Review: What's new in Fuji's X100s?

Our score: 4/5
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Published: April 16, 2013 2:02 PM
By Bruno Labarbere
Translated by: Catherine Barraclough
The X100s is effectively a souped-up version of the X100. With its added "s", Fujifilm sets the tone for this new camera—the X100s is the same, but better. XTrans technology is now on hand to improve the sensor and Fuji is promising boosted responsiveness. So does the X100s really bring something new to the table or are Fuji's tweaks so minor that we'll be left wanting more? Read on to find out.

Handling4/5



After have having a quick read of our X100 review, we took a good look at the X100s to see if anything about the camera's design had changed. And yes, it has! On the left-hand edge, the AF-S (single) and AF-C (continuous) settings are the other way round on the AF mode switch. Apart from that, there's nothing new here. The metal build inspires the same feelings of sturdiness and quality, which is definitely no bad thing. The speed and exposure-correction dials are firmer, but we're disappointed to see that the settings wheel on the back of the camera (over the arrow keys) is still too loose and rickety to be used with real precision. Note too that there's still no sign of a proper battery guide, so you may end up putting the battery in the wrong way round before realising your mistake. These niggling little details are all the more annoying since they'd be relatively easy for Fuji to correct. Ultimately, in terms of general handling, this camera hasn't changed much at all. On the upside, the internal menus are packed with options while also remaining logically organised and easy to read. On the downside, plastering so many buttons over the rear face does slightly spoil the camera's retro design. It doesn't do much for user-friendliness either.

X100s back(1)
One key new feature in the X100s—and a worldwide first—is the Digital Split Image (DSI) manual focusing assistant, which makes clever use of Fuji's phase-detection AF system integrated into the new X-Trans CMOS II sensor. The DSI mode is effectively a kind of digital stigmometer that splits an out-of-focus image in two. As you focus the lens manually, the images look to blend together until they form one when you find the right focus position. 

From a technical point of view, the DSI function is a very clever use of the AF system. In fact, it's hard to image how no-one has thought of doing this before. In reality, though, it's a little less exciting. This function definitely makes manual focusing easier, but it can be hard to see exactly when you've found the right focus, as the split image just doesn't look sharp or precise enough onscreen. A touch of peaking over the top could have made a nice addition here (note that a separate peaking mode is available). Plus, seeing as the lens uses an electronic rather than a mechanical focusing system, the whole experience could generally be more pleasant and more accurate. The DSI mode is therefore best left as an occasional helping hand in complex situations that the autofocus may have trouble dealing with (shooting in conditions that are too bright, working with uniform subjects, etc.). All in all, it's an impressively innovative function, but it feels like it still needs a little polishing.
 
Another improvement that'll prove handy for anyone shooting street portraits, for example, is that the minimum focusing distance in the X100s has been cut to 50 cm (80 cm in the X100) in the standard non-macro mode. Those extra 30 cm means you can shoot close-up subjects without having to go into the camera menu and switch to macro mode. Still, the autofocus will need to be speedy enough to let you capture the moment effectively ...

Responsiveness4/5



Good news—the X100s halves the start-up time of its predecessor! Now taking under 1.5 seconds to take its first photo, the X100s will be 100% operational and ready to shoot by the time you hit "On" and bring it up to your eye. The other response times we measure haven't changed much, and give the same feeling of frustration as with the X100. The autofocus has got around 32% quicker in low light in our lab test, but it still feels sluggish in real-life situations. Plus, the new model is just as slow to save photos (we test cameras with SDXC cards that can write data at up to 60 MBps to be sure that the memory card isn't slowing things down).


X100s vitesse

This slowness is all the more annoying since the X100s shoots away happily in its 6 fps burst mode (in JPG and in RAW+JPG) without flinching, although it does have the same basic drawbacks as the X100.

On the whole, Fuji's promises about the new hybrid autofocus system when announcing the camera don't amount to much against our stopwatch. But on the other hand, the X100s does fix one of its predecessor's irritating bugs. The X100 didn't always shoot photos with exactly the same focus you'd lined them up with—it somehow seemed to slip. The X100s, however, doesn't budge. What you see is what you get. That's a major improvement which in turn makes the camera generally speedier to work with.

Picture Quality5/5



Thankfully, the X100s has a secret weapon: picture quality that beats pretty much anything else on the market right now. Compared with both compacts and SLRs with APS-C sensors—and even compared with some full-frame cameras—the X100s outdoes the lot with its 23 mm lens and, above all, its 16-Megapixel X-Trans CMOS II sensor. In terms of sharpness and quality levels as the ISO setting rises, Fujifilm's new expert compact is a camera to be reckoned with. Respect!

X100s ISO


With that in mind, it's hard to get annoyed with the X100s for restricting sensitivity settings from 200 ISO to 6400 ISO only in RAW mode. You have to switch to JPG only to shoot at 100, 12800 and 25600 ISO—seriously! Another frustrating thing that's still hanging over from the X100 is that in aperture priority mode, at f/2, the maximum shutter speed is limited to 1/2000 ths. That can be rather irritating when brightness levels are high and you're trying to get a shallow depth of field.

X100s scene 390
Compare the Fuji X100s to other cameras in the Face-Off

You kind of have to wonder whether Fuji's engineers were looking to purposely throw a few spanners in the works. After all, given the breathtaking quality on offer with the Fujinon lens plus X-Trans CMOS II sensor plus EXR II processor, Fuji could easily have removed any such restrictions from the X100s.

The lens comes into its own with the new sensor and gives excellent quality results over the whole frame. At f/2, the bokeh is a little milky and the Fujinon lens is pretty sensitive to flare (see below), but from f/2.8 to f/11, the lens is exemplary is its consistency and evenness in quality over the frame. It's only troubled by a very, very slight trace of diffraction at f/16.

X100s macros
Detail from a macro shot at f/2 (left) and at f/5.6 (right) - 200 ISO, JPG Fine.
 
Although the sensor has no low-pass filter (for anti-aliasing), the X100s takes photos that are free from moiré effects and aliasing. We can thank the image processor for that. And its the processor we can thank for the excellent ISO test results too, as there's barely any difference in quality between the test shots taken at 100 ISO to 3200 ISO! At 6400 ISO there's a slight drop in contrast, but this is only really noticeable when viewing shots at 100% size. A touch of post-editing to the RAW file will soon sort that out. At 12800 ISO and 25600 ISO, however, some blooming kicks in. Fine details are maintained, but it can look like you're shooting through a steamy porthole.


Video4/5



Some of the latest, most modern cameras still insist on hiding their video modes away in the depths of the internal menus with no separate video record button. Unfortunately, the Fuji X100s is one of those cameras, as the video mode is considered a shooting mode like any other, to be hunted out alongside single shot, burst and bracketing in the "Drive Mode" menu.

It's no real surprise to see that the X100s films Full HD video (at 30 frames per second) but the video bitrate is rather more unusual. The average bitrate here is 38 MBps, which is practically double the current market standard of 18 to 20 MBps. Canon's EOS 5D Mk II/Mk III SLRs are among the rare few cameras to beat that. So what's it for? Hmmm ... well, it certainly won't make life easier for your memory cards, as a one minute movie will weigh in at 380 MB! With that in mind, it may not be such a bad thing that the X100s caps video recording at 10 minutes a time.

That little surprise aside, the video mode in the X100s isn't quite on par with the camera's top-notch photo mode. Moiré effects are clearly visible (look at the text in the image below) and coloured fringes appear around highly contrasted areas. Plus, anyone looking for a load of customisable settings will be disappointed. Focusing is the only thing that can be done manually here—and even then, there's no peaking or DSI mode to help you out. No matter what settings you choose, the aperture stays fixed in place, even when you turn the aperture ring. With so few settings to play around with, video clearly isn't a priority for the X100s. That's just not what this expert compact is about. Which again makes us wonder what that super-high bitrate is for?

X100s video scene full

X100s video lapin full
4/5 Fujifilm X100s DigitalVersus 2013-04-16 15:02:00

Pros

  • Exceptionally sharp lens
  • Sensor captures high levels of detail
  • ISO test results impeccable up to 6400 ISO
  • High-end build quality
  • Digital Split Image function helps with manual focusing

Cons

  • No stabilisation
  • A few more design/handling features could have been updated
  • Digital Split Image mode isn't really precise enough
  • Video mode could be more practical
  • Battery life is quite low (250 shots)

Conclusion

The Fuji X100s updates the X100 without going too crazy. Picture quality has taken a giant leap forward, making the X100s a true reference to be reckoned with across all camera categories. However, it hasn't really evolved in other respects. Although the X100s doesn't correct all of its predecessor's flaws, it's still an attractive camera that'll be incredibly effective for photojournalism or street photography shooting.

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