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Fujifilm Finepix S9100 Digital Camera Review
by J. Keenan -  11/10/2006

There’s a saying that goes something like “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”.  The Fujifilm Finepix S9100 has no worries on that account.

fujifilm finepix s9100
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Taking the camera from its box, I immediately found the grip and thumb rest felt quite natural in my medium sized hands – folks with large hands may find the camera a little diminutive for their taste, but most shooters will fit the camera nicely.

The camera is plastic but material quality, fit and finish appear first-rate. A quick glance at external controls shows the ability for a variety of manual inputs along with the obligatory “auto” settings and specialty modes, and a hot shoe complements the built-in flash. The Fujinon 10.7X optical zoom lens offers the 35mm equivalent of 28 to 300 millimeter focal lengths, and places this camera in the “super” or “ultra” zoom category. The lens provides auto (AF) and manual focusing capabilities.

If you’re like me, when I get a new camera my first thought is to take some shots ASAP. The Fuji comes with a quick start sheet of instructions and after loading batteries, Compact Flash (CF) card and setting the mode dial to “auto”, it’s out to the back yard for those first shots. The hibiscus image was true to color and nicely focused shot in “auto” with all the default settings the camera comes with from the factory. Other first shots were likewise – the Fuji makes nice images right out of the box with minimal involvement from the photographer.  That combined with the camera’s 9 mega pixel sensor will probably earn the Fuji legions of fans, but this camera offers a host of features that makes it worthy of consideration for photographers wishing to move well beyond “full auto” mode. In some cases, the Fuji might well provide a cost effective alternative for those contemplating the move to an entry-level digital single lens reflex (DSLR).

fujifilm finepix S9100 sample image
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fujifilm finepix S9100 sample image
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A CLOSER LOOK 

The S9100 is the follow-on model to the popular S9000 (the S9100 is marketed as the S9600 in certain countries, where its predecessor was the S9500).

Provided with the camera are a set of AA alkaline batteries, A/V and USB cables, 2CD-ROMs with software, an owner’s manual, lens hood, lens cap and holder, and a camera strap.

Dimensions of the camera are 5” x 3.7” x 5.1” and the weight with batteries and memory card is approximately 26.8 ounces. The camera will accept either xD-Picture Card or CF/Microdrive media, and both types of media may be carried in the camera simultaneously; the photographer determines which media will be recorded to via menu. In additional to still images, which may be captured as JPEG or RAW files, the camera has a movie capability of 640 x 480pixels/320 x 240 pixels at 30 frames per second.

CAMERA FEATURES AND LAYOUT 

Resembling a small single lens reflex camera (SLR), the S9100 offers the shooter full auto and programmed auto (P) modes, as well as “natural” (low) light, “portrait”, “landscape” and” night” specialty modes. There is a “picture stabilization” mode as well, accomplished by the camera “selecting a fast shutter speed” rather than some form of built-in image stabilization.  These modes along with the manual (M), aperture priority (A), and shutter priority (S) settings are selected via the mode dial on top of the camera body. The camera’s built in flash pops up from the camera top as well.

fujifilm finepix s9100
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fujifilm finepix s9100
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Also found at the top of the body is the power switch, shutter button, exposure compensation, flash and continuous shooting buttons, command dial and the hot shoe for an external flash. One nice feature to note - the shutter button is threaded to accommodate a cable release. Fuji’s control layout permits some quick changes as shooting conditions or the photographer’s whim may dictate, but you’ll have to use the internal menus to change white balance and/or ISO.

fujifilm finepix s9100
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fujifilm finepix s9100
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The camera back features the 2” LCD monitor, which may be swung up 90 degrees to function as a waist-level type viewfinder. The monitor itself is mounted on a bracket which swings out 45 degrees from the camera back. These range of adjustments make it possible to use the LCD to shoot subjects that may be difficult to shoot with the more traditional viewfinder. The LCD does not swivel or rotate, and is bright enough to function well in outdoor sunlit conditions. LCD brightness is adjustable.

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The camera back is also home to the electronic viewfinder (EVF), which is equipped with a diopter adjustment dial to permit the image sharpness to be fine-tuned to the photographer’s particular eyesight. Also found here are the Auto Exposure Lock button; the Photometry selector dial with which to choose one of three methods of light metering; the EVF/LCD selector button to choose viewfinder or LCD; a focus check button; menu button with attached control for the 2X digital zoom; DISP/BACK button to choose the screen display or cancel a procedure and the “F” button to select quality mode, ISO and color settings.

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On the left side of the camera are minimal controls consisting of the Flash Pop-Up, Information Check, One-Touch auto focus and Macro buttons, along with the Focus Mode selector switch.

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The right side of the camera consists primarily of the slot cover, which opens to permit access to the CF/Microdrive and xD-Picture Card media slots.

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Batteries are exchanged via the battery cover on the camera bottom, which also features a threaded tripod mount. Fuji specifically notes that manganese or Nickel-Cadmium (Ni-Cd) AA batteries ARE NOT to be used. Alkaline or Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) types are recommended.

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The front of the camera is notable for the Fujinon 10.7X optical lens. Also to be found here are the auto focus-assist illuminator/self-timer lamp, external AF sensor and a synchronizing terminal for an external flash not mounted on the camera’s hot shoe.

SHOOTING WITH THE S9100 

Full Auto/Specialty Modes 

As mentioned earlier, I suspect that the S9100’s 9 mega pixel sensor and quality images right out of the box  would be enough for many of its shooters, who won’t be tempted to go beyond full auto mode. For those that choose this route, the Fuji performs admirably. At the recent Edwards Air Force Base Open House, I set the Fuji on auto and fired away.

fujifilm finepix S9100 sample image
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fujifilm finepix S9100 sample image
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The camera did a good job with these two fairly high contrast subjects – the color rendition in each was extremely accurate, with a nice balance in exposure between shaded and direct lit portions of the shots.

This is not to say the Fuji is infallible – as with virtually any camera, high-contrast shots are difficult metering assignments, and in the surf shot that follows there is some overexposure and loss of detail in the white water portions of the wave. Still, not bad for a full auto capture of a difficult lighting situation.


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Even though full auto mode takes virtually all the decision making out of the process of capturing the image, the Fuji does have an interesting “Shooting Assistant Function” that can overlay a grid of horizontal and vertical lines delineating nine frames within the viewfinder/LCD. This can be helpful in keeping horizons level or assisting in composing a photo using the “rule of thirds” philosophy.

You should also bear in mind that using specialty modes such as “Night” and “Natural Light” may result in slow shutter speeds, making a tripod or other form of camera support essential to help insure the sharpest possible image.

The S9100 has a “picture stabilization” mode that is accessed via the mode dial on the top of the camera body. This function manipulates camera settings to produce a high shutter speed as a means to minimize camera shake. Some cameras may move a lens element or the sensor to achieve “image stabilization” or “vibration reduction”, which typically is touted as permitting a shot at a lower shutter speed.  Two means to the same end, but my personal preference here is for the latter method.

Beyond Full Auto

P Mode

In P mode, the S9100 permits you to specify settings other than shutter speed and aperture. Using the command dial, you can then call up various combinations of shutter speed/aperture that the camera selects to maintain correct exposure. For example, you might set the ISO to 400 and change the white balance from “auto” to “outdoors”, then use the command dial to select from available shutter speed/aperture combinations as determined by the camera.

S Mode 

Shutter priority – you specify the shutter speed. Shutter speeds available are 4 to 1/4000 of a second at wide angle, and 4 to 1/2000 of a second at telephoto lengths. Practically speaking, you are limited to 1/2000 of a second by the time you’ve zoomed the lens to the 50mm focal length.

A Mode 

Aperture priority – you specify the lens opening. Openings available are F2.8 to F8 at wide angle, and F4.9 to F8 at telephoto.

M Mode 

Manual – you specify lens opening and shutter speed to produce the desired exposure using an exposure indicator displayed on the viewfinder or LCD. Shutter speeds available are 30 seconds to 1/4000 of a second, as well as a bulb setting of up to 30 seconds. Bulb shots are typically accomplished using a cable release and manually holding the shutter open for the desired time. The same effect could be accomplished using the S9100’s self timer to fire the shutter set for a long manual exposure. The S9100 gains an extra stop of minimum aperture in M Mode, going to F11 in both wide angle and telephoto; maximum apertures remain at F2.8 and F4.9, respectively.

Exposure Compensation 

When shooting in P, S or A modes, the shooter has the option to increase or decrease the brightness of the scene up to +/- 2 exposure values (EV) in 1/3 EV increments. In the surf photo found in the full auto section of this review, the white water lacked some detail where the highlights had been over exposed. In the photo below, shot in A mode, I used Exposure Compensation to reduce the overall EV by .5, which kept the details in the white water.


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While not exposure compensation per se, the S9100 does have a bracketing feature that may be selected when shooting in P, S, A or M modes. The camera makes three shots of an image, one at what the camera selects as correct exposure, and one each at a higher and lower EV selected by the shooter.

Light Metering 

The S9100 offers multi, spot and average metering methods, with multi being the preferred setting for most scenes. Spot optimizes exposure for the center of the image and is useful for images with strongly contrasting light and dark areas. Average is suggested for scenes of people wearing black and white clothing or scenery.

Focus 

Single and continuous auto focus modes are available, as is fully manual focus. Single AF focuses each time the shutter button is held down part-way. Continuous AF maintains focus on the main subject in the screen.

Manual focus is provided with focusing indicator marks which can assist with fine-tuning manual focus. In practice, the indicator marks are extremely sensitive to any focus inputs, so manual is best left for use with stationary subjects – you’ll have a hard time keeping up with the indicator marks (if you use them) with moving targets.

Macro 

Macro capability is quickly accessed by pushing the “macro” button on the left side of the camera. The S9100 can focus as close as 3.9 inches at wide angle macro, and 3 feet at telephoto macro. There is a “super macro” setting available in wide angle only that focuses at .4 inch.

Flash 

Fuji’s effective built-in flash range is approximately 18.4 feet at wide angle and 9.8 feet at telephoto. Red eye reduction, forced flash (flash under bright conditions or to illuminate a backlit subject) and slow synchro modes are available. The flash did a good job with a variety of indoor subjects.

fujifilm finepix S9100 sample image
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fujifilm finepix S9100 sample image
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fujifilm finepix S9100 sample image
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The hot shoe and synch terminal provide the means to utilize a much more powerful flash with the S9100, either directly on the camera (hot shoe) or via the synch cord.

Continuous Shooting 

Fuji’s manual lists a maximum speed of 1.5 frames per second (for only 4 images), or a long period continuous rate of 1.1 frames per second for up to 40 images. These are optimal figures and real world performance will probably fall somewhat short of these values, depending on shutter speed. For example, in somewhat dim surroundings, the S9100 took 6 frames in the long period mode in 9.11 seconds.

Suffice it to say under either condition the S9100 will not remind anyone of a 5 frame per second DSLR, but in well-lit conditions it does provide a modest capability for sequential shooting. 

Quality Mode 

The S9100 offers 7 quality (number of pixels) settings for JPEG images: 9 megapixels in either Normal or Fine settings as well as a 3:2 aspect ratio setting; and 5, 3, 2 and .3 megapixel settings for smaller prints and/or internet use.

Images may also be captured in RAW mode, but continuous shooting, digital zoom and quality mode are unavailable when doing so.

ISO 

The S9100 offers a range of ISO sensitivity including auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 values.

As a practical matter, real world shots at ISO 80 through 200 were virtually identical. 400 showed some change from 200, and 800 was degraded from 400, although in a pinch it would be acceptable. 1600 was easily differentiated from 800 and would be the ISO of choice only if all else failed.

Color 

The Fuji has a standard color mode, but can also be set for F-Chrome, which Fuji recommends for taking vivid shots of subjects such as scenery and flowers. In the F-Chrome setting, contrast and color saturation levels are raised over those found in the standard setting. Fuji cautions that you may not see any difference in subjects being shot in the two modes on the EVF/LCD. The S9100 also boasts a Black and White mode.

fujifilm finepix S9100 sample image
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fujifilm finepix S9100 sample image
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fujifilm finepix S9100 sample image
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White Balance  

The S9100 offers auto white balance as well as settings for outdoor, shade, fluorescent (“daylight”, “warm” and “cool” versions), and incandescent light sources. The camera will also accept two custom white balance settings. The “auto” setting works well in most instances.

Battery Performance 

Battery life is unremarkable, particularly if you use the LCD as your primary screen. Fuji estimates 120 shots with alkaline batteries and the LCD, and 320 with 2500mAh Ni-MH rechargeables. I probably averaged closer to 100 shots with the alkalines, so it only makes sense to get several sets of rechargeable AAs and maybe carry a set of alkalines as a backup.

There is an “auto power off” function available which allows you to set the camera to power down automatically in either 2 or 5 minutes when not in use, and it’s prudent to enable this feature for the 2 minute shutdown. The S9100 starts up quickly (.8 second per Fuji) so the inconvenience of having to re-start a powered-down camera is minimal.

Shutter Performance 

Fuji claims a .01 second shutter lag for the S9100, but this of course comes after the camera has acquired focus. The camera features a high speed shooting mode that shortens the time required to achieve focus, albeit at the cost of increased battery drain. Once focus is achieved the shutter fires quickly, but 1.5 frames per second is still about the best the camera will do, and then only for four images.

Lens Performance  

Unlike some cameras in this class, the S9100 features a manual zoom lens rather than powered zoom. This not only saves on battery usage (which is not the S9100’s strong suit, at least with alkalines) but in my experience is quicker and more precise in actual use. The Fujinon 10.7X optical zoom produces excellent images across a range of conditions. There was some barrel distortion (straight lines bow away from center of picture) at the wide angle end of the zoom; pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward center of picture) was less pronounced at the telephoto end.  Some chromatic aberration (purple-red fringing near high-contrast color changes) was present but only apparent at great magnification. Images appeared quite uniformly sharp across their totality to my eye, with no obvious softening at the edges. From the time spent with this camera, I’m of the opinion that unless you’re specifically seeking to exploit lens imperfections, any shortcomings in theoretical lens performance will not be readily apparent in the overwhelming majority of images produced by the S9100. This camera takes great photos!

fujifilm finepix S9100 sample image
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fujifilm finepix S9100 sample image
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Miscellaneous 

The S9100 features a Digital Print Order Format mode which can record printing specifications for images captured by the camera, along with which images are to be printed. In conjunction with this mode is a trimming feature which allows you to call up specific images and then zoom or pan the image and trim (crop) to alter the image as you choose.

 S9100 Select Technical Specifications 

Conclusion 

While offering fully automatic operation that makes the photographer’s presence necessary for little more than composition and pressing the shutter button, the Fuji S9100 features a range of manual inputs, adjustments and performance approaching that of entry-level DSLRs in some respects. Indeed, in the Fuji digital food chain the S9100 is slotted at the top of the “point and shoot” lineup, just below the Fuji DSLR fleet. The obvious question becomes if the S9100 can take the place of an entry level DSLR. The answer is an unqualified “maybe”.

With a 9 megapixel sensor, the ability to capture RAW images, a 28 – 300 mm zoom lens and plenty of manual controls, the S9100 is worthy of consideration for a shooter who doesn’t need to shoot 3 frames per second or fast-moving subjects. Even in telephoto mode, the S9100 retains a 1/2000th of a second shutter speed which, combined with the 300mm focal length lens, gives a good ratio of speed to length for stopping action. The major drawback for the S9100 is the delay associated with the camera achieving focus before the shutter can be fired. I found I could shoot moving surfers and get good results in single shots, but fast moving jets were a real handful. Someone shooting more sedate subjects might have all the camera they need with the Fuji, particularly if they can shoot in conditions using ISO 400 or less.

Another argument in favor of the S9100 is cost. A Nikon D80 DSLR body runs about $950 and the 18-200 zoom lens that is the focal length equivalent of the Fuji is another $750. A Canon Rebel XTi body is about $800 and while Canon doesn’t even have an 18-200 zoom, a Tamron 18-200 for the Canon would be about $390. Our local Costco store has the D80 and a couple of lenses packaged for $1300. Nikon and Canon both make less expensive DSLRs, but those models are 6 megapixel sensors, while the D80 and XTi are 10.2 megapixels, much closer to the Fuji’s 9 megapixel CCD. Suggested list price on the Fuji is about $600.

For all the other folks who could care less about a DSLR, the Fuji is an extremely attractive proposition. The camera makes great images at full auto right out of the box, so the novice photographer can expect good results on a variety of shots, while at the same time having a camera with features they can grow into and make use of as their skill/knowledge increases. For more advanced shooters, the Fuji offers the ability to customize camera functions that would have to please all but the pickiest of users.

Speaking of picky, here’s my biggest complaint about the S9100 – the owner’s manual would benefit from an index, not just a table of contents. As for the camera, that first impression has only gotten better…………

Pros 

Cons