Fujifilm FinePix S1 Review

February 27, 2014 | Mark Goldstein |


The Fujifilm FinePix S1 is the world’s first weather-resistant bridge camera. Looking and handling very much like a DSLR, the Fujifilm S1 can safely be used in wet weather or dusty conditions thanks to sealing on approximately 70 areas of the camera. The S1 boasts a 50x zoom lens which covers a 35mm equivalent focal range of 24-1200mm and features 3-stop lens-shift image stabilisation and manual zoom controls. Other highlights of the Fujifilm S1 include a 1/2.3-inch 16.4 megapixel backlit CMOS sensor, a 3-inch vari-angle 920k-dot LCD monitor, 920k-dot electronic viewfinder, and full 1080p HD movie recording at up to 60fps with stereo sound and 5-Axial image stabilisation. In addition there's an ISO range of 100-12800, built-in wi-fi connectivity, continuous shooting at 10fps, interval shooting function, High Speed movie capture at 480fps, Focus Peak Highlight function, a customisable Function button, full manual controls and support for the RAW file format. The Fujifilm FinePix S1 is available now for £399.99 / $499.99 in the UK / US respectively.

Ease of Use

The Fujifilm FinePix S1 looks and handles very much like a mid-range DSLR. Designed as a do-it-all, all-in-one solution for the enthusiast, the Fujifilm FinePix S1 is more than weighty and well built enough to withstand a few glancing knocks in the heat of the action. The moulded curves of the body and rubberized matt black finish deliver a purposeful look that is as aesthetically pleasing as it is practical, with nice chunky controls, an ergonomic control layout that allows both quick and easy access to functions, and a deep hand-grip with a well-thought-out indentation into which a middle finger slots comfortably. The S1 is the first weather-proof super-zoom camera in the world, with 70 points of weather sealing offering dust-resistance and water-resistance.

At the heart of the S1 is an incredible non-interchangeable 50x zoom lens. This incredibly versatile lens offers a focal range starting at an ultra-wide 24mm and finishing at an ultra-telephoto 1200mm, which, as Fujifilm cannily point out, would take at least two super-zoom DSLR lenses to offer similar reach. Throw in the 1cm Super Macro Mode and impressive maximum apertures of a bright f/2.8 at 24mm wide-angle to a slightly slower f5.6 at 1200mm telephoto, and it's clear that the S1 is perfectly suited for any subject that you can think of, near or far.

To help avoid blur resulting from camera shake when shooting in low light or hand-holding the camera at the telephoto extremity of the zoom, Fujifilm have added a 'belt and braces' solution of high ISO sensitivity, stretching up to ISO 12,800 at full resolution (Small JPEG only), a built-in mechanical stabilizer with Continuous or Shooting Only modes, and digital image stabilisation too if required. Activated via the IS Mode menu option, you can set the system to Continuous, Shooting Only, either mode with the addition of digital stabilisation, or Off. Note that the camera will only automatically adjust the ISO speed when using the Auto shooting mode - in the other modes the ISO speed that you select will always be used, so only the mechanical sensor-shift part of the system is used.

From the front the Fujifilm S1 looks like a serious bit of kit. The large optically stabilised zoom lens dominates proceedings, with a push-on lens cap, retaining strap and petal-shaped lens hood provided in the box. Above the lens and extending out across the lens barrel, which boasts a textured surround allowing you to get a good firm grip, is a sloping ridge that conceals the pop-up flash (when not in use), which is activated via a dedicated button positioned on the right. Still viewing the S1 from the front, the stereo sound speakers are positioned just behind the pop-up flash. There's a familiar dual purpose AF-assist illuminator and self-timer lamp to the left of the lens, and located on the right are two clever controls that make zooming with the massive 50x lens more intuitive. Above the pop-up flash is another DSLR-like touch - a hotshoe for additional illumination via an optional external flashgun.

Fujifilm FinePix S1 Fujifilm FinePix S1
Front Rear

The S1 has a a side lever that allows you to smoothly operate the zoom with your left hand, leaving your right hand free to operate the shutter button. You can also assign one of two levels of zoom speed to this lever, with the fastest zooming in/out in just two seconds. Above the size zoom lever is a button which zooms back out slightly to allow you to see more of your subject, useful if you're trying to track a moving object that has left the frame.

Looking down on top of the Fujifilm FinePix S1 when viewed from the rear, there's a clearly labeled and logically laid out control set. Press the slightly recessed On/Off button to turn the Fujifilm FinePix on, and the rear LCD or electronic viewfinder – depending on which one you previously had selected – blinks into life, a process taking around half a second, as good as most DSLRs. The Fujifilm FinePix S1 is quick to determine focus and exposure with a half press of the shutter button, only taking 0.16 seconds to lock onto the subject in ideal lighting conditions. Both JPEGs and RAW files are quickly committed to SD / SDHC / SDXC memory in single-shot mode with only the briefest pause between each one.

The S1 has a chunky, ridged shooting mode dial which is reminiscent of those found on, yes you've guessed it, DSLR cameras. Ranged around the dial, which turns with just the right amount of resistance for it to lock firmly into place at each setting, are the expected shooting options, such as full auto, program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual modes, along with a customizable mode via which favoured shooting settings can be saved for rapid access, plus a scene position mode that's pre-optimised for common subjects.

In addition, there are several more shooting modes that are particularly noteworthy. First up is the SR Auto mode, which is an 'auto everything' scene recognition mode. Although far from infallible - if you're not paying close attention and it's presented with a busy scene it will call up landscape when macro is needed and vice versa – it instantly makes the S1 more beginner friendly, automatically recognising 10 basic scenes and applying the right mode.

Fujifilm FinePix S1 Fujifilm FinePix S1
Tilting LCD Screen Side

Next is the rather misleadingly named Advanced mode, which actually has four options that are well suited to all experience levels. The first shooting mode is the Advanced Filter, which as the name suggests houses a range of artistic filters that can be applied to your photos as you take them. The Pro Low-light mode uses multi-bracketing technology, taking a series of four high sensitivity/low-noise shots in quick succession and combining them into an image with less noise than the single exposures. In the HDR advanced mode the Fujifilm FinePix S1 can combine three seperate images into one with greater dynamic range. The Natural Flash mode takes one shot with flash and one without at the same time, while the Zoom Bracketing mode takes three shots with a single press of the shutter button, at varying degrees of magnification (original, 1.4x and 2.0x).

The final shooting mode on the top dial is the Panorama option, clearly inspired by Sony's popular Sweep Panorama function. This lets you capture a 120, 180 or 360 degree panoramic image very easily without the use of a tripod. All you need to decide is whether you would like to start from left or right, top or bottom, then press and hold down the shutter release while doing a "sweep" with the camera in hand. Exposure compensation is available before you start the sweep, with the exposure fixed once you depress the shutter button. After you are done with the sweeping, the camera does all the processing required, and presents you with a finished panoramic image.

Although undoubtedly fun, there are a few catches. The final panorama is of relatively low resolution, and if you do the sweeping too slowly, or you let go of the shutter release button too early, the panorama will be truncated. If the exposure varies throughout the scene, then some areas will be over or under exposed, depending upon the exposure value that was chosen as the panorama was started. Finally, people and indeed anything that moves in the frame are recorded as several ghost outlines, which means that you can really only record static, empty scenes, something that Sony have solved in the latest iteration of their Sweep Panorama feature.

Below the shooting mode dial is a smaller command dial with a positive clicking action which is used for scrolling through features and captured images, and will feel immediately intuitive to anyone who has handled a DSLR before. The same dial is also used to change the aperture and shutter speed when using the more advanced shooting modes. In the Manual mode, you hold the Exposure Compensation button down with your forefinger and give the dial a flick with your thumb to change the aperture, not as intuitive as having two separate command dials but perhaps understandable given the S1's target audience. Otherwise the exposure compensation button works largely as you'd expect, with a visual slider graph on screen accompanied by a live histogram.

Fujifilm FinePix S1 Fujifilm FinePix S1
Pop-up Flash Top

Next to the EV button is the rather innocent-looking Continuous Shooting button, which accesses another of the S1's mouth-watering features. Pressing this button brings up six options - Off, Continuous H, Continuous M, Continuous L, Best Frame Capture and AE bracketing. The Continuous H option shoots at 10fps for 9 frames at full resolution. Once the burst is completed, it takes just over four seconds for the camera to clear the buffer, during which you cannot take another picture. Forward of these two controls is the main shutter release button encircled by a responsive zoom lever.

Manual focusing is activated by setting the Focus Mode menu option to Manual and using the rear command dial to set the distance, with the LCD display automatically zooming in on the subject to help you judge the sharpness. There's a handy distance scale along the bottom of the LCD screen with a white bar indicating the the focusing distance. The S1 also offers a Focus Peak Highlight function with High and Low settings, which displays a white line around the subject when it's in focus. This addition makes manual focusing on the S1 much more of a pleasure than a chore.

Moving to the rear of the Fujifilm FinePix S1, your attention is immediately drawn to the large 3-inch monitor, which offers 100% scene coverage and a respectable resolution of 920K dots. The S1's LCD screen is a vari-angle model that can be flipped-out to the side and tilted through 270 degrees, giving you a lot of flexibility in composing your shots, and well-suited to shooting video.

Above the LCD screen is a small button for swapping the display between monitor and the 920k-dot resolution electronic viewfinder, complete with 100% scene coverage and surrounding eyecup. The EVF also has its own dioptric correction wheel to its immediate left, which is far less stiff and physically larger than found on competing models, meaning that for the myopic adjustment can be made in a fraction of a second. The viewfinder display is large, bright and clear, though the temptation to predominantly utilise the more flexible LCD below is almost overwhelming.

To the right of the Fujifilm FinePix S1's LCD screen again is the one-touch movie record button. The S1's full 50x zoom range be accessed in the Motion JPEG format movie mode, with the S1 offering full 1920x1080 pixel footage at up to 60 frames per second with constantly adjusting auto exposure and auto-focus with stereo sound. You can also manually focus during movie shooting. It can record video clips up to 29 minutes long for the 1920x1080 and 1280x720 pixel formats, with longer times available for VGA and SVGA modes. The dedicated Movie button on the rear makes it quick and easy to shoot a movie without missing the start of the action, and there's a mini-HDMI port for connection to a HDTV (cable not supplied). You can select one of the Film Simulation or Advanced Filter modes to give your footage a more creative look, and there's the option to take a still photo at any time during movie recording.

Fujifilm FinePix S1 Fujifilm FinePix S1
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

In addition to these "normal" movie modes, the S1 also offers several high-speed modes. There are three different speeds on offer - 480, 240 and 120fps, with the file size varying from 320x112 to 640x480 pixels. This slow-motion effect is initially very appealing and sure to impress your friends, but there are some drawbacks to be aware of. Sound isn't recorded at all, horizontal bands can appear as the lighting fluctuates, and the actual sizes of the recorded movies are pretty small.

Underneath that a self-explanatory playback button for quickly viewing captured images. Below that is a familiar four-way controller with a dual-purpose menu/OK button at its centre. Ranged at north, south, east and west around this control are variously, the customisable Function button which can be set to one of 10 key options (also doubling up as a file deletion button when in playback mode), the various flash modes, the self timer options, and shifting focus from infinity to either macro or super macro.

Press the Menu button in the shooting mode and you get a comprehensive choice of options from two main folders, Shooting and Set-Up, with up to 6 screens containing 6 icons per screen. Most of the options are the "set once and forget" kind, so you won't have to dip into the menu system too often. Below the navigation pad is a dual-purpose control marked Display/Back that switches between the various LCD modes and also allows you to retrace your steps at any point.

Completing the rear of the S1 is the new wi-fi button. Install the FUJIFILM Camera Remote App and you can transfer your pictures immediately to a smartphone or tablet PC and then edit and share them as you wish, transfer stills and video onto the camera, and embed GPS information in your shots from your smartphone. You can also control the camera remotely, with the list of available functions including the shutter release for stills and movies and operating the zoom lens. The built-in wi-fi also provides a simple means to backup your photos to your home PC.

The right hand flank of the Fujifilm FinePix S1 features a chunky rubber flap hiding the S1's mini-HDMI port and the regular USB / AV out sockets. The base of the Fujifilm FinePix S1 features a screw thread for a tripod, sadly made of plastic and not in line with the lens barrel, and a sliding door hiding the compartment for the Lithium-ion battery and the SD / SDHC / SDXC card slot. At around 350 shots battery life is respectable enough thanks to the use of a Lithium-ion rechargeable battery. There are metal eyelets on either side of the body for attaching the provided shoulder strap.