I have a love-hate relationship with my D800. The weight makes me loathe to carry it when I’m not working, and the resolution makes me more cautious than creative. I spend more time ensuring that my shots are sharp and without fault than I ever have. With the D800, every fault is visible and amplified by the high resolution sensor. I more often than not spend my time on a tripod and using live view focus, which is time consuming and not conducive to being in the moment. But, when you get it all right – the D800 sends shivers down your spine. It’s a nice shiver, but I don’t always want to go to those lengths.
I caved in. I bought a Fuji X100S; an impulse decision based around not shooting enough of the place I live in for not wanting to carry the weight of a DSLR kit everywhere I go. For that it has done its job better than I would have imagined. I shoot hundreds of frames a week that just document the places I’m in and the life that I’m living. It has taken the place of a disposable camera for me; a carefree way to make images everywhere I go.
The X100 and X100S have been hailed all over the internet as DSLR killers, and a new wave in the way we shoot. In some ways, these things are true. The X100 has done for digital photography, in essence, what early Leica cameras did for film photography. It has made the package simpler and a lot easier to use. It has given us the ability once again to stop hiding behind the camera.
The x100s is exactly the opposite of the D800. It’s a quick, light camera that frees you from thinking about changing lenses, working on a tripod, or perfect focus every time. It gives you back what Nikon have recently been promoting for the Df, “pure photography”. It lets you be present in the moment, and frees you from the burden of gear. However, in this discussion, I would like to play the devil’s advocate for a while and describe what the X100S is NOT, and a little on what it IS to me.
What it is not is a DSLR killer. What it is not is a replacement for the gear we use to create specialised images. There are many things a fixed ~35mm lens can do, and a lot of things it can’t. Great for environmental portraits, but far from something you’d use for most closeup headshots. The focus is quick, but nothing like the D800 or the D4. The burst rate and focal length are not anything that could be used for sport.
The lack of a mirror means less camera shake and slower shutter speeds, but this is all but canceled out by having to hold it on one side of your face and the lack of size and weight to make it easily supportable by two hands for longer exposure times. Although shutter and aperture controls are all on the outside of the body, simple things like ISO are in a menu. All of this together put it somewhere in between a point & shoot and a DSLR. A slightly larger sensor in a mirrorless body with no interchangeable lenses.
It’s rangefinder design and 35mm equivalent lens clearly place it in the street photography and documentary realms of shooting styles. Its retro design and small profile make it ideal for shooting on the go and keeping a low profile. For me that does not replace any of the tools I have now, and it certainly doesn’t revolutionise anything, it fills a gap in my collection of tools.
I shoot more photos. I shoot more for the sake of shooting. I don’t plan what to leave the house with. I take the x100s and I go. I shoot what I see, and more of it. I keep a low profile and thus am able to shoot scenes of life in Korea much more easily.
Let’s face it, my D800 with its Sigma 35mm is not a small, friendly looking machine; it’s a hulking beast with no charm to it at all. The X100S has a retro design that people are not used to in modern professional quality cameras, it makes no sound, and it it doesn’t have a giant lens on the front of it. In short, it’s less threatening. In my experience, people don’t take it seriously. It looks like something the family would take on a holiday to the beach. Little do they know.
When shooting in markets here in Korea, I have more people refuse than accept having their portrait made when I’m carrying the D800. Conversely, I recently took my X100S out for a spin, and had people not only accepting but giving me a few frames and even trying out some poses they had up their sleeves. The less threatening atmosphere gave me the ability to shoot more and get more genuine expressions.
I don’t believe in any way that the x100s is a “DSLR killer,” but it does present an interesting development in the photography industry. For professional photojournalists or wedding photographers, I can see a full frame X-Pro2 being something that may have people retiring their bulky DSLRs. But for now, the X100S is a great camera for its purpose, shooting more and shooting freely.