But now the superzoom field is starting to feel a little stale as smartphones replace low-end pocket cameras, entry-level DSLRs are more affordable, and manufacturers come up with more alternatives to DSLRs, including compact interchangeable lens cameras that pack a lot of performance into a small camera.
Enter the Fujifilm X-S1 (MSRP $799). This “prosumer” fixed-lens camera is one of the first of its kind to break away from the superzoom formula. It’s the same size and price as a mid-level DSLR, but it packs a massive 26x optical zoom lens (as opposed to a DSLR’s typical 3x kit lens). Its 2/3-inch sensor is much smaller than a DSLR’s, but still about 50 percent larger than the chips found in most point-and-shoots and superzooms (bigger sensors usually mean better noise and dynamic-range performance).
As an $800 fixed-lens camera, the X-S1 is a niche product for enthusiast photographers. It’s designed to take notably better pictures than a $500 superzoom, but still offer a huge zoom range that you can’t get on a system camera—at least, not without the hassle and expense of extra lenses.
The X-S1’s build quality, handling, and user experience are the best that we’ve seen in a superzoom, period. It’s bulky compared to the competition from Canon or Nikon, but the extra real estate makes the X-S1 easier to grip and more comfortable to operate. The twist-barrel zoom mechanism is a thing of beauty, and the electronic viewfinder is sharp and smooth. It’s like using an honest-to-goodness DSLR with plenty of zoom.
Unfortunately, the X-S1’s image quality doesn’t live up to the increase in price. The lens is the root of the problem; it produces photos that are smooth, but not crisp. At small viewing sizes (think Facebook), the shots look great, but they don’t stand up well to scrutiny.
Plenty of photographers will be able to pass over some of the performance quirks in order to gain such excellent handling and user experience, but for the average user, the X-S1 is best left alone.
The Panasonic FZ150 and Canon SX40 HS can accomplish most of the same things as the X-S1, and deliver better bang for your buck when it comes to photo quality. Consumers tempted by the DSLR-esque handling and features might be better off buying an actual DSLR, like the Nikon D5100.
That leaves the Fujifilm X-S1 in a strange middle ground. It combine high quality components with a huge zoom, without the added cost or hassle of interchangeable lenses. However, it has only slight advantages over less expensive superzoom cameras. It might be the most serious bridge camera we’ve seen in years, but only Fuji enthusiasts and gadget addicts are likely to be interested in the narrow niche that the X-S1 fills.