Fujifilm X100F: Perfect Street Companion

 

The Fujifilm X100F is the most recent evolution of the lauded X100 series, first released in 2011. Does it have what it takes? K Madhavan Pillai reports.

Fujifilm X100F

Fujifilm X100F

Four generations of a singular camera concept is always a good thing, especially when each successive iteration builds well on the previous version. I’ve always been a proponent of the freedom that a user derives from the constraints of a fixed lens married to a good sensor. When the X100 released, I was extremely taken in by the fluid, retro handling and design, and the 35mm field-of-view window offered by the rangefinderesque optical/electronic viewfinder (a 23mm f/2 lens). There was nothing else like it back then (the Leicas and Sigmas were, and remain, very different beasts). Fujifilm got things so right with the X100 (at least for a type of photographer), that its other failings paled in consideration. No other manufacturer sought to directly challenge these tenets since, leaving Fujifilm alone within its niche.

The new X100F continues to be in a league of its own. A lot remains the same. A lot has changed. And there are those niggles that could use some change too.

Features
Among the most important upgrades is easily the sensor. Let me backtrack a bit though.
One of the big reasons for photographers to choose X series cameras, in the past, has been the extraordinary colour palette, with a range of ‘Film Simulation’ options that emulated some of Fujifilm’s most famous negative and transparency films. Velvia, Astia, Provia… the colours and tonality were different, and in many ways, more satisfying than anything by cameras of other manufacturers. The advanced in-camera controls also helped. Highlight and shadow detail controls, dynamic range expansion, and grain control, apart from the usual saturation, contrast and sharpness settings.

This is a handheld in-camera multiple exposure in Film Simulation Acros with the red filter, with contrast, grain, dynamic range, and highlight and shadow tonality, all set at maximum. Exposure: 1/50sec at f/5.6 (ISO 200)

This is a handheld in-camera multiple exposure in Film Simulation Acros with the red filter, with contrast, grain, dynamic range, and highlight and shadow tonality, all set at maximum. Exposure: 1/50sec at f/5.6 (ISO 200) Photograph/ K Madhavan Pillai

Essentially, it simplified things, turning pixel peepers and RAW conversion buffs into avid JPEG shooters. The X100F has these, and new options too… the Classic Chrome soft tonality, and the famous, detailed, Acros B&W (available with simulated yellow, red and green B&W filters) film simulation options, for a total of 15 film simulations. All of these are a consequence of the new sensor and processor, as well as software. Now, with the new 24MP X-Trans CMOS III sensor and the X Processor Pro engine (found in the other Fujifilm frontrunners, the X-Pro2, X-T2, and the newly released X-E3), users are looking very seriously at post-processing RAW files again, because the sensor delivers exemplary detail and range.
More recently, in recognition of this shift, Fujifilm has also announced a new firmware for the X100F, to be available next month. This firmware update (ver. 2.00) will add support for the ‘Fujifilm X RAW Studio’ software, which allows the user to connect the camera to a computer via USB cable for developing RAW files in-camera with greater ease. The new firmware will also improve third party studio flash controller usability.

This brings me to a certain combination of features unique to the X100F. A lens based leaf shutter (that can sync with the built-in and external flash units all the way to its top shutterspeed of 1/1000 sec. at f/2, 1/4000 sec. at f/8), a built-in ND filter that cuts light by three stops, and an ISO range of 200 to 12,800 (expandable from 100 to 51,200) from a very capable sensor. Especially for professional users and for those who use leaf shutters, this combination is invaluable.
Other features include a much faster, more effective 325-point sensor based phase detect system AF system, with selectable single point and zone shift (the size and area of coverage of both can be controlled), and wide/tracking. Focus modes are MF, S-AF and C-AF. Face detection can be switched on and off for S and C-AF, with left or right eye detection selectable in S-AF. Turning face detection on or off affects the behaviour of how the camera decides on foreground or background focus on the street. Turning the ‘Pre-AF’ function on enables the X100F to continually reacquire focus depending on where the camera is pointed, even in S-AF, and locks AF much faster when the shutter button is pressed. For speedy shooters, this is an advantage. It also drains battery faster.

The Advanced Hybrid Viewfinder, a key highlight of the X100F, now responds faster, with near instantaneous shifts between OVF and EVF to aid MF (a magnified view) or to check simulated exposure, colours and details. Enabling the ‘Electronic Rangefinder’ mode shows a small EVF window at the bottom right corner of the OVF, displaying the chosen focus area seen in the OVF, in 2.5x or 6x magnification. The data displayed in both EVF and OVF can be separately controlled. Framing guidelines in the OVF remains conservative. Parallax is electronically detected and displayed. The DOF scale toggles between pixel level DOF or the traditional sensor size based calculation. Both LCD and EVF have a faster refresh rate of 60fps, with no detectable lag.
There is Full HD (60p) video (2.5mm stereo mic socket), but not 4k. It may be argued that the X100F is more a still shooter’s camera. Yet, considering that reasonably good 4k is available on the X-T2 and X-E3 (and shortly in the X-Pro2 as well), it is a lacuna… especially since the sensor and processor in the X100F is the same.

Other features include a maximum continuous shooting speed of 8fps (up to 60 JPEG or 23 uncompressed RAW), wireless connectivity (Wifi) to use a phone as a remote control, or to easily transfer images to a smartphone or tablet.

Handling
The small, all-metal camera feels comfortably weighty and well-built for a compact. There are significant changes and additions in button and control placements, and the customisation options are extremely well thought out, and extensive (see the Ergonomics box for more on this).
On more than a few occasions while I was shooting on the streets, the retro design was a conversation starter. But there is a lot more to it than just appearances. Having an aperture ring on the lens and a shutterspeed dial (that, in combination with the A settings, gives you manual control, aperture or shutter priority, or program auto) not just makes you think about your creative process much more directly, it is also simpler.

The Auto ISO settings… the capability to transfer ISO and shutterspeed control to the input dials… the OVF that lets you focus on the moment… or the freedom to switch to an EVF that lets you check focus, colours and exposure without having to lift your eye from the finder… or the tiny EVF in the OVF… all of these makes the X100F a far faster, and significantly more intuitive camera to operate than its predecessor.

In many ways, the biggest advantage the X100F provides, as did the X100 versions before it, is a sort of classic, tactile elegance.

Performance
A lot has been said about the exemplary sensor, and so I shall not get into that. It performs admirably, and holds it own as one among the best out there. The 23mm (equivalent to 35mm on a full frame) lens is essentially the same as the one designed for the 12.3MP X100 in 2011. Without a hood, it is prone to some flaring from light sources just outside the edges of the frame. A lens hood helps cut this down.

The min. focus distance is a superb 10cm, but at f/2, there is a visible loss of overall sharpness, especially with subjects close to the lens. Center to edge definition is perfect between f/5.6 and f/8. The AF is speedy, perfectly good for street photography, but it still lags slightly behind industry standards today. The X100F is a fast camera though. The handling helps performance. It gives itself well to quick, fast shooting just as much as with a slower, more thoughtful process. JPEGs and RAWs both have their strengths, and are both extremely good for what they are intended .

A combination of slow-sync flash on TTL at -2/3EV, combined with with high ISO allowed the details to be effectively captured without looking unnatural. Exposure: 1/25sec at f/5.6 (ISO 3200)

A combination of slow-sync flash on TTL at -2/3EV, combined with with high ISO allowed the details to be effectively captured without looking unnatural. Exposure: 1/25sec at f/5.6 (ISO 3200) Photograph/ K Madhavan Pillai

Conclusion
For its price of Rs. 1,02,999, I do have a wishlist: sealing against moisture and dust of the level of the X-T2, bundled lens hood, 4k video capabilities, Bluetooth functionality, and slightly better AF to match that of the X-E3. Yet, as I’ve stated, in light of what it delivers, what it lacks can be looked over.
The value of the X100F is equally in what it is capable of doing and how it does it… and for the photographer, how it feels while doing it. Well, if that sounded the way I intended it, then you do get my point! It is a camera that just as equally demands attention, an adherance to process, just as much as it lets you let go.
For existing users who are already hooked onto the X100 series, there is every reason to upgrade. If you are a leaf shutter enthusiast, or someone who enjoys a rangefinder-styled viewfinder and will appreciate the superb marriage of classic styling, modern technology, handling finesse and speed, and if you want the unique colour palette, the price tag is worth paying. There really isn’t anything out there in terms of competition.

However, at this juncture, if you fall into the category of someone who is not convinced, and are looking for alternatives at the same price point, you may be better served with the newly launched X-E3 kit, with the 23mm f/2 R WR. And if this too is not what you are looking for, there are many other options out there too, but you probably need to seriously reconsider why you thought of an X series camera at all.

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Better Photography.

FINAL RATINGS
Features
Sensor, ND filter, leaf shutter, Hybrid VF
13/15
Performance
Image quality, ISO performance, speed
42/45
Build Quality
Compact, Metal, not fully weather-sealed
18/20
Ergonomics
Intuitive, customisable controls, design
14/15
Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty, limited service network
3/5
MRP Rs. 1,02,999
OVERALL 90%
VALUE FOR MONEY 3.5/5
Who should buy it? Street photographers, portraitists, leaf shutter enthusaists, those who want classic styling, and for any older X100 series users, the X100F is an excellent upgrade.
Why? A highly capable sensor within a compact, rangefinder-styled body, an excellent marriage of classic and modern.
Tags: K Madhavan Pillai, better photography, Reviews, Fujifilm X100F, Test November 2017, Madhavan Pillai, November 2047