Friday, March 7, 2014

Review: Fujifilm x100s - The perfect Image

Just when I decided it was time to upgrade my camera everywhere I turned everyone were talking about the new Fuji x100s. After a long time drolling over my keyboard, reading every possible review about it, I finally bought one. So, after using it for 5 month, how does this little camera stand up to my expectations?

Rome is an amazing city. During last Pessah vacation I had an opportunity to spend a week traveling the city with my lovely wife, Rita. As always, I was raveling with my DSLR (A Canon 40D) with a single zoom lens (Canon's excellent EF-S 15-85). Even though I try to carry a camera with me at all times, during the trip I ended up leaving the camera at the Hotel on several occasions. When we were going out at night, I didn't want to be stuck with a bag all evening and have to worry about it. They say you reach your Physical peak at the age of 30 and from there it all goes downhill. Well, being way past my peak at 31, I was tired of logging around a massive SLR camera with a huge lens. It was heavy, it drew attention and simply was too much hassle at times.

So after getting back home, I realized I wanted a smaller camera. At the same time, I didn't want to compromise the image quality I was getting from my now aging DSLR. Once I started shooting with an SLR, going for back to pocket camera quality was simply not an option for me. I didn't really know much about the mirrorless market and being a Canon user I was thinking about the Canon EOS M (that I did hear a little about). So, I did a little research, but the reviews I read were mixed. Also, It had no viewfinder which was a deal breaker for me. Being immersed in the picture through the viewfinder is a totally different experience than using the back screen.
Just as I started looking the hype about the new Fuji x100s started reaching me. First I read David Hobby raving on about it and later Zack Arias declaring his love to it (btw, best review ever... In fact, If you haven't read it, I'm not sure why you are still reading mine). Suddenly every corner of the Internet I turned someone was declaring his love for this camera ( Bill Fortney, Steve Huff  and many many more).

What can I say, after reading all those reviews I was in love before I met her. So after making considerable financial calculations,  ignoring them and deciding to buy the camera, I was full of excitement. Unfortunately, the x100s was in such a high demand, that it took quite a long time until I got one. Once I did order it, I was like an excited kid, waiting for my blind date.

Well, I now have had the x100s for over 5 month and I'm still amazed by it. This camera is really special.  It just makes you wanna take more pictures. In fact, I think it temporary made me a worse photographer. You know when Instagram first appeared and you felt each photo from your crappy phone camera suddenly looked cool after slapping a filter on it? It takes some time to get your judgment adjusted. The same thing happened to me with this camera. I was in love with every crappy photo out of this little camera and just wanted to shoot more.

When the original x100 came out, Fujifilm created a unique, fun, quirky camera capable of amazing results. The problem was that some of the quirks were mighty annoying. The x100s addressed all of those issues while still keeping that photographic experience.

I'm not gonna go over all the features of the camera, since there are plenty of reviews out there that do just that. Instead, I'll just focus on some of my favorite features about the camera:

Size & Feel -  The camera just looks retro and cool. After using an SLR for years, this thing is small! And light! and yet not too small or light. It feels steady and comfortable in your hand. The award winning design is inspired by the classic Leica's M cameras and looks classy and chic. The controls for shutter speed, and exposure compensation are old school knobs, the lens has an aperture ring. All of it just evokes feelings of heritage and tradition. That being said it is still practical and comfortable to use.

Image Quality of this camera is simply amazing.
Looking at the results from this little wonder, and suddenly my Canon's 40D sensor feels seriously outdated (well, 6 years IS a lot of time in the digital world).
Photos at ISO 1600 look great. In the Canon, they were almost unusable. Now I know comparing them is not really fair, but man, what an upgrade! The pictures out of this camera are so live and crisp. It's not only the noise performance, The dynamic range is phenomenal. You can shoot strait against the sun and still get decent detail in you subjects.

Fixed Fujinon 23mm f/2 lens - It very well might put a lot of people off this camera. But it really does not bother me. You get an awesome quality lens with a great 35mm equivalent focal length in a really small package and a leaf shutter. I rarely felt I was missing a zoom on my camera and I never owned a telephoto lens. So for a walk around camera I don't feel the zoom is something I must have. Not to mention all the great street photographers were shooting with similar prime lenses.

Film simulation is another feature I love about the camera. Fujifilm being a company that produced so many popular films over the years, has a lot of experience with color. Using that experience they created a set of presets, that tweak how the camera 'develops' the colors in you jpeg. This gives a distinctive look and character to your photos (just like using a certain film was back in the day). The effect is subtle yet really awesome. The black & white out of this camera is gorgeous!

Leaf shutter
One of the cool features this camera sports is a leaf shutter. Without going into the technical stuff, it means that the shutter opens and closes similarly to the aperture blades (as opposed to the traditional curtain shutter traveling from side to side). This results in two things:
1. The camera being Near silent when shooting. Along with it's small size, It’s a great advantage when you don't want to call attention to yourself.
2. Sync speeds at 1/2000 of a second. That’s mind blowing! This feature alone makes David Hobby go on and on about the camera.

The Hybrid viewfinder is a really cool feature. After shooting so long with an SLR going back to shooting with the LCD screen was not an option for me. This neat feature gives you lots of information while having an optical viewfinder. You can decide if you want a compositional grid, histogram and other data displayed. It also allows some cool tricks - In multiple exposure mode the first image is overlayed in the viewfinder. The downside is that, unlike the SLR, the optical viewfinder does not go through the lens. This introduces parallax distortion. Of course, you can switch to full EVF at a pull of a lever (designed like the delay lever in old film SLRs). In EFV mode you have no parallax, 100% coverage, plus you see how the film simulation/white balance/filters will look. This is extremely useful when shooting B&W which I seem to do a lot with this camera. As always the problem with the EFV is a certain lag in dark environments. Fujifilm have a really nice EVF. It’s bright, the resolution is great and I had no problems using it in dark situations.
viewfinder is big and bright.

I haven't had the opportunity to use the x100, so I can't really report on how much did fuji improve in this regard. All I can say that without reading about it being an issue, I wouldn't been able to tell. The focusing is smooth, fast and does not feel that different from my DSLR.
Manual Focus is great as well. Manually focusing on my DSLR was always a hit and miss for me, unless I were using the Live View option. On the x100s, Fuji added several ways the camera can assist you to focus manually. When focusing, the EVF zooms in on the center of the frame, making it easier to focus and using either the focus peaking or the digital split screen to assist you. After focusing the EVF zooms out, letting you to compose.

The Hipster Factor
The chic retro look, chrome finishing, built-in filers, fixed focal length lens, the ability to shoot square format, an optional leather case - with all that you can definitely roam the streets of Williamsburg (Or the streets of Florentin, in the local version) proud. I even "hipstered" mine up with a third party lens hood and some retro looking leather strap.  My grandparents said it looks like their old FED camera - I'm not sure what else you could ask for... except maybe 'Made in GDR' written on it in big letters.

There are still things to improve
The battery life, coming from a DSLR, is nothing to brag about. I purchased another 2 third party batteries and I always have at least one with me. What's even worse than the mediocre battery life is the battery indication. By the time it moves from full to the next level, you only have a few more shoots before it moves to empty and dies the next minute. A more refined feedback would really be nicer.

One other thing I'd love seeing improved is the built-in flash control. You can only adjust the flash power 2/3 of a stop (up or down). I mainly want to use the flash as fill and that really limits the use of the built-in flash in many situations.

If it wasn't obvious thus far, I LOVE this camera. After waiting a long while for it and reading so many positive reviews I was wondering if the it could stand up to my overblown expectations of it. Turns out it easily does! The camera never leaves my sight. I can take it everywhere I go and not be burdened by it. In fact, I rarely use my Canon any more. I was looking for a smaller camera to go along my DSLR and ended up finding a whole new photographic experience.
Not to mention David Beckham has one :-P

P.S. Creating the perfect Image

Fujifilm have done here a remarkable thing. They managed to create a real attachment to the brand. I don't remember any other brand that got so much excitement and confessions of love in the photographic community.

Whether it is constant firmware updates that bring considerable improvements and features from never models to your old camera, publishing a lens roadmap or inviting notable fuji X photographers to Japan and asking them for feedback and having them give lectures to the employees. Fujifilm seems to care about the person behind it's camera.

Recently, the released a firmware update for the x100. That’s an update for a discontinued, 3 year old camera that has a direct replacement. And we're talking about major improvements in functionality. Not only Fujifilm will not profit anything from this update, potentially they loose money on people not upgrading from the x100 to the x100s. This is deeply impressive and admirable. Actions like those create a real brand following and attachment. I'd really like to see Fuji continue carrying on with this tradition even after they established the X series.


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