I was lucky enough to have Wilkinson Cameras lend me the new X100S to try out. A big big thank you to them!
I spend the evening, night and next morning with the camera (I was up at 6 to keep trying it!) and tried it in all the sort of situations that I’d normally use my X100. I had already decided I wasn’t going to upgrade (at least not yet) as my X100 is now pretty much just a personal camera and I have other commitments to buying some more professional work kit before I can go and drop £1099 on a new camera just for fun! I was none-the-less excited about the latest Fujifilm camera as I’m a huge fan of their X-Series cameras. I know I might not have had it to test for a long time, but I know how I use my cameras and I know what sort of shots I take and put it through the same sort of routine I would on a daily basis with my X100 and can spot any issues pretty quickly.
EDIT 12/04: I’ve been thinking about this write up and I believe some people may have taken what I said about the X100S a little too harshly. I’m not saying isn’t a great camera, it’s fantastic and in most situations it’s faster than the X100S, or at least the same. Image quality is different, but that’s a subjective thing. What I am getting at is that Fujifilm have gone out of their way to say that the X100S AF is much faster than the X100, and that is where the problem lies – our expectations. There is clearly something amiss with the X100S AF performance under certain conditions when compared side-by-side with the X100 and given that Fujifilm’s main argument for the ‘S’ badge is much improved AF, you would expect it to be quicker across the board and it clearly isn’t. It is much quicker in certain circumstances as you can see in the video below, I just expected it to be that much faster across a wide range of situations. I hope, and fully expect, that Fujifilm will release a firmware update to expand that AF performance improvement to a much broader spectrum and I will be looking at the X100S again when they do. Please read this article with that in mind. I’m not trashing the X100S at all, simply being honest about a flaw in it that I discovered whist testing it. If you’ve bought an X100S, be happy with it and stick with it – if my experience of Fujifilm cameras is anything to go by, Fujifilm will certainly not be ignoring the AF issues I raised and will be improving it.
I first ran around the house chasing my little girl and trying to get photos of her (any camera that can get in-focus shots of her has got to be good!) The X100S was certainly getting a lot more hits than my X100 would normally do. I started to believe the hype surrounding this camera, and some of the things I’ve read online. I was already thinking of how I could explain to my wife that I wanted yet another camera after telling her previously that I didn’t need it! +1 for the X100S!
My wife and I were due to go out to a restaurant that evening. The X100S came along (as my X100 would normally). To start with it was performing well, then it got dark. I couldn’t get it to focus on my wife’s face. I gave up and switched to MF, and using the brilliant split-screen focusing I could continue shooting without any more frustration. Wow, that split-screen focus-assist mode is fantastic – whoever thought of putting that on the X100S should get a large pay rise! Twist the focus ring, it zooms in automatically, line up the split rectangles and boom! You’ve got your shot. I do remember saying something about not using MF on my X100 and wondering why anyone would bother, well with the split-screen assist mode I can absolutely see why someone would use it! +1 for the X100S! Sadly though the love affair with this new camera was starting to fade – it was still missing in auto-focus and frustrating me. Again, it was faces that it had a problem with – I don’t know what it is with Fujifilm and faces, all their X-Series cameras seem to suffer from this issue!
After we got back, I took a wander around the streets in the dark on my own (I do love night time scenes in a deserted town). This time I took both the X100S and the X100. I carefully set both cameras to identical settings beforehand. I started testing out the high ISO to compare the two cameras. The X100S really does out-perform the X100 here, anything over ISO 1600 and you can really notice the difference, get to ISO 6400 and it’s seriously ahead, another +1 for the X100S.
X100S on the right. ISO 6400!
Then things started to go wrong again. I found a bench lit by a streetlight from above. The X100S resolutely refused to focus no matter what I did. I switched to split-screen, but because the bench had only horizontal slats I couldn’t see the splits in the focus panel! Now I understand why they put focus-peeking in as well! I got it focused and took a few shots, then switched to my X100 – bang, AF locked first time!! I repeated this over and over, checked the settings on both cameras – the X100S totally refused to focus where the X100 got it every time. I couldn’t really believe it – after everything I had read about how wonderful the new AF system on the X100S was and that it was slaughtering the poor old X100, but here I was with the X100 locking AF where the X100S just wouldn’t! Several other incidents that night proved to show the same thing.
I got up early the next morning and sat the X100S and X100 up side-by-side to do a video comparing the two, running through the differences and the new X100S menu system, followed by some AF tests. Initially the X100S was outperforming the X100, as I fully expected that it would do, then I turned the lights out – the X100 started focus quicker than the X100S. I closed the blinds and they both ended up pretty much identical! There is one case where the X100S is very clearly way ahead of the X100 and that’s close range shooting – you no longer have to switch to macro mode for things that are at close-ish range (30-50cm) to get it to autofocus reliably – and that’s where the X100S was beating my X100 the previous evening shooting my little girl. The X100S is so much faster than the X100 at that, you can hardly tell that they are related.
The problem comes when you get into low light, where phase-detection doesn’t work all that well. For some reason it looks like Fujifilm have installed an older AF firmware routine in the X100S than the X100! As I say in the video (below) I think a lot of people, particularly ones that only ever used the X100 at launch don’t realise just how much better the X100 became after Fujifilm started releasing firmware updates for it. If you don’t believe me then have a look in the video below. I’m not trying to put the X100S down, I’m a massive Fujifilm X-Series fan and I’d much rather tell you that it’s better and harp on about how wonderful it is and you should buy it, but I’m not going to lie just because I love Fujifilm!
My feeling is that whilst the AF might be slower (or the same) in some circumstances as the older X100, we will probably see some firmware updates that will boost AF performance of the X100S and we will then see it out-perform the X100 in all areas, but at the moment aside from close-range subjects in reasonable light, I can’t honestly say that the X100S is the huge leap forwards in terms of AF that some reviews might have you believe. EDIT 30/03: I’m now not the only person reporting this and I have heard rumours that perhaps this is an issue with firmware v1.01 (which is what I had installed) and that v1.00 is better – I’m kind of tempted to say that’s a bit hard to believe, but you never know!
Something that is hugely improved is the LCD/EVF lock-up when the auto-focus is working. On the X100 the LCD/EVF sometimes locks up whilst the AF is doing it’s thing, that’s completely gone on the X100S and is a big improvement in usability as what you had in the frame could often have gone by the time the LCD/EVF came back to life on the X100 as you couldn’t follow the action!
The new order of the AF selection slider is much more sensible as you can switch from the two most commonly used modes (MF and AF-S) more easily, but moving the AF option button on the back isn’t all that great for me as I’m constantly changing the AF point with my thumb whilst I’m just walking around – then wonder why it’s in the wrong place when I come to put the camera to my eye. In fairness I have the same problem with the X100 with the same button, which is Drive on the X100 – personally I would have preferred to see that top button left blank.
The Q button is a welcome advance – it’s a bit of a shame that whilst the X10 has had a firmware update to add this to the X10, the X100 has been left out. The menu system is a huge improvement and brings it up to the same level as the X-Pro1 and X-E1. Where on the X100 you have to scroll through endless screens, you now have the tabbed menu, which makes finding the right option much quicker.
After I shot the comparison video, I took both cameras around the town for an hour or so, the market was setting up so I hovered around there taking some photos of various things, some architecture, some nice brightly coloured things! Anyone who has used the Fujifilm X-Series cameras will tell you that it’s those lovely Fuji colours that is one of the stand-out features, and one of the reasons so many people fell in love with the X100 in the first place. I had read the odd comment about the X100S loosing the X100 ‘look’ now that it has the X-Trans sensor in it – I didn’t believe them – some people will always find something to complain about!! I have to say though, looking at the images side-by-side, I have to agree with them. I had very carefully set both cameras to exactly the same settings, but the colours that come out of the X100S aren’t the same as the X100. My default settings are JPEG Astia film simulation, sharpness +1, noise reduction -1, everything else set to factory. The fabulous deep reds that you get with the X100 are now a distinctly magenta shade, it’s definitely lost some of the richness you used to get out of the X100. This might be something you can fix by fiddling with the colour settings, but out of the box I’ve got to say that I prefer the X100. There is a flip side to that though. If you have an X-Pro1 or X-E1, now that the X100S has basically the same sensor, and if you’re doing a commercial shoot you don’t have to worry about getting two different looks from your cameras as you will have more consistent images across all your images. I’m not saying that images from the X100S are bad, far from it, they are fantastic!! It’s just not the same as you got out of the X100 – only you can decide if that’s important to you.
X100S on the left, X100 on the right – you decide which you prefer!
So, what to conclude?! Have Fujifilm screwed up the X100 replacement? No, I’m not going to say that, but something needs to be done to address the AF under certain conditions. At the moment it quite simply isn’t that much faster than the older X100, and sometimes is actually even slower. As the main grievance of many an X100 owner, Fujifilm really should have tested this to destruction to make sure it was 100% spot-on. The X100S is a fantastic camera, there is no doubt that a lot of the improvements will make a big difference in day-to-day use. They have definitely listened to X100 owners and done almost exactly what was asked for. The fact is though that the X100 was, and remains, a damn good camera that is still a worth competitor to the X100S, and I think that’s one of the biggest problems with the X100S – at £499 the X100 is almost too close for comfort. I can’t think of any other camera around that price range that even comes close to the excellence of the X100 – it’s a absolute bargain and if I didn’t have one already I’d be snapping one up before stocks run out! The other issue being that a lot of people are asking me … X100S or X-E1? Before there was a significant gap in price between the X100 and an X-Pro1, but now that’s a very hard question to answer. It is very much a personal decision. I’d say that you’ve got to really want a slightly smaller package, an OVF, and the silent leaf shutter to make the X100S make more sense than buying an X-E1. My heart would go with the X100S, but my head would go with the X-E1.
A few more random side-by-side samples… X100 image on top, X100S below. Not the most inspired images! Just done quickly to give you some comparison. Click on the images to get larger versions, or feel free to download them to browse at your leisure! Whether you prefer the images from either camera is your call. Personally I prefer some from the X100 and some from the X100S, so it’s not an easy call to make.