Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fuji X100s: First Look

RICH  adjective  \'rich\
rich·er, rich·est.
having wealth or great possessions; abundantly supplied with resources, means, or funds; wealthy:a rich man; a rich nation.
abounding in natural resources: a rich territory.
having wealth or valuable resources (usually followed by in  ): a country rich in traditions.
abounding (usually followed by in  or with  ): a countryside rich in beauty; a design rich with color.
of great value or worth; valuable: a rich harvest.

After owning this little wonder of a camera for five days, one word, "rich" sums up my first thoughts about the Fuji X100s.   I still feel like I haven't had time to shoot it in a focused way, but I've made about 500 shutter clicks and can share some initial impressions.  Despite it's obvious limitations and less obvious quirks, it's definitely one heck of a camera that delivers an amazing image file in a package barely bigger than an iPhone.

The X100s has been a hot topic in the photography blogosphere.  Pros Zach Arias and David Hobby have been particularly enthusiastic about what the Fuji X100s can do calling it the "new Leica" and "the best camera I've ever owned".  Both have said that they are using the camera for pro work and letting their  DSLR's lay dormant.  Some of the videos produced by Hobby about describing his reverence for the camera are about as inspiring photography porn as I've seen in a long time.  

So... why is rich the right adjective?  The files from this camera are beautiful.  They have depth and substance.   All of the files you see in this post are barely touched in Lightroom and are a good reflection of what comes right out of the camera.  

In one of the first images I made with the camera, you can already start to see this... great skin tone and the x100s manages the light and shadows beautifully.  But, this image also shows one of the quirks... The camera makes razor sharp images and the fixed focal length 23mm, f/2.0 is a killer lens, but there is a learning curve to getting focus right.  In this shot, I used the optical viewfinder (OVF) and the nature of the OVF requires some practice to know where the focus point really is.  Fuji ingeniously has two viewfinders on this camera... the OVF and an  electronic viewfinder (EVF).  You quickly learn that the EVF can produce more reliable results for the newbie.  

Of course my children were the handy and sort-of-willing subjects of my shakedown photographs.  I'm starting to figure some things out as I make the images below and, while this isn't a camera you can effectively shoot sports with, I was glad to freeze my youngest in action here. The photographs are giving me an indication of the secret sauce of depth and richness of color and contrast that I've read about. 

36 hours in to owning the X100s, I hopped on a plane to Florida for a business trip and this is where things get a little crazy and cool.  It's not uncommon for me to haul a DSLR out to dinner when traveling, but the Fuji makes that a no brainer and nobody even notices it slung over my shoulder.  Best of all, I don't notice... roaming around a city with a DSLR and pro lens can start to be a real drag.   I'm starting to see the camera definitely has some juice.  This simple shot of a storefront window in Clearwater, Florida at about 8:30 pm was made at f/2.0 and handheld at 1/8th of a second at ISO 200.  Handheld and sharp at an eighth!?!?  Not since I was 12 and scored a set of neon green Kyrptonics wheels have I seen skateboard wheels look so beautiful.

Landing in foggy Boston on the way home, I'm thinking about Revere Beach before we even hit the ground... a ready spot for a few more test shots.  Check out the depth of field with the f/2.0 lens.

By now I've discovered Auto-ISO and set it to shoot a minimum 1/30th of a second in an ISO range of 200-1600.  This image was shot at 1/30 sec at f/16 and ISO 1600.  It's very clean, with no noise for such a high ISO shot. 

A black and white conversion done in Lightroom.

 I get a new piece of gear, I'll often sit in front of the TV at night and noodle with it, dialing in settings and testing different capabilities.  More high ISO and shallow depth of field here with one of my favorite new books.  The focus point was on the cheek of the cover shot subject, Luis Sarria.  The only light in the room is a table lamp to my left with 75 watt equivalent CFL bulb and the Sochi Olympics men's Slalom on TV. Sharp and clean at 1/13th of a second, f/2.0 and ISO 1600.  Fantastic depth of field.  

So, my first thoughts are that this camera is remarkable.  There is a learning curve and I still have a lot to explore about what makes it tick, but there is a unique quality to what it produces.  Point of view is so important in creating a compelling image.  The photographer definitely creates the photograph, not the gear.  But, this is an example where the gear offers something new and opens up possibilities that didn't exist.  I don't want to over state this but there is a soul to the files from the X100s... a deep feeling of richness in color, tone and contrast.  It won't replace my Nikon DSLR, but it will definitely bring something new and valuable to my photography.  Stay tuned!

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