Thursday, May 9, 2013

REVIEW: Fujifilm X-S1–The Point & Shoot in a DSLR Costume with an awesome zoom lens

Fujifilm X-S1 Digital Camera (NOT a DSLR)
Fujifilm X-S1 Digital Camera (NOT a DSLR)

I have no inside info from Fujifilm, but based on my testing what you see in the shot above is the Fujifilm X100 / X10 in a DSLR looking shell with a better lens. If this were 2011 when this camera was originally released this might be an awesome thing, but this is 2013 so there’s some nasty facts that you need to know about this camera up front in 2013:

  1. This camera has the same crappy AF system that plagued the x100 which is shocking to me as even the x10 with the v1.0 firmware outperformed that. The x10’s v2.0 firmware puts it on par with the great improvements of the x20 so I was scratching my head as to why this camera only has a v1.01 firmware update. Hey Fujifilm – where’s the v2 firmware?!!!
  2. This camera is slow as a slug like the x100, yet it seems to have a dynamic range that is closer to the X10 than the X100.
  3. Did you hate the X10’s or X100’s original menu system? If so, they’re back from the dead here. I tolerated them before but now with the improvements in the new firmware I can’t imagine how I lived with this crap before!
  4. The build quality of the X-S1 feels cheap and very inferior to the the other X-Series cameras which have that solid German-like build quality feel (despite being made in Japan). This makes sense though as it’s price indicates that compromises had to be made.
  5. It’s easy to think this is a DSLR because it sure looks the part, but that lens is not interchangeable and there’s no mirror. It’s also a 2/3” sensor like the X10 not the APS-C sensor found in the X100 (or X100s).

Make no bones about it, this is a X10 in disguise with the flaws of the X100 instead of the benefits of the X10. As a result, it quickly went from being a camera I was so excited to test to one that disappointed me deeply.

If this camera had the X100s internals with a T5i like articulating LCD and a better quality shutter button I would have been gushing all over this camera. It’s definitely a case of so close, yet so far! I wanted to love it because it feels good in the hands and that big honking 26x optical zoom is a joy to use! However, this camera just falls short.

Things get ugly indoors

f/4.5 @ 39.1 mm, 1/200, ISO 3200, No Flash
Flashback to 2006 level high ISO performance

This shot was taken in a fairly bright room on a chamber of commerce sunny day, but ISO 3200 just sucks in anything but perfect light. As a result I found this camera to be darn near unusable in most places in my house during the day and not even worth turning on at night. The on-camera flash was actually worse than average so I quickly accepted the reality that this is a sunny day outdoor camera.

Real World Sample Images

Things do get better when you set this camera up for success. I have a selection of images that illustrate some points I wanted to raise about this camera and to share that it’s not all bad.

As always, these images ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (yes, even the lame ones <g>). You may not save, edit, print, redistribute or otherwise use them without expressed written permission.

The full set of images is available at, but here’s a few noteworthy images. Click the image for the original and view using the gallery to see EXIF information. All major settings were camera defaults and in most cases I’m using Aperture priority with Auto ISO (3200) and DR Auto or EXR mode (when noted). I’m also using the Velvia film simulation and either auto white balance or shade white balance (outdoor shots).

f/4 @ 15.1 mm, 1/60, ISO 320, No Flash
The detail from this lens blew me away and the small sensor made f/4 feel more like f/11

f/3.6 @ 15.7 mm, 1/250, ISO 1250, No Flash, EXR
Small sensor means good bokeh comes a little harder

f/4 @ 23.8 mm, 1/125, ISO 400, No Flash, Aperture Priority –1 EV
I love the in-camera color and lens on this camera

f/3.2 @ 6.1 mm, 1/60, ISO 1600, No Flash
There’s decent wide angle support at the effective 24mm zoom

f/5.6 @ 158.6 mm, 1/27, ISO 3200, No Flash
Max zoom is an astonishing 624mm effective zoom

f/3.2 @ 9.9 mm, 1/420, ISO 100, No Flash
EXR mode doesn’t disappoint as it exposes this scene darn near exactly as the eye sees it

f/3.2 @ 6.8 mm, 1/125, ISO 1250, No Flash
In the dingy dungeon piano practice room EXR mode did okay

f/3.2 @ 6.1 mm, 1/60, ISO 2500, No Flash
While preparing for the piano recital I was impressed at the wide angle view

f/5.6 @ 158.6 mm, 1/30, ISO 3200, No Flash
I was astonished at how close I could get to the piano from my seating position in the shot above

f/5 @ 53 mm, 1/60, ISO 3200, No Flash
I was able to easily get a front row seat to my daughters piano performance

f/5.6 @ 25.7 mm, 1/75, ISO 3200, No Flash
The super macro mode also found on my x10 & x20 worked well here,
but only one out of 8 shots actually came in sharp (typical fail shot)

f/5.6 @ 6.1 mm, 1/60, ISO 2000, No Flash, Aperture Priority, Velvia
Without EXR the blown highlights start to appear
Notice in the center of the image there’s a little tiny blue spot – it’s the stream shown below

f/5.6 @ 158.6 mm, 1/40, ISO 3200, No Flash
The big optical zoom is addicting when you can take a scene like above where you
hear water, but can barely see it. With the big zoom I was able to precision focus through
all of the brush to the water – impressive!

f/6.4 @ 37.6 mm, 1/70, ISO 3200, No Flash, Velvia Film Simulation
The small sensor proves to be advantageous in getting the whole snail in focus at only f/6.4
whereas even f/8 wasn’t enough to get the full snail in focus on the T5i (see here)

f/5.6 @ 11.6 mm, 1/80, ISO 2000, No Flash
Things start to go downhill quickly after ISO 1600
In-camera stabilization is inadequate by todays standards

f/4.5 @ 31.1 mm, 1/60, ISO 2000, No Flash
I wish I could show you better butterfly shots but the battery died after my third click
This is a fantastic butterfly camera – WHEN the damn thing focuses!


There were momentary flashes of brilliance with this camera, and I was impressed with the quality of the build in lens. Given the fact that most good lenses cost more than the entire cost of this camera, Fujifilm has done an impressive job with the lens. What’s more the tiny sensor works to a huge advantage by transforming a mediocre 6.1mm – 158.6mm lens into a beastly 24-624mm (35mm equivalent) 26x optical zoom. That is freakin impressive and a hell of a lot of fun to use! It’s really the one size fits most lens!

Sadly the cool lens and nice ergo of the body are where the good times end. Back for an encore is horrible battery life, horrific menus, useless AF performance indoors, painfully slow buffer flush performance, terrible burst mode and poor high ISO performance. Perhaps a v2.0 firmware like the X10 has would breathe new life into this camera to make it usable again, but as I tested it with v1.01 I quickly realized that there’s little to love about this camera. If you want a DSLR then get DSLR. If you want a point and shoot get a X10 or X20. If want better than 2/3” sensor performance with a fixed lens then get a x100s otherwise get a X-E1. This leaves no audience for this camera which means I give this a strong DO NOT BUY recommendation. I urge my readers to check out my Which camera should I buy? article and reviews below to help decide which camera is better suited for their needs. A X-S2 is rumored to be on the way as soon as the end of this month, so that might help things. However, I’d want to see this camera get the same sensor as the X100s. If the replacement is basically a big X20 then my advice would remain to skip this camera and go for the x20 or other options within the Fujifilm, Nikon, Sony or Canon platforms.

Where to order

Click here to order the Fujifilm X-S1 B&H web site.

Other articles you may enjoy

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Anonymous said...

Hi, the X-S2 is comming soon...end of May?

Anonymous said...

Hi Ron,

I can't say that I agree with all that you've written here.

For me this camera has been a joy to use. The excellent EVF is one factor. The 26X zoom another.

When I bought it, I knew that with such a small sensor, the image quality would be lower than my previous DSLR (Canon XT). What I was aiming for was the zoom power. And not having to constantly switch lenses (I had 2 zooms). And it does deliver that. I've made some very good shots with it. And some crummy ones too. As I did with my previous camera.

To me the other Fuji X cameras are models I would not buy. I just don't see a point to retro-styled digital cameras. Looks like I'm in the minority.

Every camera is a compromise somewhere. For me, this camera's features mix fills my needs.

Ron Martinsen said...


I agree - you hit the nail on the head! If there was a perfect camera with no compromises we'd all be buying that and there'd be no point for me to review cameras.

I don't hate this camera by any stretch, and to be very fair I reviewed it late in its life cycle.

I did really enjoy the 26x zoom though - it's easy to get used to in a hurry.

I'm also a huge fan of the x10 and this is very much like a X10 with a really nice lens so I can understand why you like it so much.

My take is primarily based on people who are looking to buy in May 2013. I think there's better offerings but if/when the X-S2 comes out then this should get more interesting again.


Tony Blatcher said...

Hi Ron,

I felt you were quite a way off with this review from my own experience of this camera, you even missed one of the best things about it, the flash! Like the X10 it is excellent for fill flash and a number of your shots would have been much better had you used it.
I don't find the autofocus unreliable but it does black out more than I'd like when you fire the shutter. The lowlight mode is also capable of very nice quality at ISO 3200 for static subjects.
Of course this is all subjective but personally I think the X-S1 is a far better camera than you've indicated here.

Anonymous said...

Your expectations were probably too high. At the end of the day, this is a super zoom camera with a small sensor. It is not fair to compare it to an X-10 or X100, they are in completely different categories.

Doug Sinnott said...

I completely disagree with some of the adverse comments re the XS-1 in this review.
It hard to realise he's writing about the same camera I've been using for nearly 12 months!
Also nearly all the initial reviews for the XS-1 all praised it's picture quality,features,build,and it's speedy handling,resulting in widespread 4 and 5 star ratings!
The only minus point was it's initial launch price,as some reviewers thought it a bit high at nearly £800!
It is a superb camera,and the images are comparable to my Pentax DSLR,and as good as my Panasonic G2,at least up to 800 ISO.Prints at A4,with some cropping,are sharp and vivid,and I have had no complaints about it's speed of operation at all,using a class 10 SD card.
The rear LCD is bright and sharp,and my DSLR evf looks positively dim compared to the Fuji's,and in low light,there's just no comparison.
The lens is really superb,smooth to use,and no flare or abberations which could cause any problems as far as I am aware.
As regards the Panasonic FZ200,the EVF is not a patch on the XS-1,and neither is the build quality.
The sensor on the Fuji is bigger than the competition,and 12Mp ensures it's not too crowded,hence better noise at higher ISOs.
The "Pro Low-Light" mode works really well,recording up to 4 images instantaneously at varying resolutions, and even images recorded at 3200 ISO print out on A4 well.
No camera is perfect,but after nearly 50 years as an amateur,and having used many cameras over the years,including Fuji,and Panasonic bridge cameras,Canon and Nikon DSLRs,(and currently a Pentax),I think I know as much as the reviewer,and I recognise a well thought out,well constructed,camera when I see it,and yet,at the same time,capable of tackling all that the average keen photographer will want to do,and capable of some superb results.
This camera,at it's current price of £400 or so,is a terrific bargain,head and shoulders above the competition,and to have similar capability in a DSLR,would cost two or three times(at least!)the cost of the XS-1.
The lens alone is worth the money!

Ron Martinsen said...


At the end of the day, this is a super zoom camera with a small sensor. It is not fair to compare it to an X-10

I disagree because it's effectively an X-10 (which I like) with a big zoom lens.

I probably would have liked it more if I had reviewed it when it first came out.

You're correct that it's not in the same league as a X100/X100s.

It's a good start - hopefully Fuji will keep working at it to make something better in the future.

Doug Sinnott said...

I can't agree with most of your comments,I've had my XS-1 for 6 months,and found it great to use.
The "Pro Low-light" mode works particularly well for still pictures indoors(as long as you keep the camera steady!),and I've used it on flower close ups as well,and it turns out some great shots.
Real world pictures are sharp and colourful,the lens is great,and it's quick to use,despite the reviewers comments.
His lowlight pictures look fine to me,and yet he slags of the higher ISO images in his review.
I certainly do NOT agree either with his comments relating to the build quality.The XS1 is a well built,solid camera,and fully deserves Fuji's Premium "X" rating,and I have used and owned many cameras over nearly 50 years.

Anonymous said...

I can't fully agree with your comment.

I got my X-S1 at an exchange offer - any camera you give get 25%on select cameras. Got a solid $225 for a 8 yr old Canon Powershot S45. Had my new DSLR SONY A580 and A200 with a 16-80CZ and 70-300G lens before I went for X-S1.

Menu was not as smooth as SONY. But got used to it soon. AF should've been better but is CDAF not PDAF!. As you said Fuji should've released some update but they chose not to. I got many more keepers than I got with my SONYs. you can see them here

I was thinking of getting a 70-400G to get better reach but huh!! - nearly 4kg of gear to match X-S1. I am not a sports shooter and X-S1 continues to impress me and A580 sleeps in the cupboard.

PhilSheldon said...

I think you have been particularly harsh with this review, there are many photographers , like me, who have one of these as a 'do it all' back up to their DSLRs, and love it. You say that it is no good at takingindoor photos and then post some great indoor photos taken with it, it is a complete contradiction. i agree it isn't perfect, and the AF could do with being a bit quicker, but it certainly shouldn't be derided as you have done here. As for saying the build quality is dreadful, it is certainly head and shoulders over that of the entry level Canon and Nikon DSLRs. I think this camera (now discontinued) was sadly misunderstood!!

Garg Ankit said...

The unavailability to manually control the movie recording feature makes this expensive camera less powerful.

Unknown said...

Here is an album from my safari trip to India
Using an X-S1

William said...

Hi Ron,

Sorry to say also...I think you are very wrong with your review. I have had everything from Hasselblads down and now have just the X-S1 and love it.

Fabulous manual zoom lens, beautifully built and soooo comfortable. Slightly bigger than it needs to be but for an all in one camera it is hard to beat.

I take it everywhere unlike all my other DSLR gear and lenses...since sold! It is not perfect but I take far more photos now than I ever did. As for image quality ... well it actually outstrips the best 35mm film cameras so who's complaining...After all it is about getting the photo and the adage is that the best camera is the one you have with you applies here!!!

You forget how far photography has recently come. Some reviewers think they have to criticise in order to sound knowledgeable.

The X-S1 is a leader in its field... well that is until the Sony RX-10 which I have just bought. I still think the Fuji rivals it in usability but not image quality. I also note you had nothing nice to say about the Sony which does somewhat contradict pretty much everyone else on the internet.

Oh well Ron ... I long ago got over my obsession with IQ etc. and just got on with having photographic fun.

Cheer up!!!

Ron Martinsen said...


I feel my job here on the blog is to report my opinions based on what I observe using any given product against the competition. The fact that I've try to do so without bias or being another "me too" fanboy review is what has made this blog popular.

I call it like I see it.

There are many fine cameras for all price ranges that can create great images, and a skillful photographer can take any camera and create amazing results with it. The Holga and pinhole cameras as well as many cell phones are perfect examples of this.

However, just because photography has come a long way recently (and I know as I've been shooting since the 1980's with my first SLR being a Canon AE-1), it doesn't mean that every camera that takes photos better than those of the past warrants a glowing review.

What I'm hearing you say is that this camera meets your needs for the things you find important - and that's great. For many of the photos I take for personal reasons my iPhone meets my needs too. However, it's not fair to say to my readers that just because a camera might meet mine or your needs that there's no room for improvements with it. Every product that has ever been made or ever will be made will have some room for improvement - at some point in time. The reason why is because technology is always changing and improving.

To point out that the lens on this camera is softer than most others that I have reviewed isn't an obsession with IQ - it's just a fact based on my experience reviewing cameras. However, I include unmodified real-world sample images and bookshelf shots for my readers to review so they can determine if the level of image quality that any reviewed product is sufficient for their needs.

Just because something meets my needs doesn't mean that there isn't something better. My inexpensive x20 meets my needs as a compact camera, but for me to say that it is just as good as the X-T1 because I've long got over my obsession with IQ would be a disservice to my readers.

I'm not criticizing to sound knowledgeable, I'm sharing my observations relative to those other products that I have reviewed. My observations may differ from others, so people are free to view multiple reviews and decide which opinions they find most credible and use that data to help their purchase decisions.

I don't mind people disagreeing with me, and I've never been afraid to go against the trend. I try to avoid reading others reviews before doing my own so if my opinion differs it isn't because I am trying to be different - it's just how things played out when I reviewed a product.

I'm sure you'll enjoy your X-S1 and RX-10. Both are fine products, but based on my experience using many other products on the market I do believe their are better ones.

Heck, just because a product is better doesn't mean I'll buy it either. Sure a Zeiss Otus lens might be the sharpest on the market, but I don't have that kind of money and I'm fine with making a compromise that meets my budget and needs.

I 100% support your goal to just have fun with photography. I talk about that in my Scott Kelby guest blog and elsewhere here too.

The biggest factor in taking a good photo is not in the device, but rather the person taking the photo.

Lighten up, my findings on this camera are not a personal attack on your or your purchase decision - they are just data points that prospective buyers can choose to use or ignore. However, they are my opinions and findings that do not differ from what I'd tell a close friend or relative.


pan man said...

My take on the xs1 is this , there are people who want zoom but can not afford $$$ for a 600mm lens , especially good glass. They still want good IQ , this camera has that , it has issues at higher iso for sure but has programing that does help with that. I just try to keep the iso as low as possible and get very good results . In it's class , you can get more zoom but are hard pressed to better the IQ. Even the new fz1000 with leica glass does not equal this cameras IQ based on the images I get with this and the images online from the fz1000. fuji x have their short comings but all deliver in some spectacular way , some more than others.
The xs1 is more of a 2nd camera to back the xe1 or the like. a kit with those two , brings much to the table and for much less $ than another brand kit to equal it.

elderscribe said...

I picked up this camera for just over £200 nearly new. No more needs to be said. Superior picture creation at a bargain price. I think this review is a little harsh to say the least - makes the XS - 1 out to be a potential dog, which flies in the face of most reviews, and the opinion of many users, myself included.

Ron Martinsen said...


I'm glad you like it and if it works for you then great! Keep in mind that I test hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gear each year so I get to enjoy the best of the best state of the art gear, so my bar is high. WIth that said, I do try to compare cameras to those in their class and even as a Fujifilm fan (and owner), I felt like this one fell short based on other offerings available on the market.

If it works for you though then enough said - enjoy!


elderscribe said...

Thanks Ron. I'm becoming aware of the XS1's shortfalls. Not fantastic at high ISO - and the picture quality issues. That being said, I wouldn't have paid £700 for it as it was UK priced when released. It was a steal at £200, but admittedly I would love to have something better going forward. It's versatility is a plus of course - and I can mix it up with the different focal ranges on offer. But I do realise to gain this much versatility with different kit, and reclaim on the shortfall in sharpness and low light performance, is going to put a bigger dent in my bank account than £200.


Kevin B

Ron Martinsen said...


Exactly! It's an amazing value for what it offers at that price, but now you see why people trust my reviews. I often get readers who come back and tell me months after they purchased a camera that they see the issues I had concerns about and they were shocked how I was the only one actually pointing out the things they actually saw in real life AFTER they bought the camera.

You do get a lot - especially in terms of zoom - for the price of this one though.