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It’s probably merely coincidence, but every time the annual judging of the TIPA Awards comes around, there always seems to be a really appropriate Fujifilm camera on test. Back in 2012 when the destination was Cape Town in South Africa, it was the X-S1… the perfect superzoom camera for going on safari (and it’s a pity Fujifilm hasn’t continued to develop this model). In 2013, the location was Hong Kong where the X20 high-end compact was the best thing for shooting in crowded streets. In 2014 we headed for Canada with the X-T1 which – as the first weather-proofed X Mount camera – acquitted itself admirably when photographing the Northern Lights just outside Yellowknife when the temperature was a challenging -30 degrees Celsius. The X-T1 just kept on working. In 2016, it was the X-Pro2’s turn and its then-new ACROS ‘Film Simulation’ preset was ideal for replicating the rich tones of a classic Ansel Adams’s B&W landscape photograph as I followed in the great man’s footsteps through Yosemite National Park. AA would have just loved ACROS+Red.
This year’s destination was Havana, Cuba, and what just happened to be waiting in line for testing? Yep, Fujifilm’s fourth iteration of its classic X100, a street camera par excellence.
The X100F is, of course, even more capable than the previous three generations as it inherits all the latest goodies from the X-Pro2 and X-T2, including the higher-res 24.3 megapixels sensor.
The retro rangefinder camera styling fits right in with the 1950s and ’60s vintage American cars that are everywhere on Havana’s streets. Keeping these machines going is a necessity rather than a luxury but, along with the faded glory of many of the buildings,
they create a real feeling of stepping back in time… so the X100F didn’t look at all out of
place. Being comparatively compact and unobtrusive – plus a whole lot faster than before thanks to the new processor and AF system – are advantages too when shooting on the street, although the Habaneros are a very friendly lot and don’t seem to mind being photographed as long as you ask first.
In terms of styling, Fujifilm has wisely stuck with the tried-and-true formula of the very first
X100, although to some extent, this is dictated by the hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder which gives these cameras the classic ‘RF look’.
Everything that made the original model so right continues here – an all-metal bodyshell, milled dials, an uncluttered control layout on the back panel and a comfortable EVF eyepiece – but there have been a number of significant improvements. These are essentially all the ‘second gen’ updates introduced on the X-Pro2 or X-T2 models, starting with the joystick-type control for focus point selection which Fujifilm matter-of-factly calls “The Focus Stick”. Pressing it in selects the focus area mode and then there’s eight-way directional control. Logically, the joystick can also be used as an alternative method of navigating the menus or browsing images in playback. Importantly, the X100F now gets a front input wheel (a.k.a. the “Front Command Dial”) which can be set to a variety of duties, including cycling through the menu tabs and setting the size of the focusing frame.
Arguably more usefully though, is that it can be configured to switch between – via a quick press – setting exposure compensation or sensitivity. Of course, the ‘old school’ way of setting either of these remains, but the F now has the updated dial arrangement of the X-Pro2. Consequently, the exposure compensation dial has settings spanning +/-3.0 EV, but this can be extended to +/-5.0 EV by parking it on a position marked ‘C’… and then using the front input wheel. ISO selection is done by lifting the rim of the shutter speed dial and turning until the desired setting appears in the read-out window. It’s as traditional as traditional can be – and so seems absolutely right for the X100F – but there’s the option of setting this control to ‘A’ and then assigning the front input wheel to select ISO settings.
As before, the exposure control modes are set via the ‘A’ (for ‘auto’ obviously) positions on the shutter speed dial and/or the aperture collar… something photographers of a certain vintage will be very familiar with. However, when using manual shutter speed selection, the rear input wheel gives access to the one-third stop speeds either side of the dial’s setting, allowing for finer exposure control. Additionally, the slower speeds – from two to 30 seconds – are accessed by setting the dial to its ‘T’ position and then again using the rear input wheel to select the settings, although in fact the full speed range is actually available here too, so there’s a ‘new school’ alternative to using the dial. Longer exposure times of up to 60 minutes are possible via the ‘B’ setting.
As per its predecessor, the X100F supplements its conventional leaf-type shutter with a sensor-based shutter which allows for a faster top speed of 1/32,000 second rather than the former’s max of 1/4000 second. Of course, the sensor shutter is also totally silent in operation… although the physical shutter (misleadingly termed the “mechanical shutter”, although it’s actually electronically controlled) is hardly noisy.
Either shutter type can be selected or, alternatively, hybrid operation, which automatically switches between the types – for example, when the higher shutter speeds are required to handle exposure.
The rear panel layout had undergone a re-design and is now very similar to that of the X-Pro2 so it comprises the basic replay and display buttons, a four-key navigation cluster with a central ‘OK’ button and the previously mentioned joystick. It’s a simpler and more logical arrangement than before, but the fixed, 1.04 megadots LCD monitor screen remains unchanged from the X100T.
Also unchanged is the 23mm f2.0 prime lens (equivalent to 35mm in the 35mm format), but Fujifilm has made using the optional conversion lenses – now in new ‘II’ versions – more convenient as the camera automatically recognises when one is fitted and adjusts the optical finder’s LED frame accordingly.
The wide-angle converter delivers the equivalent of 28mm and the teleconverter boosts the focal length to 50mm, but there are also two ‘Digital Teleconverter’ settings – similar to the Leica Q – but which give either 50mm or 70mm. These are, of course, crops on the sensor, but now that the X100F has more resolution on tap, they’re potentially more useful (at 16 and 12 MP respectively), although only available with JPEG capture. The multi-function control ring on the lens can be set to select the digital teleconverter settings, although obviously its main role is manual focusing. The other options are white balance and the ‘Film Simulation’ presets.
The ‘Advanced Hybrid Viewfinder’ is still the star of the show and although EVFs have advanced greatly since Fujifilm dreamt up its dual optical/electronic design, it continues to offer advantages.
The biggest one is the key capability of a classic rangefinder-type camera in that you can see what’s going on just outside the image frame and so anticipate the action. And good though today’s EVFs undoubtedly are, the optical finder is still ahead on colour, contrast and continuity. In the hybrid mode these are combined with the convenience of digital elements such as a real-time histogram, a level indicator and guide grids. Additionally, there’s the option of an ‘Electronic Range Finder’ (ERF) display which appears as a small panel inset at the lower right corner of the frame. This is a TTL feed direct from the sensor and shows either the full EVF image (new on the F) or the focus area magnified to either 2.5x or 6.0x. In addition to focus, the ERF panel indicates the exposure, white balance and any other previewable settings. When focusing manually, it can also show the focus peaking display to provide further assistance. It really is the best of both worlds.
The minimum focusing distance is ten centimetres and, in the Auto Macro mode, the AF covers the full range so there’s no need to manually select a close-up mode.
More Res, More Speed
Inside, the X100F is essentially an all-new camera compared to its predecessor and has much the same imaging stage as both the X-Pro2 and X-T2. This is based on the latest ‘X-Trans CMOS III’ sensor which increases the effective pixel count to 24.3 million and delivers improvements to the read-out speed, signal-to-noise ratio and sensitivity.
The native sensitivity range is equivalent to ISO 200 to 12,800 with extensions either side – down to ISO 100 and up to 51,200.
The ‘X-Trans’ name refers to Fujifilm’s unique 6x6 RGB aperiodic colour filter array – as opposed to the standard 2x2 Bayer pattern – which is designed to minimise moiré patterns without the need for an optical low-pass filter.
The ‘X Processor Pro’ engine is claimed to be four times faster than the processor used in the X100T and this translates into a shutter lag time of 0.01 seconds, a start-up time of 0.5 seconds and a fastest AF time of 0.08 seconds. The maximum continuous shooting speed is now 8.0 fps (as on the X-Pro2) with a bigger buffer memory allowing a burst of 60 best-quality JPEGs or 25 RAW files. These are the quoted figures, but in practice we found the burst lengths to be more on a par with those of the X-Pro2… in other words, quite a bit lengthier.
At 8.0 fps, the autofocusing and metering are locked to the first frame, but continuous adjustment is available at a still-respectable 5.0 fps (and over even longer burst lengths). As on the X-Pro2, 14-bit RAW images can be captured either as uncompressed files or with lossless compression which essentially halves the file size. The JPEG capture options comprise two levels of compression, three image sizes and three aspect ratios – 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1.
The ‘X-Trans III’ CMOS sensor incorporates dedicated pixel arrays for phase-difference detection autofocusing which is employed in conjunction with contrast detection measurements. Here, the X100F is closer to the X-T2 in that it employs a total of 325 focusing points arranged in a 25x13 pattern which gives a massive 230 percent increase in coverage. There’s the choice of single-point, zone or wide/tracking area modes. Single-point selection can be across the full 325 points, but there is the option of switching to using only 91 points (arranged in a 13x7 pattern) for faster setting. Additionally, there’s a choice of five point sizes to vary selectivity. The zone focus areas can be set to 7x7, 5x5 or 3x3 point clusters which are also selected from the 91 points. The tracking mode uses clusters of up to nine points depending on the subject’s size. Face/eye detection is also available, and the latter can be fine-tuned to either left- or right-eye priority.
Not surprisingly, AF performance is greatly improved over all the previous versions of the X100 and has to be one of the main incentives for an upgrade… even for model T owners.
Exposure control remains largely unchanged and is based on Fujifilm’s now well-proven 256-segment metering which gives a choice of multi-zone, fully averaged, centre-weighted average or spot measurements. These drive the standard choice of ‘PASM’ control modes and the auto options are supplemented by an AE lock, compensation (as mentioned earlier, extended up to +/-5.0 EV) and auto bracketing over a sequence of three frames (also extended, and now up to +/-2.0 EV per frame).
Like its X Mount cousins, the X100F offers a total of five auto bracketing functions – all operating over sequences of three frames – the other choices being for white balance, ISO, dynamic range and the ‘Film Simulation’ presets.
The X100F also steps up to the current full complement of 15 ‘Film Simulation’ presets which include the Kodachrome-lookalike Classic Chrome and the latest ACROS B&W settings which were introduced with the X-Pro2.
The latter are, of course, named after Fujifilm’s famous fine-grained black and white negative film and, as with the standard B&W preset, there’s the choice of additional settings combined with yellow, red or green contrast-control filters. However, unlike the standard B&W presets, the ACROS processing is designed to give a tone curve which emphasises detail in the highlights and mid-tones, but gives enhanced smoothness in the shadow areas as a balance. The noise reduction algorithm is also different and, in fact, processes the noise to look like film grain, even varying the effect according to the ISO setting. If so desired, the same processing can be applied to the other ‘Film Simulation’ presets via a ‘Grain Effect’ function which offers the choice of either Weak or Strong settings.
Additionally, adjustments are provided for colour saturation, sharpness, highlight tone and shadow tone. The X100F also has a set of eight ‘Advanced Filter’ effects, dynamic range expansion processing, noise reduction for both long exposures and high sensitivity, an intervalometer (for sequences of up to 999 frames), in-camera panorama stitching and a three-stop ND filter. It’s all or nothing with this, but it would be nice to be able to vary its effect.
The white balance control options comprise auto correction, a selection of seven presets (including for underwater), fine-tuning, provisions for creating up
to three custom settings and manual colour temperature control over a range of 2500 to 10,000 degrees Kelvin.
In The Hand
Few other cameras feel so absolutely right in the hand as Fujifilm’s X100 models (Leica’s Q is, not surprisingly, one of them) thanks to the balance of size, heft and controllability. This last characteristic is further enhanced by the various revisions to the F model and these also bring it more into line with the basic operation of a D-SLR or mirrorless camera so swapping between them – which undoubtedly would happen a lot – requires less mental gymnastics.
A total of seven controls are customisable – including the four navigator keys – and their default duties can be replaced with any one of over 30 user-assignable functions. Like its X Mount cousins, the X100F also has a customisable ‘My Menu’ which can be created from the main menus, and with the items arranged in any desired order.
Alternatively, the ‘Quick Menu’ screen provides direct access to a selection of capture-related functions and, again, can be customised to give up to seven banks of settings. As noted earlier, the X100F doesn’t have touchscreen controls, but the ‘Quick Menu’ is still faster to navigate – especially thanks to the F’s joystick control – than trawling through the main menus. And, by just creating two or three customised settings banks, you’ll have everything you’re ever going to need immediately to hand.
Likewise with the displays as the optical viewfinder overlays, EVF and LCD monitor screen can be extensively customised – and not just in terms of major elements such as the real-time histogram or electronic level, but also with a long list of read-outs and status indicators. Subsequently, you can switch between information on/off displays for the OVF and EVF plus the external monitor which, in addition, has an info-only page. This includes the AF point grid, a real-time histogram, exposure mode and read-outs, battery power level (usefully expressed as a percentage of the total) and a total of 15 capture-related settings.
There’s a choice of three screens for image replay, two of them displaying a thumbnail with a brightness histogram and different sets of capture info. The thumbnail can be configured to additionally show a highlight warning and the focusing point(s) that were used. If
you want to check the focus, pressing in the rear command dial instantly zooms in on this point which is very handy for on-the-spot assessments (and pressing it again returns you to the full-frame view).
Again the same as the current X Mount bodies, the X100F’s in-camera editing functions include RAW-to-JPEG conversion (with 13 adjustable parameters), red-eye removal, cropping, resizing, Fujifilm’s ‘PhotoBook Assist’ feature (which allows up to 300 images to be organised for reproduction in a photo book) and direct printing to an Instax instant printer unit via WiFi.
Speed And Performance
With our reference memory card – Lexar’s Professional 2000x 128 GB SDXC UHS-II/U3 speed device – aboard, the X100F captured a burst of 95 JPEG/large/fine frames in 11.781 seconds which represents a continuous shooting speed of 8.06 fps. This is virtually spot-on the quoted maximum speed, but significantly better than the quoted burst length of 60 frames. The test file sizes were around 14 MB on average.
What’s immediately noticeable is the vast improvement in the autofocusing. Previously it could be a bit slow off the mark and then occasionally indecisive enough to miss a shot, but the X100F’s system is extremely responsive and snaps onto the subject in an instant. The AF tracking is also a lot more reliable than before and while this certainly isn’t designed to be a sports camera, the new zone area modes mean that the strike rate with moving subjects – such as you might encounter in street photography – is much higher. In low-light situations the AF still performs reliably and accurately.
The 23mm f2.0 lens obviously faces greater resolution demands than ever before (remember that the original X100 had a 12 MP sensor), but appears to be comfortably up to the job. The corner-to-corner uniformity of sharpness remains impressive – even when shooting at f2.0 – and there’s negligible distortion or chromatic aberrations. However, flare remains an issue with contra-jour lighting… and fitting a hood requires an additional purchase (of both the hood and an adaptor ring). As has been the case from the original X100, corner sharpness falls off noticeably when shooting at the minimum focusing distance, but can largely be rectified by stopping down to around f4.0 or f5.6.
We’ve now seen the same combination of sensor and processor at work in the company’s X-Pro2, X-T2 and X-T20 with impressive results, so it’s no surprise that the X100F joins the club… which adds impressive image quality to its already long CV.
The best-quality JPEGs simply zing with definition, contrast and colour fidelity. Additionally, the dynamic range is very wide straight out of the camera and the tonal gradations are beautifully smooth irrespective of the saturation level. However, there’s also plenty of scope for extracting more detail out of the shadows – post camera – without any major noise issues.
It’s worth repeating here – as we’ve noted with all the current generation X Mount cameras – that Fujifilm’s ‘Film Simulation’ presets are much more sophisticated than most picture modes as they’ve been designed to balance colorimetric colour – in other words, real colour – with expected or ‘memorised’ colour. This results in better handling of both the colour saturation and the contrast, balancing realism with a rendition that’s more pleasing to the human eye.
Noise remains very well-managed up to ISO 3200 and there are still only relatively small reductions in definition and saturation at ISO 6400 or even ISO 12,800. Graininess in areas of continuous tone becomes more noticeable at ISO 12,800, but these images are still useable for certain applications. Perhaps not surprisingly, the two extension settings don’t look nearly as good… except if you’re using the ACROS ‘Film Simulation’ modes and then the processed grain effect creates a pretty convincing impression of high-speed film. Street photography is so often about shooting in very low light situations – in B&W too – and here the X100F absolutely excels. However, overall the high ISO performance is exceptional especially as the full native range is actually realistically useable and not just wishful thinking.
As noted previously, but it’s worth emphasising again, the quality of the JPEGs is so good, that there’s not much of an advantage to be gained by shooting RAW. The increases in detailing, dynamic range and noise characteristics are comparatively small. Interesting, eh?
Age has not wearied the basic X100 concept. It remains a brilliant blending of the classical with the contemporary, made even better in this fourth-generation iteration by the various ergonomic revisions made on the outside and the many performance enhancements made on the inside.
While the X100F may look a lot like its predecessors, it represents the biggest overall upgrade of any of them, creating what is essentially a more compact, fixed-lens version of the X-Pro2. Consequently, it’s also the most expensive X100 yet, but is still many times more affordable than its main rivals from Sony and Leica. Of course, both these cameras have full-35mm size sensors, but Fujifilm has already proved that its latest X-Trans ‘APS-C’ can compete effectively here when it comes to both the signal-to-noise ratio and the high ISO performance. Additionally, it’s a lot smaller than the chunky Leica Q, and has a much better viewfinder and ergonomics than the clunky Sony RX1R II.
The improvements to autofocusing and image quality are substantial while the changes to the control layout significantly increase the operational efficiencies without compromising the ‘classic camera’ characteristics which have made all the X100 models so engaging. But because it is so much better in many areas – including the balance of compactness and capabilities – the X100F is even more irresistible. It simply delivers on every level – looks, handling and results. Can Fujifilm make it even better? Probably, but for now the X100F is as brilliant as it can be.
Available in either black or silver.
Dimensions (WxHxD): 126.5x74.8x52.4 mm.
Weight: 419 grams (without battery or memory card).
Weight: 419 grams (without battery or memory card).