The Fujifilm X100s is Great, but is it Right?

Subject isolation and low-light awesomeness in a camera that fits in a jacket pocket.

Subject isolation and low-light awesomeness in a camera that fits in a jacket pocket.

Over the last ten years I’ve developed a pretty predictable pattern for buying new cameras. First, I become obsessed and spend months or even years researching a particular model. This usually inspires me to use my existing camera in different and better ways, so I convince myself that I do not need a new camera at all. Smug in the knowledge that I have saved money through good old common sense and discipline, I let down my guard. Then, I go into a camera store to buy a battery or a filter and walk out twenty minutes later with a new camera.

And that’s how I ended up buying a Fujifilm X100s last week.

Two APS-C sensor cameras with 24mm lenses. The Fuji is much smaller and MUCH MUCH lighter.

Two APS-C sensor cameras with 24mm lenses. The Fuji is much smaller and MUCH MUCH lighter.

Gear-obsessed hobbyists already know what a huge sensation this camera has caused, and famous bloggers like Zack Arias and David Hobby have answered the question, “Is this camera suitable for professional work?” with a resounding “YES!” But, as hardworking professionals who use a variety of cameras 24/7/365, they miss the more important question: “Is the Fujifilm X100s suitable for lazy, disorganized, impatient amateur photographers?”

Obviously, I’m the man to address that burning question, so let’s go.

I’ve had the camera for less than a week, so how can I be writing about it already? Well, one of the strengths of lazy, impatient people is that we make decisions quickly, because it’s easier. And I don’t have to write about all the features of the camera, because they are detailed in about 867,000 other blogs and websites. Google on, McDuff.

On my second day with the camera, I took it to the office and started to understand its potential. The dynamic range seems to be better than my D7000, or maybe it's just different, but I like it.

On my second day with the camera, I took it to the office and began to understand its potential. The dynamic range seems to be better than my D7000, or maybe it’s just different, but I like it.

My first day with the camera was not so much a roller-coaster of emotion as it was a descent into deeper levels of the depression and anxiety that led me to buy the camera in the first place. You see, my main motivation was a vague yet strong desire to rekindle my passion for life, which has been in decline for several years. Since photography is my primary non-human source of joy, it seemed a logical place to start. I’ve been using Nikon DSLRs for almost a decade, and Nikon SLRs for three decades before that, and as those of you who followed my non-photographic vacation series might have sensed, I’ve been feeling weighed down by all my gear, physically and psychologically.

Lacking both an anti-aliasing filter and a flapping mirror, the X100s is delivering impressive sharpness.

Lacking both an anti-aliasing filter and a flapping mirror, the X100s delivers impressive sharpness.

So I bought something very different. So different, I couldn’t make a well-focused photo on my first day with the camera. Cue buyer’s remorse. But then I remembered that I go through this with every new camera, even my succession of Nikons. There is always a learning curve. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that my goal was to do things differently, so I configured the camera for manual focus, adopted a mantra of “slow down,” and tried again. Hmmm. Things started looking better.

I couldn't really understand the camera until I used it in my natural habitat. And there I realized that this camera may indeed provide the creative kick in the ass I've been seeking.

I couldn’t really understand the camera until I used it in my natural habitat. And there I realized that this camera may indeed provide the creative kick in the ass I’ve been seeking.

With under 150 frames composed, I’m already beginning to see what this famous X-Trans sensor is capable of, and it’s exciting. I may be lazy, but I’m willing to put in a little extra work for this much image quality.

So what is the extra work? Mainly it’s dealing with the fact that I wanted something different and I got something different. Spot metering does not work the way it does in my Nikons, and that’s a drag, because I use spot metering more than most people. On my Nikons, spot metering uses whichever focus point you’ve chosen. According to the Fuji manual, the X100s uses the center spot only. Yes, one can spot-meter and then use an exposure lock button, but that multiple button management doesn’t really suit a lazy person, does it?

That rear focus button on the right side of the D7000 is where my right thumb lives; you can imagine what happens when I reach for it on the X100s.

That AE-L/AF-L button on the D7000, which I’ve programmed as a focus button, is where my right thumb lives; you can imagine what happens when I reach for it on the X100s.

Which brings me to the biggest challenge of all: muscle memory. My brain and hands are programmed for the button layout on my Nikons, so I’m struggling to master the buttons on the back, top, side, and front of the Fuji. And to make matters worse, the buttons on the Fuji are packed into a tight space and are really, really sensitive. I keep turning on macro mode by mistake. I think that going back and forth between cameras is going to keep this challenging for the foreseeable future.

ISO 6400? No problem.

ISO 6400? No problem.

Here’s the most ironic disappointment so far. When I first lusted for the X100s, I put a 24mm lens on one of my D7000s to see if I could be happy with a fixed lens of that focal length. As fate would have it, I learned to LOVE this focal length in combination with Nikon’s Auto-Area mode. You know; the one that figures out what should be in focus and just handles it for you. I had rarely used it before I got the 24mm lens, but I absolutely love using that focal length from unusual angles – way over my head or down on the ground. The Nikons are uncannily good at figuring out where to focus, so I could jam the camera into odd places because I didn’t have to look through the viewfinder. The irony is that Fuji does not have an equivalent focusing mode with face recognition, which means that I’ve got a small, light camera that is much easier on my battered old body, but I have to become a contortionist to use the camera in the way I’ve become accustomed to using its focal length, because I have to look through the lens to focus accurately.

Obviously, if that’s the worst thing I have to deal with these days, I’m in pretty good shape. Here’s what I love about the X100s so far:

  • It’s so small and light that I’m carrying it everywhere, and can even wear it around my neck; something I haven’t been able to do with an SLR since I was in my thirties.
  • The image quality, even at ISO6400, shows great potential, and I haven’t even shot in RAW yet! I love the look of the files this camera produces.
  • In less than a week, three attractive women have struck up conversations because the camera is interesting looking. Dude, that’s priceless.

I’ll still be using my Nikons for wildlife, actor headshots and any kind of fast action, but I suspect the X100s will be the go-to camera for everyday use. Because maybe what a lazy, disorganized, impatient photographer really needs is the proper incentive to be a little less lazy, and the X100s delivers that incentive in spades.

The most important thing is that this camera is urging me to make photos. That's what I got it for.

The most important thing is that this camera is urging me to make photos, even if that includes the occasional selfie. To answer the question of the headline: Yes, it appears that the X100s is right for me. You? You’re on your own to figure that out.

2 Comments

Filed under Camera Gear, Low Light, Motivation

2 responses to “The Fujifilm X100s is Great, but is it Right?

  1. Dean, Do you recall the Leica M1?

    See any resemblance to the Leica M1?
    Larry

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