While I've used film SLRs in the past, I've never stepped up to a DSLR. I've found P&S digicams and bridge cameras to work well enough for 98% of what I shoot. Sure, I wouldn't mind the added speed and quality a DSLR offers, but I don't want to pay for it and have to lug around/invest in multiple lenses. There are some tempting 4:3 options out there right now, but instead I decided to go with the Fujifilm X-S1. It is less than half the list price on Amazon currently, so it really is an outstanding deal, and I've found Fuji digicams can really deliver the goods. I have a number of compact cameras, and the X-S1 will be replacing (mostly) my old Olympus C8080 and a Panasonic FZ-50. Both are still great cameras, but they are showing their age.
EDIT: I've actually acquired a Sony a7K recently, so I now own a full-frame interchangeable lens camera. The two are quite different though, so I won't compare them here. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but if you're on a budget and don't need 24MP, then the X-S1 is the better choice.
This is no compact all-in-one. In fact, a casual observer might assume you are using a DSLR. That pays off though because the build quality and ergonomics are outstanding, and the fit and finish is quite good. The X-S1 is even moderately weather sealed, so you can use it in lightly rainy weather with no fear of it getting ruined. If you don't mind lugging around a slightly less than DSLR sized camera, then the Fuji should work for you. Especially considering you won't need any extra lenses. Battery life is exceptional for this type of camera. Again - it has a solid, outstanding build quality with it's sturdy frame, grippy finish, and tactile metal dials.
So, who is this camera for?
- A person who wants nearly DSLR performance and quality in a single lens package. The wonderful manual zoom lens is silky smooth. Many DSLRs will have better low-light performance and faster focusing and shooting for sports, but the X-S1 is no slouch when compared to other bridge cameras and often bests them. Coupled with a fast 64GB SDXC card (like the SanDisk Extreme 64 GB SDXC), it blazes. It has tons of manual options, many of which I've still yet to explore.
- A person who wants a versatile zoom range. There are other (sometimes smaller) bridge cameras out there with a longer zoom range or wider angle low end, but they would be hard pressed to match the quality the X-S1 offers, and the Optical 26x zoom (24-624mm) is pretty darn good. You can get excellent macro shots and then zoom out to the long end for close-ups of a distant subject. The camera's superb optical image stabilization helps in this respect as well. Wide angle, full 26x zoom, and 1cm Super Macro - this lens has it all and the camera hardware to make it happen!
- A person who wants quality images above and beyond your standard point-and-shoot. The FUJINON F2.8 Wide-Angle lens coupled with the ⅔ 12MP EXR-CMOS sensor produces images with a great tonal range and fairly sharp detail across the zoom range. The 2 EXR 6MP modes boost either dynamic range or low light performance as well. The 9-blade aperture diaphragm allows for lovely "bokeh" effect in shallow focus images too.
- A person who wants good full HD video. While the video here won't match the quality of HD from some other P&Ss or DSLRs/4:3s, it does produce quality full HDR video that wows me. Audio quality from the built-in microphones is pretty good, and the image quality is impressive. The user can manually zoom in and out while recording with little or no noise, but I've noticed that the autofocus has a tendency to blur out for a second or two at times while trying to find the subject near full zoom. This isn't a deal breaker, but you should be aware of it.
- Macros. The lens lets me take amazing macro photos. Other fixed lens cameras can as well, but this lens coupled with the larger sensor in the X-S1 is impressive for a bridge/super-zoom camera.
So who should steer clear of this camera? Anyone wanting a pocketable compact package for snapshots. This is not stealth digicam -- you'll need a camera bag for this one. Those who require the quality and versatility of a DSLR or even a 4:3 camera may also want look elsewhere, though the X-S1 comes pretty close in many areas. It has some quirks that take getting used to and the extensive menu system and myriad controls take a while to fully understand. However, it is fairly easy to use overall. You could leave it in the full auto setting and get great shots, but you'd be doing yourself a disservice.
I think the X-S1 is nearly the perfect "compromise" camera. It does nearly everything almost as well as cameras dedicated to those functions. In a few areas results from the X-S1 may even exceed or surpass them. With its form factor, it is a joy to use and is a great all-round option for nearly every situation. The more I use it, the more I find to love. I've obtained impressive results from all of the photos and videos I've taken so far, ranging from landscapes to sports to portraits and close-ups. I also own the X-S1's younger sibling, the new S1, but aside from slightly improved weather proofing, the 50x zoom range, lighter weight, the fully articulated LCD, Wi-Fi and slightly better image stabilization, the X-S1 shines as the better quality camera for the enthusiast. The X-S1 can currently be found for less as of this writing too.
I've taken the X-S1 to the beach a few times and it performed admirably. The custom settings work well, but the "beach" preset was good enough for 95% of the photos. This camera continues to be a joy to use and I'm very glad I purchased it. The long zoom combined with the wide angle on the other end makes it ideal for beach related photography. There were occasional focus and exposure issues, but for the most part I couldn't be happier with the quality of the photos I captured. I can unequivocally recommend it to someone looking for a quality bridge super-zoom at an amazing price.
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