Fujifilm x100s Review – The Fujinon 23mm f2 Lens

Amazon product sample image of the Fujifilm x100s lens

The Fujifilm x100s’s fixed lens, a Fujinon 23mm f/2, is just about as good as it gets for 35mm equivalent focal length lenses (due to the crop factor on APS-C lenses, it has a 35mm field of view).

As the focus here at ComposeClick is specifically on camera lenses, this Fuji x100s review will for the most part just cover the strengths and weaknesses of the camera’s lens – I’ll talk a little bit about the rest of the camera but for a more thorough review of the entire camera I suggest checking out this review here:

The ]Fuji x100s does not have an interchangeable lens:

This Fuji lens in firmly stuck on the body of the camera.

It’s not for everybody… but it’s my preferred way of shooting. And later in the review I’ll get into why.

But as such, the review will obviously be about the lens and using it in conjunction with the 16M X-Trans CMOS II sensor (which is awesome by the way).

Without further ado, let’s get into this x100s lens review.

Image taken with the x100s of party goers during carnaval in brazil

Build Quality/Ergonomics of the x100s 23mm f/2

It’s harder to make a judgment on the build quality of non-interchangeable lenses, but from what I can tell, the lens feels solid.

The x100s gives you the option of pretty much completely manual controls, having a manual aperture dial being one of them. The aperture dial feels really durable and it locks nicely in place once you’ve chosen an aperture.

It’s also a really nice option to have all the full-manual controls – it gets you out of the “spray and pray” mindset, where you take a boatload of photos without really thinking about your compositions and what not.

Shooting in manual slows down your shooting process and makes you think more deliberately about what you’re seeing.

One of the things I’m not a fan of is the manual focusing of the lens on the Fujifilm x100s. I find the focus ring to not have enough resistance to it to the point where it feels kind of toy-ish.

That comes from it being a focus by wire focusing system rather than analog; but I don’t know what the heck Fuji was thinking with making it taking so long to go through the focus range. It’s kind of like when you put a mountain bike into its highest gear and you pedal your legs as fast as you can but it hardly moves you forward any further.

It takes way too long to get through the lens’ range of focus. This has been improved with firmware but I still think it’s almost completely worthless and feels unnatural.

Some would disagree with me – there’s plenty of photographers out there who effectively use the manual focusing ring to zone focus. Not for me though.

Size/Weight of the Fujinon 23mm f/2 Lens

The Fujifilm x100s lens is a conveniently compact size that only slightly sticks out in front of the face of the camera, much like what would be called a pancake lens if it was interchangeable.

The size of the camera as a whole is a huge upgrade if you’ve been using huge DSLRs for your photography. It really does make photography more enjoyable not having to lug around big/heavy equipment.

Here’s a bummer about the Fujifilm x100s:

It’s just a little bit too big to be truly pocketable.

You technically can cram the Fujifilm x100s into the front pocket of jeans (not your stylish skinny jeans though).

I know this sounds kind of nit-picky, but for my own personal street photography work, having my camera be pocketable is a huge deal. The smaller the camera, the higher the chance that I’m going to take the camera with me.

That being said, in a pinch (like if I was shooting street photography in a sketchy area and didn’t want to carry it in my hand anymore) I could stash it in my jeans pocket. And if you’re shooting in chilly or cold weather, it fits easily in a jacket or coat pocket.

The camera I use now for street photography is the Ricoh GR – it has slightly inferior image quality but I love its super compact size. It’s so convenient that I take it with me everywhere.

The weight of the lens on the Fuji x100s has noticeably been kept to a minimum. Compared to using big bulky DSLRs, this lens and body combo balances really well. Even for the small size of the x100s, it feels very light, which is due to its mostly magnesium alloy body.

The camera/lens combination weighs a total of just under one pound, a very manageable weight that allows you to be mobile without weighing you down.

Using the x100s for street photography during carnaval in Rio de Janeiro

Fujifilm x100s Lens Sharpness

The x100s’s Fujinon 23mm f/2 is a very good performer in terms of sharpness. It’s sharp all the way down to f/2 in the center of the frame. That’s a good thing for people who like to shoot portraits wide open.

The type of photography where this lens shines is for street photography, which is what I used it for. And for street photography, this lens provides more than enough sharpness.

Here’s the thing:

At f/2 and wider apertures before f/8, its Fujinon 23mm f/2 has noticeable softness and lack of detail in the corners.

When I shoot street photography during the day, I’m practically always at f/8 or higher. I want the depth of field. And in my case, I’m not doing much pixel peeping and don’t need my photos to be perfect in the corners.

It’s street photography. I’m not expecting to get immaculate files that look like they were shot in a studio. I’m ok with a little grit and character.

For landscape photographers who need as much sharpness and detail as possible, the camera may be a bit of a letdown compared to your standard high-megapixel landscape camera, such as the Nikon D810. For display on computers and other devices it’s plenty though.

The Fuji x100s however, is way smaller and lighter than big DSLRs like the D810, so it does have that advantage. The trade-off is a slightly inferior image quality.

In the end, all this is irrelevant for the most part – if it’s an aspect of image quality that you can only see by pixel peeping, then who cares?

The one real concern is if you’re frequently blowing up your images for large prints. Then the discussion of corner sharpness becomes more reasonable and it needs to be taken into consideration if it’s important to the type of photography you do.

Fujinon 23mm f/2 Flare

In a traditional sense, this Fuji lens does not deal with flare very well. If you include the sun in your frame it becomes an indistinct blob of light. Not much in the way of sunstars if that’s your thing.

Flare also crops up as colorful strays of light. And you’ll get the outline of the lens’ aperture opening.

With that said, you never really know exactly how flare will turn out in your images until after you’ve taken them. And sometimes you can get some pretty cool effects.

Fujinon 23mm f2 Vignetting

The vignetting (or lack thereof) is really as good as any lens I’ve ever shot. It’s hardly noticeable wide open and improves up until f/4. After that it stays about the same throughout the rest of the aperture range.

Fujinon 23mm f2 Autofocus

The autofocus of the x100s has gotten a pretty beefy upgrade over its predecessor, the x100, in terms of autofocus. Now, that’s actually not due to any difference in lens design between the two cameras.

The improvement in autofocus comes from the camera’s newer, larger, 16.3 megapixel X-Trans CMOS II sensor. The larger sensor size obviously helps, but more specifically the increase in speed and accuracy comes from the new phase detection pixels integrated within the new sensor.

The Fujinon 23mm was the perfect focal length to have taken this image on the street during carnaval in Rio de Janeiro

Here’s the cool thing:

The x100 was already an awesome camera in its own right. Even considering its slow autofocus and other annoying quirks.

But now the x100s comes along and blows it out of the water by focusing WAY better AND it has more resolution and less noise.

While I’ve been singing the praises of the autofocus of the x100s, it can still be really frustrating at times.

Now, during the day it focuses well…

It’s not blow-your-mind good, but it performs well.

Although while shooting street photography, I still found myself preferring to pre-focus to a certain distance most of the time.

But at night…

Shooting at night with the Fuji x100s is so frustrating it’s rage-inducing.

It’s so bad it makes you wanna smash the thing on the ground.

It just hunts and hunts and hunts some more, back and forth.

The shame is that when you can get the x100s to lock focus on your desired subject, the files have a beautiful, magic image quality to them. But forget about focusing on moving subjects that are cast in shadow or are just outside the reach of any artificial light source like street lamps or whatever.

Image of partiers during carnaval in Rio de Janeiro shot with Fuji camera

The workarounds are:

*Pre-focusing to a certain distance and getting used to when subjects will be in focus at that distance

*Shoot subjects under artificial lights

*Use manual focus (although as I talked about earlier, it’s not the best option)

*Use a tripod and shoot at slower shutter speeds

Here’s the thing:

If you’re expecting the x100s to focus as well as a DSLR, unfortunately you’re out of luck. (Fuji was even at one point calling this the fastest focusing lens on the market! Ha! Yeah right! Maybe they were saying for the camera’s class or sensor size or for a mirrorless or whatever.)

Hopefully sooner rather than later we’ll have the technology to allow mirrorless cameras to focus as well as DSLRs, but until then we’re stuck with what we’ve got.

Fujinon 23mm f2 Bokeh

The x100s has good bokeh for a 35mm lens.

It’s smooth, pretty – and is not in any way distracting.

Because it’s a wide focal length, you won’t get crazy separation between your subject and background. You just won’t get the amazing gorgeous bokeh with a 35mm equivalent like this as you would with a good 85mm+ lens – that’s just the reality. So photographers aren’t buying the x100s specifically for its bokeh abilities.

But for a 35mm equivalent lens, it’s really up there with the best of them in terms of bokeh.

ISO Performance

This obviously has more to do with the camera’s sensor, but the high ISO performance of the Fuji x100s has just beautiful high ISO performance. It performs better at high ISO than my big fancy Nikon DSLR at ISO 6400 – and I have absolutely no problem using the camera at 6400.

Here’s what I don’t like about it though:

When you get up to higher ISOs, you start to get a waxy look in people’s skin tones. I try to stick below ISO 4000 if I want to process my images in color. At ISO 6400 I think the images from the x100s are best processed in black and white.

Who would I recommend the Fuji x100s to?

The Fujifilm x100s was not made for every type of photography.

It has its little niche that it fits in. But it comes really close to dominating that niche.

  1. Street Photographers

This is where the camera really shines and what it was made for. The Fuji x100s is small, light and unassuming.

I started out shooting street photography with a DSLR but that didn’t last very long – I quickly realized just how much you stick out on the street with a big camera like that.

The x100s really provides all you need for street photography – it gives you great image quality in a stealthy and pretty affordable package.

  1. For Everyday Photography

If you’re a professional sports shooter or portrait photographer or wedding photographer, or you’re an amateur whose been shooting for a while or you just love photography, the Fuji x100s is all you need for capturing your everyday life.

You may normally shoot with a big DSLR and huge professional lenses, but what about those times when you just want to take pictures of your kids, your family or hanging out with friends?

Even if your main type of photography requires a different type of camera/lens, having a camera like the x100s allows you to have a camera on you at all times.

Let’s face it:

The bigger the camera, the less likely we are to carry it with us.

The compact size and low weight combined with great image quality makes the Fuji x100s the perfect companion camera. Plus, you get the added benefit of practicing and improving your photography when you’re not on the job. It’ll really improve your photographic vision.

  1. Landscape Shooters

The fixed focal length of the Fujinon 23mm f2 of the Fuji x100s is obviously a bit limiting, but limitations can be good for your creativity. All photographers have their favorite focal lengths and I’m sure some would disagree with me but for landscape photography I’d say the one must-have focal length is 35mm.

Image of a groom dancing during his wedding reception shot with the Fujifim x100s

Exciting moment during wedding reception shot with the Fujinon 23mm f2 Lens on the x100s
As you can see here in this image, at higher ISOs, skin tones start to take on a waxy appearance unfortunately.

Should you buy the x100s?

The Fuji x100s is just an all-around awesome camera.

The x100s’s Fujinon 23mm f2 provides beautiful, sharp images. The size and weight are kept to really nice, manageable levels that allow you to take the camera with you while you’re on the move. The fact that you can shoot the camera completely manually is really nice.

Last but not least, it’s got a badass retro look to it that is a throwback to older rangefinder cameras. I had it in silver but I think the black actually looks better and draws less attention.

The x100s is indeed a great camera but it can also be a huge pain in the ass. It can barely focus in dark scenes, its menus are kind of annoying, it’s juuuuuust slightly too big to be truly pocketable, etc.

It’s certainly a quirky little camera that can act up at times. But my opinion is that its positives far outweigh its annoying quirks.

Are you debating on buying the x100s? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.