I’ve been a Leica M6 shooter for several years. I love everything about the M6, from feel and handling to the confidence it instills in me, to the character its various lenses possess, and not least for the pure pleasure I get from using it. At some point I decided it would be convenient to have a digital alternative to the M6 when not in the mood for film work flow, especially for my regular camera walks. Since the M9 seems absurdly priced for its aging sensor I was obviously drawn to the Fuji X-series line of cameras, namely the Fuji X100S, whose release I awaited with eagerness, expecting it to fit my needs according to the specs and reviews. Mind you my needs were not outrageous by any measure, namely a clear uncluttered optical viewfinder, a fixed focal length, ease of use with no electronic obstructionism, reliability, and joy of use. The quality of the image was not a major factor for me since most sensors in that category today are excellent.
I’ve now been using the X100s for two months, and I’m convinced it’s a far cry from the M experience. I always knew it was not going to be an ‘M’ but I thought at least it can provide a similarly-satisfying experience. Yet as charming and capable as this camera could appear I could not get myself to love it nor enjoy using it the way I did my Leica. Here are some specific thoughts on why the X100s is not the camera for me, in no specific order:
1- With my camera settings and for my on-the-go style of shooting I found the battery life to be tragically unreliable, even with backup. Sure you can turn the camera on and take a whole lot of pictures with one battery in sequence, but for real life use where it’s constantly being turned ‘ON/OFF’ or accidentally left ‘ON’ I constantly ran out of battery in the worst moments. On several outings I found myself quickly reaching for my camera to take the shot only to be surprised by a dead battery. Shot lost, no decisive moment.The optical viewfinder (OVF), which was a major selling point for me in this camera and which is also brilliant, drains the battery, especially that I have ‘OVF Power Save Mode’ turned off which I quickly realized is a necessity for quick shooting. Sure I have a backup battery, but that’s not the issue- unless I can fuse them together somehow!
2- The back panel is honestly cheap feeling and too cluttered in my opinion. I could never find the right button by feel, and I often pressed the wrong button which further slowed me down and distracted from taking the shot. Less is more!
3- The lens may be sharp, but it has no ‘character’ or personality like my Zeiss and Leica lenses do. My DSLR setup is 5DMkII with three Zeiss primes, and the drawing quality from the ‘worst’ of those, the Planar 50, simply cannot be approached by this software-corrected hyper-clinical Fujinon lens. I’m talking about more than clinical sharpness, I’m talking about ‘apparent’ sharpness, micro-contrast, character and lens fingerprint, and how it behaves differently at different apertures. All those intangible factors that make you want to name your lens in spite -or because- of all its imperfections were lacking in the Fujinon in my opinion, or I just didn’t know how to bring them out. As for the Fuji ‘film look,’ sometimes I saw it and other times I couldn’t reproduce it.
4- I could not get accurate colors out of the X100s, but I’m well aware that it could be user error because I haven’t encountered similar complaints on the web. I feel that the blues and reds are not accurate in this camera. I’ve tried repeatedly to capture a certain purple color and it would look different in Lightroom. I shot RAW and JPEG in RGB and sRGB but still could not get the true-to-life colors I was looking for. I’ll admit that I’ve not color-corrected my Macbook Pro screen with pro tools but I’ve also never had this problem with my Canon 5D and 5DMkII in all my years of use. Take it with a grain of salt I suppose.
5- Auto Focus is still too slow for me compared to my manual focus lenses with their instant shutter snap. It may be faster than the X100, but in real life use I did not find it fast nor accurate enough and I often missed focus without knowing it until reviewing images later, granted I was using the optical viewfinder. Manual focus in the Fuji is still impractical for me and feels unnatural, largely because it’s focus-by-wire and lacks a focus lock mechanism. No tab on the focus ring will guarantee that you’ll accidentally knock your pre-focus or zone-focus off without knowing it, or never be sure that you’re still in focus. And when you want to readjust it you won’t find a quick way to do so and you’ll have to go into the digital menu.
The X100/X100s then is a really capable camera for a lot of people out there, it’s a huge step forward for purpose-built large-sensor small cameras and it gets so many things right, but for my expectation that’s not enough I’m afraid. I’ve been spoiled by the utter simplicity and quality of the Leica M6, its lenses, and the DSLR Zeiss line of lenses. These issues that I’ve encountered with the X100s over 2 months of use may not be deal breakers individually, but when I encounter all of them on the one day I throw my camera in the bag and decide to go for an outing then what I get is not a day of fun shooting but constant frustration and distraction.
I feel like these issues with the X100s are not being discussed adequately and openly in the blogs and reviews, which is why I’m sharing them with you. I certainly feel I didn’t have the benefit of finding such harsh critique of the X100s before buying it. I’m no Leica ‘fan-boy’ by any means, but I have grown to appreciate the qualities of an M rangefinder. I was willing to take many compromises on this camera given its price point and ambitious endeavor, but unfortunately it couldn’t even make it to the finish line for what I expect of a camera in its class. Please take my critique with a large grain of salt and see if it applies to your use/expectation first. This is only one guy’s experience.