Fujifilm FinePix S100FS Zoom Review
The FinePix S100FS holds the "top of the line" spot in FujiFilm's "S"erious line of Super-zooms. This is a feature rich camera that is as close to a dSLR as you are going to get, without actually investing into an interchangeable lens system. Some of these powerful features include an 11-megapixel Super CCD VIII "HR" image sensor, 14.3x FUJINON optical zoom lens, Dual IS technology (Lens Shift and High ISO capabilities), 3fps burst rate at full JPEG resolution, CCD-RAW image capture, 2.5-inch tiltable LCD screen, NP-140 high-capacity Li-ion battery, xD-picture card or SD/SDHC memory card compatibility, and multiple bracketing functions (Film Simulation, Dynamic Range and AE Bracketing).
The S100FS offers a wealth of exposure options that allow it to be used by just about anyone. For those with less experience, there is a full Auto exposure mode as well as 15 pre-programmed "Scene" modes that are designed to give novice users optimum results in various "typical" shooting situations (Portraits, Nature, Sports etc.) Those with several years of photography experience will appreciate all of the exposure options available on this camera. Not only does it feature a Manual mode or Aperture/Shutter speed priority, but Fuji has also added two "C"ustom positions to the mode dial. This will allow you to dial in a feature set, then save it to the Dial as either C1 or C2. The S100FS is what I consider a Prosumer camera, that is on the fence between a consumer point-n-shoot and a true dSLR system. It offers almost as many options as a dSLR, without some of the worries that come along with owning one.
The ergonomics of this camera are outstanding. This is not a compact camera by any means. The lens barrel is very long, even at full wide angle. It's not light either, at about 2 pounds (918g / 32.4oz). However, the S100FS offered a nice comfortable feel in my hands with the large rubberized hand grip on the right hand side, and the barrel of the 14.3x optical zoom resting nicely in my left hand. One feature I really enjoyed was the zoom control of the lens. Like a dSLR, you rotate the lens manually to adjust the focal length. This allows for precise adjustments when framing your shot. All of the other controls are well laid out. The control dial is also a nice feature. It not only changes the exposure values (Shutter speed and Aperture) in A/S/M modes, but also lets you quickly scroll through the menu system or stored images during playback. The menu system is logically organized too, however I do miss the "F" shortcut menu that is found on other FujiFilm models.
I did have one annoyance while shooting with this camera. When using the EVF with my right eye, I felt something sharp poking into my nose. At the top of the LCD on the right and left sides are tabs to help you pull the LCD out when using its tilt feature. This is what was pressing against my nose and made it uncomfortable for me to use the EVF. Luckily, the S100FS offers a very nice 2.5-inch LCD. I was able to use this display outdoors to frame our sample photos, with only a few angles which reflected the sun. You can also tilt this screen to shoot over head or off the hip, adding to the camera's versatility. It would however, benefit from an anti-reflective coating. Both screens gain up well in marginal lighting, brightening your subject and allowing you to better frame in these conditions; try that with the optical viewfinder of a dSLR.
The first thing you'll notice when you pick up this camera is the large barrel of the FUJINON 14.3x optical zoom lens. Not only does this lens cover a wide, versatile zoom range (28 - 400mm), but it's quite fast too with a wide open aperture of f/2.8-f/5.3. Because the lens is zoomed manually by twisting the barrel, it offers smooth continuous zooming and precise focal length adjustments. The 28mm wide angle end provides a generous field of view for landscapes, large group portraits, and interiors, while offering a distance-reducing 400mm telephoto end that is perfect for sports and wild life shooting. You can see the versatility of this range by taking a look at our zoom examples on the Sample Photos page. While reviewing our sample images, I noticed that the lens produced an above average amount of chromatic aberration (aka purple fringing) in high contrast areas as well as moderate barrel distortion at wide angle. From wide angle to moderate telephoto focal lengths, images also showed a bit of edge and corner softness. Overall, Fuji has chosen a nice lens that complements the S100FS's Super CCD VIII "HR" 11-megapixel imager well.
Shooting performance on this model was very robust, depending on the media used. From power-on to the capture of your first image takes about 2.2 seconds. Shutter delay, the elapsed time between pressing the shutter and capturing the image, measured less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused, or 3-4/10 of a second including autofocus time. Shot-to-shot delay averaged 1.1 seconds without flash, and between 2 and 3 seconds with flash depending on mode used (e.g. Red Eye reduction), subject distance and battery life. The S100FS also offers a High-Speed Shooting mode, which can be enabled or disabled via the Record menu. With this feature on, Shutter lag including the AF system was a fast 1-2/10 of a second. The shot to shot delay in single exposure mode also showed a slight improvement, at about 9/10 of a second between frames without the flash.
You can choose from several "burst" modes (Top 50 3M, Top 7, Last 7, Long period) as well as three Bracketing modes. Top 7 is the standard burst capture mode, and allowed me to capture 7 full resolution images within 1.8 seconds (~3.9fps), followed by an 8 second delay to clear the buffer before the next sequence could be taken. Last 7 captures images at the same rate, saving the last 7 frames. Top 50 mode captures images at 3-megapixels, and using it I was able to capture 50 frames in just 6.7 seconds (7.5fps)! While the Top 50 mode offers smaller image size, there's still plenty of resolution to create 4x6-inch or larger prints, making it a very useful addition. Long-period mode captured images continuously at 1fps, acquiring focus for each shot. When using any of these modes, the LCD briefly shows the last image captured. This means following a moving subject is possible, but will not be as easy as with an optical viewfinder. The S100FS is responsive enough for you to capture many unposed moments and images of your children's sports activities, without a problem.
There's also a "CCD-RAW" image capture mode. Using it, the shutter lag and shot to shot times were the same as above. I did notice that is takes a bit longer to process the image when you try to switch to Playback mode; which is to be expected. The S100FS also features burst mode shooting in RAW mode. You can choose Top 3, Last 3 and AE bracketing. Both Top/Last 3 were able to capture 3 frames in 5/10 of a second (6fps!) Our tests were done using a OCZ Class 6 4GB SDHC memory card, 11MP Fine quality, Program mode, ISO Auto (1600), flash off, Image preview On, and all other settings at default (unless noted). Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc. If using a xD-picture card, look for slower burst speeds, slower flush times, and less frame depth in the burst modes.
The 11-megapixel imager on the S100FS was able to capture some pleasing images when using the 11M Fine setting. The exposure system did well outdoors under some harsh sunlight. When clouds were present, it was able to produce beautiful sky detail. We used the factory settings for Film Simulation (Standard), Color (MID), TONE (STD) and Sharpness (STD). When doing so, the S100FS captured relatively sharp images that displayed good color saturation. With the ability to adjust these settings, this model allows you to be more creative and "dial in" that specific look. When shooting our M&M man indoors to at each ISO setting, the camera seemed to have some problems with exposure. In fact, it almost looked like we had some form of AE bracketing enabled (which we didn't). Under the same a constant light source with the same ISO speed, the camera would capture one image that showed pleasing exposure, then one that was a bit overexposed. After reviewing the EXIF information, it seems the camera would select a longer shutter speed on the shots that were a bit overexposed. This was using the Program AE mode while the camera was mounted on a tripod.
The S100FS offers vast ISO settings, ranging from ISO 100 all the way up to 10000, with the higher 6400 and 10000 settings at lower resolutions (6400 @ 6M / 10000 @ 3M). The High ISO performance of this model is only average, in my opinion. Noise is visible in low contrast areas even at the lowest setting of ISO 100, however this is very minute. At ISO 400 you can see noise has increased, but is still at average levels. I also noticed some NR (noise reduction) taking place as some of the areas of the picture where noise would be more visible, showed some slight detail loss or softness. When viewing ISO 800 at 100%, you can see speckling throughout the image, again with some detail loss form the in-camera NR. These images are still usable for larger prints, like an 8x10. Once you reach ISO 1600, I personally feel you are at the limit for making usable prints. The higher settings (3200 / 6400 / 10000) just show too much noise. Even when printing a small 4x6, many users with an untrained naked eye would be able to point it out. For those who plan on using higher ISO speeds, whether for shooting portraits in lower ambient light or sporting events where you need increased shutter speeds, I recommend not shooting over ISO 800; especially if you plan on making 8x10-inch or larger prints from these shots. Two ares where I found the S100FS excelled were flash Macro photography and portraits. In Macro mode, the camera controlled the flash very well, ensuring we did not overexpose the subject. You can see our Macro example by taking a look at the Samples page. I also enjoyed using the camera while shooting some couple portraits outside, without using the flash. I primarily used Aperture priority at about f5.6. Shutter speeds were about 1/50 of a second, and thankfully the S100FS has the Dual IS mode to help with camera shake and slower shutter speeds. In our portrait example, I was also using ISO 400. If you examine the photo at 100%, you can see some slight detail loss or softness where the camera was trying to combat noise. However, this image is still very usable to make some great prints. The dedicated Portrait Scene mode also performed well when shooting some indoor individual photos. Unlike many of Fuji's models we have seen lately, the S100FS features an effective Face Detection system. It locked onto my subject's face quickly, and did not have problems with small children like we said with the FinePix S8000fd. Fuji claims the flash unit on this camera can cover up to 23 ft. at wide angle, using ISO Auto. While I do not feel this flash could effectively cover that range, it did do well indoors shooting from about 6 feet away. Our Portrait mode sample shows pleasing flash coverage, sharp facial detail and natural skin tones.
The S100FS can record video at VGA (640x480) or QVGA (320x240) resolutions. Audio is also recorded and both resolution settings have a fixed frame rate of 30fps. The length of a clip is limited to the amount of memory available, with a max clip size of 2GB. Because the lens is zoomed manually on this model, you can use it while recoding, even thought audio is recorded. The Dual IS mode was a big help when shooting handheld movies using the telephoto capabilities of the zoom. Video quality is average for a consumer model that records VGA size movies. I noticed some compression artifacts present, especially in the darker areas of frame.
This is the first "S" series model we have seen that is not powered by AA type cells. The S100FS instead uses a high-capacity 7.2V 1150mAh lithium battery pack, which is charged in the included AC charger. Fuji claims this pack can power the S100FS for up to 250 frames using either the LCD or EVF (CIPA Standard testing). I was able to capture 190 samples (with several short movie clips) as well as conclude our other tests before the camera displayed a low battery warning. I highly recommend you add an extra battery pack (US$49.99) to your purchase, especially if you are going away on vacation.
Bottom line - FujiFilm has delivered a well rounded Prosumer model. With powerful features like the manually operated 14.3x FUJINON zoom lens, 11-megapixel image sensor, Dual IS, 2.5-inch Tiltable LCD, over 3fps burst capture at full resolution (during our tests), CCD-RAW capture mode, and loads of exposure options, the S100FS is a versatile digital camera. However, with an MSRP of US$799, it's expensive. At this price level, there are several entry-level dSLR models out there that rival the S100FS on image quality and high ISO performance. The advantage this model has is the awesome 14.3x Zoom, and super fast burst modes. That said, I feel this model does not offer the best "bang for your buck". If you're on the fence about jumping into the dSLR world, want most of the same features, and don't mind paying for it, then the FujiFilm FinePix S100FS might be just what you are looking for. As for those of you who are searching for a versatile camera and want the most for their money, I recommend you check out some of the entry-level dSLRs offered by Canon, Sony, Nikon or Olympus.
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