X100S For Travel Photography
Why & How I travel:
Travelling will always be part of who I am as a person and also part of my photography brand. The people I meet, the stories we exchange, the food and drinks. The cultural experience, seeing things in a different perspective, all this and more helps me grow and develop as a person and as a photographer. But I don’t travel for the sake of photography, I travel for the experience. The images I create along the way is a natural by-product of me being a photographer. Out of a 14-day trip, I probably spend 2 days where I will go out to actively shoot, the other days I will have a camera in a messenger bag along with other items (books etc), and only reach for the camera if I see something that I think is worth capturing. I spent 6 days in Barcelona last summer and I didn’t even bother to take my camera out the during my time there, I just wanted to enjoy where I was.
When I travel I tend to just go with the flow, I even book one-way ticket sometimes. I end up moving around a lot between various cities and countries on a single trip. So it is vital that my luggage is as light as possible.
Thoughts and Findings:
My Fujifilm X100S Travel Photography Review : I have visited 9 countries in the last 20 months or so and explored towns and cities like Chefchaouen (pronounced, Shafshawan – The Blue Pearl), Paris, NYC, Seville, San Luca De Barrameda, Tuscany and Lusaka, to name a few. My X100S has been with me to everyone single one of them, as a result I think I have gotten to know it well enough to share my thoughts and findings on this little gem. For my personal travels it is the only camera I take, along with a spare battery and charger. I use my iPhone 5S as my backup camera.
What to expect:
In this review you can find my likes and dislikes, the strength and weakness of the X100 series as a whole, my conclusion and a selection of images throughout the post. Some of my likes and dislikes will be similar to the list from my review on the fujifilm x-series for wedding photography, so you might want to check that out. But if you are solely interested in the X100S as a travel camera then here is a slightly modified version of that list.
I also try to make a case for the X100S vs the other Fujifilm X-Series cameras for travel photography and I share a situation where I was reminded that not all cultures throughout the world are very open to photography – in those situations, a smaller camera might get you further than a bigger camera would.
The same conclusion that I came to on the X-Series as a whole in my wedding photography review. Whatever Fujifilm did with the X-Trans CMOS Sensor seems to work pretty damn well. It is good to know that something this small can punch that heavy!
I know there people that absolutely love the fuji JPEGS but I cannot comment on this or any of the film simulations as I shoot everything in RAW. Lightroom is my editing tool of choice, and all the images I create on my travels are edited with just a single preset I call “X-PLR”, I also have a B&W version of that preset and I use it when I see fit. So every image (expect those of the camera itself) in this post is edited with the same preset regardless of where and when they were taken; I do this to achieve a consistent look and feel for my travel photography. Adjustments to white balance and exposure are made to the individual images though.
The fact that Fujifilm haven’t changed the 23mm lens since the first X100 and with the series in its third generation is a testament to the quality of this lens. It opens wide upto f/2.0 and gives the Field Of View of a 35mm.
Now 35mm might not be the most exciting FOV around but I think it is a safe place to carry out documentary work and for everyday usage, it allows you to document things in context. I find it just “wide enough” for that landscape and just “close enough” for that portrait. The lens offers the versatility for landscapes, portraits, overall documentary and even macro work.
Once again, the same conclusion that I came to in my wedding photography review. The ISO range of these cameras are pretty neat! I can go up to 3200 without batting an eyelid, noise is well controlled I feel. For those moments when I am out in the evening or in a relatively dark room, I happy bump up my ISO even upto 6400 if needed.
However, I have never used the Auto-ISO feature on any of my cameras so I can not comment if this function works well or not on the X100S.
The Hybrid Viewfinder:
The X100S has an innovative Hybrid Optical & Electronic View Finder in one. And each mode compliments the other to create a Complete, Fun and Unique shooting experience.
The viewfinder window (in Optical mode) is designed to have a larger Field Of View than the lens attached to the camera body. Because the Field Of View of the viewfinder is larger than the Field Of View of the lens, you are able to see things that are outside your frame and not just what is inside it – the OVF is under inclusive.
This allows you to see what is happening around you whilst you compose your frame, should you notice something interesting just outside your frame you can then decided to included it in your final frame. This is pretty cool way to create images, however the different positioning of the viewfinder window and the lens means that we have to overcome parallax when it comes to nailing our focus.
I have written a two part article that will help you understand all of this much better, do have a read. With time it becomes second nature.
I really dig the OVF but I don’t shy away from the EVF either. The Electronic Viewfinder = WYSIWYG : you are able to see exactly what your final image will look like even before you press the shutter. The X100S EVF is of a good quality and provides an accurate representation of how changes in your shutter speed, aperture, ISO etc affects your final image before you take an image. The EVF also eliminates the parallax error and for extreme close ups / macro shots, the EVF is the way to go.
The switch between the OVF & EVF happens in the blink of an eye – all you have to do is flick the dedicated lever located on the front of the camera.
A simple, quick and fun way to create images. The traditional shutter speed & exposure compensation dials and the aperture values on the lens makes creating images faster to use once you get used to it.
Leaf Shutter (Silence):
The X100S uses a Leaf Shutter as to the Focal Plane Shutter found in most cameras, this result in the X100S being almost dead silent, activate silent mode and you can barely hear a thing. So should you visit Sacré-Cœur and there is a Mass taking place, you can grab a a few frames without drawing any attention to yourself. This is also a great asset to have on the street.
Built in ND Filter:
A useful asset to have as it allows you to shoot wide open on bright sunny days – for those moments when the camera’s shutter-speed limit of 1/4000th just doesn’t cut it, the built-in ND filter enables you to cut down light by 3 full stops.
Size & Weight:
Here is what the X100S looks like next to my backup travel camera, the iPhone 5S. Due to the compact size, it can fit into a coat pocket once I removed the aftermarket lens hood I have attached to it. But I typically carry it along with a few bits and bobs (books, etc) in a small messenger bag.
If you are going to hit the streets of a new environment, for hours on end to explore what it has to offer, the last thing you want to do is lug a heavy camera around with you all day, especially if there is a lot of walking involved – you will feel it by the end of the day!
Build Quality is flipping awesome. I can be pretty rough on my gear so I keep the aftermarket lens hood on 99.9% of the time. I have dropped this camera on a few occasions and on each of those, I was able to pick it back up and carry on shooting. But I am not the biggest fan of “that wheel” at the back and the charger has let me down twice in the past.
They cover nearly the whole frame, especially in EVF mode. In the OVF there are 25 different focus points to choose from and 49 different focus point to chose from when you shoot with the EVF or the LCD. I do not focus and re-compose, so having all these focus points available is good money.
AF Speed in Lowlight:
The X100S is the fastest camera I own in terms of auto focusing speed. Having said that, my other cameras are two X-Pro 1 and they are not a world beater in the AF department. I do find the AF speed almost instant especially in good light, but the speed does drop during the night / lowlight situations.
I have never used the AF in Continuous mode so I cannot comment on its performance in regards to focus tracking.
Shutter Speed Limit:
These max out at 1/4000th, that can be a problem in somewhere like Zambia where the sun shows no mercy during the day. Having said that, the built-in ND filter does come in handy for those moments.
Expandable ISO Range Limit:
The ISO range of these cameras are expandable from 100 to 25600, however 100, 12800 & 25600 are only available in JPEGs but I shoot in RAW. If you are going to make them available, make them available in RAW format also and whilst you are at it, make them even cleaner at higher sensitivities. I could have done with shooting at ISO 100 in situations when a max shutter speed of 1/4000th was not enough and I will take shooting at ISO 6400+ with cleaner results any day!
Focus Point Activation:
The wheel/four way controller should automatically move the focus points. I should not have to hit the AF button in order to activate the focus point selection and then select my desired AF point. That is a slow way to do things, a shame really, as you can select up-to 49 different focus points. I want access to these focus points in one step. Neill Soden informed me that this has been addressed on the newly released X100T so direct AF selection is now possible.
The LCD screen at the back of the X100S (2.8″ 460K dot display) is not as good as those found on the back of the other X-Series cameras, I am aware that they have made improvements to the LCD on the X100T, it is now bigger and better (3.0″ 1.04million pixels).
Battery Indicator Accuracy
Yeah erm, this needs to be addressed. Tell me exactly how much juice I have left, in percentage perhaps?! Don’t just go from 2 bars left to flat out.
I haven’t been caught out in a torrential rain yet but when I do, I will be at ease if X100S was weather sealed. I mean for a camera that makes you want to take it everywhere, it is a shame that these are not weather sealed like the X-T1 yet, I hope it is something they address in the future.
What about the other Fujifilm X-Series cameras for travel photography:
My experience with the Fujifilm X-Series has been limited to the X-Pro1 and the X100S cameras, I have handled the X-E2 and the X-T1 on a few occasions but I don’t own them. However, they do share the same philosophy and sport nearly the same sensor across the entire range, they are roughly the same in size and they allow you to change lenses! Thus all the Fujifilm X-Series cameras are interesting options for travel photography but I will almost always recommend the X100S over the others.
Have I used the X-Pro1 to create images on my travels before? Yes, absolutely but only because I had to! (X100S charger died).
How was it? Nothing less than I expected it delivered the results I was after, but it wasn’t the same feeling. I have mentally attached “work” to the X-Pro1 bodies and “travel ” to the X100S so this played in the back of my mind a little. Then I had to decide which lens I was going to use, the 18mm f/2.0 (27mm) or the 35mm f/1.4 (50mm)? – The beauty of the X100 series is that you don’t have to worry about your lens choice – this simplicity is part of what makes the X100S a very special camera, being restricted to a single focal length is surprisingly liberating.
I opted for the 35mm in the end, the following images were created with an X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 lens.
Ultimately, the purpose of your travels will play part in the gear you take, if you were planning a trip to the Masai Mara then it will make sense to have a camera that enables you to mount a long zoom lens. But for everyday shooting, roaming around and documenting whatever is around you, the X100S is golden. I feel I can photography just about anything with it.
Have you purposely created a series of images at a specific FOV over a period of time yet? If not here is a challenge for the new year, pick a lens, any lens – whether you are comfortable with that particular FOV or it something that you wouldn’t normally shoot at, a 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, set your zoom to a specific focal length and for the next 7-10 days shoot everything at the FOV. Make an effort to create at least 5-10 images per day and review the results you obtain at the end of it. I challenged a good friend of mine to do so for an entire month and here are the results he obtained with his X-E2 + 35mm combination. It is interesting what you can create when you have to make do with just the tools in your hands.
The 35mm FOV was never my favourite until I purchased the X100S, thousands of frames later and the 35mm FOV is now an integral part of how document the world around me – be it weddings, portraits or my travels.
However if the 35mm FOV is simply not for you but you are still keen on an X100S, don’t panic. Fujifilm have created the WCL-X100, a wide angle conversion lens that gives a FOV of 28mm and the more portrait-friendly TCL-X100, a tele conversion lens with a FOV of a 50mm. I personally don’t have any experience with them yet but I have read positive review on both. You end up with potentially your preferred FOV and a more versatile system but at the cost of a physical increase to the size of the camera, this I feel compromises the philosophy of the X100 series a little. But hey, it is good to have options I guess.
The Overall Strengths and Weakness of the X100 series for travel photography:
An impressive sensor in a compact and lightweight rangefinder-styled body, with a fixed 35mm equivalent fast (f/2.0) lens, the X100 series was created for Travel, Street and Documentary Photography. And even with the interchangeable lens mount that was introduced due to the success of the X100, the size and weight of the body and the initial three primes lenses that accompanied it ensured that this philosophy was carried on.
The X100S will also be a special camera, to me at least. I never have to think of what lens I am going to shoot with, I just go out and shoot. The size, the silence, the ease of use and the excellent image quality makes the X100 series (X100/S/T) brilliant travel cameras. The fast f/2.0 lens attached to it, with its 35mm FOV is capable of capturing portraits, landscapes, macros and just about anything you might throw at it – it truly is brilliant for Travel, Street and Documentary Photography.
However the inability to change lens can be the X100 series weakness, for the simple fact that some people prefer a different FOV to document the world around them, even if that FOV is fixed. Not everyone wants to photograph their adventures at a 35mm, some prefer the 24mm whilst others the 50mm FOV.
Along my travels, I have come to learn that not all cultures very open to photography, take Chefchaouen, a small town that sits beneath the raw peaks of the Rif mountains in Northern Morocco for example. My time there was a surreal experience. The picture below is from the one day that I actually decided to go out and shoot. Just after I had pressed the shutter, one of the little kids – the boy shouted “no photo, no photo” he wasn’t aware that I had already taken the picture because he didn’t hear a sound. But he saw me with my camera still raised to my eyes, with his words ringing in my ears, I lowered my camera from my eye, we exchanged smiles and I carried on walking.
In places where people are sensitive to photography “because they don’t know what you are going to do with them” – a small and silent camera might get you further than a big and loud one would. I probably would have heard “no photo, no photo” a few more times that day if I had anything else bigger than the X100S when I took to the blue painted narrow streets of Chefchaouen.
I am young. I want to see the world. I want to educate myself. I want to grow and develop as a person. I travel to explore and experience different cultures, (e.g. Feria in San Luca De Barrameda, Spain or Bastille Day in Paris, France), and to see things through the perspective of others. I travel to build connections and trade stories, to try new foods and hear different music. And at times I travel just to get a break from the busyness of London. In a nutshell, I travel to create the experiences that I want.
When I go away, I just want to have fun and explore. If I am able to capture some of that experience in photos then great! And this is what makes the X100S a brilliant travel camera, it allows me to do just that. For the moments when I want to document some of my experiences to share with the world, it delivers.
The X100s is not the fastest, the most responsive, nor the most versatile camera available but it could possibly be the best travel camera around. The Rangefinder form, the hybrid OVF/EVF, the physical dials, size and weight along with a few more good stuff offers a unique and refreshing shooting experience, it offers a fun way to create images. Then there is the image quality that it delivers with that experience. Oh and it is a flipping good looking cameras too! It is a BEAUTY and a BEAST.
It is not just the innovation and beauty behind it that has me hooked, nor the image quality but rather the philosophy behind it. Here is a camera with all the main shooting settings right there at your fingertips, a camera that connects with the photographer, a camera that gets out of the way and let you go out and create images. Here is a small camera with a brilliant sensor that won’t intimidate your subjects yet deliver the goods whenever you raise it to your eye, compose and press the shutter. The X100S is a simple camera that allows you to focus on photography.
There will come a time when me and my X100S might have to part ways, and when that time comes, as long as the 35mm FOV is still the way I want to document the world, whatever the latest in the X100 series will most likely be the camera to take it’s place. I know the X100T is out right now, but my X100S still has a lot of paint work on its body so we are going to keep going.
To see more of my adventures with the X100S, check out my X-PLR series, I will also have a post consisting of my favourites images from my all travels up shortly.
As always, feel free to drop me a line if there is anything you want to discuss.
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