There’s something nice about walking around with a big bankroll in your pocket or having high credit-card limits, knowing you can buy just about anything that comes your way. Nice. The same holds true when you’re packing digicams like the S8100fd, an 18x mega zoom camera with an attractive focal length of 27-486mm. Compare this to the much more typical 35-105mm and you’ll immediately see that you can capture wide-angle portrait and landscapes then zoom all the way in to snap birds resting on the top branches of tall trees. And this is much more flexible than almost any interchangeable D-SLR lens—plus you don’t have to hassle with lugging around additional glass. Of course there are some major trade-offs between this 10-megapixel point-and-shoot and any 10MP D-SLR such as the Sony DSLR-A200 or new Nikon D60 besides several hundred dollars and overall image quality. Speed is one of the biggest—speed meaning the time it takes saving images to the card and burst mode—which is almost creaky compared to a D-SLR. That said the new S8100fd costs less than $400 USD and it just might be a perfect camera to take on your next vacation. Let’s see if it’s worth the dent in your bankroll…
Features and Design
The FinePix S8100fd has a very D-SLR-like vibe albeit a small one like the Olympus E-410. It’s bulky and squat with a substantial pistol grip. The body is primarily black with silver accents and there’s a textured finish on the grip as well where your right thumb rests on the back while holding the camera. I found it very comfortable. The S8100fd measures 4.4 x 3.1 x 3.1 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 14.3 ounces without four AA batteries and card (17.6 with). It definitely won’t wreck your shoulder as you carry it around. Note: this is the replacement for the S8000fd which is basically the same camera other than having an 8-megapixel sensor; you’ll find this one for around $329 USD versus $399 USD list for the newer model.
As you’d expect with a mega zoom, the lens dominates the front and accounts for much of the 3.1-inch depth. This one ranges between 27-486mm, an incredible number only topped by the new $499 USD 10MP 20x Olympus SP-570 Ultra Zoom that’s 26-520mm. I’ve reviewed other Olympus mega zooms and they’re annoyingly slow, but that’s another story. The S8100fd has a silver ring surrounding the lens as well as silver touches atop the pistol grip. The Fujifilm and 10.0 megapixel logos aren’t too obnoxious. More importantly, there’s an AF Assist lamp to help focus in low light along with a pinhole mic for making voice memos and recording soundtracks of your videos.
On the top of the camera you’ll find a button to engage the Dual Image Stabilization mode which uses sensor-shift and ISO boost to shoot in available light with less blur. Another button engages Face Detection with Red-eye Removal on or off. Atop the pistol grip is the shutter button with surrounding wide/tele control and the power on/off switch. Nearby are the sturdy mode dial and a manual pop-up flash. The dial is one of your main controls and it lets you change between Auto, P (Program AE), Shutter- and Aperture-Priority, Manual (to adjust the shutter and aperture), Movie, SP to access 13 scene modes, Zoom Bracketing, Natural Light, Natural Light + Flash, and Picture Stabilization for shooting moving subjects. Most are pretty standard other than Natural Light + Flash that takes two shots one after the other with and without the flash. Zoom Bracketing is something new and it saves three versions of the subject you just shot (normal size, 1.4x and 2x enlargements). Although kind of cool, resolution drops to 5MP or 3MP, depending on the zoom boost.
Image Courtesy of Fujifilm
The rear has a 2.5-inch LCD screen (rated 230K pixels) that holds up fairly well even in strong sunlight. In case it does wipe out or you’re in extreme telephoto, there’s a .24-inch electronic viewfinder (EVF) with diopter control. The LCD screen isn’t nearly as good as some other cameras and tends to enter “dot city” when shooting in low light. A button to the right of the EVF lets you quickly switch between one and the other. To the right of the screen is the classic four-way controller with center Menu/OK button. Tap the points of the controller and you can adjust the flash, delete shots and move into macro. The continuous mode is rather interesting as it gives you a wide range of burst modes along with exposure bracketing. With Top3 you only get three 10MP images and then the camera stops to store the files (it takes about 6 seconds). Then there’s a straight continuous mode that lets you take shots (at about 1 frame per second) for the amount of space on the card. The last two options are fun: Top33 (5MP) and Top33 Ultra High Speed at 3-megapixels. Here the camera zips along taking that many 5- or 3MP photos (without the flash, of course). You’ll never miss your kids running downfield kicking the winning goal—or almost any other fast movement. Realize you’re dropping resolution tremendously so forget about large prints. Still it’s fun to play with.
Other buttons near the controller let you access playback mode, “F” lets you adjust ISO from 64-1600 at full resolution and 3200/6400 at 5MP. You can also change resolution and FinePix Color (standard, chrome and B&W). Another button is exposure compensation and it displays the histogram with another click. The Display/Back key lets you pick the amount of icons that’ll clutter the screen (grid lines are available).
On the right side is the card slot and it nicely takes xD, SD and SDHC memory. On the left is the speaker and compartment for USB and optional DC-in connections. On the bottom of this Made in Indonesia digicam is the plastic tripod mount and battery compartment door. BTW Olympus Ultra Zooms are also made in Indonesia. As mentioned it uses four AAs but you’d do well to use rechargeable NiMH batteries since they’ll last 500 shots compared to 300 if you use alkalines.
The Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd comes with a basic kit including strap, USB and A/V cables and my favorite—a lens cap attached by a piece of string—how sophisticated! That said no mega zoom has a built-in lens cover; I just like pointing out how foolish they all look with their caps flapping in the breeze… The kit also includes a CD-ROM with FinePix View ver. 5.4 for Windows and ver. 3.5 for Mac for handling basic downloading and editing chores as well as a 164-page owner’s manual. The camera has 58MB of internal memory so you can take some shots right away but do yourself a favor and pop in a 2-gig SDHC card.
With the camera prepped, it was time to start taking photographs…
Image Courtesy of Fujifilm
Performance and Use
I initially put in the camera in Auto mode with 10MP Fine setting (3642 x 2736 pixels) with the digital zoom off, engaging Dual IS and Face Detect with red-eye removal. The camera starts quickly (less than two seconds), focuses promptly and there’s very little shutter lag in single shot mode with the flash off.
Moving through the 27-486mm focal length was a lot of fun as the digicam moved smoothly from wide angle to telephoto. I found myself zooming a great deal, just to see how close I could get to faraway subjects such as the top of an evergreen. Once I did my Auto shooting it was time to spin the mode dial through the many manual options. Fortunately, the S8100fd makes it very simple to access the controls and make your adjustments. Scene modes are also nicely identified so newbies will know why they should use Portrait—gee, like when you’re taking shots of people. Duh! Anyway it’s good these IDs are there for first-timers; everyone else will find the camera very easy to operate.
Where the S8100fd came up short was saving images to the card. In the single shot mode it took around a second, hardly instantaneous like a D-SLR. Realize this was in Auto without the flash so it’s slower. The camera is rated 1.1 frames per second up to a maximum of three shots which is what I observed in my tests. Move to Top3 at full resolution and the camera stops for close to 10 seconds after it captures the images. The same held true in Natural Light + Flash mode where it took close to 10 seconds to save two images. Yeow! This is pokey. There are definitely trade offs in life and although you get an excellent focal range, the camera simply doesn’t have the processing power of a D-SLR. Yes you can take a 33-shot burst but resolution drops to 3- or 5-megapixels—shades of 1999.
That said, I do like the Natural Light + Flash setting as you get to chose between an image taken in available light and then with the flash. This is another reason for a 2-gig card since you’ll fill it up pretty fast.
Fujifilm cameras always tout their low-noise at high ISO shooting. This camera does up to 1600 at full resolution and hits 3200 and 6400 at lower-res (5MP). I couldn’t resist trying it out on a flower arrangement indoors with available light. At 64 there was hardly any noise and the Dual IS did a nice job preventing blur at 1/5th of a second. ISO 100 was spot on as was 200. Things started to fade at ISO 400 as noise appeared in the background and colors started to shift. At 800 the quality faded a bit more and at 1600 you couldn’t go beyond a 5×7—I was making 8.5×11 full bleed prints. Surprisingly the 5MP images at 3200 and 6400 weren’t too terrible, but nothing you’d be really happy with unless it was a small print. Bottom line: point-and-shoot cameras have difficulty with digital noise and I’d recommend not going beyond 400 with this model (lower is better, of course).
One day when I took the camera outside, it was a moody, foggy morning and here the S8100fd did an excellent job capturing this feeling. This 10-megapixel photo was a beauty with nice detail and accurate colors. I used the B&W and F-Chrome settings for a monochrome and a more vivid take on the day. These were really good as well as were a variety of shots taken in Program AE while adjusting the white balance for the setting (daylight, tungsten and so on).
Fujifilm’s Face Detection with Red-eye Removal is in the top tier of systems designed for taking people pictures. You’ll definitely be happy with the results and the wide angle lets you take fine family group portraits.
There are those words again—trade-off. The FinePix S8100fd has a lot of things going for it including a price below $400 USD. However, it’s not a D-SLR in terms of response and image quality. Yes, you do get the convenience of the mega zoom and this is nothing to dismiss—especially if you’re planning a vacation and don’t want to lug around a camera bag filled with lenses during your travels (not many people do). The S8100fd takes excellent shots—especially when there’s enough light but it is slow at full resolution. If static shots are your game, the S8100fd will do a fine job. If sports are high on your list, definitely aim higher but be prepared to spend some of that big bankroll.
• Excellent photos in good light
• Extremely versatile
• Sophisticated features but easy to use
• Too noisy above ISO 400
• Slow saving multiple files
• LCD should be better