Fujifilm FinePix S3100 Zoom Review
By Movable Type Admin
The FinePix S3100 is the entry-level model of Fuji's 2004 "S" series. This 4-megapixel, 6X optical zoom camera upgrades last years 3-megapixel S3000, and offers beginners the simplicity of fully automatic operation, while appealing to novice users with several scene modes and a "Manual" exposure mode.
Ergonomics were good. The controls are well placed, and the menu system was very easy to navigate. Its large handgrip allows you to steadily hold the camera when using its telephoto capabilities and gives it a nice secure feeling. It offers users both an LCD and EVF (Electronic ViewFinder), and they are equally-functional; you can setup the camera, and compose and review your images on either one. I favored the LCD for camera setup and image review, and the EVF for shooting; switching between the two needs only a touch of the conveniently-located EVF/LCD button. However, they only cover about 88% of the captured image, so you have to factor this in when framing a shot.
The S3100's shooting performance was robust for a camera in this price range. From power up to first image captured measured about 3 seconds, with most of that time spent extending its lens. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, was 1/10 second when pre-focused, and 5/10 second including autofocus time. Shot-to-shot delay averaged about 2 seconds without using the flash and 2.5 to 3 seconds with the flash. You will find it difficult to follow a moving subject while composing your shots because the viewfinder (EVF or LCD) freezes during autofocus. This effectively limits you to taking shots of static subjects, shooting action only if there's limited movement, or if you can pre-focus on where the action is likely to occur; unfortunately, this camera is ineffective for shooting most sports due to it not featuring a burst mode. Our tests were done using a 512MB xD-Picture card, Auto exposure mode, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
With its 6x optical zoom, the S3100 allows you to get twice as close to your subject; when compared to other cameras in its price range that offer a 3x optical zoom. This not only allows for more versatility in composing your shots, but it also adds significantly to the "fun" factor. The lens can produce sharp images throughout its 39-234mm (in 35mm equivalence) zoom range, but with noticeable barrel distortion at full wide-angle and slight pincushioning at extreme telephoto. There was also an average amount of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) present, especially at its telephoto range. The lens is also fast; its f/2.8 aperture at wide-angle only diminishes to f/3 at full telephoto, allowing you to hand-hold the camera in lighting conditions that might otherwise require a camera support. Its autofocus system was fast and accurate when shooting in well-lit areas, but failed horribly indoors. It can not focus in low ambient light period. This is when a focus-assist lamp would come in handy.
The overall image quality in 4M Fine mode was average. Outdoor samples were well-exposed and richly saturated. However, I did noticed some of our samples to be a little soft; luckily you can adjust sharpness when using "Manual" mode. I found the LCD easy to view even in bright sunlight, and the EVF's eyecup was deep enough to block out ambient light. Indoors its 39mm wide-angle focal length and limited flash range will be sufficient for most portraits. Use of the flash produced good overall exposures and well-saturated colors, but the LCD/EVF viewfinder went blank as the flash recharged. In low ambient light the absence of a focus-assist lamp frequently prevented the S3100 from focusing. This was very aggravating when trying to take portraits in what "most" users would consider sufficient lighting. The camera was able to squelch its flash at close range, making it a good choice for shooting close-ups of small objects, although the zoom can't be adjusted when using macro mode.
Battery life was acceptable considering the power consumption of the EVF and LCD. We were able to capture about 100 shots and conclude our other tests (with extensive use of the LCD for reviewing images and experimenting with the S3100's menu system) on a set of four 2000mAh rechargeable NiMH batteries. As always, we recommend that you obtain at least one extra set of NiMH batteries, there's nothing more aggravating then missing a photo op due to dead batteries.
Bottom line - the FinePix S3100 will make a good choice for those who want a very affordable "Big Zoom" camera. It's great for users who are just getting into digital photography and plan on shooting mostly outdoor photos; we can't recommend it for indoor shooting due to its inability to focus in low ambient light. With a street price of around $299, it offers good overall value.
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