Fujifilm's FinePix S9000 shows just how close digital SLR wannabes are getting to the real thing. This is one EVF-equipped camera that can compete in both the SLR and non-SLR arenas. Just a hair smaller and priced within $50 of compact dSLRs such as the , the FinePix S9000 looks and handles very much like its interchangeable-lens competitors and in some ways outfeatures them. It boasts a 28mm-to-300mm (35mm equivalent) 10.7X zoom lens, where most low-end dSLRs come with a skimpy normal zoom; and its 1/1.6-inch Fuji Super CCD HR sensor packs in 9 million pixels, compared to 6 megapixels for most budget digital SLRs. It has external flash connections, ISO-sensitivity settings up to 1,600, minimal shutter lag, and manual focus and zoom rings around the lens, just like the genuine dSLR article. Plus, it offers decidedly non-dSLR-like features, such as 640x480, 30fps movie capabilities. So why would a photo enthusiast who doesn't need superwide or superlong lenses choose anything else?
Photo enthusiasts who don't expect the best image quality at high ISO settings, are happy with a four-frame burst mode, and like the S9000's zoom range will find in this camera a good combination of performance, features, and dSLR-like operation. The Fujifilm FinePix S9000 also stacks up very well against other EVF superzoom cameras. But if you must have all the qualities digital SLRs are known for, you're better off with the real thing. The control layout of the 4.9-by-3.7-by 2.6-inch, 1.8-pound Fujifilm FinePix S9000 is its most SLR-like aspect, which means it bristles with controls for a broad range of options. But not all the most frequently used settings are among them. For example, many cameras have dedicated buttons for white balance, ISO, self-timer, and resolution; on the S9000, setting those options requires a trip to the menu system. Dividing the adjustments between the Menu and Function buttons shortens the journey, but if you want to take just a few photos in raw format, be prepared for a minimum of 12 key presses.
The Fujifilm FinePix S9000 lays out other controls more conveniently. The top surface includes a mode dial with the enthusiast-favored MASP (Manual, Aperture/Shutter Priority, Programmed) options plus Motion Picture; Auto; and five scene modes, including Anti-Blur, Natural Light, Portrait, Landscape, and Night. Dedicated keys for exposure compensation, flash, and burst mode dot the top panel and work in conjunction with an onscreen menu and a command dial just aft of the button array. A shutter release with a concentric on/off/review/recording dial sits on the comfortable handgrip. The hump where the pentaprism would reside on a dSLR hosts a pop-up electronic flash and a hotshoe for an external speed light. A second flash connector resides on the front of the S9000 in the form of a standard PC (short for shutter pioneers Prontor-Compur, not personal computer) terminal. Also up front are an external autofocus sensor and a brilliant green autofocus-assist lamp.
On the left side sit the USB, A/V, and DC-power ports; a dial for switching between single AF, continuous AF, and manual focus (with a one-touch autofocus override button); and a key to activate Macro and Super Macro modes. An Info button displays a histogram and status information about current settings, including white balance, contrast, and flash compensation. A Disp button on the back of the camera cycles through additional status information, such as shutter speed, f/stop, ISO, and so on; a rule-of-thirds grid; and other data. Those who want to keep tabs on the CompactFlash or xD-Picture memory card in use, the zoom setting, and other minutiae will love the info; we found the text display cluttered and switched it off most of the time.
The 118,000-pixel, 1.8-inch double-hinged LCD flips out from the back panel for waist-level or overhead viewing, but we preferred the diopter-correctable eye-level EVF, with its smoother-looking 235,000-pixel resolution. Both LCDs show virtually 100 percent of the picture area. To the right of the Function and Disp buttons sits a four-way cursor pad with embedded Menu/OK button; pressing it up and down activates and cancels the 2X digital-zoom feature. Another dial chooses 256-segment evaluative, center-weighted, or spot metering. Other features include an exposure-lock button, a selector to switch between the EVF and the LCD, and a handy focus-check button that enlarges the center portion of the image to make it easier to focus. The gazillion buttons studding the surfaces of the FinePix S9000 are a tip-off that that Fuji has stuffed this camera full of interesting features. The 28mm-to-300mm zoom garners a lot of attention: it's relatively fast (f/2.8 at wide-angle and f/4.9 when cranked all the way out to telephoto) and compact, and it focuses down to 0.4 inch with the Super Macro option or 3.9 inches in regular Macro mode. Shutter speeds range from 30 seconds to 1/4,000 second, with EV adjustments of plus or minus 2EV in 1/3EV increments. You can set the sensitivity between ISO 80 and ISO 1,600. Although the Anti-Blur mode sounds like image stabilization, it actually programs the camera to boost ISO at slow shutter speeds; in practice, this can result in steadier shots, but you compromise by increasing noise.
The four AA batteries that power the Fujifilm FinePix S90000 provide enough juice for the beefy internal electronic-flash unit, which is good out to 18.4 feet with ISO set to Auto. The flash has the usual red-eye, on, off, and slow-sync settings (for coupling the speed light with ambient light for better-lit backgrounds) and enough spread to evenly illuminate scenes with the lens in the 28mm wide-angle position.
Although burst mode captures only 4 frames, you can either capture the first 4 frames after you press the shutter button, or you can hold down the release for up to 40 frames, saving only the last 4 to your memory card. This can be useful when you're not sure exactly when the peak action will occur. With the camera set to Auto or any of the scene modes, you can snap up to 40 frames continuously at intervals of 1.1 frames per second. The Fujifilm FinePix S9000 scored decent to high marks on every performance test, and you can tweak it to do even better. Shutter lag is pretty good at 0.5 second under contrasty illumination, and average at 0.9 second under more challenging low-contrast lighting. The green focus-assist lamp helps by casting a contrast-enhancing pattern on the subject when the lights are low. However, switching to the optional High Speed Shooting mode sets an all-purpose focus distance, and taking the autofocus system out of the equation cuts shutter lag to 0.4 second or less.
Waking the camera up from a deep slumber took only 1.6 seconds, and we were able to snap shots every 1.7 seconds thereafter. With flash, however, per-shot intervals stretched to more than 5 seconds. When shooting in raw format, be prepared to wait 18 seconds between shots. The S9000 squeezed out only four shots in burst mode but captured a hair over two shots per second when shooting at full resolution or in 640x480 VGA mode.
The electronic viewfinder shows 100 percent of the field of view and can refresh at a frisky 60fps, but it's still coarse and dimmer than the best dSLR optical viewfinders. Also, like all LCDs that double as information displays, it can become annoyingly cluttered when everything you want to know is on view.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Shutter lag (bright)||Shutter lag (dim)|
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Raw shot-to-shot time||Flash shot-to-shot time||Typical shot-to-shot time|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The dynamic range wasn't what we had hoped, either. On a beautiful day with billowing clouds in a deep, blue sky, we had to choose between capturing the details of the clouds and underexposing the foreground or properly exposing the foreground and blowing out the sky.
On the plus side, the Fujifilm FinePix S9000 produced saturated yet realistic colors, and its red-eye-prevention system completely eliminated scarlet pupils: electronic-flash pictures of people showed attractive catch lights rather than dull red glows. Color casts were hard to detect, although shots taken under incandescent light looked a bit warm.
This camera's ISO 1,600 setting was usable, especially when you consider that most non-SLR digital cameras don't even have an ISO 800 option; however, it still had a lot more noise than you'd see with dSLRs in this price range, such as the Nikon D50. Dropping down to ISO 400 reduced nose to manageable levels, and at ISO 80 the multicolored speckles were minimal.