The Fujifilm X-S10 changed my mind on what makes a “pro” camera
The Fujifilm X-S10 changed my mind on what makes a “pro” camera
It was a warm but wet Saturday afternoon in McMinnville, Oregon. I came here to photograph a wedding but it got canceled at the last minute when a relative of the groom tested positive for COVID-19. So I found a brewery and grabbed a seat outside under an off-kilter umbrella that didn’t quite cover my head but did a great job keeping my beer dry.
Next to the beer was my new Fujifilm X-S10, a risky spot for a camera given my propensity for spilling drinks. At least it was out of the rain.
I’d purchased the X-S10, along with the new XF 18mm f/1.4 lens, just days before and had planned to use the wedding as a trial run. Now I needed to find another way to put the gear through its paces. So I tipped back my pint glass, wrapped my fingers around the camera’s grip, and set out in search of — groan — inspiration.
It wasn’t a bad day for it. Intermittent rain and sunshine left pockets of blue and gray in the sky and created the perfect conditions for a — groan again — rainbow.
Like most small Oregon towns, McMinnville has an industry-meets-nature vibe. Train tracks cross in front of a dystopian apartment complex flanked by bursts of green trees. Cute shops trap tourists and sell wine from local vineyards. The main street is closed to car traffic on the weekend and college students crowd the bars on Saturday night. Sunday morning, they quietly gather in cafés to study and ease their hangovers. That night brings the quiescence of a ghost town.
It’s the type of place where I could meander for few of hours, going nowhere in particular, maybe finding something worth shooting, maybe not. This is slow street photography, without the hustle and bustle that make the genre so powerful in the New Yorks and Tokyos of the world. A practice in lighting and framing. The type of work that probably won’t stand on its own, but does help train your eye.
In other words, work that’s fine for a camera review.
FPS M shutter
shots / battery
FPS E shutter
FPS M shutter
shots / battery
FPS E shutter
Few cameras have impressed me out of the box as much the $999 Fujifilm X-S10. It’s a bit of a chimera, taking the heart of an X-T4, the controls of an X-H1, and the size and price of an X-T30. I bought one ($900 used) to tide me over until I could afford the $1,699 X-T4, but now I’m questioning my need for the upgrade.
Back when the X-S10 was announced, I didn’t give it a second thought. Why would Fuji steal attention from its own camera in the competitive $800-$1,000 bracket? People kept calling it a “mini X-T4” but to me it seemed like a simplified, more tech-forward X-T30 targeting the likes of Sony A6400 customers. I mean, Fuji’s own website markets it with such lines as, “A camera that expresses your mood.” Whatever that means.
The X-T30, recently updated with a mark II version, is a unique machine compared to what other brands have at that price, but the X-S10 foregoes Fuji’s usual retro charm in favor of a more modern look and feel. It has a competent spec sheet but it doesn’t stand out as special.
Or so I thought.
My problem was that I couldn’t see the X-S10 for what it really was until I held it in my hands. Even without the classic styling and silver trim, it hasn’t fully surrendered that Fuji magic that makes other X Series cameras so rewarding to use. It feels weighty, purposeful. And yet it’s also agile and flexible.
No camera is perfect, but this is the first sub-$1,000 body that has made me seriously consider that it might be all I need. (Might be. We’ll see what the X-H2 brings.)
Good form, better function
The X-S10 is basically the same size as the X-T30 but with a deeper grip; uglier, but more ergonomic. For better and worse, the controls have been streamlined. Dedicated shutter speed and exposure compensation wheels have been replaced with context-sensitive command dials. One thing to note, those dials don’t offer the button-press functionality of the X-T30’s small-and-annoying (and somewhat redundant) command dials. They feel more solid as a result and I think it’s a positive change, even if functionality is reduced.
A couple other small changes have had a disproportionately large impact on usability. The focus joystick is positioned higher than the X-T30’s, where it feels more natural to reach, and the quick menu button has been moved from the thumb rest to the top plate, where it can no longer be pressed by accident. The result is a camera that provides a more predictable and confident experience.
It will take some time to customize the controls to your liking, but there are enough options that you’re bound to find a solution that works for you. I ended up programming the left shoulder dial to control the focus mode because the one thing sorely missing from the X-S10 is an AF-C/AF-S/MF switch. You might prefer to set it to ISO, exposure compensation, film simulation, or any number of other options.
Unfortunately, you can’t reprogram the primary command dials, which leaves me stuck with a redundant f-stop input. This limitation might be to ensure you don’t inadvertently lose the ability to change the f-stop when using a lens without an aperture ring, but all of the lenses I own have rings. So let me reprogram that dial, Fuji.
Overall, I still slightly prefer the input strategy of the X-T30 and its dedicated control dials that provide more information without looking at the screen or viewfinder, but the X-S10’s approach does have some practical advantages. For example, it takes just a single click of the mode dial to switch from manual to aperture priority. The same move on the X-T30 requires ratcheting the shutter speed dial to the “A” position from whatever speed it’s set to.
And in manual mode, which I use 90% of the time, the X-T30’s exposure compensation dial is purely decorative, an inefficiency the X-S10 avoids by turning the shutter speed dial into the exposure comp dial only when you need it, in non-manual modes.
In other areas, the X-S10 is more similar to the X-T30. It uses the same 2.36-million-dot electronic viewfinder, which is adequate but antiquated, and suffers the same small-camera disadvantages, like not being tall enough for my little finger to fit on the handgrip. Fuji makes an add-on grip for the X-T30 that solves this problem but, sadly, does not make one for the X-S10. (SmallRig has an affordable L bracket grip that would do the trick. I’ve had one on backorder for a few weeks and, as of this writing, it’s still out of stock.)
But enough with the pedantic talk of buttons, dials, and grips. What really impresses me about the X-S10 is just how solid and reassuring it feels in my hands. The camera always looked amateurish and plasticky to me in photos, but it definitely doesn’t come across that way in person. In fact, it’s a small but noticeable step up from the X-T30. Had my wedding shoot not been canceled, I would have confidently used it as my primary camera.
The case for spending less
I was talking to a friend about how the X-S10 made me wonder why I would ever spend more than $1,000 on a camera. He’s a commercial photographer — and he understood. On a recent gig, he swapped mid-shoot from a medium-format Fuji to a much cheaper Four-Thirds Olympus because it was the easier tool for the job and — shocker — the client didn’t know the difference.
We’ve hit a point where big-budget cameras don’t always justify their cost, even for professional work. Yes, there are certainly times when I would love to have a $6,000 GFX 100S (Fuji, please feel free to send me one so I can review it!) but a camera like the X-S10 is in a sweet spot. It’s small enough for travel and casual photography, but it has the performance to scale up to much more challenging assignments.
One feature won me over
The X-S10 is Fuji’s third camera with in-body image stabilization (IBIS) but first non-flagship model. That’s important because it makes the X-S10 the only sub-$1,000 APS-C mirrorless camera with sensor-shift stabilization, unless I’m missing something. (And if that sounded like a lot of qualifiers, well, it was. There are cheaper Micro Four Thirds cameras with stabilization, and Pentax makes at least one APS-C DLSR with the feature, too.)
Of course, the X Series has plenty of fans who don’t care about IBIS. I do. It’s something I’ve always noticed missing from my X-T30, and when Fujifilm released the X-T4, the first X-T camera with IBIS, I “worried” it would be the perfect camera, leaving nothing left to critique. It can be a game-changing feature, with benefits that go beyond slow-shutter-speed sharpness to help with both framing and autofocus accuracy.
Getting IBIS in a camera that costs hundreds of dollars less than the X-T4 (along with the same sensor and processor) is a pretty big deal. Yes, it’s half a stop less effective than the X-T4’s stabilization but that’s a compromise for the X-S10’s smaller size — and one you’re unlikely to notice. I shot at shutter speeds as slow as 1/5 second with acceptable results.
Autofocus is also impressive. As far as I know, it’s the same system as the X-T30’s, but eye-detection seemed to be more responsive. This totally could have been due to the placebo effect, but whether or not it’s a real improvement over the X-T30, it’s definitely good. Occasionally, the eye box would drift away from my subject’s eye, but this didn’t seem to affect the accuracy of the actual results.
There is a rather big downside, though: battery life. I shot about 420 photos and went through two batteries and almost halfway into a third. That’s quite a bit worse than the CIPA rating of 325 shots per battery. In the camera’s defense, I was using boost mode mode, wasn’t shooting much in rapid succession, and had plenty of menu diving and image playback in between frames. Your results may be much better depending on how you shoot.
Choice: confusion and clarity
Making sense of Fujifilm’s lineup has always been a bit of a chore. The company has had up to the three concurrent flagships in the X-Pro, X-T, and X-H lines, and now the midrange is getting equally crowded with the X-S10, X-T30, and rangefinder-inspired X-E4.
What is going on here
Sport utility vehicle
What you think you want
Just get the X-T4
What you should want
OK, it’s cheaper
The differences in Fuji’s various product lines are usually more spiritual than technical. It’s more about what type of photographer you are rather than which camera is objectively better. To some degree, that philosophy is still intact with the X-S10 — but this time, there really is a winner. For 99% of people, I think the X-S10 is the better choice over the X-E4 and X-T30 (even though, yes, the X-E4 is cheaper at $850).
But the X-S10 doesn’t just confuse the midrange. The $1,499 X-T3, which is not stabilized, now finds itself in a pickle between much cheaper and slightly more expensive stabilized options. Usually, someone in the market for a $1,500 camera body isn’t going to be swayed by a $1,000 model, but the X-S10 may be the better choice here, too.
But what about photographers who really need the more professional build of the X-T3? Bite the bullet and shell out the extra $200 for the X-T4, which also comes with a bigger battery and other benefits. And for those who prefer the X-E4’s simplicity or the X-T30’s styling? Well, to each their own — but it might be time to get over it.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love the analog-inspired design of the X-T30 (and Fujifilm obviously sees its merits or wouldn’t have released the X-T30 II) but is that really enough to ignore the benefits of the X-S10? I don’t think it is. And to some extent, I actually prefer the modernized design, especially the wider shutter button and deeper grip, even if the camera doesn’t look as classy.
The final frame
The X-S10 is affordable, practical, and powerful, and yet it seems to be one of the least-hyped cameras to come out of Fujifilm. I don’t think I was the only Fuji shooter who ignored it in the beginning because of prejudices I held about what the brand should be and what its cameras should do (and look like). This isn’t just a beginner-friendly alternative to the X-T30; it’s a better camera.
By Fujifilm’s standards, the X-S10 is the most outside-the-box camera it’s made since the X-H1 and is proof of the company’s diverse strengths. It’s more capable than it has any right to be and brings the best of the X Series to more people. Take it on a professional job or a slow mosey through wine country; it won’t let you down either way. My only regret is that I didn’t give it a chance sooner.