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ONE SIZE FITS ALL?

The least well known of Fujifilm’s X-series cameras is possibly also the most remarkable model in the family. Leave behind all your preconceptions about superzoom

Confession time. I’ve never really liked the superzoom or ultrazoom type cameras. The so-called ‘bridge cameras’ from the late 1980s were all pretty awful in the end – which is why the whole concept was short-lived back then – and today’s digital models really aren’t a whole lot better (although they are a definite improvement). Being neither one thing nor the other, they’re just that… neither D-SLR nor compact (or CSC) which simply spells compromise whichever way you look at it.

Amid all the hoopla surrounding the arrival of the X-Pro1 and the on-going popularity of the X100, the Fujifilm X-S1 has essentially snuck unheralded onto the market. I first saw it at the CP+ 2012 show in Yokohama mainly because the queue of people waiting to handle the X-Pro1 was way too long and there was nobody waiting in line to have a play with the X-S1. Technically, the X-S1 is a superzoom camera but, to quote the Star Trek cliché, it’s like no other superzoom camera we’ve seen before.

For starters, it looks like a D-SLR because it’s pretty well the same dimensions as a mid-sized model and has a pentaprism-type ‘hump’ (which houses an electronic eyelevel viewfinder and a built-in flash). The control layout looks the same as that of many a D-SLR – complete with dials – and it even has a tilt-adjustable, 7.62 cm LCD monitor screen. The bodyshell is actually entirely coated in a textured covering which looks a bit unusual at first, but means scuffs and scratches aren’t going to be a concern. There’s a proper sized handgrip as well.

The lens has the same sort of proportions as a zoom in the 28-200mm class – the more compact variety, actually – except it has an effective focal range of 24-624mm! So here’s where the potential for the X-S1 fairytale to have an unhappy ending becomes a distinct possibility because you don’t get a focal range like that for free. It’s made possible because of the size of the sensor which is a 2/3-inch device, the same size as that used in the X10. This is still quite a lot larger than the devices used in other superzoom models, but it’s small by either CSC or D-SLR standards. With a magnification factor of 3.94x, it’s bigger than the imager in the Pentax Q, but smaller than the one used in Nikon’s J1 and V1.

HAPPY MARRIAGE

Importantly, though, as with both the X10 and X100, sensor and lens are precisely matched. Importantly, too, the sensor is one of Fujifilm’s own creations – called an ‘EXR CMOS’ – with a different RGB filter array to the standard Bayer-type pattern (and different again to the design of the X-Pro1’s imager).

Instead of the 2x2 RGBG square filter arrangement of a conventional sensor, the EXR CMOS has its filters in a diagonal configuration so each RGBG set is now in a diamond shape. This is designed to optimise the resolution, increase sensitivity and improve the dynamic range. A complementary EXR Processor – which employs dual CPUs – will actually switch the sensor to the most appropriate capture configuration (i.e. high resolution, wide dynamic range or high sensitivity/low noise) depending on the lighting and subject conditions. This happens when the X-S1 is switched to the ‘EXR Priority’ mode which, incidentally, is done via a nicely-sized milled metal dial. And there’s another one alongside which serves as a command dial for setting manual shutter speeds or apertures, applying program shift and various other input duties. The standard set of ‘PASM’ exposure modes is supplemented by a large choice of 17 subject/scene modes and the choice of full auto and advanced auto modes as is now common on many entry-level D-SLRs. The advanced auto mode maintains point-and-shoot operation, but combined with more advanced techniques which Fujifilm calls ‘Motion Panorama 360’, ‘Pro Focus’ and ‘Pro Low Light’. All these are multi-shot captures in one way or another and, obviously, the first is self-explanatory while ‘Pro Focus’ varies the depth-of-field over three shots and ‘Pro Low Light’ combines four exposures to minimise noise. It should be noted that, being a panning-type panorama mode, the files aren’t cropped and the biggest is a substantial 11,520x1624 pixels.

Overall, though, the X-S1 does a lot less ‘hand-holding’ than any other superzoom camera and the feature set is much more D-SLR orientated than anything else. So, for example, there’s the option of RAW capture (and RAW+JPEG settings), Adobe RGB and sRGB colour space switching, a hotshoe, a stereo microphone input (although it has built-in stereo mics too), an electronic level display, continuous shooting at up to 7.0 fps, dynamic range expansion processing and a choice of ‘Film Simulation’ presets. The latter isn’t quite as extensive as on the X-Pro1, but still includes the Provia, Velvia and Astia colour settings – based on the popular Fujichrome transparency films and equivalent to Standard, Vivid and Soft respectively – plus four for B&W capture, namely neutral or with yellow, red or green contrast filters (each as separate presets) and, finally, a sepia mode. Image parameters for colour saturation, sharpness, highlight tone and shadow tone are individually adjustable independent of the ‘Film Simulation’ presets, as is noise reduction. Each has five settings – high, medium high, standard, medium low and low. Bracketing is available for the three colour presets (but curiously not the B&W settings) and also for exposure, sensitivity and dynamic range, each capturing three frames.