9.08.2012

For once, a do everything camera that combines high image quality with ultimate flexibility.

Advisory for newcomers to the blog:  This is not a review. This is an article which talks about bridge cameras and specifically the Fuji camera. It exists because the product being highlighted might be of interest to my long term readers. There are no charts or graphs. There are no "conclusions."  I like the idea of the camera. That's all that really matters here on this blog.

With all the attention that's been focused on FujiFilm cameras like the X-100, the S Pro 1, and the X-10 there's one product that hasn't gotten anywhere near the attention I think it deserves. Maybe that's because it resides near the top of a category that many of us serious photographers have more or less written off, long zoom lens "bridge cameras."  Just calling the category bridge cameras seems to demean the value of the niche in the minds of those of us who crave ultimate machines like Leica M9s and Nikon D800s.

While most previous bridge cameras look like miniaturized DSLRs and come with long range zooms they've mostly been plagued with tiny sensors that were overpopulated with tiny little pixels.  If you shot them at their base ISOs they would yield fairly good files but once you started to crank up the gain (increase the sensitivity) they files quickly fell apart.

There are some good, current cameras in this class, like the Canon SX-40.  Panasonic has a couple as does Nikon. Most use the same smaller sensor sizes (1/1.7) and nearly all of them feature fairly big swivel screens on the back and okay to good EVFs.  One of the early favorites of mine, a camera that pretty much busted out the category, was the Sony R1. It had a wildly good Carl Zeiss zoom lens that gave you 24-120mm equivalent angle of view performance and it had a sensor that was just about APS-C size. Many times bigger than most of the other cameras. But the R1 came at a cost that most wouldn't pay for a camera with a non-removable lens, and the early EVF was coarse and slow.

The camera I handled today the FujiFilm x-S1, is the first bridge camera since the Sony R1 (2005) that made me go, "Wow!"  First, let me show you the camera and then I'll tell you why.


The camera is wonderful to hold in your hands. It's beefy and much heavier than its competitors. Whatever coating they used over the exterior of the body I think is just the right blend of sticky-I-can-hold-on-to-this and comfortable. It's not much smaller (if it actually is smaller) than a Canon Rebel or a Nikon D3200. The thing that grabbed me upon picking it up was the heft and the feeling that it was wonderfully solid. And very well built. (love the metal knob that just begs for your right hand thumb to caress it...).

But here's the deal, you get a camera with the same sensor they've put into the wildly successful X-10. It's a 2/3 ich EXR CMOS sensor that does the same tricks as it does in the X-10.  You get 12 megapixels which means every pixel is bigger and better defined and this very good sensor performance is combined with a 24 to 624mm zoom lens that starts at f2.8 and finishes up at the long end at f5.6

I didn't get to spend a long time with the camera but I did go through the menus and try out the focusing and the EVF. The EVF is a 1.44 million dot LCD monitor which looks very similar to the EVF image and imaging performance in the EVF of Sony's a57 DSLT camera. The refresh is fast enough to have made me unaware of tearing or blurring when I moved the camera while framing.


The screen on the rear of the camera is 3 inches with 460,000 dots. The camera can shoot at highest priority at 10 fps (short burst) but only in medium and small file sizes. If you need a full res file you can still get 7 fps. Of course the camera also has RAW file capability and RAW+Jpeg file capture. In fact, it has just about anything I would look for in a full bore, higher end DSLR or DSLT including Fuji's film emulation modes.

It may also be an efficient video production camera for web destined videos. It shoots in the H.264 (MOV) format and offers resolutions up to 1920 by 1080.  And yes, there is a standard plug in for external, stereo microphones.

This camera and lens weigh almost twice as much as my Nex 7 with its kit lens so if you are trying to lighten the load you may be looking in the wrong place but you have to consider the tremendous range of lenses you get over the range of the zoom. Early reviewers have praised the lens, with the same caveat that it is better at the wider to mid ranges than at the extreme telephoto end. The only critical issues I've heard relate to slow focus under lower light and some difficulty locking focus at the very long end of the zoom.

So, who is this camera perfect for? Anyone planning a round the world trip with  the need for flexible and high quality imaging and video capability. If I had a ticket for year's unrestricted travel I'd snap one of these up so fast it would make my own head spin. Then I'd buy four or five more batteries and a case of class 10 SD cards and grab my passport.  It would also be a perfect tool for the in-house web designer who needs to be able to capture good video and still photos under lots of different conditions with lot of flexibility.

Like most cameras that are too feature-rich you'll need to spend some quality time with the manual in one hand and the camera in the other but from what I've seen in sample images it might just reward you in a way that will surprise photographers who've long dismissed this category.

The camera generally sells at a street price of $799 but Amazon has it listed these days for $599.95 which I think is an absolute bargain. But then I like the idea of Swiss Army Knife cameras like this. They are so closed loop that they free you from so much excess decision making and that can be really good when you are out and around and working the shutter release in response to the world in front of you.

Sadly, this one will probably get lost in all the noise and introductions at the upcoming Photokina and that's too bad because it may be just what so many people who are moving up from compacts and phones are looking for.  Ditto for people tired of the lens rat race and the constant upgrade cycle. Oh well. Good to read some of the reviews, handle one, and see what you think.




10 comments:

tomt said...

Doesn't it also have a wonderful manual zoom instead of that goofy W-T Thingie that plagues most compact zooms?

Carlo Santin said...

These are the types of cameras I see everywhere. If it's not a monster DSLR it is this camera, or the Nikon/Canon variations. I hardly every see a micro 4/3 camera, never seen a Leica in use, never a Fuji x100. For occasional shooters this would be about the only camera they would ever need for a long time.

Brian_F said...

I had my interest piqued by the X10 earlier this year but the lack of EVF, even an add on, made it unworkable for me. I got the X-S1 in May with fear and trepidation in my heart because of the seemingly ridiculous zoom range. As a result my panasonic G3 and four lenses have gone to Ebay. Those had replaced a Pentax K20D and a nine lens kit. You can see the trend I'm undergoing. The X-S1 plus Lightroom 4 seem to be able to do what I want a camera to do. I get useable ISO 800 before switching to the EXR mode for ISO 1600 (and dropping to 6 megapixels) The only (small) downside is the EXR mode images are now jpeg only where my fuji S200 also delivered RAW files in the EXR modes. All said I expect to get at least 3 years out of this camera and it makes me excited for what a 2/3 sensor will be capable of then. Maybe I'll get a bright 28-200mme to go with it!

sixblockseast said...

I was very intrigued by this camera when it was announced and might have gone for it if the initial price was a bit cheaper. It seemed well above the competition from Canon, Nikon, and Panasonic (I think the manual zoom is a huge advantage). Instead, I've spent about the same amount of money on a used mirrorless Samsung NX10, the fantastic NX 30mm f/2.0, and a bunch old manual focus lenses (mostly prime lenses) to be used via adapter, all of which I'm very happy with. I think I've learned that I'm quite happy in the 28-85mm range.

Doug said...

Several years ago, I purchased the Panasonic FZ30, an 8mp super-zoom (35-420) camera with a Leica branded lens. I must admit that I loved that camera. Yes, its files broke down at anything above iso100. But I have magnificent 13"x19" prints from the fZ30 at iso80 and iso100. And that was shooting the then mediocre Panasonic jpegs because I hadn't yet entered the world of RAW.

Now we have the Fuji X-S1 which promises good image quality up to iso800 and a 24-624 zoom with great video and a manual zoom. Amazing!

I'm tempted to buy this camera and give it a try. My only concern is the apparently mediocre results at the long end of the zoom and spotty low light autofocus. But 24-624 (f2.8-5.6) up to iso800!

And then there's the Panasonic FZ200 that was just announced. Smaller sensor, yes, but a 25-600mm Leica branded lens at f2.8 throughout the range! 600mm at f2.8 at iso200 = 624mm f5.6 at iso800. Advantage, who? Now, if it only had a manual zoom control...

Hmm...

Don Parsons said...

I'm waiting to see a Pentax X5 with it's 22 1/2 lens at 1/2 the cost of the fuji.

Bold Photography said...

My first "real" digital camera was a Fujifilm Finepix camera... not a bad camera, and as this one has 10 years newer technology, it should be much, much better...

kirk tuck said...

My first Fuji Camera DS-100 then an S2, then an S3 and an S5. All of them had their niggling faults but all of them were great photo-makers.

Scott said...

If you go to CameraSize.com, it seems that this is actually a little bigger than a d3200. Surprising, but not necessarily a bad thing.

Biro said...

I really like the XS-1. I like the Panasonic FZ200 as well. But the Fuji's manual zoom operation and extra manual controls win the day for me.