Mirrorless cameras. Photographers either love 'em or they hate 'em.
For me they always seemed limited, hard to hold, and I was kind of wary of the electronic viewfinder. But, I think some of the came from the fact that the only notable mirrorless cameras out at the time were the Sony NEX and Nikon 1 cameras, and while the NEX system has been lauded for helping to bring mirrorless cameras to a mainstream audience, the Nikon 1 stumbled out of the gate here in the West and hasn't yet recovered. The same is true for the Canon M EOS M camera. It was released in the USA to a resounding "Meh," and they haven't given us another one since. In fact, when Canon released the EOS M2, they decided to sell them only in Japan.
Now enter the Fujifilm X100s, the mirrorless camera that feels more like a labor of love than a cold tool for photography.
Fujifilm has been around a long time. They're film is actually regarded to be some of the best and most iconic still in (and out) of production. However, they've never really been a huge player in the digital photography game. They've had a few DSLRs in the past, but Canikon basically had the market cornered at that point, so the Fujifilm S3 and S5 slowly sank into obscurity.
But things are changing for Fujifilm and the camera market as a whole. Companies that haven't previously been well-known for their digital still cameras are now stepping up to the plate to give Canikon a run for their money, so without further ado, here's my take on the quirky little, fixed-lens Fujifilm X100s.
1. Foreword About the Sensor
First things first, the sensor in this little camera is pretty great. It might not be full frame, but I'll wager that it's one of the most capable APS-C sensors on the market.
This is because of a few reasons:
It uses Fujifilm's X-Trans II. Sounds kind of badass, right? Well, it kind of is. You see, instead of using the conventional Bayer Array that is used in most DSLRs, the X-Trans uses a different color filter. Here's the difference:
This sensor design also allows for sharper images because it cuts down on the amount of, moiré, which is the weird color shift you will see when photographing patterns with a lot of fine detail. Conventional Bayer pattern sensors typically use a special filter in front of the sensor that slightly softens details in an image so the moiré effect doesn't rear its ugly head. However, the X-Trans doesn't require this softening filter because of its different design.
I know at this point you're probably saying "This means nothing to me. Just tell me if it takes nice photos." Okay, okay, I won't get any more technical than I already have. There are some other benefits, but they're kind of boring if you don't understand photographese. I just wanted to touch on one of the things that make the Fujifilm cameras so unique. If you'd like to learn more: Wikipedia.
2. Image Quality
The X100s has an APS-C size sensor, meaning it has a 1.6x crop factor when compared to 35mm ("full frame") sensors. Because of this, the 23mm fixed lens has an equivalent angle of view that is closer to 35mm.
And man is it a useful focal length. It's awesome for photojournalistic work where I can get in close to get some modestly wide angle shots and then turn around and shoot portraits as well.
It also has a wide aperture of f/2, which allows for better low light shooting.
For such a little camera, it's really great to be able to get that creamy background blur that is generally associated with the chunkier DSLRs.
It also does really well with noise too. This image was shot at ISO 1600, and even though the noise is noticeable, it's not nearly as bad as, say, my Canon 60D camera, which is a DSLR with the same size sensor. It's quite usable.
I think part of this is because the noise is mostly luminance noise. This means that the little speckles affect the bright and dark certain pixels are, but it doesn't have a color shift. A lot of times higher ISOs will cause pixels to appear magenta, especially in the shadows. The X100s doesn't typically experience this.
Of course, this could be because of the editing software (I use Lightroom), which gets rid of a lot of the color noise by default, but either way, it's still nice.
4. Dynamic Range
Dynamic range is simply the range of detail that a sensor can capture between the brightest point and the darkest point. It's measured in stops, so a camera with 10 stops of dynamic range is "worse" than a camera that can produce 12 stops of dynamic range.
The Fujifilm is now slouch in this department. I currently shoot Canon as my main set of gear, and it easily competes with my Canon 6D, which is a full frame sensor.
Here's an image straight out of the camera. I uploaded it and exported it without changing anything. I metered for the inside of the restaurant, meaning that the inside is properly exposed, but the outside, because it's so much brighter, is overexposed. Let's see how much detail can be brought back.
Not too bad. There's enough detail outside now that the brightness isn't too overwhelming. Of course, this is just one example, and there are way to get more dynamic range out of the sensor than is shown here. For one, I could have underexposed the inside slightly, which would give me more detail in the highlights outside the restaurant, and then I would just have to bring the shadows up a bit so the inside wouldn't seem so dark. However, I wanted to show how much dynamic range you can pull out of the sensor if you properly expose the part of the image that you're trying to emphasize.
Straight out of camera:
I'll admit it. These probably aren't the best examples of the full dynamic range that this camera can produce. But I'm really trying to stay away from being too clinical with this "review," since there are sites that can do it much better than I can. I'm just giving my take on the camera from a real world, everyday perspective.
In the next part of the review I will be looking at the X100s' ergonomics/menus and its performance with off-camera flash. Stay tuned!