Fujifilm's FinePix S4200 review: Long lens, low price

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The Good The Fujifilm FinePix S4200 offers a 24x zoom lens, AA batteries for power, an electronic viewfinder, and manual and semimanual shooting modes all at a bargain price.

The Bad The S4200 feels and performs like a low-end point-and-shoot. Requires a lot of light to get good photos and videos in auto.

The Bottom Line A nice feature set and a long lens make the Fujifilm FinePix S4200 one of the better megazoom cameras available for those on a budget.

6.8 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Image quality 6

Editors' note: This review was conducted with the FinePix S4500, which is nearly identical to the S4200 except as indicated below.

To avoid any confusion during what you're about to read, let's get something straight: the Fujifilm FinePix S4500, S4400, S4300, and S4200 are all the same camera, but with different lenses. The S4500 has a 30x f3.1-5.9 24-720mm lens; the S4400 has a 28x f3.1-5.9 24-672mm lens; the S4300 has a 26x f3.1-5.9 24-624mm lens; and the S4200 has a 24x f3.1-5.9 24-576mm lens.

Everything else about the cameras is the same, including the 14-megapixel CCD sensor and image processor. So while I tested the FinePix S4500 for this review, the shooting performance and picture quality will essentially be the same -- as will the design and features -- regardless of what model you're interested in.

Despite its dSLR-like design, the S4200 is a point-and-shoot camera and a fairly low-end one at that. If you're expecting the photo quality and shooting performance of a dSLR or even a higher-end compact like Fujifilm's own FinePix HS30EXR, you won't get that. Make no mistake, you get what you pay for.

What you do get: a megazoom lens, AA batteries for power, an electronic viewfinder (something that's typically not included by other manufacturers at this price), full auto to full manual shooting modes (rare in this class), and decent photo, video, and shooting performance outdoors in good lighting. For those on a budget who simply must have a long zoom lens, it's one of the better options available.

Picture quality
Overall, the S4200's photo quality is good as long as you're willing to work within its limitations. But if you're the type to never leave auto or use a tripod, you might not be 100 percent happy with its photos.

Basically, like most lower-end to midrange compacts, the S4200 can take some nice photos below ISO 200 that can be used at reasonably large sizes. The more you have to go above ISO 200, however -- whether for shooting indoors, using the zoom lens, or both -- the less satisfied you might be with the results.

Without enough light, the camera will boost the ISO to keep shutter speeds fast enough to freeze movement (and this camera's lens needs a lot of light). However, increasing the ISO also increases noise and noise reduction, which, in turn, softens details. Once the S4200 hits ISO 800, though, it will start to use slower shutter speeds to get the correct exposure. Depending on how slow it gets, if you're not on a tripod and your subject isn't still, you'll end up with soft, blurry photos.

This is common with this class of camera, not just the S4200. What is specific to the S4200 through S4500 is the photo quality at ISO 800, which is OK for Web use at small sizes if you don't mind softness and visible noise.

Something goes horribly wrong at ISO 1600 so that color and subjects are just too soft, so I would avoid using this or the higher ISO settings available at reduced resolutions. On the upside, Fujifilm doesn't use this setting when shooting in Auto; it will drop the shutter speed instead. (To read more about the camera's photo quality, see the slideshow above.)

Movie quality is good, suitable for viewing at smaller sizes. As with photos, low-light video is noisy, but that's typical of video from lower-end compact cameras. The zoom lens does work while recording, but you will hear it moving. Also, just like when shooting photos, the autofocus can be slow with the lens zoomed in and in low light.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Shooting performance
Editors' note: We recently updated our testing methodology to provide slightly more real-world performance information, so the results aren't necessarily comparable to previous testing. Until we're finished refining our procedures, we will not be posting comparative performance charts.

All things considered, the S4200's shooting performance is pretty good for this class of camera. It can't compete with slightly more expensive models with CMOS sensors and high-performance processors, but it's not frustratingly slow either. I would not, however, recommend it if you need it for regularly shooting fast-moving subjects like active kids and pets or sports, especially indoors. You'll get something, but it likely won't always be what you wanted.

From off to first shot takes about 2.8 seconds, but you have to wait for the camera to fully start before pressing the shutter release. Its shot-to-shot time is 2.4 seconds and 2.8 seconds with flash. Shutter lag -- the time from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- is 0.4 second in bright lighting and about 0.7 second in dim conditions. However, depending on your target and how much you've zoomed in, these times will increase.

Fujifilm includes several burst-shooting options at full and reduced resolutions. It has a 14-megapixel six-shot burst that got up to 1.5 frames per second in my tests. After you shoot, though, the camera won't let you take more photos for quite some time while it processes and stores -- up to 20 seconds in my tests. There is a regular continuous setting that is equally fast at first, but slows down quickly, dropping to an average of 0.8fps for 10 photos. Again, this isn't bad for this kind of camera at its price, but it's not nearly as fast as you get from models costing $100 or $200 more.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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