Fujifilm X-S1: the First 100 Days

Before we begin, a little background

After 40+ years of SLR film cameras, I went digital around a decade ago. My first digital camera was the Fuji S-5000 with a 10x zoom lens & 3mpx sensor. Although the zoom lens was a 10x optical zoom, the user was able to use it up to 14x zoom without any loss of pixels or image quality. Its burst operation was 5fps x 40 images and it came with the 'usual' choices of P - A - S - M operations, although the choice of Apertures was limited. After 6 years & 90,000 exposures the on-off switch failed, so that was the end of that.

During the life of the above Fuji, I obtained a Panasonic FZ30 of 8mpx used for magazine work. Its 12x zoom lens from Leica was superb. After 5 years or so, it went to a film-camera to digital camera beginner.

In the belief that an APS sensor camera would give me a significant improvement in image quality, I purchased a Pentax Kx with a couple of Sigma APO zoom lenses to replace the Panasonic FZ30. It was nice to play with, but as a camera / lens combination it never excited me (by the way - the same would apply to a Canon or Nikon camera too). The Pentax did provide significantly better sensor performance than the 5-year old FZ30, however none of the 3 Sigma lenses was as sharp as the Leica lens on the FZ30. Nowadays, after getting used to the super-zoom all-in-one lens system, I find the changing of lenses and the associated dust issues is a hassle and not what I am prepared to live with these days; your mileage may vary.

Viewing of my images is mostly via the computer screen, although printing to the traditional album is done for long-term family-record keeping, and printing of 8 x 12 or 10 x 15-inch prints is done for around-the-house display. Some 24 inch prints (mostly in pano format) are made from time-to-time (from the FZ30, the Pentax/Sigma combo and now the X-S1).

Hot Air Balloon-1.JPG
Hot Air Balloon-2.JPG
So we come to the Fuji X-S1 as a replacement for the Pentax & its multiple lenses.

It is a camera that I have come to love despite its 'faults' and shortcomings. It is versatile and powerful and most importantly; it works for me.

[Editor's Note: Scroll over any image to see the camera settings and a description. FYI, the listed lens mm settings are per full-frame camera lens: ie 24-624mm]

Why the Fujifilm X-S1?

I have waited for a new super-zoom camera with larger-than-usual sensor to effectively replace the Panasonic FZ30 and this camera does that and a lot more. The camera is slightly bigger & heavier than the FZ30 (and a lot larger than the very popular Panasonic FZ150) and is similar in size & weight to the Pentax Kx with an 18-200mm lens attached. The 'however' is that the 26x zoom lens on the X-S1 lens is stated as 24mm - 624mm (full-frame) and is equivalent to 18-475mm on an APS-sensor dSLR camera.

I was pleased that Fuji chose to downsize the megapixels in this sensor - from 16mpx in other cameras to 12mpx in this camera. I am one of many who believe that 10 or 12 megapixels is more than enough for 99% of everyday users.

1- Ergonomics & the camera body (10/10)
The overall size and shape of the camera is very similar to most consumer dSLR cameras (unless the dSLR has an extra battery grip fitted). The camera body well matches my hand - finger - eye operations, and is nicely balanced and thus easy to hold. It is however, probably too large for those users with small hands - although this comment will equally apply to just about all APS-sensor dSLR cameras as well.

The camera body has the usual collection of buttons readily available to alter things like ISO, WB, EV, AF, Burst and Focus method. Positioned at the front-left of the body is yet another small switch for swapping focus modes. There are 2 user-set function buttons; each gives the user a choice of 1/2-dozen things to preset for single-button operation. Another shortcut button activates RAW image format if desired.

The auto switching from eyepiece to LCD as I move away from the
eyepiece works well, although sometimes my specs get in the way & confuse it. The lens barrel has a heavy-ribbed rubber-like coating that feels good under the fingers. It rotates with perfect ease, no rough or sticky bits and along with the manual focus ring, they both do their jobs very efficiently. The rear LCD screen has a nifty tilt up & down movement, allowing the user to either raise the camera above their head or lower it to the ground and still see the LCD screen. A horizontal leveling indicator is built in as well.

The built-in Image Stabilization works extremely well - being able to easily hand-hold and get sharp images at 400mm to 600mm is great. When in-camera flash is activated, it raises itself a bit higher than other cameras do so that the lens will not cause shadows to appear unexpectedly. However, to activate an external flash, one needs to pop into the camera menu to do so - why it cannot be done through the hot shoe via voltage detection from the second flash I do not know.

2- Lens (10/10)
Muscovy Duck.JPG
The lens sharpness and overall image quality is one that I enjoy and make extensive use of. While media reviews of super-zoom lenses seem to concentrate upon minor color fringing and a drop in sharpness at long-lens settings, for me, whatever issues may be there are irrelevant when compared with the extreme versatility of the lens as a whole.

Goanna in tree.JPG

Tests that I have conducted with comparison images at a stated (film camera equivalent) 50 - 100 - 200 - 500mm all show excellent sharpness - at least as good as the Pentax & 18-125 & 70-300mm Sigma APO lenses referred to earlier. Considering that the area of the APS sensor is about 7x the area of the X-S1's CMOS sensor, in my opinion the APS sensor / Sigma APO zoom lens combination does not display results any better than the X-S1.

Prints from X-S1 shots that I have taken in recent weeks then made up to 10 x 15inch prints are clear and sharp, while 20 x 30inch prints are easily achieved and still are sharp under close scrutiny.

Lens image compilation.jpg
For the above images the camera was tripod-mounted ~ all other images in this review are hand-held.

3- EVF / LCD screen (10/10)
The EVF is magic - extremely clear to the eye (ie- no pixellation whatever in the viewfinder) and very responsive in both bright and low light. After a decade of using EVF viewfinders I would never consider returning to the SLR optical viewfinder: it's not just the lack of information in the SLR optical viewfinder, it's also the way the SLR optical viewfinder just 'fades & dies' when either a long-lens of say 300 ~ 500mm is attached, or when one operates in moderate to low light levels.

In low light (eg- indoors at home or at a restaurant, or city streets at night), the EVF viewfinder is in its element. For black-sky star trails it is no different from an SLR which also has trouble seeing the stars - it necessitates several trial exposures to double-check focus before starting the star trails long exposure sequence.

4- P-A-S-M and EV+/- operations (9/10)
Overall I would say that the P-A-S-M operations are very good. Program operation is clean and swift, always producing very good results. When selecting A or S or M via the shooting mode dial, the rotation of a second knob alongside the first whizzes the shutter speeds &/or apertures up or down. When adjusting EV values with the EV +/- button pressed, the same rotary knob is used to alter exposures via a very clear scale in the viewfinder. In P-A-S modes, the shutter speed range as per the light meter is 4secs to 1/4000sec. Manual operation allows exposures down to 30 seconds. It would have been nice to be able to get to 30 seconds without having to resort to Manual operation and Manual mode could then give exposures of perhaps, several minutes on Bulb.

5- Exposure & image color (9/10)
Exposure accuracy is great - there have been very few images discarded due to incorrect exposure issues. Even though image color is very pleasing in the camera's default-color mode, I have set it to Vivid as I like a bit of 'spice' with my images. Although the menu options for the sensor to alter saturation, noise, hardness etc are all there; the sensor seems to provide great images out-of-the box.

6- ISO Performance (9/10)
Outback Campfire .JPG
The X-S1 performs extremely well to 800-ISO and very acceptably to 3200-ISO (I well remember push-processing Kodak High Speed Ektachrome to 1600 and its results were more grainy than the noise of today's digital cameras). I recently went to a country Ag show in central Queensland and shot many ISO-3200 images at night - both sideshow alley personages and others in the show ring. The camera's excellent performance to 800-ISO has caused me to discard my old standby of ISO-200 for most stuff while keeping ISO-800 to 1600 for specials. I now use ISO as Auto (800) for all day-to-day shooting. It's interesting to watch the EVF display as it offers me speed & aperture information coupled to whatever ISO is deemed appropriate at the time.

Outback campfire, Entertainer.JPG
7- Focus operation (3/10)
The autofocus operation is one area where the camera's response is poor. Often I will be aiming at a subject and the camera will focus (and double-beep) instantly ... then a minor sweep sideways to something alongside and even after 6-8-10 attempts, the camera is unable to focus - and if anything, the focus gets worse & worse as though the focus-sensor is going the wrong way and is hopelessly lost. The other day I was trying to shoot some new leaves on the end of a branch - focus set to center-weighted, focus square set to smallest target area ... and after 30+ attempts to get it to focus I gave it away. It did a good job of focusing on the background lots of times, but on the actual subject - no way.

Please don't mis-read this text ... for 95 out of 100 images, the focus clicks 'on' quickly and easily, but it so often seems that the missing 5/100 are annoyingly frustrating when the darn camera refuses to focus.

8- Burst (8/10)
Leaves in the breeze.JPG
Burst operation is another area where I have made a great discovery - using a 4GB Class-6 memory card the camera's response is very slow at saving images following either burst or AEB shooting. However updating to a Class-10 card the camera literally flies. The X-S1 is the first camera I have had that can write faster than the card I had available. I get 15 frames in 1-1/2 seconds then the buffer slows things down to give me 30 frames in 5 seconds. The Fuji manual does the camera no favors here as it just mentions 'use a Class-4 card or better' and I, using a Class-6 card thought I would be okay - only to find the write speed to be very slow. I hate to think what the write speed (in fps) a Class-4 card would deliver.

Viewing images after shooting
One very annoying issue with in-camera viewing of burst images is that all the images are displayed as a constantly-moving thumbnail at the side of the display. I am unable to view each image within the burst to determine which one was 'best' or if I even have got the shot I am after. I can only do this later via the computer screen. Again, very frustrating.

9- AEL / AFL button (10/10)
I use the AEL button regularly with panorama images; after aligning the camera on the tripod and checking the side-to-side sweep, I center the camera and lock the exposure with the AEL button before commencing a series of 9 to 15 exposures. I am extremely pleased to find this button works so well - it was one of my constant gripes with the Pentax that even though the AEL button was activated, the Pentax altered exposure settings at all sorts of inconvenient times, forcing me to go to full-Manual every time I wanted to create a panorama.

10- AF Focus choice button (5/10)
On the camera's back panel are the usual set of shortcut buttons - the AF button however does not have all the options as available via the camera's main menu. Pressing the AF button displays a 7 x 7 focus-point grid and via the back panel arrow buttons all I can do is meander the focus point around the screen. I am unable to alter the focus modes of center-weighted vs multi vs full screen vs tracking a moving subject - for this I must enter the menu system. This I consider a poor decision on Fuji's part as its mating button for exposure immediately goes to spot or multi or full screen.

Other things that come to mind ...

Megapixels - Large - Medium - Small - I have been so impressed with the performance of this camera that I am experimenting with downsizing from 12mpx "Large" to 6mpx "Medium" for day-to-day work. I have printed over a dozen test images of 6mpx to 10" x 15" and the sharpness is very good ~ so I'll be more than happy to continue using this setting. With such a powerful zoom lens, I can frame most subjects immediately, so the need for cropping prior to printing is much reduced.

EXR operation - I have not spent much time playing with the EXR operations - mostly as it appears that the EXR stuff is more 'auto-like' in operation than I am comfortable with using.

Movies - movie making does not interest me in any way whatsoever - so it has not been investigated.

Batteries - the two batteries that came with the camera (one generic, one OEM) each give around 400 exposures, and each will allow the camera to continue shooting till the last 3-5 exposures before quitting.

The so-called dreaded white orb - this is another item regularly commented upon in the
Beachgoers splashing in waves.JPG
media - but which has not reared itself as an issue of concern. I have done after-dark picture taking in towns and cities and the street lights come out as I expect them to. I have side-by-side images with the Pentax and both sets of images seem to be much the same.

Also the so-called Lens Droop - some comments that I have read talk about 'lens droop' - but I find that any lens 'wobble' or 'droop' when fully zoomed out to maximum is no more or less than the Sigma 70-300 lens for the Pentax.

Overall score 83/100

Recommended for others?
Yes, very definitely, but the target user group needs to be properly considered beforehand. I would strongly recommend the Fuji X-S1 to anyone wanting a powerful all-in-one camera where one avoids the issues of lens-swapping etc. The ergonomics are good, feature set is all there and despite the issues I refer to above, it is a great camera.

I believe that it is very suitable for travelers who want a fine performing camera weighing in at under 1kg (2 lbs) with a good and very capable lens & exposure system.

Postscript ~ after one year of use ...
The camera is now one year old and with it, I have taken about 7500 images ~ about half the images I 'usually' shoot per year. Much of the camera, particularly the lens is excellent, however I still find the autofocus to be most disappointing - it lets me down on too many occasions - thus I find myself just not picking up the camera for outings as I am not 'camera excited' by it any more. [years ago, the Fuji S5000 hardly ever left my side]

It has occurred to me that although the camera has a 7 x 7 point focus grid across the viewfinder, despite several options for focusing [ie- Area vs Spot vs Tracking etc], the camera never gets out of spot focus mode. It's always operating in single focus-point focus mode - "Area" focus simply allows the spot-focus point to be moved around the viewfinder, which seems to me to be a complete waste when I can point the camera and focus, then move myself slightly to complete the image composition before taking the photo. What would make the camera much more useful, would be to have the camera adjustable to focus via a 1x focus point vs a 3 x 3 or 7 x 7 focus point grid to match the exposure setup of 'spot' vs 'center-weighted' vs 'average / full screen'.

If the camera could be factory set to auto-swap between the 1x focus point to 5 x 5 when it experiences autofocus difficulties [as the Panasonic cameras do], it would be a great improvement.

So - would I buy the camera again? - No I would not.

Can I still recommend it to others? Well, that's up to you - it's going to be your camera, not mine. Now that the Panasonic FZ200 is on the market, I would suggest people have a very close look at it before choosing what suits them best. The Fuji X-s1 does have some fine features, but for me, I think that as the FZ200 does not experience the focus problems of the Fuji that it would be my preferred camera if I were choosing a new camera today.



Phil Jones lives in eastern Australia and has been a keen photographer for over 50 years. He has been active in camera clubs in both Melbourne and Canberra, and has exhibited his photographs at both camera club level and national exhibitions of photography, and has staged exhibitions of his work in Canberra. He has conducted adult education courses in photography since the mid 1970s and has been prominent at the Adult Education campus of the Canberra College for many of those years.

Phil 'retired' in 2006 and now travels Australia enjoying photographing this beautiful country and its people. He has taken his old college courses, revamped them to suit non-college students and now offers digital photography short courses and weekend workshops to rural and outback Australians. He and his partner now travel eastern Australia in a comfortable motorhome for 6 to 8 months each year. Home these days is a small coastal community on the New South Wales north coast about 300km north of Sydney.

If you wish to chat with him, Phil can be contacted via email on [email protected]