FujiFilm X100S in 2021: Can it Still Perform?

FujiFilm X100S in 2018

The FujiFilm X100 series of fixed-lens rangefinder-style cameras are loved by many and for good reason. The X100S was the first in the series to feature Fuji’s XTRANS sensor; but is it still a viable camera some 8 years later?

FujiFilm X100S in 2021?

It has that great vintage rangefinder look, it’s compact, it’s got a high-quality lens, and it has Fuji’s widely praised set of film simulation modes. There’s a lot going for the the FujiFilm X100S, but it’s definitely showing its age given that it debuted in 2013.

There are so many great and thorough reviews of this camera that I’m not going to rehash all the specs here. Rather, I will speak to how the most critical specs impact how the FujiFilm X100S fits into the camera bag of a photographer in 2021, who would be a likely fan of this camera today, and which photographers should probably take a pass on it.

X100S Quick Specs

Here’s the quick-and-dirty summary of what you need to know about the specifications and limitations of the FujiFilm X100S:

  • Resolution: 16.3 Megapixels
  • Sensor size: APS-C  (23.5mm x 15.6mm)
  • Viewfinder: Electronic (EVF) and Optical
  • ISO Range: 200 – 6400 (pull to 100 / push to 25,600)
  • Shutter Speeds: 1/4000 – 30 seconds + BULB
  • Continuous Shooing: 6 Frames Per Second
  • Lens Details: 23mm f/2 AF (equivalent to ~35mm on full frame)
  • Video Modes: 1920 x 1080p @ 30 FPS or 60 FPS
  • Built-In Flash: Guide Number 15 @ ISO 100
  • Size: 126.5 (W) x 74.4 (H) x 53.9 (D) mm / 5.0. (W) x 2.9 (H) x 2.1 (D) in.
  • Weight: 445 g / 15.7 oz

The Good Stuff

There’s a lot to like about this camera, including the relatively low ISO noise, in-camera RAW processing, film simulation profiles (for JPEG and also RAW via Lightroom or Photoshop), and of course the very compact and portable form factor. Also, the lens has excellent image quality, is a respectably fast f/2, and the leaf shutter mechanism means you can sync the flash at ANY shutter speed. The option of using the EVF or optical viewfinder is very useful and not a very common feature on mirrorless cameras.

Controls / Interface

One of my favorite aspects of this camera is that shutter speed is set with a physical dial and f-stop via ring on the lens. And moving into and out of the classic A, S, P, and M modes is as simple as turning those two dials.

FujiFilm X100s in 2018

With the shutter dial on A, the camera operates in aperture-priority mode. With aperture ring on A, it’s in shutter-priority mode. With both on A, you’re in Program (full auto) mode). And you guessed it: with manually selected f-stop and shutter speed, you’re in manual mode. Set the camera to auto ISO and shutter and aperture to A, and you have a fully dummy-proof camera you can hand over to clueless friends or strangers so they can take a pic of you.

Simple Video Options

The video options are sparse, but I don’t mind at all. You get one resolution (Full HD 1080P) and a choice of 30 fps or 60 fps. Couldn’t be simpler. However, I’ve laid out the negatives of this simplicity further down in this review.

Portability and Simplicity (and Travel Photography)

I find myself often grabbing the X100S on the way out instead of a more traditional interchangeable lens camera system because it’s just so easy to carry, intuitive to use, and the image quality is quite good. For family and social events, I generally leave the heavy and complicated gear at home and just take the X100S. It’s just so easy because all you have to do is grab the X100S and you’re done (but don’t forget to make sure the battery charged and you have a memory card inserted!).

For travel photography, The X100S would make a great “snapshot” camera similar to a point-and-shoot, but with much higher quality and image capture flexibility. It’s also going to beat most smart phones in terms of image quality, especially in the dynamic range category, and will offer more control of composition and exposure.

Street Photography

The X100s is a fantastic option for street photography because of it’s small size and unassuming looks. There’s no giant lens to draw notice or intimidate potential subjects. Also, the 23mm focal length and APS-C sensor give a field of view that is roughly equivalent to a 35mm lens on a full-frame digital or 35mm film camera. This is a great focal length often used in street photography. Further, the manual physical controls for aperture, shutter speed, and focus make the X100S idea for utilizing the “zone focusing” method frequently favored by experienced street photographers.

Built-In Neutral Density Filter

This is a really cool feature not found on many cameras or lenses. The X100S has a built-in neutral density filter that you can activate via the controls menu. If you’re shooting outdoors in bright sun conditions, this filter will come in handy. It will allow you to use wider aperture settings (to get that sweet bokeh blur) even in bright conditions. Sometimes there’s just too much light for you to compensate with a faster shutter speed or lower ISO and keep the lens at a wide aperture. The neutral density filter gives you another tool to tackle this issue. And since it’s built in to the camera, you don’t have to remember to bring one with you.

Hipster Cool Points

In general, this camera is just simply fun to shoot, and because of its throw-back styling, people frequently ask me about why I shoot film these days. It really does conjure the visage of the halcyon days of film photography. Cool points: check!

The Maybe Less-Than-Good Stuff

I say “maybe” because some of these will be shortcomings to some and good things to others.

Fixed-Lens Design

The first is that this is a fixed-lens camera, and there is a lot of bias in photography that if a camera doesn’t have interchangeable lenses, it’s not really that good or not capable of “pro” quality images. You’ll have to judge that for yourself, but if you hold this opinion, I’d encourage you to at least be open to the idea that a fixed-lens camera can put out amazing images.

FujiFilm X100S in 2018

EVF is Laggy

The EVF is a bit “laggy”; far too laggy for sports or anything action-related if you need precision. I don’t find it too distracting, but I do notice it. There’s a bit more shutter lag a well, as compared to a dSLR or newer mirrorless camera. The optical viewfinder mode is perfectly lag-less, but then you don’t get real-time exposure visuals.

Output Resolution is Relative Small

16.3 megapixels isn’t exactly a lot these days. It’s not a tiny file, but you can’t do aggressive cropping and retain good detail. On the plus side, you can shoot a lot and not have to deal with a ton of massive files. So it’s kinda goo / kinda bad, depending on your needs and priorities.

ISO Range is Limited

The native ISO range is 200 – 6400 (with 200 being the base ISO), which doesn’t set any records and is really starting to show the age of the camera processing technology. But the noise is relatively low up through about ISO 1000 and images are very sharp and defined, based on my real-world shooting tests. Also, considering the X100S is chasing a film aesthetic, many users will find the noise to be right in line with the classic look of film-based images.

Video Options are Limited

I previously listed the limited options for video capture as a plus, but some will see this is a negative. There’s also no 4K, but given the camera’s age, that’s hardly surprising. Still, these days 4K in some form is basically a given, and not having the option will be a negative for many. Also, many will decry the lack of 24p framerate capability, and obviously there is no option for 120p to get smooth slo-mo in post production.

No Neutral Option for JPEG

You can’t shoot “flat” or neutral-toned JPEG images; you must choose one of Fuji’s film simulation profiles. There are a few that are close to the standard modern digital look, but the rest are more Instagram-like (although far more film-realistic). RAW images, of course, are not subject to any in-camera filters, but it’s a little annoying that it’s not possible to use the X100S as a purely digital camera in terms of color profiles for JPEG. This is true of all X100-series cameras, as well as the XE, XT, and X-Pro lines of cameras.

Fixed Rear LCD / No Touchscreen

The rear LCD on the X100S does not articulate in any way. So basically, this camera is not going to work out for vloggers or people who want to do frequent selfies while traveling or out with friends. Also, the LCD is not touch-sensitive, so you can scroll through images or choose a focus point with your fingers. You’ll have to use the buttons and dials to navigate.

Who Should Buy the FujiFilm X100S in 2021?

So who should considering picking up a FujiFilm X100S in 2021? I think it would be most appealing to photographers who already own a dSLR or mirrorless system with multiple lenses. The simplicity and freedom of the small size, great image quality, and retro styling makes it a compelling  travel camera or “walk around” option. It’s a true pocket camera in every sense of the phrase. The fixed lens may seem like a negative, but sometimes it’s nice not to have to make a decision about which lenses to bring. Additionally, I find that focal length limitation often forces me to be more creative in my compositions.

Another likely buyer is the casual photographer who is tired of the limitation imposed by most smart phone cameras and wants to step up their game. From full-auto to fully manual, the X100S can do it all.

For a beginner looking to get into the mirrorless Fuji universe, I would recommend an X-T20. It’s the same sensor and processor as the X100S, but it’s got the ability to swap lenses. These days, the X-T20 is pretty cheap on the used market and would make a better platform for someone looking to get into photography.