Fujifilm X-S1 Review
The Fujifilm X-S1 was a bit of an oddity when it was first launched. A dSLR-sized bridge/superzoom camera with a larger than average sized sensor inside. It didn’t seem to quite fit into any particular category, was it trying to be a dSLR, or was it trying to fit in with the superzooms? The launch price seemed to suggest the former, but the smaller than dSLR-sized sensor put it closer to the latter group. Having said that, this is a much larger sensor than other bridge and superzoom cameras, being the 2/3rd inch EXR sensor from the much acclaimed X10. It may be an older sensor than the current generation X20 2/3rds inch X-Trans sensor but it is still a superb sensor capable of producing excellent results, and I know a number of people who prefer the look of the images coming from the EXR sensor to the newer X-Trans.
Quick Features Summary
- DSLR Styling and handling, full manual control possible.
- High quality Fujinon lens with huge zoom range, from 24mm to 624mm (35mm equivalent) with a bright f/2.8 – f/5.6 aperture.
- Large 2/3rd inch EXR sensor from the X10
- 12 megapixel sensor, RAW shooting option.
- 7fps burst mode shooting (10fps in 6Mp resolution)
- ISO 100-12800
- 1.44Mpix EVF and tilting 3in 460k dots rear screen
- 1920 Full-HD 30fps video mode.
- 200fps high-speed video mode (low resolution)
- Mic input
- Full-sized hot shoe.
- Made in Japan build quality
Look and Feel
The X-S1 looks very much like a dSLR, with the traditional large hand grip and hump on the top that would normally house the pentaprism, but in this case it holds an EVF, and a very good 1.44 mega pixel one at that. Even in the darkness of indoors there is almost no lag, and it certainly helps on sunny days! Being able to use it like a dSLR also has the advantage of using not only your hand, but having your eye to the EVF acts as a stabilising force, which is very handy when at full zoom!
The lens has two rings, both of which are a very unusual, attractive ribbed design for controlling zoom and manual focus. Both are super smooth and feel excellent quality, the zoom in particular is as smooth as you get.
The thing that strikes you immediately about the lens is just how much range there is in it. From a very wide-angle 24mm to an incredible telephoto of 624mm (in 35mm terms). Whilst the immediate temptation is to zoom right in and shoot everything at full 624mm telephoto (just because you can!) that betrays what a versatile camera this can be with a range of focal lengths as wide as this. Add-in the ‘Super-macro’ mode and you can shoot pretty much anything from objects nearly touching the end of the lens to distant wildlife with this camera.
The buttons all feel nicely made, and will be very familiar to X10 and X20 users, with a large mode dial on the top and an unmarked dial for controlling aperture/shutter speed/exposure compensation depending on which mode the camera is in. Coming from an X-Pro1 it took me a little while to get used to not having the full manual controls, but once you get used to it, changing the settings you need becomes quick and easy. I did spend quite a bit of time with my eye off the viewfinder at first when wanting to do things like exposure compensation until my fingers got used to the button placements. On top there is a dSLR style pop-up flash, which seems to work very well, even in macro mode (although it is disabled in super-macro) and provides a nice fill-in flash.
As you can see below it doesn’t give the startled rabbit look, but quite a nice pleasing fill, even in a confined space where you are shooting quite close.
Below I deliberately activated the flash to get the rain to sparkle, but focused on the buildings to give a fun see-through curtain like effect.
On top there is a Fujifilm TTL flash hot-shoe, which is compatible with the EF-20 and EF-42 speedlights from Fuji. You can of course, also use a manual flash if you want to, or use it as a mount for other devices such as a video light or perhaps more usefully, a shotgun microphone for video work.
A flap on the left-hand side opens to reveal a number of ports, including USB, HDMI A/V OUT and probably most usefully a mic input for the videographers out there. This is unusual to see in a superzoom, or even on entry-level DSLRs for that matter and could be a strong point if you’re looking at doing video work with the X-S1. As an X100 shooter I was delighted to find the X-S1 take the same batteries, Fuji Np-95’s. I could immediately use the spares from my collection! The other feature I admired was (and I so wish this was the same in the X-Pro1/X100S) is the side door for the SD card rather than having to reach underneath every time – especially annoying on a tripod!
The X-S1 isn’t a heavy camera so carrying it around isn’t too much of a stress, especially for one with such a huge zoom range. Carrying around a DSLR with the variety of lenses you’d need to cover the same range and you would need and entire backpack! It feels solid and I’m sure, as long as you protected the large front element in the lens that a drop onto a pavement wouldn’t do it too much harm – not that I’m about to test that out! The lens is large and takes a 62mm filter to give you an idea, I’d suggest you either buy a good quality filter, or keep the included lens hood on it at all times to help prevent damage to it.
Controls are all at hand with a wide range of buttons and programmable buttons to allow quick access to the most used features. With controls mostly relating to exposure on the left hand side of the screen and macro, flash, self-timer, menu etc on the other side. A dedicated video record button on the right hand side by your thumb gives quick access to the video mode and means you don’t have to fiddle about changing the mode dial as you do on many other cameras. I’m pleased to see it out of the way of being accidentally knocked too.
On the front there is a switch to change the focusing mode, which will be familiar to other X-Series users. Whilst exposure compensation doesn’t have a dedicated dial, by pressing the +/- button on the top, it switches the unmarked dial on the top to that function.
The tilt screen is useful for many types of shots and you’ll find yourself using it surprisingly often. My only complaint being that it doesn’t swivel either when you have the camera in portrait mode, and it doesn’t turn back in on itself as some of the dSLR screens do so you can protect them.
The EVF switches automatically between it and the rear screen with an eye sensor. There is a very slight delay, but nothing that becomes annoying. The rear screen is a large 3in 460k one, and bright enough to see outdoors in sunlight. The screen tilts from horizontal with the screen pointing up (good for waist or ground level shooting) to about 45 degrees with the screen pointing down, perfect for those over-the-crowd shots. It sits in the hand very comfortably with an excellent rubberised grip making it feel totally secure in your hand.
In the display (either EVF of rear screen) there is the usual information, with four display modes to show different information – including a dSLR style settings screen so you can see at a glance what the settings are. One of the modes allows you to choose the exact information you can to see, which can be setup differently for either the EVF or screen. The final mode being ‘off’ which just gives you an uninterrupted view with no distractions allowing you to see the full 100% view frame.
The Adv mode on the dial gives you access to some additional modes, including Pro Focus which tries to blur the background to emulate a camera with a larger sensor. Pro Low Light, which takes several shots at high ISO and combines them to produce an image with less noise, and the most useful – Panorama mode which does 120, 180 or 360 degree panoramas in either portrait or landscape.
An electronic level is included and very handy for checking your horizons are level.
The lens on the X-S1 is a “Super EBC Fujinon Lens”. EBC being a professional-level coating to reduce ghosting and flare. One of Fuji’s biggest strengths is in high quality optics and the lens in this camera is a good one. Many people don’t know that Fuji produce some of the best broadcast film and TV lenses around, and have produced lenses for the likes of Hasselblad.
The lens starts at a wide f/2.8 aperture, which is unusual for this type of camera and only reduces to f/5.6 at the 624 mm end, which might not sound as impressive as at the wide-angle end, but f/5.6 on a 600mm lens is actually very good and will allow you a better chance of getting a sharp shot whilst out at the 600mm end of the zoom range.
It isn’t easy to hand hold a 600mm lens, but here is where the Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) system help out greatly, but even then you’ve got to be careful to make sure you’re shutter speed is high enough to get stable shots. With the OIS I was able to get handheld shots down to 1/50th of a second at full zoom, but I’d suggest you probably need a minimum of 1/100th to be on the safe side. A monopod or tripod would obviously be sensible if you’re looking to do wildlife or other photography using the full telephoto end of the lens.
I have to say that I wouldn’t want it to be any more than 600mm though because it would just be far too difficult to get sharp images, not only would the lens be far too compromised, just the act of holding the camera still enough (even on a tripod) would be very hard.
ISO performance is good to about ISO 800, and fine at ISO 1600 but beyond that image quality drops off quite quickly displaying quite a bit of colour noise, and although the camera goes up to ISO 12800, anything beyond ISO 4000 is limited to medium image size and ISO 12800 is limited to the smallest image size and only really useful in emergencies! I’d recommend using it in Auto mode up to ISO 800 if you want the better side of the image quality, although as you can see from below, ISO 1600 images are perfectly useable if you’re using it in low light and need to compromise between image quality or images that are blurred from having the shutter speed too low.
Of course, with any lens that has such an enormous range of focal lengths there will be compromises. The weakest point of this lens is certainly at the full 624mm end on subjects very far away – when the lens is focused towards infinity. It is very common, even for pro lenses from Nikon and Canon for them to be weakest at their maximum range. That’s not to say images are poor, on full zoom with objects closer up you can get some stunning images, and pulling it back just slightly from the end of the range improves things. The image of the swan below is at full 624mm zoom. I haven’t messed about with this image, it hasn’t been sharpened or processed to make it look better and was on the standard JPEG settings in-camera.
There is some chromatic aberration apparent in the RAW files in areas of high contrast. This is dealt with automatically in the JPEGs and can easily be removed in the RAW files in Lightroom.
No proper RAW capability? Oh … hang on … there it is!!
One of my biggest complaints was going to be the lack of being able to shoot in RAW permanently and just having to press the RAW button when you need it for one-off shots. In the Image Quality setting, unlike other X-Series cameras there is only the choice between Fine and Normal – both JPEG options. On other X-Series cameras, this is where you can also choose between JPEG, RAW or RAW + JPEG. I was left frustrated that I couldn’t shoot in RAW and see what the output from the camera was like before any JPEG processing. However, half way through using the camera on the way to write this review I suddenly came across an option on the Settings menu (page 4 of 6) on the X-S1 that turns RAW capture on or off. Why it’s hidden here out of the way I have no idea!!
So, why is it important to be able to shoot RAW you ask… well here are a series of images. You can see in these images that whilst the jetty is exposed correctly, some of the clouds in the sky are over-exposed, blown out. The first shot is a JPEG straight out of the camera, the second shot is the same JPEG processed in Lightroom to try to bring back some detail in the clouds. As you can see, all it’s done is make everything darker but the brightest parts of the clouds are still white with no detail at all. The third is shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom. You can immediately see how much more detail there is in the highlights in the RAW file and that I was able to bring back almost all of the cloud detail that was lost in the JPEG files. Click on the images to see larger sizes and compare them side-by-side, it is much more obvious in the larger sizes.
I’m not suggesting that everyone should be shooting in RAW, for the most part I shoot JPEGs, Fuji are well known for having some of the nicest in-camera JPEGs out there with rich colours, but there are occasions that shooting RAW can make a real difference, and it’s certainly nice to have the option available on a camera. Interestingly enough, the X-S1 shares a similar characteristic that I found whilst reviewing the X20 in that it preserves much more detail in the highlights than in the shadows. This is a little odd to me because the larger sensor X-Series cameras (X-Pro1, X-E1, X100 etc) do the opposite – very little detail in the highlights and much more in the shadows, and meant I had to shoot slightly differently with the X-S1 than I do normally – erring on the side of over-exposing than under-exposing.
Zoom me in Scotty!
Having a 600mm+ in such a small package is just incredible and I can absolutely see the draw of it. I do enjoy wildlife photography, but apart from not having a DSLR any more I couldn’t afford a 600mm lens anyway! Having the X-S1 in the bag just gives me the possibility to do it without breaking the bank, or my back carrying a 600mm lens around!
Just to give you an idea of what a 624mm zoom can do, lets first take a look at a shot taken at 24mm on the X-S1.
If you look at the photo above you might just about make out the red buoys in the far distance (I’ve highlighted the area with a red rectangle) … now look at what that is zoomed in to 624mm! Such an incredible range!
Here is another example indoors this time.
One of the things you’ll notice is that unlike a lot of superzooms that have power zooms, the X-S1 is manual like a dSLR lens, which not only means you have much greater (and quicker) control over the zoom, but you can create fun effects like this!
Macro and Super-Macro
The X-S1 performs excellently (as does the X10 and X20) in macro modes, and the Super-Macro mode means you can literally take images of things touching the end of the lens!
Out of focus backgrounds are really nice and smooth, especially for a zoom lens.
The built-in flash works in Macro mode, but is disabled in Super-Macro, simply because the object you are shooting would be too close to the lens for the flash to light up anyway.
The Stuff in-Between!
As I said earlier on, treating this camera as though it is just super-telephoto lens doesn’t do justice to it. The X-S1 is literally the camera you can shoot almost anything on, and ignoring using it in the ‘normal’ zoom range would be a mistake as it is a perfectly capable all-rounder.
FUJIFILM X-S1 (19.7mm, f/6.4, 1/500 sec, ISO100)
FUJIFILM X-S1 (6.1mm, f/2.8, 1/40 sec, ISO800)
The X-S1 was an expensive option when it was first released, coming in at £699. This price has steadily dropped and it can be had for around half that now, making it a much more reasonable prospect. You certainly will not be able to buy even a low-end DSLR and all the lenses you will need to cover the range that the X-S1 covers for the same price, not to mention the added bulk and weight of carrying around that much gear!
At the launch price it would have been hard to recommend, but now that it is much more reasonable the X-S1 makes far more sense against other similar cameras. You can buy a low-end dSLR for the same price as the X-S1, but that would come with a very limited 18-55mm lens, meaning investing significantly more to get the same range of capabilities as the X-S1. You can also buy other superzooms for a similar price, but the X-S1 has the advantage of a large sensor and high quality lens that many of the others don’t, both of which are the defining elements in getting the best image quality.
The X-S1 combines great image quality with a truly enormous zoom range enabling you to shoot anything from wide landscapes to small wildlife in a single camera, and with the ability to shoot effortlessly in auto mode, or switch to full manual controls if you want to have full control.
I don’t tend to cover too much technical stuff in my write-ups as I prefer to concentrate on the day-to-day use side of things, so if you want more technical information on the X-S1, Fujifilm have a site dedicated to the X-S1, which you can view here. http://fujifilm-x.com/x-s1/en/index.html