Review: FujiFilm X100S – the little retro camera that could

The FujiFilm Finepix X100S looks as if it fell through a crack in spacetime leading to the 1960s. This is a camera designed to imitate the beautiful "space age" cameras of the era. But with a $1,800 price tag, it's a pretty hefty premium to pay for looks. Is the X100S a hipstery fashion accessory or a handy little camera in its own right?

At a glance:

16.3 megapixel APS-C sensor

25,600 maximum ISO

Optical view finder / electronic viewfinder hybrid

2.8-inch LCD screen

Lowest price on PriceMe, $1800

The design of the X100S is truly a sight to admire. Bypassers have stopped me on the street to ask about the old school camera around my neck twice in the week I've had it. The classical rangefinder look gives this grouping of metal, plastic and glass a soul.

Beneath its gorgeous retro exterior is a tough body made of magnesium. Although relatively light, the X100S is still significant in your hands and feels as if it could take a knock or two from the hard edge of a typewriter desk. The X100S is far smaller than a DSLR, but still not something you can easily slide into your pocket. It's not intimidating like a DSLR either, making it far less conspicuous to carry in public. This is a camera up to the task of accompanying you on your travels.

Although it attempts to give an air of sparseness and simplicity, the X100S is absolutely teeming with control dials and buttons. Most of the functionality can be controlled using dedicated dials for the shutter, EV and the aperture ring on the lens.

Much like the rangefinders the camera is based on, the X100S uses an optical window to the side of the body to compose photos. Because it doesn't directly reflect what the sensor sees it creates a parallax error which the user needs to account for when framing photos. Bright white guidelines help with this, but it can take a while to get used to.

For those with less patience for accidentally chopping off the heads of their loved ones in photos, there's an electronic viewfinder (EVF) which also works through the viewport – and a 2.8-inch LCD screen on the back of the camera. I found the EVF to be slow and distractingly laggy while the LCD screen felt less capable than the viewfinder. In the end I just sucked it up and made sure I was conscious of how I framed my photos.

Unlike its older brothers in the FujiFilm X-Pro range, which have similar body styles and the rangefinder aesthetic – the X100S has a 23mm f2.0 fixed prime lens (equivalent to a 35mm lens on a full frame body). As it turns out this wasn't as limiting as I initially thought. The semi-wide angle lens is perfect for street photography and a lot of landscape and architecture work. It's not so useful for portraits because it distorts faces slightly, but if I ever need to zoom I can always use my feet.

The images produced from a combination of this lens and the 16.3 megapixel sensor are fantastic. The quality of the output in both JPEG and RAW is sharp and at a level which makes the $1800 price a bit easier to swallow.

The X100S' autofocus system is an absolute champion in the day time. Its quick reflexes in difficult scenarios with a lot of movie subjects impressed me. In the dark the performance wasn't as great, but still admirable and suprisingly noise-free even at higher ISOs.

Verdict: The FujiFilm X100S is in the same category as Sony's high end full frame compact the RX1. It might not be in the same league in terms of image quality and versatility, but it has the RX1 beat in price and style.

The X100S is unlikely to be a professional photographer's primary camera, but I see it as a fantastic second or third unit perfect for pick-up-and-go kind of work. It's also a sleek and sexy travel companion, bound to be a conversation started. I would buy this camera in a heart beat.

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