The Sony A7 III as successor to the Fujifilm X100S

I have written about my experiences with my Fujifilm X100S before. I have developed a hate-love relationship with it during the years I’ve used it. It’s a camera which combines compact size with the good image quality of a relatively large APS-C sensor. The sensor works together with an integrated and capable 23mm lens (approximately equal to the angle of view of a 35mm lens on a full frame sensor). The way in which the camera is designed, such as the omission of a mode dial, makes the camera enjoyable to use. However, the camera’s behavior to structurally underexpose scenes was quite annoying. In theory you can fix this by using the exposure compensation, but in practice it’s often a gamble to determine how much compensation is needed. Because of this issue I couldn’t rely on the JPEG files and had to edit RAW files far too often.

Because this problem was so frustrating I was looking for a new camera. As a replacement I had the Sony A7 III with full frame sensor in mind. My beloved Stephanie knew this, led me blindfolded to an electronics store and gifted me this camera for my birthday. The idea is that this camera will replace both her Nikon D5100 and my X100S. That’s why we chose the standard kit SEL 28-70mm F/3.5-5.6 zoom lens and the Samyang 35mm F/2.8 lens. The zoom lens is for Stephanie, de 35mm lens is for me. Much has been written about why 35mm lenses are a good choice, but for me it boils down to the perspective of these lenses, which resemble so closely what I see with my eyes. If we are too lazy to change lenses often while we are on holiday the zoom lens will probably be used more often for its flexibility. But the Samyang has a slightly larger aperture. And according to reviews the optical performance is also better; more sharpness and less distortion that the zoom lens.

The 35mm lens transforms the A7 III into a more potent version of the X100S. As you can see on the photo both camera’s don’t fit into a pocket anyway, so the small difference in size isn’t very relevant. Because the A7 III is slightly larger and also features a grip for the right hand, it handles better than the X100S for me. The 35mm lens weighs much less than the body, so the camera balances nicely if you hang it around your neck.

Sony A7 III versus Fujifilm X100S

For € 315 the Samyang lens is the cheapest 35mm lens for Sony full frame mirrorless cameras. There are also some other 35mm lenses:

  1. Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm F/2.8 ZA for € 671
  2. Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG HSM Art for € 800
  3. Sony Distagon T* Zeiss FE 35mm F/1.4 ZA for € 1.367

The Sonnar is barely better than the Samyang but is much more expensive. The Sigma and the Distagon are much better, have a larger aperture and are sharper. But they are also much bigger and heavier. Besides that, I don’t want to spend so much money on a lens with a fixed focal length. The important thing is that the larger aperture of these lenses doesn’t offer me added value. For my purposes (and probably for most people who use 35mm lenses) a large aperture doesn’t benefit me because it results in smaller depth of field. I want large depth of field. The Samyang is cheap and compact, that’s why it’s most suitable for me. Do beware that the supplied lens hood and cap don’t work in combination with a filter.

Finally some words about the A7 III itself. The reason why I chose this camera is simple: the reviews seem to be unanimous in their judgment that this camera steamrolls the competition of Canon and Nikon at the € 2.300 price point (the price for the body without the lens). The video capabilities are good, the X100S was unfit for video. Still the A7 III misses some of the user friendliness that the X100S does have. The X100S has dedicated dials for aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation. The A7 III misses these, just like most other DSLR’s and mirrorless cameras. I keep thinking that I had preferred a successor to the X100S without the underexposure issue. At the same time I know that I will certainly enjoy using the A7 III. The only thing which I’m missing in the A7 III is the option to record 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) video with 60 frames per second. The A7 III doesn’t go further than 30 frames per second at that resolution. The Panasonic GH5 can do that and is a lot cheaper at € 1.500.

Now that I have the right camera I can work on my greatest challenge: be at the right place and time to take interesting photos and videos. Because of my limited time I used the X100S primarily on holiday, because I didn’t see much interesting things in the Netherlands which were worth photographing. They are there of course, but you have to go looking for them. Otherwise those thousands of euros spent on the camera and lenses will be catching dust when you’re not on holiday.

Why the Fujifilm X100S disappointed me

The Fujifilm X100S could have easily been my perfect camera. It has all the features I need: a wide angle 23 mm lens, good image quality and a small size, all for a price which wasn’t too excessive. In theory, it had all the potential to improve on my previous photography gear, a Nikon D5100 with a Nikon AF-S 35 mm f/1.8G DX lens. After several years of use, I have to say it didn’t work out.

I’ve certainly used the Nikon and the 35 mm lens to make some great photos, but the narrow angle of view of the 35 mm lens kept bothering me. You need some distance from your subject to get them in view of the lens, but in some cases this isn’t possible. Especially if you like street, architecture or landscape photography, like I do. A 23 mm lens offers more versatility in this regard. It comes at the cost of being able to take photos more candidly, because you occasionally have to get close to people you want to photograph, but this is a trade-off I’m okay with.

For some reason I don’t understand, Nikon and Canon don’t offer 23 mm lenses for their APS-C cameras, like the D5100. Do note that APS-C denotes a smaller sensor format compared to cameras with 35 mm format full frame sensors. On full frame cameras, the angle of view of the 23 mm and 35 mm lenses for APS-C cameras are approximately equivalent to 35 mm and 50 mm lenses designed for full frame sensors. There is plenty of choice in 35 mm lenses for Nikon and Canon full frame cameras. Because those options were far too expensive, I decided to get the Fujifilm X100S APS-C camera with its integrated (the camera doesn’t allow you to change the lens) 23 mm lens. Like I bought the D5100 second hand to spend less money, I opted to buy a refurbished X100S for € 800 instead of € 1300 new. I’ve never missed the D5100 with the 35 mm lens since then, except for one thing: proper exposure.

For some reason my X100S structurally underexposes shots in certain situations, which gives you relatively dark and unattractive photos. For an example, see the photos below. The first one is taken by the X100S, the second by the D5100. These are unedited JPEG files without any exposure compensation.

Greenhouse (X100S)

Greenhouse (D5100)

The Nikon JPEG files sometimes exaggerate the saturation and contrast slightly, but for me its clear that the D5100 gave a more accurate representation of what I saw with my own eyes. The X100S shot makes a scene in full sunlight look like an overcast day. I thought something was wrong with my X100S because I didn’t see this issue with other users of this camera, so I sent it in for repair in March 2016. A firmware update and a sensor replacement later, the issue still wasn’t fixed. I sent it in for another repair in October 2016, but after another sensor replacement the issue still persisted. Even though Fujifilm easily accepted the camera for free repairs and did so quickly, I was disappointed with their service. They didn’t communicate at all about why they replaced these parts or their diagnosis of this problem.

I discussed this on the Digital Photography Review forum. I received replies that this is normal behavior for this camera and that people tend to be accustomed to oversaturated colors from other cameras to much. I agree with this argument to some extent, but the X100S takes it to the other extreme. I did heed the advice to shoot RAW files with the X100S and fix the exposure in post-processing. Darktable is excellent for this if you use Linux (though it works on Mac OS and Windows too) and like free and open source software.

This worked out reasonably well for my holiday photos from Italy in 2017, as you can see in my Flickr photostream. But if you take a look at the sky in the photo below (which was ridiculously underexposed originally) at full zoom you’ll see that increasing exposure tends to introduce visible noise. Editing RAW also takes far too much time if you have a lot of photos to process. And I never felt the need to do post-processing on any of the photos I made with the D5100.

Facade of the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia

This is the reason why I want to buy a new camera. The successor of the X100S, the X100F, is out of the question because I don’t trust Fujifilm anymore. With the options as of March 2018, I think I’ll opt for the soon to be available Sony Alpha A7 III (which has a full frame sensor) and a Sigma 35 mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens (which will soon be available for the Sony E-mount). The A7 III body is not much bigger than the X100S, but the Sigma 35 mm lens is huge. I don’t think that will make much difference in practice though, because the X100S doesn’t fit in a pocket anyway. The A7 III will likely be much more expensive than the A7 II which sells at € 1300 currently, but it’s a formidable camera which will wipe the floor with its competitors.

Photos taken during my visit to Rome

Finally, over two months after returning home, I got around to uploading some photos taken during my visit to Rome. Many photos didn’t turn out well, but here you can see the Colosseum, the Ara Pacis, and the oculus of the Pantheon.

Colosseum

Ara Pacis, front

Oculus of the Pantheon

The second photo of the Arch of Constantine and other photos which I deleted have an unnatural white sky instead of a blue one. I tried editing the RAW files of the last two with UFRaw to correct it, but I’m not satisfied with the result at all. I did some research on why my photos got mangled, apparantly the phenomenon is called blown highlights or clipping. The Wikipedia entry isn’t very informative on how this can be prevented, but fortunately searching a bit turned up this weblog post. It covers the Olympus E-510, but it should apply to the E-410 as well because they are quite similar. That seems to be very useful advice, and I’ll make sure to experiment with this knowledge to see if I’ll be able to effectively prevent blown highlights. I should read the manual thoroughly as well to get to know the E-410 better.