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

While its photos and performance aren't stellar, the S4200 is still a bargain camera for megazoom fans.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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8 min read

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

Fujifilm FinePix S4200 (Black)
6.8

Fujifilm's FinePix S4200

The Good

The <b>Fujifilm FinePix S4200</b> 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.

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.

Fujifilm FinePix S4500 sample pictures

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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

Design and features
Though far from pocketable, the S4200 is reasonably compact despite its main attraction: the wide-angle 24-576mm-equivalent lens. The giant right-hand grip gives you something to really hold onto, and also houses the four AA-size batteries and SDHC card slot, plus it has room for shooting controls. Though the batteries give it heft, the camera's plastic body doesn't scream "quality construction." It does help, though, that the lens barrel and grip have textured rubber on them.

On back is a respectably bright 3-inch LCD and above it is a small electronic viewfinder (EVF). All settings are viewable on both. The color quality seems to be off on the LCD, which makes judging your shots on the spot difficult.

Key specs Fujifilm FinePix S4200
Price (MSRP) Under $200
Dimensions (WHD) 4.6x3.1x3.9 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 19.1 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 230K dots/electronic viewfinder
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 24x, f3.1-5.9 24-576mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/Motion JPEG (.AVI)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,288x3,216pixels/ 1,280x720 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Mechanical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life 4, AA size (alkaline included), 300 shots
Battery charged in camera No
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software MyFinePix Studio 3; FinePix Viewer 5.5 (Windows); FinePix Viewer 3.6 (Mac)

On top and in back you'll find buttons for switching between the EVF and LCD; Playback; F-mode; Menu/OK; Exposure Compensation (also used for changing aperture and shutter speed settings); Display (for adjusting information displayed or framing grids); and a directional pad for navigation and changing screen brightness, flash, macro settings, and an Instant Zoom feature that's intended to help with framing erratically moving subjects while using the zoom lens.

Pressing F-mode brings up a contextual shooting menu, and pressing Menu/OK brings up another set of shooting and setup menus. Fairly standard stuff; once you remember when to press F-mode instead of Menu, it's straightforward to use.

The flash needs to be raised manually with a button on the left side of the body. However, unless you're in a shooting mode that specifically requires flash, the camera does not tell you when you might need to use it -- even when in auto. (Note: I've read several user reviews saying the step-up S4500 has a faulty flash. This was not my experience, but is certainly something to be aware of should you buy it.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

The camera is powered by AA-size batteries, and although it's packaged with alkaline batteries it takes lithium ion and rechargeable NiMH types as well, both of which will get you much more shooting time than alkaline. The batteries and the memory card slot are accessed through a locking door on the bottom of the camera. The door takes some force to hold down and lock when closing, which might be frustrating for some users. On the right side of the body is a small door covering Mini-HDMI and Micro-USB/AV ports for connecting to a computer, a monitor, or an HDTV.

Worth noting is that you can tag photos and videos for uploading to Facebook or YouTube. You'll have to install the Windows-only software on your computer for it to work, but otherwise you just tag your files in camera and then connect to your PC by USB or pop the SD card in a reader, and the uploader starts automatically.

General shooting options Fujifilm FinePix S4200
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
White balance Auto, Fine, Shade, Fluorescent light (Daylight), Fluorescent light (Warm White), Fluorescent light (Cool White), Incandescent light, Custom
Recording modes SR Auto, Auto, Program, Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority, Manual, Custom, Movie, Panorama, Scene (SP)
Focus modes Multi AF, Center AF, Area (selectable) AF, Macro AF
Macro 0.8 inch (Wide); 6.5 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Multi, Spot, Average
Color effects Standard, Chrome (vivid), Black & White
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Six shots

Those who are either working up to using a digital SLR or need to satisfy a number of different users with one camera will appreciate the large assortment of shooting options. If you want the camera to do most or all of the work, there are Program and SR Auto (automatic scene recognition) modes. There are 17 scene modes to choose from, too. They're mostly standards like Portrait, Snow, Beach, and Sunset, but there are a couple extras like a smile-activated shutter release and Fujifilm's Natural with Flash that takes two consecutive shots, one with flash and one without.

The large shooting-mode dial on top gives you fast access to your options. Sarah Tew/CNET

If you like to control exposure, the S4200 does have manual and semimanual shooting modes. (There's a Custom mode, too, so you can define a frequently used group of settings.) For the most part, though, the real control is over shutter speed with settings from 8 seconds to 1/2,000 second. Apertures are limited to two stops at each step of the zoom range through to the 200mm focal length. After that you get three at each step. In both cases the smaller aperture is achieved with a neutral density (ND) filter.

Taking close-ups, the S4200 can focus as closely as 0.8 inch from a subject. If you're more into wide-angle shooting, there's a Panorama option on the mode dial. You press the shutter release with the camera aimed where you'd like to start your panorama shot and it puts a circle and a target on the screen. Put the circle in the center of the target by moving the camera to the right and it'll take the next shot when it's centered. Do that once more and it'll take your three shots and stitch them together in-camera into a single photo. This is best for scenes with little or no movement, but it works well in those cases.

Conclusion: Recommended with reservations
With the Fujifilm FinePix S4200 as well as its other S-series linemates, your money is going toward the zoom lens and other features like the EVF, but not great build quality or excellent photos and videos. It's completely possible to get good photos from the S4200, but it's not a camera you can leave in auto for all shooting conditions. Its advantage is that you can actually take more control away from the camera than most in its class, so you can set things like shutter speed and ISO for better results. If you're going to leave it in auto, though, you're going to need a lot of light to get good results.

Fujifilm FinePix S4200 (Black)
6.8

Fujifilm's FinePix S4200

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 6Image quality 6
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