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Fujifilm FinePix S9100 Review
Date: Feb 27, 2007
- Advanced Amateur
You've read the specs and features
of the camera, but how does it really perform
in practice? This section records the reviewer's
personal experience with the camera in the field.
Thursday, Feb 15, 2007 - Here's what I receive
in the box:
- FinePix S9100
- No memory card [but I received a 256MB xD-Picture
- 4x AA type Alkaline Batteries
- Shoulder Strap
- Lens Cap and Lens Cap Holder
- Lens Hood
- USB and A/V Cables
- Documentation (English only): QuickStart;
- Software CDs: FinePixViewer 5.1 (3.3 for Mac),
ImageMixer VCD2 LE for FinePix; Hyper-Utility
2, RAW File Converter Plug-in
Ducks skating on ice
Levels adjusted in Photoshop Elements
Digital SLR Look & Feel and Handling
The Fujifilm FinePix S9100 is a very attractive
looking camera, and looks and handles like a DSLR:
it has the tried-and-proven DSLR camera body design,
with correct proportions; a deep and comfortable
handgrip; a shutter release button that falls
naturally under your index finger; a Mode Dial
and Command Dial; and lots of control buttons
for direct access to frequently used features.
The handgrip is molded, rubber-coated to prevent
slippage, and very comfortable. It is also deep
enough for most large hands. It's height may however
not be enough to accomodate your little finger.
I can just about squeeze mine onto the grip, but
it seems to be most comfortable providing additional
support underneath the grip. Most people
prefer a compact digital camera and so this situation
is the case for most digital cameras -- unless
your camera proportions put it into the "huge"
camera size department. Because you normally hold
this camera with two hands (the left hand under
the lens), the result is a comfortable hold in
practical use, so I have not found this to be
a negative at all. Individual use may differ,
so try it out yourself first at your friendly
neighborhoud camera store.
The shutter release button is nicely angled
and the two-stage mechanism is implemented very
well. It's surprising how many cameras get this
wrong, making the shutter release either too soft
or too hard. The shutter button is also threaded
-- and you won't see this feature in any digital
cameras other than digital SLRs. The thread permits
an optional shutter release cable to be screwed
in and this allows you to trip the shutter without
incurring camera shake. You don't see too many
photographers use this feature these days, but
it is an excellent accessory if you do lots of
landscape or group shots with your camera on a
tripod. It beats setting up the self-timer for
every shot; only a remote controller is more convenient.
There is nothing special about the Mode Dial
and it does click positively in place. You can
use either your thumb alone or both thumb and
forefinger to rotate it. During an actual shooting
session, I did not find that there was much risk
that the Mode Dial is inadvertently switched to
another shooting mode.
The Command Dial is, again, another DSLR control
which makes it easy to select and change exposure
settings. In P mode, the Command Dial allows Program
Shift, where you can shift both shutter speed/aperture
in tandem and still maintain correct exposure.
So, if you want a fast shutter speed (and/or large
aperture), rotate the Command Dial right (or,
anti-clockwise when viewed from the top); if you
want a slow shutter speed (and/or a small aperture),
rotate the Command Dial to the left (or, clockwise
when viewed from the top). The thing about Program
Shift is to remember that once you've engaged
it (by rotating the Command Dial), it will remain
set (i.e. either fast or slow shutter speed and/or
large or small aperture) until you turn off the
camera. While it is still on, you may want to
reset it (rotate the Command Dial until the exposure
settings turn from yellow back to blue) before
you take the next picture.
In S mode, the Command Dial selects a Shutter
Speed and the camera automatically selects an
In A mode, the Command Dial selects an Aperture
and the camera automatically selects an appropriate
In M mode, the Command Dial selects a Shutter
Speed; press the Exposure Compensation button
and rotate the Command Dial to select an Aperture.
The Command Dial also allows quick change of
Exposure Compensation, Flash and Continuous shooting
There are also lots of control buttons on top,
back and side of the camera, and a read up on
their functions pays up handsomely.
Manual Zoom Ring
One of the prized feature of the FinePix S9100
is, of course, the manual Zoom Ring. Yes, zooming
is one of those things that is much better done
manually using a zoom ring than electrically using
a zoom lever. It is smooth and allows fast adjustment
across the entire zoom range. You can stop precisely
at any point you want and do it as fast or as
slow as you want. It also means that you can silently
zoom during movie recording, or even during a
long still exposure for special effects. The focal
length markings on the zoom ring are conveniently
engraved in Equiv. 135 (i.e. 35mm equivalent).
This feature alone is worth its weight in gold
and if you are looking for a long zoom digital
camera for advanced use, this feature is a must.
Manual Focus Ring
Another welcome feature is the manual Focus Ring.
This is a thinner ring located behind the manual
zoom ring. The manual focus is achieved "by-wire"
-- i.e. turning the focus ring really activates
an electronic motor to perform the focusing. This
"fly-by-wire" mechanism is much better
than trying to manually focus by pressing arrow
keys, but it is not as efficient as using a true
manual mechanism (like the Zoom Ring).
The fly-by-wire focus ring is pretty good but
has its limitations. It's a bit slow though the
LCD resolution is enough to see the image come
into focus. You can magnify the center part of
the image by pressing the Focus Check button.
To further aid in the focusing, press the One-Touch
AF button to do a quick AF; a yellow focus indicator
mark (yellow arrow) appears at the bottom of the
(now circular) AF Frame to indicate the direction
to turn the focus ring. Note that One-Touch AF
is available only when High Speed Shooting is
OFF and EVF/LCD is not set to 60fps.
I find that focusing to infinity can sometimes
be pretty difficult because the focus ring will
just keep turning and turning, move the focus
position beyond infinity, and defocus the image.
An improvement suggestion is to provide an Infinity
AF setting like on some compact P&S models.
As an example, I was trying to get a focus lock
on the moon on a particularly dark night at full
tele: as expected, the AF did not lock properly,
and manual AF was also impossible to achieve.
An infinity focus feature would have been perfect
in this situation.
Low-Noise Up To ISO 400
The Fujifilm S9100 has a similar image sensor
to the one in the FinePix F30. Unfortunately,
it cannot claim the same low-noise-high-ISO capability
of the F30. This is probably due to the need to
cram an extra 2.7 megapixels onto the small sensor.
Even then, at ISO 400, the low noise and image
quality leave its competitors behind.
Swivel LCD Monitor
The Fujifilm S9100 has what most of us miss in
a digital SLR and appreciate in a fixed lens digital
camera: a live LCD monitor. I should be careful
what I say since there are now at least 3 DSLRs
(Olympus E-330, Panasonic L1 / Leica Digilux 3,
and the Canon EOS 1D Mark III) with Live Preview
and more will definitely be showing up!
The LCD swivels up from 0° to 90° for
shooting from the hip or close to the ground,
and down 45° for shooting above crowds. I
don't know about you but I rarely shoot above
crowds. I also do not shoot at right angles (yeah,
people do know you are trying to sureptitiously
take their pictures). However, I love shooting
macro and up close and low. That's where the swivel
up LCD of the S9100 comes into play perfectly.
Some cameras have a LCD monitor that swivels all
around and front to back; it gives a more wide
range of motion -- but I have rarely needed to
use all that range of motion. On the Fujifilm
S9100, a sligh lift of the LCD is all that is
needed to allow comfortable viewing when crouched
low to the ground.
Two buttons are used to set how the image displays
on your LCD monitor: 1) repeatedly pressing the
DISP button (on the back of the camera) changes
the screen display to one of the following: Text
displayed, No text displayed, Framing guideline
displayed, and Post shot assist window displayed;
2) repeatedly pressing the INFO button (at the
side of the camera) additionally displays a live
histogram and current settings.
The EVF is clear and bright with a large rubber
cup and a diopter adjustment dial that actually
works very well.
My only improvement suggestion is for the LCD
to gain up more in low-light situations. (No point
having low-light capability if you cannot see
what you are taking).
Long 10.7x Wide-Angle Zoom
The FinePix S9100 is a long zoom digital camera
for the advanced amateur photographers. With a
(35mm equivalent) focal length range of 28-300mm,
it not only provides the long reach that brings
far-away subjects up close, it also has what many
of its competitors do not: a sweet 28mm wide-angle
coverage perfect for wide landscapes, large group
shots, and other expansive architectural and interior
design shots. If you have never experienced the
coverage of a 28mm wide-angle lens, you're in
for a pleasant surprise!
The lack of either optical of CCD-shift image
stabilization (IS) on a long zoom digital camera
has stopped some from considering the S9100 as
their perfect digital camera. It is surprising
why the S9100 still lacks IS since now we are
starting to see even no-name brands already with
IS. The need for IS depends on your type of photography.
Remember that anytime you place your camera on
a tripod, you need to turn IS off anyway. And
that IS is used to negate camera shake, not subject
motion. So keep these things in mind as you decide
if the S9100 is the right camera for you.
External Flash Units
There is a hot shoe that allows you to use ordinary
external flash units (with some exceptions). A
Synchronizing terminal is also available.
Note that the manual says that you can even use
the pop up flash to trigger the external flash,
though I don't see how it is even possible to
pop up the flash when an external flash is mounted
on top. I have not tested this but perhaps this
feature refers to an external flash unit that
is mounted on a side bracket and using the Synchronizing
Lens Cap Holder
A small practical thing is the Lens Cap Holder
that is included in the box. You slide the strap
through it (on the left side) first before attaching
the former to the camera body. It is a very thoughtful
and practical accessory because without it, the
lens cap flops around and is a needless distraction.
Now, when you take the lens cap off the lens,
just snap it onto the holder and concentrate on
The Fujifilm S9100 has all the features we've
come to take granted in a DSLR, plus some: a shutter
speed range that goes from a satisfyingly long
30 sec. for beautiful night shots to ultra fast
action stopping 1/4,000 sec.; multiple exposure;
memory card dual slots that accept an xD-Picture
Card and CF memory card; a clear and bright electronic
viewfinder with diopter adjustment, and a comfortable
eyecup, with fast refresh rate.
The FinePixViewer software is one of my favourite
because all the information is contained in one
screen. Each image's filename is clearly visible
and you do not need to launch another window to
view the EXIF info. You can also do basic image
editing, re: brightness, saturation, hue, sharpness.
Hyper-Utility 2 showing areas
of under- and over-exposure.
Hyper-Utility2 is a new software which is now
bundled with the S9100 and allows conversion of
RAW files into JPEG or TIFF. You can compare two
images (the Preview split-window mode splits the
screen horizontally or vertically to allow 2 images
to be compared or checked), analyze images (a
range of image analysis tasks can be performed,
including viewing the image histogram (the area
can be specified) and displaying warnings for
problems such as under- and overexposure), batch
processing of images, RAW conversion.
The Fujifilm S9100 Owner's Manual is well illustrated
and written. Surprisingly, there is no French
version included (the Quick Start Guide had a
Spanish version), so be sure to request French
documentation if this is what you desire.
Probably not wanting to mess with a winning formula,
the Fujifilm FinePix S9100 is basically
unchanged from the S9000. We would have liked
to see some improvements (from our list above).
The S9100 is an excellent choice for an advanced