For a long time, I was sure my next camera would be a full-frame DSLR (I have a Canon EOS 7D now). Perhaps it would be the Canon EOS 5D Mark III or the less interesting Canon EOS 6D. Instead, I’m opting for something compact, street-ready and totally portable.
They say the best camera is the one you have with you, and I think there’s a lot of truth in that. I need something for everyday use but I’m not ready to settle on photo quality. I want something fun and unique that will spark my creative juices.
Luckily, I found the solution for me and it’s called the Fujifilm X100s (B&H). It’s a beautiful retro-styled, fixed-lens (35mm), APS-C sensor, mirrorless camera.
Update April 22, 2013: The Verge posted some nice close-ups that show how well built this camera is.
Why Not a DSLR?
Generally speaking, the weight and complexity of a DSLR is often overkill. It’s also extremely conspicuous regardless of the lens attached. If I add my 70-200mm telephoto, I get looks from strangers. There’s nothing subtle or simple about it. I do love my 7D, but not for all occasions.
Since I already own Canon lenses, I’d like to stick with Canon but they’ve not presented me with any viable options. They recently launch the smallest DSLR on the market, the Canon EOS Rebel SL1
, and they’ve had the compact mirrorless Canon EOS M
for a while now.
Even though it’s smaller, the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 is still a bulky DSLR. It’s a good first camera for someone but it’s not different enough for my needs. My next DSLR will still be a full-frame Canon but I’m not sure when that might be now.
The Canon EOS M, although interesting, is simply not good enough. Its APS-C sensor is identical to those found in the Canon DSLRs and I can use my existing lenses (with an adapter), but it lacks a few critical things like fast autofocus and built-in viewfinder (it has neither an optical or electronic viewfinder). That said, it’s half the price of the x100s so perhaps that’s not a fair comparison but there’s nothing else in the Canon mirrorless line (yet).
My Purchase Criteria
For this compact camera purchase, my stringent criteria list is (in order of importance):
- Tack-sharp images that match or surpass my DSLR
- APS-C sensor size for resolution and low-light performance
- Low noise at high ISO (e.g. sharp at 3200 and very decent at 6400)
- Ability to shoot in full-auto, semi-auto or manual
- Can shoots JPEG or RAW
- Compact and lightweight (body and lens combined)
- High quality built-in viewfinder (i.e. I can’t depend on an LCD in daylight and I don’t want a bulky add-on viewfinder)
- Intuitive and dedicated physical controls for common functions
- Super fast autofocus (e.g. phase detection, not just contrast detection)
- Fast software and image processing (i.e. no noticeable lag during startup and shooting)
- A manual focus that works
- A short focusing distance for macro style shots
- Durable exterior (all metal being preferred)
- Silent operation for street settings and other discreet uses
- Flash hotshoe for on and off-camera flash work
- Does not cost more than a mid-level DSLR (i.e. not a Leica)
I’d love all that AND an interchangeable lens but the more I considered owning a fixed prime-lens camera, the more I thought it could in fact be quite viable.
Fixed Prime Lens, Really?
Even this conclusion surprised me. I’m going to buy a fixed lens camera that doesn’t even zoom. The x100s sports a non-interchangeable 23mm f/2 lens which is equivalent to 35mm. It’s very compact as you can see.
I’m a big believer that the right constraints can really expand one’s creativity. A non-interchangeable lens means I will never sweat what gear I take with me and I will be challenged to find the best composition and story I can fit in the viewfinder. Forcing me to move my feet is not a bad thing as it requires that I explore a location to get the best shot. I expect variety in the shots I produce and I’ll know that I did it all with one focal length. That will be satisfying.
If I need a real telephoto, I have the best one: the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS II USM
. The x100s won’t be my sports or studio portrait camera but it can be nearly everything else.
One final note about the lens is that Fujifilm does sell a 28mm adapter for $350
. Not sure it interests me but it shows even a fixed prime can be adapted.
Look Ma, Dedicated Physical Controls!
What I really want is a great experience in addition to great photos. My hope is the Fujifilm will re-ignite the fun of photography. Its intuitive physical controls are compelling. A turn of the lens for aperture, a big dial for shutter speed and a thumb dial for exposure compensation. That’s brilliant. ISO is one button away as well.
It includes an optical (OVF) and electronic viewfinder (EVF) and you can toggle between them with a simple pull of the lever you see on the front of the camera. The EVF is razor sharp and provides a 100% preview during composition.
It also includes a switch to go between one of three focus modes (one auto and two manual modes). One options uses focus peaking which visually highlights the part of the image that’s in focus. The other is a digital split image where you line up horizontal bands to find the focus. Both are well liked in the reviews I read and they’ll come in handy in low-light situations.
All of this is wrapped up in an retro-styled metal shell that’s compact and lightweight. Without the protruding lens of most interchangeable systems, this camera is truly pocketable.
Leaf vs. Focal Plane Shutters
Standard DSLR cameras have a focal plane shutter
which consistent of two metal curtains. They create that familiar DSLR thunk during each exposure. They’re a bit loud but obviously work well and are quite reliable.
A different shutter type exists called a leaf shutter
and its made up of a piece of metal that moves in a circle to let light into the camera. It’s extremely quiet and gives the camera a very fast sync speed for those of us using flash. For example, a leaf shutter camera can sync with a flash at 1/2000th second compared to 1/250th or worse. This means you need a much less powerful flash when balancing it with daylight.
To hear how much more quiet and discreet a leaf shutter can be, check out this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V...
The Fujifilm X100s luckily has a leaf shutter. That wasn’t in my purchase criteria but I will certainly appreciate it. Note that the Canon 6D and 5D Mark III do have a silent mode that supposedly works quite well.
Quick Background on Mirrorless Cameras
Since I got my first DSLR in 2009, the Canon EOS 7D (which I still love), I’ve watched an entirely new type of digital camera come to life. They’re called “mirrorless” cameras as they’re built to produce DSLR-quality images without the bulk. The reduced camera body size is achieved by ditching the entire single lens reflex system. This is the internal moving mirror and pentaprism that lets the camera operator see through the attached lens.
Without the mirror, you have three options for framing your shots (not all mirrorless cameras have all three):
- LCD screen (e.g. live view)
- Optical viewfinder (e.g. lens for your eye next to the real lens)
- Electronic viewfinder (e.g. LCD inside a viewfinder so you can see it even in bright light)
It’s worth noting the the X100s has all three and its optical viewfinder is a “hybrid” viewfinder. That means it can overlay data inside the viewfinder so that you can still keep an eye on camera settings and other useful data even though you’re not looking at an electronic screen.
For a while, Sony seemed to have the lead in the mirrorless category with their NEX lineup. They’re still a great range of cameras and the lens options are ever expanding but the market is heating up with a lot
Brief History of Fujifilm X-Series
Over a year ago, Fujifilm created a totally new market with its entrants in this category. They called it the X Series
and it includes both fixed-lens and interchangeable lens options. The grand-daddy of these is the Fujifilm X-Pro1
. Along with its smaller sibling, the XE-1
, these are the interchangeable lens options. The fixed-lens cameras include the X10
which were updated this month by the X20
. There’s also an ultra compact XF-1
and a big X-S1
is the predecessor to the X100s
and it was well reviewed but had a number of quirks (e.g. weak and sluggish autofocus and general lag in camera operation). The styling was very retro and it sported an interesting optical hybrid viewfinder that can be switched into full electronic viewfinder (EVF) at the push of a button. I was intrigued when it came out but it was obviously a version 1.0 and would be improved. The great news is that Fuji really listened to feedback and created the X100s.
Fujifilm only recently announced the two new cameras (X20 and X100s) and they’re only coming to market now. Although they look the same as their predecessors, they have entirely new internals, including new sensors. There is the x20 which has a small 2/3″ sensor and a fixed zoom lens (28mm-112mm f/2.8-4). It will sell for $600 and is quite interesting.
Due to my DSLR experience, however, I’m addicted to sharpness and real low-light performance. For that reason, I cannot bring myself to buy anything with a sensor smaller than what I already have in my Canon 7D (i.e. APS-C sensor). In this area, Fujifilm has the X100 which it kindly revamped with all the community feedback they received. It will sell for $1300.
A Few Amazing X100s Reviews
To understand my excitement, you have to read a few of the early reviews for the X100s. From what I’ve read, the camera is simply amazing. It lacks all the issues that plagued its predecessor and its new sensor is tack sharp.
Here a few reviews from photographers I respect:
My First Impressions?
I wish I had some first impressions but I don’t have the camera yet. Like I said, this is my next
camera. I’m next in line on the backorder list at my local Henry’s and Vistek awaiting for one to arrive (they only started shipping this week). I was told there could be a 2 month wait for those that didn’t pre-oder. I hope that’s not the case for me as I’m getting the first camera to be shipped to the closest retail location near me.Update:
Here’s a nice list of x100s accessories
In the mean time, I’m going to start shopping for cheaper accessories like batteries, lens hoods and cases in the US (e.g. B&H and Amazon). I’ll probably buy the leather case accessory given it matches the retro look of camera so well ($100). Bye bye camera bag!Update:
For the leather case, be sure to get the LC-X100s and not the LC-X100. The new one has a flap so you can access the battery and memory card without unscrewing the entire case. I think it’s also made to accomodate the lens cap being on the lens as well.Update April 16, 2013:
I finally got it! So far it’s pretty sweet. I’ll have to get used to the slower autofocus compared to my DSLR but I like the look of the images so far. I got the leather case shown below, a must-have I think!