A Fuji X100S report
by Lachlan Burrell
I’ve been using the Fuji X100S for about 16 months now, and I believe it’s one of the greatest digital cameras ever made! Obviously not everyone is going to agree with me on that, but here’s why I think so highly of this little camera:
Firstly, I’m a die-hard film shooter, and lover of traditional manual cameras. I learnt the ropes on great 1980’s era SLR cameras like the Olympus OM1 and Nikon FM2, and I still find the direct manual controls and simplicity of these kind of cameras such a joy to use, not to mention the wonderful tones and colours I get from film. So I was never quick to jump into the digital camera market. I got some very nice results from Nikon DSLR’s like the D200 and D3; both were and still are great cameras, but were a very different beast to the old film cameras that I loved.
Then along came the X100 and really caught my eye. Could this be the missing link between nostalgia, classic design and a practical, digital tool? Not one to rush into the latest thing, I waited to see how this camera would be received and how it would perform in the real world. Turns out there were some issues, as there often is with the first generation of any product. When the highly anticipated X100S was announced, I thought it was about time I took the plunge.
It didn’t take very long to warm to this little camera, most of the controls were very familiar and intuitive. I started playing around with the RAW files in Adobe Lightroom using VSCO (Visual Supply Company) Film presets that I had tweaked a little. It was then that I started getting a bit excited! Not only was this a beautiful camera to use, with traditional controls I was accustomed to, the images were the closest thing to film I’d seen come out of a digital camera. I’ve used the VSCO Film presets on the Nikon D3, but I’ve never been able to achieve a film look like I can with the X100S. There’s something about the Fuji sensor that lends itself to the tonality and feel of film. Some might argue, why bother trying to make the images from a digital camera look like film? Well that’s fine if you’re happy with a digital look, but to me digital often looks a bit “plastic” and surreal compared to a film image, and the colours don’t always appear to be rendered naturally. For those of you who are interested, I’ve outlined a few key changes I make to the standard VSCO preset settings in Lightroom. I don’t make any drastic changes, but as a general guide using the Kodak Portra 400 preset, for example, I add about 5 points more Saturation overall. Then I go to the HSL panel and into the individual colour saturation I nudge up the reds, oranges and yellows by 5-10 and knock the green down by about 5. In the hue settings I also nudge up the orange hue by 5-10 points, and knock the yellow, green and purple hues down by 5-10 points. In the luminance panel I knock the yellows and greens down a bit and nudge the purple and magenta up slightly. This all helps achieve a more natural creamy-warm skin tone. Another important adjustment I make is in the Split Toning. As a guide I set the highlights hue at about 40, saturation 5, and the shadow hue at about 210, saturation 5. This really gets close to emulating true negative film tonality. Play around with the grain settings to your own taste; for Portra 400 I have it set at 30, 30, 40. I use the Portra presets for most of what I shoot, but I’ve also customized presets for Kodak Tri-X black and white, Fuji Velvia, Fuji Astia and a couple of the Polaroid presets, which can be very interesting and moody. It really comes down to individual taste, but having shot film for so many years, I have a visual target to aim for when customizing the presets.
As far as my personal camera setup goes, I never use the accessory case, it just adds bulk and gets in the way. I also ditched the lens cap and attached the accessory filter adapter and a top quality B+W UV filter, primarily to protect that beautiful front element. I never use a lens hood, as lens flare isn’t an issue for me…I actually like the effect, and the Fuji lens doesn’t seem to suffer from it excessively.
In addition to the beautiful image quality the X100S can achieve, there are other things about this camera that just rock, in my opinion!
1. The exposure metering is superb; it nails it almost every time. And the rare times it doesn’t due to very challenging lighting, the dynamic range of the RAW files is huge, allowing highlight and shadow detail to be easily “rescued” later. The highlights don’t tend to blow out harshly, but fall off very gradually and naturally, something I haven’t experienced with other digital files.
2. The hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder is just lovely to use. I used to be a little irked by electronic viewfinders, but this one has changed my attitude. I still prefer the optical for general everyday shooting, but there are times, particularly when framing is critical or when the lighting is dim, that the electronic option really shines. The ultimate would be to have a true optical rangefinder with manual focusing, like so many popular consumer cameras made in the 60’s and 70’s. I don’t believe it has to remain the exclusive domain of Leica with a price tag to match. I wait in hope for a manufacturer to break the mould!
3. The compact size and near silent shutter is just perfect for travel and street shooting! I don’t believe there’s any other serious competitor for this camera, i.e. compact, light, full manual control, classic styling and design, delivering professional results.
Is this the perfect camera? I don’t think there is such a thing, because the needs of photographers are so diverse, but this comes close for a travel/street/documentary shooter. If I could change one thing about the X100S what would it be? The fixed 35mm equivalent lens can sometimes seem a limitation, but it’s also what gives the camera its unique appeal. I’ve often felt that a 40mm or 50mm standard would be more useful; I’m not a big wide-angle fan. But now with the option of 28mm and 50mm conversion lenses, I think Fuji have it covered quite nicely!