The Fuji x100 Series

Gear doesn't matter, until it does.

I've been slow to move to a mirrorless system. Part of the reason is my current DSLRs work more than well enough for my needs, part was lack of system maturity in the mirrorless world and the last part was lack of resources to go throwing a bunch of cash at a new system. Personally I'm still unsure if a mirrorless system can completely replace my DSLR at the moment. I do a lot of astrophotography and the lens selection combined with the high ISO performance in the Nikon world is critical. I haven't seen anything that comes close to some of the fast wide glass Nikon makes yet. Sony is getting there but they've been shooting out a new A7 body every six minutes it seems. I guess you could call that "spray and pray." While their cameras are technical marvels the few I've laid hands on were a bit clunky to use. I also don't see the size and weight benefit on full-frame mirrorless system over a DSLR. I'm certainly not knocking the image quality that Sony has achieved that's for sure. But I don't see the benefit of dumping a Nikon system I'm already invested in, taking a bath on the gear, sinking about $4,000+ into bodies and lenses for what amounts to a marginal weight savings and lost access to Nikon's accessories and service. This is doubly true when you compare the A7's images to Fuji's or even Sony's own A6000 series. Outside of the need for extremely high res files I don't see a compelling reason to drop the coin an a full-frame mirrorless in general unless you don't already have a full frame DSLR. Crop cameras make a more compelling argument to me in the mirrorless form factor. You can get actual weight and space savings and killer image quality. Again Sony's own A6000 series illustrates that. As an aside I haven't tested an A6300 but it has certainly piqued my interest.

Fuji X100s

Fuji is the other major player in the mirrorless world. They have the hipster look down with their retro styling, which I wasn't a fan of at first (more on that later) and not as varied of a lens library as Sony right now too. Thus enters the X100s. "Wait," you might say "isn't the X100t the new hotness, why are you writing about last year's model, senility finally kick in?" Well, remember that last reason why I haven't jumped in to a mirrorless system? Turns out life is expensive and photography has been on the back burner for a while. I haven't really earning income from photography over the last couple of years either so my gear isn't paying for itself. That being said I think on the whole I think digital cameras have been more than good enough since 2009 or so. There aren't a lot of reasons to upgrade with every generation of camera like ten or fifteen years ago. I still use a D7000 as one of my secondary bodies and it's never held me back. Picking up an older model can save some cash and still net you outstanding images.

X100s Stars

So, what was I going on about? Oh yeah the X100s. I'm not going to bother you with the technical details of the camera too much. 16MP, 24mm (~35mm on FX) f/2 lens, some video modes, film presets, yadda yadda. More detailed specs can be found all over the web. I'm not sure what I was expecting but I will say I've underestimated on a quite a few points this camera. First of all was the styling. I like functional designs which the X100 series has covered but the retro look rubbed me the wrong way. In a lot of the same ways that the PT Cruiser the HHR make me roll my eyes. But after a few days using the camera in public I saw the clear advantage of having a camera that didn't look big nor digital.

Belk Library

Usually I spend about thirty to forty five minutes on a walk around town a few times a week. I get free exercise and it's been an opportunity to use my cameras. I've done this in the past but even with just a 50mm prime on the D800 I had issues with people getting nervous, giving me dirty looks and generally not being friendly. Because what in the world could you be photographing in downtown besides women and children for nefarious purposes? Seriously there are people in about one out of ten of the shots I take on the street. You folks aren't that interesting, chill out. To be fair I probably look the part (kinda fat, white, bald, male) of your stereotypical weirdo. Mix in an awkward personality and you've a recipe for getting to know your local security personnel or police. It only made my anxiety worse. For the last few years I've tried to just work around it but ultimately just quit taking the camera with me. However, once I took the Fuji out things changed almost instantly. I was no longer that weirdo with that big Pervtron 800 trying to take creepshots but that cool guy with the old camera. Ok, I've never been cool in my life so maybe that's a stretch but people actually asked me about the camera and were interested in my work. It was really kind of strange out at first. But now I enjoy my little photowalks again. So, if you do any sort of travel, street or general in public type photography the retro styling serves a purpose.

Very clever Fuji, very clever indeed.

Boone Post Office

Which brings me to the handling. Usually me and small cameras don't mix. I have sort of large hands and even small consumer DSLRs give me grief. I was expecting the X100s to be a bit more cramped and harder to operate and easier to drop. Again, I was pleasantly surprised. It's well balanced and is remarkably easy to use by feel. I'm still getting used to the whole rangefinder thing but even that's not as steep of a learning curve as I was expecting. The aperture ring and metal dials are comfortable enough, although the rubberized dials on my Nikons are a bit easier on the fingers. A few more programmable function keys would also be nice. I set the Fn to control the built in ND filter but I'd like another for ISO instead of having to duck out to the Q menu. Really that's more of a nitpick though.

On a kind-of-sort-of related note, if you're like me and do any sort of outdoor portraiture in broad daylight the X100s is going to become your new best fried. It's about the cheapest thing on the market with a leaf shutter which means it can sync with a flash to its max shutter speed at a given aperture. I've been using it with some cheap YN560s and a Youngnuo remote. f/2 at 1/1000" is awfully nice, f/2.8 and 1/2000"? Even nicer! I can leave my ND filters at home or forget trying to use a McNally Tree in high speed sync mode with my Nikons. My own complaint is that in dark scenes the AF assist light doesn't come as often as it needs to. If you're using strobes without modeling lights or ones with weak modeling lights this is going to be a problem when you're trying to knock down the ambient light in an exposure. It's also more than capable in the studio. So yes, I've been using it for some actual work.

Portrait 1

Portrait 1

Portrait 1

A few reviewers like the JPEG output of this camera and while it's not bad the defaults are a bit contrasty for my liking. The standard film preset tends a bit warm too, overall I like the Astia Soft setting the best. The RAWs on the other hand have an amazing amount of range. I'd put the X100s next to my D800 any day in terms of dynamic range. Blown highlights recover pretty nicely and the shadows are low noise. The lack of a filter on the X-trans sensor makes it amazingly sharp too, the lens isn't bad either. I could make some major prints off this camera with zero problems. Darktable will sometimes struggle with the RAW files, especially if the dynamic range setting is set on auto, but making some adjustments in the Shadows and Highlights module usually clears that up.

Boone Winter

It's not all smooth sailing though. The battery life is less than spectacular, even with a brand new battery. The power meter is particularly useless. It goes from full battery to flashing red and powering off rather quickly. The "only down one bar" stage lasts about ten minutes. Get a spare or two since they're cheap. The third party batteries work well. I've heard some people complain about the performance and interface. I can't note anything in particular as I left it in high performance mode and there it seems to handle about as well as my D800/50mm combo. Other Nikon lenses seem faster and more responsive but they're bigger too. Autofocus speed isn't bad but don't expect to shoot anything terribly fast with it. But the X100s wasn't really designed with that in mind. The menu system isn't anything to write home about but it's more than serviceable. I've seen worse that's for sure. Once you find where all the settings are it's quick to move through. The shutter speed knob is hard to get to when you have a remote flash trigger in the hot shoe. I've been doing some video things here and there lately and I can already see I won't be using the X100s for much of that. Very rudimentary abilities. Longer clip length and some more manual video controls would be nice. The LCD screen could use some improvement. It's almost overly bright and has a lot of contrast so everything looks washed out, it's sometimes good for judging composition and that's it. The lens isn't the sharpest f/2 I've ever seen either and there are times I wish it was a bit faster. But I say that second thing about every lens I've used.

Which brings me to my final point. When I first started using the Fuji I called it the Python of cameras. No, this doesn't mean it's a big snake that squeezes its food to death. It's a reference to an XKCD comic about a programming language. The X100 series, for all its faults, excels at one thing: getting out of the way. Once the camera is dialed in it just sort of goes. It's inconspicuous nature means you can have it on you most of the time and no one notices. This is where the opening line of this post comes into play gear doesn't matter, until it does. The X100s has literally, almost single-handedly, gotten me excited about photography again. It's not going to replace my Nikon kit any time soon but it has taken over more than I thought it would. The X100s is the Miata or Lotus of cameras. It's not going to win any speed or power benchmarks but it's nimble and has an appeal all its own. Bros will still roll past you in their Mustang, GT-R, RS or other higher powered sports car and try to yell at you about power or torque curves but at the end of the day you're the one still smiling. It's "simplify, then add lightness" in a camera format.


While I still don't think a replacing my Nikon system with mirrorless is in the cards soon the Fuji X-series just jumped to the top of my list. Even then I'll probably keep the Nikon FX kit around and get use the Fuji stuff in lieu of buying more anymore Nikon crop sensor gear. I've shot literally hundreds of photos with the X100s over the last couple of months, more than the last half of 2015 total and I can't see myself putting the Fuji down anytime soon.