If you miss the days of the old 35mm SLR film cameras, you're not alone. They were bulky, you had to set up a lot of the features by hand, but they still were a lot of fun to use. There's just something about having a sturdily built camera in your hand, manually turning zoom rings and focus rings to create the perfect shot.
Certainly, digital SLR cameras have the look and feel of those old 35mm SLR film cameras, but those interchangeable lens models may be beyond the budget of many photographers. When it comes to fixed-lens cameras, the majority of today's digital cameras are of the skinny point-n-shoot variety, many of which look and feel more like a cell phone than a camera.
However, some digital camera makers have tried to reproduce that feeling of the old 35mm SLR film cameras in fixed-lens cameras, and one of the most successful is Fujifilm with its X-S1 fixed-lens camera. I haven't tested another fixed-lens digital camera that looks and feels as much like those older film cameras as this model. Don't worry, though, the X-S1 has all of the newest technologies and features that make digital cameras great.
Before discussing the wide range of really nice features that make the X-S1 such a powerful option for a fixed-lens camera, it's important to note that this model will not fit into everyone's budget. Its MSRP of almost $800 puts it in the range of a basic DIL or DSLR interchangeable lens camera body and at least one starter lens. (Shop around, as this model has seen a recent price drop in some locations.) It's pretty tough to justify spending this amount of money on a camera without having the added flexibility of using interchangeable lenses.
However, because the X-S1's 26x zoom lens has such a wide range (24 - 624 mm equivalent), you may not miss the inability to swap lenses. In addition, if you choose the X-S1 you won't have the added expense down the road of purchasing additional lenses, as you would with a DSLR or DIL camera, to cover the same focal range.
You aren't going to receive quite the image quality or the performance speed of a DSLR or DIL camera with the X-S1, but this camera is as close to those more complex cameras as almost any fixed-lens camera on the market.
The 2/3-inch CMOS image sensor that Fujifilm included with the X-S1 is the key to giving you some great looking images with this model. This is a much larger image sensor that you're going to find with a typical fixed-lens camera, and it works very well. The X-S1 is especially strong when it comes to low-light photography, with or without the flash activated.
One of the nice things about today's more advanced cameras is that they can offer a large number of manual control features, while also remaining easy to use in fully automatic mode. The X-S1 fits right in with these types of cameras, providing quite a few manual controls -- including a manual focus option -- while also remaining easy to use when you just want to shoot some quick snapshots.
My primary complaint with the X-S1 when in fully automatic mode was that the autofocus mechanism tended to struggle at times with finding the right focus range. When this happened, the camera didn't create just a slightly soft photo; it was a unusable blurred mess. This problem didn't happen very often, but it was occurring just enough to be noticeable. For a camera in this price range, you'd expect almost perfect autofocus results.
When the autofocus did work properly, which, again, was the vast majority of the time, it resulted in very sharp images. Colors were also really good, either in bright sunlight or indoors.
This camera's zoom lens is an outstanding option. Besides having a great zoom range at 26x, having the opportunity to manually twist the zoom ring means that you can arrive at the exact zoom setting you want very quickly. You can go from full wide angle to full telephoto in about a second with the X-S1's manual zoom lens, which is a speed that a zoom motor simply can't match.
The X-S1 works very quickly, too. You can shoot your first photo just over a second after flipping the power switch, at least when you're in Fujifilm's fast start-up mode. The X-S1 responds very quickly between shots, too, even when shooting with a flash. Very few fixed-lens cameras can match the response times found with the X-S1. You'd probably have to move into a DSLR or DIL model to find a faster camera.
Shutter lag is not noticeable the majority of the time. If you are noticing the problems with the autofocus, you can try pre-focusing, which will slow down the camera's overall performance, but will give you a much better chance of ending up with the correct focus. You do always have the option of using the manual focus ring to fix any focus problems. The ring is on the lens housing, which makes it very natural to use.
There are quite a few other advanced features included with the X-S1, highlighted by the electronic viewfinder. Having a viewfinder available gives this camera the look and feel of the 35mm SLR film cameras from the past, while also giving you the option of framing photos with the bright and sharp 3.0-inch LCD. in addition, the LCD can tilt up to 90 degrees from the camera body, which is great for odd-angle shots. When you lift the X-S1 to your eye, the camera automatically switches the active view from the LCD to the viewfinder, which is great for using the camera in a natural manner.
The popup flash unit that Fujifilm included with the X-S1 is very large, and it has a long working range of more than 20 feet. It's centered directly over the lens, which gives your images a nice, even lighting. There's also a hot shoe on top of the camera, giving you the option of adding an external flash or another accessory. If you choose to go without the flash in a low-light setting, you can shoot at an ISO of up to 12800, but the X-S1 must shoot at a limited resolution at any ISO over 3200.
One of the best things about the X-S1 is it's a camera that's going to allow you to improve your photographic skills gradually. Beginners can make use of the model's fully automatic features for a while, but they also can try out some of the more advanced and manual control features, learning along the way.
The X-S1 has several extra buttons, which allows you to quickly access specific manual control settings. The mode dial is another great feature for easily selecting the shooting mode that you want to use. These buttons are important because Fujifilm didn't exactly create the most sensible menu structure with this camera. It's a little tough to find the exact menu command you want to use, so having a multitude of buttons to pick from, including a few that you can customize to specific settings that you use often, is a great feature.
This camera has an HDMI slot, an A/V port, and a microphone port, all of which are great for shooting movies in full HD. However, it can be a little tough to hold the camera steady while shooting video, particularly when using the manual zoom, so you may want to only shoot video with a tripod.
The two biggest issues most people are going to have with the X-S1 are the price and the size. If you're a beginning digital photographer, you probably have tried out or owned one of the tiny point-n-shoot models that have been so popular on the market. The X-S1 is not one of those types of cameras. This model is very big and very heavy. You aren't going to be able to stick this camera in your pocket and easily have it with you at all times. You're going to have to plan ahead to take the X-S1 with you, as you're likely going to need a camera bag.
Even though the X-S1 is large, the button layout is smart. It's easy to reach each part of the camera that you need while keeping the camera ready to shoot. Fujifilm also had a smart design decision by placing the memory card slot on the right-hand side of the camera, meaning it's easy to swap memory cards, even if the camera is on a tripod. Most cameras have the memory card slot combined with the battery compartment, which is typically on the bottom panel of most cameras, as it is with the X-S1. Each of the compartments on this camera is protected by a sturdy and tight-locking cover.
Speaking of the battery, the battery life with this Fujifilm camera is very impressive. You even can save some battery life by using the viewfinder rather than the LCD to frame photos. You'll be able to shoot a few hundred photos very easily on a single battery charge. Fujifilm did include a thick battery with the X-S1, which partly explains the good battery life for this model, but you won't really notice the extra weight of the battery because the camera itself is so large. Thanks to fact that the battery is charged out of camera in the included AC charger, you can also have a spare charged up and ready if need be.
Bottom Line - The high price of the X-S1 is its most significant drawback, as some photographers my be wondering -- understandably -- why they should spend as much for a fixed-lens camera as they've spend for an interchangeable lens DSLR or DIL camera. However, the X-S1 is a great performing camera that works quickly, creates high-quality photos, has a large manual zoom of 26x (which would be hard to match with a bag full of lenses), and provides quite a bit of manual control. The ability to adjust the zoom lens by hand is going to really appeal to some photographers. There's a viewfinder, a mode dial, a tiltable LCD screen, and a separate compartment for the memory card. The X-S1 works equally well in low light and bright sunlight. The handgrip on the right side is very comfortable to use, and there is quite a bit of rubberized coating on this camera, making it easy to hold. If you've never used a large camera before, however, I would strongly suggest that you test the X-S1 before you buy it. Some people will dislike the heavy, bulky look and feel of this camera. However, for those who cut their photographic teeth on 35mm SLR cameras, the Fujifilm X-S1 will make them feel right at home.