Fujifilm FinePix S100FS Review
Review Date: July 15th 2008
Author: Gavin Stoker
Fujifilm are calling the new FinePix S100FS "its most advanced DSLR-styled camera to date", and a glance at the headline specs quickly reveals why. The S100FS offers a 14.3x 28-400mm manual zoom lens, optical image stabilisation, 11 megapixel 2/3 Super CCD sensor, 2.5-inch tiltable LCD screen, electronic viewfinder, ISO 100-10,000, 3fps continuous shooting, wide dynamic range of 100-400%, and a range of Film Simulation modes. Phew! With no entry- or mid-range DSLRs in their product range, Fujifilm have developed the S100FS from the ground-up to challenge the likes of the Canon EOS 450D, Nikon D60 and Olympus E-420 DSLR models. And it certainly has a similar price-tag - the official £529 / $800 is a lot of money for a compact camera. Gavin Stoker discovered if the Fujifilm FinePix S100FS is a viable alternative to a true DSLR...
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Ease of Use
To quote the late Godfather of Soul, James Brown, Fujifilm once again 'take it to the bridge' the 'bridge' that is, between compacts and DSLRs with the outwardly and inwardly sophisticated Fujifilm FinePix S100FS. Offering itself as a jack-of-all-trades solution to the photo enthusiast, this is a DSLR-styled, 14.3x manual zoom ring model with optical image stabilised lens featuring floating lens element wedded to a hefty 11.1 million pixels effective resolution, courtesy of a low noise 2/3-inch Super CCD HR chip. Fuji is unsurprisingly claiming the S100Fs as its most advanced camera 'that's not a DSLR' to date. Given that this isn't actually a DSLR though, at first glance the fact that the Fujifilm FinePix S100FS retails for a suggested £529.99 in the UK is enough to solicit a sharp intake of breath (though Jacobs were advertising a much more reasonable £399.99 at the time of writing). Going some way to justifying that price tag is a feature set borrowing from Fuji's S5 Pro DLSR, beloved of professional social and landscape photographers.
Also providing reassurance/justification is the fact that Fujifilm claims it approached the development of the S100FS as a single project, its marriage of new sensor, processor and optic ensuring maximum resolution at all focal lengths and apertures, from a bright f/2.8 (wide-angle) to f5.3 (telephoto). Unlike some rivals the manual zoom can also be accessed in Motion JPEG format movie mode (offering 30 frames per second and VGA picture quality) with constantly adjusting auto exposure and focus to boot. Covering all bases, JPEG or RAW images are committed to not only xD-Picture Card but also SD and SDHC though neither card variety is supplied out of the box, with just a 25MB internal capacity to fall back on.
To further avoid blur resulting from camera shake when shooting in low light or at the telephoto extremity of the zoom (28-400mm equivalent in 35mm terms), Fujifilm have added a 'belt and braces' solution of high (ISO) sensitivity, here stretching up to ISO10000 if you don't mind a resolution drop to three megapixels at that setting to limit the visibility of noise. Also accessible at this resolution is a 7-frames-per-second capture speed, up to a maximum of 50 continuous shots. As you'd expect from a camera that falls between two stools, users also get the ubiquitous hand holding features of face detection technology Fujifilm's variety claiming to still be able to detect faces in profile or when shot from awkward angles, and up to 10 at a time in just 0.05 seconds plus auto red eye removal, which saves both the original image and corrected file. And as with Sony's similarly priced (if body-only) A350 DSLR, those awkward angled compositions are possible thanks to the S100FS' tilting LCD screen at the back, here boasting a 230k pixel resolution and you can get as close to your subject as 1cm thanks to the S100FS' Super Macro setting (or 10cm in regular macro mode).
User friendly touches aside, the Fujifilm FinePix S100FS very much looks, feels and handles like a mid-range DSLR indeed the inclusion of a wide dynamic range of 100% to 400% and film simulation modes to achieve subtle changes in tone ape the manufacturer's one-and-only and very specifically targeted S5 Pro digital SLR with a weight and a solid-feel build quality also that will withstand a few glancing knocks in the heat of the action. Overall the moulded curves of the body and matt black finish deliver a look that is as aesthetically pleasing as it is practical, with nice chunky controls and an ergonomic layout that allows both quick and easy access to functions and a firm steady grip into the bargain though this is a camera for which you will very much need to use both hands at once.
With the above in mind let's take a more detailed tour of the Fujifilm FinePix S100FS' form and functions, in an attempt to conclude whether it is indeed worth you spending more than some digital SLRs (though admittedly without that broad a zoom range) on a fixed lens bridge model?
As we've established, from the front the S100FS looks like a serious bit of kit, and indeed requires a degree of familiarization with the manual to get the best from, that large optically stabilised zoom lens dominating proceedings (with clip-on lens cap and strap provided). Above this and extending out across the lens barrel, which boasts a textured surround allowing you to get a good firm grip and achieve a smooth, steady zooming action, is an attractively sloping ridge that conceals the pop up flash (when not in use). Following the line of the slope to the right reveals a dedicated button for activating said flash. Still viewing the S100FS from the front, bottom left of the 13-element lens is a sync terminal for additional flash, above which, and just snuggling into the top edge of the nicely-defined hand grip (with rechargeable battery pack at its base and indentation into which a middle finger slots comfortably), is the familiar dual purpose AF-assist illuminator and self-timer lamp.
Looking down on the top of the camera we find a clearly labeled and logically laid out control set, with a chunky, ridged mode dial holding court in the absence of a top plate LCD display panel that might commonly be found on a DSLR in this price bracket. Ranged around the dial, which turns with just the right amount of resistance for it to lock firmly into place at each setting, are the expected shooting options, such as full auto, program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual modes, along with two customizable modes (C1 & C2) via which favoured shooting settings can be saved for rapid access, plus a video mode and two separate scene position ('SP') modes pre-optimised for nine common subjects. Interestingly, SP1 features four settings for shooting natural scenes, while SP2 is biased toward portraiture, and includes a mode for photographing babies.
Things get even more interesting when we come to the next and last mode on the dial namely FSB, or 'film simulation bracketing', which, as it suggests, allows the same image to be captured in different colours or tones, ape-ing the looks of Fuji's popular Provia or Velvia film (the latter offering higher brightness and sharpness), or alternatively opt for 'Soft', providing a romantic look with muted colours. Arguably this is one of the key features that sets the S100FS apart from other contenders, and could be a decider for those who want that Fuji signature look and feel from a digital camera without stumping up twice the price tag (or more) for an S5 Pro the latter surely now due for an upgrade at this year's Photokina show?
To the right of the mode dial, looking down on the Fujifilm FinePix S100FS, is a command dial for scrolling through features and captured images in a thrice that will feel immediately intuitive to just about anyone who has handled a DSLR. The same dial is also used to scroll through the available ISO settings, for which there is a dedicated button provided just in front of the dial. As expected, you hold this button down with your forefinger and give the dial a flick with your thumb. Adjacent to this is a second button for adjusting exposure compensation, which provides a visual of a slider graph on screen accompanied by a live histogram, a dual touch that is both unusual yet welcome. Alternatively, hold this same button down in playback to display capture information again including a histogram.
|Tilting LCD Screen||Top|
Forward of these two controls, teetering on the slope of the handgrip, is the main shutter release button encircled by an on/off power switch. Flick this to on, and the rear LCD or electronic viewfinder depending on which one you previously had selected blinks into life, a process taking around two seconds, which is obviously not as rapid as most DSLRs. Still, the Fujifilm FinePix S100FS is lightning fast to determine focus and exposure with a half press of the shutter button when, obviously, in AF mode and you only have to blink between the capture of one full resolution JPEG or Raw file and the next in single shot mode. That said, shooting Raw does cause the buffer memory to seize up after three or four successive shots, forcing a camera shutdown and wait of 18 seconds while the files are written to card. To the left of the mode dial is the hump housing the built-in flash, with two tiny (and easy to overlook) holes for the built-in microphone nestling on its ridge. Above the flash is another DSLR-like touch: a hotshoe for additional illumination. And, apart from that and loops either side of the body for attaching the provided strap, the top plate is done.
Moving to the back of the camera, your attention is immediately drawn to that 2.5-inch monitor. The S100FS's tilting LCD can be moved 90° upwards and 45° downwards to get your shot, or aid visibility, but unlike some other examples cannot be pivoted left nor right, or indeed turned so the screen is protected face-into the body when not in use. While some may debate whether an adjustable LCD is an essential feature or sales gimmick, once you get used to using one it's something you find yourself missing when it's not there. On the S100FS it's undeniably useful, and since I found myself attempting the kind of shot I wouldn't normally bother with, it represents a way of potentially pushing your photography forward too.
To the right of the LCD is a small button for swapping the display between monitor and 200k-dot resolution electronic viewfinder with surrounding eyecup, which has its own dioptric correction wheel to its immediate left. On our review sample at least this control was far less stiff and indeed physically larger than usually found on competing models, meaning that for the myopic adjustment can be made in a faction of a second. The viewfinder display is itself large, bright and clear, though the temptation to predominantly utilise the more flexible LCD below is almost overwhelming. To the right of the screen and top right of the camera back is a self-explanatory AE lock button (doubling up as a file deletion button when in playback mode) surrounded by a ridged circular control for switching between multi pattern, spot and average light metering, which Fujifilm is calling its Photometry selector dial. By contrast to the other controls this one I found rather too small and fiddly to get an adequate purchase on, and stiff with it, though longer, stronger finger nails and less stubby fingers would doubtless help.
Below this to the right is a playback button for retrieving captured images, sitting opposite the previously mentioned EVF/LCD selector. Below this again is a dedicated button for immediately calling up (or deactivating) face detection for portraiture, as found on Fujifilm's cheaper compacts such as the S8100fd (here it also switches on red eye reduction), though on the S100FS I missed the S8100fd's inclusion of Fujifilm's F (for 'photo') mode to provide equally quick access to resolution (along with ISO and picture effects, though they have their own separate means of access here) to the extent that my fingers would subconsciously seek out what wasn't there.
|Battery Compartment||Memory Card Slot|
What you do get on the camera back though is a familiar four-way controller with a dual-purpose menu/OK button at its centre. Ranged at north, south, east and west around this control are variously, a means of zooming in to check the detail of images, selecting self timer, a means of selecting the varying flash modes on offer, and a means of shifting focus from infinity to either macro or super macro. Use is as intuitive as you'd expect given this all-encompassing solution of a camera. Press 'menu' in shooting mode and you get a comprehensive choice of options from three on-screen folders, access afforded to the film simulation modes here the three mentioned earlier are joined by a dedicated portrait setting. Scroll through these three folders and right at the end you can access a further standard 'set up' menu. To retrace your steps at any point there's one more dedicated button at the rear of the camera another dual-purpose control marked display/back.
The right hand flank of the Fujifilm FinePix S100FS meanwhile features a flip-open compartment for that dual SD or XD-Picture Card slot, while the left is positively bristling with more controls. The very top one is the continuous shooting button, beneath which is a dedicated dual image stabilisation button ('dual', as in optical image stabilised lens plus high ISO and shutter speed) to help prevent image blur. Underneath this again is a ridged circular control similar to the fiddly one on the camera back for swapping metering modes. Here it is at least less stiff and allows the user to select the varying focus modes from continuous AF to single shot AF and then manual. Beneath this again are four strips indicating a built-in speaker, though you'd only know that from referring to the hard copy manual provided. Still at one side and just set back from these controls is a rubber flap hiding the S100FS' various ports: from the top and running downwards these comprise a mains (DC-in) terminal, the regular AV out socket, and, thirdly, the expected USB socket. No HDMI out port for Fuji yet it seems.
Finally, the base of the Fujifilm FinePix S100FS features a screw thread for a tripod and a sliding door hiding the compartment for the chunky rechargeable NP-140 lithium ion battery back stored within the handgrip. One of the few criticism of the S100FS could be leveled at its battery life with use of either the rear LCD or EVF you get just 250 shots from a single charge half as much as some of Fuji's much, much cheaper snapshot compacts.
So, what of the images the Fujifilm FinePix S100FS delivers are they something to write home about or does the build and spec list veil the fact that, at the end of the day, results aren't up to scratch? Take a look at the Image Quality page to find out.
PhotographyBLOG is a member of the DIWA organisation. Our test results for the Fujifilm FinePix S100FS have been submitted to DIWA for comparison with test results for different samples of the same camera model supplied by other DIWA member sites.