Fujifilm S5100 Zoom Review

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Steve's Conclusion

The FinePix S5100 is Fuji's 2004 upgrade the the S5000 we tested in 2003. It shares the same fairly compact body and versatile 10x Fujinon optical zoom lens, but the imager has been upgraded to 4-megapixels and its shooting performance improved. Absent, however, is the S5000's Super CCD HR imager, and the interpolation it used to double its native resolution; the S5100's 4-megapixel resolution is the native mode of its imager. With a range of exposure modes from automatic to manual, and many steps between, this camera can be changed from a simple point-n-shoot your children will enjoy to a photographic tool that will satisfy the creative urges of the enthusiast.

The most dominant feature is the powerful Fujinon 10X optical zoom lens. Covering a focal length from 37 to 370mm in 35mm equivalence, it offers the photographer enormous versatility in image composition; the 37mm wide-angle covers most interior shots and landscapes, while its 370mm telephoto magnification will please the nature and sports photographer. If your shooting needs do exceed the 37-370mm range of the non-removable lens, Fuji offers 2 conversion lens, the WL-FX9(B), which offers a wide .79X multiplier, and the TL-FX9(B), which offers a telephoto 1.5X; the use of these two lenses will extend your zoom to a range of 29-555mm!

The lens produces sharp images throughout its zoom range, but with a bit of barrel distortion and pin cushioning present at the wide-angle and telephoto extremes respectively. There's a bit of chromatic aberraton (purple fringing) at telephoto, but it diminishes to near zero at wide angle. I also noticed that virtually every test shot was flawed by vignetting at wide-open aperture, diminishing (but not absent) stopped-down. You'll find examples of this flaw in upper left corner of the Harbor and Kayak sample images. The lens is very fast; with a wide-open variable aperture range of F2.8 (wide) to F3.1 (tele), it will allow for a higher shutter speed, reducing the likelihood of shots being ruined by camera shake at long focal lengths.

The S5100's shooting performance is very good. From power-on till the first image was captured measured under 5 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, was 1/10 second when pre-focused, and 6/10 second including autofocus time; lag measurements include the approx. 1/10 second delay present in the viewfinder image presented by either the LCD or EVF. Shot-to-shot delay averaged about 1.5 seconds without flash, and between 2 and 8 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance.

The S5100 provides 4 unique continuous shooting modes: Top 3 which captured 3 frames at 3/10 second intervals, Final 3 which captured 40 frames at 3/10 second intervals but saved only the last 3, Bracketing which captured 3 frames at 3/10 second intervals while adjusting the exposure setting for each shot, and Long-period continuous shooting, available only in Auto exposure mode, which captured 40 images in 25 seconds, saving all of them. Importantly, both the LCD and EVF viewfinders remain useful during continuous shooting; they go blank momentarily between shots, but provide an image duration long enough to enable you to follow a moving subject. Recovery time in Top or Final 3 mode was about 4 seconds before the next sequence could be taken. Fuji made great improvements in the S5100's performance over its predecessor the S5000; it will be enjoyed by action and sports shooters. The S5100's performance was measured shooting 4MP Fine images with an Olympus 256MB xD memory card installed.

Things slow down a bit shooting RAW images; Continuous shooting is disabled, and shot-to-shot time slows to a 2.2 second interval. RAW mode is not well supported by Fuji's FinePix Viewer; all you can do is convert the RAW file to TIFF and save it. As a result, I think that most S5100 users will be satisfied with the camera's 4-megapixel Fine JPEG mode.

We were happy with the results shooting indoors. The moderate wide-angle lens affords reasonable field of view, and its built-in pop-up flash has a relatively powerful (by consumer digicam standards) range of up to 16.4 feet. You won't be illuminating an entire banquet room, but your large living room shots or group portraits will be covered. In low ambient light, both the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) and large LCD were easy to view, and the S5100's AF-Assist Illuminator produced sharp focus at close range even in complete darkness. The camera was also able to squelch its flash at close range, making it a good choice for shooting close-up images of small objects. There is no provision for the attachment of external flash equipment.

We were mostly pleased with our 4M Fine outdoor test shots. Images were sharp, well-exposed and richly saturated. Fuji doesn't offer a quality setting at lower resolutions, and its JPEG compression is aggressive. Other cameras give you a choice of quality at every image size, but the S5100 gives you this choice only at its highest resolution; I prefer being in control of both of these parameters. We found the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) somewhat difficult to view in bright sunlight; the S5100 would benefit from having a deeper rubber eyecup on the EVF to better block out ambient light.

The S5100 uses 4 standard AA batteries, and we recommend using rechargeable NiMH batteries. We found the battery life quite acceptable when using the camera's power-saving mode, capturing nearly 200 images before a low battery warning.

With a street price of under $400 and a great deal of versatility, the FinePix S5100 offers a lot of value. Usable by every member of your family, it will produce high-quality images of everything from family events, objects for sale at online auctions, and nature to sporting events. If you value a continuous viewfinder during image capture, the use of standard AA batteries, and robust shooting performance,the 4-megapixel 10X zoom Fuji S5100 would be a good choice for an all-around family digicam. My only reservation about this camera is the vignetting it produces at wide apertures.

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