During some two months, the camera was used a lot: For bicycle tours, private gatherings, and even a wedding. Because of a faulty viewfinder, the camera was then sent to repair and after quite long time, I got a whole new camera.
The Fujifilm X100F is a compact without zoom and without image stabilization. It still costs 1400 Euros. Let me be upfront, this model has its weaknesses: The battery life is mediocre. The autofocus does not work well in certain situations. And the camera has some quirks, meaning there is a lot of stuff one has to get used to. This leads to some quite frustrating moments, and it seems one is never done. This review summarizes the experiences so far, it will describe the joy, but also the issues with the X100F.
F like Fourth
This photo shows the camera with a protection filter attached, normally the camera looks even friendlier with its pancake-style lens. This is my first Fuji and I am impressed by the attention to detail. For example, the aperture ring moves easier trough one-third stops than through full stops.
Model F (fourth) is the fourth release of the X100. Since I have no experience with older models, I just describe the F as-is. The camera is a fine piece of engineering, with a solid feel to it. Very few plastic parts, and a lot of metal instead. But the camera is not weather sealed, I also hope I don’t drop it. Also, the silvery surface is not particularly scratchproof.
I use this camera with the separately sold official leather case. The upper part of the case can be taken off, leaving the lower part as a half-case. The bottom has a latch to get to the battery and memory card, however the tripod thread can only be used if the case is completely removed.
The camera offers a moderately wide angle of view without any zoom, but has a fast lens and a quite large sensor. Technically speaking, it is a 24 megapixel sensor with crop factor of 1.52. The lens has a focal length of 23 mm, resulting in an angle of view like a 35 mm lens used on a full-frame camera. The widest aperture is f/2.
This photo demonstrates the angle of view:
F like Features
All example photos taken with the X100F in this review show different camera settings, but are not edited any further.
For staged portraits I normally use a tripod and a cable release, because this looks classy. I check the image with the rear display. For trips I put the camera in the leather case around my neck. But then I don’t want to look at the display and use the viewfinder instead, because it allows me to cut out the environment.
The X100F viewfinder can be used as an electronic viewfinder, or as an optical one. The optical mode still allows to show a lot of information – it can even add a small digital image. This is the hybrid mode of the viewfinder. The digital image can show the entire frame, a low magnification around the focus spot, or a high magnification.
The camera does not have any kind of image stabilization, that is why I set two out of three automatic modes to short exposure times. It takes a while to get into the menu settings.
Beside the classic Jpeg file output, the camera of course also supports a raw format which keeps all sensor data without losses. Raw files allow to show more depth in bright clouds, or to get finer details out of bushes or foliage. But after a photo trip, I have no time for long editing sessions on the computer. If raw files are needed, the camera can compress them without losses, reducing the file size from 50 MB roughly to its half. A Jpeg in full resolution takes about 9-15 MB. I use the Jpeg output much more often now.
It is not only the technology, the design of the camera also helps to increase the chances of getting a good photo: Used in the public, the camera does not appear as a threat, and one can act like one wants to take a picture of a thing in the background – while the interesting part is near the edge of the frame, without someone noticing. In a private get-together, one can take pictures without having to handle a large camera which makes others uncomfortable. The almost-analogue design of the X100F also brings back a sense of the old days. A roll of film had less than 40 exposures; every photograph was a special moment. The X100F is a digital camera of course, but party guests pay more attention than they show for a cellphone camera.
The X100F uses a leaf shutter, which means it is very quiet if you disable the loudspeaker. One can also use an electronic shutter which is completely quiet. The internal frame buffer allows to take a lot of shots in rapid succession.
F like Functions
The large sensor is able to retain subtle nuances. The hardware sensitivity stretches up to iso 12800. With this setting, the images will of course get a bit dull and noisy, but the output can be still be used for typical computer monitor sizes. The good iso performance is important if the camera is used at night. In daylight, or twilight, the images are very clear with almost no noise.
Even with the default dynamic setting, the camera shows texture in bright light as well as in dark shadows both in the same frame. With increased dynamic, the camera shortens the exposure time to avoid overexposure. The shutter speed is compensated with an effectively higher iso value for the dark parts. Apparently this approach is used even for standard dynamic, this would also explain the minimum iso of 200.
In order to open the aperture in bright sunlight, one can employ extremely short exposure times. If that is still not enough, just use the build-in ND filter. The X100F tends to underexposure at seemingly random occasions, also when used in normal conditions. However one can correct it later on the computer without noticeable loss in image quality.
The unique selling point of the X100F appears to be the versatile viewfinder. The digital finder image is good enough for most content, except for very bright or dark parts. Users who like to focus manually, have access to several tools, including a digital split image. One can show (or hide) a lot of additional information – even a level. The finder image is of course not as big as in a reflex camera, the compact body of the X100 seems to put a limit on the viewfinder size.
With this camera, I like to have a solid body and I am happy that the screen cannot be moved and is instead fixed. The body offers wheels, buttons, a d-pad, and a joystick – I don’t miss a touch screen at all.
I also like the omission of a PSAM mode wheel. Instead, one sets aperture, shutter speed and light sensitivity directly. Full and semi automatic modes are still available. The basic controls can be reconfigured for other wheels, this also allows finer steps for the shutter speed.
And there are seven function buttons which can be reassigned as well. This almost lets me feel that Fujifilm put me in the position of being the engineer of my own camera. The device also allows to configure the “My Menu”, and an even faster “Quick Menu”, and some custom image profiles on top. I never have a hunch that the maker left out features in order to make a camera upgrade more attractive.
Even pixel mapping is offered which allows to detect defective sensor pixels. The replacement camera had a small group of hotpixels which were always white. Once pixel mapping was applied, new photos have no more hotpixels, this applies also to raw files. A sensor could develop more pixel defects over time, I am glad that this option allows me to keep the images free of artifacts.
F like Fujinon
I bought a protection filter to safeguard the front lens. Since filters can only be used with an adapter ring, the lens barrel gets quite a bit larger and no longer appears as appealingly unobtrusive. Thankfully the optional Fuji leather case considers this option, the full case can still be closed.
With a fixed lens, there is always the anxious question of how good it is. Fuji released the setup: There is one double-sided aspherical element, but otherwise it is a construction with conventional lens elements. Because of its flatness, the X100F lens does compromise. The issues now listed appear only if the aperture is wide open: Spotlights in the night show a strange corona. Both night and day, high-contrast edges show purple fringes. In close range, the image loses contrast. In other words, these problems rarely affect the photographer’s daily routine, and when the problems do arise, one can stop down to remove them.
Independent of the aperture, there is a slight barrel distortion. If one looks closely, this can affect architecture photos enough to warrant correction later on the computer. Interestingly though, the barrel effect can be useful for group shots because it somewhat compensates the wide-angle effect near the frame border. In most photos, one cannot notice any distortion at all.
When direct sunlight hits the lens, one gets lens flares. This can be bad, I then try to block the sunlight with the hand. Depending on the sun’s position this is not always possible, resulting in bright spots including an obtrusive red one. Sometimes however I use the flaring and scattered light deliberately.
When getting intentional background blur, the so-called bokeh shows over-correction. The overall bokeh provides a suitable compromise between blur and distinguishable light discs.
With experience, the lens provides fan-tas-ti-cal results. I dare say the mathematically less-than-ideal lens creates an overall feel which was intended by Fujifilm exactly so.
F like Film
The good low-light performance of the camera can be ascribed to good sensor hardware which includes copper wiring, but to software as well – for example its quite strong color noise reduction. This allows to process the brightness component not as much, meaning the overall image keeps a lot of its light atmosphere without drowning in noise.
The sensor uses an uncommon color pixel array, called “X-Trans”. While conventional color arrays use a very regular pattern, the X-Trans pattern is less regular. This is a bit closer to analogue film, as the light-sensitive parts of a film are randomly spread. Is that now better, or just different? In any case, the camera maker tries to set itself apart.
Our eye is more sensitive to levels of brightness than to levels of color. The brightness of a digital pixel is predominantly determined by its green component. A common sensor has 50% green pixel coverage. X-Trans has a larger green portion, which allows better brightness gradation. This comes at the cost of color resolution. Overall, X-Trans is closer to the optimum.
That is the theory. In practice Fuji uses a digital image processing trick, letting objects seemingly pop out of the image. In order to do this, the boundary of areas with different color is rendered very sharp. In addition the image gets more depth by artificially dark shadows. However the shadows are not just clipped to black, instead they still show shades if viewed on a good monitor. The image output can be modified to personal taste with shadow strength, highlight strength, sharpness and color saturation.
Fuji goes one step further still, and also considers the characteristics of color reproduction and the brightness curve of chemical films. The Fujifilm marketing uses the name of some actual photographic films.
F like Fidelity
With the “Velvia” simulation, colors are more saturated, and sky-blue and sun-yellow are slightly red tinted, which results in a stronger color impression. The Velvia image is carried by its color. The opposite is “Classic Chrome”. Especially striking color tones are subdued, the entire image appears enjoyably discreet. On the first look you just think “this is a good photo”. It takes a closer look to notice that the colors don’t punch out of the screen. Instead, the variations in light are particularly well visible.
There are a handful of other options. The default output is a film simulation as well, called “Provia”. This is my favorite. I like the colors of Provia very much. The photograph is balanced and does not rely on any effect which could wear out. The shopwindow photo with the vases uses this simulation. There are some other simulations especially for portraits, but Provia provides good skin tones as well.
Using Provia for landscape or foliage reveals that green image parts are bit too saturated and too dark. This is similar to common color films – what a surprise. The approach of the camera is a real asset for me: Instead of just adding more megapixels and pointing to the raw file capability, the X100F integrates pixel processing which produces a balanced image.
As a guest photographer at a wedding I used the “Pro Neg Hi” simulation. The somewhat pale skin colors, but also more contoured shadows translated the digital image exactly to the photos I wanted to get. Some other guests took images which show more detail, but they also used much larger cameras.
For friends of black and white photography there is a standard monochrome mode, and additionally the simulation “Acros”. Only because of Acros I began to take some images in black and white. Areas with similar brightness are still discernible because of the very nuanced gradation. Very bright and dark ranges also retain an amazing level of detail. An Acros image shows pleasant film grain when magnified.
F like Focus
In order to use the X100F as a point and shoot, I recommend the autofocus mode “Wide”. As an alternative I sometimes use the manual focus with the digital distance indicator, which allows quick operation. Since firmware version 1.01, the camera remembers the last manual focus when turned on again. Both “Wide” autofocus, and the manual focus using just the distance indicator provide photos with acceptable sharpness in most cases.
To get full control over the autofocus, the “Spot” mode should be used. The focus point can be moved around using the convenient build-in joystick. In most cases the camera focuses perfectly. Unfortunately there are some cases in which the focus loses its way and for example sets the distance to 3 meters while the trees are in fact 50 meters away.
Beside trees, also slate roofs, meadows or reed can confuse the autofocus. In some cases there is no identifiable reason why the camera falsely confirms the focus even though no part of the image is sharp. This issue seems to occur more often on sunny days. The overall image waste is still rather low, but I find it annoying that a false focus can occur. Re-doing the focus by half-pressing the shutter release then often results in a sharp image, but the rear display or viewfinder is too small to know if the focus is right.
The X100F can magnify the image around the AF point in order to allow a focus check. The hybrid mode offers this even using the optical viewfinder. As a quick helper the digital distance indicator is available. That is typical for the X100F: The camera provides all tools, but one should also use them.
It is also possible that the autofocus is just slightly off. The photo will still be usable except when magnified. An exposure with a perfect autofocus – the usual case, but sadly not a permanent condition – shows more detail than expected of a camera of this size.
Beside Wide and Spot autofocus, there is a mode which combines the two, called “Zone”. This would be the optimal mode for many applications, but false focus confirmation can still occur. Checking the digital distance indicator is required to avoid unusable results. However the camera usually does get the focus right so you forget to check until you get some out-of-focus images again.
F like Fixed Focal Length
All my previous cameras had zoom. Being confined to a moderate wide angle now seems to be less an impairment, more a liberation. The naked eye cannot zoom as well. With the X100F I pay attention to the scene and just take a photo.
To emphasize an object, I sometimes use the portrait mode or a square frame. Or I crop later, with 24 megapixels there is a lot to play with.
In the first days after the purchase I constantly had a weird feeling: So much money for a prime lens? There are two digital zoom options, of course with degradation in image quality. Fuji offers two converters (which are sold separately) for an optical change of the field of view. One offers a wider angle, the other gets the image closer. I don’t have any converter, but I feel more relaxed because those options are available.
My “zoom” is: Walking. While I walk I already engage with the subject in my mind, of course I only walk when I think it is worthwhile. Taking the photo when I am at the location incorporates a sense of honesty, because I was actually there and didn’t just zoom in. It is not always possible to get close enough to, or far enough away from the scene, but one develops an sense of what can be photographed using the field of view available. This results in new experiments not thought of before.
A non-interchangeable prime lens is not for everybody, just because I now like it does not mean I generally recommend it. The non-zoom will make the X100 a nice second camera option for many users. I use it as my only camera. This excludes some photography subjects as those cannot be shot in a useful way anymore. But I no longer ask what picture I could theoretically take. Instead I look at the shots I actually take.
F like Factor X
Zoom, image stabilization, display articulation, a touch function – the X100F says no to features which are commonplace for today’s compact cameras. A video function is available somewhere in the menu, but it is nothing to talk about. There are also panorama options, those are no highlight either. But when taking a normal still picture, the camera provides a sense of “I am now photographing”.
Looking through the viewfinder, releasing the shutter, thank you. The precise controls, the friendly look of the camera and corresponding reactions of the people, all this is fun.
When there is too much shadow, the build-in flash provides good fill. Because all actually important features are implemented, one can just take this camera and is ready to go.
The front face of the X100F, except for the lens description, has nothing else printed on. No megapixel count, not even a model number. There is only the photo camera.
F like Final Thoughts
The good things first: The X100F excels in photographing small groups of people. After some practice, I now get pleasant results when photographing at workplace or private events. The camera can also be used to document the surrounding environment or landscape, while it is compact enough to carry it to any place.
The lens is strikingly good for its compact size. There are some rather small compromises and some of them can even be considered options for creative effects.
While the “film simulation” is seemingly part of a marketing strategy, the Jpeg output is in fact so good that it can often be used just with cropping and perhaps some exposure compensation. Raw is available as well of course, even with lossless compression.
The hardware issue with my X100F (the viewfinder light cover could become stuck) lets me question Fuji’s quality control, but perhaps I was unlucky. However, the looong turnout time of some five weeks is just disappointing. I expect better customer service for a €1400 part.
Putting this personal story aside, the X100F camera design has some issues, which however could all be fixed with firmware additions:
- Fix the occasional false autofocus confirmation.
There are more requests of course – the f/2 spotlight issue at night could be circumvented with an option to set the maximum aperture for automatic modes. Also an option to correct the image distortion could be helpful. I would also like to get an alternative to digital zoom, namely digital crop.
The most disruptive issue however is said occasional – meaning rare – false autofocus confirmation which means that it can happen that the camera focuses on a close range, while in fact every object in the image is far away resulting in the photograph being entirely out of focus. This can be avoided with attention and experience, but still: If this issue would be addressed one way or another, allowing to always rely on the autofocus, I could easily live with all other quirks.