Form and function are valid criteria for any product evaluation. Technology's failure to measure up against either is the reason for my strained relationship with it.
When it comes to tech, the form is disposable, and the function is a game meant to drag you by the lead to a future version meant to solve all the problems of the current model. The equation holds for any digital product - cameras, computers, phones, software.
Fujifilm isn't necessarily an exception, but they're sincere enough to break the digital trap with value and aesthetics worthy of love.
Rephrase the form and function question and we get the one any good digital product must answer - to what degree does the machine get out of the way of function while maintaining beauty and quality in form?
The form question is easy. The Fujifilm x100s lifts its design straight from the classic rangefinders of the 70s. Aperture ring, shutter speed dial and exposure compensation dial are milled from solid metal, the body is die cast magnesium, and even the lens cap is metal. The camera has heft and substance with precision functionality that can only be had with metal mechanics. It's gorgeous and precise.
The major functions are all physical dials. There's no drilling down computer menus or programming shortcuts. The tools you need are simply there. Then there's the lens.
The Fujinon 23mm f/2 aspherical lens is superb. The fixed focal length takes lens decision out of the equation while delivering a next to ideal 35mm equivalent perspective. There's no searching for correct framing. The scene looks as it should, and the 16.3 megapixel sensor ensures its captured in all the detail you want. Unless you're a billboard publicist that needs to blow images up to gigantic proportions, you don't need more.
Here's a rundown on the key features:
- 16.3 Megapixel X-Trans CMOS II sensor, 15.8 x 23.6mm (3/4 sensor)
- 49 Auto Focus Points
- JPEG, RAW, RAW + JPEG formats
- ISO 200-6400
- aperture-priority, automatic, bulb, manual, shutter-priority
- Shutter Speed 1/4000 sec to 30 sec
- Exposure Compensation ±2 EV range, in 1/3 EV steps
- Lens System Type Fujinon 23 mm - f/2.0 (6 groups / 8 elements)
- Focal Length 23 mm (35mm equivalent)
- Min Focus Distance 19.7 in
- Macro Focus Range 0.3 ft - 6.6 ft
- 5" width x 2.9" height, 14.28 oz
What does that mean practically? Let may lay my expectational cards on the table. When I shoot film I use aperture priority mode. Shutter speed is automatic, ISO is determined by the film, and I choose the aperture setting I want. There's nothing to do but focus and press the shutter, and any digital product that adds complication to that formula is step down. With this criteria in mind, the x100s holds up great.
JPGs and in camera film sims don't interest me. I shoot raw and process after the fact, which renders most in camera settings moot. For shooting feedback, I select a black and white setting because it gives me the strongest compositional and exposure information, and the B&W filter sims are excellent. I'll typically set to the red or yellow filter and never think about it again. If needed, the color will be there, and I'll make the switch in Lightroom.
The high ISO settings are beautiful. I never hesitate to shoot at 3200 or 6400 if the conditions demand it.
On top of that, the camera is so compact it will fit the front pocket of decent fitting jeans or cargo shorts, at least it will if you're 6'6" and don't wear skinny jeans. It's portable and accessible, and combined with image quality and craftsmanship, blows away most larger and more expensive DLSRs and interchangeable camera systems. The x100s is a camera you want to hold and want to use, and it offers almost no barrier to doing so.
There's only a couple drawbacks and most have been addressed in the newer x100t and x100f. The major functional flaw is the ISO selector. It's buried in the digital menu when it should be on a dial. The x100f corrects this. The other two bugaboos were repaired in the x100t. The wheel format menu selector was replaced with more precise compass buttons, and the LCD screen was given a sizeable upgrade. The x100f even bumps the sensor up to 24megapixels, and seeing as this is the version you'd likely buy today, what can I say? Welcome to a perfect digital world.