It is no secret that I am always looking to simplify my camera kit when I travel. In fact, many people feel the same way – they appreciate good image quality in a robust and functional camera body, but they do not want to schlep a big bag of equipment every time they go away on vacation. I can definitely relate to their pain.
Several weeks ago, I had a chat with Greg of the Fuji Guys who told me about Fujifilm’s X-S1 camera (Amazon, Adorama, B&H Photo/Video) – he thought it was an excellent travel camera and worth considering for my next trip.
The X-S1 is a “bridge” camera as it has a fixed lens (i.e. you cannot change it) and it is positioned somewhere between a high-end point & shoot and a DSLR. It uses the same sensor as the Fujifilm X10 and incorporates a fairly fast (starts at f/2.8) variable zoom lens with a massive focal length range of 24mm to 624mm. Yes, that is a 26x optical zoom which also uses image stabilization.
I had to say I was more than intrigued and given I was about to head out to China and Hong Kong for a trip, I decided to take the XS-1 along with me and put it to the test.
When I first opened the box, I was surprised by how large the X-S1 was. It is the same size as a DSLR (with a kit lens) and about the same weight (945 grams or about 2 lbs). In fact, it even looks/feels like a DSLR and has a similar control layout. As this is not a detailed review, I won’t go into all of the buttons and functions, but you can customize the X-S1 to your heart’s content and there are lots of external controls which are laid out in a logical manner. Build quality is also excellent.
The camera uses a very good quality Electronic View Finder (EVF) and a 3 inch 460K dot rear LCD which is tiltable. I found this handy when shooting at bizarre angles
Again, viewing the camera from the top, it has a traditional DSLR layout including the PSAM dial plus many other external controls. The two function buttons are customizable which is a nice touch.
After arriving in China, I immediately started using the X-S1. Handling seemed straight forward as I have much experience with DSLRs and other Fujifilm “X” series cameras, so I could start shooting right away (after customizing the camera to my liking).
I shot the camera in JPEG mode as I am very happy with Fujifilm’s JPEG engine – it produces a beautiful image with great colour and tonality. For those that are interested, I mostly use the “Astia” film mode setting. I also used a fast UHS-I SD memory card in the X-S1 but I did find the write times a bit slow – especially compared to the X100 and X-Pro1 I was also using.
As I was leaving our hotel on the first morning, I saw this dimly lit scene in the lobby. I love colour and reflections, so I thought I would test out the autofocus (AF) in this low light setting. To my surprise, the AF locked onto the subject quickly and accurately.
I decided to try and fool the X-S1’s AF by shooting this night scene in Chongqing (China’s largest city with almost 33 million people):
Again, the X-S1 nailed the focus and in general, the camera’s AF was fast and accurate pretty much all of the time.
There is also a “silent” mode like the other “X” series cameras – and using it makes the camera operation completely silent. If no one sees you using the camera, they will have no idea you have just taken a photograph (or 3). Great if you are a street shooter.
The most impressive feature on the X-S1, bar none, is the built in lens. Since it is a 26x optical zoom, I was a bit skeptical about its optical quality. Sure enough, I put my doubts to rest after shooting a couple of test scenes.
The following is a shot from the Forbidden City in Beijing. Nothing special, but I wanted to show the field of view at 24mm (the shortest focal length for the X-S1):
There is a red box in the centre of the above image where I wanted to take a closeup/telephoto image from my current position. I decided to zoom all the way out to 624mm on the lens and here is the resulting scene (below):
The image is sharp which is impressive as it is handheld at 624mm. Image stabilization seems to work really well on this lens.
Here is another example, this one taken at 24mm at the Great Wall of China:
And here is (below) the same scene zoomed all the way out to 624mm:
Again, another sharp image at 624mm. The lens is sharp throughout the entire range – even wide open. And as I stated earlier, image stabilization seems to work really well on the camera.
I’ll state this again later but the lens on this camera is nothing short of impressive. It was something I didn’t expect, especially from a lens with such a massive range (24mm to 624mm).
Most of you know that what matters most to me (and many others) is image quality (IQ). And the X-S1’s IQ is very good. Colours are beautiful and as with other “X” series cameras from Fujifilm, you can use different film modes with increased dynamic range for high contrast scenes.
Here are a several images to show you the IQ from this camera – including the X-S1’s “macro” mode (as shown in the first image in this series):
The X-S1 also allows you to shoot in monochrome (black and white) and there is even a panorama mode to give you a 180 or 360 degree view:
One thing to keep in mind about the X-S1 is that it uses the X10’s sensor (a 12 megapixel, 2/3″ CMOS) – it is larger than a regular point and shoot camera’s sensor, however, it is much smaller than the ones found in APS-C (16mm x 24mm) or full frame (24mm x 36mm) cameras. As a result of the small pixel pitch, don’t expect to shoot at über-high ISO values and get “noise free” images.
With the X-S1’s JPEG engine and sensor, results are very good up to ISO 400 and will give most entry level DSLRs a run for their money. ISO 800 to 1600 has some noise in it but the images are still good, although the noise reduction can get a little heavy handed at times (I dialed it back in camera). After ISO 1600, more noise starts to creep into the images – I would only use ISO 1600 to 3200 only for small prints or web usage. Expanded ISO’s 6400 and 12800 are available, but at a lower resolution (image size is 6 and 3 megapixels respectively). Again, I would only use these settings for web based images.
I absolutely love using my X100 and X-Pro1 system – and having said that, it was quite liberating shooting with the X-S1. The ability to use a responsive camera with such a large zoom range made it really easy (and fun) to shoot. One morning, I went to the Chongqing Zoo (home to 8 Panda Bears) and it was nice to not change lenses, but just “shoot”. It was a very cloudy day (with some rain), so I shot most of these images at ISO 800.
As much as I appreciate my high quality prime lenses, there is much to be said for the flexibility of the X-S1’s zoom lens.
The X-S1 is certainly an interesting camera. After initially unboxing it, I thought I would not like it at all but after using it for a few weeks now, I have changed my mind. Of course, the X-S1 is not going to replace my X100 and X-Pro1 as each camera serves a different purpose. But for those times on vacation when I want the flexibility of camera and a single lens with a very large (and useful) zoom range, the X-S1 is an excellent choice.
Last year, my wife took her Panasonic GH1 and 3 lenses to Namibia, Africa. While she was happy with her camera and the resulting images, she found it a pain to change lenses frequently – especially in the dusty environment. The X-S1 would have been perfect for someone like her – she:
In fact, she keeps commenting that the X-S1 would have been the perfect camera for her on all of our previous trips.
Take a guess who will be using the X-S1 on our next voyage overseas? (hint: she just sold her GH1)
If you are interested, you can view more images from our trip to China and Hong Kong (all shot with Fujifilm’s “X” series cameras) by clicking here.
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