Back in March, only two days after my SXSW photo walk, I went to the Rodeo with my friend Mike. We spend most of the time at the carnival — got there an hour before sunset and stayed into the night. It’s sort of a tradition for us. Over the years, I’ve taken different cameras and shot in different styles. I’ve captured enough long exposure motion blurs of amusement park rides that I stuck with street photography this time. The Fujifilm X100S was brand new for me back then — I bought it only three days before this rodeo visit — so I was determined to use it.
I took two cameras, the Fuji X100S and the Olympus OM-D E-M10. Like the SXSW outing, I shot mostly with the X100S, not because I didn’t like the Olympus, but because I wasn’t good at shooting the Fuji. A new challenge. I was determined to tame my latest acquisition. The OM-D E-M10 was new to me too, temporarily on loan from Olympus, but I’m already familiar with Olympus micro 4/3 cameras. I’ve used them for years.
I’m going to do a dedicated review on the Olympus OM-D E-M10 soon. But it’s really easy to sum up the camera. After years of building mirrorless cameras, Olympus has all but perfected them. They are fast in most everything they do. The E-M10 model has basically all the features that a novice or enthusiast will want. In all but the fastest sports, I would recommend the E-M10 for daily shooting and daily action. Want to do some home video too, no problem, stills or video, the camera does a solid job.
The Fuji X100S is an entirely different kind of camera, one that I won’t recommend for novices. To really appreciate the camera, you need to get back to the days when spinning physical dials was the only way to adjust your settings. Sure the X100S is a modern digital device, but it really has the feel of a camera of yore. And while some Fuji diehards might disagree, the camera is still quirky (and not in a good way) compared to the solid and dare I say boring Olympus. With this newer S version of the X100, focus is a lot faster, however it’s still noticeably pedestrian compared to the Olympus. As strange as it sounds, near perfection may be the problem with the E-M10. Since it does everything so well, it’s almost too good — it’s sort of unexciting. Perhaps conquering the idiosyncrasies of the X100S is part of the fun.
There are things that really bug me about the X100S. While I originally thought the focusing speed was the biggest issue, it’s not, I discovered. I don’t know if my particular camera is worse than others but the damned electronic view finder (EVF) is too dark in bright light. In the evening, night-time or indoors, the EVF works great. But try to use the thing in bright daylight and the EVF darkens tremendously. I’ve read about this behavior online, so I know I’m not the only one. I can brighten the viewfinder manually but then in darker places the overly bright viewfinder sears my eyes. Nope there definitely something wrong with the design. I checked the EVF on the OM-D E-M10 and it’s consistent no matter the lighting, just as it should be.
On the Fuji, with the EVF impaired, I need to use the optical view finder instead. Luckily the X100S has a dual optical / electronic view finder, one of its unique features. The optical works great in good light, though less accurate for framing. The problem is, after I frame and shoot with the optical, it switches to an EVF review of the photo I just took. Except again, I can’t check accuracy with the dim photo through the EVF. Ironically, I can review photos better with my rear LCD in bright sunlight. Kind of crazy and this behavior partially defeats the purpose of an EVF.
So all is not perfect in Fuji land. But I adjust and work through the challenges. So beyond my love for the X100S retro design and it’s solid build, why do I put up with it? When everything falls into place, I’m rewarded with fantastic image quality. The Fujifilm JPEGs are probably the best in the business. In fact, unlike my other cameras, I only shoot in JPEG with the Fuji. Conversely, the RAW processors out there for Fuji’s X Trans sensor aren’t particularly great. They’ve steadily improved but I think the in-camera JPEGs are better and a lot easier.
Fuji also has this auto dynamic range mode for JPEGs that subdues bright areas and pulls out shadow detail. Combined with it’s uncanny auto white balance, you generally get very pleasant out of camera photos. Of course I still tweak my images in post, but only minor adjustments are usually required. The built-in 35mm equivalent lens is sharp even at f2. Taken together, especially at night, I get photos that pop. As much as I like the Olympus image quality, most of the time I like the Fuji’s better. Look at photograph at the top of this post, that food stand glows and the colors look lively. It has a look different from my other cameras.
Let’s do some comparisons. I shot the Olympus E-M10 in JPEG + RAW. Since I don’t have a RAW processor for the camera, we get to compare the Olympus JPEG vs the Fujifim JPEG. On the left, we have the unprocessed JPEGs. On the right, the results after post processing in Aperture 3. I tried to make the colors match as closely as possible. You can see that Fuji’s auto white balance did a better job here — my post processed image only slightly sharper and more colorful. The Olympus required more work. But all is not perfect with the Fuji either. I mentioned before that reds on the X100S JPEGs are weak — they look more orangish. You can see it when you compare the red candy apples. Click on the photos to see a larger view.
I don’t usually do this, pixel-peeping I mean, but I wanted to show you both photos up close. I get to see my photos full size on a 27” monitor but with typical web sizes don’t always get to appreciate the details. Here are similar sections of my post-processed photos at 100%. Yes, they are not framed identically but I think you can see a difference. Not only do I prefer the X100S colors but the sharpness is also superior. On the Olympus, I used the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4, my best lens. Keep in mind that when I use the Olympus RAW (the E-M10 is a new cameras and I don’t have the RAW converter), some of these differences go away. More than anything we are comparing the JPEG processing engines here. However, it goes to show how nice of a job Fujifilm does on their JPEGs. And the Olympus is no slouch either. I prefer the Olympus JPEGs to Canon’s for example.
Despite my complaints about the X100S focusing, I’m happy with the number of keepers I got. It goes to show that concentrating, properly framing and finding a good moment counts for a lot. Effort can overcome slightly sluggish focusing. However, by applying my mental energy on the Fuji, I noticed that my Olympus photographs suffered. By all measures the Olympus is faster and easier to shoot but without that proper concentration, none of my E-M10 images deserved to be posted. The just weren’t good enough.
I’ve include some livestock on this post, a nod to the agricultural roots of the rodeo, but I go to these things to shoot the people and the glow of rides and booths at night. I love capturing people having fun at the carnival. I tend to shoot architecture and street photos, here I kind of get to do both. The glowing tents represent makeshift architecture and the carnival color, almost as good as urban neon.
I didn’t shoot many street portraits this time. This lovely couple asked me to take an iPhone shot. I obliged and asked them if I could also take a portrait with my Fuji. The ambient light cast a warm glow and even a 35mm equivalent at f2 nicely defocuses the background. Just the perfect amount, the background no longer distracting but clearly maintaining the ties to the carnival.
I then saw these ladies with giant matching tigers, marching towards me. I had to ask for a portrait — you just can’t make these shots up. You need to take them when you have the chance.
By the end of the night, I was getting the exposure dialed in on the X100S. The Fuji is one of the few cameras where it exposes more brightly than I expect. For these evening shots with colorful lights, I found that underexposing by 1/3 stop was just about right. It maintains the color and details in the lights.
For people, I needed to go back to 0 on the exposure compensation dial. I used to shoot Aperture Priority almost exclusively but I’m shifting more to Shutter Priority these days. This works especially well on the Fuji. I have the ISO set to Auto with a max of 6400. Aperture is set to A (Auto) but the Fuji is smart enough to use f2 in these dark scenes. I quickly change my shutter speed from 1/30 of a second for stationary objects, 1/60 for portraits and 1/125 for more action. All it takes is a quick twist of the dial. The Fuji almost always does the right thing settings wise. When I drop the shutter speed, Auto ISO drops the ISO setting which also improved quality.
The Olympus also does the right thing and the Shutter Priority setting with Auto ISO works well. I think changing settings with a typical digital interface is quicker but the traditional dials of the Fuji are more intuitive. The old dial method is also more in your face so I see the settings better, reducing the likelihood that I have the wrong values set.
It was interesting to compare framing with a 35mm vs 50mm equivalent lens. The 50mm equivalent on the Olympus was easier for candid street photographs. I can get in on the action without being as close. As a result the photos were more intimate. Through the view finder the 35mm felt too distant, like I was too far from the subject. And I felt uncomfortable getting any closer. When viewed large on-screen, however, 35mm looks great. I actually prefer it to 50mm since I get more of a context to the environment.
Sometimes I wish I have a 28mm, especially for architecture, but overall the 35mm equivalent on the X100S works. For these kind of places, I don’t feel any desire to change lens or use a zoom. That’s great since I’m stuck with one lens on the X100S, I can’t change it (though there are now Fuji adapters to get a 28mm or 50mm view). Ultimately, beyond all the quirks, having only one focal length may be the reason a novice will find the X100S too limiting and frustrating. The Olympus, of course, supports interchangeable lenses so you can pick your favorite focal length or use a zoom.
After shooting both cameras at SXSW and at the carnival, I have a good feel for their differences. Two very different cameras but both great in their own way. The Fujifim X100S has the image quality edge as well as more character, though you have to deal with it’s idiosyncrasies. The Olympus OM-D E-M10 is flexible, dependable and has all the features you’ll need. The E-M10 is the kind of camera I can recommend for any photographer for most any need. But what if you want an inflexible and limiting camera that will push you creatively? Imposing limits taxes the brain and forces it to adapt. That may be one of the best arguments for a camera like the X100S. It’s all up to you.
So tell me, which camera interests you more?
Please support this blog by clicking on my Amazon Link before buying anything.