Thursday, January 19, 2017

FIRST LOOK: FUJIFILM X-100F review

Today, January 19 2017 is an important day for Fujifilm! Beside the release of the first mirrorless Medium format (GFX), a new 50mm f2 lens, the new X-T20 (review here), Fujifilm also announced the X-100F today!

It is hard to believe it has been 6 years since Fujifilm announced their first X-100 series camera! Today the fourth generation of the X-100 camera, the X-100F (F for Fourth, in case you missed it!) has been announced but lets first have a brief look into the history of the X-100 series...


It wasn't all wine and roses from the early days of the X-100 in 2011! The vintage "rangefinder like" camera, delivered great image quality but its unpredictable auto-focus quickly became somewhat of a running joke amongst pro and serious amateur photographers. 

In 2012, Fujifilm launched the second generation X-100S, giving the camera a complete new X-Trans II sensor and a vastly improved auto-focus system. The X-100S became a go to camera for a lot of Street photographers all over the globe.

The Third release, the X-100T, made a good camera even better; new items such as a higher pixel density LCD screen, a new additional electronic shutter function, classic chrome film simulation mode and the introduction of the Hybrid viewfinder; to name only a few. 

Fujifilm Middle East, was provided me with an early silver "sample" X-100F end of November 2016 for about two weeks. Given the camera was tested well before todays release date, the image quality of the final product (especially jpegs) might vary and the firmware tested was definitively not final. The hardware was pretty much (if not 100%) close to final. 


WHAT IS INHERITED FROM THE X-100T?
The X-100F has kept the same overall form factor and dimensions, which is definitively a good thing. Why change a winning team! With its 469g (16.5oz) it did put on 29g of weight, likely due to the larger battery. 

The number one advantage of using an X-100 series camera compared to an X-Pro2 (even X-T2) is its leaf shutter; being almost completely silent this is great for shooting candids and other stealthy photography. A limitation however is that the maximum mechanical shutter speed, remains at 1/4000s. Needless to say that the Electronic shutter (max 1/32000s) is available if one wants to shoot a shallow depth of field in bright daylight. If shooting moving subjects, it will however come with some possible rolling shutter artifacts.  


Like the original X-100 (and X-100S / X-100T), the camera has a built in 3 stop ND (Neutral Density) filter. 


Beside the great standard Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) it comes with an Optical Viewfinder (OVF) and the newer Hybrid Viewfinder, which was first introduced as on the X-100T. I personally don't actively use the optical viewfinder since the EVF's have become so good. Both the 
0.48inch EVF and OVF specifications seem to be virtually identical to the X-100T except for having a slightly higher refresh rate (60fps i.s.o. 54fps).


The camera comes in both a silver and black version; personally I find the black more stealthy but that is of course a personal choice.

WHAT IS NEW?
The front of the X-100F looks very similar to its 2 and a half year older brother. The most notable change is that a front dial has been added, which can now be set-up as a function button; similar to cameras like the X-T2 and X-Pro2. A minor detail is that the Autofocus LED now sits close to the built in flash.




The backside of the camera has received the biggest update from the hardware point of view. The button configuration is very similar to the X-Pro2; with no buttons on the left, allowing for a much better single hand operation. And yes, it has the new little "joystick" (officially called the focus lever). The Q button has moved more to the righthand side of the camera; leading to occasionally touching it unintentionally. 




The 3 inch LCD is with its 1040K dots, exactly the same as on its predecessor. 

The first thing that stands out on the top of the camera, is the combined Shutter speed and ISO dial; something that was first introduced on the X-Pro2. It seems that photographers can't really agree to love or hate it... Given the camera doesn't ergonomically allow for the extra separate ISO button, it is for me defentively a step forward from the X-100T! I do however find changing the ISO with the combined button, not as quick as on the X-T2. 




The good news for the "combined ISO/Shutter speed dial" haters is that the ISO can also be set with the command dial; one only need to set the ISO on A and then change the Auto ISO to COMMAND from AUTO in the menu to make it work. The Auto ISO allows now for a 1/500s minimum shutter speed from the previous 1/125s; something that is very valuable for street photographers.

The X-100F now takes the new NP-W126(S) batteries; so all of your old NP-95 (X100, X-100S and X-100T) batteries will not fit anymore. On the other hand, the older NP-W126 batteries (X-E1/2, X-T1, X-Pro1/2) will work just fine. 

The camera has the 24.3 MP new X-Trans CMOS III which we first saw on the X-Pro2 and X-T2 last year. To me this sensor size is the sweet spot of the CMOS sensor format. It has the X-processor Pro which provides the camera with much faster writing speeds and a slightly faster focus. As the lens is the same as on the X-100T, we will likely see less of an increase in auto-focus speed compared to for example the X-T10 to X-T20 upgrade. Again, the tested firmware was not final.


For those of you that don't like the idea of having more megapixels and therefore potentially larger files, the following average file size overview might make you change opinions:

X-T10 with X-Trans II sensor (16Mpx)

  • Fine jpeg 6-8 MB 
  • RAW average 33 MB
X-T20 with X-Trans III sensor (24Mpx)
  • Fine jpeg 11-14 MB
  • RAW Lossless compressed average 23MB
  • RAW Uncompressed average 50 MB
Since the X-Pro2 (and XT2), the RAW Lossless compressed are my new go to RAW files. I personally don't see any loss in image quality when using the lossless compressed files. As always some pixel peepers might think differently but I surely appreciate being able to shoot more pixels in a smaller RAW file package!



The number of focus points has seen an dramatic increase from 49 to 325 in the new model; the center 49 are covered with Phase detection points. If you like to work with less focus points, one can also select the 91 option.

Flash shooters have been big fans of leaf shutter cameras for a different reason; they don't have a maximum flash sync speed limitation (1/180 or 1/250s) unlike focal plane shutters, so they can be used with flash at much higher shutter speeds. For more info please refer to this well written article on FujiLove here
Something inherited from its smaller brother, the now discontinued X-70, is the "Digital Teleconverter". When shooting in jpeg only mode, one can shoot in a 35mm (no teleconverter), 50mm and 70mm cropped mode; all of the focal lengths being full frame equivalent. The image output remains a 24MP file, however some pixel interpolation is done in the background to bump up the file to the original resolution. A close look will reveal some degradation of the final image but it is definitively useable and more than just a gimmick. A shame that it doesn't presently (likely never?) work when shooting RAW. 

Another item that we saw on the X-70 was the control ring at the front of the lens element. It can be set-up for different functions such as scrolling through the different Film Simulations, using the Digital Teleconverter and a few more. I tend to stay away from that function as it is very easy to change your settings without realising. I'm sure some photographers will probably be very excited about this feature!  
Unfortunately, at the time of testing, it could not be disabled; something that will likely be sorted in a firmware update.

Last but not least, the beloved Acros Black and White Film Simulation modes from the X-T2 and X-Pro2, can now be found in the X-100F. 



IMAGE QUALITY
When the camera was first rumored some months ago, people were speculating that the lens would be replaced with a new 18.5mm lens (similar to the X-70). It turned out to be not the case which is a good thing as the 35mm full frame equivalent (23mm on the cropped CMOS sensor) is pretty much the gold standard for street photography. Beside the existing 28mm wide-conversion lens (WCL-X100) and 50mm tele-converison lens (TCL-X100) do still work fine with the new camera. There will be a second version of the conversion lenses, which will likely be even better with the new sensor. At the time of publication, I was however not able to test them. 

As the lens is the same as on the X-100T, the same flaws are still evident. Although it focuses at a relative short shooting distance, when shooting wide open (f2 or close to that), the image is very soft; giving it a kind of a dreamy look; some people might even like the artistic effect... To be fair to Fujifilm, they even mention the effect in the X-100 series camera manuals. 



  
Shooting at f4 the effect is completely gone. At a normal focus range (more than 1m/3ft) the lens is very sharp in the center portion of the frame. 


I did some comparison shots with the new 23mm f2 lens on my X-T2, shooting the subject at about 1.5m (just over 4ft) on a sturdy tripod, using all default settings and in-camera jpeg processing. X-100F shots are on the right and these are 1:1 zooms in Lightroom CC.  


f2 ISO 200 1/45s
Center sharpness is very close to the 23mm f2 lens on a X-T2; virtually identical. 


f2 ISO 200 1/45s
Corner sharpness on the X-100F is significantly softer on the edges at f2. Not unexpected as the X-100F lens is still quite a bit more compact than the 23mm f2.

At f5.6 the difference on corner sharpness is still noticeable but much less pronounced. 


As expected, I find the ISO performance on par with the first two as the exact same sensor and image processor are used; I will shoot at ISO 6400 without even questioning it and will increase my ISO to 12800 if needed. The little bit of noise at ISO 12800 has a very organic feel to it and 
if so desired can easily be removed

AUTOFOCUS

First of all this is not an action or sports camera, so the autofocus is definitively a bit slower than the high end X-T2 and as today the brand new X-T20. Although it now has the option of choosing between Single point, Zone and Wide tracking AF modes, it does not have the AF-C Custom settings like the X-T2 and X-T20, but I did use the zone focussing a lot during my street sessions with the camera; a great addition.

Compared to the X-100T, I the Auto-focus is definitively better in single shot. In Continuous Auto-focus the change is less obvious; so overall not a huge jump but noticeable. 
Again, the tested firmware was not final and therefore results might (will) improve at release. Look at how firmware updates have further improved the X-Pro2 auto-focus speed! 

WHAT IS MISSING?
Personally I was hoping for a tilt screen; as the camera is promoted as a "Street Photographers" camera and I personally believe that having a tilt screen for Street Photography is becoming more important; especially in todays world where taking candid images of people becomes a real challenge. I do realize that some photographers might disagree...

The X-Pro2 was released as a weather sealed camera; needless to say I was a bit disappointed that this wasn't the case with the latest X-100 series as a lot of shooters will be using the camera in a wide variety of weather conditions. Speaking to Fujifilm it seems that because the same lens is used as on the X-100T and S, weather sealing was not possible. 


Some photographers (especially pro's) will regret not having a second memory card slot like on the X-T2 and X-Pro2; I suspect the lack of space in the camerabody (especially with the larger battery), the main reason it isn't there.


I strongly believe that the camera should have the option of installing a longer eyecup like the one first seen on the X-T1; unfortunately this will more than likely not be possible due to the design of the present eyecup. Having a more significant eyecup would improve the perceived brightness in the viewfinder by a large factor; especially for all of you wearing glasses.


SAMPLE IMAGES

Images below are in camera jpegs (RAW converter was not available at the time of writing). They are downsized to 2560px/150dpi and can not be used for anything else without prior approval. Please click on the image for a larger view.


ISO 200, f6.4, 1/400s


ISO 250, f6.4, 1/400s


ISO 400, f5.6, 1/125s


ISO 640, f8, 1/125s


ISO 2000, f4, 1/125s


DIGITAL CONVERTER OFF (35mm equivalent focal lenght), ISO 200, f8, 1/25s


DIGITAL CONVERTER 50mm in 35mm equivalent focal length, ISO 200, f8, 1/25s


DIGITAL CONVERTER 70mm in 35mm equivalent focal length, ISO 200, f8, 1/25s


ISO 2000, f5.6, 1/125s


ISO 3200, f4.5, 1/640s


ISO 3200, f2.8, 1/200s
ISO 3200, f4.5, 1/640s


ISO 3200, f4, 1/75s


ISO 400, f10, 0.8s



ISO 500, f2.0 /125s


ISO 200, f2.0 /750s
ISO 3200, f5.6, 1/60s


WITH WIDE CONVERSION LENS WCL-X100, ISO 3200, f5.6, 1/40s

CONCLUSIONS

Who is the camera targeted at? The X-100 series is probably not aimed at somebody starting in photography but rather as a second camera for the serious amateurs or pros. 

Its retro design and overall look will still appeal to a lot of Street Photographers. Beside the good looks, its 35mm equivalent lens and more importantly its very quiet leaf shutter are its two strongest points. Something that none of the other X-series (except X-70) presently offer right now!




Just like the X-E and X-Pro series, the camera has a viewfinder which is mounted on the left hand side; i.e. "Rangefinder like". Left eye shooters like myself, tend have their noses smashed against the LCD. Besides they don't have the benefit of being able to look with the other eye at the scene during the framing, something normal right eye shooters praise the rangefinder cameras for. If you are a left eye shooter you might want to take this into consideration before ordering. Maybe a camera like the X-T20 announced today, will be better for you.

I must say that I'm personally a bit disappointed that the camera is not weather sealed and doesn't have a tilt screen; two of the reasons why I won't likely rush out and buy the camera myself. But then again, I've taken non-weather sealed cameras out in more than just a little bit of rain and they have never given me a problem... 


I'm sure plenty of X-100 series will upgrade, especially the ones that still have an original X-100 or X-100S. Expected retail price is 1299,-USD; the same as the launch price for the X-100T in September 2014 for quite a bit more camera! 

The above review can be shared on Social media and Blogs without prior approval, as long as credit to Bjorn Moerman PHOTOGRAPHY (www.bjornmoerman.com) is given.  



BJORN







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