Leaf Shutter, ND Filter, Wide Aperture; Check!
The X100 series camera packs a huge punch. It includes in the triple threat of a Leaf shutter, built in Neutral Density Filter, and a superb 23mm f2 lens. If it were to be judged alone, these features would be more than enough to place it at the top of many pros list. That is if they knew about it. I want to remedy this and discuss why and how the X100 series camera is one of the best cameras on the planet. I will also talk about my experiences with the 50mm converter, the TCLX100. Note that the x100, X100s, X100t, X100f, all share the features discussed in this article.
First, allow me to get you up to speed on the camera itself. If you’re new to photography (or a pro that doesn’t know anything about Fuji, and more specifically, the X100 series) then you may not understand the significance of these features. Let’s dive in.
Leaf Shutter: Let’s start with the leaf shutter. Simply put, a leaf shutter works like an iris. It opens and closes with blades that make a circle, or a circular form. The point here is that instead of opening and closing from top to bottom, or left to right, as a focal plane shutter does, the leaf shutter opens and closes like an iris. You can also think of it like a sphincter muscle, which is a circular muscle that opens and closes in a circle, like a drawstring on a bag. Leaf shutters are built into the lens itself.
X100s, TCL-X100, EF-X20 Flash
Focal plane shutters are built into the camera body. The benefit here is in flash synchronization speed. The leaf shutter in the X100 series can sync with flash at an aperture of f2 and a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second. Most Focal plane shutters can only sync at a shutter speed of 1/125-1/250th of a second. In camera speak, the Leaf shutter in the X100 series is two to three times faster than any focal plane shutter around. This is good because it allows for the use of flash at higher shutter speeds, meaning brighter conditions, making balancing flash in full sunlight more available. It also means that a smaller guide number flash will have added
ND Filter: Each X100 camera has a three stop neutral density filter which is built in. The purpose of an ND filter is to stop light from entering the camera. Another way to think about the filter is that it changes the intensity of the light hitting the sensor. Think about it like sun glasses for your camera. By lowering the intensity of the light three stops, the ND filter works hand-in-hand with the leaf shutter, allowing for wide open aperture flash synchronization photography in conditions that would not be possible otherwise.
Again, we will talk about f-stops and see what they mean when applied to the ND filter. The ND filter “gates” or stops three steps of light. These “stops” are exposure values. An exposure value is a doubling or halving of the amount of light hitting the sensor, whereby doubling, is usually increasing an exposure value, and halving is decreasing an exposure value. Although it seems complicated, it’s not. When a shutter speed set to 1/500th of a second is changed to 1/250th of a second, that change doubles the amount of light hitting the sensor. This is because 1/250th of a second is twice as long as 1/500th of a second. Therefore, light will hit the sensor for double the amount of time. This can be applied to the aperture as well. Apertures are based on perfect squares of 2 (these squares are rounded off to make it simple when necessary).
In any case, this is where you get the numbers 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22, and so on. These are whole exposure value steps. Recall that steps are also called stops and you can see that these stops are the “f” (f= fraction) stops in the number which represent the aperture values, f2 for instance.
Going from f2 to f2.8 halves the amount of light which will contact the sensor by blocking some of the physical area of the lens. If you look at a lens while moving the aperture ring, you will see the aperture engage. The blades you see moving are what will be blocking the light from the sensor. You will notice that no matter the lens diameter, the f2 or whichever aperture you prefer will block the same percentage of area regardless of the lens. This is because the aperture value is a fraction, a ratio of lens to maximum iris diameter. Have a 50mm f2 lens? The max aperture at f2 will be 25mm. Have a 35mm f2 lens? The max aperture at f2 will be 17.5mm. This is because the max aperture is a mathematical equation of lens focal length divided by maximum aperture. The use of the ratio, or f-number, makes it easy
ISO or Film Sensitivity: Lastly, ISO is also rated in sensitivity which is either doubled or halved. Remember that ISO is sensitivity to light. This one is easy because it doubles on whole numbers. 100, 200, 400, 800, and so on. An ISO of 400 is twice as sensitive to light as 200, but half as sensitive to light as 800. See, this one was easy!
One might be asking why all of this is important to know when using the ND filter. The reason is because the use of an ND filter is a global change to the light entering the camera. The ND filter affects ISO, Aperture, and Shutter speed all at the same time. When changing the shutter speed, ISO and aperture are impacted. When changing aperture, shutter and ISO are impacted. When Changing ISO, shutter and aperture are impacted. However, when using an ND filter, shutter, aperture, and ISO are affected directly at the same time.
The benefit here is that the ND filter makes global effects to the light, allowing you to equalize the light for the scene. This allows for single element changes to the scene exposure, such as changing aperture or shutter individually, or it allows for dynamic lighting by adding strobe and flash as incident light to the ambient light of the scene. The ND filter will also add a bit of contrast and saturation to the scene, just as sunglasses do for your eyes.
Superb Lens: Let’s look at the Fuji X100 series lens. It’s a 23mm f2 lens. When we apply the crop factor to both the lens and the aperture we see that 23*1.5= About 35 and 2*1.5=3. Therefore, in 35mm terms, the X100 series camera lens is equivalent to a full frame lens of 35mm f3. About the weird f3 equivalence, well its less than 1/6th of a stop off from a full frame f2.8 lens, and that’s great! This is one of the reasons the X100 series camera is regarded so highly, it packs the great features discussed earlier into a camera with an excellent lens! Very exciting stuff here.
X100s, 23mm, f2, ND, On camera EF-x20 Flash
X100s, 23mm, F2, ND, Off Camera Flash YN560iv
TCL-X100 Tele Conversion Lens: Now that that’s out of the way we can get into the meat-and-potatoes of the discussion: the TCL-X100. A 50mm perspective has long been loved as a short portrait focal length providing nice compression without distorting facial features. This comes from the long lived standard of 35mm film coupled with a 50mm lens (which was pretty standard kit for the golden age of film). This tradition is carried on today by speaking about focal lengths in terms of 35mm film. This is true with the X100 series camera as well. The sensor size is smaller in area than that of 35mm film, and therefore a multiplier is used to make the conversion. For APSC sensor cameras like the FujiFIlm X100 series, the multiplier factor, or crop factor, of the sensor is 1.5x.
X100s, ND, TCL, EF-X20 Flash, Eyefi, Snapseed Edit
X100s, ND, TCL EF-X20 Flash, Eyefi, Snapseed Edit
Handling: The Converter lens is a wonderful addition to my kit. I bought it in addition to the 35mm f2 Fuji offers. This is because I wanted a 50mm perspective with a high flash sync speed. When using the x100s I can open my aperture all the way up to f2, set the shutter to 1/1000th of a second, and engage the ND filter. This allows me to shoot in conditions which would require 1/8000th of a second (let’s count the stops for the 3 stop ND filter starting at 1/1000th: 1/2000th, 1/4000th, 1/8000th.) Wow. Just wow. This means that I can expose for the sky, face my camera straight into the sun, and use fill flash to get both the subject and the sky in perfect exposure- all done inside the camera. I often use this to take technique when photographing wedding parties outside on the beach with no raccoon eyes! To do so I must use external flash, but that’s ok.
Summary: Often, I will use the TCL for engagement and establishment shots outside in the sunlight. In fact, anytime I need fill flash outdoors and a wide aperture- it’s the X100s and the TCLX100 that I choose. Is it heavier? Sure. The TCL weighs almost as much as the camera itself. Is the focus slower? Sometimes. In low light, yes. In normal or harsh light, no. Has it cost you lost shots? At a wedding, no. Shooting street, maybe. Is it a piece of crap that ruins the small compact X100 style and design? NO way. It’s fabulously constructed. Also, I didn’t buy the x100s because it is small. I bought it because it is an excellent camera. I bought it because there are no other DSLR camera’s on the market with the same capabilities. The TCL and WCL both add to the complete deployment package of the X100 series. Between them, the camera covers focal lengths of 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm (the X100f adds a digital teleconverter which expands the range to include 70mm and about 100mm with the TCL attached and digital teleconverter set to 70mm).
Recommendation: I absolutely love the sharpness of the TCL. I cannot notice any difference in sharpness shooting with the converter or without it. There also does not seem to be any light loss when using the TCL. But this one is harder for me to judge, remember that I’m using this with fill flash and the ND filter. Saturation, contrast, and color are all three, superb. I can’t think of a more compact yet formidable camera system on the market.
Who'se this for anyway? Those looking to add a short portrait lens to their existing pack should consider the X100 series and the TCLX100. The converter is built to match the fit and finish of the camera itself. Being a converter, it screws on to the front of the camera. Just remove the thread cover on the camera lens and screw the converter on. Be sure to change the settings on menu page three to “tele” so that the in-camera distortion correction and OVF frame lines will be updated. The X100f and TCLX100ii have contacts which will recognize the converter automatically, skipping this step.
Sample X100s images: All of these images were shot in raw and edited in Lightroom.