High ISO on the Fuji X100F: Is Low Light Shooting Possible?

High ISO on the Fuji X100F: Is Low Light Shooting Possible?

The Fuji X100F is perfect for intimate, candid moments. Unfortunately, scenes like this are rarely well-lit. In this post, we'll discover how the Fuji X100F holds up in fast-paced, low light situations.

 Rita Ora at the mirror. Fuji X100F, ISO 1000 

Rita Ora at the mirror. Fuji X100F, ISO 1000 

The other day, I shot pop singer and actress Rita Ora before her showcase for Dolce & Gabbana at the Standard hotel in New York City. Knowing this shoot would be fast-paced and intimate, I opted for the Fuji X100F with the tiny onboard flash instead of my Canon 6D with a flash gun. I was a bit nervous about the reach of the flash and the limitation of f/2, but I went with my gut.

Note: If you're thinking of purchasing a Fuji X100F, be sure to read our review first.

I shot in normal JPG with a few different film emulations on quick command – a custom Classic Chrome and a custom Provia. Both had +1 grain, +1 sharpening, and, notably, 0 noise reduction. The photos were transferred to my iPhone, touched up in VSCO and Facetune, and sent off to Rita's team for in-the-moment posting that night.

I'm finding the wireless communication/Fuji app a lot more useful then I anticipated! 

Fuji X100F's Onboard Flash

The X100F comes equipped with an onboard flash complete with TTL metering or manual control. Because I have yet to pick up a small flash gun for my Fuji cameras, it was all I had to rely on to nail the ultra low light shots I knew I'd be taking.

I was worried about the onboard flash both in terms of power and light quality. Given it's small size, I wasn't sure if the look I'd get would be Terry Richardson... or iPhone flash.

On top of that, the flash settings – both on/off and adjusting the power – are buried in the menu. I didn't want to worry about getting lost playing with the settings and miss an important shot, so I mapped it to a side arrow key. This turned out to be hugely important, and I strongly recommend doing so yourself if you're doing an ultra low light shoot. 

It turns out that this minuscule onboard flash packs a serious punch.

 Rita Ora on the way to the venue. Fuji X100F, ISO 10,000

Rita Ora on the way to the venue. Fuji X100F, ISO 10,000

Without any sort of modifier, diffuser, or bounce, the light wrapped around my subject very similar to a high powered flash gun. You can take a look for yourself, but I was very pleased with the light quality the little flash kicked off. 

Granted, I was using the flash only feet away from my subject. If you're trying to throw light on a subject from 10 feet or farther, the onboard flash likely won't cut it. There are some great – and cheap – options for the Fuji X series cameras available on Amazon.

Finally, I have to give major credit to the TTL metering system on this camera. I set it to +1/3 exposure just for a stylized look, and every shot was lit perfectly.

Fuji X100F's Autofocus in Low Light

This shoot was a torture test for the X100F autofocus: I had only seconds to grab shots in between styling, performances, or travel between venues. There was no posing, no do-overs, and no 'wait for it's.

The X100F's autofocus illuminator throws a very powerful beam of light on your subject which is a godsend for focusing in low light situations. My camera focused quickly and accurately in all sorts of lighting conditions thanks to the illuminator. Without it, the X100F would certainly struggle in low light.

Then again, this is only an issue if your subject is quite far away – or if your priority is stealth. At that point, it's probably better to manual focus (the wide angle lens and the focus peaking makes this a less intimidating prospect than you might think).

The issue of autofocus illuminator reach and flash power both tie back to this warning: if you intend on using your X100F in low light for a subject that's far away, you might have trouble.

Fuji X100F at 1000–6,400 ISO

Note: all images in this post are normal sized JPGs directly from the Fuji X100F. Some have been tweaked in mobile VSCO and Facetune, but none have had additional sharpening, noise reduction, or local color adjustments. This it to accurately display the semi-SOOC images that I delivered to the client the night of the shoot.

At this range of ISO, the X100F handles color and detail very well. There's a slight texture to images in this range, but even at 100% crop, things like eyelashes and fabric texture render perfectly. 

 Rita Ora . Fuji X100F, ISO 1250

Rita Ora . Fuji X100F, ISO 1250

 Rita Ora getting glam. Fuji X100F, ISO 2500

Rita Ora getting glam. Fuji X100F, ISO 2500

This ISO range worked best for rooms with medium-to-low, mixed lighting. I didn't have to bring turn on my onboard flash for these shots, which gave them an intimate and moody feel.

On the upper spectrum of this ISO range, I noticed an increasingly significant degradation in color and detail, but nothing so much that I couldn't use them for social media.

Fuji X100F at 6,400–12,800 ISO

At this range of ISO, colors begin to clump together and lose fine detail

The below shot was lit with ambient room light, plus the onboard flash to balance the shadows. I was about 7 feet back from Rita.

The detail is acceptable – particularly for Instagram –, but you'll notice a lack of sharpness and clarity in her facial features. While this is partly due to her shoe and garment catching focus instead of her face – a rare miss for the X100F's autofocus in low light –, the high ISO noise is also to blame.

 Rita Ora in her green room. Fuji X100F, ISO 10,000

Rita Ora in her green room. Fuji X100F, ISO 10,000

Sometimes flash doesn't fit the mood of the shot.

The photo below was taken in a pitch black room next to the stage. I asked Rita's manager to hold my iPhone flashlight while she warmed up, and I snapped away.

 Rita Ora preparing for a show. Fuji X100F, ISO 12,800

Rita Ora preparing for a show. Fuji X100F, ISO 12,800

The detail and quality of color in the garment, eyelashes, and hair at 12,800 ISO with such little light is incredibly impressive.

But with proper and direct light, the X100F can retain detail and color even at 12,800 ISO.

The below shot is an example of up-close onboard flash at 12,800 ISO. The X100F metered the flash perfectly for an editorial look on Rita that balanced well with the window behind her.

In the areas outside of the direct flash, like her hand in the bottom right, you'll notice the breakdown of detail due to the high ISO.

 Rita Ora waiting to go on stage. Fuji X100F, ISO 12,800

Rita Ora waiting to go on stage. Fuji X100F, ISO 12,800

Is the Fuji X100F Good in Low Light?

While I was looking through the shots on my way home from the shoot, I realized how far I was able to push this little camera.

On paper, I had no idea it would perform as well as it did. This shoot was a nightmare in the sense of lighting – there was virtually nothing to work with, no time to stage it, and no way to direct the subject in to better light.

Do I wish the aperture were slightly faster? Certainly. But I can't complain about the onboard flash, or autofocus performance, or the ISO handling – especially with the baked-in film simulations that seemed to mask the noise gracefully with a light dusting of grain.

While I'll certainly spend some time playing with the noise reduction setting on the X100F's JPGs before I have another shoot like this, I'd rate the low light performance of the Fuji X100F a solid A.

Digital strategist, writer, and image maker based in Manhattan working with clients in the tech and entertainment industry.