Fujifilm has a long tradition of making exceptional all-in-one digital cameras that mimic DSLRs without the burden of interchangeable lenses. One of my first digital cameras was a Fujifilm Finepix 4900 and even after acquiring several DSLRs, I used a Fujifilm Finepix S7000 as a "vacation camera" when I didn't want to carry a bag full of lenses. Fujifilm's latest top-of-the-line ultrazoom is the new Finepix S100FS. This advanced enthusiast camera packs a 14.3x optical zoom lens (28-400mm in 35mm format) with a nice f/2.8-5.6 aperture range, 11.1 megapixels of resolution, and impressive ISO performance as well as extended dynamic range to prevent highlight clipping in your photos.
The S100FS features 11.1 megapixel resolution, a 2.5-inch tiltable LCD screen, a bright electronic viewfinder, a hotshoe (allowing any standard external flash units to be used), Fujifilm's new Super CCD HR which provides amazing ISO performance and extreme dynamic range, Face Detection AF, film simulation modes, 14 scene modes with two custom modes, macro focusing to 1cm (0.4 inches), raw image capture, and a 3 fps burst mode for 3 raw images or 7 JPEG images.
Camera shake is a big problem with long zoom digicams - the longer the zoom, the more likely the camera is to produce blurry photos due to the magnified effects of involuntary camera movement. The S100FS overcomes the issue of camera shake in two ways: optical image stabilization (the lens elements move to counter the movements of the camera) and the ability to use high ISO (higher ISO allow you to use higher shutter speeds are reduce motion blur).
The fact that that the S100FS has an ISO range of 100 to 10,000 is quite impressive. Most budget DSLRs can only go from ISO 100 to ISO 1600 or 3200. Of course, full resolution is only available up to ISO 3200 - ISO 6400 is only available in 6 megapixel mode and ISO 10,000 is available only in 3 megapixel mode. While the higher ISOs result in more digital noise (grainy photos) I was able to make acceptable 5x7-inch prints using ISO 10,000 on the S100FS.
The S100FS is an extremely attractive ultrazoom camera with a design that makes this fixed-lens camera look like an interchangeable-lens DSLR. The S100FS certainly isn't compact, and this robust all-in-one camera is actually larger than some compact DSLRs with prime lenses. In hand, the S100FS is a little heavy but feels like a solid photographic tool rather than a light-weight plastic toy. My initial impressions after some quality time spent shooting with the S100FS are that the control layout is a bit cluttered, making the camera harder to use than it needs to be.
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 performs remarkably well with both moving and static subjects at "normal" and telephoto distances, but macro photography is a little frustrating because the camera has a rather shallow "sweet spot" in the two macro focus modes...preventing the camera for locking auto focus unless you're at just the right distance. While the auto focus isn't as fast as what you'll find on a modern DSLR, the S100FS is quick and does a reasonably good job tracking moving subjects.
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 the full review I'll address image quality, ISO/sensitivity issues, noise levels, optical performance, battery life, and general usability. Based on my initial impressions, the S100FS does an admirable job competing with entry-level DSLRs in a number of categories. If you're someone who is considering a budget DSLR and an 18-200mm or 18-250mm zoom lens then you might want to seriously consider the Fujifilm S100FS as a lower cost alternative.
Our full review of the Fujifilm Finepix S100FS is coming soon. In the meantime, a gallery of additional sample images from the S100FS has been posted to our space on Flickr, so head over and check out the shots if you haven't already.