Friday, April 12, 2013

REVIEW: Fujifilm X100s–Real World Sample Images

Fujifilm X100S Digital Camera
Fujifilm X100S Digital Camera

When I reviewed the Fujifilm x100, I was impressed by the DSLR caliber image quality but disappointed with all of its quirks for the price charged. The Fujifilm X100S Digital Camera is the result of a lot of user feedback and improvements. As a result, this camera looks the same but it is very much different on the inside – in a very, very good way!

I like to use car analogies, so I’m going to use one here. If this camera was a car, I’d call it a modern day Maybach. For those who don’t know their cars, that basically means it’s on the same level as a Rolls Royce (think Leica) but made by someone else. Just like the luxury cars, you can argue that it’s a lot of money for something you don’t really need – even if you can afford it. However, purchase sometimes go beyond all reason and logic and are purely motivated by emotion. This is where I think the x100s sits, and if I had the money I’d buy this camera in a heartbeat despite my logical side telling me – WHAT? Are you nuts?!!!

Here’s the deal – the image quality of this sensor is impressive. The in-camera noise reduction is very bad (crushes details), but you should be always shooting with RAW enabled anyway. Now that Lightroom 4.4 & up has a demosaic algorithms for Fujifilm cameras with the X-Trans sensor you can get a great RAW image, use Noiseware to kill the noise without destroying the detail and end up with all the benefits of not having a low pass filter without any penalty. This means stunning images are possible, so take the great sensor and brilliantly sharp lens and you’ve got something special here.

Of course my logical brain says “but this is a $1300 camera with a fixed lens”!!!! I can’t let that go by, but damn it sure is a fun camera to use! It’s hard to explain until you spend time with it, but this camera just has tons of charm. Perhaps it is ability to do so much in-camera that you feel like the LCD is showing you a great print from the film days, or perhaps it’s just the challenge of being at 23mm only. Whatever it is, I want one and don’t look forward to sending this one back to B&H!

Read on to get more of my thoughts on this much improved camera.

Ergonomics & Autofocus Performance

Fujifilm X100s Rear View
Fujifilm X100s Rear View

Just like the other new X-Series cameras that I have reviewed recently, the only big changes are the swap of the AF point and drive buttons and the Q button replacing the RAW button. Everything from the same trick Hybrid Viewfinder (which has been upgraded to 2,360K-dots) to the great lens is going to be familiar to X100 owners (or admirers). There’s lots of improvements, but the biggest is the removal of the low pass filter (think D800E & D7100) which allows for significantly improved image resolution from its super sharp lens.

However, the thing that any X100 owner will want to upgrade to the x100s for is the improved AF system. In short, this one works and it works VERY well! Thanks to a new system that uses BOTH phase detection (think DSLR’s) and contrast detection (think sucky x100), the AF problems are mostly gone. Indoors worked very well and only the toughest of conditions that trip up your average DSLR were an issue. Manual focusing has been drastically improved with a nice live view implementation, focus peaking and Digital Split Image (DSI). As a result, I had no issues and was very happy with the AF system of this camera. The wonderful digital viewfinder works extremely well too.

Real World Sample Images

Like all my reviews, I like to provide in-camera JPEG original images as samples. You can find a complete gallery at http://www.ronmartinsen.com/fujifilm/x100s. This annoys people who want to see the raws, but I don’t do that for three reasons:

  1. I don’t have a sever where I can store the RAW images. If you have an image where you really want to see a raw, then contact me and I’ll do what I can to try to get you the RAF file.
  2. What you see on your camera LCD, and what you make decisions based on the histogram is the in-camera JPEG – even if you shoot RAW. As a result, a lot of opinions are formed based on that JPEG (which is even embedded into your RAW file). To compare apples with apples and what the camera can do I think it makes sense to compare the RAW as you can always get better results that meet your needs with a RAW file, so it effectively only gets better from here!
  3. While I always shoot RAW, I also prefer to shoot RAW+JPEG and use the JPEG when it’s not a commercial shot. This camera creates gorgeous JPEG’s, and not everything I take with it is intended for my portfolio nor will every image get hours of Photoshop love. As a result, if I can get an image I love out of camera, isn’t that a good thing? I think it is and I think many cameras today do that, so why not place a value on a feature of the camera? If you want to pixel peep raws, go to DPReview – they have more people and can do a better job for pixel peepers than I have the bandwidth to do.

My shooting style with this camera is mostly aperture priority (which on this camera means I pick a fixed aperture and set the dial to auto shutter speed). I also use Auto (6400) for my ISO. I shoot in RAW+F(ine) with DRAuto or DR400 and WB Auto. I’m also very fond of the Velvia (Vivid) film simulation as I enjoyed Velvia film. If you think the image is a bit too punchy and black then blame my film simulation selection. I like Astia (Soft) quite a bit too so if you see some images that are less punchy then that’s what I’ve chosen and if they are pretty neutral then I’ve chosen Provia (Standard).

I always pick my AF point when in S(ingle shot) AF mode, and I choose the medium or large AF point indoors as the small AF point is near useless in anything but great light. Continuous focus works well both in single shot and burst mode.

All images copyright Ron Martinsen – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. You may view, but you may not edit print, or publish any of these photos in any way without a signed contract.

All images are exactly as they came out of the camera – zero post-processing, cropping, or anything. All in-camera processing was via camera settings and not in-camera editing.

Nearly all outdoor shots were taken in light rain and mild wind conditions, so some softness is wind related but most of it is due to poor in-camera noise reduction. Use Noiseware on your RAW files instead.  

With that said, here’s a few images from my sample gallery worth calling out (click to view the original in-camera JPEG):


Fujifilm claims they’ve nearly eliminated diffraction (read more here)
and this suggests they’ve certainly done something beyond removing the low pass filter.
f/16 @ 23 mm, 1.9s, ISO 200, No Flash (rain and mild wind conditions)


Bokehlicous with great in-camera color (Velvia Film Simulation)
f/2 @ 23 mm, 1/600, ISO 200, No Flash


This macro was tough to shoot, but the new manual focus improvements helped to nail it
f/2.8 @ 23 mm, 1/125, ISO 2500, No Flash


Are you s**ting me? This is a little compact range finder?
It looks almost 3D like to me. I SO wish I had more time with this camera!
f/2 @ 23 mm, 1/52, ISO 200, No Flash


For fun I shot this handheld at f/2 here and f/8 below to test ISO impact and DOF
f/2 @ 23 mm, 1/30, ISO 200, No Flash


For fun I shot this handheld at f/8 here and f/2 above to test ISO impact and DOF
f/8 @ 23 mm, 1/4, ISO 800, No Flash


Impressive for ISO 2000, but more potential lies in the RAW
f/2 @ 23 mm, 1/60, ISO 2000, No Flash

Copyright Ron Martinsen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Dynamic range of this sensor is impressive
f/2 @ 23 mm,1/220, ISO 800, No Flash

Copyright Ron Martinsen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
ISO 2000 in good light isn’t bad at all
f/2 @ 23 mm,1/250, ISO 2000, No Flash


Yes, it’s easy to get addicted to f/2 with this camera!
f/2 @ 23 mm, 1/250, ISO 2000, No Flash


Try to get this shot with the last generation Fuji’s or many DSLR – HA!
I was very pleased with AF performance (vs the x100 which had the worst I ever tested)
f/2 @ 23 mm, 1/250, ISO 2000, No Flash


Even more impressive, the AF system didn’t get tripped up by the screen
Good AF has FINALLY arrived to the Fujifilm X series – woohoo!
f/2 @ 23 mm, 1/250, ISO 1250, No Flash


A tad bit of edge distortion but overall this lens is just super sharp
f/8 @ 23 mm, 1/105, ISO 800, No Flash


f/16 is the max, but f/11 is probably my favorite when I want extensive DOF with this camera
f/11 @ 23 mm, 1.4s, ISO 200, No Flash (branches moving slightly from breeze)


A little chromatic aberration under tough conditions, but I still love this lens
f/2 @ 23 mm, 1/250, ISO 400, No Flash

About Real World Sample Images

I sometimes am asked, “what do you mean by ‘real world’ sample images?” Some have even taken a poke and said “does that mean photos that suck?”

The truth is that as a consumer one of the things that has always annoyed me is when I see the images from a camera on a web site that look fantastic, but when I get it home and use it under normal everyday conditions the photos just don’t have the same “oomph”. As a blogger  I began to investigate “why” there were these discrepancies and I discovered three things:

  1. Some sites doctor their photos so what you are seeing is an edited image that used the camera in question, but that’s not an image you’ll really ever get out of the camera. To me this is useless.
  2. Some sites only show you photos taken in beautiful surroundings and lighting conditions. While these may be real images, they aren’t the type of image the average person will be taking. This leads to massive disappointment when you get home and are shooting around the house in very difficult lighting and non-ideal locations and think “gosh, this camera sucks compared to what I saw on the web”.

All of the images I feature for all my camera reviews are only impacted by the in-camera processing which is also what you see on your camera’s LCD (even when you shoot RAW). There is NO post-processing and what you see is what you can expect to get. While I do try to get some images in nice settings so you can see what a nice photo will be like, I also work hard to stress the camera to see how it performs under difficult situations (i.e., backlight, mid-day sun highlights, tungsten lighting, indoors with high ISO, etc…).

It’s my opinion that real world shots really tell you what you want to know about a camera and keep you from being surprised when you get it home. It does mean that I have to take some criticism for shots that aren’t always cropped perfectly (what you see is EXACTLY what came out of the camera), and I show image failures. However, my goal is to be the place that you can trust for a REAL assessment of a camera and a place you can trust.

Panorama

In typical Fujifilm fashion, this camera takes brilliant panos. However, the tough conditions and handholding forced me into using a shallow depth of field aperture which ruined the shots. That said, the stitching was excellent under tough conditions. I’d certainly recommend a tripod and f/5.6 or greater when doing panos whenever possible.


Taken with the camera in portrait orientation
f/2.8 @ 23 mm, 1/125, ISO 5000, No Flash – 120 degree


Taken with the camera in landscape orientation
f/2.8 @ 23 mm, 1/125, ISO 5000, No Flash – 120 degree


Taken with the camera in landscape orientation
f/2.8 @ 23 mm, 1/125, ISO 5000, No Flash – 180 degrees

Unlike the X20 which supports 360 degrees, this camera only supports 120 & 180 degrees. Honestly that’s all I used on my X10 so I’m plenty happy with that. I’m just impressed with how well it works!

One minor observation I noticed is that the playback speed and smoothness (fps) of the X100s wasn’t as good as the X20. I assume this is just due to having more megapixels and close to the same processing power. It’s not bad by any stretch – just a little slower. 

Video Sample


Play in HD

I know this is going to shock my normal readers, but I actually have video! Yeah, I know I always say that I hate video – and I do – but I just happened to stumble across a nice opportunity on the way home one day so I got some sample HD footage. Get used to this scene – you’ll probably see it on the blog again. ;-)

Overall I was impressed with the DSLR-like quality, but like all DSLR’s it’s not a camcorder-like video device. Like other Fujifilm of this generation it also has some pretty nasty compression noise that really demands perfect light and external audio for the best results. However, I think the casual video enthusiast will be happy simply because the sensor and lens of this camera are so darn good that you are sure to get some great footage when all the filming conditions are perfect.

Bookshelf Shots

I’m not going to spend much time on this section this time because the images speak for themselves. Great image quality, lens sharpness and performance at both ends of the lens aperture spectrum. Here’s f/2:


f/2 @ 23 mm, 0.6s, ISO 200, No Flash

and f/16 lives up to Fujifilm's claim that they’ve not only removed the low pass filter but also addressed diffraction head on:


f/16 @ 23 mm, 30s, ISO 200, No Flash

This shot floored me and made me think – yeah, good times are ahead for our DSLR’s too!  This has to be one of the best bookshelf shots I’ve seen at an aperture greater than f/11. I wouldn’t say Fujifilm has eliminated diffraction, but they’ve done something magical that I hope spreads throughout the industry!

More bookcase shots can be found here: http://www.ronmartinsen.com/fujifilm/x100s/e5a788690

Conclusion

If you own a X100 then sell it and upgrade to the x100s*. You’ll finally get the experience that you were hoping for when you bought the X100 – and then some. Seriously, there’s so many improvements that it only looks like the same camera.

Now I used an asterisks (*) because I still think that everything we see in this camera moved to X-E1 replacement is going to be the ultimate Fujifilm camera experience. I want interchangeable lenses and I don’t want the X-Pro1 price, so I think the X-E1 replacement is going to be huge.

This isn’t the perfect camera, but as of April 12, 2013 it’s the best Fujifilm camera I’ve tested to date. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun to use which is probably why I was sorta ho-hum about the D7100 I just reviewed.

For those of you who are lusting for this camera and are fearful of that one additional excuse to finally pull the trigger, please don’t go to these sites:

These are very well done sites that give you a lot more info about this camera in a way that will have you wiping your chin and placing your order at B&H. There’s plenty for geeks too, so trust when I say that these will make you toss logic to the wind and just order one. I had one in my cart several times, but found enough resolve not to pull the trigger. You might not be so lucky!

I highly recommend this camera for those with lots of extra income who are looking for a third or fourth camera. I still can’t in good faith recommend it for a beginner or single camera owner, but I can say that those who spring for it will love it.

Where to order

Click here to order the x100s B&H web site. My friends at Adorama have it online here.

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Come on! buy the fujifilm x100s is amazing !

Alejandro Cantor said...

Hi Ron.
if you say choose between these two gifts:
A x100s Fuji Sony rx1 or which you choose.

Ron Martinsen said...

Alejandro,

The x100s would be my preference because of the usability of f/11 and beyond and the gorgeous in-camera JPG's. I can live without the full frame.