(This is a fairly long review, so get ready)!
Jody and I drove a few thousand miles over the last 2 weeks on a trip to visit my side of the family (more on that trip coming!), and our son, Jax would be meeting family he had never seen and because we would have some new memories coming our way, we wanted to be sure we were able to capture those moments.
We have a decent little Canon point and shoot that we spent about $400 on a few years back, but the high ISO is bad and the camera is very slow in every way. We also have our iPhones, but as many of you may know, iPhone images are great if you look at them on an iPhone. If you try and print them or blow them up in any way, they tend to look pretty rough.
So what is the solution for a photographer to take great images and have control over their personal photos, without having to use our HUGE dSLR cameras and dealing with switching lenses? We have always wanted a camera that was compact (but not too small) that takes awesome quality shots, is fast and can handle varying lighting conditions on manual and auto.
The Fuji Hype
Before buying something like this, I ALWAYS rent it to make sure it lives up to the hype, so I rented this bad boy from my good friends over at Lens Rentals who have been awesome to work with!
The Fuji x100s has been hyped up a lot since the intro of the x100 in 2011. That camera had some issues that were fixed with updates, and then ultimately, in the x100S camera. I had heard other commercial photographers talking about it and using it for real shoots, so figured this must be an amazing camera. Here is what I found using in the real world.
(Note, we don’t work for Fuji, don’t know anyone at Fuji, and are not paid in any way by Fuji and were not given a free Fuji camera. :) Almost ALL of the images you see were not edited in any way unless noted).
(Image of our new niece who is 8 weeks old straight out of camera with Fuji black and white Red Channel enhancement pre-set. Shot on JPG with everything on auto).
1. The camera looks cool. I like that it resembles an old-school camera. It has a nice feel and texture and it is nice to hold (until you start shooting that is).
2. The high ISO range is pretty darn good.
This is an in-camera black and white that is straight out of the camera (not any adjustments done at all). I shot this at ISO 2500 using my iPad mini as the main side light to camera left and my dad’s LCD TV to the front right. Impressive. Clean hi ISO is great, but only serves you when you can focus in low-light (more on that to come) and this shot took some time to get in focus.
3. Great auto-white balance. I NEVER shoot on auto white balance when on a gig and HATE how hit and miss my Canon 5d3 is. You may argue otherwise, but most cameras auto-white balance is very inconsistent. This camera actually nailed white balance almost all of the time and did it in really tough conditions.
This image, shot (by Jody) at Family Camp that my family attends each year, was a tough one for auto white balance. We have LCD light from the HP lighting my brother Sam’s face, tungsten light from camera left, and end of the day daylight coming in from the top right windows (not pictured). Most cameras would have trouble blending these light sources even if you custom white balanced the camera. This auto white balance shot is impressive. This shot, again, is straight from the camera.
4. The size of the camera seems just right. It is not too small or too big. I feel like I wanted to take it out and use it or carry it around even if I wasn’t sure if I needed it. The controls are a whole other thing, and I get to that more below.
5. Response time – The camera turns on and is ready to shoot very fast. Fast enough that you don’t get annoyed waiting for it to be ready to shoot.
6. Image Quality – The images are pretty nice. They look pretty good in-camera considering I shot this camera on auto most of the time.
This is a candid image I captured of my dad as he filled the ice-chest for a family get-together. He was crushing a plastic bottle and I grabbed 3 quick shots. The other 2 were out of focus, but this one that I did get looks great and is totally my dad which I love.
This camera really did an amazing job of nailing the correct exposure in even the toughest conditions while on auto. I shot it back-lit, short lit, and with tricky contrast and bad lighting and it did a really good job getting the exposures nailed!
I also loved that it had a simple dial on the top right of the camera that lets you exposure compensate for really tricky conditions. I used that feature a ton while the whole or parts of the camera were on auto.
It just plain sucks. For the heavy price tag of $1,300 I want stellar auto-focus. Now, I am not saying this focus system is bad, it just reminds me of my Canon 5d where the entire time I am shooting this camera, I am only focused (pun intended) on the camera nailing focus. That is a frustrating way to shoot, especially now that I am used to my Canon 5d3. It is a tough comparison to put it up against that amazing camera, but you have to be able to nail focus and this camera really struggles with that.
The camera also does not (at least to my knowledge) have a fully-auto focus mode, meaning that you have to choose your focus point while you shoot. Now, I love choosing my focus point while shooting, but only when changing the focus point is easy. To change focus points on this camera, you have to hit the back dial at the top, and then press the dial up, down or sideways to pick your focus point. That would not be so bad if the dial you use was not extremely small and very hard to use. It pretty much stinks. It would be better if they added a quick trigger or toggle like the 5d3 has that was always on and ready to change focus points. Then, they should actually have less focus points so you can more quickly move around and find one close enough. That would speed up the shooting.
It might be great if it had face-detection so you didn’t have to mess with changing focus points all the time.
In low-light this camera is a living nightmare. The focus gets really slow and I could get it to work in low-light maybe 3 out of 10 shots. It is VERY bad at low light focusing. If the focus points were more precise (instead of being large boxes) it would help to find a point of contrast to achieve focus.
Even when the camera told me I achieved focus in low-light, it was fooling me as you can see from the zoomed in version of this shot where it back focussed. The focus point was on his face for this shot and not on the couch.
In this tricky focus situation with similar contrast points, the camera failed over the course of 5 images to get the focus nailed. Bummer too because it was a cute shot!
2. Digital/Optical View-Finder
I really do like the digital view finder because it shows you what you are actually about to shoot. The issue is, it only turns on when you place your eye up to it. This creates lag and slows everything down. It is minimal, but enough to be irritating (at least for me).
The optical view finder is almost useless because the view finder shows you MORE than what the lens sees. I saw some people talking about how awesome this was, but can’t image why that would be useful. It does show you a grid of where the actual image will crop, but I really dislike that feature as it is distracting coming from a 100% view finder lifestyle. It is also odd having the view finder over to the left side instead of in the middle where the lens is, and that takes some getting used to.
The camera has a 35mm equivalent lens that cannot be removed. If I was forced to pick a lens length, I guess this would be it, but for real-world shooting of any kind I don’t want to be forced, and ONLY having 35mm on it is just not practical if it is your only option. If the lens was over-the-top amazing, it might be worth it, but the lens is not that great. At f/2 (the widest aperture) it is soft on the edges. It is also hard to get great background blur, unless objects are close to the lens, since the lens is wide. If you buy this camera, be ready to move your feet to get the shots you want.
Since the lens is 35mm long, it is impossible to shoot a real portrait unless you back up and crop later as you will get distortion on the edges of the frame. That kind of stinks. There are some conversion kits, but I have yet to use one to see what it can do.
I took one pano, and the camera failed to correctly stitch it together. It was an image of the sun setting over camp that was back-lit, so I wanted a pano and knew it would need some shadows opened in post. The camera (at least to my knowledge) only shoots JPG images of pano’s, so you don’t get the extra data to tweak them later.
Original pano from the camera exposed for the highlights
Shadows opened in LR
Crop of the stitch area and the really bad shadow detail
If you have a JPG of something, don’t expect to get much back later. The raw file this camera shoots fared much better.
Fuji RAW image shot a few minutes before the above pano shot, shooting backlit and exposing for the highlights. Straight out of camera.
Edited in LR5. Shadows enhanced and VSCO film pre-set added. Very nice! Maybe raw is the way to go with this camera if the shot is really important!
5. Actually handling and using the camera on manual
This was what I disliked the most about the camera (except for the auto-focus!). Although the camera does feel good to hold, it does not feel good to shoot. I have pretty small hands and the controls felt soooo tiny that I had a really hard time getting them to work well when shooting. I would hit buttons multiple times to get them working, had a really hard time changing the aperture while shooting, and hated changing ISO.
The shutter speed is very hard to use as well. You can quickly change it in whole stops manually, but then need to use a separate control to change it in 1/3rd increments. Not a good idea.
The aperture is super small to adjust on the lens itself and most digital shooters will have a major learning curve getting used to that.
The ISO unfortunately is inside the menu (unlike the aperture & shutter speed which is mechanical), so it feels like you are in a whole separate system to adjust the last part of manual shooting.
They have an interesting Q menu (for quick) that kills it’s use by having way too many options that are not fully editable. What the camera really needs, is a MY MENU like the Canon dSLR’s have. That would allow YOU to pick what goes in the menu and allow you to hit one button and change what YOU use most. That would make this camera much more user-friendly.
6. Digital film pre-sets.
The camera has some film-ish simulations built-in to it. I love that idea, and you would think that Fuji would be great at this. Maybe these do look like film a bit, but I hated them. The only one I liked was the black and white (with red channel enhanced). The final JPG images basically look like nicer point and shoot images and don’t look like film. Now, I have never shot film, so I am not speaking from experience, just preference.
Fuji Film Pre-Set color tone straight from the camera (slight skin re-tough in LR).
VSCO fuji film pre-set in LR5 (I love the warmth of this and the slightly enhanced shadows)
All and all, I would give it a 3 out of 5. Good overall camera, but for the price, it needs to have better auto-focus and be easier to use. I don’t think I will purchase this camera and am glad that I rented it first.
Thanks to LensRentals for getting me the camera last-minute!
PS. Have you used this camera or have another camera in this category that you would recommend? Let us know in the comments below!