Fuji are not an obvious name that you would have thought would be the producer of the first affordable Digital SLR, but look back in history and you'll see they had some of the most advanced and affordable electronic cameras in the early 80s. In the digital arena they are among the leaders in the compact camera field and have produced the much talked about Super CCD that's employed in this camera. So it makes sense for them to return to the SLR world and this time they have borrowed camera technology from Nikon, using a body style and operating system that would have otherwise been a Nikon F60.
While not as robust as an F5 or EOS 1 which many of the competitors SLRs are based on it does give Fuji a lead in price. Many professionals can't justify the cost of buying an 8000 camera, even though they may be able to eventually return the stake so this could be the option. The S1 also opens up to allow enthusiast users the chance to shoot digital using an SLR, but the new car may have to wait for a few more years!
It's good to see a solid metal lens mount.
So, being based around an F60 means it's a versatile model with all the trappings of the typical AF SLR - loads of modes, exposure options, creative overrides and stylish handling. Mode wise you have an input dial on the left that rotates to select aperture-priority, shutter-priority, manual or program exposure. There's also a green auto mode that sets everything back to program and several custom programs based on subjects you may shoot such as portraits, landscapes, close-ups, action and night scenes. Above this is the self-timer that gives a 10 second delay.
Then we move over to the flash - a pop up option that's manually activated. This provides coverage for a 28mm wide-angle and a guide number of 15 (ISO100/M), which is fine for close work and fill-in, but you need a Speedlight for more serious stuff. There's a hot shoe with four contact pins for full auto operation using a Nikon Speedlight.
On the other side of the top plate is the input dial, used to select shutter speeds and apertures, on/off switch, an aperture button and an exposure compensation button. The flash button is depressed while rotating an input dial to select between slow sync, red-eye reduction or auto.
Everything is viewed on an LCD with large clear figures. Nothing new so far, but it's around the back where all the digital tricks are housed. There's a second LCD where digital modes are selected and an LCD viewfinder where images can be previewed.
Pressing the function button calls up various info on the LCD. Here's the exposure info you see when previewing an image. Press the button a second time brings up more info.
The info LCD has a function button and four selector buttons below it. These are used to set white balance, CCD sensitivity (ISO), compression (quality), and resolution (pixels used). Press the function button again and you can set colour, tone, sharpness and multiple exposure. The display shows the ISO, data and time, battery condition and number of shots remaining when first switched on. Pressing the function button once takes you to the first series of controls.
Other features include a dioptre adjustment for the viewfinder.
The camera back is shaped to improve handling and all controls can be accessed with ease.
The camera records images on either Smart Media or CFII compatible memory such as Compact Flash cards or IBM 340Mb Microdrive, two slots are provided and are hidden away behind a flip down cover.
Three sets of batteries are used: two lithium CR123As for the exposure and focusing system, four AA sized 1.5vs for the image processing and a button cell for time settings. Rechargeable AAs can be used and the camera can also be powered from mains.
In use the S1 is comfortable in the hand, and relatively light to control. The viewfinder is bright but, like most digital cameras, it provides a keyhole style view of the image, making the ultra-wide Sigma 17-35mm used look less impressive than it really is.
Shutter speed and aperture can be seen from the brightly illuminated viewfinder display.
A slim LCD appears across the base showing exposure detail and it's easy to keep your eye to the viewfinder while adjusting shutter speed or aperture. A focusing indicator lights up when the system has hit the mark.
When an image is taken it can be reviewed on the LCD and checked for sharpness and, using the histogram, tonal range. If you like the image you can lock and protect it or delete it.
The camera was rarely fooled by subjects and conditions that I subjected it to. In low light I could switch to ISO1600 which increased noise, but did allow me to get out of using flash which would normally have been needed. It also came in handy when trying to get more depth on close-ups in the shade. At ISO 800 the image is still reasonably noise free.
With shutter speed range of 30 seconds to 1/2000sec there isn't much this camera can't cope with and a flash sync of 1/125sec is okay for daylight fill-in.
I used the camera mostly in Program or program override, which allows you to modify the exposure and select a different aperture/shutter speed combination that automatically delivered. Being based around a mid-priced consumer spec Nikon there is no depth-of-field indicator, which I missed, but, if you have time, you can take the shot and see the real thing on the preview screen. There's also no PC socket for studio flash, which limits its versatility.
I have never been a fan of subject-based modes, of which there are five here, and I suspect other users will have the same view. This camera is priced at an enthusiast/pro level and that sort of user is unlikely to bother with these modes. Shame they couldn't have been replaced with more useful custom memory options or something else practical.
This camera highlighted one of the problems of a digital SLR - keeping it clean. A spot of dust managed to lodge itself onto the CCD surface, producing an ugly black spot on all the images, which I didn't see until I had a card full of images and enlarged them on the PC. The spots can be retouched out, but it's a bit of a tiresome exercise. The manual explains how to clean the CCD and you need to be really careful when doing this.
Great camera to handle, and it responds fairly quickly, being based on a Nikon F60 the focusing speed isn't quite as nippy as an EOS, but it's positive, and there are loads of lenses to choose from, new or second-hand. I'd like a depth-of-field preview. I'd also like the camera to be powered just from rechargeable AAs to keep costs down. It would also be nice if a flash sync socket was on board. Other than these minor niggles I really got on well with the camera, beautiful exposures, razor sharp results and excellent resolution from the Super CCD.
Test by Peter Bargh
This shot was brightly lit with a darker background and the six segment evaluative metering has coped really well producing a beautifully well exposed result with loads of vibrant colours from the 6.13 million pixel images.
Straight shot left and exposure locked on right. You can either point the camera down and lock the exposure using a small button by the viewfinder, or use exposure compensation with up to three stops over or underexposure. Plus 3 was used here.
Using Sigma's 105mm macro you can fill the frame with a subject about 45mm wide - great for flowers, but focusing tends to search around at first.
Using Sigma 17-35mm set at 35mm and using program exposure. Detail is good and exposure control spot on.
Here's a shot that's quite tricky but has been handled really well. The bright central area would normally influence the meter resulting in a silhoutted frame. The camera's Matrix metering has compensated producing a perfect balance between the highlights and shadows.
A more straightforward exposure and once again recorded perfectly.
This contrasty shot could have sent the meter into spasms but once again it's recorded accurately. It also shows there's little noise in the shadow areas so the black under the wheel arch is black and not a mottled effect with intrusive coloured noise pixels.
The Sigma 17-35mm lens is a perfect aid to the camera's Super CCD - check out the quality of this section.