The new Fuji x100s digital camera arrived in the UK at the end of last week after many weeks, or months, of build-up by Fuji and keen anticipation from those of us who wanted to buy one. I have been a loyal user of Nikon cameras for many years and am currently using a Nikon D700 and a D300. Both of these are fine cameras and meet my needs well. I use them for my commercial photography, events photography, press and documentary work too. So why did I want another camera, one that was going to cost me as much as a good Nikon lens?
The x100s offers me something in between my D700 and my iPhone. Yes, my iPhone. Both my Nikon bodies have become work tools, like a mechanic’s spanner or a builder’s hammer. I love using them but I have found that I am using my iPhone more and more when I’m not working; when I am on the beach with my kids, or walking around London, or just sat talking with friends.
Using the iPhone is fine and I have a lot of fun with it. However, what I find is that I take a photo on the iPhone using one of the great camera apps, I might do a little processing with another app and then I upload the better ones to EyeEm. I don’t use Instagram anymore, not since they changed their terms and conditions to no longer respect the photographer’s copyright. I have had some printed but iPhone photography is very much of the moment. It’s a bit like instant coffee, it does the job and can be very rewarding, but for full pleasure you need to take the time to use a stove top pot.
The x100s will give me a camera – note, I am not saying a tool – a camera that will always be with me. It will allow me to take print quality photos and give me time to get to know those photos while I process them.
I drove to Clifton Cameras in Dursley early on Saturday morning to collect my x100s. I had put a deposit down on one about 4 weeks ago so I was lucky enough to get one of the first cameras, though I am sure there are many more out there in the UK now as Clifton Cameras presold all their stock. Although Clifton would have posted the x100s to me, I can’t buy a camera without holding it. Everything on paper can be right about a camera but when you hold it, you can find it’s not the right camera for you. Feel is one of the most, maybe even the most, important thing in buying a camera. If it isn’t comfy, doesn’t become part of you, then you won’t take such good photos with it. It’s like shoes, if you have badly fitting ones you won’t want to wear them all day.
When I opened the box and saw the x100s, I wasn’t disappointed with the looks and when I picked it up, it was love at first feel – as AC/DC would say!
Using the x100s is pretty intuitive. Yes, I have flipped through the manual and I am sure I will flip through it again from time to time but it’s a camera, and mostly they work in pretty similar ways. At the end of the day, light is light and shutter speed and aperture control it.
There are, as with all digital cameras, lots of menus, custom settings and words of which I have no idea what they mean and never will, contained in the manual. I am sure someone else will write a comprehensive blog on them and one day, I might read it.
In the meantime though, what is the x100s like to use? Well, great.
Firstly it’s heavier than I was expecting. I don’t mean it’s heavy in the way the D700 with a 70-200mm lens is heavy, no, but it’s substantial, solid feeling. It feels like a proper camera in your hand but it’s small enough to pop around your neck and inside your coat and you can forget it’s there. I drove home yesterday with it still around my neck under my coat.
It does feel small when you are using it though. I found working in full manual mode pretty tricky, which I am sure is partly due to not knowing the camera properly yet. With the D700 I can pick it up, manually set it and take the photo very quickly. I am sure I will get better and quicker with the x100s the more I use it but for now, I am finding that I have it set up so I can adjust the aperture and let the camera deal with the shutter speed. If I need to use an auto setting, I would rather it be the shutter speed and keep control over the aperture as I feel this gives you more artistic control of the light. On the whole though, I think you should shoot in manual whenever possible.
The x100s has excellent flexibility when it comes to shooting in auto, semi-auto or full manual modes. All work well and I am sure everyone will find one to suit them. I do like what Fuji have done with the manual focus options – these might not be new but they were to me.
You can have manual focus set in one of three different modes. Firstly you have the settings on the side of the camera, manual focus (MF), Auto focus continuous (AF-C) and my normal setting on the Nikon, Auto focus single (AF-S). I like what Fuji have done with this switch; it’s a small thing but a good one. With the Nikon cameras, I find that the thumb on my left hand hits the focus switch and moves it from AF-S to AF-C. It’s really annoying. But Fuji have recognised that the two most commonly used focus modes are MF and AF-S and have put MF at the top and AF-S at the bottom allowing you to flip between them very easily and skip the AF-C mode. It’s inside the viewfinder that Fuji’s manual focus really works nicely though.
There are three options when manual focusing; you can just turn the focus ring and see when the frame is in focus, whilst also being able to zoom in and see the main subject very close for focusing purposes – this is called MF Assist. The other two options are both clever, one takes you back to the old days of split focusing and the other does some weird stuff! The split image focusing works really well, it breaks the centre of the frame up into 3 bits and you turn the focus ring until they are all in line. If you have ever used film I am sure you will know what I mean. The other is pretty Star Trek. It’s called Focus Peak Highlight and okay, I might be getting on in years, but I have never seen this before. When you look through the viewfinder, you see a glow around the main subject of the frame, a chair, a person etc……as you bring the frame into focus, the glow gets brighter until you just know it’s in focus. It’s slightly odd, but it works and in low light I can see it being pretty useful.
There are other nice built in features that I see as being useful. The ND filter works very well, giving that “sunglasses” effect and stopping the image down by about 1 or 2 f-stops. I haven’t really used filters on my D700 even though I have a couple, it’s just too much of a pain to carry and put them on. But with this electronic filter I am sure I will be using it. The Function button is nicely positioned by the shutter release allowing for quick access to your function of choice – I have mine set for ISO and can quickly change the ISO without taking my eye away from the viewfinder.
You have three options you can use when composing an image; the Electronic viewfinder (EVF), the Optical viewfinder (OVF) and the LCD.
In simple terms the EVF shows what the LCD shows on the back of the camera. The manual has the EVF and the LCD as different display options and I suppose they are but I am not 100% sure what that difference is, I think there’s just more information shown on the LCD. The more I use the camera the more I find myself switching to the OVF though. The EVF gives the feeling you are “looking through the lens” but of course you are not so it’s a little slow to frame and when panning, the frame is blurred.
With the OVF there is no drag but of course you have to remember you are not “looking through the lens” so framing, particularly on closer subjects, will be off and you need to compensate. Whichever you use will be down to your own personal preference of course and it’s easy to change between the two using the switch on the front of the camera, just under the shutter release.
There are many things I am sure I could talk about, the camera is loaded with features and nice touches. One of my favourite touches is how Fuji has used film names for the different shooting effects. In fact they call it film simulation.
The last main feature I am going to mention is the Q button on the back of the camera. This allows quick access to the main shooting options, like ISO, film effect, ND filter, image quality, white balance, image size etc. There are 16 items you can easily flick between and change without taking your eye away from the viewfinder. The Q button also has 3 custom menus associated with it which allow you to pre-set any of the 16 items for different shooting environments. You could setup one for landscape, one for low light and one for portraits for instance.
Fuji say in their advertising for the x100s that it will “reignite the joy of photography” and that is just what the x100s does in my opinion. It provides a perfect combination of retro film camera style with the latest technology. This is a camera that screams at you to be picked up and used.