The 5.1-megapixel Fujifilm FinePix S5200 is a well-designed, well-built camera with very good image quality and performance. While smaller than any digital SLR, it's not the kind of camera you thoughtlessly toss into your purse or jacket pocket. But those shooters willing to tote it around will enjoy the benefits of a high-quality 10X zoom lens (38mm to 380mm in 35mm-camera terms), a comfortable, well-balanced body that fits nicely in the hands, and a high-speed sensor that provides usable natural and low-light images at sensitivities up to ISO 1,600. Measuring about 3.3 by 4.5 inches and weighing a little more than a pound with its four AA batteries, the Fujifilm FinePix S5200 is too big for most travel and casual shooting needs, but it's the perfect size for a long-lens enthusiast's camera, which needs a beefy grip and ample space for its various controls. Clad in matte-black plastic and textured rubber, it's well built and attractive and feels solid in the hand. Two discreet silver rings tastefully accent the protruding lens barrel, which doesn't extend or rotate during zooming or focusing. In fact, like many long-zoom cameras with electronic viewfinders, the S5200 looks very much like a baby SLR. It suggests, "I am a serious camera made for someone who cares about photography." Its ability to use 55mm filters over the lens is a practical bonus.
The S5200 puts plenty of controls on the camera body, allowing the user to avoid the menus. The controls include a lock switch for the focus-mode button and independent buttons for drive mode, exposure compensation, LCD boost, and image parameters (size, ISO sensitivity, and color mode). A mode dial lets you choose from the various manual and semimanual exposure options as well as a limited number of automatic scene modes and the like. Almost all the controls make instant sense; you won't have to consult the manual to understand them. The menu system is equally simple, thanks to the captions accompanying each option.
The camera does suffer from several minor ergonomic quirks. Breaking with digital camera convention, the zoom switch zooms in and out of images during playback, but another button zooms further out to a thumbnail view. Also, you use the exposure-compensation button to display image details (such as a histogram) during playback, though that function is indicated nowhere on the body; the Display/Back button would have been a more logical choice. Finally, adjusting exposure compensation requires a painful bit of hand yoga in which you hold down the button while stretching your thumb to the four-way directional pad. Besides its fun and useful 10X zoom lens (38mm to 380mm in 35mm-camera terms) with its relatively fast maximum aperture at the farthest zoom (f/3.2 to f/3.5), the Fujifilm FinePix S5200 doesn't offer a lot of extra features. Purists and enthusiasts may appreciate the fine control and lack of gimmicks, but for a camera in this price class, the S5200 is missing some notable capabilities.
The first is optical stabilization--a necessary feature in a camera with such a long zoom lens. The S5200 compensates with very good high-ISO performance, which allows for faster shutter speeds at a given exposure. It also has a deceptively named Anti-Blur mode that simply boosts the ISO speed as high as 1,600.
We would also like a larger LCD screen, since the 1.8-inch display is small by today's standards. We would have appreciated more shooting modes too. Besides full-auto, program, shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and manual modes, the S5200 offers only a few scene modes. And in addition to a standard continuous-shooting mode, it offers only first- and final-three-shot burst modes.
The image-control parameters are similarly limited. The camera has a mere three color modes: Standard, Chrome (high saturation), and Black And White. You can't adjust individual color characteristics or saturation via sliders like you can on many other cameras. The JPEG-compression control is limited to two settings at the highest resolution.
In addition to the usual white-balance settings, the Fujifilm FinePix S5200 has three for fluorescent light; however, an auto or custom setting often works better. The camera also has a raw-capture mode, but it isn't too useful, since it quadruples file sizes without improving image quality.
You can take movies at two resolutions--640x480 or 320x240 at 30fps--but only with monaural sound and no zoom. A 3:2 aspect ratio is available for crop-free 4x6-inch prints. While the autofocus hunts quite a bit in the telephoto range, the Fujifilm FinePix S5200 generally performs well, with fast start-up and shooting times. Despite the aforementioned telephoto-autofocus problem, shutter lag is excellent in this camera, ranging between 0.3 and 0.5 second. It takes only 1.4 seconds to turn on the camera and take a first shot; the time between consecutive shots without flash is the same. Flash recycling is slow, however: 6.4 seconds between consecutive flash shots. Raw capture without flash performs similarly.
With three continuous-drive modes and the usual multitude of image sizes to choose from, continuous-shooting performance varies significantly depending on the camera's settings. In one test, the camera captured at least 25 frames at 0.8 frame per second; in another, it snapped a three-shot, high-speed burst at 3.5 frames per second.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Time to first shot||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Barrel distortion, in which straight lines near the edge of the frame appear to curve outward at wide angles, is very minimal. More remarkable is that pincushion distortion, in which said lines curve inward at telephoto angles, is almost nonexistent at the maximum 380mm focal length (35mm-camera equivalent).
Vignetting, in which the edges of a frame are darker than the center, is also very minor, even at the largest aperture, where the problem is usually most pronounced. This ensures even brightness in backgrounds with walls, plain carpets, or clear skies.
However, chromatic aberration, in which high-contrast and backlit edges are fringed with color, was sometimes a problem, even upon casual inspection. Most commonly visible on branches against a bright sky or on white lettering against dark backgrounds, the fringing in this camera can be either purple or green.
Furthermore, the Fujifilm FinePix S5200's noise characteristics have an interesting profile. While the slowest setting, ISO 64, exhibits a graininess you won't see even in ISO 100 pictures from many other cameras in this class, the image quality holds up relatively well at speeds of more than 400--unusual in a camera at this price. The FinePix S5200's ISO 100 images look similar to those at ISO 64. ISO 200 still looks clean, but grain becomes more noticeable here. ISOs 400 and 800 are grainy; with certain subjects, the latter looks like the former. And while pictures at the maximum ISO 1,600 look very grainy, almost as if you had applied an impressionist art filter in an image-editing program, the quality of the grain is remarkable; throughout the camera's ISO range, noise appears monochromatic, like with film. No nasty color artifacts give it that terrible digital look. With certain subjects, such as portraits, the effect can be almost pleasing. But if you're planning to blow your photos up, it will also be quite noticeable.