Editor’s Choice, July 2008: Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd

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In light of the number of cameras that come through our office in any given month, earning a spot among our favorites is never particularly easy. And even less so for ultrazooms, which have all too often tended to be feature-bloated, overpriced underperformers in the general view around here.

Editors Choice

Inarguably, this year’s crop of ultrazooms are some of the best we’ve seen, bringing performance and styling up while keeping prices competitively low (so as to mostly avoid head-to-head competition with entry-level DSLRs). And in the middle of this “Ultrazoom Renaissance” we’re currently enjoying, one of my so-far favorites has proved to be the scrappy, nimble Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd – our July Editor’s Choice recipient.

Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd

In reflecting on the S8100fd, I return again and again to the excellent value this camera represents. With performance that holds its own amid some strong competition but a price that puts it toward the front of the low-cost pack, it’s hard to not come away feeling like this a lot of camera for the money. Image quality from the S8100fd is certainly on par with the better ultrazooms currently on the market. If it’s not a star performer in low light like its SuperCCD-equipped counterparts in Fuji’s line, the S8100fd is capable of clean, vibrant images even at higher ISOs.

Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd

With its huge zoom range, shot composition flexibility with the S8100fd isn’t a problem.

Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd

Acceptable aperture speed at both ends of the range (with a 486mm telephoto end that shoots at a pro-glass fast f/4.5) also allow for tight depth of field control when you want it.

Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd

Overall, the creative flexibility afforded by the S8100fd is one of its greatest strengths. Speed, good image quality, enough options for fine-tuning the look and feel of shots, plus easy to use manual exposure control all work together to make the FinePix a very good bridge camera for the money. As I commented in reviewing the S8100fd:

“As with the model it replaces, the S8100fd really does hit just about all of the right notes. Limitations of and problems with this camera show themselves to be minor as a rule: in terms of basic performance, the S8100fd is a solid package that’s capable of quite a lot.”

For my full take on the S8100fd’s performance, head on over to our Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd review.

Ultrazooms invariably involve compromises, and the S8100fd makes it share. Most notably, the camera could have greatly benefited from a larger, more responsive sensor. Even so, it proves to be an acceptable indoor shooter with a low light look that preferences detail presentation over noise reduction. Likewise, optical concerns bedevil the S8100fd in certain segments of its zoom range, but given the complexity of an 18x lens, few will come away shocked by this finding.

At the end of the day, there’s probably an ultrazoom out there that’s capable of besting the S8100fd in every category we build our review evaluations around – image quality, performance, usability, and build quality. This makes the S8100fd seem an odd Editor’s Choice selection at first blush. Using the camera, however, revealed it’s multivalent strengths: fast enough for action shooting, sharp enough for big prints, clean enough to make prints from low-light shots, and comfortable enough for day-long use. If it lacks the advanced-camera polish of some of its competitors, the S8100fd’s attractive price and all-around capabilities should be an enticing combination for many.

In fact, some might call the S8100fd’s “compromises” a simple case of striking the right balance. And in my book, that’s exactly what Fujifilm’s latest achieves.

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