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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Fujifilm FinePix S9100

Fuji Digital Cameras

   


Fujifilm FinePix S9100 Review

Review Date: Feb 27, 2007

Category: Prosumer - Advanced Amateur

Fujifilm FinePix S9100

USER'S EXPERIENCE

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 Card]
  • 4x AA type Alkaline Batteries
  • Shoulder Strap
  • Lens Cap and Lens Cap Holder
  • Lens Hood
  • USB and A/V Cables
  • Documentation (English only): QuickStart; Owner's Manual
  • 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
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 appropriate Aperture.

In A mode, the Command Dial selects an Aperture and the camera automatically selects an appropriate Shutter Speed.

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 settings.

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 terminal.

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 your shooting.

Other Features

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.

FinePix Viewer

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

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 amateur photographer.

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