The Fujifilm X-S1 is a very clear indication of the direction in which Fuji is taking its camera construction. We put the latest X-series bridge camera to the test, to see if it really is a worthy adversary to the mighty DSLR.
When amateur photographers want to make the leap from a compact to something a little more high-end, the bridge camera is a popular choice. Not only do these models possess a number of qualities found in DSLRs, they have the added advantage of not necessarily possessing the same price-tag.
The Fujifilm X-S1, the third and latest of the X-series cameras, does clock in at a hefty £700 but in many ways justifies this through its robust build, handling and image quality.
Sharing the same 12MP EXR CMOS sensor as the Fujifilm X-10, and boasting Fuji’s EXR processor, the X-S1 offers continuous 7fps shooting at full resolution and 10fps at 6MP. No mean feat for a bridge camera.
It was the size and feel of the X-S1 that first attracted my attention. Far from attempting a questionable SLR shape, like other bridge cameras, the X-S1 actually looks like a DSLR. And it is also larger than some.
Features & handling
Once in the hand the camera body feels comfortable and tough, with the textured, rubberised coating offering ample grip. And the attention to build quality doesn’t stop here. Fuji has also used metal rather than plastic cams to drive the zoom and focus mechanisms. The lens, part of the much coveted Fujinon Lens System, offers a focal length of 24-624mm (35mm equiv.) and a maximum aperture of f/2.8. It’s also coated in a fin-like rubberised material that gives adequate hold when needed. There is a certain give to the rubber fins, however, when significant pressure is applied.
The similarity in style to DSLRs continues through the dials and buttons located on the camera’s top-plate. A large mode dial enables you to work your way through the various settings, including program mode, shutter-priority, aperture-priority, manual mode, and EXR mode – a selection where the camera decides the best scene mode to be adopted for the picture you are taking. For example, if you are shooting a person’s face it will select the portrait setting.
There are also shortcut buttons to key features such as white balance, sensitivity and the drive mode functions. Two function buttons can be customised to provide access to your favourite features too.
A second, smaller dial is used to fine-tune the settings selected by the main dial. This requires the thumb and forefinger to adjust and can become a little fiddly given the number of controls close by. A body-integrated thumb dial like those found on DSLRs would counter this and is something for Fuji to bear in mind for the future.
As with the X-100, but unlike the X-10, the X-S1 incorporates an electronic viewfinder (EVF), and although the image is slightly pixelated it is not of major concern. A sensor to the right of the eyepiece allows for smooth transition between viewfinder and LCD, and there is also the option to switch the image between the two via a button to the left of the eyepiece. The colours are reasonably accurate and the detail is clearly visible too. An EVF also gives you the opportunity to settle on the correct exposure, through small adjustments of the controls, while looking through the viewfinder. The display sometimes has the tendency to switch off with considerable angling of the face, and for anyone wearing glasses this can occur more than once.
The 3in 460,000 dot LCD possesses a similar standard in image quality, relevant to its resolution specification, with reproduction conveying a detailed picture. There is also a daylight mode that automatically adjusts the brightness and contrast according to the sunlight, bypassing the annoying interference that such light has when reviewing your pics in playback. By far the best part of the LCD is the fact that it’s tiltable, making it perfect for high and low-angle shots.
The menu layout, split between Shooting Menu and Set-Up, is easy to navigate and possesses, among many other features, Face Recognition and full HD movie capture. This mode, while a popular addition to many of today’s cameras, doesn’t allow for manual control but this shouldn’t prove a major problem for anyone looking to dip into it only now and again.
The X-S1 allows you to manually select from 49 focus points and adjust the points’ size when necessary, a process made easy by being able to visualise this on the rear LCD. The AF-C/AF-S/MF focus switch on the front of the camera allows you to navigate between these points, although with its small size this manoeuvre can be a little tricky. While shooting in single shot mode, we were able to focus on the subject quickly – less so at extended focal lengths – but on the flipside, the continuous autofocus was not so adept, and it took an age to move between different focus depths. There is also the tendency for the real-time feed to freeze when searching out the subject. For example, if a subject is in motion it may freeze in the frame, then crop up elsewhere.
It’s good having a tremendous focal reach, but for a lens to earn real praise it needs to be able to retain a uniform image quality throughout. The Fujinon System lens has softness around the edges that is further accentuated the longer the focal length, but not so excessively as to cause significant reduction in image quality. Barrel distortion is evident at the lens’ widest focal length but is controlled well from that point.
Many cameras are graded on their ability to limit noise the higher up the ISO scale they go, and while the Fuji X-S1 performs well throughout the majority of the range there is a noticeable decline once the 3200 mark is reached. At low ISOs the lack of noise is excellent.
The more we used this camera, the more we started enjoying it. Everything from the sound of the shutter release to the robust yet comfortable feel, and the extensive image control we had, ticked the many boxes we would have when taking out a DSLR. Granted, limitations do occur in certain fields but there is nothing else out there that compares to this camera at the time of going to press. You could get DSLRs for a similar price but you would then have to pay extra for a long lens with a comparable reach to the X-S1. Autofocus isn’t the fastest but then a decent image stabilisation system, handling like a DSLR and better production of low-noise images than any other zoom currently available gives this camera the edge when appealing to the consumer. The Fuji X-S1 looks and feels good, and, in many ways, emulates the features found in many DSLRs.
- Street price: £199 (Secondhand price as of July 2016)
- Effective resolution: 12MP
- Sensor type: 2/3in EXR CMOS
- ISO range: 100-3200 (expandable to 12,800)
- Autofocus: 49 focus points
- Metering: 256-zone metering system
- LCD size: 3in 460k dots
- Recording formats: RAW & JPEG
- Shooting speed: 7fps (10fps at 6MP)
- Video: Full HD (1080p)
- Weight (wxhxd): 960g
- Dimensions: 135x107x149mm
- Visit: www.fujifilm.eu/uk
This review was first published in the April 2012 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.