Why I Chose the Fujifilm X-S1 for my 2nd Travel Camera

Fujifilm X-S1 cameraBy Michael

June 2016

Getting quality travel photos requires a camera with certain features. What is good for glamour, nature or news will probably not be the best for getting those travel shots.

I live by a couple thoughts about travel photos. To begin with, in my opinion, it is a poor photographer who blames his camera. Grasping good composition, distinguishing the effect of light, understanding exposure, being conscious of depth-of-field and mastering your camera is important regardless of what image capturing device is in your hand. Without the knowledge of the above then even the most expensive camera cannot compensate for a poor photographer.

My second personal opinion is to always try to get the best photo you can in the camera. Rather meaning do not shoot quantity instead of quality then expect a photo editor to save you. I know bloggers who have told me they spend as much as 30 hours per article tweaking their photos. The photo should also be truthful. It is ok to help fix the difference between what the eye sees and the camera records, but altering the subject  insults the viewer.

Travel photography often does not allow you time to set up. The old adage of “You snooze, you loose,” fits here. You need a camera that you can get to fast and set up quick.

Lens flexibility is important. Sometimes objects are close to you. Other times they can be across the street, high up on a building or someplace you can’t walk to. Therefore a good zoom is important. The need to shoot both far and near quickly makes cameras requiring lens changes less viable.

You are lugging the camera around all day amid strangers. Size and weight are factors to consider. A heavy camera can degrade the experience. And something conspicuous (and expensive) attracts those who may wish to separate you from your belongings.

However quality is still important. You probably do not need to make wall size prints. But getting a good 11X14 inch photo is a must.

My background is 40 years of working with film cameras in the areas of glamour and nature photography as well as photojournalism. My cameras included several 35mm as well as medium format twin lens reflex types. And of course all the toys to go with them. Thieves stole my equipment from my home as the digital revolution ushered in. Therefore I took a break from photography until recently. The basics of taking photos remained the same. But equipment and smarter cameras revealed there was much for me to learn.

My photo taking comeback and dive into digital started with a Nikon Coolpix point and shoot camera. It works well for travel shooting. But I missed some features available on better cameras. So it was back to research.

Though I loved my single lens reflex (SLR) film cameras I decided that the new digital versions were not correct for me at this time. They neither fit what I wanted for travel photography nor my budget. But I was not going to skip on wanted functions.

The information available about cameras is amazing. You can easily find articles and so-called test results praising and condemning almost every camera on the market. Sifting through it all became a daunting task. I consulted with other travel bloggers and read a great deal of specifications. Cameras (especially the bridge cameras) from Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fujifilm and Lumix were considered.

Fujifilm X-S1 manualWith a narrowed down list I wanted to put each camera in my hand before making a decision. Feel in the hand, screen information, control layout needed to match my style of photography. Our trip to Singapore turned out to be the perfect time. The Funan mall there was a great place for getting my hands on the actual products. The building has six floors featuring computer and camera vendors. Finally the Fujifilm X-S1 met my specifications.

Do not get me wrong. The point and shoot cameras are still good for travel photography. This is especially true for having an inconspicuous camera and getting fast photos. Many travel bloggers use two cameras. One is small and fast while the other brings additional functions for getting great photos.

Following are a few of the features that the Fujifilm X-S1 has over point and shoot cameras.

Zoom Lens – The Fujifilm X-S1 has a lens that ranges from the 35mm equivalent of 24mm to 624mm. That is 52X enlargement. The photo below shows the picture with the normal lens for most cameras, then the max zoom for the Nikon Coolpix and finally the X-S1 zoom. Notice that it even captured the bee on the flower. This is very useful for capturing those high-up architectural details as well as objects far away in the water or in a field.Fujifilm X-S1 travel camera

View Finder – While the screen on a digital camera has its benefits there are also drawbacks. In bright sun the monitor washes out making it difficult to compose the picture. The process slows down even more for me having to find and put on my reading glasses. A good view finder solves both of those problems.

Filters – When shooting film I used many different filters. This was often done to compensate for the difference in light of what the human eye sees and what the film can record. But you cannot easily attach filters to point and shoot cameras.

In travel photography a graduated neutral density(ND) filter helps tone down bright skies. ND filters are also good for producing longer shutter speeds to create motion blur or to reduce the depth of field in bright sunlight. Here is a good tutorial on the use of ND filters.

Frequently in travel photos I find it necessary to shoot something through glass. Reflection always seems to be problem. For this I like a polarizing filter. For more information about how to use one read here.

f-stop and Shutter Speed Control – This is what I missed the most from my old film cameras. Digital point and shoot cameras tend to put everything in focus. That is great for landscapes. But to draw the eye correctly into a photo sometimes you need the extraneous out of focus. These photos of Cuban street ballerinas by Omar Robles show how depth of field can be used to bring attention to the subject.

If this subject is new to you, here is a beginners guide on the topic.

RAW Photos – Raw images are basically unprocessed data from the camera’s sensor. It is like the digital equivalent of a film negative. The jury is still out on whether they produce a better photo than JPEG format. But there are many other advantages to saving in RAW. Rob Lim wrote 10 Reasons Why You Should Be Shooting RAW.

The vast majority of point and shoot cameras do not give you the choice. Not only does the X-S1 give you the option, but it has a button to turn on the function easily. It allows me to quickly get that format when needed.

Sensor Size – This is one of those areas that is completely different than film cameras. I had to study about it. Sensors  in cameras are the part that receives the light and turns it into a digital image. Manufacturers love to spout off pixels for their cameras. Yet I noticed that the Fujifilm X-S1 with 12 megapixels takes a better photo than the 14 megapixel point and shoot. The reason is the sensor is twice the size in the X-S1.

Aspect Ratios – In the old days I really enjoyed shooting with my Rolleiflex medium format camera. Not only did it give me a larger sized negative, but it was square. Some subjects just look better in a square format compared to the rectangular format of the 35mm. Not to mention that for bloggers square photos are often needed. For instance the article feature images on our blogsite are a 1:1 ratio. Since the Fujifilm has an electronic viewfinder it can give you different aspect ratios that can be seen either on the monitor or in the viewfinder. The camera provides the 3:2 format of the 35mm and the 1:1 of the square camera as well as full display at 4:3 and 16:9 for HD video. The aspect ratio really helps in composing of photos and not having to crop them later to fit specific layouts.

Bracketing – Light meters do a pretty good job. But due to colors and conditions they can easily be fooled. With the Nikon Coolpix I can adjust the ev, but that takes time. The Fujifilm X-S1 has one button that allows you to set up either auto exposure or ISO bracketing. I prefer the auto exposure. What it does with the single push of the button is take three photos. One is at the camera calculated f-stop. The other two are over and under that by either 1/3, 2/3 or 1 f-stop depending upon how you set it.

There are many other great features of the Fujifilm X-S1 over a point and shoot. And with over 17 scene positions it makes it easy for the novice to get great photos as well. For me the camera has returned the fun of taking photos.

In talking with other travel bloggers we believe that the best travel camera is actually two cameras. One is a good point and shoot and the other a full function bridge camera. The two together will usually cost you less than one DSLR and give you more function and flexibility. But camera features are only part of the equation. To be quick and agile the camera must think like you do. And not everyone thinks alike. I recommend that you first make a list of the features you will use. Then physically check out a few of these bridge cameras to see how they feel to you. Other good choices include Canon Powershot SX60 HS, Nikon P900, Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IIand the Panasonic FZ1000.