Fujifilm FinePix S700 Zoom Review
Designed to appeal to photographers who value both form and function, the FinePix F700's sleek metal body houses Fuji's new Super CCD-SR image sensor, which promises to combine the imaging performance of film with the versatility of a digicam. It is an enthusiasts' digicam offering a broad range of exposure modes that will satisfy the beginner through advanced user, from automatic point-n-shoot to full manual control.
The fourth-generation Fujifilm Super CCD SR imager can be thought of as two 3-megapixel imagers integrated into one device. These two arrays of adjacent pixels are combined not to increase resolution, but to increase dynamic range; light information from the sets of high-sensitivity S-pixels and low-sensitivity R-pixels is combined by the Super CCD processor into a single 3-megapixel image. This image is then recorded at 6-megapixels (2832 x 2128) by in-camera interpolation. While the F700 does appear to improve dynamic range a bit in high-contrast shooting conditions, the quality of the interpolated images is far less than one would expect from 6-megapixels, with detail sharpness and noise lagging high-quality 4-megapixel camera's such as the recently-reviewed Canon A80. At 3-megapixels, the F700 produced images comparable in quality to other cameras in the 3-megapixel class, and I actually prefer the 3-megapixel images over the 6-megapixel interpolated images; the 3-megapixel images were sharper and more richly saturated.
The Super EBC Fujinon 3X optical zoom lens produces sharp results throughout its range, with slight barrel distortion at extreme wide angle and barely noticeable pin cushioning at full telephoto. The operation of the optical zoom is smooth and quiet, but not continuous; it moves through its 35-105mm range in 10 distinct steps, more than adequate for composing most shots. When not in use, the lens is retracted completely within the camera body and the lens cover closes, automatically protecting it.
The FinePix F700's shooting performance is very good. From power-on to capture of the first image takes under 2.5 seconds. Shutter delay, the elapsed time between releasing the shutter and capturing the image, measured a respectable 2/10 second when pre-focused, or 6/10 second including autofocus time. Shot-to-shot delay averaged about 1.3 seconds, while burst mode captured five shots in only 1.1 second; the view finder remained usable in both modes of rapid image capture. Sports shooters will enjoy 2 modes of continuous shooting, Top 5-Frame which is a standard burst capture mode, and Final 5-Frame which releases the shutter up to 25 times but records only the last 5 frames captured before the shutter button is released. The F700's responsiveness will allow you to capture unposed spontaneous moments and images of your children's sports activities. These above times are based on 2848x2136 images, flash off, and 256MB xD memory card installed, and include viewfinder delay, photographer response time and image capture - these are numbers you can reproduce in everyday shooting conditions.
The shutter speed range in Auto mode is from 1/4 second to 1/2000, in Manual mode the user can select from speeds of 3 seconds to 1/2000, and Night Scene offers a range of 3 seconds to 1/500. While we were glad to see that aperture and shutter priority modes are provided, we were disappointed to find that the fastest shutter speed available in these modes is 1/1000. Fortunately, there is a Program Shift function in Program mode which allows you to change the shutter speed/aperture combination for the current exposure, and it is possible to cause the F700 to use a shutter speed of 1/2000 if there is sufficient light available. Sports shooters may be forced into Manual mode to set a shutter speed of 1/2000, and will lose the benefit of automatic exposure by doing so. The F700 offers ISO settings of 200, 400, 800 and 1600; images shot at ISO 1600 are limited to 1-megapixel in size.
Fuji uses a proprietary NP-40 3.7v Li-ion battery pack to power the F700. We found the battery to be good for about 175 shots before its capacity was exhausted, this including extensive use of the LCD for shooting, reviewing, and accessing the menu system. Its life can be extended by using the zoom-coupled optical viewfinder instead of the LCD. It takes about 2 hours to recharge the NP-40 in the included camera cradle, which doubles as the F700's USB connection point. I strongly suggest the purchase of a second battery as the camera cannot be powered by any other type of battery. If you have only one battery you can be sure that sooner or later it will be dead when you need it the most.
Our outdoor results were good for a 3-megapixel camera, but only fair for a 6-megapixel class camera. As I mentioned earlier, I prefer the F700's results at 3-megapixels over the interpolated 6-megapixel images. The 3-megapixel images were consistently sharper and better-saturated at the lower, non-interpolated, resolution setting. We have provided a number of sample images in both resolutions so you can judge for yourself. Chromatic aberration (purple fringe) on highly contrasting areas of an image is present only to a small extent. The LCD viewfinder was usable even in the intense Florida sun, and has a brightness adjustment if you need it. There's also a zoom-coupled optical viewfinder you can use on the brightest of days or to conserve battery power. The F700 can continuously autofocus by depressing the C-AF button on the front of the camera; its use may improve results when you are panning with a moving subject.
The F700 performs well indoors. Fuji claims a flash range of almost 17 feet in wide angle, and our results were in agreement. The combination of a 35mm focal length at the wide end of the zoom range and the moderately powerful flash will allow you to capture pleasing individual and small group portraits, but don't expect to take images of large groups in a banquet room. The S7000 squelches its flash nicely in Macro mode and is effective for producing properly exposed images of small objects. The F700 is equipped with a "AF Auxillary Light", (focus assist lamp), allowing the autofocus system to work effectively in conditions of low ambient light.
Announced earlier this year (2003) with an MSRP of $599, the Fuji FinePix F700 would have been a good value if the promise of its Super CCD SR had been fully realized. We're not surprised that the F700's street price has since fallen to under $400; it simply doesn't compete well as a 6-megapixel camera at a 6-megapixel price. Our opinion of it as a 3-megapixel camera is much higher, but there are many high-quality sub-$300 3-megapixel digicams that are a better value. The 640x480 (VGA) movie mode produces very high quality video, some of the best we've seen so far from a digicam. My advice is to wait until Fuji releases a 5th Generation Super CCD SR; they might get it right this time.
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