The S100FS is competing directly with entry-level DSLRs. It easily beats them with its zoom range but doesn’t match them for picture quality. It will appeal, though, to photographers on a fixed and final budget who nevertheless want a camera that can do absolutely anything.
Impressive zoom range
Good feature set
In the same price range as DSLRs
Hit and miss picture quality
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The Fujifilm's appeal lies more in its value and its practicality rather than outright picture quality.
You get a 14.3x optical zoom, which far exceeds the zoom range of a DSLR's kit lens. This range is the equivalent to 28mm to 400mm on a 35mm camera, making the FinePix supremely versatile. It has an excellent macro mode, too, which will get you closer to your subjects than any non-specialist SLR lens.
Easy to use
Optical image stabilisation is built in, so that those super-long-range shots come out as sharp as possible, and with a resolution of 11MP and an ISO range from 100 to 3200 (and even higher at a reduced megapixel count), the Fujifilm can trade numbers with any digital SLR.
It is somewhat different to use, though. Digital SLRs have big, clear optical viewfinders but the FinePix uses an electronic viewfinder - essentially, a second LCD display viewed through an eyepiece. It's the same with all non-SLR designs and, for many, will be one of their weaknesses. Electronic viewfinders do lack the clarity of optical viewfinders.
Non-SLRs can be quite slow to focus, too, especially superzooms working at full range. The FinePix, though, focuses pretty quickly, and it's not really much slower to use than an SLR, thanks also to the mechanical zoom ring around the lens.
The future's bright
Some subjects have too high a brightness range for the average image sensor, but the S100fs has a dynamic range adjustment to cope with this.
Some previous Fujifilm cameras came with the company's unique SR sensor, which used paired photosites, one much larger than the other, to record brightness ranges up to 400% wider than a conventional sensor.
What's interesting here, though, is that Fujifilm appears to be using its HR (High Resolution) sensor design, where all the photosites are the same size. It may be that the increased dynamic range is achieved by varying the amplification level (or ISO value) for different parts of the scene.
With a 200% expansion, the minimum ISO is 200, and with 400% expansion the minimum ISO is 400. It manages to hold onto very bright highlight tones that otherwise might be expected to blow out through overexposure.
The Film Simulation (FS) modes are interesting, too. The Provia and Velvia modes are intended to reflect the colour and tonal reproduction of the films of the same name, and they're joined by a Soft mode too. However, the differences in reproduction are fairly subtle and perhaps don't fully reflect the characteristics of the films they're supposed to emulate.
Although the S100FS handles very nicely, the picture quality doesn't quite meet the same standards. At low ISOs it's not so far off a DSLR for definition and noise, but the lens does produce a fair amount of chromatic aberration.
By the time you get to ISO 400, images are clearly softer than those of a DSLR would be, and by ISO 1600 the performance gap is clear.
Worth picking over a DSLR?
Compared with other bridge/prosumer cameras, the S100FS is very good. But at this price it's also competing with DSLRs, and its lower picture quality means it doesn't come out quite so well in this comparison.
There are still two good reasons to buy it, though. First, it's much more versatile than any DSLR at the same price; second, it's an ideal travel camera, replacing a DSLR and at least one additional lens.
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