S is for Sacrebleu! | Thoughts on the X100S

So I guess this is my official return to the blog folks. I hope you all enjoyed the holiday series I posted last week while I was getting everything back in order at this end of the computer screen. I case you’re wondering: the vast majority of the images in that series were shot with the 35mm on the X-Pro1. I used the X100 on a couple of occasions but the X-Pro1 kit stayed glued to my eye most of the time. This was a conscious choice. I wanted to exploit the camera’s ISO capabilities in available light while also sticking to that single 50mm focal length as much as possible. Working within boundaries.

Last week of course saw the announcement of Fujifilm’s X100 successor: the X100S. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a wishlist come true. Same body, same ergonomics, same fixed 35mm focal length but… New technologies that now place it squarely at the forefront of the X Series roster. With second incarnations of both the X Trans sensor and EXR processor, this camera has just leapfrogged the X-Pro1 and X-E1. I’m not going to delve into the details because I’m sure by now most of you know all there is to know, but I will say this: the addition of phase detection to contrast detection on the AF system blew me away. I never saw that one coming, certainly not this soon. Same goes for the new split-screen focusing: most of us were expecting focus peaking but this was totally unexpected. I love that. I love companies that think outside the box and throw me for a loop.

This new camera also introduces a serious change to the button layout, placing the AF selection button on the right-hand side. Can I hear a hallelujah?! This seemingly small modification is HUGE in terms of handling and something I’ve been hoping for since the very first time I used an X camera. It means we’ll be able to switch focus points with one hand, without changing our grip and finger position. HUGE. In light of this, I give you the quasi-religious appeal portion of this post:

O great, kind and benevolent Gods of Fujifilm
We know phase detection is hardware-related
& perhaps focus peaking is as well (although we secretly wish to be surprised)
But could you please, in your bottomless and most infinite wisdom,
grant us the ability to swap the functions of our X-Pro/X-E1 macro and AF buttons through the all-encompassing magic of firmware?
We humbly await, basking in your eternal light.

Oh! And that minimum shutter speed setting in Auto ISO. In case you’ve forgotten.

Fingers crossed.

But although impressed, I have to say these changes have me questioning the long-term existence of the current crop of X cameras. The pace is dizzying: within the span of 10 months we’ve seen the release of the X-Pro1 and birth of the X-mount system, the X-E1 with its higher resolution EVF and much lower price point, and now the X100S with an entirely new generation of tech. That’s a lot of movement in such a short period of time. In barely a year we’ve reached the 2nd generation of the X Trans system technology. So what now? The flagship camera trails behind the X100S in all areas, which means an X-Pro2 can’t be very far away. It’s all awfully fast. I’m not criticizing these amazing advancements mind you, but it does drag down the value of still recent gear at lightning velocity. My mind loves the quick leaps and bounds. My checkbook… Not so much.

It does comfort me in my decision to consolidate my gear around the Fuji ecosystem. Technically there’s nothing here I can fault, quite to the contrary. I do however hope there isn’t planned obsolescence at work here, and that these releases are being fuelled by engineering more than market forces. I’m not naive enough to believe there isn’t any strategy involved — that’s entirely part of the game — but I’d hate to learn there’s an intentional trickling of innovation to shorten these camera’s perceived lifespan. Hopefully the X system will stabilize in the future and allow us to breathe a little between upgrades.

Of course my X-Pro1 is still just as good as it was 5 months ago, so is this G.A.S rearing its ugly head? Not for features this important. It goes well beyond the need for shiny new things. An X-Pro2 with this new hybrid phase/contrast AF system has the potential for serious disruption. I’d most probably sell the X-Pro1 in a heartbeat for this upgrade. Will I be selling my X100 then? Nope. Too much history there that goes beyond technical considerations. I echo the sentiments of my buddy Derek: that camera will be a family heirloom. It’s the one that started it all and I’m much too fond of it, faults and all. Some inanimate objects just grow on you.

One last thing: after the release of the X-E1 I didn’t believe we’d ever see a direct successor to the X100. I think I said so right here. But I’m thrilled to have been wrong and glad to see Fujifilm still pursuing this pure and minimalist approach to photography. It shows a certain philosophy that goes beyond mere gadgetry and featuritis.

For me, it’s almost a symbol.

P.S. Check out Derek’s appearance on the Japan Camera Hunter blog and my other Kage Collective compadre’s documentary film about David Milnor’s New Mexico project: UNA PURA VERDAD by Flemming Bo Jensen. Good stuff.

Una Pura Verdad from Flemming Bo Jensen on Vimeo.