Review of the Fujifilm x100s for Street Photography

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Disclosure: Fujifilm gave me a Fuji x100s for this review. I haven’t been paid to write this review, and will try to make it as non-biased as possible. Also there are Amazon affiliate links included– so if you order the camera or any other product from my link, it will give me a small percentage.

Fujifilm recently hooked it up with a x100s— and I took it on a test run throughout Manila and have been using it the last few weeks. Below is my review of the x100s for street photography and some of my thoughts on the camera.

Introduction to the x100 series

Dubai, 2014
Dubai, 2014

I remember when the Fujifilm x100 first came out. It was quite the commotion– it seemed like the best camera for street photography. It was designed like a rangefinder, but didn’t have the sticker price of a digital Leica. It sported a compact body, fixed 35mm f/2 lens, and an optical viewfinder. It seemed like the perfect camera for street photography.

Early adopters of the camera either really loved the camera or were very frustrated with it. Common complaints I heard was the slow autofocusing speed, complicated menus, and difficulty to use manual focusing with the camera. But for those who stuck with the x100– they learned to work around the quirks of the camera and really made some superb images from it (like Rinzi Ruiz, Jack Simon, Brian Day, and many more).

Enter the x100s

The x100s in black, looks a lot sexier than the silver.

When the x100s came out, it solved a lot of the issues from the original x100. The menus were simpler, the autofocusing speeds were drastically improved, and the sensor was also given an upgrade.

I still have heard some complaints of the x100s as not being “fast enough” in terms of autofocusing speed. Personally I find it to be quite quick and accurate– (I’d give it a 7.5/10) whereas the newer XT-1 is much quicker and accurate (I’d give it a 8.5/10).

x100s top

Overall, I actually like the x100s a lot. Currently I have both the XT-1 and the x100s, and I find the x100s to be the ideal “go-to” and “bring everywhere” camera. In terms of the weight, size, and compactness– the x100s still trumps the XT-1 with the tiny 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens.

There are still some quirks of the x100s which are a bit annoying– the exposure compensation dial on the far right isn’t stiff enough (it is easy to accidentally move it when taking it out of your camera bag). The XT-1 has the dials pretty much perfected, with the perfect amount of stiffness to not accidentally switch it. Some x100s street photographers I know like having a thumbrest attachment (check out the Lensmate), which protects you from accidentally moving the exposure dial.

The "Lensmate"
The “Lensmate”

Let me go in more detail how I feel about the Fujifilm x100s for street photography:

Things I like about the x100s

Manila, 2014
Manila, 2014

There are many things I like about the Fujifilm x100s. Firstly, I love how compact it is. With the fixed 35mm f/2 pancake lens, it can seriously fit into the front pocket of a jacket.

Secondly, I love how light it is. My other main camera for street photography is my Leica MP– which is made out of solid brass and built like a brick. The x100s probably weighs about the weight of my 35mm f/2 Summicron on my Leica.

Although it is true that having a heavier camera feels like it has better quality– having the x100s so light makes it easier to carry around with me on errands. I also wear my cameras around my neck, and I can have my x100s strapped around my neck all day without feeling any of the weight.

Thirdly, I love the optical finder and the ability to switch to the EVF (electronic viewfinder). The optical finder is just like a rangefinder– it alllows you to see outside of the frame. Ultimately when you’re shooting fast-paced action on the streets, you want an optical finder (no matter how fast an EVF is, there is still a tiny lag compared to optical finders). However there are cases when you want more precise framing (let’s say urban landscapes) when you can stick the camera into the EVF mode.

The optical viewfinder also sports parallax error correction– which is extremely useful when focusing closer than a meter away. But generally when I’m shooting street portraits closer than a meter away, I’ll stick the camera in EVF mode to get my framing to be absolutely precise.

The colors of the x100s are also amazing. Out of all the digital cameras I’ve used, the color reproduction and saturation from the Fuji sensors seems to be the best. Still not as good as film in my opinion, but the x100s files (the same sensor as the XT-1) with some VSCO presets (or my free film presets) can get similar looks as film that look quite nice.

Things I don’t like about the x100s

Manila, 2014

The x100s is one of the best “bang-for-the-buck” cameras for street photography out there. However there are a few quips that could be improved:

Firstly, the EVF is not nearly as fast as the one on the XT-1. The XT-1’s EVF is seriously one of the fastest and most beautiful EVF’s I’ve seen on a digital camera. The EVF on the x100s is still a bit slow and laggy. So if you want to capture action on the streets, you will want to stick with the optical viewfinder.

Once again, there is the issue with the exposure knobs being knocked accidentally. Be careful not to knock them over.

Shooting street photography with the x100s

When I’m shooting street photography with the x100s, these are the two settings I use:

1. Fully automatic

Manila, 2014
Manila, 2014

I’ll stick the aperture to “A” and the shutter speed to “A” and keep the ISO around 800 (during the day) and keep the autofocusing point to the center. I don’t use the quiet mode– I actually turn on the shutter sound noise to +2 (so I can actually hear when it takes a photograph). When it gets darker, I will gradually bump up the ISO to 6400 (the high ISO performance of this camera is damn good).

These are the “default” settings I use for the camera as my take-around camera when I don’t want to fumble around the settings. I will keep these settings when going to the grocery store, mail office, when it is in my cupholder in my car, or on outings with my girlfriend Cindy and her family, or when taking it to restaurants for dinner. I also keep on the optical viewfinder.

2. Zone-focusing

Manila, 2014
Manila, 2014

When I’m shooting on the streets and I want the best “optimized” settings– I will shoot with zone-focusing settings. The settings I use are below:

  • Aperture: f/8
  • Manual focusing, pre-focused to 1.2-3 meters
  • ISO 1600-6400 (depending on how dark it is).
  • Aperture-priority for shutter speed

These settings ensure that I don’t ever miss a shot due to my autofocusing being too slow or inaccurate. If you are photographing people moving on the streets, these are the settings you want to use.

Zone-Focusing Chart with 35mm

Thanks to Myles Kalus for putting together this 35mm Zone Focusing Chart (distances are in meters)

Zone focusing chart by Myles Kalus (thanks!)
Zone focusing chart by Myles Kalus (distances in meters)

x100s or XT-1?

Manila, 2014
Manila, 2014

I have a lot of people asking me whether they should get the Fujifilm x100s or the Fujifilm XT-1 for street photography. I think it comes down to personal preference, here are my suggestions:

  • Choose the x100s if you need an optical viewfinder, want something smaller and more compact, and only use it for street photography.
  • Choose the XT-1 if you plan to use it for other things besides street photography.

But still, you don’t know which camera you will ultimately want. The best way is to actually test out both cameras– and see which you prefer. I know Amazon and BHphoto have 30-day return policies. So test out the camera, and if you don’t like it– send it back and test the other one (or any other camera).

I also know some guys who shoot with Fuji who own both the x100s and the XT-1. They say the x100s is an ideal go-to camera, and they use the XT-1 for their commerical work.

If I could choose only one camera, it would be the XT-1 because of the faster and more accurate autofocus. You can read my in-depth review of the XT-1 here: Real-World Review of the Fujfilm X-T1 for Street Photography.

If you have an original x100– I’d stick with it and perhaps wait for the next version after the x100s. If you have issues with the autofocusing speed being too slow, just use it in zone focusing mode.

If you have a huge DSLR and want something more compact and lightweight– I’d highly recommend the x100s. But once again, try out both the XT-1 and the x100s to see which you prefer.

The competition against the x100s

Manila, 2014
Manila, 2014

There are currently no cameras like the x100s (in terms of the size, weight, and having an optical viewfinder). The closest I can think of is the Olympus OM-D EM-1 (which have the best autofocusing speeds and accuracy of all cameras for street photography, but don’t have optical finders and image quality is only a Micro 4/3rds sensor). So if autofocusing speeds are of upmost importance to you, I’d go with the Olympus OD EM-1 and the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 lens (a ~35mm full-frame equivalent).

If you want a camera that is literally pocketable, go for the Ricoh GRD V. You can read my review of the camera here: Review of the Ricoh GR Digital (GRD V) for Street Photography.

Concluding thoughts

Manila, 2014
Manila, 2014

The Fujifilm x100s is the ideal companion for street photography, travel, and just taking with you on a regular basis. In terms of the value, you can’t beat it in terms of bang-for-the-buck.

If you are afflicted with G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome) I’d recommend to buy books, not gear. You can also check out a list of street photography books to invest in,

But if you want a smaller and lightweight camera (if your DSLR is killing your back) it is a great tool to have.

Also if you shoot with a Fuji-camera, I made some free Lightroom 5 street photography presets optimized for the x100s and XT-1. They should work well with any other camera as well– the simulations include:

  • Kodak Portra 400 (nice color tones)
  • Fujifilm Velvia 400 (super high contrast and saturation)
  • Fujifilm Neopan 1600 (gritty black and white)

If you have any other questions about the camera, leave a comment below and I’ll try to answer as many as I can!