Any electronics purchase ends up being a compromise. You choose what features or qualities are important to you, and then search for a product that best fits your needs at a reasonable price. Fujifilm's S6000fd is a model case for compromise. Its 10.7X optical lens and serious price tag places it in the same field as some heavy hitters, such as Sony's Cyber Shot DSC-H5, Canon's Power Shot S3 IS, and Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ50. All three of these cameras offer 12X optical zoom lenses and higher pixel counts, however, than does the 6.3-megapixel S6000fd, yet the Fuji camera offers something none of them do--face detection.
While it might sound gimmicky, face detection actually makes a lot of sense for digital cameras. A dedicated processing chip allows the S6000fd to quickly and effortlessly meter off and focus on your subject's face. The camera can identify up to 10 faces in a scene, and automatically selects the one nearest to the center of the image for focus and metering purposes. We found that the camera's face-detection system works best when subjects are looking at the camera. If they're looking away at an angle of more than 45 degrees, the camera won't likely recognize the face. In bright light, the system worked quickly; in dim light, it slowed slightly but didn't appreciably add to shutter lag. Interestingly, since the system looks for a subject's eyes and the shape of a human face, the camera will even recognize faces from a TV screen.
The camera body is very comfortable to use, with a deeply grooved grip--one groove for your middle finger, and one for your ring finger and pinky--that is one of the most solid grips I've experienced on a digital camera. The lens has a thick zoom ring, which gives the camera a nice, SLR feel. The one design drawback is the camera's focus ring, which sits between the camera body and the zoom ring. While the focus ring has a knurled surface for better gripping, it would be easier to use if it sat in front of the zoom ring. As is, it's hard to properly brace the camera body while turning the ring. The focus control buttons, thankfully, are located just behind the lens on the left side of the body, making it easy to dedicate your left hand to focusing while using the S6000fd.
All other controls are located on the right side of the camera body, and well within reach of your thumb or forefinger. As usual, Fuji splits its menus in two. One menu is accessed through the F button, and provides access to ISO, resolution, and color settings. The second is accessed through the regular menu button, and provides access to all other settings. By splitting the menus, Fuji can keep the most-often adjusted settings up top where they're easy to access in each of the main menus.
Top on this camera's list of features is its 28mm-to-300mm, f/2.8-to-f/4.5 zoom lens. Unlike so many superzoom lenses, the S6000fd lens can achieve a true wide angle of 28mm on its wide end, instead of typically starting at 35mm. This gives you more leeway when shooting close to your subject, or when trying to squeeze that last person into a group shot. In our tests, the lens showed almost no distortion at 300mm, and while we saw a little barrel distortion at 28mm, it was very minimal for a non-SLR camera with such a long zoom. At f/4.5, it's not the fastest lens we've seen, but is still faster (or, lets in more light) than many lenses that reach a f/5.6 maximum aperture at maximum telephoto.
As you'd expect in a camera at this price, Fuji includes full manual controls as well as 14 scene modes, accessible from the SP spot on the mode dial. Or, in the case of the landscape, portrait, natural light, and picture stabilization modes, you can access these straight from the mode dial. The last two modes deserve some explanation. Natural light mode boosts sensitivity and turns the flash off, to capture the ambiance of low-light situations. Picture stabilization mode boosts sensitivity as well, but also limits you to fast shutter speeds in an effort to prevent blurring an image--in case your hand shakes, or your subject moves. In the case of a shaky hand, picture stabilization doesn't offer as effective a countermeasure as do optical or mechanical image stabilization systems offered by other manufacturers. However, neither of these methods help with a moving subject. We'd still like to see either optical or mechanical image stabilization included in the S6000fd, though, especially with such a long zoom lens.
Advanced shooters will appreciate this camera's raw image capture option, which is somewhat rare for a camera in this price range. Unlike most cameras that include raw capture, Fuji makes you delve into the setup menu to activate it instead of just including it in the Finepix menu with the other megapixel and compression choices. Still, shooting in raw offers the opportunity to fine tune exposure, white balance, and other image parameters after you shoot. It's a welcome addition to this camera, but be warned, our performance tests (see below) showed that you better be ready to wait if you want to shoot raw with the S6000fd.