst mode was advertised a 6 frames per second, and our lab clocked it as fast as 5.7fps, at full resolution -- a good 1fps faster than the X100. JPEG buffer depth is deeper, at 16 best quality frames compared to just 10 from the X100, but RAW and RAW+JPEG remained the same at 8 frames.

Fuji X100S Review - gallery image
Bent grass blur. The fast lens on the X100S delivers the goods in the depth of field department, though at f/2 it can often be tricky to nail focus. (This shot taken at f/4.)

Much ado about autofocus. In some ways it's hard to separate the speed of the camera's operation and the speed of focus, because in many ways the camera's performance doesn't begin until the subject is in focus. Fujifilm positioned the X100S as the camera that solved the focus and camera speed issues of the X100 via its new hybrid AF system. Any longtime X100 user knows that the camera suffered from focus issues that broke down into a few categories: speed of detection, distance of detection and accuracy of detection.

Bluntly, the X100 was slow to focus. The contrast detection autofocus took its time to seek a subject, during which time the subject often moved. Next, the X100 wasn't particularly intelligent about what to focus on and by that I mean that the it lacked the sophisticated face detection and focus tools found in many similarly priced (and less expensive) cameras.

The X100 also had an odd cutoff point between standard focus distance and the point at which it needed to switch to macro mode -- around 2 to 3 feet. That was awkward because the relatively wide lens operated best for portraits at that same distance. It seemed odd that a camera should consider standard portrait distance "macro" especially since it required a change of dials to fix. This last issue, the macro focus point, has been remedied on the Fuji X100S, and the new camera no longer has to switch to macro to photograph something a few feet away. (As I mentioned before, the camera also has an improved manual focus ring, which is much more responsive than the X100.)

As to the other two issues, it really depends on your shooting situation and available light as to whether the X100S improves upon the autofocus performance of the X100. If you're shooting in good light outdoors, there's little doubt that the X100S performs better thanks to its on-chip phase detection pixels. Phase-detect AF is typically faster than contrast-detect AF, though it generally needs more light to work well.

However, when shooting the X100S in low-light conditions, when the camera's contrast detection AF system is forced to bear most of the load, the X100S still seems to have some of the same autofocus problems that plagued its predecessor. I found that it's still fairly slow and inaccurate, rarely focusing how I wanted it to. Time and again I had to retake shots (missing many in the process) because the focus wasn't right.

Fuji X100S - Low-light shots

Fuji X100S Review - gallery image
f/2.0, 1/75s, ISO 6400
Fuji X100S Review - gallery image
f/2.0, 1/45s, ISO 6400
Fuji X100S Review - gallery image
f/2.0, 1/70s, ISO 6400

Of course, one reason autofocus in low light may be so tricky with the Fuji X100S is that the camera often tries to force you into its wide-open aperture of f/2, where subtle movements can throw off focus. In practice, when hand-holding the camera in Program exposure mode in relatively dark indoor settings, I found I was often maxing out at ISO 6400 and still at f/2 or f/4 with a relatively slow (1/60 or 1/30s) shutter speed. At high ISOs, of course, more noise comes into play, muddying the images somewhat. As does any motion blur at these slow shutter speeds. All this means that it's difficult to get a perfectly sharp, perfectly exposed shot in low light with the X100S -- as it is with many cameras.

One trick I tried to improve the AF was shooting with a smaller AF focus box (or zone). That seemed to help focusing a bit, as the camera didn't have to work as hard to discern what I wanted in focus -- larger AF zones can often get confused and lock in on exactly what you don't want. This is, again, where I wish the X100S had a face-detection feature like so many other cameras do these days. With an f/2.0 lens, it's really important to be able to select a specific focal point. The difference between focusing on a subject's eye and her nose is the difference between a usable portrait and a throw-away shot.

More often than not -- and especially when using a larger AF zone -- the X100S doesn't provide enough control over the focus area and f/2.0 shots aren't focused correctly, even in good light. I spent a week in New Mexico (i.e., very bright) photographing my two-year-old (i.e., high movement) son and found that shot after shot at wide apertures were out of focus.

In another test I put the X100S into AF-C mode and set the camera to "A" on both the Aperture ring and Shutter Speed dial. My wife took the camera to our son's nursery school to take photos for a school newsletter. I didn't mention my experience with the camera so as to not affect her shooting style. With the camera in Program mode (and ISO expansion able to go to 1600), most of the shots taken indoors were out of focus while nearly all of the outside shots were in focus -- albeit not always focused on the right point. While the light inside the school is less powerful than outdoors (overhead fluorescents and large south facing windows), the motion outside was considerably faster. It's my theory that the threshold for phase detect AF is fairly high, being used primarily in daylight bright conditions, while the rest of the time the camera is using primarily contrast detect AF and finding mixed results.

It's my hope that the autofocus in the camera will improve with future firmware updates -- the X100 saw many gains the past two years as Fujifilm worked out the kinks. But as it stands, the hybrid AF system on the X100S is only marginally improved over the X100 in real-world conditions. Yes, we saw about a 25% increase in AF speeds overall in the lab under controlled situations, but that didn't take into account moving subjects or hand-held operation. What's most disappointing is that the X100S AF system is not only unpredictable in less-than-perfect lighting, but also it's difficult to change the AF points and zone due to the dual nature of the Command dial.

Fuji X100S - Does the flare issue from the X100 continue?

Fuji X100S Review - gallery image
Fuji X100S Review - gallery image
Ghosting seems to be better controlled on the X100S, thanks to the High Transmittance Electronic Beam Coating on lens elements, but it's still possible to get extreme examples of flare if you try hard enough.

Image quality. OK, it's time to move onto something I wasn't disappointed about. When you can nail the focus, the Fuji X100S delivers extraordinary images for an APS-C-sensored camera, ones that rank among the best in their class. The 23mm (35mm-equivalent) f/2 lens is not only bright, but sharp, maximizing the tremendous amount of detail that can be rendered with the camera's X-Trans CMOS II sensor -- a marked step-up from the X100.

View the IR Lab's in-depth Fuji X100S image quality test results by clicking here, but be sure to read further on to see side-by-side comparisons of the X100S against its top competitors.

Overall, image colors proved to be fairly bright with the Provia film simulation (default) settings, with excellent hue accuracy. There's a slight push in the reds, leaving Caucasian skin tones a bit on the pinkish side, and white balance tended to be warm under normal indoor conditions, often requiring a +0.3 EV adjustment. Meanwhile, the dynamic range proved to be excellent. You can see in our high ISO shots that there's a good balance between detail and sharpness, with noise suppression working quite well and the "grain" remaining tight and pleasing all the way up to ISO 3200. Even ISO 6400 and 12,800 images weren't bad, in fact, they were better than most.

Fuji X100S Review - gallery image
As we've said a few times now, when you get the focus right, the image quality is certainly there.

Special modes and creative tools. The X100S is fairly limited when it comes to consumer-driven creative modes and effects. There's no built-in, multi-shot HDR mode, though Fuji does integrate its dynamic range enhancement technology into the camera. Called D-Range, it preserves hot highlights by exposing for those highlights and then boosting mid-tones and shadows. There are three levels: DR100 100% (default), DR200 200%, DR400 400%, as well as an automatic mode. You can see an example of how D-Range works in our Exposure section. In addition, the camera offers Shadow and Highlight Tone controls to further manipulate dynamic range.

There's also a tremendous amount of bracketing options on the X100S, including dynamic range, white balance, ISO, EV and Film Simulation modes, so you can choose the best JPEG or manipulate the bracketed shots in post processing with Photoshop or the like. Speaking of Film Simulation modes, like many of Fujifilm's cameras, the X100S boasts a variety of filters that evoke the visual qualities of the company's films -- Provia, Velvia, Astia, Pro Neg Hi and Pro Neg Std. -- as well as black-and-white and sepia-toned effects. Instagram fans will be pleased by the camera's small assortment of ubiquitous creative modes such as Pop Color, Toy Camera, Miniature and others.

Perhaps the most dramatic mode is the Motion Panorama, which stitches together (in-camera) several frames to capture a final image that represents a 120- or 180-degree sweep either horizontally or vertically.

Fuji X100S - 120 and 180 degree sweep panoramas

Fuji X100S Review - gallery image
120 degree sweep
Fuji X100S Review - gallery image
180 degree sweep

Video. The X100S also has a video mode, though this camera would not be my first choice for video work; I'd only use it in a pinch. Feature-wise, it's fairly basic, offering two Full HD 1080p recording modes, with frame rates at either 60p or 30p. Videos are recorded as H.264 (MOV) files. Unfortunately, there's no video image stabilization, meaning that any hand-held movies are probably going to demonstrate some significant shake. However, on the plus side, you can set the aperture before you begin recording, and the camera will automatically adjust focus, exposure and white balance accordingly. You can also set white balance and Fuji's Film Simulation effects before shooting, if you need.

Using the camera's default setup, accessing the Movie mode is a bit of a pain -- you have to click on the Drive button on the back left of the camera and then scroll down to turn movie recording on -- all which takes some time. It's also easy to forget that you set the camera to Movie mode, and you'll have to switch to regular still capture by diving back into the Drive menu. In addition, there's no dedicated movie record button; at default you have to use the Shutter button in its place. However, there's a solution that makes Movie operation much easier. Simply assign the Fn button to act as your Movie record button, and you can bypass all of the above.

1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original (196.7 MB)
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 60 frames per second
Download Original (110.6 MB)

As you can see from the samples above, we found quite a bit of moire and strange artifacts in the videos we shot in full resolution at both 60p and 30p frame rates -- especially in the ripples of the lake and in the distant foliage. Continuous AF worked OK, though it sometimes hunted (not literally!) the ducks.

The camera features a built-in stereo microphone which is decent for random everyday use, but you can also mount an accessory microphone in the hot shoe to capture better audio. Its 2.5mm plug connects to the USB Multi-connector port via an adapter cable. Be aware that the built-in mic is very sensitive and will pick up camera noises, including the click of the shutter button when you stop recording. Otherwise, the camera operates very quietly during movie operation.

Fuji X100S Review - gallery image

Summary. As an X100 user who sold my camera almost immediately after the X100S was announced, I'm a little deflated by my experiences with the replacement model. Due to its size and excellent image quality the X100 was often my go-to backup camera on professional shoots, despite the focus issues. It had always been my hope that the next generation would solve the issues I had with the X100 and literally bring me up to speed.

While there's no doubt that the X100S is a better camera than its predecessor, especially in terms of its image quality, it's still not the upgrade that I had expected. I'm still holding out hope that the camera I still yearn for is trapped somewhere inside the X100S and a firmware update will bring it out.

 

Fuji X100S Review -- Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops comparing the Fuji X100S with the Fuji X100, Nikon Coolpix A, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Ricoh GR, and Sigma DP1M.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All interchangeable lens cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.

Fuji X100S versus Fuji X100 at Base ISO

Fuji X100S at ISO 200
Fuji X100 at ISO 200

Stepping up in resolution by 4 megapixels over its highly touted predecessor, the X100, the X100S produces sublime images here at base ISO. Most notable is the ultra accurate depiction of the difficult red fabric swatch, although it is curious to note that there isn't much detail in the relatively easy pink fabric swatch, not even as much as with the X100.


Fuji X100S versus Nikon Coolpix A at Base ISO

Fuji X100S at ISO 200
Nikon Coolpix A at ISO 100

Similar in price and resolution, it is not surprising that these two fixed lens competitors look fairly similar here at base ISO. It will be more interesting to see how they compare once ISO starts to rise, so grab some more coffee and stay tuned!


Fuji X100S versus Olympus OM-D E-M5 at Base ISO

Fuji X100S at ISO 200
Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 200

As we've reported in many a comparison table, the E-M5 applies aggressive sharpening at its default JPEG settings, which is what we use for these comparison tables. The result is super-crisp imagery, which tends to make base ISO images look fantastic but has certain consequences once ISO rises. Amazing to see what it does here with the mosaic tiles and the pink fabric swatch, as they seem to jump off the page (er.... screen!).


Fuji X100S versus Ricoh GR at Base ISO

Fuji X100S at ISO 200
Ricoh GR at ISO 100

The first two crops from the GR here at base ISO are pristine and beautiful, so it is disappointing that it renders the subtle detail in our red fabric swatch so poorly. It doesn't fair well with the pink fabric either, although neither does the X100S. Interesting.


Fuji X100S versus Sigma DP1M at Base ISO

Fuji X100S at ISO 200
Sigma DP1M at ISO 100

A battle of the heavyweight APS-C sensors is on display here. Fuji X-Trans vs Sigma Foveon, and quite a fun battle indeed. There are few APS-C-sensored cameras made today that can extract as much fine detail from the red fabric swatch as does the DP1M here at base ISO, making it a great solution for shooting at lower ISOs, and costing hundreds of dollars less than the X100S. But as you'll see in a bit, it doesn't fare well as ISO rises, so it is truly a niche camera meant solely for lower ISO shooting.

 

Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Fuji X100S versus Fuji X100 at ISO 1600

Fuji X100S at ISO 1600
Fuji X100 at ISO 1600

The X100 does a very good job at ISO 1600 and the X100S takes that one step further. The higher resolution and the newer X-Trans technology start to show their stuff here, and the noise in the typically noisy shadows behind the bottle is almost nonexistent. The bottle itself is quite a treat to look at as well for this ISO.


Fuji X100S versus Nikon Coolpix A at ISO 1600

Fuji X100S at ISO 1600
Nikon Coolpix A at ISO 1600

Remember that cup of joe you were supposed to pour yourself at base ISO? It should be waking you up now because this is where the fun really begins. Starting with the bottle crop, the Coolpix A certainly has more noise in the shadows, and a bit less sharpness in the bottle itself. It also loses ground with soft detail in the mosaic tiles and a loss of much of the subtle detail in the red fabric. A telling tale here.


Fuji X100S versus Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 1600

Fuji X100S at ISO 1600
Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 1600

Remember that at base ISO the E-M5 produced vividly sharp imagery, but as ISO rises so do the artifacts that are natural by-products of aggressive default JPEG sharpening and noise reduction algorithms. The much more even-keeled approach from the X100S is an especially welcome sight here, especially since the E-M5 is an excellent camera!


Fuji X100S versus Ricoh GR at ISO 1600

Fuji X100S at ISO 1600
Ricoh GR at ISO 1600

Other than in the red fabric, the GR does a good job here at ISO 1600, but the X100S is simply better in most respects. If you can afford the price tag, less noise and sharper detail make it a better choice for higher ISO shooting than the lower priced GR.


Fuji X100S versus Sigma DP1M at ISO 1600

Fuji X100S at ISO 1600
Sigma DP1M at ISO 1600

The triple-layered Foveon sensor technology doesn't make for good results at higher ISOs, so keep it dialed under ISO 800 and be amazed by the outcome.



ISO 1600 used to be the high limit for many of us, but that is now expanding. ISO 3200 is now a viable option on many a newer model, and since almost every decent camera made these days can produce good shots at base ISO, this is really the most interesting frontier of the digital camera world.

Fuji X100S versus Fuji X100 at ISO 3200

Fuji X100S at ISO 3200
Fuji X100 at ISO 3200

Similar to base ISO and ISO 1600, the X100 is very good and the X100S is even better, with higher resolution and lower noise.


Fuji X100S versus Nikon Coolpix A at ISO 3200

Fuji X100S at ISO 3200
Nikon Coolpix A at ISO 3200

I just double-checked to make sure I didn't accidentally drop in the ISO 1600 crop here by mistake for the X100S. This is really good stuff for such a high ISO, not much noise and plenty of fine detail.


Fuji X100S versus Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 3200

Fuji X100S at ISO 3200
Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 3200

Like we saw at ISO 1600 but on a much more severe level, the E-M5's default sharpening and noise reduction algorithms work hard, creating odd artifacts in the bottle crop and blotchiness in the mosaic tiles. Of course, you can choose your own settings or shoot in RAW in order to achieve different results, but for the sake of this table, the default settings of the X100S yield far superior results.


Fuji X100S versus Ricoh GR at ISO 3200

Fuji X100S at ISO 3200
Ricoh GR at ISO 3200

The results here seem reflective of these two camera's relative prices. The GR yields very good results at ISO 3200 for a camera listing at $800, while the X100S yields excellent results for a camera listing at $1,300.


Fuji X100S versus Sigma DP1M at ISO 3200

Fuji X100S at ISO 3200
Sigma DP1M at ISO 3200

Again, keep the DP1M at below ISO 800 and you'll be fine, but don't stray too much further.

 

Detail: Fuji X100S vs. Fuji X100, Nikon Coolpix A, Olympus OM-D
E-M5, Ricoh GR and Sigma DP1M

Fuji
X100S

ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Fuji
X100

ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon
Coolpix A

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Olympus
OM-D E-M5

ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Ricoh
GR

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

Sigma
DP1M

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

Detail comparison. This is where the DP1M shines so brightly, because the detail at base ISO is a beautiful thing to behold. It is why the camera is revered for what it can do, which is profound detail at low ISOs. The E-M5 also looks quite good, even as ISO rises. We saw the unwanted artifacts from aggressive sharpening earlier, but here in the high-contrast detail arena the sharpening is working nicely. The remaining four cameras, including the Fuji X100S, perform similarly in the fine detail department, doing a good job at base ISO and about average as ISO rises.

 

Fuji X100S Review -- Print Quality Analysis

Very nice 24 x 36 inch prints at ISO 100-400; makes a good 20 x 30 inch print at ISO 800 and a usable 4 x 6 at ISO 25,600.

ISO 100/200/400 images are excellent with very fine details and bright, accurate colors up to 24 x 36 inches. It was impressive to see this size print remain good all the way up to ISO 400. At all three ISO levels, a 30 x 40 print would be acceptable for wall display.

ISO 800 images look good at 20 x 30 inches, with just a hint of softness compared to ISO 400. There is hardly any noise at 800 and colors looked great. 24 x 36 inch prints are definitely suitable for wall display.

ISO 1600 makes a good 16 x 20 inch print with plenty of fine detail, although you can start to see slight shadow noise at this ISO level. Colors and overall sharpness still look excellent. At 20 x 30, the noise is more noticeable compared to the same size at ISO 800, but you could easily wall-mount a 20 x 30 inch print at ISO 1600.

ISO 3200 prints start to show more noise, but it's still very well-controlled and produces a nice 13 x 19 inch print. As expected, shadow noise is more apparent, but otherwise the image looks great and fine details are still present.

ISO 6400 makes a good 11 x 14. We were surprised at how nice noise looked here -- very minimal. There is a bit more shadow noise, but the level of detail and accurate colors are very acceptable at this level. The X100S handles the red fabric quite well, with the leaf pattern still coming through to some degree.

ISO 12,800 images produce a nice 8 x 10 inch print, which was quite surprising for this ISO level. There was still a lot of detail; even the fine detail patterns of the mosaic tile and red fabric were noticeable, although just barely. The noise level at this ISO was quite low, which is very impressive.

ISO 25,600 images looked decent at 4 x 6 inches, more so than at 5 x 7. Compared to ISO 12,800, colors here seemed a little drab and faded, which was more apparent at 5 x 7. We'd recommend sticking with ISO 12,800 if you can, but 25,600 can still produce acceptable prints, albeit at a small size.

The Fujifilm's X-Trans sensor shines again with the X100S, producing outstanding results both on screen and in print. From ISO 100 to 400, printed images look practically identical and produced great prints all the way up to 24 x 36 inches and wall-mountable at 30 x 40! Even when hitting higher ISO values, the noise level was outstandingly low, enabling this little camera to produce larger print sizes at higher ISO levels than some other APS-C cameras we've tested. Colors looked accurate all the way up the scale, and it wasn't until we hit ISO 25,600 that we noticed colors beginning to degrade a bit. Fine details were also very good, particularly at ISO 800 and below, although even at ISO 12,800 very fine details like the mosaic and red fabric patterns were still visible -- something we've seen other cameras struggle with at this ISO. Overall, Fujifilm has another winner on its hands, and if you are looking to make great photos, both for display on the computer or with prints, the X100S is an excellent choice.

 

In the Box

The Fujifilm X100S retail box contains:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Fuji X100S Review -- Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Solid build and sharp, retro "rangefinder" style design with decent ergonomics
  • Very good 23mm (35mm-equivalent) f/2 lens
  • Built-in 3-stop ND filter
  • Noticeably better resolution than predecessor, thanks to upgraded 16.3-megapixel X-Trans CMOS II sensor
  • JPEG engine produces very pleasing images
  • Excellent high ISO performance
  • Very good dynamic range and accurate colors
  • Excellent hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder with good resolution and lots of possible displays, including histogram
  • Extremely quiet shutter and overall operation
  • Improved manual focus operation, including more responsive focus ring and Digital Split-Image Focus Assist
  • On-chip phase-detect pixels deliver faster AF in good light
  • Good burst speeds with decent buffer depths
  • Incredibly fast prefocused shutter lag
  • Predecessor's lens flare issue appears to be mostly fixed
  • D-Range function works well to preserve highlights
  • Separate highlight and shadow contrast ("tone") settings
  • Camera reduces vignetting and chromatic aberration in JPEGs
  • Level indicator for straight horizon lines
  • Fuji film simulation modes for both color and black-and-white effects
  • Motion Panorama easy to use and offers two different angles of coverage (120- and 180-degrees)
  • Hot shoe for connecting external flashes and accessories
  • External MIC-ST1 microphone supported
  • Good built-in flash range
  • Improved battery life
  • Excellent printed results
  • While autofocus performance has improved, it's still slow and inaccurate in low light, real-world conditions (moving subjects)
  • No face detection autofocus
  • Fixed-focal-length lens doesn't give you much flexibilit
  • Handgrip insubstantial and not sufficient for one-handed operation; somewhat slippery
  • Physical dials too easy to bump and change accidentally, especially the EV dial
  • AF point cumbersome to change with multi-function Command dial
  • Aperture and Shutter speeds only adjustable in full stops via physical dials (1/3 stops are available via the Command dial)
  • Video quality compromised by excessive moiré and lack of image stabilization
  • Slightly soft corners wide-open
  • Minor demosaicing errors and slightly soft detail in some subject matter
  • Auto WB too warm indoors, somewhat cool outdoors
  • Not much latitude in saturation adjustment
  • Sluggish mode switching
  • RAW only supported at ISOs 200-6400
  • Shutter speed range limited by aperture setting (lens shutter)
  • Memory card slot and battery cannot be replaced while the camera is mounted on a tripod
  • Owner's manual not very helpful

First things first: The Fuji X100S is inarguably a better camera than its predecessor, the X100. It delivers superior image quality, thanks to its APS-C-type, next gen X-Trans CMOS II sensor featuring 4 megapixels more resolution. Its new hybrid autofocus system incorporates phase-detect pixels that improve AF speed and accuracy in good light, and overall its operational performance is faster and better.

Moreover, manual focus is no longer a bust, as the focus ring on the X100S is far more responsive than the previous model's, and it's assisted by a Digital Split-Image Focus Assist function that harkens back to the manual focus systems found on the analog cameras of yore. Additional upgrades include a speedier burst rate of up to 5.7fps (as tested), reduced flare from the sharp, fast, 35mm equivalent lens and improved battery life. And added in 2014, you can now extend the X100S to a 50mm eq. focal length with the new (optional) TCL-X100 teleconverter.

Still, the X100S is not the major upgrade that we hoped it to be. We still found the AF system to be lacking, especially in low-light, real-world shooting conditions with moving subjects. We can't tell you how many throw-away pictures we took with this camera indoors, or wherever the light was a bit dodgy or we were dealing with low-contrast subjects. Fuji simply didn't modify its contrast-detect AF system on the X100S enough for it to make a noticeable difference from our experiences with the X100. (It's a shame that these low-light AF issues persist, because otherwise the X100S captures great high ISO images with a fantastic balance of detail and noise reduction.) Luckily, the camera's improved manual focus operation gives you a good workaround when low-light AF gives you problems.

Additionally, while the camera's video specs looked good on paper -- Full HD 1080p video at up to 60p -- in practice the video quality was marred by its proclivity for moiré and lack of image stabilization. (Granted, you probably wouldn't buy the X100S to be a go-to moviemaking machine, but it's disappointing nonetheless.) The X100S also carries forward a few flaws that also existed on its predecessor, most notably a small, low-res LCD screen, physical dials (EV in particular) that you can too easily accidentally move, and cumbersome AF point controls.

The original X100 had a few too many flaws to give it our recommendation and earn a Dave's Pick, but the Fuji X100S addressed enough of them to overturn that verdict. While still far from perfect, as it stands, the X100S makes for a great camera if you're a daylight street shooter or landscape photographer, or if you're an extremely patient photographer willing to contend with its low-light AF issues and won't likely be photographing moving subjects indoors or at night. Fuji tweaked the firmware on the X100 many times after its launch, and to good effect, and we hope that the company will do the same for the X100S. To paraphrase our reviewer David Schloss, we hope the camera we yearned for is trapped inside the Fuji X100S, and somehow, someday soon it will be brought out.

 

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