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A SUPER ZOOM

If you’re starting to think that the X-S1 is shaping up as a serious alternative to an entry-level – or possibly even a mid-level – D-SLR, read on.

Firstly, let’s go back to the lens which is where so many superzoom cameras come unstuck. The X-S1 uses Super EBC Fujinon optics and the 17 element construction includes aspherical, high refractive index and extra-low dispersion (ED) types to counter distortion and chromatic aberrations. The EBC – Electronic Beam Coating – multi-coating is designed to reduce ghosting and flare and is applied to all the non-bonded element surfaces. There are four aspherical elements created via glass moulding and two ED elements.

The sensor size allows for a maximum aperture range of f2.8-5.6 and it’s clear Fujifilm has been very carefully juggling all the elements at play here to come up with a balance of speed, image quality and focal range. Do you really need a 26x zooming range with a maximum focal length of 624 mm? Optical image stabilisation makes these longer focal lengths a more practical proposition and, as you’ll see, it’s this range that makes the X-S1 just a little bit special. There’s a nine-bladed diaphragm for smoother out-of-focus effects, but the one drawback – as with all superzoom cameras – is that the smallest available aperture is f11 so a couple of ND filters are going to be an essential extra purchase. The filter fitting, by the way, is 62 mm and the camera is supplied with a bayonet-fit metal lens hood.

Autofocusing is, of course, via the sensor-based contrast detection method which is slower than any D-SLR’s phase-difference detection system, but Fujifilm has worked hard to make up the difference via the EXR sensor’s faster read-out and the processing speed of the sensor. The AF employs 49 measuring points which cover a large part of the frame and are individually selectable in the camera’s ‘Area AF’ mode. Additionally, the focus frame can be adjusted to three sizes from 50 percent to 150 percent. Macro focusing down to just one centimetre is available at the touch of a button.

Switching between the single-shot and continuous AF modes is done by a selector switch on the front panel – as on many D-SLRs – and this control also sets manual focusing. The lens has a proper control ring – albeit fly-by-wire rather than mechanical – and zooming with scrolling is available to more precisely check sharpness. Handily, this can be assigned to one of the camera’s two multi-function keys which is useful if you’re regularly using manual focus. Even better, this – and everything else – can be done via the eyelevel viewfinder which, although not in the same league as Sony’s OLED types, isn’t too bad. Being an LCD panel (with a resolution of 1.44 million pixels) it doesn’t have a spectacular dynamic range and it’s still a bit ‘laggy’ if you move the camera quickly, but it is workable. Obviously, it’s particularly helpful when it comes to previewing anything that affects the look of an image such as the ‘Film Simulation’ modes and white balance settings.

UP TO SPEED

The X-S1’s auto white balance control is linked to scene detection an analysis, but there is also a choice of six presets (three for fluorescent lighting types), provisions for making a custom measurement and manual colour temperature setting over a range of 2500 to 10,000 degrees Kelvin (which is where the preview facility is particularly useful). Fine-tuning is available in the red-to-cyan and blue-to-yellow colour ranges (plus/minus nine steps), but only via the main menu and not the white balance control’s short-cut key. There is no auto bracketing function for white balance.

The exposure control modes mentioned earlier are driven by one of three metering methods – 256-segment multi-zone, average or spot measurements. The compensation range is +/-2.0 EV and there’s an AF/AE lock button which can be configured to operate continuously when pressed or as an on/off switch.

The X-S1’s shutter is located at the focal plane and employs an electronic first curtain arrangement to minimise lag. As we’ve explained before the electronic first curtain isn’t a physical curtain or a set of blades at all, but commences the exposure by switching on the sensor’s photosites line-by-line. However, the exposure is stopped by a physical shutter passing in front of the sensor… which is also confusingly referred to as being mechanical although it’s actually electronically controlled. The speed range is 30-1/4000 second. The sensor’s standard sensitivity range is equivalent to ISO 100 to 3200 and, while you can continue up to ISO 6400 and 12,800, the resolution is progressively lowered. This is also done to achieve a super-fast shooting speed of 10 fps, but even at the full resolution of 12 megapixels, the X-S1 still motors along at a respectable rate of 7.0 fps. Two slower speeds of 5.0 fps and 3.0 fps are available if longer burst lengths are wanted. There’s also a ‘Best Frame Capture’ mode which does the little trick of commencing capture immediately the shutter button is depressed and continuing it briefly after pressure is released. These images are also captured at 10 fps and six megapixels and the camera then saves the 16 frames it considers to be the best. It’s probably not a feature that the more serious shooter will use much, but thankfully the X-S1’s feature set is much more orientated towards the higher-end than entry-level.

Video footage can be recorded in either the Full HD or HD resolutions with stereo sound and the availability of full autofocusing selected image settings such as the ‘Film Simulation’ presets. That the X-S1 has built-in stereo microphones puts it ahead of many D-SLRs, but Fujifilm also provides a stereo input for connected an external pick-up. There’s also a dedicated video start/stop button on the adjacent to the viewfinder eyepiece so it’s easy to operate using your right thumb.