The Fujifilm Finepix X-S1 is a superzoom with a difference: its 12-megapixel, 2/3in sensor is far larger than you'll find in any other superzoom camera. In fact it's the same sensor as found in the high-end Fujifilm X10 compact camera.
When we first heard about the X-S1 it sounded like a great prospect. A superzoom catered for a more discerning and pro-spec user is something that's never been tackled before.
With the X-S1's larger sensor we were anticipating a larger body than you'd find in the current Finepix HS20 (and forthcoming HS30) models but, in fact, it's not too significant. The body size isn't small, sure, but it's more DSLR-size than compact. The camera has a 26x optical zoom lens that, while not as long as many smaller-sensor superzooms, still provides a huge 24-624mm range.
We suspect that there's a tradeoff between physical body and lens size and the top-end focal length - if the X-S1 could achieve a zoom as significant as the HS20's 720mm then it'd mean the camera would be far larger.
Using the zoom lens feels great in the hand. There's a manual zoom ring that is similar to using a DSLR lens in some respects. It's easy to zoom from wideangle to any given focal length with the rotation of a wrist. This also means there're no ‘steps' between zoom levels as per many toggle-controlled compact cameras - so you control the exact focal length. As much as we love this control, the location of the manual focus ring is close to the camera's body and doesn't feel natural in use. It's still possible to use it, but having the ring set further forward would make for easier use. It's a shame this hasn't been more on the ball in this department, as this is a complaint we've had regarding the HS10 and HS20 models.
Those concerned about the 2/3in sensor's handling abilities due to the X10's ‘white disc' issue may find some relief in knowing that the X-S1's different aperture blade design is said to avoid such issues. In the conditions we were shooting with it wasn't possible to identify a repeat of the problem, but then we weren't allowed to take images away for closer inspection as the X-S1 is still a pre-production model and final quality is subject to change. Signs are good so far, though we'll be sure to thoroughly check images when we get our hands on a final, shelf-worthy model.
One area where the X-S1 truly trounces its HS-series cousins is in the viewfinder department. The X-S1 has a 1.44m-dot EVF that's considerably larger than any competitors have to offer. Indeed this is the same sort of viewfinder you'll find in Panasonic's G-series Compact System Camera range. In use it's large and bright, provides 100% coverage and, finally, lays to rest the ‘TV at the end of a tunnel' stigma that's been a bit of an issue with other superzooms' viewfinders. It makes using the camera far better than any other superzoom we've laid our hands on.
However, in the model we were using, there's been little to no progression in handling compared to the HS20. This is a disappointment for a couple of reasons: 1. The focus won't be as good as something like the Panasonic FZ150 model but, and more importantly, that; 2. At longer zoom lengths there's a delay between acquiring focus and the screen/viewfinder updating. The second point is an oddity - you can half press the shutter to acquire focus but the live preview freezes on a single frame for a split second before acquiring focus. Not a problem for still subjects, but none too good for moving subjects at a distance. We do have to stress that this isn't a final sample and so there could be an update.
Elsewhere the camera's design is much like the HS20 for the most part. The inclusion of an AF dial on the front of the X-S1 does make it easy to jump between single, continuous and manual focus modes without the need for menu digging. That'll be a switch that sees plenty of use we'd wager.
Raw shooting can be toggled on or off at the press of a button and full manual control is available as would be expected. There're other cool features too such as a 1cm macro focus ability at the wideangle setting and an improved battery capable of 500 shots per charge.
There is one main factor that might get in the way of owning an X-S1 though: its £699 asking price makes it as expensive as a low-mid level DSLR body. Will it be worth it? We'll let you know as and when we receive a final sample model...