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Fuji S1 Review -- First Impressions

Preview posted

[Special update - 10/27/14: We've now posted our Best Superzoom 2014 showdown, and if you're interested in the Fujifilm S1you'll very much want to take a look, as it performed rather well against most of the field.]

The fixed-lens digital camera market has taken quite a hit from smartphones in recent years, but while compact point-and-shoots are becoming increasingly rare, there are still market niches which thrive. Two in particular are the so-called bridge camera -- an SLR-like design with a fixed, long-zoom lens -- and the rugged, weatherproof camera. It's easy to see why both are still popular -- they offer something which smartphones simply can't compete with.

Curiously, though, these two market segments have remained rather separate. Indeed, Fujifilm is calling their FinePix S1 the "world's first weather resistant super zoom bridge camera". Technically, we'd say the claim is right, although the Sony RX10 is already on sale, a bridge camera, and weather-resistant. Not only is the Fuji S1 a vastly more affordable bridge camera (at list pricing, you could pick up two Fuji S1 bodies for the price of a single RX10, and still have several hundred dollars left over.) The Sony RX10 also doesn't offer anywhere near as much zoom reach. And among similarly-priced, similarly far-reaching bridge camera rivals, you're not going to find weather sealing.

So... weather sealing to keep your camera safe from dust and rain is the standout feature of the Fuji S1, but there are also quite a few other features that make this an interesting camera, and one that stands out from the bridge camera crowd. The S1 pairs a 16-megapixel, backside-illuminated 1/2.3-inch type CMOS image sensor and a powerful 24-1,200mm equivalent, 50x optical zoom, Fujinon lens with dual zoom control.

The latter has a reasonably bright (by bridge camera standards) maximum aperture of f/2.0 to f/5.6 across the zoom range. OK, f/5.6 isn't bright, but some cameras fall to even dimmer maximum apertures far before 50x zoom. And the lens allows for very close focusing, as well. By default, you can focus as close as 1.3 feet, but enable macro mode and that falls to just two inches. In super macro mode, it's even closer -- just 0.3 inches.

And while you may struggle to get light on your subject from so close, the backside-illuminated sensor will allow sensitivities as high as ISO 12,800 equivalent. That'll also come in handy when trying to obtain faster shutter speeds, so that you can avoid blur from camera shake at the telephoto end of the lens. So, too, will the Fuji S1's five-axis image stabilization system.

Performance is said to be swift, too, although it should be noted that we've yet to test the camera in our lab. Autofocusing is said to take around 0.14 seconds to CIPA standards, and although the standard burst-shooting performance of 1.5 frames per second is sedate, it's possible to shoot full-resolution frames at an impressive 10 fps in continuous drive mode. Startup time is manufacturer-rated at 0.68 seconds if Quick Start mode is enabled, but there's a catch here -- the camera drains power even when switched off, in this mode.

The SLR-like feel of the FinePix S1 is reinforced by the presence of a viewfinder, albeit an electronic one. Based around a 0.2-inch panel, it has a fairly high resolution of 920,000 dots, as does the tilting 3.0-inch LCD monitor which it sits above. And the top deck hot shoe -- compatible with the Fujifilm EF-20, EFX-20, and EF-42 flash strobes -- also reinforces that SLR-like impression, as well as making for better shots when available light just isn't sufficient. (There's also a built-in, popup flash strobe, but we don't yet have specifications for this.)

The Fuji S1 also offers pretty good creative options, by fixed-lens camera standards. In addition to the standards such as Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual shooting, creative tools such as focus peaking, 10 artistic filter effects and a time-lapse shooting function abound. When shooting in interval mode, you can select a delay between shots of 15, 30, or 60 seconds, as well as five or 10 minutes. The maximum shooting duration can be 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes, or 2, 3, or 4 hours.

The S1 also allows for movie capture, not just stills. Here, you can shoot at up to Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) resolution, with a maximum rate of 60 progressive-scan frames per second. A stereo mic is built-in, and sits directly in front of the flash hot shoe.

Fujifilm has also included 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity, which allows you not only to share images with your smarphone or tablet, but also to control the camera remotely using the Fujifilm Camera Remote app. (We don't yet know whether the app is available for Google's Android, Apple's iOS, or both, however.) You can also geotag your photos using information from your phone or tablet's location sensor, although this will inevitably shorten battery life of the smart device.

Speaking of battery life, Fujifilm rates the FinePix S1 as good for 350 shots on a charge to CIPA testing standards, using its NP-85 lithium ion rechargeable battery pack. Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, including the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types, and the higher-speed UHS-I cards. Connectivity includes a USB port, which we believe to be used not just for data transfer, but also for in-camera battery charging via a bundled plug adapter.

Available from March 2014, the Fuji FinePix S1 is priced at US$500, and available only in a black-bodied version.

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