FujiFilm has a well-earned reputation for producing capable SLR-style cameras. The S-series, distinguished by the inclusion of a long-focal-length integrated zoom lens, is the latest incarnation of this style of model in the company's repertoire and the 5.1-megapixel FinePix 5600 sits just below the company's flagship S9500Z.
The S5600 was launched just a year after its predecessor, the S5100, hit the stores. While both share many visual similarities, the S5600 sports a number of significant improvements and refinements, notably the camera's new 5th Generation 5-megapixel Super CCD HR sensor and Real Photo processor.
FujiFilm has always argued that megapixels alone aren't a measure of image quality and the thinking behind Real Photo Technology is to align three important factors in the camera's make-up: the image processor, Super CCD sensor, and the camera's optics.
In addition to helping improve the clarity, colour, and exposure of each photograph, the S5600's Real Photo processor also improves the camera's start-up time to just over a second and reduces shutter lag while increasing battery longevity.
Although the robust SLR-style body has been retained, the S5600 is slightly bigger than its predecessor. It's hard to ignore the characteristic chunky lens barrel, housing an impressive F3.2-F3.5 10x zoom and providing a 38-380mm focal range.
The camera's ergonomic shape and sturdy build make for better handling and considering there's a whopping 10x optical zoom on board, the weight and bulk factor are barely noticeable.
One of the primary objectives FujiFilm set out to achieve in this series was to make the camera appealing to SLR users looking for an affordable and versatile digital alternative. They've achieved this, not just in the shape and build of the camera housing, but also in the layout of the controls. FujiFilm has always scored highly when it comes to intuitive design and the S5600 is no exception.
Look down on the top-plate and the refreshingly uncluttered array of controls is kept to a minimum; the shutter release is set into the power switch, which also sets the camera to Photography or Playback mode. A large mode dial is positioned just where your thumb lies, making it easy to flick through the full complement of manual, semi-automatic and programmed exposure modes.
New to the S5600 is an Anti-Blur mode, which the company asserts is more effective than image stabilization technology found on other cameras. It works by using the onboard image processor to increase the shutter speed in poor light by boosting the ISO from 64 up to 1,600. The Natural Light exposure mode also uses the camera's processor to produce low noise images using high ISO settings in low light situations when flash cannot be used.
Although the S5600 is happy shooting interiors thanks to the impressive ISO range, AF-assist lamp and powerful flash, it's perhaps best suited for outdoor photography where users can really take advantage of its strong but lightweight body, range of shooting modes and long-range zoom lens.
While the camera doesn't really offer any significant advantage in terms of wide-angle photography, the 370mm focal length means you can get closer to out-of-reach subjects such as wildlife or sporting events.
The S5600 also has the capability of RAW capture allowing users greater freedom to tailor shots to their specific requirements. For convenience, images can also be recorded on JPEG format with Normal and Fine settings available to vary the strength of compression.
Shots are recorded on the diminutive xD-Picture Card format; a 16Mb card ships with the camera, but invest in at least a 256Mb card to be able to snap away without worrying about running out of space. Thankfully, you can now pick up a 256Mb xD card for under £30.
Overall, our time with the FinePix S5600 was very pleasurable, and it performed well in terms of both handling and photographic results. Many of our test outings were in icy sub-zero conditions and we were impressed with the battery life, which had to battle with both the demands of the zoom lens and inclement weather.
Couple this with good to above-average imaging results and excellent value for money, and this capable camera is a tempting prospect for those looking for an affordable SLR-style digital super zoom. Tim McCann