Fujifilm X-S1(Part 1)

6/13/2012 11:31:23 AM

Does this latest X-series model have the X-factor? We put it to the test.

 ‘In terms of ergonomics, the X-S1 feels good and balances well. The buttons are large, and for the most part, well-spaced.’

Of the four X-series cameras announced so far by Fujifilm, the $1,050 X-S1 is the only premium-priced bridge camera in the range. Aping the layout of a DSLR, it’s certainly at odds with the retro-looking designs of the other three cameras. Fujifilm suggests the Japanese-built X-S1 will appeal to discerning users and while it’s true that it shares the same 2/3inch type 12 megapixel EXR-CMOS sensor and processor as the petite X10 compact, the link between the others appears somewhat tentative. The concept is linked much more to do with the underlying technology rather than the outward appearance of the camera, but form tends to follow function.

Description: Fujifilm X-S1

Fujifilm is one of the few manufacturers with the facilities to produce both the sensors and lenses for its cameras, and the X-S1 marries the intriguing EXR-CMOS sensor with a remarkable 26x optical zoom lens. A quick look at the spec, which also includes an electronic viewfinder, three inch flip-out screen and Full HD video capture at up to 29 minutes in length and you might think the X-S1 has more in common with Fujifilm’s range of broadcast cameras and lenses.

Description: This superzoom bridge camera is built to resemble a digital SLR both in terms of build quality and design.

This superzoom bridge camera is built to resemble a digital SLR both in terms of build quality and design.

From our time with the camera, the X-S1 is clearly built primarily for stills, as the video capabilities are quite limited. First, the only frame rate option at 1080p is 30fps, a compromise for PAL regions and bit-rates are low typically at around 14Mbs. Second, video is fully automatic, there are no tone profiles or exposure modes to select from and you can’t adjust the exposure at all during capture. Every think is locked down once recording starts. Examination of low light samples, however, shows quite clean-looking footage, just like the X10, although that does not come as a surprise.

The huge zoom range, equivalent to a 24-624mm on a 35mm camera, with the option to switch between a contrast detection-based AF and electronically adjusted MF using a large and reasonably responsive focusing ring are both attractive options. Some slight focus stepping is noticeable using the manual focus ring but that and the ability to use an off-camera microphone (thanks to the inclusion of a 3.5mm microphone socket) are handy nonetheless. As long as you’re aware of the restrictions, then the X-S1 could be useful for occasional video capture.

Like other bridge cameras, the X-S1 shares a similar design and layout to that of a conventional DSLR. It’s also more or less the same size, perhaps slightly larger, taking the lens into account. But that’s not really a fair comparison. In terms of ergonomics, the X-S1 feels good and balances well. The various buttons are quite large, and, for the most part they are well-spaced, though we felt that the Fn1 button on the top plate was a little too close to the shooting mode selector.

Working at waist level with the camera on a tripod was made easier with the flip-out screen, and we didn’t feel the need for it to swing out to the side and rotate like the Canon EOS 60D. This feels much more robust, even if it’s less versatile, but after working in low-light for a while, we started to wonder why it wasn’t touch-sensitive. There’s a high degree of display customisation available to suit your shooting style, but some of the camera’s settings had us searching through the various menus. Fujifilm has always put the RAW file option under the set-up menu, but the Manual Focus Assist feature is only to be found under the Fn button sub-menu and then some buttons are disabled according to the mode set. If you’ve selected RAW, for instance, the Film Simulation bracketing feature disappears from the menu as does the high-speed shooting modes. The 7fps option is for JPEG only, and drops to 5fps (for 8 frames) for RAW. It takes some time to become accustomed to this way of working.

‘Another highlight was the camera’s built-in image stabilisation function. The steadying effects were clearly visible in the EVF and in the resultant images.’

Description: The bold, punchy colours in this shot really show the X-S1 performing at its best

The bold, punchy colours in this shot really show the X-S1 performing at its best

That’s also true of the EXR modes. If you select this, the camera outputs file as JPEGs only. Left to EXR Auto the camera selects from one of the Scene modes and then from one of three options: Resolution Priority, High ISO & Low Noise and D-Range Priority. While the cameras’s responsiveness and quality of output are both impressive in this mode, the latter two EXR options are reduced in image size to 2816x2112 pixels (6MP) along with a noticeable drop in fine detail. It’s tempting to manually select the Resolution Priority option, but then that’s little different to using one of the other exposure modes while limiting yourself to JPEGs.

Examination of RAW files shows the level of processing the camera is performing. Chromatic aberration and lens distortion are present but are corrected in-camera in real-time for output as JPEGs; if you zoom quickly enough you can just about see the distortion correction being applied in the high-quality and well-contrasted EVF. In spite of a surface area nearly twice that of a 1/2.3inch sensor the X-S1 struggled in low light above ISO800, but we were pleased with the colour rendition, tonality and level of detail in files at low sensitivities. Another highlight was the camera’s built-in image stabilisation function. The steadying effects were clearly visible in the EVF and in the resultant images.

Description: The Fujifilm FinePix X-S1 handles lowlight scenes well. Use mono for a different touch.

The Fujifilm FinePix X-S1 handles lowlight scenes well. Use mono for a different touch.

However, although being an optically-good performer, the metal-barrelled Fujinon lens was not without fault. The extending barrel on our sample exhibited a fair amount of unwanted movement, though this didn’t appear to have any affect on the quality of the images. We were also surprised to see the existence of so-called ‘white globes’, which are overly large specular highlights, in images. The presence of these has also been reported by a number of other users of the X10 on popular forums. In fairness, this phenomenon occurred in only a small number of test shots in low-light levels at low ISOs, but it’s visible in both RAW and JPEG files and appears to be something of a mystery at this time.

After Fujifilm’s inspiring duo, the X100 and X10, we were looking forward to testing the X-S1. It’s certainly a great all-rounder and a good choice for a travel camera. We found the X-S1 enjoyable to use and the most versatile of the X-series to date, but it’s not without some shortcomings. At $1,050, it’s a costy option, there’s a huge premium to consider over the smaller sensor ‘super zoom’ rivals, and pricier than any entry-level DSLR with a kit zoom. With those caveats in mind the X-S1 is an attractive proposition and a welcome addition to the range.

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