We didn't want to like the Fujifilm FinePix S100FS. To be honest, from the beginning I expected it to be another bloated, overpriced, underperforming all-in-one that reminds everyone what a much better deal an entry-level DSLR is.
When a camera completely turns our initial perceptions on their heads, we sit up and take notice. When a fixed-lens camera wins over our crew of diehard DSLR shooters, doubly so. And that's exactly what happened with the Fuji S100FS.
The heart of the S100FS award-worthy performance is its 11 megapixel, almost DSLR-sized Super CCD sensor. In exchange for the cost it undoubtedly adds to the S100FS's final sales price, this imager offers a lot of trade-offs we can live with: better noise performance than your typical point-and-shoot, exceptional expanded dynamic range options that yield images that are "SLR smooth," and a large volume of usable resolution. If it doesn't quite touch the noise performance of even smaller DSLR sensors, it's certainly knocking at the door: you simply won't get better ISO 1600 shots out of another point-and-shoot with this much resolution.
Of course, the Fuji's imager also drives its point-and-shoot style full-time live view experience. DSLR converts will question the appeal of on-screen composition, but for the sizeable and growing chunk of repeat camera buyers who can't remember a president before Ronald Reagan, the on-screen shooting approach afforded by digital technology is a way of life – and an area where SLRs have been slow to take full advantage of what digital has to offer. At least until the likes of Panasonic/Olympus's Micro Four Thirds system really comes into its own, the S100FS offers the live view shooting experience that many casual photographers favor in one of its more high-performance guises.
In tackling optical design for a single lens covering the equivalent of 28-400mm, there will be compromises. In spite of a well-documented purple fringe issue, the Fuji's 14.3x zoom keeps it together fairly well in other respects. There's no doubt that the lens's average overall performance will be yet another turn-off for those advocating the purchase of a DSLR instead, but we'd argue that the S100FS's optical performance is in keeping with expectations for any other wide-angle to telephoto optic, interchangeable or not. To this end, our full review has loads of sample images. Check them out yourself, even print a few, and draw your own conclusions about how much the S100FS's lens concerns will be an issue for you and the way you use your images.
In truth, price remains the biggest stumbling block for this camera. With an MSRP just under $800, even as good as it is, the S100FS is a hard sell: for that price, you really could get an entry-level DSLR with an all-in-one zoom. With street prices falling nearer the $650 mark, however, and getting cheaper all the time, the S100FS is getting more and more interesting in our book by the minute. At $650, you'd have real trouble putting together a DSLR kit that offers the versatility that the S100FS provides.
DSLR fanatics who haven't spent time with the S100FS may pan its inclusion among our Editor's Choice selections, citing its cost and performance disadvantages compared to an interchangeable lens system. That's fine. Let ‘em do it. In the meantime, demand for the S100FS will keep outstripping available supply – a sign of this camera's "surprise hit" status among an entire class of shooters who have largely been overlooked in the race into entry-level DSLRs of the last few years.