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A compromise, perhaps, but not a bad one.
on 3 December 2014
I have a number of cameras for different applications, Nikon DSLR at the top end and a Canon D10 waterproof camera at the "point & shoot" end, together with a Fujifilm S9500 which I have loved for a long time, and still do! What interested me about the S1 was its ability to shoot full HD clips, the 28-1200 zoom range, and some of the new in-camera functions such as HDR.
Other reviews have been pretty fair about the pros and cons of the camera and are worth checking too; I'll just add my personal feelings about how I guess I will use it. The early impressions are that it works best in good light, especially at the top end of the zoom range, where it will also be important to select the highest quality for your images or end up with them looking a bit soft and "painterly"! At distance you will either need to go to RAW or top JPG for best results. It also gets fazed by low-contrast scenes, with the AF struggling with cirrus in a bright sky, or moody cloudbanks on a misty horizon, and this can be frustrating sometimes.
I don't personally like the electronic zoom and prefer the more intuitive (to me) zoom of my S9500 that lacks the scope of the S1's, but can be corrected to perfection with a flick of the wrist. I will get used to it, but swapping between the cameras will not be a barrel of laughs! Coming from the S9500, the S1 feels like a bit of a mixed bag, with some new features that actually work pretty well, but with just a bit too much automation of some aspects for my liking. I'd prefer a camera that was a hybrid between the two Fujifilms, S9500 and S1, the features of the S1 with the usability features of the S9500 that make it a closer match to my Nikon.
The weatherproofing isn't so much of a big deal to me, although I've no doubt it'll come in handy one day. My Canon Powershot D10 is almost as versatile in terms of functions and shooting modes, and can shoot underwater, so a bit of weather is like water off a D10's back. The D10 can't compete on zoom, the movie resolution is just VGA quality, and at 12MP is a smidgin less capable than the S1, the Nikon trounces the S9500 and S1 on quality but isn't as portable or as self-contained as the bridge cameras. The Fujifilm bridge cameras certainly try for a sweet spot on the usability scale - portability and self-contained (meaning they are far more likely to go out regularly - taking the Nikon is a bit like an expedition at times), but with features such as the mega-zoom that would be very hard to put into a simple compact camera package. It falls between the two stools of go-anywhere convenience and potent DSLR capability but certainly has its place.
One feature I particularly like is the ultra-convenient USB charging. The S1 has a chunky (and changeable) battery that can charge from your computer's USB2 port. When connecting the camera and switching on to transfer the images (the S1 appears as a USB disk), all you need to do is leave the camera connected after the images have transferred over. If you switch off the camera an orange light near the shutter control will tell you it is charging and, when it goes out, the job is done.
In my early use of the S1 the only real caveats I have are its performance in low light, where there is a fair bit of sensor noise, and quality problems on max zoom that require the max image size to be used (not a problem with a 64GB+ card, perhaps). The flexible rear screen is nice but not essential for me, the lack of a lens hood seems a bit miserly to me, and the use of even a decent quality UV filter on the lens seems to adversely affect the results at high zoom settings, meaning that I now use the camera without a filter. The camera also creates a purplish fringe between areas of strong contrasts (gratings against sky, light sources against dark sky) that are visible in images at 1:1 size. Against this are the HD movies, HDR mode, a zoom that makes decent images of the moon actually feasible, and a decent selection of in-camera effects.
It'll never beat a DSLR, especially one wearing a prime lens, for quality, and will never be as portable as a compact, but if you want to carry around one single piece of camera equipment that offers a wide array of options (especially once you explore all the auto and manual modes), I reckon the S1 to be one of the better choices out there at present. It might be a qualified recommendation for people with other cameras since they will have other options to the S1 that limits the S1's suitability in many respects, but for a flexible one-camera solution, it's the one to beat.
Additional comments, 27 Dec 14.
After further use I've noticed as another reviewer commented that the video can come out a little dark at times (although it can also come out fine at other times - I haven't figured out a pattern for the times when it seems underexposed). More often, the video is properly exposed.
Even the highest JPG formats show compression artifacts if viewed at full resolution on your computer and I would therefore recommend buying a large memory card and shooting in RAW, giving you complete control over the end result of any shot. For making standard prints, the highest-res JPGs will still give you acceptable results.
The other thing I've enjoyed using is the "interval shooting" even though the max duration is only 6 hours, so you can't get a complete day cycle of images. Setting the interval fairly short (every 30 seconds) and a duration of 6 hours gets you enough shots to make a few seconds of time-lapse movie. Using the freely available GoPro Studio software from the GoPro website allows me to sequence the images into a film (provided I don't use the flicker removal feature that just gives me black films!). This useful in-camera feature saves buying an intervalometer.
I'd also add a caveat for photographers wowed by the decent array of in-camera processing - you will always get better results shooting in RAW and doing your enhancements on a computer rather than in-camera - that's just life. If you are just shooting for standard prints, though, the in-camera enhancements should be fine, with any adverse artifacts minimised by the smaller image format.
More impressions 28-12-14!
Concerned about the resolution at high zoom I did a "shoot-off" between the Nikon wearing a VR 55-300mm lens and the S1 (both handheld - I have a 500mm zoom for the Nikon but would need to use a tripod because it isn't VR). Zooming the S1 to the same extent as the Nikon (so, in the middle of the S1's zoom range where it should be at its best) the results came out surprisingly even. The Nikon still had an edge (the lens bokeh is far nicer, and the clarity on complex fine detail such as a field of bare tree branches is perceptibly superior) but nonetheless they were broadly equivalent at max resolution on a PC screen. However, the Nikon is 10Mpx and the Fujifilm 16Mpx, and both were taking their best JPG-format images, not RAW, so my impression is that the Nikon is making far better use of its lower resolution sensor, and JPG optimisation to achieve similar results to the Fujifilm S1.
That the Nikon should come out on top is not much of a surprise to me, but I was impressed about how close the S1 comes to the Nikon when shooting equivalent scenes at similar zoom - the Nikon just has more "headroom" available to carry the picture making to other levels with other lenses etc., an option the S1 doesn't have. Unlike the S1, the Nikon's lens was also operating at its limits, which isn't a good place for any lens - there's always a comfortable range beyond which lens limitations will show up.
While doing this experiment I also noticed that the S1's electric zoom was not as precise as I'd have liked. I was looking for identical framing to the Nikon's images at max zoom and could never quite get it completely equivalent because the focus would undershoot, then overshoot. The S1 has a sensitivity control for the zooming function which is obviously useful when trying an A-B test like this one. Next time there'll be less trial and error when I play games like this.
My personal conclusion remains the same, the S1 is a compromise, but a pretty good one. You can get a DSLR setup that performs better, but spend a small fortune on it, or a P&S camera that is pocketable but a little short on options, or a slightly less portable but very capable camera that fills that middle niche only now being invaded by CSCs (compact system cameras) that are effectively compact DSLRs - at a price! Still liking the S1, moreso now that I've seen how it stacks up against my Nikon.
One thing I ought to add is that I got the S1 on an instant deal and also took advantage of the Fujifilm cashback offer getting me the S1 for £180, which is a decent price at the time of writing. This made the package hard to ignore, but at closer to £380 it would be tempting to check out the lower-end packages from the other major manufacturers and check out the results of a few "shoot-outs"!
Edit April 4 2015, still having fun with the S1 : Added a few images. Moon at max zoom, and 3 images taken from outside Waitrose in Bath to illustrate zoom, and all the framing options you have available, and also two from outside the Victoria gallery in Bath of the Holburne Museum, 850 metres away at the far end of Pulteney street.
Edit July 2015, I discovered an oddity. On a couple of occasions I wanted to use flash and found the feature was "locked out" and unusable. One was indoors at a graduation ceremony, and the other was a nocturnal visit from a hedgehog. After some research I discovered that flash won't operate if you turn off the camera *sounds*! I assume this is because the designers assume that if you are silencing the camera you're trying to be discreet, and won't want flash either. not so in my cases. There is a workaround, though. You switch on the sounds and then turn each sound individually down to "off" (confirmation beeps, button press beeps, shutter "sneeze" etc). After that your S1 will quietly flash away.
I've also added another image. It is a crop of a picture I took of the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter at maximum zoom. It is nowhere near as good as a telescope, for obvious reasons, but Jupiter's larger moons are visible even if Venus is overexposed. It's just another illustration of what the lens can do even at its limits, where it is less "comfortable".