The Bottom Line
Fixed-lens cameras with large zoom lenses and large image sensors are starting to be more prevalent in the digital camera marketplace, as camera manufacturers are looking to expand the segment of the market between budget-priced thin cameras and interchangeable lens cameras. These large fixed-lens cameras carry quite a few desirable features, but they also tend to carry pretty large price tags, as high as $750 or even $1,000.
Obviously, at this price point, these fixed-lens cameras are about equal to the price of a beginner DIL or DSLR camera. That means that the fixed-lens model had better be a really good model to compete ... or it had better drop a little in price.
In my Fujifilm X-S1 review, I found that this camera does both. The X-S1 is a really strong performing camera that will create great photographs while giving you ultra-zoom performance. And because Fujifilm recently dropped the price on this model, you're going to be very pleased with the value that the X-S1 provides. It definitely fits as one of the best cameras in 2012.
Ultimately, no matter how many great features a digital camera may have, the image quality that it can create is the most important aspect of the camera. The world's fastest camera isn't worth much if it creates lousy photographs.
Fortunately, the Fujifilm X-S1 does a great job with image quality, both in low light and in outdoor photographs. A lot of the success of the X-S1 can be attributed to its large 2/3-inch (0.67-inch) CMOS image sensor. That's quite a bit larger than the image sensors you're going to find in point-and-shoot cameras.
With a 26X zoom lens, you're going to be able to shoot some great photos over a distance, while also having success with portrait photos. The X-S1's lens produces very sharp images, and you have the added option of doing the final sharpening of the images with a manual focus ring. I found that the autofocus worked perfectly well most of the time, but it was nice to have that manual focus option for that occasional really tricky scene.
Because the X-S1 provides such a large number of manual control options, you can expect to be able to tweak the image while you're shooting to meet your exact needs. You also have the option of shooting in RAW, which gives you even more versatility in trying to adjust the look of your images.
Thanks to the positioning of the pop-up flash unit above the large zoom lens, the images shot with the flash are of a high quality. Having the flash centered is a great feature, and the pop-up flash has a good angle to the scene.
One aspect of the X-S1 that makes it a unique option is that this camera has a manual zoom lens. This means that you'll be turning a zoom ring to move the X-S1 through its 26X zoom range. This is a lot of fun to use, and it will remind you of the old 35mm film cameras, which had manual zoom rings.
Having the ability to turn the zoom ring manually gives you a couple of additional advantages. First, you can move through the entire zoom range in about a second, much faster than almost any zoom motor mechanism that I've seen. Second, manually twisting the zoom ring saves battery life versus having to use a zoom motor mechanism. The X-S1's battery life is among the best I've ever seen in a digital camera, and you're going to be able to shoot almost 500 photos per battery charge with this powerful model.
As far as the X-S1's response times are concerned, this camera is a fast performer. The X-S1 starts fast, shoots with almost no shutter lag, has fast responses between shots, and offers multiple burst modes. You'd expect a camera in this price range to be a fast performer, and the X-S1 works even more quickly than I expected.
The X-S1 includes a large mode dial, which makes it easy to select the shooting mode that you want to use.
You're also going to appreciate the movie modes that Fujifilm included with the X-S1. It can shoot in full 1080p HD video mode, and you'll have plenty of options for controlling the video as you shoot, including full access to the manual zoom lens. I did find it a little tough to hand hold the steady while shooting video, so I'd recommend a tripod.
As you can tell from the photos included here, the X-S1 is a huge camera. It's also heavy at about 2 pounds, so, as mentioned earlier, a tripod is highly recommended. Having such a large camera will turn off some potential buyers, but if you liked the old 35mm SLR film cameras, this model reminded me quite a bit of those types of cameras in terms of size and bulk.
If you're looking for a colorful option, you won't find it here. The X-S1 camera is all black, with no trim color. Fujifilm included a rubberized grip on this model's body and lens, including a large right handgrip, which makes it easy to hold and use this camera.
There are quite a few buttons on the back and top panels of the X-S1, which can make it much easier for you to set up the camera to work exactly how you want. However, if you're an inexperienced photographer, expect to spend a bit of time learning what each button does. A beginner may be a bit confused by this camera at first.
The camera's LCD is a really nice screen, offering a high resolution. You also can tilt the LCD up to 90 degrees, making it easy to shoot odd-angle photos. Because the LCD has a few problems from time to time with glare, it's great that Fujifilm included an electronic viewfinder with the X-S1. As you lift the camera to your eye to use the viewfinder, the X-S1 automatically switches the activated screen from the LCD to the viewfinder, which is a nice feature.
One design aspect that I found a little odd involves the X-S1's menu structure. The on-screen menus just don't seem to be very well organized. It's difficult to find the exact command that you want to use because of the odd organization. This seems to be a common problem with Fujifilm cameras of late.
However, with all of the command buttons and the mode dial, you probably won't have to use the on-screen menus all that much. And if some oddly sorted menus are the biggest issue with a camera, you can feel comfortable that the camera is a pretty strong one.
The X-S1 is a great model, as long as you don't mind the large price tag. Shop around and look for this model to now be well below its $799 MSRP, and you're going to end up with a great camera at a great value.