The Fujifilm X100 launched the highly successful X-series of cameras, offering great image quality in a relatively compact body, with loads of enthusiast-pleasing features and a unique “hybrid” optical viewfinder. It was apparently very successful for its maker, with Fujifilm claiming sales of 130,000 units worldwide, not bad for a $1,200 rangefinder-style camera. The Fuji X100S is the successor to the X100, and while it looks very similar to its predecessor on the outside, the inside has seen some dramatic improvements.
Sensor. First and foremost, the Fuji X100S’ sensor uses Fujifilm’s unique X-Trans technology, first introduced in the X-Pro1 in early 2012. We were very impressed with the X-Pro1′s image quality, but the Fuji X100S promises to go it a few steps better. Dubbed X-Trans II, the new sensor offers 25% higher resolution than in the X100, a better signal to noise ratio (30% lower noise, or about a one-stop ISO advantage) and on-chip phase detection elements for faster focusing. The updated sensor also boasts 16.3 megapixels, compared to the 12.3 megapixels of the original. The result is image quality that should not only be better than that of the higher-end removable-lens X-Pro1 and XE-1 models, but a quantum leap over that of the original X100.
Phase-detect autofocus. On-chip phase detection autofocus is a pretty big deal, too. Compared to contrast detect focusing, phase detect AF tells the camera how much it needs to move the lens to bring the subject into focus after just a single “look” at the subject. By comparison, contrast detect AF requires the camera to repeatedly shift focus, then check whether the result is better or worse than with the previous setting. It thus unavoidably takes multiple steps to achieve sharp focus, greatly slowing the process, although it does have the advantage of confirming the precise point of focus very accurately. Cameras with on-chip phase detect typically take the best of both worlds, using a hybrid system that quickly approximates the focus correction needed with phase detection, and then fine-tuning the result for accuracy using contrast detection.
Digital Split-Image Focus Assist. You have to be of a certain age to remember split-image focusing screens, but we loved how easy they made it to achieve sharp focus. Features like focus peaking, which puts a colored outline around edges in an image that are sharply focused, help make it easier to determine focus, but we’ve always found the feature to be a bit too general for our tastes. (Does the fatter highlight mean it’s more in focus, or is that just because the contrasty area is wider? Is a given part of the image slightly behind or in front of the plane of focus? It’s simply not specific enough in the information it provides.) In a stroke of digital cleverness, Fujifilm has revived the split-image focus aid, but this time in digital form. The image inset above right gives an idea of what the effect looks like……
Summary. While we’ll obviously have to withhold judgement until we can put a sample of the Fuji X100S through its paces in our lab, it has the look of that truly rare beast in the camera world: the automatic upgrade. If you like your X100, you’ll probably want to run — not walk — to the nearest camera store or friendly internet retailer, to lay hands on the new X100S. We expect the improvements to be pretty dramatic.
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