X100S Vs. Nikon Urban Myths

I wrote a few feelings on the the state of union here in digital photography land to open the year. It was a mixed bag of sardonic humor, facts, feelings, praise, and condemnations. I focused all of those thoughts on two camera companies acting as archetypes. Archetypes in the sense that you could substitute other names in there and my general observations and feelings would be similar with merely a few details shifted around a hair. I try to keep an overwhelming balance on this blog on in-camera work, sometimes lighting thingies, my own observations on operating characteristics that affect making pictures – at least the things that I feel are the meat of the matter. I attempt to shy away from bullshit that is pure myth or misleading gear blather. Overwhelmingly my philosophy can be summed up with do what works for you. Personal experience beyond the anecdotal is a far sight better than all of the gear reviews, suggestions, and other people's preferences combined.

That last sentence is true but it's a loaded sentence in every way imaginable. I don't mean that nothing is to be gained from reviews, discussions, other people's experience and observations – of course there is. The key is how much context you have. How you parse that information. Your capability to throw out the irrelevant to you as well as jettison the complete bullshit. No matter if that bullshit is intently misleading or just horrid observations and unfounded conclusions on the part of the purveyor.

I have mixed feelings about writing this post but in the name of public service I feel I must. Hey, I have a personality flaw that manifests when I hear things over and over and over again that are just wildly inaccurate. I must intervene in the name of truth and justice or something along those lines. I hope this doesn't rain on anyones Fuji X-Series parade too too much. I like the system. I like my X100S. If I felt differently I wouldn't use it. At the risk of having an angry Fuji-fan-boy mob show up at my doorstep looking for blood here goes…

The Fuji X-Series cameras produce fantastically different and good color and shockingly different and better JPEG's than any other camera ever made. Ask anybody. Ask people that don't even have one. Ask people that shoot them. Ask Nikon fans, Canon shooters, Pentax maniacs, anyone. There is a 99.999% chance they will acquiesce that those facts are undeniably true. The Fuji color and JPEG's are the ne plus ultra. The crowning achievement that only Fuji and it's goofy ass non-bayer array but still bayer array sensor can possibly achieve. Something all camera companies lust after but just don't have the secret mojo recipe.

Pure myth, unadulterated bullshit, internet mob-think, however you want to file it in your model of the world that's the reality. I'll tone it down a bit and just say it's more than a little overblown. Are there nits in terms of difference? Sure there are – more in contrast curve than color. Are there shocking differences? Nope. Anything worth worrying about? Not in the least. Lusting after that unicorn of Fuji color? The magical Fuji JPEG's that eliminate any need for RAW. The secret sauce that turns bad scenes into good pictures? Don't. Put some effort and thought into something that actually will make a difference.

Oh you want some evidence? Proof? Sure but I ask you what proof is there that demonstrates that shocking superior color, etc, etc? Pretty pictures? That's it? Pretty pictures with pretty colors are evidence? Any side by side demonstrations that are not completely rigged? Any that exert any degree of analysis that makes any sense? I haven't seen any - all I've seen is the internet echo chamber magnify the fact that the Fuji's are capable of making pretty pictures with pretty colors hence it has to be due to some magic color recipe. Is there any camera in existence that just can't make pretty pictures with pretty colors excepting the Leica M Monochrom? On that note here are some pictures I just made for this post of StupidCrap™ - stupid crap is as good as anything else to evaluate imaging characteristics in a non-emotional way. Isn't it?

Let's take the image at the top as the one and only baseline shot with the D600 and Nikon's Standard Picture Control setting with all the defaults across the board. For comparison here's a JPEG from the fuji on Provia setting. Again all customizable things at their default settings.

They certainly are different. Let's do a bit of analysis on those differences. Feel free to download and take a look at the histograms for yourself. The huge difference is exposure. The Fuji JPEG is significantly darker everwhere. Highlights darker, midtone values darker, and shadows darker. That's no fair you may say. Well your right but guess what. The Fuji shot is f/2 1/160 ISO 400. The Nikon is f/2 1/200 ISO 400. Hmmmm So the fuji is allegedly getting one third stop more exposure. Why's it darker then? Wait there's more - Nikon lens corrections are off, off, off, off, off across the board - the Fuji lens corrections? Well there isn't an option so I would imagine they are on. Okay let's see what the Fuji JPEG looks like somewhere in the same ballpark of exposure.

Holy moly that's much closer. The histograms are much closer now as well. It only took an entire stop more exposure to get the Fuji up near the Nikon in overall exposure. That happened to be f/2 1/100s ISO 400. The white balance is about the same - I used a preset WB on both cameras off of that gray card you see in the image. Probably not as perfect as just doing it in post with RAW to be blunt but good enough for comparing JPEG output. The Fuji JPEG does have a touch more contrast built into it's tonal curve - big deal. There are 52,000 customizations available in-camera for each. I could easily pick two different JPEG settings on both cameras and reverse these two minor contrast curve differences. Are they really night and day or good/bad or really different in color? If you see or are anal enough to measure all the hues here there's a good chance they are still just a nit different in WB calibration due to lack of control in my process of calibrating the two cameras up to and including that I had to be closer to the target on one camera than the other.

I've mentioned this a few times but let me repeat it for those that might not have heard it. The biggest difference in color between cameras is going to be white balance – end of story. Without starting some sort of largely irrelevant debate about which particular camera's ISO is more accurate it would be impossible to debate that the Fuji is at least 2/3's of a stop slower – accurate or inaccurate. More like a whole stop as you can see. This is born out in the RAW files as well – even more so. All those amazing noise free shots at ISO 3200 you are seeing, think more along the lines of ISO 1600 in reality if you are comparing it to say a Nikon FX which in my measurements have virtually identical ISO (from an actual exposure point of view) performance across current and even past generation cameras.

Just trying to clarify and illustrate all of that internet echo chamber noise into something a bit more tangible for those attempting to interpret that particular signal into something you can relate to as actionable.

RB

Ps. Optimal exposure for the Nikon happens to be 1/160s and about 1/80s for the Fuji.

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