Fujifilm X100 With New Firmware: A Street Photography Powerhouse?

It's like a whole new camera

Remember how we said the X100 was great on quality, but autofocus was slow? Fujifilm claims its new firmware update version 1.21 resolves performance issues. We took a Fujifilm X100 to the streets to find out in a variety of situations. Check out our surprising conclusions!


With the recent release of the Leica X2, whatever happened to last year’s wunderkind camera, the Fujifilm X100? When released just over a year ago to much  fanfare, Fujifilm had an instant hit. The Fujifilm X100 was virtually unobtainable for nearly six months. Despite its uniquely innovative hybrid viewfinder, spectacular image quality, and generally positive reviews (including this full product report by Jason Schneider  and this hands-on report by wedding shooter Bob Davis), it had its faults: buggy firmware, sluggish autofocus, RAW image capture that left something to be desired and a menu structure that left plenty of room for improvement—especially when it came to street photography.


Fujifilm X100 with firmware update version 1.21, ISO 640, 1/25th second at f/2. Photo © Sandy Ramirez

Far too many of us wanted something akin to the old Konica Hexar or Leica Minilux; a well made compact camera with superb image quality. In the days of film we had a great selection of such cameras. From the aformentioned Minilux and Hexar to the Olympus Stylus Epic or a Canon QL17 GIII, the selection for such small high quality fixed lens cameras never left one wanting. Then came the digital age, and cameras like these vanished from the landscape. Sure the Leica D-Lux or Canon G series could be considered but what they lacked was the elusive IQ. The smaller sensors just didn’t provide the quality we wanted. Times have changed: Now, at last four such cameras exist, the Sigma DP series (DP1 and DP2), the Leica X2, and the Fujifilm X100. While the Sigmas proved excellent at IQ they were painfully slow to use. The Leica X2 vastly improves on the X1 but still isn’t perfect.


Enter Firmware Update 1.21

Then Fujifilm updated the X100's firmware, and it became an entirely new ballgame. If you have a Fujifilm X100, what are you waiting for? Download the firmware now!


Fujifilm X100 with firmware update version 1.21, ISO 640, 1/30th second at f/2. Photo © Sandy Ramirez

The Fujifilm X100 with Firmware 1.21 and higher installed is a completely different camera from the one was released just over a year ago. The biggest improvement? The autofocus system. The latest firmware corrects the formerly pokey AF issue quite well. In the field, I had little if any issue focusing accurately in low light. The AF still isn't the same as a modern DSLR, but I would put it on par with a Canon Rebel XT from a few years back. That is not bad for a contrast-detection AF system on a large sensor.


Fujifilm X100 with firmware update version 1.21,  ISO 1600, 1/80th second at f/2.8. Photo © Sandy Ramirez

Another major improvement is the ability to configure the RAW button to do something other than one shot selection shooting the image in RAW. Operationally, this is a major improvement, because it lets you quickly adjust the ISO without removing your eye from the viewfinder if you have the RAW button configured to ISO as I do. Together, these two changes have turned a quirky little camera with great IQ into an impressive street machine.

The AF is very fast—faster than the Leica X2, in my opinion. (Read Mason Resnick's review of the Leica X2, along with my comments.) I have yet to lose a shot to AF error.  Shutter lag is also improved; the camera snaps quickly to focus under most lighting situations. Granted, zone focusing is faster, but under the vast majority of situations I found the AF fast enough that I now rarely use Zone Focus with the X100. About my only complaint of the entire focus system is that the DOF scale in the viewfinder still isn't the correct one! It is still the DOF Scale for an actual 35mm lens instead of a 23mm lens. I hope Fujifilm corrects this in the next firmware update.

Fujifilm X100 with firmware update version 1.21,  ISO 320 1/340th second at f/2. Photo © Sandy Ramirez

Other improvements to the menu system and other small changes have made the X100 into a highly responsive camera, even more so than the newly introduced Fuji Xpro-1.

Overall, the Fuji X100 has matured into a highly capable camera for documentary use. Of all the large sensor compacts on the market currently, it is to me the only real alternative to just going whole hog and buying a Leica M9 with a 35mm f/2 Summicron. It is also some what less expensive than the aforementioned King of DMD (Decisive Moment Digital) cameras. I retired my Leica M4 from service and now use this, which is saying quite a bit about the X100.

As in our Leica X2 review, fellow street photographer Mason Resnick took out the X100 with me in our little adventure in Union Square. How did this fellow Leicaphile react to the new X100? Here are his words and photos:

Fujifilm X100 Version 1.21 Street Photo Stress Test


Fujifilm X100 with Firmware Update version 1.21, ISO 800, 1/500 sec at f/8. Photo © Mason Resnick

When I first held the Fujifilm X100, about a year ago, I was wowed by its image quality, but underwhelmed by its performance. On the basis of those initial impressions, I chose to hold off on doing a street photo stress test with this camera, despite its Leica-like ambitions, because its shutter release responsiveness and autofocus were too slow. All that changed when Fujifilm posted a firmware update, version 1.21, which they claimed would vastly improve AF speed.


Fujifilm X100 with Firmware Update version 1.21, ISO 1600, 1/1000 sec at f/8. Photo © Mason Resnick


Sandy told me that he had downloaded the update and noticed a definite improvement. “Try mine,” he said. How could I pass up such an offer? We met, traded cameras (I gave him my loaner Leica X2 and he gave me his Fujifilm X100), we walked through the Union Square Farmer's Market in Manhattan one drizzly Wednesday afternoon in May, shooting away.

I was impressed.

I found the X100 to be much faster than pre-firmware update, and displayed virtually no lag time when put in auto-everything. Adjusting the aperture and shutter speed was easy, with controls logically placed. The weak link was manual focus: Since I practice the “walk-and-shoot” style of street photography practiced by guys like Garry Winogrand and Mark Mermelstein, I need to have intuitive focus control. It takes a lot of rotation to turn the X100's lens, and the on-screen depth-of-field scale lags behind the aperture adjustments by about a second. And, as Sandy noted, the DOF scale is accurate for a 35mm lens, not the 23mm that fronts this camera. All of these can be fixed; let's hope Fujifilm focuses its attention on these drawbacks for the next firmware update. Hey, if they could fix the slow AF problem, who knows what else is possible?

Slide Show: Fujifilm X100 Street Photos
Click on small box on lower right to view slideshow full screen.


While shooting in optical viewfinder mode, I was able to shoot fast; the buffer emptied quickly, allowing me to capture rapid-changing scenes like this sequence, where all the photos were shot within a 10-second timeframe, without any freezes or hesitation (a problem I had with the Leica X2).

Slide Show: Fujifilm X100 Rapid Shooting Sequence
Click on small box on lower right to view slideshow full screen.


Overall, I think the firmware update has moved the X100 from a fine high-resolution camera that could capture relatively stationary objects to a responsive, substantial street camera, and goes from a failing grade to an A- on the Street Photo Stress Test. And now, back to Sandy's review!

—Mason Resnick


Fujifilm X100 with firmware update version 1.21, ISO 320 1/60th @ f4


Conclusion and Recommendation

I am fully impressed with the X100 today. The rough diamond introduced just over a year ago has matured into a finely cut and polished stone. If you are like me, someone who rarely changes lenses when shooting reportage and love the 35mm FOV, this camera is very much worth your serious consideration. Admittedly, it doesn't shoot sports, still has underwhelming video, and is not a speed merchant when shooting bursts, but neither is a Leica M9 and frankly those who are looking for those features are far better served with a DSLR or some other system. For those looking for a nearly pure photographic tool, this is the camera for you.

Slide Show: Sandy Ramirez Fujifilm X100 Portfolio
Click on small box on lower right to view slideshow full screen.


As always, feel free to ask any question and leave your thoughts below.

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