Fuji X-S1 £699
13th Feb 2012 | 15:02
Fuji's X range-topping 26x zoom bridge camera
Always liked the idea of an all-in-one camera with a massive zoom capability, but hated the often all too-plastic feel? Fuji's X-S1 may, nay will, cause you to re-evaluate the humble bridge camera.
Whereas Fuji has previously applied an 'X' - its signifier of a premium camera - to the Leica-like FinePix X10, for the first time it gives a superzoom that same distinction.
This means that the new 26x optical zoom Fuji X-S1 figuratively sits above the existing Fuji HS20 and HS30 models, even though the latter boast 30x zoom (maximum 720mm equivalent telephoto setting in 35mm terms).
While the construction of all three Fuji HS models to date has for us been more solid than any competing bridge camera, the Fuji X-S1 takes build quality to a new level. It looks and even smells gorgeous, thanks to a rubberised coating adorning the entire DSLR-like body.
Despite the neck-straining weight of 945g fully loaded, photographers aren't likely to get butter-fingered with this camera, even when manually operating the similarly rubber-entombed zoom, here running from a wide 24mm to 624mm in 35mm terms.
Thankfully this is supported by optical image stabilisation, which is needed.
At a suggested price of £699 in the UK or $949 in the US, the camera is immediately competing directly with your actual DSLR, so once again it's worth weighing up whether a focal range this broad and an all-in-one solution is actually required. Or if a DSLR's lens-swapping flexibility - the X-S1's optic is resolutely fixed - would suit you better.
The 'X' in the name is not just a marketing ploy. The Fuji X-S1 features the same sensor as that of the X10; namely 12 megapixels and 2/3-inches in size, once again using Fuji EXR CMOS technology which, in slightly gimmicky fashion, can be deployed in a choice of three ways, as it can on Fuji's existing compacts.
We also get an EXR processor, delivering a blink-and-miss-it 0.01 second shutter lag. And the attendant features we'd expect on an enthusiast's camera are all present and correct: full manual control via P,A,S,M modes, manual focus and raw shooting option, Full HD video capture with dedicated record button snuggled just below the shooting mode dial, 10fps burst shooting at 6MP, Fuji's film simulation modes buried in the menus, 500 shot rechargeable battery, plus a panorama mode that can take in the full 360 degrees. Phew!
Build quality and handling
Gripped in the palm, the Fuji X-S1 feels seriously substantial - a good deal more rugged than most entry and mid-range DSLRs, in fact. There's sufficient space between lens barrel and meaty grip to comfortably squeeze the three or four fingers of your right hand, while the left hand naturally grips the lens barrel to provide a steadier aim at longer telephoto settings.
This may not be the cheapest bridge camera, but the construction lets you know you're getting what you've paid for. To zoom in and out, you simply twist the lens barrel.
While the camera is big and bulky, the knock-on effect is that - usefully - so are the controls.
Chief among them is an 11-option mode dial offering the usual creative quarter of Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual settings, three custom settings, scene modes, Advanced mode - which is where we find the 360-degree panorama option - plus Auto mode and EXR sensor mode. The latter again features an Auto EXR option, or the aforementioned three user-selectable settings.
These are full resolution HR (High Resolution) mode, 6MP high sensitivity low noise images in 'SN' (Signal to Noise) mode, or 6MP high dynamic range 'DR' option to avoid a detail-devoid bright background or dark foreground.
As with Fuji's other EXR suffix cameras, the X-S1 achieves the latter by automatically capturing and combining two separate shots.
For setting up photos and videos, the Fuji X-S1 offers both a comparatively large (roughly half inch) and bright 1.44million dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) with a time-saving eye sensor to activate it.
Switching from the EVF to the 3-inch LCD screen below requires the pressing of a dedicated button. The EVF might win favour over the larger, 460k-dot resolution LCD display, were it not for the fact that the latter is angle-adjustable.
The Fuji X-S1's LCD screen can usefully be tilted up or angled down, as on Sony NEX cameras such as the Sony NEX-5N, but sadly not swung outwards from the body through 180-degrees as the screen on, say, the Canon G1 X.
While making low or high angle composition easier, the Fuji X-S1's LCD isn't one for composing self-portraits. We did find it very useful, however, and it encourages greater experimentation - which is exactly what you want.
A flick of the on/off switch encircling the shutter release button and the Fuji X-S1 powers up in just over two seconds - not exactly lightning-quick then, or comparable to a semi-pro DSLR, but swift enough.
More favourably, a half squeeze of the shutter release button and the determining of focus and exposure is pretty much instantaneous.
Take the shot and a full resolution JPEG file is committed to memory in just over two seconds. Shoot a raw file instead and although you'd expect the writing duration to lengthen, this isn't noticeably the case.
Usefully, the Fuji X-S1 also provides a dedicated raw button to the bottom-right of the back plate, so we didn't have to first fiddle with menu screens to find this option and implement it.
We remain unconvinced that there's a great deal of difference to the naked eye when viewing the images taken in disparate EXR modes, but the film simulation modes on the Fuji X-S1 are another matter.
'Provia' is the default setting, and for us renders colour a little weaker than is actually present in the scene. Selecting the saturation-boosting 'Velvia' mode instead produced a far greater impact, while remaining on the right side of realistic.
This option proved especially useful for primary colours in landscape scenes, making greens more verdant, although if someone in a red jacket appears in your frame, they'll leap out like a sore thumb.
Metering when left to the camera's auto default is competent, delivering even exposures and maintaining both foreground and background detail, even on the dullest of days. In this respect it outshone the Canon G1 X, which needed far more user control to make a decent fist of it.
In terms of natural and low light photography, there's an integral flash with manual activation button on the Fuji X-S1 that can be deployed for fill-in if required, although it's worth mentioning that above ISO 3200 the resolution drops, image size automatically set at Large Medium for JPEGs (rather than Large Fine), and Large Small if reaching the maximum light sensitivity setting.
At top whack ISO 12800, images are noisy and lose detail to the extent that it appears as if you're viewing them through a sheet of muslin.
There is, however, the range has 22 different ISO settings that includes four auto ISO modes, where the user can restrict the camera to going no higher than say ISO 400, ISO 800, ISO 1600 or ISO 3200 - in other words retaining full 12MP resolution captures.
Although there is image noise at ISO 3200, it's at a level we can live with, in that it didn't spoil the image too much.
SINGLE SHOT:This more than acceptable maximum telephoto shot shows what the Fuji X-S1 is capable of pulling out of the bag if the blurring effects of hand wobble can be avoided. This was taken handheld, and in Single Shot mode.
SUPER MACRO:Conversely, the Fuji X-S1 also boasts a 1cm Super Macro option that enables you to get so close to your quarry that the lens is almost touching it, as here. This pleasingly enables you to fill the frame. Here we've also deployed Velvia film simulation mode to boost the yellows.
PANORAMA:The Fuji X-S1 automatically stitches together a burst of sequential images produced when panning the camera from left to right in 360 degree panorama mode. Like anything, this requires a few goes, since moving too slow or fast confuses the camera, resulting in a truncated image. Eventually it's possible to achieve a result with real impact (if, inevitably, with the occasionally visible overlap).
MAX WIDE ANGLE: As with any superzoom, it's important to scrutinise maximum wide-angle and tele settings. Here it's the former that has for us retained detail right into the corners while avoiding obviously prominent barrel distortion or a fish eye effect.
MAX TELEPHOTO:A maximum zoom (tele) setting shot taken from exactly the same vantage point as our wide-angle image. Again this was taken handheld and required four or five attempts to get pin sharp, or close to it, as here.
VELVIA:Another shot taken at near the maximum telephoto end of the Fuji X-S1's zoom, here using a fence post in lieu of a tripod for support. The Velvia setting has also been deployed to bring out the richness of colour on the horse.
SHARP:It's all about image - and the image - with the Fuji X-S1, so this tightly framed subject appeared apt. Detail is sufficiently sharp at full resolution for the viewer to be able to make out the newspaper headlines and text.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
ISO Auto 400
ISO Auto 800
ISO Auto 1600
See full res image
ISO Auto 3200
The Fuji X-S1's build quality really makes the strongest impression, knocking spots off rivals such as the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS, Olympus UZ models, Panasonic DMC-FZ48 and FZ150, and even the Nikon Coolpix P500.
In other words, the Fuji X-S1 looks and almost handles like a professional camera, even if in truth its best bet in terms of finding an audience is probably the amateur photo enthusiast with deep pockets, who probably already owns a mid-range DSLR, a decent premium pocket camera, and is now looking for something with a longer lens for a bit more poke.
While just two short years ago Fuji was probably best known for its stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap point-and-shoots, the introduction of the 'HS' bridge models followed by the X series compacts, and now this jack-of-all-trades premium bridge model, shows that it is really raising its game.
Fuji has now got the cameras. Now all it needs is for the photographic community to get back behind it.
The Fuji X-S1 sports a design and finish nearly up there with the semi-pro DSLR that one could otherwise buy for the same price. If you enjoyed the previous Fuji HS series superzooms then this one, while not overly dissimilar, is a stonker.
While the focal range offers a great range of framing opportunities and suggests itself as perfect for candid photography, it's almost impossible to avoid blur when shooting handheld towards maximum zoom, which somewhat defeats its usefulness for those who don't constantly pack a tripod. Also, you'll want to stick at ISO 3200 or below, despite the temptingly wide ISO range on offer.
The Fuji X-S1 is an ideal purchase for the photography nut looking for one camera that can do it all, and prepared to compromise on having image quality not quite on a par with a semi-pro DSLR that one could buy for a similar outlay.
As with any superzoom, it really is about whether you need that whopper of a lens on the front. If you do, then the Fuji X-S1 is presently about the best big zoom bridge camera that's out there.
Bear in mind, however, that while it looks like an SLR it has a compact camera sized sensor.