Fuji X-S1 – Zoom

My fellow blogger, Steve, has been eyeing the new Canon SX50 recently, with it’s enormous 50x zoom lens. I think he has birding shots in mind. There’s a review here for you Steve – Photography Blog. It’s not a bad review. But I have reservations about the Canon. And if I were buying for birding, my reservations would be all the greater. Incidentally, if I weren’t going to buy the Fuji X-S1 (which, of course, I already have) then to be honest I’d go for the new Panasonic Lumix SZ200 rather than the Canon.

Like the Fuji, the SZ200 is limited to ‘just’ a 26x lens. But it maintains f2.8 all the way through the range – incredible. And vital if you’re wanting to shoot something small and nimble. The Canon, on the other hand, starts at f3.4, which is disappointing to say the least. I’ve been out and about trying to snap a few bird shots with my Fuji, and I can attest to the fact that it’s a difficult ask for a compact, regardless of the range of the lens. Truth be told, it’s even harder in the gloomy light of a dull English autumn, when most of the birds I see want to blend into even darker backgrounds. It’s tough for the Fuji, using just half it’s available range. I suspect Canon SX50 owners will be far more frustrated.


The eagle above was shot in Budapest, from about 20 foot away. Another tough feature of birding is the detail – feathers and hair are difficult subjects for a camera to capture. View the eagle in Flickr up close and that’s obviously the case for the Fuji. But I like the overall quality of the image. So long as you don’t look too closely, it’s fine. I have a few other birdy photos in an album on Flickr – click here.

There are times it’s nice to have a long zoom. It brings the moon into reach. Our sky bound friend may or may not be made of cheese, but he (or she? ) can also be difficult to capture. You need a nice clear, crisp evening and a bit of patience. I could do better than this one. But I’ll say this for the Fuji – it took this image hand held. That’s really not a bad shot at all for a hand held effort.


I’m coming close to finishing my series of posts on the Fuji X-S1. The next post will be the last – the verdict. Before I sign off here though, I’ll just point out a few more features of the camera. Firstly, the Pro Low Light mode. You frame, press the button, and the camera reels off four shots in quick succession. All at a high ISO. And then it combines them into a single image. The idea is to reduce the amount of noise. It’s surprisingly effective. Lastly, the Panorama mode. I took a whole bunch of Panoramas in Budapest. The resolution is reduced. But it’s a quick, easy and generally satisfactory method of getting a widescreen sweep of a landscape. It works a ton better than it did on the Fuji HS10. In fact, all the special features works a ton better with the X-S1 than they did with the HS10.



Fuji X-S1 Zoom and Macro

So far I’ve covered some of the key features of the Fuji X-S1 and had a look at the image quality. All of which are very important factors when judging a camera. The Fuji has delivered on all counts so far. But as this is a bridge camera, there’s another key test as to how good a camera this is. The whole point of owning a bridge camera is to have all the goodies of a DSLR (minus the giant sensor) packed into a unit with a fixed lens that is ready for any occasion.

The images above and below were taken from exactly the same spot. I didn’t move. The first shot was at the widest angle, taking in the full cityscape in front of me. I’ve highlighted a little box in the middle. That’s what you see in the photo below, at full zoom. The BT Tower, up close. Truth to be told, it’s not a great shot to show off the quality of the lens. The light and sky didn’t lend to a brilliant result. But you do get the idea of what a 26x zoom can do.

Of course, it’s not just about bringing the far away up into close up focus. A good bridge camera needs to be able to take a decent macro shot too. The X-S1 has two macro settings (Macro and Supermacro) which are easily accessed through a button on the back. In the more powerful mode, you can focus on an image just a centimetre away. I’ve tested this. It seems true to me. And focussing is quick and accurate. My Olympus Pen really struggled with macro, often forcing me to use the manual focus ring – which, with a decidedly low res screen, was not an easy or fun task.


There’s a dozen or so macro photos in a Flickr set I created – click here. Are any of these telephoto or macro photos as good as what you could get out of a DSLR with the right lenses? Nope. But they’re not that far off when viewed on a monitor. Can you get a DSLR with the necessary lenses for less than three times the cost of the X-S1? Nope. Price wise, they’re not even close. Can you comfortably carry around the DSLR and all those lenses in one handy small sized should bag? Nope, not even close. Is the DSLR ready to shoot anything, anytime. Nope – changing lenses takes time. Enough time to miss the shot.

It’s a trade off. Cost and convenience for ultimate image quality. It’s a trade off I’m happy to make. I still have a few subjects I want to test this camera out on. A moon shot and some birding shots. They’ll follow soon. I have to say, whenever I am looking for a new camera, I check out Flickr. I go look at what owners of the camera are producing. Strangely, the results I found on Flickr were largely disappointing. Especially the birding shots. A huge number of them were worse than what I’d got from my old HS10. If it wasn’t for the fact I had owned an HS10, I might have passed this camera up based on those snaps on Flickr. I suspected that many of those shots were over cropped. The results I’ve been getting suggest my suspicions were well founded.


Fuji X-S1 Low Light Samples

At first, casual, glance, the Fuji X-S1 might look like a Dslr, but it isn’t one. It’s sensor might be double the size of a standard compact, but it’s still dwarfed by the sensors sitting in Nikon’s and Canon’s DSLR range. So you’d expect it to be stretched to it’s limits in low light. You’d expect some noise. The question is, just how much noise, and how well does the camera perform when the sun goes down.


I did expect it to create a nice image at a low ISO with a long exposure sat on a tripod. It met and exceeded my expectations. As far as I can see, the maximum length of exposure is 30 seconds (unless there’s a bulb setting I haven’t encountered yet) which is good enough = it’s rare I’d find myself in a situation needing to shoot for longer than 6 or 8 seconds.


At an ISO of 3200 there is very visible noise. I have used Lightroom to damp it down a bit, and could have improved it a bit further. The image above was taken with the camera steadied against a handrail. Is it a usable setting? Just about, maybe. Sometimes. At a push. The Fuji has a variety of auto ISO settings, which allows you to tell it what’s the highest ISO you want to use. I think I’ll set that to 1600.


Having said that, the EXR mode, which shoots a series of photos before creating a single, reduced noise image, works quite well. The photo above was shot at ISO 3200. And whilst not perfect, it really isn’t too bad at all.


The photo above was shot hand held at an ISO of 1600. Again, not perfect. But it’s not too bad. The conclusion I’ve coome to with the X-S1, is that I’m more than happy to shoot at ISO 400 to 800, where image quality remains high and relatively noise free (for a compact!) and will stretch to ISO 1600 if necessary. But by that stage I might want to reach for a tripod. ISO 3200 is for serious emergencies only. There’s a few more low light photos on Flickr – click here.


Fuji X-S1 Features Tour

Today I’d like to take you on a tour of the Fuji X-S1, and highlight some of the features I like most about the camera. Whilst the larger than normal sensor and the flexibility of that incredible lens are the two stand out specs, there’s a whole load more to the Fuji than those. The camera is boasts some significant improvements on the Fuji HS10 that I’d owned, and also compared to the Olympus Pen Micro Four Thirds camera I’ve been using for the past year.

Firstly though, let’s check out that sensor. I can’t really take a photo of it, but here’s a useful sensor size comparison chart to give you an idea of what is hiding behind the lens. It’s obviously no where near as big as a DSLR sensor, and is just a quarter the size of the one in my Olympus. But the 2/3″ unit is significantly bigger than the standard 1.2/3″ sensor in most compacts. It’s also a useful bit bigger than what you’ll find in some of the premium ‘large sensor/fast lens’ compacts such as the Canon s100.

Next, I’d like you to check out the EVF on the camera. I’ve had a few compacts with an EVF before. They’ve been utterly useless, and that includes the HS10. You squint and strain, and can just about make out what it’s seeing…and then you go and use the LCD on the back of the camera. And never bother looking through the EVF again. I’ve often wondered why they even bother putting one on there. Equally, I’ve become so used to using the LCD to frame my shots over the years, and found it so easy, that I’d also wondered why DSLR users still raise the viewfinder to their eye.

But I wonder no more. The Fuji’s EVF is a superb unit, comfortable on the cheekbone, and providing a magnificent view of what’s ahead. DSLR viewfinders will be better still, but this unit is not only actually usable, which is a minor miracle for a compact/bridge cam, but a pleasure to use. I have found myself automatically lifting the camera to my eye – by using the viewfinder I shut out all other lights and sights and distractions and focus on framing the shot.


I’ve already seen significant improvements in my own output, with far less adjustments and rotations required in post processing. I don’t think I can emphasise enough just how much this will change, improve and, dare I say, even revolutionise the way I approach my photography. It’s something DSLR owners take for granted. It’s something us compact owning underlings have until now been unable to appreciate.

The camera does of course still have an LCD. Is it redundant? Not at all. Being a swivel out unit, it’s great for taking candid lap level shots or for using close to ground level. It’s also great for overhead shots in crowds. When viewing photos you’ve taken it’s also the better option, and of course it’s still the best way to navigate the menu system – it’s pretty tough to see all the buttons when your eye is up against the viewfinder. It’s not the highest quality LCD on the market, but it’s more than good enough and provides a good quality image on the screen. I will appreciate this – the low res LCD was one of the Olympus Pen’s weak points. I generally had to wait to get home to find out what sort of shots I’d taken.


Next up, let’s have a look at the lens. It’s not the longest on the market, but it is nonetheless a magnificent, class leading beast. I love the manual zoom ring. The HS10 also had this, but on the X-S1 the movement is so much smoother and feels so much more certain. Behind the zoom ring is a narrow ring at the back for manual focus. On the HS10, it was a gimmick. Neither the  EVF nor LCD were good enough to be sure you’d actually focused correctly, so it became redundant – you had to rely on the camera’s autofocus. The brilliant EVF on the X-S1, however, means that the manual zoom ring is now a valuable addition to the feature set.

The lens itself is a very bright f2.8 at the wide angle end, and the Super Macro setting allows you to focus on an object just 1cm away. Then you can switch modes and zoom out to catch a passing dot in the sky and identify exactly what airline it is. Awesome flexibility. That is what owning a bridge camera should all be about. Fun to use, ready for any occasion and reasonably portable. The Fuji X-S1 does all that buts throws in a great build quality and great image quality too.


But there’s more. As you’ll have noticed in the first photo and the one above, there’s a ton of buttons on the Fuji. This is a good thing. Whilst some camera manufacturers are trying ever harder to remove buttons for a cleaner look, burying the usability of the camera in a myriad of menus, the Fuji goes the opposite route. The buttons mean you can set the camera up quickly and get shooting. The buttons are all clearly labelled and have already become second nature.

The only things hidden away in the depths of the camera are the electronics you don’t need to know about. I won’t blast you all with a million figures regarding the performance of the X-S1, but suffice it to say that Fuji designed this to be a class leading camera in every way. The start up times, speed of auto focus and continuous shooting abilities exceed other compacts and even match some DSLR’s. Enough said. For now. I have more posts planned. Shooting Modes. Low Light Performance. Super Macro. Super Zoom. And more. Stay tuned!