I’ve read a lot about the Fujifilm x100s APS-C fixed focal length mirror less camera for the past year and a half, and did my fair share of research into its abilities. But it wasn’t until now that I managed to bring it out for a test run in the streets of Bangkok. It was a huge departure and change from my usual lugging of an imposing full-frame DSLR. So, it came as a pleasant surprise to discover its many great features and benefits, one of which was surely its compactness and DSLR-like image qualities.
The x100s sure did take some getting use to at first. Because of its size and pancake-like lens, grasping it up against my face looking through the viewfinder was a little awkward and didn’t feel as “substantial” as a DSLR. However, photographing general scenes was a breeze and it did not take long for me to learn how to use it (mind you, without a manual, as I inadvertently left it at home on the way to the airport).
As a tool used to express one’s eyes, there’s no escaping a few key factors when choosing a camera. What I look for in cameras are speed (lens focusing speed and responsiveness of its software), control (handling and accessibility of its functions, menu and dials), build (durability), feel (tactile sensation of grip and how it blends into your body), lens availability and overall image quality.
I have to say I thought the focusing was a tad slow but nevertheless still faster than a typical point and shoot. Otherwise, in bright light and high contrast, focusing was a breeze. I especially like the physical aperture ring where one can change the aperture by twisting the ring on the lens. Its menu system is highly accessible and intuitive and the camera has a solid feel to it that suggests it could take quite a beating. As for lens availability, it may not be relevant to this fixed lens camera, but I’m considering the X-E2 as my interchangeable lens system.
The fixed 23mm focal length (read non-zoom lens) posed quite a challenge at the outset, but I find the inability to zoom offers one the opportunity to be a better photographer. One has to read the scene and place oneself at the right spot and time to capture the shot. That makes a huge difference from simply zooming into and out from a stationery position. It’s not a camera for the lazy folks. Framing matters most here.
As a result of this glaring non-zooming benefit, I realised I have to keep moving. To achieve a frame-filling angle, often times I got to get really close to my subjects. That may be uncomfortable to some but it offers intimacy which otherwise most zoomed shots lack. This is a good camera to force you out of your comfort zone and interact with your subjects. Additionally, due to its small form factor, it’s a very good camera for street photography. Because it’s small, I often get to capture a shot up close without even my subjects knowing like this shot of a street peddler.
As a spill over habit from using a DSLR, I was shooting through the optical viewfinder (OVF) most of the time. But for better success at framing and a more discreet approach especially when taking a shot inches from the ground, I shot the above image using the digital viewfinder’s (DVF) large 2.8″ screen. I personally feel sometimes that taking a photograph using a DVF exposes one as an amateur tourists, thus very likely making you invisible to potential subjects, as opposed to photographing using a DSLR, where people tend to be more self-conscious. Little do they know the huge technological advancement of mirror less cameras nowadays that offer great DSLR-like image qualities, appearing as a typical compact point and shoot. I like this guise.
Initially, I had problems framing my scene using the OVF. I kept getting it wrong and cut off my subjects inadvertently at the wrong places. It took me awhile to figure out that as long as you kept the framing within the white box in the OVF, you’ll be fine. Even then, I realised it’s not 100% accurate. This very basic function needs some getting use to and I definitely need to get my head around this.
I did notice that the camera meters for the scene pretty accurately. When there was a wide gap of difference in exposure values between the brightest and darkest part of a scene, the camera was able to resolve both highlights and shadow well while holding detail.
One of the great features of the x100s is its macro wonder. I tried this out on some food shots and they appeared simply amazing. Of course, when it comes to taking close-up shots like this, the DVF helps instead of the OVF.
As for night scenes, the camera faired pretty well at least to me, much thanks to its f/2 lens. I took a trip down the Chao Phraya river en route to Asiatique and captured this.
It wasn’t perfect, plus, I was shooting from a moving boat on a rocky river ride. Grain was noticeable but removing them in post did help to soften the noise. Using it on a tripod would have been fantastically satisfactory, as it’s no different from an APS-C DSLR.
Walking around Asiatique grabbing wide snap shots at full wide open was great for any night scenes. The x100s has proven to be a worthy camera for vacation snaps with image quality rivalling that of a full-fledged DSLR, though I’m certain it sure does offer comparable benefits for a decent range of commercial/editorial works requiring mid-range quality output.
Besides the x100s favourable size and superb 16MP image quality from its sharp and fast f/2 lens, the camera also boasts of a built-in ND filter & leaf shutter system that enable me to sync with my flashes beyond the 1/250 speed of most DSLR. If you have to ask me, I’d say both these are the sole determinants of my purchasing this camera (all other great plus points aside) as my photography involves quite a lot of off-camera lighting.
This high speed sync automatically increases the usability and effectiveness of my small speed lights to light a scene using a wider aperture with a stopped down ambient employing either high shutter speeds and/or the built-in ND filter. I have yet to test the camera for off-camera lighting works but will be eager to try soon. If I’m not using off-camera flash, the built-in ND filter allows me to smear some motion into my scene on bright daylight as seen in these shots taken at ISO 100 @ f/16.
The above shots of the peddlers and moving bus were taken while I was sitting outside of McD’s five-foot way. Being “zoom-less” was limiting but my distance from the street where all the action were, was just right. All it took were some adjustments.
Using the x100s is an enjoyable experience. It pushes one to relish and immerse in the moment, especially in a colourful and fast-paced environment in Bangkok. One can just sit by a street corner and steal slices of moments from around oneself. More importantly, it helps to blend myself into the scene without appearing too prominent. Perhaps, it’s a camera by which one finds solace and forces oneself to go slow and adhere to a set creative speed limit.