Fujifilm X-S1

This Fujifilm X-S1 review was initially created May 2013 and was last updated September 2015.

My general rating: recommended for those who need all-in-one camera with good ergonomics.

Pros

  • Nice all-in-one camera for walkaarounds, trips and holidays.
  • Great 24 - 624 mm equiv. zoom range.
  • Very good handling due to DSLR-like size, sane control arrangements and especially because of the rubberized manual zoom ring.
  • The larger-than-typical sensor gives an edge on noise behavior compared to smaller sensor bridge cameras.
  • Excellent electronic viewfinder (EVF).

Cons

  • The contrast-based auto focus randomly fails to achieve focus even in good light and a second attempt is needed.
  • The lens is nice but not perfect: it is not the sharpest one, the resolution and contrast suffer at tele end and there is a noticeable blurred area on left side of the image being most prominent at wide end and large apertures.
  • The camera is quite large for a bridge camera.

Why Fujifilm X-S1

A nice addition to my camera lineup was Fujifilm X-S1. I had a need for this kind of camera (“all-in-one travel camera”, “prosumer camera” or “bridge camera”). I had Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 that was an excellent pocket-size camera but I needed more for trips and holidays. A DSLR with all the lenses is image quality wise a superb setup but way too complicated and much too much to be carried around on holidays. So I started to search what was currently available between pocket-size cameras and DSLRs. As a DSLR user Fujifilm X-S1 was a natural choice for me. Although it is all-in-one product its handling is as close to a DSLR as it can probably get.

I purchased the camera in April 2013. So far I have used the camera on several events, sessions and trips totaling thousands of photos. I've shot both JPEG and RAW. I've also tried it on sports photography and I've taken some controlled test series to learn what is the effective resolution and dynamic range of the camera. Based on this experience here are my findings.

Handling and ergonomics

This camera is not small. Some DSLRs with a kit zoom lenses are smaller. A typical bystander can't tell if you are using Fujifilm X-S1 or a DSLR. The size can be a deciding factor when choosing a camera for trips and holidays. You might prefer a smaller one.

Due to the large size, DSLR-like button arrangements and the rubberized manual zoom ring (instead of those annoying tele-wide buttons) the overall handling is very good, much better than I expected. I really like the manual zoom ring that responds immediately. Think how nice for example Sony RX10 would be if equipped with a manual zoom ring.

The electronic viewfinder is great. I read that most bridge cameras have a EVFs that are jokes but they said that Fujifilm X-S1 is different. I confirm this since I felt that using the EVF was very natural for a user coming from the DSLR world. The EVF felt clear and natural starting from day one. I don't miss an optical viewfinder.

The camera was hit by a pile of ice, snow and water from a roof at Tallinn. We both survived well. The camera is not weather sealed nor watertight but can clearly survive this kind of incidents. The camera also went directly from 0 degrees of Celsius to a moist greenhouse having temperature around 30 degrees of Celsius. The only thing that happened was that the moisture was built up to lens front element. After waiting a while and wiping the moisture off we were both ready to go.

The Magical Fuji Colors

The camera clearly uses some advanced JPG processing algorithms. It generally produces better JPG colors and has a more pleasing automatic white balance than my DSLRs. Sometimes the colors are much too saturated (typically in sunny conditions) and sometimes way too dull (typically when the sky is overcast) but you can't expect even a Fuji to win them all. I think The Magical Fuji Colors is not just a legend. Some of it must come from the fact that the automatic white balance works better than in any other camera I've seen and I've seen many of them.

The magic of colors is not only a JPEG thing. It can also be seen with RAW. There are a some soft of a vintage touch in the colors even when shooting RAW.

The lens

The lens deliver better results than I expected. I was very skeptic what a 24 mm - 624 mm zoom lens would deliver image quality wise. Yes, compared to DSLR prime lenses I use lens gives smudgier results. But that kind of comparison is unfair and I think that for most uses the results are fine. Towards the tele end the lens loses some sharpness and contrast.

The important thing to remember is that the lens gives best results somewhere from f/4.0 to f/5.6. Stopping down more actually blurs the images due to sensor size related diffraction or other reasons. The lens delivers typically less resolution than the camera's 12 Mpixel sensor. I've tested using the camera in 6 Mpixel (Medium) image size mode but then some of the resolution of the lens gets clearly wasted.

The lens has a noticeable blurred area on left side of the image being most prominent at wide end and large apertures. I've read that some other Fujifilm X-S1 users have the same issue. The blurred area completely vanishes on longer focal lengths and when the the lens is stopped down. But since the camera loses its resolution when stopped down more than to f/5.6 I still recommend not to stop down more than this.

The sensor

The camera has a larger sensor than a typical compact camera but much smaller sensor than DSLRs have. The larger-than-typical sensor helps to tackle the noise issues but doesn't deliver DSLR-grade results. My impression is that ISO 800 can be used without thinking much. ISO 1600 is too much for me. I typically set my X-S1 to Auto ISO and limit it to ISO 800.

The camera has an EXR sensor that can do some magic. The story is too long to be told here but the idea is that the sensor can be put to 6 Mpixel low noise mode (EXR SN) or 6 Mpixel high dynamic range mode (EXR DR). Normally the sensor is in 12 Mpixel high resolution mode (EXR HR). If you want to use the special EXR sensor modes outside the EXR mode setting provided by the camera then google for more information. Notice that to really get benefit from EXR DR mode in RAW shooting you'll need Adobe Camera Raw or Adobe Lightroom since most raw processors just waste half of the sensor information generated in EXR DR mode.

The speed and the focusing

Most of the time the camera reacts fast enough without delays. But sometimes it appears to freeze for a while. This happens because the camera can't write to card and change settings at the same time. If the camera is writing and you try to change the mode or some other setting nothing happens. You'll have to wait the write to complete before the mode or setting changes.

The focusing is based on contrast detection and so it is clearly inferior compared to DSLRs that use phase detection. In practice the auto focus is randomly unable to focus even in good light and a refocus is needed. The real troubles start to hit when the darkness falls. The manual focusing capabilities appear to be quite good including a large manual focusing ring and an enlarged view to assist you in focusing.

In general shooting the speed of the camera is fine. In sports photography the camera can be pushed to quite fast frame per seconds ratio. But frames per second is not the whole truth. In serious fast-paced sports photography you'll start notice many small but annoying delays like viewfinder image lacking behind and the camera freezing after a burst shot. In sports photography you'll also notice that the contrast-based autofocus is not fast nor very accurate. You often found the background being in focus instead of the subject. The continuous focusing works only when the camera is not taking pictures. Yes, you can push the camera for sports but it is not its best field.