Digital Cameras

Fujifilm X100F & Shooting it like an Analog Rangefinder – By Steven Bleistein

January 7, 2020

I shoot film, but I am no analog zealot. For me, shooting film is rarely about the film. It is always about the experience shooting with some of the best cameras the world has ever known, and at this point in history, most of those cameras are not digital. However, when I do shoot digital, I like to shoot in the same way I shoot film. With the Fujifilm X100F, I can.

Just to be clear, this piece is not a review of the X100F. If you are interested in one, there are plenty all over the internet. Rather, this is a piece about technique. So if you want to use a digital camera in the same way you might use a fully manual analog one, then you have come to the right place. Or if you want to become a better analog shooter by first practicing on a digital camera like the X100F, then read on. The photos in this piece I took during a recent trip to Hanoi, Vietnam shooting with my Fujifilm X100F with its fixed Fujinon Aspherical Super EBC 23mm (35mm equivalent) f/2 lens in exactly the same I shoot my analog Leica M3 rangefinder with an eight-element Summicron 35mm f/2.

Street photography is what I love most. When I see a scene, a person, or a group of people I want to capture with my lens, I have to act fast. You might think that the manual settings of the Leica M3 and its M-mount lenses would be hopelessly slow, whereas the automatic settings of the X100F would be lightning fast by comparison, but it is the opposite that is true. 

In fact, the X100F, despite its reputation for decent speed in autofocus, is no match for street scenes in motion. Between the time I push the shutter button to the time the X100F exposes its sensor, my subject has often walked out of my frame and I capture a photo of, well, nothing at all. Manual focus with with my Leica M3 is far faster and more reliable, as long as I do things right, and the same is true of the X100F in manual focus mode if I use it like a Leica. 

With the Leica M3, I often zone focus for speed, and use a lens with focus a tab. My Leica Summicron 35mm lens has a focus tab, which allows me to keep track of focal distance by feel, and make rapid adjustments as needed. As long as I am aware of my depth of field, I can make rapid adjustments and know where my focus is simply by the focus tab position—whether six, four, or eight o’clock.

A technique that I often use in street photography with my Leica M3 is to set the focus at infinity and then bring the focus closer as I am walking towards my subject. When images line up in the focus patch, or at least close enough, I release the shutter. I can use exactly the same technique on the Fujifilm X100F in manual focus mode. The X100F focus ring however has no tab, and is not mechanical ether. I can turn the focus ring endlessly if I want. There is no discernible reference to focal distance from feel alone. To make matters worse, default rotation of the focus ring is the opposite of the Summicron.

Despite this, I can set up the X100F lens focus to behave like a manual Summicron lens. First, I change the default rotation in the X100F settings so clockwise rotation brings the focus closer, and counterclockwise pushes it out farther. I can also attach a tab as an accessory. Taab makes rubber ring tabs for lenses that lack one, and one of the larger ones fits perfectly on the X100F focus ring. Still I need to have a focal distance reference position for the tab. So I move the tab to six o’clock, point the camera to the ground, and push the auto focus lock button to set the focus distance to about 1.5m. The X100F remembers the position even when you turn the camera off or switch back manual focus mode. This way, I can know the focus distance immediately by focus ring tab position like with the Summicron lens.

Unlike the Leica lenses and other manual lenses, there are no indicators for focus distance and depth of field on the lens itself. However, the X100F has an option to display depth of field range on a scale in the viewfinder. Be sure to select the “film” option for depth of field, as that gives the most realistic depth of field range perceptible to the human eye.

Depth of field range on the crop sensor of the X100F is substantially wider than the equivalent on a full frame Leica M, whether digital or film. So zone focusing is far more forgiving on a crop sensor. If you would like to know what the ranges are, check out this online depth of field calculator from Photopills. The X100F has no focus patch like a Leica M camera, but does have multiple options for focus when in manual mode. I find peaking using the EVF to be the easiest for working quickly, but you can choose whichever works best for you.

I don’t need auto exposure to be fast, not with the Leica M3 nor with the X100F. I use my eyes as a light meter, and if you know what you are doing, you can too. If I am out in the city on the streets of Ginza on a partly cloudy day with intermittent sun, there are only three lighting conditions about which I need to be aware. In the sun, under partial cloud cover, and in the shade of buildings. I typically shoot Kodak T-Max 100 at EL 640 and push process to get the results I want. So, if my subject is out in the sunlight, I shoot at 1/500th of second at f/16. Partial cloud cover? f/11 will do. In the shade of buildings, f/5.6 is usually fine, or if it deep shade maybe f/4.

I don’t need to touch the shutter speed dial, just leave it on 1/500th. I do however need to be aware of my surroundings as I pass through different kinds of light and adjust my aperture as needed. I can make equivalent adjustments to shutter speed if I prefer to make my aperture the priority. If you have not yet learned how shutter speed, aperture, and ISO work together, 35mmc has an excellent explanation here. If you don’t know how to measure light with your eyes rather than a light meter, a good explanation can be found here. If you are unsure of what the lighting conditions require, just perform a few simple tests when you set out and then go manual. Usually as you are walking around in the streets, there are only three or four settings you will need.

With the X100F, I have a lot of options for automatic exposure when I prefer to use them. Full auto is of course an option, but I can also set a constant ISO and choose either aperture or shutter speed priority. I can even make both aperture and shutter speed constant and set the ISO to automatic. None of the automatic exposure settings slow the camera down significantly, so if speed is what you want there is little concern. However, with auto exposure the camera can get it wrong, particularly when you have to move fast, just like with analog cameras with autoexposure like the Leica M7 and the Minolta CLE. Whether to use automatic modes is up to you.

Hamish Gill, who owns and edits 35mmc, writes about the his frustrations with the X100F here, and also lure of the uncomplicated camera. The Fujifilm X100F can be complicated with its labyrinthine menu system and myriad function buttons, but does not have to be, as long as you are willing to ignore all that. You merely need to have the discipline to do so. So even when you shoot digital, I recommend having that discipline. The practice will make you a better photographer  when you know how to control the camera yourself to get the results you want, whether digital, analog, or both.

Some final notes: Don’t think you need a Fujifilm X100F to use the techniques I have described here. All of the Fujifilm digital cameras function mostly the same way, as long as they have dials with numbers rather than letters. And you don’t need to break the bank with the latest and greatest models either. The older X100T, X100S, and X100 are all about the same, as are the three generations of X-Pro cameras. In any case, most of the technical improvements on the newer models are related to automated functions, which for the techniques described above are ignored anyway. In manual mode, the older models perform mostly the same as the newer ones.

You also don’t need a Fujifilm model with the hybrid optical/EVF finders that you find on the X100 and X-Pro series cameras. While much fuss has been made about these finders as Leica-like, the Fujifilm optical finders bear little resemblance to their analog equivalents on rangefinder cameras. The Fujifilm optical finder is more of a novelty in my view–a lot of fun and not really that important.

And don’t think you need to stick with Fujifilm either. Other manufacturers also make cameras that mimic analog camera settings. You can use all the techniques mentioned above with the Lumix LX100 and LX100 II as well as with their Leica-branded doppelgänger D-Lux models if you must. You have options from which to choose. It’s all up to you.

I am a street photographer who lives in Japan. If you would like to see more of my work, have a look at my website bleisteinphoto.com, or my Instagram @sbleistein

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40 Comments

  • Reply
    thorsten
    January 7, 2020 at 10:14 am

    Excellent and crisp as usual, Steven.
    And thanks for bringing up Taab, for better grip I slung a slice of a schwalbe bike tube around my X100s ring ;))
    I will look into them for sure (I was thinking of using sugru to create a tab).

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      January 7, 2020 at 11:59 am

      Thanks! Even without the Taab, you can rapidly adjust focus just by running side of your index finger against the focus ring.

  • Reply
    Julian Love
    January 7, 2020 at 11:37 am

    Thanks there were some useful tips in here – I am also a fan of focus tabs on my Leicas but hadn’t thought of using a TAAB on my fuji, and the ability to set the 6 o’clock position to 1.5m is genius. I’ve owned the X100, X100S and X100T but now use film for all my personal shooting. This might encourage me to get the Fuji out again for more casual shooting. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      January 7, 2020 at 12:02 pm

      Give it a try. Set everything to manual, and see how you go.

  • Reply
    Paul
    January 7, 2020 at 4:43 pm

    Good article. I use my X100s as a wannabe Leica. I generally keep it on 400 ISO and set to Black and White. Even though I’m shooting Raw, in my mind it’s Tri-X). I’ve found that I’ve become a lot better at guessing exposures using it. I only recently added a Leica M6 and they work together nicely.

  • Reply
    SeanB
    January 7, 2020 at 6:16 pm

    I’ve seen so much over the past year about the X100 series and being both someone who shoots film and digital, I’ve been keenly inquisitive about these rangefinder-like cameras. I do have my share of film rangefinders with a love of my Hi-Matic E and F cameras, as well as the popular Canonet QL17GIII. I use these often when I want small and light as my digital cameras are all DSLRs. The manual focus peaking is interesting, while it’s no RF patch it does seem from my info gathering that you can dial in where you want you edges sharp. And as you say, an X100 alone can do all this as the updates to X100F are built around autofocus? Do you know if the X100 also has all the film simulations that the X100F has through firmware updates? Thanks for this review, it’s pushing me even closer to trying one out.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      January 7, 2020 at 7:46 pm

      I don’t know if autofocus options on the X100F have been updated. It seems to me that they are same as on the X100T. In my experience, the X100T and X100F have the best manual focus of any digital mirrorless camera I have used, and that includes my Leica M240!

  • Reply
    Harry Machold
    January 7, 2020 at 8:29 pm

    Steven,
    thank you again for your sophisticated article here; always a pleasure to read and, yes, to keep in print.
    Best regards
    Harry

  • Reply
    Peter
    January 7, 2020 at 9:39 pm

    I’ve nearly always used my X100F in manual mode and manual focus to mirror (perhaps poorly) the feel of using my M2 when that is not possible, You raise some very interesting ideas I just may try! Thanks!

  • Reply
    David Hume
    January 8, 2020 at 12:00 am

    Hey Steven – thanks for the well thought-out article and great technique tips! As an addition to this I’d say that the X-Pro3 OVF could (finally) be a bit of a game-changer here because when you set the little digital patch in the corner to use peaking with (say) yellow, it sort of becomes rangefinder like, but also super-usable. Then you also get to use a real MF lens. This could – perhaps – take the X-Pro OVF out of the novelty category. Personally I could never play happily with the (original) X100 in MF, (except by using the AFL button, which was great but not MF) and with the X-E2 the EVF was not good enough with a MF lens and it just became a pain. I need a couple more weeks with the X-Pro3 to form an opinion but the improvements in EVF make it quite exciting. As an aside I’m preferring the OFV to the EVF with the 27 and 35mm Fuji primes. Oh – good point about practising with a digital cam to get better with film and using the AFL button to set a reference focal distance. All strength to your arm!

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      January 8, 2020 at 1:40 am

      Thanks! The X100T and X100F both also have the little patch option for manual focus using the OVF.

      • Reply
        David Hume
        January 8, 2020 at 4:03 am

        Yeah I can’t see the point of that with the Fuji lens, but with legacy glass on an ILC it could get interesting. The main point though is that the increased resolution of the EVF can flip it from cute to useful. I was going to compliment you too on putting in shots that aren’t sharp, but I thought I might come across as a dick. It’s genuine though, and to me it highlights the distinction between what we expect from film and what we expect from digital, and I’m all for seeing that distinction interrogated. (if you’re interested – further thoughts on film/dig here: https://spark.adobe.com/page/wREuUDBTZZNwj/
        All the best!

        • Reply
          Steven Bleistein
          January 8, 2020 at 4:32 am

          In street photography, I do what I can for sharpness when sharpness is what I want, but I don’t obsess over it. I’m moving. Success trumps perfection every time.

  • Reply
    Khürt Louis Williams
    January 8, 2020 at 2:37 am

    I shoot film, but I am no analog zealot. For me, shooting film is rarely about the film. It is always about the experience shooting with some of the best cameras the world has ever known, and at this point in history, most of those cameras are not digital. However, when I do shoot digital, I like to shoot in the same way I shoot film.

    Hi Steven,

    First of all, thank you for sharing these images of street life in Hanoi, Vietnam. Hanoi appears as busy and gritty like New York City with the exception that the people don’t dress as monochromatic.

    I also want to thank you for being honest about your experiences with film AND digital. I am old enough to have shot the film while in college over 30 years ago. I am also old enough to remember sitting with my father on a Sunday morning listening to Dad’s Pink Floyd, Chuck Mangione, and Gato Barbieri albums spin on his LP12 piped through his NAD pre-amp and Carver Hi-Fi tube amplifiers.

    These days I shoot a Fujifilm X-T2 and listen to digital audio, and listening to vinyl is about nostalgia and, as you wrote, shooting with a film camera is “about the experience”.

    I often get annoyed by some photographers/bloggers who fetishises film with statements that are opinion written as fact. Hopefully, this article provides evidence that it’s more about the technique, skill and “eye” than what gear is being used.

  • Reply
    Eric
    January 9, 2020 at 6:30 am

    I use the M3, for all the good reasons we can use it. I have used both M3 and Fuji also, BUT, so sorry, we can not compare the rendering. Yes the Fuji gives the possibility to work like with a manual camera, but the results are not the results I get, I want, I love with my M3, TriX, Tmax, Portra, Ektar, … but I like the Fuji system, I have replaced it by the Sony. In fact I prefer, the XE-3 Fuji with the pan-cake 27 mm which is a gorgeous lense, and the XE series give the possibility to have a lot of lenses … But my lovely M3, nothing can replace it in any way …

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      January 9, 2020 at 7:23 am

      I completely agree with you. No other camera is quite like the M3, which is my favorite of all cameras whether digital or film. I have written about the M3 for 35mmc here:

      https://www.35mmc.com/30/09/2018/virtues-leica-m3-steven-bleistein/

      There is no digital alternative to the M3–at least not in my view. Even the Leica digital M cameras, while wonderful in their own right, are still inferior to the M3 in my view. I own the M240, and while I like it, it is no M3. I have no particular interest in buying the M10 either, given that the goggles of my made-for-the-M3 35mm Summilux and Summicron lenses won’t frame properly on the M10 because of the extended lens mount bezel.

      Film is film. You can try to simulate film digitally, but it is never quite the same. So stop trying. If you want a real ACROS look, load a roll of ACROS in your M3, and forget about the Fuji simulations.

      Digital cameras have their own strengths and shoot them for those. If you want control over how the result looks, create your own presets that cater to your tastes and shoot raw. That’s what I do, and it has nothing to do with trying to get the look of film. It is all about getting the look I want.

      The XE-3 is a brilliant camera and extremely reasonably priced. It does everything the more expensive models do and the image quality is the same. The only reason I don’t own one is because I have no need for interchangeable lenses. The X100F’s fixed lens is fine for me.

      • Reply
        eric
        January 14, 2020 at 4:37 am

        Thanks for answer.
        I do not roll any Across in my M3, this is not my favorite emulsive. One of best article about M3 is from Ken Rockwell. One thing I like with Fuji Xe3 compare to Fuji X100 F (we can leave only one lens on the XE 3, … Nobody asks to change lens if we like only one. 😉 ) it’s is more confortable in my hand, but now I replace it by the Sony A7 R2 just to have a full frame. I do not like simulations, the word is enough clear to explain it is not real, this is simulation … The only photograph who arrives to do great pictures with an M digital is Pierre Alivon, but digitally speaking, Leica adds nothing, the other brands are better. For me the best of Leica is the past, now it is a luxury brand.

        • Reply
          Steven Bleistein
          January 14, 2020 at 5:37 am

          Stop worrying about which camera is best. Best is an illusory concept. Use what works for you. What works for you might not work for someone else.

          If you actually believe that no one other than Pierre Alivon is producing good work with a digital M, you are not looking very hard. Start exploring.

          Cameras don’t make art. People do. The best photographers I know can pick up any camera and produce a great image. Mediocre photographers produce mediocre images no matter how outstanding the gear.

          • eric
            January 15, 2020 at 11:05 pm

            You have explored the practice about the difference enter good gear and great images … …

          • Steven Bleistein
            January 15, 2020 at 11:11 pm

            Yes, that’s right. You would be better served thinking of how to improve your art, not your gear. Think of the most iconic photos shot in during the 20th century that you have seen. All were shot with a camera vastly inferior to the iPhone in your pocket.

          • eric
            January 17, 2020 at 2:06 am

            I m not worried, just I was imagining HCB with a Nikon F5 and 70-200/2’8 zoom with Fuji Superia rolled inside … … just to enjoy the talk with you. The last photographer in 35 mm with the Zoo photo shows me someone who only takes pictures … … have a look.

          • Steven Bleistein
            January 17, 2020 at 4:16 am

            I personally think Christian Schroeder’s monochrome photographs of animals at the Hanover Zoo are outstanding. For those who are interested, you can see them here: https://www.35mmc.com/16/01/2020/shooting-black-white-film-at-the-zoo-by-christian-schroeder/

  • Reply
    Dawid
    January 9, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    One of the best articles I’ve ever read! I (my wife) have X100F and I just can get used to AF (in any camera)…

  • Reply
    Ming
    January 10, 2020 at 3:58 pm

    Thank you Steven for your impressions. But I have to say, the Fuji is not a rangefinder, so it can’t be used as one. This statement is somehow irritating. I used to own every Fuji x100 . Sold them all.
    Jpgs look plastic to me.

    The best way, I think, if one has a Leica M already, like I do, get a cheap M8 and use the lenses , or lens, you already own. This is true digital rangefinder experience and in my opinion, M8 flies are much nicer than Fuji , but hey, this is me. Especially black and white with an m8 is truly amazing.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      January 10, 2020 at 4:41 pm

      You are correct. The X100F options for manual focus are nothing like a rangefinder. If you read my article more carefully, you will find that I never claimed they were. In fact, in my article I am pretty clear about how I use manual focus and what I think of the optical finder. I am also very specific about what I do with the X100F that is the same as what I do with the M3, hence the article’s title. So have another read. In any case, none what I write about about cameras and photography is important enough to become irritated, even if you disagree.

  • Reply
    Jake
    January 10, 2020 at 5:19 pm

    Hi Steven, this article is really helpful! I wanted to ask about your ISO setting for this comment: “I typically shoot Kodak T-Max 100 at EL 640 and push process to get the results I want. So, if my subject is out in the sunlight, I shoot at 1/500th of second at f/16. Partial cloud cover? f/11 will do. In the shade of buildings, f/5.6 is usually fine, or if it deep shade maybe f/4.” Does this mean you’ve locked your ISO at 100 or 640? Again, appreciate the article!

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      January 10, 2020 at 5:43 pm

      Yes. I fix the ISO at 640. On cloudy days, I might choose 1600 or 3200. These are the ISO at which I shoot film.

  • Reply
    Andy
    January 10, 2020 at 8:34 pm

    What size Taab did you go with for the X100F?

  • Reply
    Laurence Kesterson
    January 27, 2020 at 6:17 pm

    I tried the Fuji x100 (I think it was the S) looking for the Leica M experience. I had it for about a year before I sold it on. It was a fine camera, but it just didn’t suit me. Eventually I got an M8 and it’s been the closest thing to a film M and Tri-x that I’ve found. Working within it’s limitations, for black and white it’s really no different than shooting Tri-x in an M6. My instagram feed is almost entirely shot with the M8 (and the occasional newer Leica).

    Fuji does make some wonderful cameras.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      January 27, 2020 at 11:46 pm

      I agree with you. I know that FujiFilm’s X100 and Xpro series cameras are often dubbed a less expensive ersatz for the the Leica M, but they are no substitute. The FujiFilm cameras are wonderful in their own right, but the X100 of any model is no Leica M, and the experience shooting is different. The optical finder is not a rangefinder. The manual focus is not analog. The point of my piece is to describe how I can use techniques similar to ones I use with a Leica M, but to claim that it is a similar experience would be an exaggeration.

  • Reply
    Adam Janoušek
    February 18, 2020 at 11:43 am

    Hi Steven,

    how does the lens tab help you with x100f, when the focusing is non-linear (meaning that the faster you turn the wheel, the more the focus distance change)?

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 18, 2020 at 11:56 am

      It helps for you to know where the focal distance is only by feel, whether the tab is at 4, 6, or 8 o’clock for example. That is exactly how I use the tab on a Summicron lens.

  • Reply
    Fuji X100V - A (Personal) Guide to Mode/Menu/Button Customisations - 35mmc
    May 11, 2020 at 10:01 am

    […] You can find more of my articles about my journey with the Fuji X100v here, and more content on 35mmc from other people about this camera here. There is also a great article from Steven Bleistien about how he sets up his Fuji X100F to work more like a film rangefinder here. […]

  • Reply
    Doing my Thing (with a Fuji or two) - By Thorsten Wulff - 35mmc
    May 12, 2020 at 10:28 am

    […] Hamish and Steven just got into some of the details of two of the cameras iterations here and here, so I’ll skip that. But for saying that what I love about the X100 is the size, and that […]

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