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

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.

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