I was bowled over by the Fujifilm X10 when I reviewed it back in December. Not only did it look great, but it performed well too, courtesy of a sharp lens and Fujifilm's EXR sensor.
Now the company has taken that same sensor and built it into the X-S1, which has a fixed lens, as opposed to the detachable lenses of dSLR cameras. The results, as you can see from our rating, don't disappoint.
You can buy the Fujifilm X-S1 now for around £525.
The first thing you'll notice is the X-S1's size. The body has pretty much the same footprint as a consumer dSLR, and the lens arrangement extends more than 8cm from the front of the chassis when fully retracted. It's a hefty beast, tipping the scales at almost a kilo, including the battery and memory card.
Even so, that's neither as large nor as heavy as it could be. Let me explain: the lens' range is enormous, covering off 24-624mm (35mm equivalent). That's a 26x zoom, which dwarfs, for example, the 18-135mm kit lens option on Canon's dSLR line-up. Despite this, the Canon option is a full 15mm longer and considerably heavier. What you're getting with the X-S1, then, is the power of a dSLR without the inconvenience.
Impressively, and despite this massive range, the X-S1 still manages to maintain a maximum aperture of f/5.6 at full-telephoto (f/2.8 at wide-angle), which will help achieve shorter exposures for sharper results. With lens-shift stabilisation onboard, the chances of turning in a batch of inferior snaps are reduced yet further.
The wide aperture at the shortest end of the zoom makes it easy to take attractive shallow-depth-of-field shots, and with 256 metering zones, it has plenty of spots at which to measure exposure to produce the most balanced result possible.
Behind the lens is a 12-megapixel sensor (4,000x3,000 pixels) with sensitivity running from ISO 100 to ISO 12,800. However, to achieve anything beyond 3,200, it reduces the resolution, with ISO 12,800 shooting at just over 3 megapixels.
Shutter speeds in auto mode range from just 1/4 second to 1/4,000 second. That first measurement is rather mean, but switch out of auto mode and you can push it to a more respectable 30 seconds -- a level at which you can take some great night-time shots of illuminated buildings and streaked headlights.
Around the back, the 3-inch screen is one of the best I've seen, with a very fine dot pitch, super-smooth updating, and an articulated fixing that lets you fold it out and position it on an arc of 135 degrees, making overhead or under-foot shots easier to compose. This is supplemented by an electronic viewfinder, rather than a through-the-lens arrangement. Again, this is sharp, clear and has a diopter control to help fix it in the appropriate position for your eyes.
The controls are perfectly positioned, with a control wheel on the top of the case and direct access buttons for white balance, sensitivity and so on laid out around the screen. Dig into the well-structured menus and you'll also find options for film type simulation, control over highlight and shadow tones, face detection and more. You'll be hard-pressed to think of an option it doesn't have covered.
So, it has a pretty impressive set of specs, but how well has Fujifilm pulled them all together? The answer, on the evidence of these tests, is very well indeed.
The lens is a joy to use, and the stabilisation really comes into its own out in the field. You can just as easily shoot at full-zoom while holding it without the aid of a tripod as you can at wide-angle.
The trawler (below) was shot at close to the furthest end of the zoom, by hand, while panning across the frame, yet the detail is fine and clearly captured. Colours are accurate, with plenty of detail in the bow wave and a smooth transition in the illumination of the red paint running down the side of the hull.
It did a great job of handling tricky lighting situations throughout my tests. I shot these fishing boats with the sun behind them, creating a series of strong contrasts on both the water and the boats. Despite this, fine details such as the rigging are cleanly and accurately retained, where we might have expected to see them burned out and overwhelmed by the brighter surroundings. Even the subdued background is cleanly rendered, with distant trees clearly visible along the horizon.
This sharp focusing of fine detail is testament to the lens' resolving power, and is one of the benefits of using a captive unit, as employed in the X-S1. Fujifilm's labs can state with absolute certainty exactly which glass arrangement will sit in front of the sensor, and so engineer the two to work hand in hand. You can't say the same for a traditional dSLR, which might use an own-brand lens one day and a third-party alternative the next.
It isn't just in high-contrast scenes that it does well though. In this shot of an isolated house in the middle of some mud flats, the horizon is extremely subtle as it recedes into the haze, yet it's still clearly reproduced, despite being so similar to the surrounding tone.
There was seemingly no test to which I could subject the X-S1 in which it would perform poorly. While muted shots such as the one above are rendered subtly, more conventional, better-lit frames are a blaze of colour.
The church below demonstrates each of the three prime hues recorded by a digital camera's sensor -- red, green and blue -- and while each is punchy and full, none is unrealistic. There is loads of texture in the grass and brickwork, and smooth, toned-down clouds in the sky.
Standard macro mode tops out at 7cm in wide-angle and 2m at full-telephoto, but super-macro will take you as close as 1cm. I used the regular macro mode in my tests, and again the X-S1 put in a sterling performance.
The fibres in the inside of this sweet chestnut husk are very clear, and there's a smooth, fast fall-off in the level of focus in front of and behind the focal point of the image.
The X-S1 shoots HD movies at either 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution or 1,280x720. It can step down to 640x480 for videos intended to be posted online -- a resolution at which it can up the frame rate to 70 frames per second. If you're happy to cut it still further, you can increase this to 120fps and 200fps at 320x240 and 320x112 pixels respectively. Each of these is fairly poky, and you lose the soundtrack and automatic control over focus, exposure and white balance. But if you want to analyse sports performance, then it's a useful feature.
Naturally, there's no powered zoom, so you'll have to turn the lens barrel to change the framing. This takes some practice to do smoothly. It's one instance where you'll benefit from mounting the camera on a tripod or sturdy surface.
Shot footage is broadly similar to the stills results, with punchy colours in well-lit scenes and superbly controlled contrasts in starker frames. There was still a fair amount of wobble on my full-telephoto shots despite the image stabilisation, but as I was shooting without the aid of a tripod, I'm willing to cut it considerable slack on that front. Overall, then, video results are good, but to my mind, the area in which this camera excels remains its stills performance.
Critics may cite the fact that the X-S1 lacks a detachable lens as a failing, but that's shortsighted. The removable lens arrangement is one of the biggest drawbacks of a proper dSLR, as every time you swap it for an alternative barrel, you risk introducing dust to the sensor.
Sure, there's no pancake, tilt-shift or fish-eye option here, but the X-S1's massive 24-624mm range makes it one of the most versatile fixed-lens devices I've ever tested. With a 62mm thread on the front of the barrel, there's also nothing to stop you adding your own accessories to push the creative possibilities yet further.
The results speak for themselves, but when we're awarding a camera five stars out of a possible five, it doesn't hurt to reiterate that images are sharp, punchy in bright light and subtle in muted scenes. Overall, the camera realistically represents the original shooting conditions in each instance.
It has (almost) all of the benefits of a dSLR without any of the drawbacks. What's not to like?