Fujifilm X100S review
£1,000 is a huge amount of money to spend on a compact camera, but the X100S has the charisma and charm to make people suspend their rational judgement. The gorgeous retro design closely resembles its little sibling, the Fujifilm X20, but manages to look even more handsome in its slightly larger body.
The retro styling is more than skin deep, though. There's an aperture ring on the lens and shutter speed dial on the top of the camera, recalling film cameras from a time before automatic exposure. Both controls have settings marked A for auto, and selecting program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual exposure is simply achieved with these two controls – there's no need for a mode dial.
This will have camera geeks drooling, but things are even more exciting on the inside. Behind the 35mm (equivalent), f/2 lens sits an APS-C sensor – the same size that's used in consumer SLRs. While the X100S doesn't have the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, or even a zoom lens, its image quality should be on a par with SLRs, and the bright f/2 lens bodes particularly well for low-light shooting.
ROOM WITH A VIEWFINDER
The most remarkable feature is the viewfinder. There are pros and cons for both optical and electronic viewfinders, but the X100S takes no chances by including both. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is a 2.36-million dot LCD, and it's one of the largest, most detailed EVFs we've seen.
A quick press of the lever on the front of the camera makes the electronic picture disappear in favour of an optical one. This view is even bigger; in fact, the scene that's shown is bigger than what the sensor captures. An electronic overlay is projected onto the view to show the frame that will be captured. After half-pressing the shutter button to autofocus, this frame will move as necessary to adjust for parallax error – for distant subjects it won't move at all, but for nearby subjects it moves down and to the right to reflect the relative positions of the lens and the viewfinder window.
Lots of other information is visible too in both the electronic and optical modes, including the autofocus point, exposure settings, histogram and a virtual horizon. In optical viewfinder mode, it quickly switches to the EVF after capture to show the resulting photo. It also switches momentarily to the EVF when adjusting manual focus.
This is the second-generation model, following on from the X100 that was launched in 2010. The X100 was widely criticised for having awkward manual focus, but we couldn't accuse the X100S of this. The focus ring isn't a direct mechanical control but it responds quickly and accurately to adjustments, and there's a focus distance read-out to help get your bearings. There are three options for manual focus assistance. A Focus Check mode applies a 4x digital magnification while adjusting focus. Focus Peak Highlight mode is the same as we've seen in various Sony cameras, applying a white highlight to high-contrast (and thus, sharply focused) areas of the frame.
Digital Split Image mode is like nothing we've seen before on a digital camera, once again recalling a feature that was common in film cameras. It uses phase-detect autofocus points that are built into the main sensor, which not only tell the camera whether a subject is in focus, but also by how much it's out by. It presents this information with four horizontal strips across the centre of the preview. Subjects that are out of focus are misaligned from one strip to the next. As such, achieving sharp focus is a simple matter of making the strips line up with each other. Focus Check mode's 4x magnification can be used in conjunction with Focus Peak Highlight and Digital Split Image modes for even finer control.
The phase-detect points also help to speed up autofocus. It took between 0.2 and 0.7 seconds to focus and take a shot in our tests. This contributed to an average of 1.1 seconds between shots in both JPEG and raw modes. These are respectable results, although they're around half the speed of SLRs and the fastest CSCs. Burst shooting was more impressive, running at 5.6fps for 44 JPEGs or eight raw frames before slowing.
This camera is a delight to use, but it's not perfect. There are single-function buttons for quick access to ISO speed, white balance, drive mode, metering and autofocus point, but the rear wheel that's used to make adjustments isn't sufficiently raised or textured to get a firm purchase on it. The command dial isn't much better – it's actually just a two-way lever rather than a rotary controller. While we love the direct access to shutter speed and aperture, it's a little frustrating that they move in whole stops rather than thirds of a stop. At least the ISO speed control and exposure compensation dial move in thirds of a stop.
Another potential frustration is that the fastest 1/4,000-second shutter speed is only available at f/8 and narrower apertures. f/5.6 and f/4 are limited to 1/2,000s, and f/2.8 and f/2 to 1/1,000s shutter speeds. However, a built-in neutral density (ND) filter provides an antidote, reducing incoming light by a factor of eight to allow the use of wide apertures in bright conditions. There's no face detection, but we can't see that being a big problem for potential customers. There are a couple of concessions to modern trends in the form of creative filters and an automatic panorama stitching mode.
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