After much thinking and researching online I finally put my money down on a new camera. £1000 is a sizable sum and I hesitated for awhile before taking the plunge. I have had the camera now for several weeks and as I work my way around the camera and use it in different situations I wanted to collect my thoughts into one place. There are numerous positive video reviews of this camera online with experienced Photographer's describing it as the 'best digital camera' available, 'the new Leica' or announcing that 'the DSLR is dead'. Make your own mind up, but here is my take on the camera from the point of view of a reluctant digital camera user.
What do I want or look for in a camera?
I have a collection of old film cameras and there are aspects from all of them that I like:
Olympus Trip.For sheer fun and "get-out-of-the-way-and-let-me-take-pictures" I love this camera.
Zone focusing, great fast fixed 35 mm lens, no batteries. The viewfinder is bright. OK it's not great for moving subjects, but you can work with that. The shutter is either 1/40th or 1/200. Cheap at around £25 for a good example.
The Canonet QL17 MIII"The Poor Man's Leica."
Now quite sort after and with good reason the Canonet Quick Load 17 represented the culmination of the design of a range of Canon's. It's a lovely camera. Small, easy to use, aperture priority with manual override (but with no metering). Great fast lens f1.7. Very quiet, nicely discreet. Bright viewfinder. I paid about £100 for mine. Here's a photo that puts it alongside the X100s - and I thought it was just me that spotted the similarity. It comes from a review of the X100s and includes other side-by-side comparisons. http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2011/07/fuji-finepix-x100-review.html
Some of those aspects are important to me - Discrete, silent, bright viewfinder a la rangefinder, fast lens, auto/manual and easy to use.
The Nikon F-301 (aka N2000)What?!
but the added built-in winder is useful, also adding a valuable right hand grip. It has Programme, Aperture and Shutter modes plus manual. Easy ASA adjustment. Good metering. Here's the killer - it's relatively cheap. I paid £10 for mine. I use it mainly in combination with an off-camera flash synced via a lead since winding on one-handed is a chore and I want to keep my eye to the viewfinder.
DigitalShoot more, especially in low light, colour or black and white - choose later, adjust and re-shoot immediately, edit in camera, edit on computer and use share straightaway.
OK, I get those advantages after working in film. But one of the things I have struggled with using digital cameras is that I want to set either the shutter speed, aperture quickly without having to dig through menus. I also want to be able to easily open up or stop down a few stops, quickly. The X100s 'retro' design means that I can work like I used to. Switching either the shutter speed or aperture away from 'A' means that it enters Aperture or Shutter speed priority. Switching both means it's in Manual. Great. Right under the thumb is the dial to open up or stop down. Terrific. I have the best of all worlds, something the X100s seems to repeatedly achieve.
Settings. There are still menus - 'Quick' or otherwise. I can shoot discretely and quickly under very low light levels. I like the film simulation settings and these can be combined with the film bracketing feature so I can shoot colour and have the camera process black and white versions with a yellow and green filter immediately. ISO settings of 6400 still look great.
Jpegs. By adjusting the DR Range it's possible to adjust the way the camera processes the Jpgs. So I mostly shoot jpgs and avoid editing them in post. That's a massive time saver.
Flash. The onboard flash is great. Since the camera has a leaf shutter I can sync the flash speed to any shutter speed (except very high shutter speeds and low apertures). That gives me great freedom to use flash to fill in and balance the ambient light.
Viewfinders. It has two viewfinders - in effect. The Electronic and the Optical. I was puzzled by this at first. Why wouldn't I want to use the electronic ones all the time? There is no parallax and I can see what the photo will look like. Perfect? Well actually I use both. The Optical viewfinder is more immediate - I still see the photo briefly in the finder after I've taken it. It takes me right back to the Olympus Trip. I like it. Mostly I don't worry about parallax. I shoot slightly looser so I can crop later.
Focus. There are 3 focus modes - automatic, continuous automatic and manual. I really like the manual mode. In manual mode I can push the AFL button to autofocus if I need. There is 'MF assist' which zooms the centre of the viewfinder when the lens is manually focused. It's quick and easy to use. Again everything you need is under your fingers. Good design.
Lens. OK a single focal length - the equivalent of a 35mm, like the Trip and the QL17. It's a good all rounder. I prefer a 24mm on a 35mm camera but that wouldn't be so broadly practical, especially when you photograph people. I actually like that I can't change lens or zoom. Less choice is quicker! The lens itself is small, light and fast too at f2.
White Balance. There are presets and of course auto. You can also adjust the colour balance quite easily. Auto seems to work well under most conditions.
Images. Oh yes I forgot to say the images look really nice!
Issues. Are there issues? Sure, there are a few none that are serious photographically for me. I would say that the firmware could do with a polish to resolve most - the histogram in the Optical Viewfinder which would be really useful - but doesn't work. (Update 27th August, and thanks to Dean Johnston - no relation!, Point 2 solved the problem for me.)
Video. You wouldn't buy this camera to shoot video, which is just as well. You can't manually adjust the aperture, only the focus while recording. That's a real shame. I have read that the video shows a lot of moire. I haven't noticed that. You can't plug in a mic so that leaves 'dual system' as the only way to work. Setting the internal mic levels is buried deep in the menus. I'd love to see this improved with a firmware update. Maybe that's possible, if not, I'm not bothered. For a camera that offers so much in a small handy package, I reckon that's enough for me.
I found this video by David Hobby particularly useful.