Fuji X100: Crazy Dynamic Range

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/600 sec, f/11, ISO 200

One of the things that frustrates me most about compact cameras is that their dynamic range is so limited compared to DSLRs. Not so with the Fuji X100. It  sports a larger, APS-C sized sensor for dynamic range no small-sensor compact or even m4/3 camera can touch. In addition, when you set the camera to auto-dynamic range and let the it control your ISO, the X100 works some serious magic, expertly juggling highlights and shadows in extreme lighting conditions with surprisingly natural results.

This weekend I threw some tough, contrasty scenes at the X100 to see what it could do. The image above is a good example. There’s some really hard sunlight hitting the side of the building, and the side facing away from the sun was in shadow. Notice, however, that there’s detail all over the frame, from the brightest portions of the sun-facing windows to the insides of those dark balconies. I think a couple of the windows at the top of the building are clipped, but it still looks very natural.

Fuji X100 – 23mm,1/680 sec, f/2, ISO 800

I purposefully looked for hard light next to dark shadows this weekend. I know for sure that my EPL2 would  have clipped highlights like crazy in the image above, but again, detail everywhere with the X100.

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/80 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200

Even though light from the ground is illuminating the underside of this palm, the leaves were still much darker than the sky. Great balance here straight from the camera.

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/900 sec, f/2.8, ISO 400

The pavement here is really hot in contrast to the dark tones on the train, yet there’s still detail on both areas of the frame.

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/450 sec, f/11, ISO 800

How’s this for contrasty? If you look really close, you can see that the hard shadow on the right of the frame is not clipped, there’s some detail from the blue window frame in there. Wow.

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/2,200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 800

This one was taken in mid-day sunlight. You might notice the seemly odd ISO choice of 800, however. The camera is automatically underexposing to protect the highlights  (sky and and sidewalk) and using the high ISO setting to bring out shadow detail. It works extremely well. Nikon and Canon DSLRs do something similar with their Active D-Lighting and Highlight Tone Priority systems, respectively.

Fuji X100 – 23mm, Program AE, 1/640 sec, f/9, ISO 400

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/800 sec, f/8, ISO 800

Fuji X100 – 23mm,  1/1,800 sec, f/8, ISO 800

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/1,100 sec, f/11, ISO 800

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/640 sec, f/2, ISO 400

You know, I don’t typically seek out contrasts in tone like this. Doing so was a fun exercise.

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/500 sec, f/2, ISO 400 -2/3EV

Fuji X100 – 23mm,  1/450 sec, f/6.4, ISO 400

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/480 sec, f/4, ISO 400 -1EV

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/400 sec, f/2, ISO 400 -1/3EV

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/60 sec, f/5.6, ISO 640

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/250 sec, f/2, ISO 400

Just some random portraits from the weekend. Skin tones look absolutely dead on with the X100, even using Auto White Balance.

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/70 sec, f/8, ISO 200

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/450 sec, f/8, ISO 200

Still tweaking the camera’s image settings to get the JPEGs looking the way I want them. I think I’m almost there.

More random shooting from the weekend:

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/170 sec, f/2, ISO 400 -2/3EV

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/110 sec, f/2.8, ISO 400

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/950 sec, f/2.8, ISO 800 -1.3EV

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/600 sec, f/2, ISO 200

Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/320 sec, f/2, ISO 400 -2/3EV

That’s it! Just another quick note: I’ve heard lots of bad things about the camera’s firmware and menu interface. To be sure, it does seem quirky at times, but I can’t say I’m all that bothered by it. Somehow I just have a blast with the camera every time I pick it up. I do get the sense that this is not a camera for everyone, however. I think its really a matter of knowing thyself before you buy.

One thing kinda bugs me though:

The camera has film simulation modes. Provia is supposed to be a standard mode, Astia is supposed to reproduce softer tones with less contrast and saturation. Strange thing is, pictures I take in Astia are definitely more contrasty and saturated than images taken in Provia. What gives? Did a switcheroo happen when the firmware was written? Is Provia supposed to be Astia and Astia Provia? Wierd.

48 thoughts on “Fuji X100: Crazy Dynamic Range

    1. Sure. My settings are:

      Film Simulation: Astia (more vibrant and contrasty than Provia, despite what the camera says)
      WB: Auto
      Auto ISO: ON
      Dynamic Range: Auto
      Color: Mid
      Sharpness: Hard
      Highlight Tone: Standard or M-Hard
      Shadow Tone: M-Hard

      I try not to get too heavy handed with the shadow tones in-camera because it’s easy to add blacks in post if need be.

  1. This is definitely a great camera, and I really feel like you are using it to its fullest potential. Love all these shots! The ones at Golden Gate park look so dreamy.

  2. Looks very good, how is the DR compared to your D700? Why did they not make this a system camera with detachable lenses?!

    1. Not sure how it compares with my D700 without doing more serious testing (which says a lot about how good the X100 is!). As far as making it an interchangeable lens camera, the X100’s sensor and lens are both custom made for each other. I think one of Fuji’s biggest goals with the X100 is to keep the camera small, and making it an interchangeable lens system would have meant making the body bigger. I personally wouldn’t be interested if that was the case. If this thing was any bigger I might as well lug my DSLR around, you know?

  3. You are definitely a terrible person Jonathan! Terrible terrible terrible! You make people like me envious not only with your skills but your gears too! >_< I love the shots by the way. 😛

  4. Such a great post — you did really good test shots. Waaay better than how I try to test new cameras. I am super impressed by the dynamic range here. And the high ISOs would have stumped me — how interesting that that’s what the camera does to bring out the shadows! Learn something new everyday.

  5. Great job documenting the dynamic range prowess of this camera. Love it. My S95 would have blown out the highlights in many of those sun drenched shots. The Fuji seems to handle them as the eye would naturally see the scene; simply amazing. The new Leica 25mm 1.4 coming out in August makes me consider a 4/3 system, but the x100 is making it tough to decide.

  6. okay, now you are officially making me jealous of this little camera ;). hahaha. Wow. those photos are absolutely amazing. The colors, the vibrancy, the clarity…. wowzers!! Keep em’ comin!

  7. Great demonstration of this camera’s capabilities. If I get it, I’ll be using it exclusively with RAW, processed in Lightroom 3. I would imagine from what I see here that the results would be on a par with what I can obtain from low light high ISO files from my APS-C sensor Canon DSLRs, but would still like to see concrete evidence of that before buying. All the best from Santiago…

    1. The images in previous post about high speed flash sync were all taken in RAW. I’m currently using one of them as my desktop background on my 27″ monitor, and it looks amazing:


      I haven’t compared side by side files, but I feel like the sensor beats my Nikon APS-C cameras as far as quality. High ISO files definitely look better than the ones from my D300s.

      Thanks again everyone!

  8. Great review, i´ll think to get one of these small cameras to carry with me everywhere. My Canon 30D+ battery grip is to big. and heavy.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  9. Does anyone want to buy my GF1 with 20mm f/1.7 when I buy X100? haha.

    I tried EF24mm f/1.4L II on my 7D, and compared it against GF1 with 20mm f/1.7. Well, the 24mm had a serious front focus issue (and so I returned it) but the image quality was better with 20mm f/1.7 wide open. Now, I have very high hope that X100 will just solve my fast semi-wide needs.

  10. Actually I was only looking for some San Francisco pictures to get in mood for my upcoming trip… but then I discovered your review of the X100. Of course I HAD to get one (in stock in good old overpriced Europe).
    At least I can save on the neck & shoulder massages I needed after carrying around my Nikon DSLR 😉
    And of course I’m hoping for equally great pictures!

  11. Too funny. Browsing for the x100 and ran across your post. Get this

    My last name is also Fleming
    My other camera is also a D700
    And I’m looking at the x100

    Just fun irony. Thanks for the interesting post and great shots Jonathan!

  12. I got my self the X100 as a little X-mas present for my self 😉 and man i am having fun with it! I was wondering on top of the settings you mainly use on your fuji, do you shoot RAW most of the time with the X100? I noticed that setting the Dynamic range to auto and it chooses either 200% or 400% and upload them to light room the pictures are heavily under exposed… Is the higher dynamic range only good for In-camera JPEG’s?

    Im still debating weather i should just shoot JPEG with this camera since its my everyday walk around camera. For sure i really like how the x100 handles high ISO when in JPEG.

    1. I shoot both JPEG and RAW, but the images in this post are all JPEGs. I’d recommend not using auto dynamic range when shooting RAW. In that mode, the X100 is trying to protect highlights by underexposing. In JPEG, the camera will then boost the shadows for you, but in RAW, all you get is the underexposed file.

  13. I’m really having trouble coming to friendly understandable terms with this enigmatic character called ‘Dynamic Range’.

    Is Dynamic Range basically the quality of having most of the image in light? I.E. The ability to see ‘deep’ into shadows whilst maintaining clarity in bright light-flooded places of the image?

    I own a fuji x100. It is my second serious camera (the first being a Pentax K-R that I still own). I am having a lot of fun with the x100 for many reasons. However, I don’t have photoshop and I don’t do any post-processing so I’m not learning much about how my images truly look (I’m also using a small netbook which doesn’t give me the pleasure of looking at my images in a big and bright manner).

    When I read this blog post dealing with Dynamic Range and how good it is to have HIGH Dynamic Range I realised that I had no idea what level of dynamic range I had been working with. The next day I set it to 400% and I’ve been using it that way ever since. I’ve not noticed anything wrong (but maybe that is just because my eyes are not trained well enough yet). I’d love to know more about why there are different percentages of Dynamic Range. It bugs me because if Dynamic Range is so good why would we have a choice in it? Wouldn’t shooting at 400% just be the norm? Or is it too much of a good thing?

    I’ve book marked your blog and I look forward to reading thru more and more of your posts (especially the ones dealing with the x100). I’m glad you like shooting night photography, I do too. 🙂

    Thanks for any further light you may be able to shed on my questions and conundrums,



    1. Rex,

      Dynamic range, when used in a photographic context, is basically the range, or difference, between the darkest and lightest parts of an image. When you mention the ability to see deep into shadows and still have highlight detail in a very contrasty scene, you’re describing a high dynamic range image. A lower dynamic range image, however, is not necessarily bad, and having a higher dynamic range is not always desirable.

      If, for example, I want an image to have a punchy, hi-contrast look, I’ll avoid the 400% setting on the X100 because the higher dynamic range, while giving me more detail in shadows and highlights, means less contrast in the image. I also avoid the highest setting when I’m shooting RAW, because all it does is underexpose my RAW files if I leave it at 400%. Some prefer to avoid the highest setting because it can introduce some noise in darker areas of the image. So having a choice in this regard is really important.

      I suggest you keep doing what you’re doing: keep experimenting and learning your camera’s abilities, so that when you decide whether to use 100% or 400% DR, or to shoot at f16 instead of f2, or make any other choice with your camera settings, you’ll be making that choice with a clear intention. After all, what matters is not how much detail you can see in every part of a photo, but whether or not you as the artist are pleased with the final image.

      1. Thanks for the reply. What you’ve said makes a lot of sense to me and you’ve certainly cleared up the question about the different percentages. Thank you so much!!

  14. thanks for sharing, jonathan. u’ve posted some really useful info. and, yes, i agree this camera may not be perfect (which camera is perfect, anyways?) and has its quirks, but it is the quirks that i love so much about it. its an adventure using it!

  15. Thank’s

    Wasn’t sure how the DR worked, it kept bumping my ISO to 800 on a sunny day and driving me crazy. At least know I know what’s happening. This could be really helpfull when shooting a wedding when the brides in white and the groom’s in black. Currently have to shoot raw and recoever highlights manually in lightroom. Will try a few wedding portraits with the DR on and see what happens.

  16. Just saw the x100 for the first time tonight. A friend got one. Very sweet camera! I was a little surprised at how light it was and also the interesting buttons (raw button?). You gotta hand it to fuji for going out on a limb with this one.

  17. Jonathan are your blue skies because of a polarizer, or the underexposure and effect
    of the ND, or post process, or something else?

    Thanks for all the work..


  18. Absolutely stunning shots Jonathan. I am really enjoying my new x100s but coming from Canon DSLR menu system I find the UI to be a bit of a challenge. I notice you say that most of these are jpegs so I am wondering are you still doing a lot of post processing on them to get these results or are you strictly using in camera custom settings? if the latter do you mind sharing your preferred setting for those interior color shots? (specifically the shots of your shiba inu in the restaurant and the edamame).

    1. Thanks! For personal stuff, I still shoot jpegs with the (now) X100s. These days I just leave everything on default and bump the contrast to taste later. At default, the jpegs tend come out a little on the flat side, which is what I want because it gives me wiggle room when I’m ready to apply these edits in post. In the two photos above, I’m pretty sure I simply moved the blacks down a bit, and that was it!

      1. Thanks! One of the reasons I got the Fuji was I wanted to get back to shooting more and post processing less. I’ve had good luck so far using the Astia film emulation with all other settings on standard. I found out the hard way on a recent trip to Portland that Velvia, can really crush the shadows.

  19. Jonathan, great images. Can you please share your current preferred X100s settings including film simulation, DR, WB, ISO, and tones? Also, with WB are you using any WB shift in your custom settings? I can’t seem to access that adjustment in the Edit/Save Custom Settings. Thanks.

    1. Hi John,

      Default settings are how I roll these days with the X100s, and and I’m pretty happy with the output. Unfortunately, the Edit/Save Custom Settings feature is extremely limited. I don’t believe it saves multiple shift profiles.

      1. Jonathan, does “standard” mean auto or 100% for DR? Also, are you just shooting RAW these days? Thanks.

  20. i think you said you also picked up the X100S. I have the X100 and the X100S. I have noticed a drop off in DR with the ‘S’ version compared to before. I’ve noted that there has been some chatter on photo sites about this as well. Have you observed the same?

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