With its attractive price--less than $250 for 7 megapixels, 38mm-380mm-equivalent 10x zoom lens, and a full set of manual and semimanual controls--the Fujifilm FinePix S700 (aka the FinePix S5700) seems quite a compelling buy for the budget-strapped megazoom shooter. And on some levels, it delivers the dSLR-like shooting experience that its design promises. Certainly, at 14.1 ounces, its sturdy plastic body has the heft of a low-end dSLR.
However, it takes quite a bit of effort to adapt to the S700's design, which ranges from simply odd in places--you increase shutter speed and aperture with the down arrow and decrease them via the up arrow--to downright frustrating in others. For example, every button requires a press and hold to register. I can't tell you how many times I accidentally ended up in macro mode or enabling the flash because I didn't press the exposure compensation button, wait, and check that it was ready for the down/up shutter speed input before making the adjustments. True, you can eventually pace yourself to match, but I don't want to lose two seconds waiting for the interface every time I need to make a change. I suggest trying the S700 in a store before buying to make sure you've got the requisite patience.
It's a pity, because those lethargic buttons lead to a broad selection of controls unusual for this price class. These include three metering options (dubbed "Photometry" by Fujifilm); manual white balance and a handful of presets; continuous, single, or manual autofocus; sensitivity settings up to ISO 1600; center focus, auto area select or user area select from 36 autofocus points; flash compensation; and exposure bracketing.
Then there are the borderline gimmicky features. A High-Speed Shooting mode speeds focus by limiting the hunting zone to beyond 3.3 feet. Since that precludes focusing on anything closer, you have to know in advance that your subject will never approach you, diminishing its usefulness. And you have to remember to turn it off, or (like me) you'll wonder why the camera can't focus on subsequent, closer shots. The S700 also offers a 1.4-frames-per-second Top 3 continuous-shooting mode--three shots only--but it's even less useful.
Furthermore, Fujifilm leads the pack at eking every bit of marketing possible out of high ISO shooting. Like many competitors, the S700 offers a Picture Stabilization mode, which bumps up the sensor gain in order to increase shutter speeds. Fujifilm goes even further, with its Natural Light mode and combo Natural Light/Flash modes. In Natural Light, the S700 bumps up the sensor gain to boost shutter speed--as far as I can tell, the only difference between it and Picture Stabilization is that you can't use flash in Natural Light mode. The Natural Light/Flash hybrid mode takes two sequential shots--one with Flash and one at a high ISO/fast-shutter-speed setting--and lets you select your preferred photo at your leisure. Fujifilm uses its so-called "Intelligent" flash, however, which dials back the flash output and--you guessed it--combines it with a higher ISO setting. In theory, Intelligent flash gives you the best of both worlds; a more natural color light plus higher shutter-speed sharpness. In practice, it delivers the worst of both--the flash makes the smeary high-ISO artifacts that much more visible.
Though the lens is fairly slow--its maximum aperture is only f/3.5 at the shortest focal length--the S700 demonstrates reasonably good exposure latitude; I rarely encountered a situation in which I couldn't get a decent exposure at 1/80 second and ISO 64. As with many inexpensive cameras, however, highlights blow out on a regular basis. Depending upon focal length, the lens can focus as close as 1.6 inches to 2 feet in standard macro mode, and as close as 0.4 inch to 3.3 feet in Super Macro (which locks the zoom at the widest angle view).