Compacts with huge zoom ranges have been entering the market left right and centre in recent years due to higher demand. The Fujifilm X-S1 may appear to be much the same as its competitors, but it’s got some high-end features that put other superzooms to shame.
First and foremost is the X-S1’s 2/3-inch sensor, which is the same 12-megapixel one as found in the Fujifilm X10. As the physical size is far larger than various compact cameras’ sensor sizes there’s the immediate advantage of larger pixels for better image quality and those pro-looking blurred background shots - due to shallow depth of field, which is already pronounced at longer focal lengths - will be easier to achieve.
In the hand the Finepix X-S1 feels sturdy and has taken forward the best design features from Fujifilm’s HS20 superzoom. The 24-624mm zoom lens has a manual zoom barrel that’s a lot like using a DSLR lens, and there’s even a manual focus ring tucked towards the body side of the lens. It provides the utmost control and is far more fun and accurate to use than a standard compact lens. The focal length may not be quite as massive as something like the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS - but that’s on account of the Fujifilm’s larger sensor. Much more zoom and the camera would be the size of a house. As it is, it’s fairly large, but no more so than expected.
There are also small updates that are crucial for such a camera to be deemed "more professional". An autofocus switch on the front of the body can easily shift between single, continuous and manual focus and saves unnecessary menu digging. The camera’s rear controls are quite similar to a Nikon DSLR in some respects - lots of buttons provide quick access to settings, which makes for easy use. There’s a metal rotational dial that projects out the top of the camera, lipped over the back for easy use with the thumb, that controls the main aperture/shutter setting depending on which mode is selected. It’s a shame there’s no front thumbwheel to make for a more versatile and more DSLR-like experience, as there is plenty of empty space to place one conveniently.
Our favourite feature has to be that the X-S1’s electronic viewfinder is quite unlike any other you’ll find in a superzoom camera. That’s not to say it’s the very best viewfinder we’ve ever seen - look to the Sony NEX-7 for that - but it’s streets ahead of the competition in this market area. The viewfinder itself is so much bigger than the one in the Fujifilm HS20 and this makes it a pleasure to use, plus the 1.44 million dot resolution is significant. An eye-sensor means the viewfinder auto-activates as the camera is neared to your eye, which makes for seamless switching between it and the rear LCD.
The screen on the back is mounted on a tilt-angle bracket for more versatile use. The 460k-dot resolution here is ample, but not as high resolution as some high-spec compacts. A small moan, but a fair one given the X-S1’s £699 price tag. At a pound short of the epic £700 mark, this is one expensive superzoom - and that’s certainly going to limit its appeal to all. Saying that, everything is under one roof here and the 24-624mm lens ought to be sufficient for almost any given circumstance, which may make it more appealing than a DSLR for some.
The model we used on the Fujifilm stand at the Consumer Electronics Show 2012 wasn’t a final release version, but with the camera due sometime in February-March it felt close to completion. Focusing was accurate 9 times out of 10, even at the fullest zoom in the dimly lit hall. Blurred backgrounds were looking lovely at this focal length - the benefit of a long lens and large sensor combination.
However the whole system feels a lot like the HS20. That’s not to say it’s bad, but it doesn’t feel like a huge step up compared to the consumer kit. The X-S1 ought to take elements from the higher-end X-Pro1’s menu system and design and really needs a faster, more responsive focusing system to truly knock our socks off. It’s very usable in its current state, but HS20 users considering upgrading will undoubtedly be expecting more.
Elsewhere there’s a 500-shots-per-charge battery which sounds pretty decent but isn’t something we were able to test out. RAW and JPEG shooting and full manual controls come as standard, all easily accessed via a one-touch function button and the top mode dial respectively. A pop-up flash is built-in, or a TTL hotshoe means full compatibility with more powerful flashguns.
Our verdict? So far the X-S1 looks impressive. The design’s right, the manual zoom lens is very cool, the viewfinder helps take this superzoom to new levels not achievable before, and we have no doubt that image quality will be sublime… but the autofocus system ought to be a bit more creative and yet faster considering this compact is more expensive than a Nikon D5100 kit.