At the top of Fujifilm's line of consumer cameras sits the FinePix S9100, a 9-megapixel superzoom with a 10.7X optical, 28mm-to-300mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8-to-f/4.9 zoom lens, and more features than you can shake an ultracompact at. But even with all those features, it is missing a very important one: image stabilization. Fuji talks big about its Picture Stabilization shooting mode, useful since it keeps your shutter speed fast and prevents blur. But it's no substitute for optical or mechanical image stabilization, which can be found in numerous other superzooms.
Then there's the issue of the S9100's lens. Many manufacturers have moved up to 12X-optical zoom lenses in their superzooms, but they shy away from saying that those lenses start at an equivalent of 35mm. This Fuji starts at an equivalent of 28mm, which gives you more leeway when shooting group portraits and should come in handy more often than the 420mm telephoto end of most 12X lenses. Also, since this camera has a 9-megapixel sensor, you should have plenty of extra pixels to crop away if you want to mimic the close-up view of a longer lens, unless you plan to make prints much larger than 11x17 inches.
Controlling the zoom is simple, thanks to the big zoom ring on the lens barrel. Precise zooming is much easier with a ring than trying to zero in with the rocker switches on many non-SLRs. Behind the zoom ring is another ring for manual focus. We found manual focus a little frustrating, though, since you have to hold down a button on the camera back to get a magnified portion of the image. Since it's nearly impossible to get really accurate focus without it, it seems odd that Fuji didn't make this automatic. Fuji did include a nifty indicator, which tells you which way to turn the ring to achieve focus and also turns yellow when it thinks you're properly focused. Fuji puts the focus controls and macro and info buttons on the left side of the camera body, which is convenient, since your left hand should already be in the vicinity to operate the zoom ring.
All other controls are on the right-hand side of the camera, split fairly evenly between the top and back of the body. All the buttons are placed logically according to function--exposure compensation finds its home next to the shutter release, for example--and are within reach of either your thumb or forefinger. As usual, Fuji splits its menus in two: one, accessed through the F button, provides access to ISO, resolution, and color settings, the other, accessed through the regular menu button provides access to all other settings. By splitting them, Fuji can keep the most often adjusted settings up top where you need them in each of the main menus. We'd like to see white balance make its way into the F-button menu, but that's a minor gripe.
There's a hot shoe on top, so you can add a third-party flash, though you can't expect the same fancy capabilities offered in the hot-shoe flashes offered by the likes of Canon, Pentax, Nikon, and Olympus. However, there is a sync terminal (sometimes referred to as a PC connection) next to the lens barrel on the camera front. This lets you trigger studio strobes, or some fancy flash systems, such as Quantum's QFlash. Of course, since the S9100's aperture tops out at f/11, which is still more than the minimum of f/8 offered by most non-SLRs, certain types of studio work still may be difficult. We should note, though, that in aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and program modes, the minimum aperture is f/8.
While the LCD is only 2 inches, it does flip up, so you can view it from above, and also angles downward about 45 degrees, so you can hold the camera above your head and still compose your shot. This isn't as versatile as the flip-out screens that also swivel, such as those found on the Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ50 and Canon's PowerShot S3 IS, but is certainly more useful than standard stationary LCDs.