The Fujifilm FinePix S7000 combines prosumer features with a 6-megapixel Super CCD HR sensor and a 6X zoom lens. The camera won't fit in your pocket or win any beauty contests, and it lacks a few of the most advanced image-quality controls. But enthusiasts will like the FinePix S7000's versatility and good photos. Nearly all megazoom cameras are big and clunky-looking, and the black Fujifilm FinePix S7000, despite an extra helping of swoopy angles, is no real exception. But it's still more compact than a digital SLR, and its plastic body weighs a comfortable 1 pound, 5.1 ounces with batteries and media installed. The FinePix S7000's construction feels very sturdy, and its buttons and dials operate crisply. Small-handed folks, however, might have problems with the camera's right side, where the grip is unusually large and the controls are more widely spaced than average.
You enter the well-labeled and logical menus via two activation keys, which are initially confusing but turn out to be reasonably efficient. A four-way pad on the camera back enables navigation. We were happy to see discrete controls for exposure compensation; autoexposure lock; focus, flash, and drive modes; and macro focusing. And the handy Shift button to the left of the lens offers fairly direct access to selected functions, including white balance. But as with other FinePix models, we have to gripe about how Fujifilm buried the RAW setting in the S7000's setup menus. We'd rather have it in the image-quality menu, where we could get to it quickly.
Exposure options include fully automatic operation; the standard program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual modes; four special scene modes; autoexposure bracketing; multi, spot, and average metering methods; exposure compensation to plus or minus 2EV; and flash-exposure compensation to plus or minus 0.6EV. Manual exposure is reasonably efficient, with a useful metering display. In any exposure mode, the FinePix S7000 can show you a live image histogram, but it doesn't reflect your exposure adjustments, which is just pea-brained. For white balance, there are six presets, two custom choices, and an automatic setting. You can adjust in-camera sharpening levels or go with the Chrome look, which boosts contrast and color saturation. The FinePix S7000 does not offer advanced color-management options, such as selectable color spaces, which are beginning to crop up in competing prosumer models.
Because of the unusual mathematics of Fujifilm's Super CCD HR technology, the FinePix S7000's 6-megapixel sensor produces 12-megapixel photos, but the camera can also save JPEG shots at four lower resolutions. You'll get the highest photo quality by shooting uncompressed 12MB RAW files, which you can convert to RGB TIFF on your computer with Fujifilm's very rudimentary RAW File Converter, a program included in the package.
While it can't compete with MiniDV camcorders, the FinePix S7000 has an impressive movie mode that records 640x480-pixel, 30-frame-per-second MJPEG video with monaural sound. Your media card's capacity determines the clip length. Like all Fujifilm cameras, the FinePix S7000 works as a PC Webcam, too. The Fujifilm FinePix S7000 performs well but not exceptionally so. The lens has two zoom speeds, and it's quiet and easy to control with precision. Autofocus is fairly quick and decisive in normal outdoor and room lighting, but since there's no AF-assist lamp, the camera often gives up in very dim conditions. Manual focus works reasonably well. The focus ring feels smooth and is adequately precise, and either the LCD or the electronic viewfinder (EVF) can magnify the frame's center area, which definitely helps you judge focus.
The EVF is among the better ones we've seen, offering a sharp, smooth, and colorful image. The 1.8-inch LCD is also crisp, and using it in outdoor light is easy. Both views offer virtually 100 percent of the actual scene.
The FinePix S7000's nearly 5-second start-up is a bit longer than we'd like, but the camera is fairly quick in other respects. Shutter delay, including autofocus time, is decent at a little less than 1 second. Shot-to-shot time for both JPEG and RAW files is approximately 1.5 seconds, about 5.5 seconds with the flash. The Top 5-Frame mode takes 5 pictures at 3.3 frames per second. In Final 5-Frame mode, the camera records up to 40 photos at 2fps and saves the last 5 captured before you took your finger off the shutter release. And shooting in the 1fps Long Period continuous mode grabs you up to 40 photos at 3-megapixel resolution.
Fujifilm lists the flash's maximum range as 28 feet at ISO 800. That translates to 14 feet at the camera's minimum ISO of 200, which is about average. First, some math: the Fujifilm FinePix S7000's Super CCD HR has 6.3 million physical effective pixels, but their unique shape and layout yield the highest photo quality at an interpolated resolution of 12 megapixels. It's a bit confusing, but in the end, the camera compares best to other consumer models in the 6-megapixel category or thereabouts.
Our test shots were good, with a handful of moderate flaws. In general, our flash and ambient-light exposures came out very nicely, and colors were vibrant, even, and pleasing. With the exception of one or two apparently random overly red faces, our human subjects ended up with natural skin tones. Automatic white balance was not as reliable as in other cameras we've used, especially under overcast skies. We occasionally had to compensate for it in Photoshop, though making the correction was fairly easy. In deep shadows, we noted a few modest magenta color casts, another problem that's solvable but sometimes irritating.
Sharpness and detail were good, but they were compromised by artifacts, even in photos we captured as RAW files. While the noise level at ISO 200 is low for this class of camera, light sensitivity can't be set below that. The FinePix S7000's ISO 400 photos were moderately noisy, less so than those from some competing cameras. Photos at ISO 800 are limited to 3-megapixel resolution, and ours were certainly noisier than those produced by large-sensor dSLRs, but the prints came out quite usable at small sizes. What all this means in practical terms is that maintaining optimal quality will limit your print sizes more than the 12-megapixel output would suggest.
The FinePix S7000's lens unfortunately suffered from worse than average lateral chromatic aberration, which showed up as magenta and greenish fringing that got worse toward the frame's edge. The trouble spots were hard to see in even 11x14 prints, but we found them when we looked closely. Moderate purple fringing was somewhat more visible in prints.