In his review of the original Fujifilm Klasse, James painted the picture of a peculiar camera. The first of the Klasse series of cameras occupies the rarefied category of the premium point-and-shoot, and yet he found it’s build quality wanting, he was frustrated by a lack of key control features offered by similar cameras, and critical controls that he’d taken for granted in other cameras were missing entirely. And yet, you shouldn’t dismiss the Klasse series of cameras entirely. In 2007, six years after the original Klasse debuted, Fujifilm put in the work and released two drastically updated versions of the Klasse that are much improved in almost every way.
Arriving so late to the game, these two cameras, the Fujifilm Klasse S (Standard) and Klasse W (Wide), bookend the era of the premium point-and-shoot film camera. The question is, did the era end with a bang or a whimper? Both cameras are almost twice as expensive as their predecessor, which was never cheap in the first place. But with their updated features, do they warrant the premium price? Let’s jump right into it.
What are the Fujifilm Klasse S and Klasse W?
When Fujifilm updated the Klasse, they went for the jugular. Not only did they thoroughly update the feature set on the camera (more on this later), but they also added a second configuration.
The Klasse S is effectively an updated version of the original Klasse. It shares the same 38mm Tessar-type lens as its predecessor (the optical formula is unchanged). Wide-open, the aperture has lost a small amount of its light-gathering power, with an f/2.8 maximum aperture compared to the original Klasse’s f/2.6. This was to facilitate a new leaf shutter, which has an impressive top speed of 1/1000 of a second at f/16.
The Klasse W, on the other hand, brought a new lens to the table. It features a six-element 28mm f/2.8 lens wide angle lens, and depending on your style, the W may provide a bit more versatility. The wide angle lens enables broader compositions and thus lends itself well to street and travel photography.
Availability and costs are also factors you’ll have to consider. Neither of these are common cameras outside of Japan, but the Klasse S seems to be particularly hard to find. This is reflected in the prices as well, with the Klasse S commanding a premium. For the remainder of this review I will be referring to the W version of the camera.
The Ugly – Build Quality
First thing’s first, I want to get my major gripe about the Klasse W out of the way. For the price, the build quality is simply not up to par. Compared to the sleek titanium bodies of its rivals the Contax T2 and Leica Minilux, the Klasse series clearly lags behind.
Sure, the body of the camera is made of magnesium, which provides a nice heft without being too weighty. And the body panels are seemingly better assembled than the ones we saw on James’s original Klasse in his review (why were they so uneven?). But truthfully, these comments are tempered by the fact that my Klasse W showed significant battle scars after undeniably delicate use.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the most dainty of camera users. If I pick up a camera I want to use it, and use it hard. However, I was at pains to protect my little Klasse W as I travelled with it across South East Asia. But despite using my softest of kid gloves, the camera seemed to possess an uncommon talent for picking up marks, blemishes, and scratches at every step of the way. Hell, it even got a divot as it nestled inside a soft case I bought for it in Kota Kinabalu! My fellow cack-handed colleagues, you have been warned. Treat this camera with an excess of care.
Maybe you’re rolling your eyes by this point. Nicks and scratches are hardly the end of the world. However, when you consider the cost of the camera, it does leave you wondering whether Fuji could have put a little more “premium” into their final premium point-and-shoot.
If you have any choice in the matter, pick up the champagne version, rather than the black. Perhaps it will hide its wear slightly better.
The Good – Improvements on the Original
After a bad start, things quickly look a lot brighter for the Klasse S and W. Many of the gripes that James mentioned in his review, namely its terrible viewfinder, a lack of settings memory, a useless manual focus mode, and no exposure compensation, have been eradicated in emphatic fashion. The camera has a comprehensive set of custom options and new features. This means that it is right up there as one of the most advanced point-and-shoots available, and provides a user with a far better shooting experience compared with its ancestor.
To start, it’s possible to set up the camera so that flash is auto-disabled when you power it on. This small but absolutely crucial detail means that you will be the envy of 95% of all other film point-and-shoot users. And you can choose to leave the film leader out when the film rewinds, saving the home developer from faffing around for longer than necessary with a film leader retrieval tool. There’s even a nifty autofocus lock button right behind the shutter button. It’s a touch small but really does come in handy if you’re trying to accurately frame a portrait snap.
All of these settings and more are accessed using a small command wheel and button on the top of the camera. You can see which settings you are changing on the LCD, which comes with a button-activated illumination light.
Menus on film cameras are rarely enjoyable to use. That said, the Klasse W’s is better than many other cameras. Settings have helpfully been arranged so that the most commonly used ones can be changed first. This means that flash settings, auto exposure bracketing, and manual focus are easy to change on the go.
Speaking of manual focus, this has been significantly improved as well. Once you have selected the distance you want for your picture, the camera will pre-focus, eliminating shutter lag. This is not the case with the older Klasse camera.
Another impressive feature of the Klasse W and S is the inclusion of a mechanical cable release screw. This isn’t something I’ve seen on any other point-and-shoot camera. Combined with a tripod, a roll of Acros 100 and the camera’s bulb setting, you have a very capable long-exposure setup in an (almost) pocketable package.
There is even a Natura mode, which optimizes the camera for low light photography when you are using high-speed films. This was originally created for the Natura 1600 film, but the setting will kick in with any 800 ISO film that has DX coding.
James was full of praise for the 38mm lens of the original Klasse, and the newer Klasse W’s 28mm lens is right there with it in terms of sharpness and color rendition. When you combine that with the modern electronics, you have a camera that produces some truly wonderful photos.
One area where all three Klasses really excel is their metering. The cameras feature the most up-to-date electronics ever installed in a film point-and-shoot, and this really shines through when you look at your negatives.
You will have access to all shutter speeds in ⅓ steps all the way down to 1/500 second. As a special party trick, you can even use 1/1000 second in F16, which can be handy on a bright day. This exposure accuracy means that you can point and shoot with real confidence. The addition of the exposure compensation switch on the front of the camera also helps users to really dial in their settings. If any compact camera was suited for use with slide film, it would be the Klasse S and W.
Flash is perfectly balanced in all scenarios, meaning you rarely get blown out photos. If the camera meters a scene below 1/45 of a second, it will automatically enable the flash. This means that even in tricky lighting conditions you will still walk away with a usable image.
All of these little tricks lead to wonderful, vibrant photos. If you look closely you may notice a hint of distortion, but this is barely an issue in real-world conditions. I travelled across Asia with the Klasse and a Contax T, and I must say that the Klasse’s images are clearly sharper. This may not be a surprise given how much newer it is than the 1980s vintage Contax, but the lens in that camera is hardly a slouch.
Time and again I was impressed by the fine details that the Klasse W was able to resolve, as well as the vibrancy of the colors. The fact that you can use the myriad settings to fine tune your exposure is just some more icing on the cake. Minimum focus of 40cm, a powerful but well-balanced flash and the brilliant 28mm lens mean that the Klasse W really can do it all.
Price and Value
It’s fair to say that the improvements noted above do atone for the sins of the father. The updated Klasse models are highly capable cameras, bursting with features that make shooting them a breeze. In fact, I would go a little bit further.
Whereas the original Klasse was closer in spec to an ‘80s point and shoot, the newer cameras bring to mind the superlative Contax G series. Although they do not have the same brick-like build quality of the G1 and G2, the feature set is comprehensive enough to include both cameras in the same conversation.
Both cameras have a plethora of custom setting options, shooting modes and options for different types of photography. Users of both systems also cherish their cameras for their optics. Both cameras are electronic, so ‘reliability’ can hardly be cited in favor of one over the other.
Of course, that presents potential buyers with a problem. The Contax G series cameras can be had for significantly less money than the Klasse S and W. Unless you really need the added portability of the Klasse, you really would not be worse off with a G1, a camera that our writer Drew called the best value premium camera available today. And let’s not forget that the Ricoh GR series is more portable than the Klasse W at a similar cost. Decisions.
Perhaps it says more about the admirable feature set of the updated Klasses that they can draw comparisons to high-end cameras in different categories. If we are looking solely at premium compacts, the S and W are undoubtedly two of the most feature-packed point-and-shoot cameras available. Cast your eye to a different camera type, however, and the value proposition begins to look a little bit dubious. After all, the money you spend on a Klasse W could also buy you a Leica M.
On the face of it, you’d think that the Klasse W represents a bit of a rip off. James was far from blown away by his original Klasse, and yet here is a newer version of that camera which is almost twice as expensive. Problems like the questionable build quality have not been amended. And yet. And yet…
After undergoing a top to bottom overhaul by Fuji, there really is a lot to love about the Klasse W and S models. When you consider the features of these models, there really aren’t many (or any) point-and-shoots offering a greater degree of customization and control. Image quality is stellar, and using the camera is intuitive – especially after you disable the autoflash in the custom settings. Small details like this mean that the Klasse W is objectively less annoying than many of its rivals, which does count for something.
It’s very tricky to get around that price tag though. As I said before, you could have a nice Contax G set for the cost of a Klasse W. Less portable, but certainly no less capable and definitely more versatile with its interchangeable lenses. You could also pick up a nice point-and-shoot like a Konica Big Mini and think of the extra bank notes in your back pocket every time that you ruin a photo by forgetting to deactivate the flash.
Regardless of cost, one thing is undeniable. If you really are on the limits in terms of weight and portability, the newer Klasses provide a lot of camera in a very small package. Only the Contax T3 is more feature laden when it comes to premium point-and-shoots. And in company as rarefied as that, whisper it quietly, the Fuji Klasse W may just be a bargain.
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