How good is the X100F lens?

Reason wanted me to be smart, but I bought an X100F on the release day in 2017. Am I happy that I spent 1400 Euros, plus several hundred more for accessories? This is a camera with a fixed lens, which cannot even zoom.

Some things are not as good as hoped for. My main criticism is the autofocus miss ratio. The camera sometimes confirms the focus while in fact the whole frame is blurry. I rather check the focus before taking an important photo than accepting the small risk of spoiling it.

In many other regards, like the X100F. The camera looks fantastic and is easy to use and satisfying to operate. The highly configurable viewfinder is something did not expect from a compact camera.

What about the lens?

Perfect output versus having a soul

The lens has a couple of small issues, most of them are not relevant in the everyday routine. If those issues come into play, it is easy to work around most of them. But why always produce technically perfect, bloodless images? The optical properties of this lens can add something.

An X100 is prone to flare issues and internal light scattering, sometimes when the sun is not even in the frame. But there are cases where those issues result in atmospheric images. This example shows only some of the many possible artifacts. It is up to the photographer to avoid, or to employ them.

A distorted view

Every X100 image has some geometric distortion, which is not corrected in the camera. Architecture with straight lines can reveal these issues, especially close to the frame edge. As a solution, one can use third-party software. Lightroom 6.9 or higher for example comes with a lens profile for X100F raw image files. The profile is not available for X100F Jpegs, but a Jpeg seems to be corrected quite well with Lightroom’s “Sony DT18-200” profile. As alternative, the distortion slider can be set to +5, with “Constrain Crop” applied.

The distortion is so small that in most case I don’t correct it. It can even be helpful in order to compensate for perspective distortion near the border. That kind of perspective distortion would be mathematically correct, but is not flattering for people near the frame edge, as the person’s body and the head get bent a bit too much. The X100F lens provides a less accurate, but better looking image in this special case.

Point light rendering

As the X100F has no image stabilization, it can be difficult to use it at night. But in a city it is possible to get acceptable results operating the camera hand-held. Depending on the aperture, point lights looks different.

The aperture effect also depends on the brightness, this example uses a quite bright light.

The corona at f/2 is often partly cut-off and I try to avoid it. f/2.8 deals with many artifacts. With f/4 one gets new artifacts, but the spikes are rather nice. Using f/4 often means to compromise the iso value if used hand-held at night. But when this kind of spiky point light is preferred over the f/2.8 rendering, this trade-off is available.

Dimmer point lights might show no corona at all, making the full f/2 aperture usable in some cases even at night.

Chromatic aberration

A single lens element has a given focal length for just one wavelength. Other wavelengths, meaning other colors, will focus somewhere else. Using multiple elements with different properties, one can bring a wider spectrum to the same focal length, but there are trade-offs: Every element makes the construction heavier, bulkier, and more expensive.

As a result, some color fringes are still visible on high-contrast edges. The camera’s Jpeg engine automatically removes smaller chromatic aberration artifacts, but is not aggressive enough to remove all possible color fringes.

For a lens of this size, the aberration is very well controlled and only appears in high-contrast situations and predominantly in edge areas of the frame. Fringes can be removed later on a computer, but I prefer higher f-numbers to avoid, or at least reduce color fringes in advance.

Bokeh quality

The outer edge of bokeh disks is a bit too pronounced. This is bad when sun shines through tree leaves, as the bokeh now generates a busy pattern. When there are just some light sources in the background, the same effects helps to create a nice background.

The X100 cannot provide a perfect, creamy appearance. And to reiterate, certain backgrounds lead to a busy pattern which is bad-looking. But in many circumstances the lens helps to get usable background separation with a pleasant representation of out-of-focus areas. Of course this is a subjective matter, but I like how out-of-focus parts look.

No real macro lens

In close range and with open aperture, the entire image gets soft, loses contrast and appears hazy. This limits open aperture usage in a focus range below 1.5 meters.

In some cases this can still be useful. Applied to the maximum, one can create a dreamy look. This effect quickly wears off and therefore is not a style choice one can use often, but the option is there getting this through the lens instead of a digital filter.

Applied just a bit, for example using f/2.5 for head-shoulder-portraits, the effect is just strong enough to hint at the dreamy look while also helping a bit to conceal some skin issues – lowered contrast can have its use. There is additional sharpness loss in the outer parts of the image, this helps to lead the attention to the center. If one is lucky, this ‘issue’ gets one a gracious portrait.

For best overall sharpness I use apertures in the range of f/5.6 to f/7.1. This is based on experience, not on measurements, please take that with a grain of salt. Even then, the corners of the image are not completely sharp. While the lens otherwise resolves enough detail for a 24 megapixel sensor, I would say that the X100 lens cannot compete with full-size lenses in terms of technical performance.

It is a compact design with good performance where it matters. Macro-wise, one can get as close as 10 centimeters to an object, measured from the outer lens element, but in order to get a usable image, one has to stop down. This is nowhere near the macro capability of a typical compact or bridge camera, but still not bad.

Practical concerns

Because the lens consists of only eight elements, we can assume that the loss of light is proportionally small. In most cases, the lens just performs. In more extreme circumstances, one needs a bit of experience to either avoid optical artifacts, or to use those to create a particular effect.

The X100F lens is the same construction as found in the original Finepix X100. If perfect lens output could be achieved while staying within the size, weight and production cost boundaries, I guess the Fujinon engineers would have done that. I think it is safe to conclude from observation that the X100 lens was not designed for pixel-peepers. Instead it was made to offer a versatile tool in a small package.

Conclusion

Do I wish for a new lens design? Except weather sealing, no, I don’t know what it is, but the lens has it.

Even with optimal settings, photos are not flawless, but the X100 imperfections usually lead to a traditional photographic look. This might be a reason for liking those images.

The X100 results are better than one would expect of a lens of this size, this could also add to the reputation if only because one has lower expectations.

But the real reason for the X100 ‘magic’ is this: The camera is fun to use and therefore used often, producing more lucky hits.

Fixed Prime Lens: Limitation and Liberation

The main restriction of the Fujifilm X100F is the non-interchangeable prime lens. This article is an opinion piece and summarizes personal experience after more than 10000 exposures.

The typical cellphone camera offers a wider field of view than the X100 and is good for photographing a group of several people. A classic still camera on the other hand often has a lens attached with a bit more magnification. This classic field of view is useful for portraits of a single person. The X100F lens is in the middle. That means it is useful for taking pictures of small groups.

I am not a professional photographer, my photography is not about commercial success. It is about having fun.

Getting more or less field of view

The X100 lens provides a moderately wide angle. To cover more area, the build-in panorama function can be used. Alternatively one can take overlapping images and use software to create a panorama on the computer. Of course, there should be no movement in the frame. I take a photograph of the center first and then cover the edges with some overlapping portions in order to provide good guidance for panorama-stitching software. An alternative would be the optical wide converter which offers a field of view like a cellphone camera. The stitching approach allows an even wider angle of view – if one wants to spend time on a computer for that.

Getting closer instead is easy, because the X100F has a build-in digital zoom. For higher quality I prefer cropping on the computer. One can cut out a part which would be almost equivalent to the aforementioned classic field of view of traditional still cameras, and still get an image which fills the height of a 5K monitor (2880 pixels in height.) For portraits, photographers often use more magnification. When we use the a frame in portrait orientation, cropped also to the image height of a 5K monitor, it is possible to get the typical portrait field of view. With a resolution good enough for 16×24 cm prints.

Now some numbers: Using the 5K-monitor height cropping (2880 pixels height) in landscape mode, we almost get “50 mm equivalent” focal length, in portrait mode we get the equivalent of some 70 mm. Using the optical tele converter results in 1.4x magnification on top of that.

Accepting the frame

I would be too lazy to carry optical converters with me, so I didn’t by them yet – to my regret when I visited a yacht harbor. Some wide angle shots would look impressive, but then I looked around what would be possible with the given field of view.

Using a prime lens saves time: No more adjustment of the zoom factor, also no thinking about zoom. The naked eye cannot zoom, likewise this camera. While restrictive, it also feels natural.

Having a non-interchangeable lens also takes away choices before leaving the house, there is no thinking about which equipment to grab. The replacement battery has to be charged, then one can take the X100F and is ready. During the trip, no time is needed to change lenses.

Instead of looking for details like a far-away church spire, I now experience the environment more as as whole. The moderately wide angle of view helps to keep the photos more honest: If I have a photograph of it, I was there.

With this field of view, there is usually not too much perspective distortion. This adds to a more realistic, documentary-like result. If the place allows it, I like to walk a bit in order to get to a better position. This takes time, but it is time well spent as I experience the location. And think about a good angle and a good frame.

Experience through experiments

Because of the moderate focal length, bokeh options are limited as well. An uninteresting background cannot be easily turned into beautiful bokeh, instead one has to consider the background.

As a wedding guest, I took only the X100F with me. The ceremony was shot by the official photographer, after that I could experience the party, while getting in close range to take my photos. The lightweight equipment allowed to move quickly. With the focal length no longer to worry about, meaning less time spent configuring the camera, there was more time to interact with subjects.

I also use the camera on travel. That felt like jumping into the cold water: Should I consider myself good enough to do this without flexibility in focal length?

In order to get to the extreme, I once used unedited Jpegs. Only the vision provided by the camera was available, but my sight adapted accordingly. It felt like gaining a new ability.

Of course, it still happens that I struggle to find a good frame. Surprisingly few things cannot be photographed in any useful way with this camera, but occasionally the prime lens is too limiting. On the other hand I discovered a lot of possibilities which I previously overlooked.

And I found an immutable focal length quite helpful for galleries: This is the frame in which I tell my story.

Just the beginning

Stitching and cropping is of course still available and can be useful. With the restriction of having no zoom, I thought I would use computer editing more, in order to work around the camera’s limitation. But in reality I often do less in post, perhaps because I take more time before releasing the shutter.

Instead of thinking about what else I could buy to complete my gear, I am thinking about how I can make it work with what I got. Technical perfection might not be achieved using the X100F, but other things are more important. Do I have an idea how to photograph something? If I do a portrait, do I find it interesting and worthwhile to take my time, can I connect with the non-professional model, can I get close with the camera?

As of now, the camera often does not provide all I want, but as it turns out, all I need.

The Fujifilm X100F experience detailed

This is an uncommon type of review, because it focuses on details. The little things, which are often overlooked in reviews, yet are important. Obscure issues like bokeh problems with the mechanical shutter will be discussed as well.

Operation Speed and Raw Files

When switched on, it takes a short moment until the camera can take a photo. Three power modes are available, beside other things effecting wake-up time, autofocus speed and battery life. I don’t like to slow anything down just to have the battery last a bit longer. A full charge will be good for 250-350 exposures only. The camera comes with an external charger, but charging through USB is possible as well. For practical camera operation, one has to buy at least one additional battery.

I rarely switch the camera off and rely on auto-off instead. If the switch is still in “On” position, a half-pressed shutter turns the X100F on.

I tested the buffer clearing speed with several SD cards and several image configurations. This example is for Jpeg (Fine) + Raw (Compressed), measured after an 8 fps burst filled the buffer:

Card writing speed (up to)Buffer clear time
40 MB/s25 seconds
90 MB/s13 seconds
180 MB/s12 seconds

The table shows that the 180 MB/s cannot nearly be utilized because the X100F supports only UHS-I. While the buffer is written, the camera can take additional photos until the buffer is full again.

Further tests with different configurations like Raw-only, both compressed and uncompressed, show that the buffer clearing speed is mostly dependent on the data volume written to the card. This implies that the X100F’s internal processor can handle Jpeg creation and Raw compression without noticeable delay. A fast SD card also speeds up the playback for single shots. I thoroughly recommend to not slow down the X100F with a slow memory card.

Fujifilm uses a non-standard sensor color mask for many cameras, including the X100F. This requires a non-standard approach to convert the Raw data into images on a computer. I cannot recommend any particular application to develop X100F raw files because I know only one.

(C) Arne Seifert

Jpeg Files and Film Simulations

All 3:2 format photos in this article are straight out of camera without any editing on the computer.

The X100F is with me almost everywhere I go. Disk space becomes a concern over time. Even time becomes a concern over time – I don’t have the time to develop all these Raw files. For special occasions I still use Raw, but solid Jpeg options exist as well.

Both Raw and Jpeg can use the camera’s Dynamic Range setting of 200% and 400%. This option increases noise, but helps to reduce white clipping in highlights.

With Jpeg “Fine” compression, images take up to 15 MB. Now I mostly use “Normal”, getting images up to 9 MB. The quality loss is acceptable for everyday use.

The X100F is not a camera which aims to provide a fully neutral Jpeg image output. The standard mode – a so-called film simulation named “Provia” – already processes the image quite a bit, but yields a result which looks good on many different displays. In order to get this robustness, some nuance is lost, and sometimes I find the green tones too saturated. Overall, still a good choice for about everything.

The other simulations focus on a particular aspect, like color, or shades of brightness. Jpeg output can be adjusted with separate highlight and shadow strength. I often use shadows -2, meaning shadows are brighter. Setting highlights to -1 or -2, making them darker, often improves the level of detail in clouds, but small-area highlights lose some punch.

White Balance (WB)

Auto-WB is usually quite good. At daylight, Auto-WB can shift colors slightly to purple, while the daylight WB setting provides almost perfect colors with direct sunlight. The X100F offers a lot more WB modes, which makes the selection impractical as there are too many to scroll through.

As solution I sometimes use the custom image profiles, because they also store the WB mode and can be quickly changed with the Quick menu. But if I expect changing conditions, I rely on the Auto-WB mode – because a slightly suboptimal output is better than having manually picked the wrong WB setting. Doing some WB corrections later on the computer can help to get more natural colors. If perfect colors are required, the Raw option is always available.

(C) Arne Seifert

Function Buttons And Menu Options

Only one button is labelled “Fn”, all other programmable buttons are more or less optically hidden. The D-pad has some assignable buttons as well. I find this very useful, as I was able to set the D-pad function similar to the camera model I used before.

AEL/AFL can be highly customized and re-assigned. The “Raw” function button changes its effect depending on the Jpeg/Raw mode currently set. So it either toggles, or activates Raw just for the next exposure. And there are two different ways to select another shutter/iso profile. One option is very fast, the other one however avoids selecting a fixed iso by accident. The focus assistance changes its function depending on the context, and can do different things depending on how long it is pressed.

All controls are comfortable to reach, while the Q button for the Quick menu is even too easy to reach. One can lock the D-pad and Q button in order to prevent unintended changes. This also helps to prevent operating errors when someone else is asked to take a photo.

If seven function buttons and 16 Quick menu items (which are also changeable) are not enough, one can create a “My Menu”, which then becomes the default menu page.

The playback function is intelligent: When zoomed in, the camera remembers the zoom and position when switched to the next image. The rear dial button jumps directly to the focus area with max zoom, allowing a quick focus check. Switching to the next image will now zoom into the new image’s focus area.

Missing Features?

There is no way to set daylight saving time. One has to either change the internal time, or use the option to setup a second time zone.

The built-in Raw converter is quite basic, one cannot even change Jpeg size/compression. If Jpeg images are cropped, the new image is not saved in the optimal new resolution and instead in one of few standard resolutions, with “640” labeled wrong.

If the Adobe RGB color space is selected for Jpeg recording, the camera playback function displays those images with less saturation. (Some, but not all computer applications do the same mistake.)

The X100F autofocus can miss. Not in the sense of focusing on another area than selected, instead it just focuses wrong, so that the entire image is out of focus. Before taking an important exposure, the focus has to be checked, for example using image magnification. As an alternative, a focus distance indicator is available. In most cases, the focus works fine, but it can miss when left unchecked. This is my number one annoyance with the camera and continues to cause frustration.

Because I sometimes accidentally move the ring around the lens, I would like to get the option to disable it in autofocus/Jpeg mode.

(C) Arne Seifert

Manual Focus

Sometimes I work with a manual focus set to a medium distance, also using a smaller aperture, so that the image will be sharp enough without having to refocus at all. This circumvents any delay before the shutter release. Since firmware 1.01, the camera remembers the manual focus distance when turned on again.

In order to photograph through leafage, manual focus is required because even the smallest spot-AF area is too large. If one wants to frame and focus-check at the same time, the hybrid viewfinder mode can be used. A bit cumbersome, but it can be done.

The manual focus mode offers a few assistants. A 6x magnification with pixel highlighting is the best option, allowing precise focus checks even though the image appears a bit grainy at this magnification level. There is a 2.5x magnification as well, appearing roughly as large as with the naked eye. While in manual focus mode, one can use the AF-lock function in order to have the camera perform an autofocus. This can serve as a quick start for further manual focusing. The alternative is to use autofocus by default, with subsequent manual changes.

Another manual assistant is the digital split image. While not providing the highest precision, nor the full analogue experience, it is possible to operate the X100F quasi-analogue. This is useful to remove unnecessary distractions and instead just doing some photography. I also disabled many information overlays, however some are quite useful, like the electronic level.

Using The Display And The Viewfinder

In many cases it is convenient to let the camera do the focus. The autofocus points are evenly distributed, with phase detection in the middle and contrast-only points left and right. For the spot-AF mode, additional points are available, which are placed exactly between the other ones. I enjoy this regular AF pattern.

Both the optical viewfinder and the rear display are optimized for landscape mode, very few elements rotate when the camera is used in portrait mode. However, the electronic viewfinder rotates its overlay completely.

There is no PSAM mode wheel on the X100F, as the shutter and aperture value have their own wheel each, but the camera can show the current mode in PSAM nomenclature on the display, helping users which come from other cameras.

The display has a resolution of 720×480 RGB pixels, the EVF uses 1080×720 pixels, both at 60 frames per second. The viewfinder image is not as big as in a big camera, and there are also some lag issues, for example it takes a split second until the EVF is ready, or until the autofocus starts in hybrid mode. Nevertheless, I use the viewfinder a lot, in all modes, and like that I get this much flexibility allowing me to adapt to any situation.

Shutter And Bokeh Issues

The mechanical shutter (MS) is sometimes not fast enough to keep up. With the full f/2 aperture, the X100F restricts the mechanical shutter in auto-mode to 1/1000s. Even then, the exposure begins only at a time the two shutter blades are already closing, leaving a wedge-shaped actual aperture. This affects the bokeh.

Manual operation allows 1/4000s for the mechanical shutter, though the camera warns at f/2, resulting now in even more deteriorated bokeh.

Bokeh example (C) Arne Seifert

If the shutter speed is set to auto, those issues are rarely ever apparent. However if bokeh is paramount, even 1/500s should be avoided at f/2.

The electronic shutter (ES) usually appears to be a good alternative, having none of these bokeh issues. However, artificial light which works with very fast pulses, will cause dark stripes in the image. Quick movement in the frame will show the sensor readout pattern which apparently reads every eighth line at a time. The flash cannot be used, nor extended iso values. All these issues are gone with the mechanical shutter.

In order to keep the mechanical shutter usable for short exposures, once can enable the build-in grey filter, which lengthens the time by a factor of eight. However, said ND filter impacts the sharpness of the image if looked at closely.

While all this sounds negative, the X100F is in fact very good: The mechanical shutter with two leaves shows less artifacts compared to a slit shutter, and is quite fast for a camera of this class. Also, the shutter is very quiet. The ND filter option is always there without having to get extra equipment and allows to use large apertures with the mechanical shutter. The electronic shutter option allows extremely short exposure times and the best bokeh. Also, it is completely quiet.

Look And Feel, Accessories

Button and wheels are not exactly on par with a professional device, but almost there. No parts feel cheap, not even the two doors which are made of plastic. The artificial leather coating is okay, but I almost always put the camera in the Fuji leather case (optional purchase) anyway. From time to time I clean both sides of the viewfinder.

The backside of the body looks very clean despite the many controls, because there are very few pictographs and labels. I protect the display with a rather thick plastic foil. The front face of the camera looks very nice, and there are no distracting labels or numbers, only the lens has a description printed on.

The X100F appeal stems from its somewhat analogue looks and the flat lens with a rather small front lens diameter of just some 11 mm. Actual analogue film cameras often have a much larger front lens diameter, like 25 mm.

(C) Arne Seifert

However I use a 49 mm protection filter, which requires an adapter ring. That ring makes the lens barrel much longer, and some people regard the filter as the front lens element. The camera now looks like a high-performance device and loses some of its cuteness. In some cases I remove this protection in order to get the appealing X100 shape back.

For everyday use, I keep that filter on, with the adapter ring also serving as a mini-lenshood, though flaring is still an issue. At least, the Fuji leather case can be closed with this configuration.

Tripod mounting is only possible when the Fuji case is taken off. I then also use a cable release (original Fujifilm X cable release). This looks cool, it also allows to take an image with less shake caused by the release. The alternative with a two-second timer would remove the ability to take a picture at the right moment.

Optical Performance

In most parts, I like the lens – so let us now get to the limitations. The corners of the frame in the standard 3:2 format will always be soft. An open aperture can cause color fringes, and night shots will show a strange corona around bright spotlights. In close range, even the image center will become soft with additional sharpness loss outside. Regardless of aperture, there is a bit of barrel-shaped image distortion. Scattered light and lens flaring can be a problem as well.

Some effects can be corrected in digital postprocessing, other issues have to be considered before the photo is taken. This requires some experience. But even with moderate apertures, the image is not as as tack sharp as a full-size lens could offer.

If someone spends 1400 Euros on a camera, I can imagine one expects near-perfect images and then will be disappointed by the X100F. In addition, the bokeh options are limited with 23 mm physical focal length and the f/2 maximum aperture. Would I like to see an f/1.4 lens instead?

Absolutely not. Such lens would introduce larger optical issues, and/or be considerably bulkier, heavier, more expensive.

Again this chapter sounds negative, but the X100F is a compact camera, so it cannot be compared with a full-size device. The lens was apparently optimized for medium aperture with quite good results, and keeps wide open aperture settings usable in many cases. I am impressed by its performance and versatility.

In the right circumstances, non-ideal lens properties can even be used as an asset. The geometric image distortion, which is overall hardly noticeable, helps in group photos as it somewhat counters the wide-angle distortion. Flaring and scattered light, while difficult to control, can be used for dramatic sunlight effects. The open aperture sharpness falloff at close range draws an invisible circle around the comparably sharp image center. When photographing two heads, that effect underlines the closeness of those two.

The X100F lens is like the whole camera: You have to know what it is for.

(C) Arne Seifert

Value

If looked at individual properties, the X100F always leaves something to wish for. Many parts are a compromise in order to allow a compact body, also there is just one memory card slot and the battery life is mediocre. Some things are completely absent: There is no image stabilization, no weather sealing, no touch or tilt function for the screen. And on top of that, the non-interchangeable lens does not zoom.

In this light, the price tag of 1400 Euros seems laughable.

However, because I use the camera very often, I feel that the price is adequate. And the good looks, the oldschool yet efficient controls, the fast mechanical shutter, the fast operation speed, all this is fun. Add a flexible viewfinder, an X-Trans III sensor and a fast 35 mm equivalent lens, and you get a package which feels complete in itself.

The X100F can be used for many different applications, but I want to focus on just one thought: Fujifilm removed decisions and distractions. Like “which parts of my camera equipment do I take with me?”. Like “which new features – sensor shift, post focus, touch gestures – do I need to learn in order to fully utilize my camera?”. Even like “which zoom will be the best for this frame?” And if Jpegs are used, a great portion of subsequent digital editing can be removed as well.

All this allows me to do what I want: To concentrate and take a photo of what I see.

Some things cannot be photographed in a useful way with this camera, but the X100F experience changed my assessment of a camera. I no longer ask “What photos could I take with it” and rather “What photos do I take with it”. Because I get a lot of good photos with the X100F, I consider the high price tag acceptable. But anyone afraid of not having great focal length flexibility, weather sealing or an articulating screen, should not consider this camera at all.