"We aren't being fair to Fujifilm." That was the first thought that crossed my mind when I started reviewing the latest 14.3x ultrazoom camera, the Fujifilm FinePix S100FS. Why aren't we being fair? Because I've been using DSLRs since 2002, and although I've used many all-in-one digital cameras from Fujifilm in the past, these "DSLR alternatives" always fall short of providing the quality and performance of a true interchangeable lens DSLR. Imagine my surprise when the S100FS actually exceeded all my expectations, and in some ways actually out-performs entry-level DSLRs.
Building heavily on the Finepix S9100 which came before it, the all new S100FS brings 11 megapixels of resolution and a long zoom and is aimed squarely at the entry-level DSLR market. While it seems like most camera manufacturers have abandoned large all-in-one cameras in favor of entry-level DSLRs, Fujifilm has done something that no other company has done: they've made the equivalent of a fixed-lens DSLR with an electronic viewfinder.
As a major update to the Fujifilm FinePix S9100, the FinePix S100fs adds a new body, more resolution and an impressive boost to overall performance. Fujifilm clearly took note that the S9100 received mixed reviews from consumers. Seeing as the chief criticisms about the older camera were related to performance, it makes perfect sense that the S100FS offers improved performance that rivals entry-level DSLRs.
One of the principal changes in the S100FS is the move to an 11.1 megapixel, 2/3-inch SuperCCD HR image sensor. Sitting in front of this is the all-new wide-angle 14.3x optically stabilized zoom lens that offers a 28-400mm (35mm equivalent) zoom range. A true advanced point-and-shoot, the S100FS is armed with a full range of manual exposure modes in addition to numerous auto shooting features.
In total, the S100FS offers 11 basic shooting modes via its mode dial:
Video options with the FinePix are a mix of exceptional and average. First, unlike most compact digital cameras with electronic zoom lenses that are locked in movie mode, the manual zoom lens on the S100FS allows you the freedom to zoom from wide angle to extreme telephoto while recording movies. Unfortunately, the video recording is limited to either 640x480 or 320x240, both at 30 frames per second. This level of video performance isn't bad, but there are a number of compact digital cameras capable of superior video performance. Audio performance is only average as well, meaning that if you're looking for a camcorder replacement, this might not be the best choice.
Thankfully, thanks to the dominance of SD and SDHC memory these days among consumer cameras, the S100FS is the latest Fuji to support dual memory card types – either SD/SDHC or the Fuji/Olympus proprietary xD-Picture Card format – from its single slot. In testing, both types worked equally well, though high-performance SDHC cards provided obviously superior recording and playback speeds.
For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.
Styling and Build Quality
The all-plastic S100FS provides a nice balance between solid feel and light weight. Lightly textured, apparently high-quality plastic is used throughout, with rubber inserts on the grip and manual zoom ring providing an excellently cushioned grip in key areas. Visually similar to a traditional DSLR, the Fujifilm engineers clearly tried to give the S100FS a "mini-DSLR" appearance.
Buttons and doors have a reasonably solid feel, though the memory card door does have a "cheap plastic" feel when open. I particularly enjoyed the feel of the mode dial, control wheel, and shutter button...all of which felt like what you'd find on an entry-level DSLR.
Finally, Fujifilm's lens hood design is something of a mixed bag. On one hand, I'm glad to have a lens hood included with the camera to help prevent lens flare in strong sunlight situations. However, the hood on this lens is extremely large. The width of the hood causes the autofocus assist light to be partially blocked when the hood is attached, though the autofocus still seems to work fine in low light with the lens hood. Additionally, when the hood is attached and the lens is extended to extreme telephoto the hood puts excess pressure on the lens when you rest the camera on a hard surface.
Ergonomics and Interface
I've had my fair share of experience with all-in-one DSLR-like cameras from Fujifilm. In years past I owned both the FinePix 4900 and the FinePix S7000. While Fujifilm engineers have refined the user interface over the years, the primary control layout has remained mostly unchanged. The most obvious change is the use of both "shooting" and "setup" menus within the menu navigation system.
Minor variations aside, menu bloat is something that Fuji continues to struggle with, as the S100FS has no less than eight separate drop-down menus where you can change settings for either image capture or playback. While using the S100FS is still a pleasant experience, many photographers will find the multiple menus quite frustrating when they need to quickly change multiple settings.
Ergonomically, the S100FS has a nice feel that should work well for a broad cross-section of shooters. The deep, rubber-coated grip and curved thumb rest provide a comfortable control surface for one-handed shooting. The wide lens barrel and rubber-coated zoom control provide an ideal position for the left hand to help stabilize the S100FS when shooting. Overall, the mini-DSLR design works quite nicely on the relatively lightweight S100FS for the same reasons that it works on larger, heavier cameras: convenient access to camera controls and proper balance are achieved at the same time.
A tiltable, 230,000 dot, 2.5 inch LCD provides an excellent live view display for both framing your subject and image playback. Although it's not as large as the LCDs found on most current DSLRs, the viewing angles and fluid refresh rate make the LCD quite nice. Color and contrast are average, and the screen seems to be prone to blown highlights in bright composition. This is a minor problem, however, as the on-screen composition is extremely nice with live histograms, a composition grid, as all the shooting information you will ever need.
The LCD has eleven levels of manual screen gain so that shooting in low light or bright daylight won't be a problem.
The electronic viewfinder (EVF) on the S100FS is a high-resolution, 230,000 dot unit with manual diopter correction wheel. Colors on the EVF appear to be a little warmer than the LCD, with a slight magenta cast in our review unit. Even when the EVF is being used for composition all image review is diverted to the main LCD.
Timings and Shutter Lag
Every all-in-one ultrazoom camera we have reviewed suffers from comparatively long shutter and AF lag, and this has proven to be the performance hurdle that no all-in-one can overcome...until now. While the S100FS certainly doesn't rival the speeds of a high-performance DSLR, lag times were impressively low in almost all categories.
When pre-focused, shutter lag (the time it takes for an image to be captured after you press the shutter button) is a mere 0.04 seconds. Autofocus lag is equivalent to many budget DSLRs at only 0.31 seconds for AF acquisition and capture.
Continuous shooting performance again proved to be extremely impressive. The S100FS is capable of capturing seven full-resolution JPEG images (or three RAW images) at 3.0 frames per second. The only hitch? It then takes 18 seconds to store all seven JPEGs and 31 seconds for three RAW images when shooting in continuous mode. However, full-power flash recycle time is only 4.1 seconds – basically DSLR speed.
If the S100FS has a speed weakness, it's the rather disappointing lag between the initial power-on to the first shot being taken. Power-on to first shot was an average of 3.2 seconds: not horrible for an all-in-one camera, but slower than average for advanced point-and-shoots.
Lens and Zoom
Most consumers will likely be interested in the S100FS simply because of the "14.3x Optical Zoom" range giving you the equivalent of a 28-400mm zoom lens on the 35mm film camera. While this might not be as impressive as some of the other all-in-one ultrazoom cameras on the market, it's safe to say the range from wide-angle to telephoto is still quite nice. With a maximum aperture of f/5.3 at a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 400mm, there's little to complain about in terms of telephoto performance. A 28mm f/2.8 wide end doesn't hurt Fuji's case either.
As mentioned in the First Thoughts article, the traditional manual zoom ring around the lens barrel instantly moves the long 14.3x zoom lens on the S100FS in and out from wide angle (28mm) to telephoto (400mm) without any hesitation common to electronic or "zoom by wire" digital cameras. The only potential negative to this design is that the camera becomes significantly larger when the lens is extended to the maximum telephoto reach.
The S100FS strikes a nice balance on focusing modes and options, providing enough tools to keep serious shooters happy and enough "dummy modes" to help novices.
The FinePix S100fs has four AF modes of single AF, continuous AF, manual focus and one-push AF (for manual focus), to respond to diverse photography conditions and intentions. As previously mentioned, all AF modes offer high-speed, high-precision focusing. The FinePix S100FS can focus on subjects in low light thanks to a surprisingly capable AF-assist light located next to the camera's lens.
The S100FS also incorporates a Face Detection system which automatically detects faces and sets optimal focusing and brightness for faces. The Face Detection area is quite large for this system, allowing for proper face detection whether your subject is small in the frame or whether the subject face fills the entire LCD.
My only frustration with the AF system came when trying to take photos in either Macro or Super-Macro autofocus modes. As mentioned in the First Thoughts article, the S100FS suffers from a very shallow "sweet spot" range when working with close subjects. If the camera-to-subject distance isn't exactly right then the S100FS will constantly hunt for focus and never find it. This sometimes makes it very difficult to get proper focus when you're trying to photograph a moving subject that is moving between normal and macro distances.
As a DSLR replacement the S100FS offers a powerful pop-up flash as well as both a standard hot shoe and a PC sync socket for external flashes and studio strobes.
The pop-up flash offers a range of 23.6 feet at ISO 800. Power is quite reasonable and provides enough light to fill a dark room when combined with auto ISO.
The single most impressive feature I discovered during my testing of the S100FS is that the camera can sync the built-in flash or an external flash all the way up to 1/4000 sec! What this means is that you can use a flash mounted in the camera's hot shoe to provide fill flash on your subject's face so that both your subject and your background are properly exposed even in extremely bright sunshine. In other words, with an external flash connected to this camera you can take some amazing portraits outdoors regardless of how bright the sun might be.
In addition to the various samples included showing how the camera performs with high speed flash sync, I took the following photo is my basement with the lights completely off. This image was lit with a single external flash connected to the camera's hot shoe. The flash was set to "Auto" mode (ISO 400, f/5.6) and the S100FS was set to ISO 400 with a shutter speed of 1/4000 and an aperture of f/5. As you can see, the exposure is remarkably even and accurate for an image taken at 1/4000 sec and lit by a single flash.
I've shot with DSLRs from every major manufacturer, and I honestly don't know of any DSLR that can sync a standard external flash at 1/4000 sec, f/5.6, and ISO 400 while correctly exposing an indoor scene with no other light source.
There really isn't much to complain about in terms of flash performance (particularly external flash performance) with the S100FS. That said, the editorial staff here is mostly in agreement that the S100FS could benefit from a hot shoe that supports i-TTL metering, making the camera fully compatible with Nikon Speedlights – just like Fuji's Nikon-based DSLRs. I'm certain that Fujifilm wants this camera to appeal to both photo enthusiasts and professionals who want a budget all-in-one for travel or cheap studio work. Full compatibility with Nikon's excellent range of flashguns would go a long way toward this goal.
The FinePix S100FS is one of the first Fujifilm all-in-one cameras to feature lens-shift type image stabilization which prevents image blur caused by involuntary camera movements.
The lens-shift type image stabilization mechanism in the FinePix S100FS automatically detects vibration of the camera body by a sensor in the camera. Like most lens-shift image stabilization methods, the lens elements make optical compensations based on the precise degree of vibration to refract light in the direction needed to counter vibrations. Fujifilm claims the mechanism produces a compensation effect equivalent to about three f-stops.
Image blur caused by involuntary camera movement is magnified at the longer end of a zoom lens, so even with IS enabled it can be hard to get extremely crisp pictures at full telephoto in low light. That said, the IS technology in the S100FS works just as well as just about any other IS system we've tested (providing a consistent two stops or more of stabilization improvement on average). Still, when shooting beyond 300mm there's no replacement for a fast shutter speed and good support for the camera.
Fuji decided to abandon the use of AA batteries for power in this camera compared to its predecessor. Although the use of a proprietary lithium-ion battery means that extra batteries are more expensive, it also means that the camera is capable of extended battery life. Using mostly natural light or external flash I was generally able to capture between 250-300 images and review them multiple times before the low battery indicator appeared.
With a big screen, a big lens, image stabilization, and lots of other power-hungry features to drive, Fuji's numbers seem very reasonable, though not as impressive as some DSLRs.
Like many Fujifilm cameras, the blue channel seems to be more heavily saturated than the red or green channel, leading to a higher-than average probability that blue colors might be clipped. On that note, if the S100FS was set to standard dynamic range mode then the camera tended to clip highlights and mute shadows, similar to the limited dynamic range seen in most all-in-one cameras.
Thankfully, the Super CCD HR inside the S100FS is capable of providing amazing dynamic range for such a compact image sensor. The light receptor area is expanded because of the large 2/3-inch CCD with 11.1 million effective pixels. The unique octagonal shape of the individual light receptors on the Super CCD HR not only help pack more pixels onto the sensor, but enhance the light collection efficiency and light capture efficiency per pixel. The Super CCD HR delivers high resolving power which shows up in your images both in terms of details and extended dynamic range.
What does "extended dynamic range" mean in real-world terms? It means that when areas of you image are over-exposed the image sensor is still capable of recording image data in that area of the frame rather than just clipping the highlight details in the image.
The images below show the benefit of the 400 percent Dynamic Range mode on the S100FS compared to standard dynamic range. The first image was taken with standard dynamic range, and the second image was taken with the same shutter speed and aperture but with the image sensor set to 400 percent Dynamic Range mode.
Exposure, Processing, and Color
The S100FS provides three metering options – multi-area, spot, and average – with multi-area serving as the default setting. Given the S100FS's tendency to lose detail at the top end of the spectrum at the default dynamic range setting, I would advise using exposure compensation, the 400 percent Dynamic Range mode, or careful use of spot metering to avoid clipping highlights in your images.
The Fujifilm RP (Real Photo) Processor III is incorporated in the FinePix S100fs and handles all of the in-camera image processing. The processor is able to read at high speed by using parallel processing and a new 14-bit dual channel output. The practical result of all that technical talk is both rich tonality and high-speed image creation. The camera's double noise reduction system separates noise from actual image detail making it possible to create clear images with extremely low noise for ISO 3200 sensitivity photographs with full resolution (11.1 megapixels).
Rather than offering the company's signature "F-Chrome" high-saturation film emulator mode, the S100FS offers a unique "Film Simulation" capability. The Film Simulation mode allows you to take photos as if you are selecting the most appropriate type of film for each scene. The S100FS reproduces the color tones of Velvia and Provia (both popular Fuji-brand films) as well as a Soft and Portrait film modes.
Combined with the bracketing function, just one press of the shutter simultaneously creates images based on the three types of film, allowing you to select and produce images matching your intention and your mood. Velvia mode produces vivid colors for nature photos with great sharpness and color tone emphasizing red and green. Provia mode is a general use mode producing colors with a natural tone. Soft mode produces soft/smooth tonality with an accurate hue being the primary feature of this mode, with Portrait emphasizing mid-tones.
There's also a run-of-the-mill monochrome mode for working directly in black and white; note, however, that no other color mode options (not even a sepia mode) are available.
The S100FS has rather average auto white balance performance compared to most all-in-one cameras. In other words, white balance performs quite poorly under incandescent light but it isn't unusable or completely unsalvageable with post-processing.
As you can see in the image above, the camera doesn't completely neutralize the warming effects of incandescent light. Of course, the standard range of presets, including a custom white balance mode, is available if you need them.
It shouldn't be a surprise that the huge zoom range on the S100FS requires a few compromises in terms of optical performance. The most obvious "lens flaw" that presents itself in many images is poor chromatic aberration control: blue/purple fringe shows up in to some degree in almost every high-contrast boundary area.
While the "purple fringe" problem is present from wide angle all the way to extreme telephoto, our test shots revealed that the chromatic aberration is more pronounced at the telephoto end of the zoom lens ... and more obvious with greater camera-to-subject distances.
Another compromise you have to expect with an ultrazoom lens is lens distortion. Specifically, you'll notice barrel distortion at wide-angle and pincushioning at telephoto.
There is some minor vignetting that shows up in wide-angle images, but it is so minor that it won't be noticeable in most photos.
Sensitivity and Noise
In my years of experience with all-in-one digital cameras I have never found one that performs as well as a DSLR in terms of ISO range and ISO noise. While the S100FS still suffers from more ISO noise at high ISO settings compared to DSLRs with APS-C and full-frame image sensors, the SuperCCD in the S100FS does perform quite well compared to the image sensors found in Four Thirds format DSLRs.
What does this mean in terms of "real world" performance? Well, it means that most photos taken at ISO 100 to 400 produce prints that look as clean and detailed as images taken with a DSLR at the same ISO settings. Higher ISO settings will still produce great prints, but as you increase ISO sensitivity you will decrease the amount of fine detail captured in the image.
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
ISO 3200, 100% crop
ISO 6400, 100% crop
ISO 10,000, 100% crop
It also shouldn't be a surprise that the S100FS starts to show some obvious detail loss at ISO 800 and above. What is a surprise is how usable these images remain even at higher ISOs when compared to other all-in-one digital cameras. Although Fuji's in-camera processing and noise reduction seems to smooth out some fine details at high ISO settings, there is a respectable amount of fine detail even in the images taken at ISO 1600.
Shots from ISO 100 through ISO 400 show roughly the same level of detail, and fine detail loss doesn't begin to become noticeable until ISO 800. While that might not sound overly impressive, let's take a look at images taken of the same subject using the S100FS at ISO 400 and the popular Panasonic DMC-FZ50 at ISO 400. I setup the scene below to create the worst case scenario for ISO noise. In the shot below you have a scene with tons of shadow detail and lots of solid colors (including a solid-colored background) that will highlight whatever noise is in the image.
Side by side with the Panasonic, the Fuji clearly captures more detail at ISO 400 with less detail lost due to noise and noise reduction. In fact, the ISO 400 images from the S100FS come surprisingly close to what we've seen from DSLRs with a Four Thirds format image sensor (such as the Olympus E-420). While it's not as clean as images from DSLRs with much larger sensors, the S100FS holds up just fine for family photos even at larger print sizes.
In addition to the full-res ISO range from ISO 100 to 3200, shown above, the S100FS can take six-megapixel images at ISO 6400 and three-megapixel images at ISO 10,000.
Although you're only getting a 3-megapixel image at the 10,000 ISO setting, there's still more than enough edge detail for an acceptable 4x6 or 5x7 print.
Additional Sample Images
As it turns out, we are indeed being fair to Fujifilm. The S100FS resolves many of the complaints I had with previous all-in-one, fixed-lens DSLR-type cameras. The camera is reasonably fast, performs well at higher ISO settings, and has extended dynamic range to prevent loss of highlight details due to overexposure. The limitations of this camera turned out to be quite minor and partially unavoidable based on the design.
The extreme zoom range of the lens means that macro focusing distances and lens distortions will be a factor, but nothing that should ruin an otherwise good shot. The only performance issue that Fujifilm engineers really need to address is the lag between the first time you turn the camera on and when you can take a photo.
If anything stands out as "not being fair" about the S100FS, I'd have to say it's that Fujifilm isn't being fair to some consumers in terms of price. While the S100FS still costs less than a DSLR with an 18-200mm or 18-250mm lens, the S100FS is a little more expensive than some entry-level DSLRs with a basic kit lens. I suspect that many more consumers would buy this camera if it sold for $550 to $600.
In the end, if you're in the market for an entry-level DSLR but want the convenience of an all-in-one lens then the Fujifilm FinePix S100FS belongs on the top of your shopping list.
|Sensor||11.1 megapixel, 2/3" Super CCD|
|Zoom||14.3x (28-400mm) Fujinon zoom, f/2.8-5.3|
|LCD/Viewfinder||2.5", 230K-pixel TFT LCD, tiltable|
|Shutter Speed||30-1/4000 seconds
|Shooting Modes||Auto, Film Simulation Bracketing, Scene, Custom 1, Custom 2, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Movie|
|Scene Presets||Nature, Nature-Soft, Nature-Vivid, Flower, Portrait, Portrait-Soft, Baby, Portrait Enhancer, Sport, Night, Fireworks, Sunset, Snow, Beach
|White Balance Settings||Auto, Fine, Shade, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, Incandescent, Custom
|Metering Modes||Multi-area, Center, Spot
|Focus Modes||Center AF, Multi AF, Area AF, Continuous AF, Manual, Macro, Super Macro
|Drive Modes||Normal, Top 7, Top 50, Last 7, Continuous|
|Flash Modes||Auto, Forced On, Slow Synchro, Forced Off, Red-Eye Reduction, Slow Syncrho with Red-Eye Reduction|
|Self Timer Settings
||10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
|Memory Formats||xD-Picture Card, SD, SDHC
|File Formats||JPEG, AVI, WAV
|Max. Image Size||3840x2880
|Max. Video Size
||640x480, 30 fps
|Zoom During Video||Yes
|Connections||USB 2.0, AV output, DC input|
|Additional Features||Face Detection, Film Simulation Mode, Dynamic Range Selection, High Speed Shooting|
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