|Viewfinder:||Optical / LCD|
|Dimensions:||5.0 x 2.9 x 2.1 in.
(127 x 74 x 54 mm)
|Weight:||15.7 oz (445 g)
Fujifilm X100S Hands-On Preview
by Dave Etchells
The Fujifilm 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 $1,200 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.
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 promises to go it a few steps better. Dubbed X-Trans II, the new sensor offers 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 should not only be better than that of the higher-end removable-lens X-Pro1 and XE-1 models, but a quantum leap over that of the original X100.
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-tuning the result for accuracy using contrast detection.
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, with some of the systems actually focusing more slowly than competing models using contrast detect AF alone.
Based on the specs they shared, it looks like the wait for on-chip phase detect in Fujifilm's large-sensor cameras was well worth it. They're claiming an autofocus time of just 0.08 second (!) for the X100S, which they claim to be the fastest in its class. Again, we'll have to verify this figure in our lab, but if it's true, the Fuji X100S would indeed be one of the very fastest-focusing cameras we've seen to date.
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.
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 six frames per second, from the previous 5 fps, startup time has been reduced to half a second from roughly two seconds, and the buffer depth for full-resolution JPEGs is now 31 frames, versus the relatively paltry 10 of its predecessor. Single-shot frame to frame time has also dropped to half a second from the previous 0.9 second. (Again, these are all Fujifilm's numbers. We'll supply our own once we get a sample in the lab for testing.)
Lens. While the original X100's 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 will be in the shooting, but we're hopeful that they've managed to address a critical flaw in an otherwise ground-breaking camera.
Viewfinder. The original X100 introduced the concept of a "hybrid optical viewfinder," in which a thin LCD screen is inserted directly into the viewfinder optics, allowing the overlay of typical EVF information readouts onto a conventional optical viewfinder image. 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 icing on the cake is that the new viewfinder offers 100% frame coverage.
Availability. The new Fujifilm X100S will be available beginning in March 2013. Retail pricing is set at around US$1,300.
Summary. While we'll obviously have to withhold judgement until we can put a sample of the Fuji X100S through its paces in our lab, it has the look of that truly rare beast in the camera world: the automatic upgrade. If you like your X100, you'll probably want to run -- not walk -- to the nearest camera store or friendly internet retailer, to lay hands on the new X100S. We expect the improvements to be pretty dramatic.
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