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Farewell to the Fuji

I recently sold my Fuji X-S1. It’s a fine camera. Really fine. We had a great time together. Alas, I own two cameras but can afford to keep only one. The keeper is my three/four year old Olympus Pen E-PL1. Truth be told, the Fuji is in many ways the better camera. It has a far more powerful and flexible lens, which is also a better lens quality wise.  It’s a more intelligent camera too, getting focus, aperture and  shutter speed right more often. With a better flash to boot. The LCD screen on the back is infinitely superior and it had a decent EVF.

The Olympus does have it’s trump cards too though. The bigger sensor means I get far better low light results, especially when it’s handheld. It’s also smaller and lighter and much easier to travel around with. Image quality, when the settings are just right, can just eclipse the results I pulled from the Fuji. I like the Olympus a lot. It’s final trump card? It is, or will soon be, four years old and has since been replaced several times with newer models. It has no resale value. The Fuji, on the other hand, being just a year old and having not been replaced with a newer model, fetched a handsome price.

I will miss the Fuji. It will almost certainly be the last Bridge camera I buy. I’ve owned a few of them over the years – a Nikon Coolpix 8700, a Panasonic FZ35, a Fuji HS10 and the X-S1. But the new generation of Compact System Cameras make too compelling an argument for me to think I’ll ever go the Bridge route again. A CSC can be pocketable when you need a lightweight companion. And it can fit some powerful zoom lenses when the occasion calls for one. So it is adios not just to the X-S1, but to a whole genre of camera.

Have I made the right decision? Here’s the final photo I took with the Fuji. Nothing special. The telling point is the date I took it. September. Quite a while ago. If it’s too hefty to want to lug it around, then it’s time to move it on.

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Fuji X-S1 – The Verdict

I’ve written five short posts about my experiences with the Fuji X-S1. Calling them a ‘review’ is probably a little deceiving. They are my experiences. For a real review, go see Photography blog, who go into far greater depth than I, and offer a good deal more expertise in their summary. They do rate the camera highly, and whilst they do point out the high cost they do go on to say that  ‘it’s also easily the best-in-class super-zoom, offering a compelling mix of features, performance and image quality that no other rival can match.‘ I’ve owned a few bridge cameras – the Nikon Coolpix 8700 (2004), Panasonic FZ35 (2009) and the Fuji HS10 (2009) – and I can certainly testify that the X-S1 is the best I’ve ever owned.

It’s a camera that can do everything, with it’s large-ish sensor and 26x zoom lens with a nice wide 24mm (35mm equivalent) lens. It works really well in low light, compared to a normal compact. That’s thanks to the sensor which is twice as big as that in a normal compact. But it is still a compact. The bright lens means that it keeps pace with my Olympus E-PL1 as dusk sets (the E-PL1 has a sensor four times as big as the X-S1, but a not so bright f3.5 lens) but it does eventually fall short of the Olympus as darkness proper arrives.

There is no perfect camera. You either have to suffer the huge expense and a bag of lenses with a DSLR, or suffer issues with image quality (particularly at night) with a compact. The Micro Four Thirds cameras should be close to perfect, and would be, perhaps, were it not for the fact that their lenses are outrageously expensive. That may change. Until then, the XS-1 will serve me fine. It looks professional, feels professional, has a professional level feature set and in most conditions will produce photos comparable to a DSLR. Until night falls, of course. And whilst you can get reasonable depth of field, it won’t match a DSLR with a half decent lens.

I enjoy taking the Fuji out with me. It’s so flexible, and when using an auto mode, it gets the right exposure/shutter speed/aperture almost every time. It’s far more reliable than the Olympus. It has a ton of settings too, and even after a couple months with it, I’m still getting to grips with all that it has to offer. Who would want this camera? A real photography enthusiast, for sure. But perhaps someone who knows that they simply won’t buy or carry around lenses if they had a DSLR. Or someone that just wants to get the best possible results without having to really get into the technical aspects of photography – you like to play and experiment sometimes, but you’ll do a lot of auto shooting too.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m giving this camera big thumbs up. I’m very pleased with my purchase. And whilst a few other bridge models have been released by other manufacturers since, none of them have made me wish I’d waited for them. Is this the camera for you? It is really going to depend on your budget. It is expensive for a bridge camera. Do you want the best in category? Decision made – order your X-S1 today. Or would you be happy to have one that’s 90% as good, but little more than half the price? Then wait a couple of months for the Panasonic FZ200 to shed a few dollars off its price.

The real proof is in the pudding of course. I could write endless posts, till the end of time. But a picture paints a thousand words. I’ve already uploaded a ton of photos to Flickr, including a collection from Budapest and a series of sample sets. There are plenty more in my photo stream, and more will come. Here’s one to look at right now, from Somerset House – an example of very low light photography. It’s hand held – not bad at all. I will confess though, that Lightroom helped clean it up a little.

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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!

 

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Fuji X-S1

Over the last two years I’ve gone through a few cameras. A Panasonic TZ5, Panasonic FZ35, Fuji HS10 and an Olympus E-PL1. The latter is by the far the most capable camera regarding pure image quality. But the most fun? The most satisfying to use? I’d probably have to say the Fuji. It’s enormous 30x lens with a fast CMOS sensor and the manual zoom….that added up to one flexible package. It has it’s frustrations. Like a lot of the early 1/2.3 CMOS sensor, the images lacked a bit of sharpness. Although I did like it’s colours.

The manual zoom wasn’t of the sort you find on a DSLR either, – it still went up in notches. It would be nice to have the option to zoom through a button as well as by twisting the barrel, as Sony have done with their new HX100. The EVF was so small it was useless. And the LCD was only ok. But the good points, and there were many, outweighed the bad. I really only swapped it for the Olympus because of a desire to get more detail and quality into my photos.

The Fuji HS10 was replaced by the HS20, which did little to resolve the negative issues. But they have now revealed their latest bridge camera, the X-S1. Sporting a slightly more modest 26x zoom and a new CMOS sensor with their EXR tech the X-S1 looks a mighty good camera. The little CMOS sensors seem to have come on a long way since they first started finding their way into compact cameras. The samples aren’t a match for a DSLR if you start pixel peeping, but I’m a geek, not a nerd. I’m feeling a case of camera lust coming on…

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