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.

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