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DCRP Review: Fuji FinePix S5100


by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: October 29, 2004
Last Updated: January 4, 2012

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The FinePix S5100 ($399) is an updated version of Fuji's popular S5000 ultra zoom camera. The biggest change here is that Fuji has left the SuperCCD sensor behind in exchange for a traditional 4 Megapixel CCD. Other features on the S5100 include a 10X zoom lens, full manual controls, an AF-assist lamp, and support for conversion lenses.

There are a ton of ultra zoom cameras on the market. How does the SLR-like S5100 compare? Find out now in our review!

Before we go on I should point out that the S5100 is known as the S5500 in some countries. Okay, on with the show!

What's in the Box?

The FinePix S5100 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 4.0 effective Megapixel FinePix S5100 camera
  • 16MB xD Picture Card
  • Four AA alkaline batteries
  • Lens adapter ring
  • Lens cap w/retaining strap
  • Shoulder strap
  • A/V cable
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROM featuring FinePix AX software
  • 119 page camera manual (printed)

Fuji includes a 16MB xD card with the camera, which won't hold too many 4 Megapixel photos at the highest quality setting. So you should plan on buying a larger card right away. xD cards are currently available as large as 1GB, and I think 128MB is a good starter size for most people. Be warned that xD cards tend to be more expensive than CompactFlash and SD cards.

Something else you'll need to buy is a set or two of NIMH rechargeable batteries, as Fuji includes throwaway alkalines in the box. For best results, get batteries rated at 2100 mAh or higher -- and don't forget a charger, too. Battery life on the S5100 is excellent. You can take 400 photos per charge using 2300 mAh rechargeables (using the CIPA standard), which is well above average for an ultra zoom camera.

I'm a big fan of cameras that use AA batteries. Rechargeables like those included with the S5100 cost much less than their proprietary counterparts, and you can use alkaline batteries to get you through the day when your rechargeables run out of juice.

The FinePix S5100 includes a lens cap (and retaining strap) so your 10X lens is well protected.

Something else that's included is the AR-FX7 lens adapter ring. This lets you use conversion lenses (mentioned below) as well as any commercially-available 55mm filter.

Now let's talk accessories. Like its predecessor, the S5100 supports wide and telephoto conversion lenses. The WL-FX9B wide-angle lens ($139) lowers the focal range by 0.79X, bringing it down to 29 mm. If the 10X zoom on the S5100 isn't enough for you, then consider the TL-FX9B teleconverter ($145), which boosts the top end by 1.5X to a whopping 555 mm.

Other accessories include an AC adapter ($39) and a soft case ($36).

FinePixViewer for Mac

Fuji includes their FinePixViewer software with the S5100. The version numbers are 4.2 for Windows and 3.3 Mac OS 9 and OS X. Even with the differing version numbers, the software acts about the same on each platform. FinePixViewer is for basic image organizing and editing, and is no substitute for something like Photoshop Elements.

RAW File Converter LE for Mac

Also included is the RAW File Converter LE software, which converts images from RAW to TIFF format. JPEG conversion is, unfortunately, not an option, adding another step to your workflow. More on why RAW is nice later in the review.

Two other software notes: ImageMixer VCD2 for Mac is included, which lets you turn your photos into a VCD slideshow. Drivers are also included that allow Windows XP users to also use the S5100 as a webcam for videoconferencing.

The S5100's manual is typical of those included with most digital cameras. It's complete, but finding what you're looking for may be difficult. There's lots of small print as well.

Look and Feel

Like the S5000 before it, the FinePix S5100 is designed to look like a mini-SLR. And it does. It's not built as well as the real thing, but the plastic body does feel pretty solid. (In retrospect I think my comments about the S5000's build quality were a little harsh.) The right hand grip is substantial, making the camera easy to hold. The important controls are all within easy reach of your fingers.

Here's a look at how the S5100 compares in terms of size and weight with the competition:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot S1 IS 4.4 x 3.1 x 2.6 in. 35.5 cu. in. 370 g
Fuji FinePix S5100 4.4 x 3.2 x 3.1 in. 43.6 cu in. 337 g
HP Photosmart 945 4.8 x 3.4 x 3.4 in. 55.5 cu in. 389 g
Kodak EasyShare DX7590 3.9 x 3.2 x 3.2 in. 39.9 cu in. 350 g
Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3 4.3 x 3.1 x 3.3 in. 44.0 cu in. 335 g
Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z10 4.3 x 3.2 x 3.7 in. 50.9 cu in. 300 g
Kyocera Finecam M410R 4.2 x 2.9 x 3.4 in. 41.4 cu in. 309 g
Nikon Coolpix 4800 4.2 x 2.6 x 2.1 in. 22.9 cu in. 255 g
Olympus C-765 Ultra Zoom 4.1 x 2.4 x 2.7 in. 26.6 cu in. 280 g
Olympus C-770 Ultra Zoom 300 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3 4.3 x 2.7 x 3.3 in. 38.3 cu in. 290 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ15 5.0 x 3.4 x 4.2 in. 71.4 cu in. 518 g

As you can see, the S5100 falls right in the middle of the pack. The dimensions and weight are exactly the same as on the S5000.

Enough numbers, let's start our tour of the camera now, beginning with the front.

The S5100 uses the same 10X zoom lens as its predecessor, and quite possibly the Kyocera Finecam M410R as well. This F2.8-3.1 lens has a focal range of 5.7 - 57 mm, which is equivalent to 37 - 370 mm. As I mentioned in the previous section, you can use the included conversion lens adapter to attach additional lenses and filters.

Directly above the lens is the pop-up flash, which has the flash sensor below it. The flash has a hefty working range of 0.3 - 5.0 m at wide-angle and 0.8 - 4.5 m at telephoto. You cannot attach an external flash to the S5100.

To the upper-right of the lens is the microphone, with the self-timer lamp just above that. On the opposite side you'll find the AF-assist lamp, a very helpful feature that helps the camera focus in low light conditions.

On the back of the camera you'll find a 1.5" LCD display, which is on the small side. Fortunately, Fuji didn't skimp on the resolution of the screen, putting 115,000 pixels into the screen. The screen is sharp, bright, and motion is fluid. In low light, it's very hard to see anything, even with the LCD brightness boost feature turned on.

Above the LCD, at the top of the photo, is the S5100's electronic viewfinder. This is like a small LCD that you view as if it was an optical viewfinder. It shows exactly the same thing as the LCD, and there's no parallax error to worry about. Unfortunately EVFs never can recreated the sharpness and clarity of an optical viewfinder, and the skimpy 115k pixel resolution on the EVF doesn't help matters. Low light performance was a little worse than the LCD -- not great at all. There's a diopter correction knob which you can use to focus the image on the screen.

In between the LCD and EVF are two buttons: the "F" button and the EVF/LCD button. The latter toggles between the two screens, while the F button opens this menu:

This is the Photo Mode button, which has the following options:

  • Image quality (see chart later in review) - I always like how the camera tells you how many shots you can take at each resolution
  • ISO (Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400)
  • FinePix color (Standard, chrome, black & white) - "chrome" boosts the contrast and color saturation

To the right of the LCD you'll find two more buttons plus the four-way controller. The top button, display/back, toggles what is shown on the LCD/EVF and also "backs" out of menus. The button with the light bulb on it increases the brightness of the LCD and EVF instantly, though it helps more in bright outdoor light then it does in low light.

The four-way controller is used for menu navigation and can also do these additional functions:

  • Left - Macro (on/off)
  • Right - Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, forced flash, slow synchro, slow synchro w/redeye reduction)

Above all those buttons is the zoom controller. I do wish that these buttons had a little more "play", but that's just a minor quibble. The controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.1 seconds. I counted 11 steps throughout the zoom range.

There are plenty more knobs and buttons to see on top of the camera. As usual I'll work my way from left to right.

The dial on the far left is used for selecting the focus mode. You can chose from autofocus, continuous autofocus (where the camera is constantly trying to focus, thus reducing AF lag), and manual focus. You can avoid accidentally bumping this button by turning the dial around the button to the lock position.

Manual focus

The manual focus feature lets you use the exposure compensation button and the zoom controller to manually adjust the focus distance. Using this feature is frustrating. You have no indication of the current focus distance and there's no "focus check" enlargement feature either, so getting the proper focus is really hit or miss.

Over on the opposite side of the camera you'll find the mode dial, which has the following options:

Option Function
Automatic mode Point-and-shoot mode, many menu options are locked
Program mode Still automatic but with full menu access; a Program Shift feature lets you choose from several aperture/shutter speed combinations
Shutter Priority mode You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a number of speeds ranging from 3 sec - 1/1000 sec.
Aperture Priority mode You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. Aperture range is F2.8 - F9 and it varies depending on the focal length.
Full Manual mode You pick the aperture and shutter speed. Aperture range is the same while the shutter speed range expands to 15 - 1/2000 sec
Movie mode More on this later
Night scene Scene modes. Pick the situation and the camera uses the right settings.

I've grumbled about this before and I'll do it again here. I don't like it when the shutter speed range is crippled in shutter priority mode. I believe people should have access to the full range in this mode (that means 15 seconds, instead of 3, in this case).

Above the mode dial are two more buttons, which do the following:

  • Continuous shooting
    • Top 3 frame - takes 3 shots in a row at 3 frames/second)
    • Auto bracketing - takes 3 shots in a row, each with a different exposure value; you can choose the interval between photos in the menu; choose from ±0.3EV, ±0.6EV, and ±1.0EV
    • Final 3 frame - keeps taking pictures at 3 frames/second (up to 40 pictures); when you release the shutter only the last 3 photos are actually saved to the memory card
    • Long-period continuous - take up to 40 shots in a row at 1.6 frames/second
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)

I like that long-period continuous mode -- very nice! Do note that it's only available in the fully automatic mode. The LCD/EVF pause briefly between shots, which can make following a moving subject a bit of a challenge.

The final item on the top of the camera is the shutter release button, which has another mode dial wrapped around it. The options here are power off, record mode, and playback mode.

Our tour continues with a look at one side of the camera. Fuji has changed the zoom label since the S5000 to something less misleading. On the S5000 it read "22X zoom" (which counts digital zoom... please), and now it says "10X". Thank you, Fuji.

Toward the top of the photo is the release for the pop-up flash. Continuing to the right we find the speaker, I/O ports, and xD memory card slot. The I/O ports are protected by a plastic cover, and include:

  • USB
  • DC-in (for optional AC adapter)
  • A/V out

The xD Picture Card slot is protected by a sturdy plastic door.

Nothing to see here.

We end our tour with a look at the bottom of the S5100. Here you'll find a plastic tripod as well as the battery compartment. As you can see, the camera uses four AA batteries. A sturdy plastic door keeps your batteries in place.

Using the Fuji FinePix S5100

Record Mode

Startup times on the S5100 are about average. It takes 3.6 seconds for the lens to extend and then you're ready to start taking pictures.

No histograms to be found here

Autofocus speeds were also average, with a typical delay of about 0.6 seconds. The AF-assist lamp helped the S5100 focus in low light conditions, and I'd rank it above average (though I've seen better).

Shutter lag was not an issue, even at slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.

Shot-to-shot speed was excellent, with a one second delay between photos, assuming you've turned off the post-shot review feature. Delays in RAW mode aren't too bad -- I was able to take two shots before having to wait for the buffer to empty.

There's no way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken on the S5100.

Now, let's take a look at the resolution and quality choices available on this camera.

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 16MB card
(2272 x 1704)
RAW 8.3 MB 1
Fine 1.9 MB 8
Normal 960 KB 16
(1600 x 1200)
Normal 620 KB 25
(1280 x 960)
Normal 460 KB 33
(640 x 480)
Normal 130 KB 122

Despite being a lower-cost camera, the S5100 supports the RAW image format. It's as close to "original" as you'll get on the S5100. The catch is that you must process the image later on your PC to get in into a more usable format like TIFF or JPEG. The benefits of RAW are clear, though: you can edit things like color and white balance without reducing the quality of the image.

The camera names files as DSCF####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the numbering even if you erase the memory card.

The FinePix S5100 has a nice looking, easy-to-use menu system. Here's a look at what you'll find in the record menu, keeping in mind that many of these options are not available in auto mode:

  • Self-timer (Off, 10 sec, 2 sec)
  • White balance (Auto, custom, sunlight, shade, daylight fluorescent, warm white fluorescent, cool white fluorescent, incandescent) - see below
  • AF mode (Multi, center, area) - see below
  • Photometry [metering] (Multi, spot, average)
  • Option (Setup menu, EVF/LCD brightness)
  • Bracketing (±0.3EV, ±0.7EV, ±1.0EV)
  • Sharpness (Soft, normal, hard)
  • Flash brightness (-2/3EV to +2/3EV, 1/3EV increments)

The S5100's custom white balance feature lets you use a white or gray card as a reference to get perfect color under any lighting.

Now, about those AF modes. AF center always focuses on the center of the frame, while AF multi will pick an area of the frame automatically. AF area lets you choose one of 49 focus points by using the four-way controller.

There's also a setup menu, of course, which is accessed from the record or playback menu. The items here include:

  • Image display (on/off) - post-shot review
  • Power save (Off, 2, 5 min)
  • Format card
  • Frame number (Continuous, renew)
  • Beep (Off, 1-3) - camera operation sounds
  • Shutter (Off, 1-3) - fake shutter sound
  • Date/time (set)
  • Time difference (set) - for setting a different time when you're on the road
  • AF illuminator (on/off)
  • Zoom position (Reset, resume) - whether the lens remembers its previous location when you turn off the camera
  • USB mode (DSC, web, PictBridge) - the second option lets you use the S5100 as a webcam for videoconferencing (Windows only)
  • CCD-RAW (on/off) - turns RAW mode on; why this is buried here is beyond me
  • Language (Japanese, English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Discharge - discharges rechargeable batteries
  • Reset - settings to defaults

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

I didn't get a great macro shot out of the S5100 for some reason. Despite numerous attempts and a lot of fiddling with white balance, I was never really satisfied with the colors. So I ran the image through the "auto color" function in Photoshop CS and got the image on the right, which I think is much more representative of the actual figurine. In addition to the color issue, the subject was really noisy/grainy. All-in-all a disappointing performance for the camera in this area.

You can get as close to your subject as 10 cm at wide-angle and 90 cm at telephoto while in macro mode -- nothing spectacular.

The S5100 fared better in the night shot department. Thanks to the manual shutter speed controls, the camera was able to take in plenty of light. Do remember that to get at the full shutter speed range you must use "M" mode! There's a bit of noise here, but it doesn't really destroy any detail in the image. Purple fringing levels are low.

Now, using that same shot, let's see how the camera performs at higher ISO sensitivities:

ISO 80
View Full Size Image

ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image

ISO 400
View Full Size Image

Things really aren't too bad until ISO 400 where the image detail really goes south.

Just like on the S5000, the FinePix S5100 did a great job in our redeye test. I always get excited when a camera performs well in this test!

There's mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the S5100's 10X lens. There's also noticeable vignetting (dark corners) in the top-left corner, just as there was on the Kyocera M410R, which uses the same lens. This vignetting can be seen in most of the shots in my photo gallery, as well. This is one of those image quality issues that will show up on your prints, even at 4 x 6.

Overall the image quality on the S5100 was good and quite an improvement over the S5000. Images are still a little noisier than I'd like to see, but the noise will disappear if you downsize or print the images at a reasonable size. Color and exposure were both good, and images were fairly sharp. Fuji has done a good job minimizing purple fringing on this ultra zoom camera.

Don't just take my word for it, though. Have a look at our extensive photo gallery and print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide if the S5100's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

The FinePix S5100 has an excellent movie mode -- one of the best to be found on an ultra zoom camera. You can record video at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with sound until the memory card is full. Unfortunately the included 16MB card holds 13 seconds of video, so you'll want a large xD card if you're serious about video (a 512MB card holds about 7.4 minutes worth).

A lower resolution option is also available: 320 x 240 at 30 frames/second.

As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's an exciting sample movie for you, taken at the high quality setting:

Click to play movie (15.6 MB, 640 x 480, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

Playback mode on the S5100 is typical of those on other cameras. Basic features are here, including slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, voice annotations (30 seconds worth), and zoom and scroll. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.

The zoom and scroll feature lets you enlarge your image by up to 14X, depending on the resolution of the photo, and then move around in the zoomed-in area. Once you're zoomed in, you can use the trim feature to crop your images right on the camera.

By default the S5100 doesn't tell you much about your photos. But press the exposure compensation button and you'll get plenty of info, including a histogram.

The camera moves between photos without delay -- it's pretty much instantaneous.

How Does it Compare?

Fuji has made some nice improvements since the S5000, and I now feel comfortable recommending the latest version, the FinePix S5100. The S5100 is a mid-sized, SLR-style (albeit plastic) ultra zoom camera which has a nice selection of manual features and good photo quality (though there are a few issues to note). The S5100 looks like a little digital SLR, though the build quality isn't nearly as nice. Still, it's not bad for a plastic camera. Unlike on some cameras (even metal ones!), Fuji put solid plastic doors over all the slots and compartments on the camera. The S5100 has full manual control over shutter speed, aperture, white balance, and focus, though some of them could be better implemented. The full shutter speed range is only available in full manual mode, which I'm not a fan of. Also, manual focus is basically useless, since you have no idea as to the current focus distance, and there's no "focus check" feature either. Performance on the S5100 is average in most areas and better than average in terms of shutter lag and playback speed. The camera has an AF-assist lamp for help focusing in low light situations. Photo quality was good, though noise levels were higher than I'd like to see and there was noticeable vignetting in nearly every photo I took. Redeye and purple fringing were not problems, to my surprise. The S5100's movie mode is excellent, featuring unlimited recording at 640 x 480, 30 frames/second. The camera supports conversion lenses, as well.

Beside those two image quality issues, I have a few other complaints about the camera. While the brightness boost feature for the LCD and EVF was nice, it didn't help much in low light, as both were still very difficult to use in those situations. On the whole, the small LCD and low resolution EVF weren't as nice as on some other ultra zoom cameras. The bundled included with the S5100 could be a lot better, with alkaline batteries, a tiny memory card, and lackluster software in the box. Lastly, I was puzzled by the S5100's poor performance in our macro test.

Overall I recommend the S5100 as a good, low-cost ultra zoom camera. Do note that it doesn't have an image stabilizer, which comes in handy for those long telephoto shots, but few cameras in this category have that feature at this point.

What I liked:

  • Good photo quality for the most part
  • Stylish, mini-SLR design
  • Full manual controls (though somewhat inflexible)
  • AF-assist lamp
  • Great redeye test performance
  • Excellent movie mode
  • Supports conversion lenses
  • Great battery life
  • RAW image format supported
  • Can be used as a webcam (Windows only)

What I didn't care for:

  • Noticeable vignetting in images
  • Noise levels a little above average
  • Small LCD, low res EVF; both are hard to see in low light
  • Poor macro test performance
  • Manual focus feature poorly implemented
  • Full shutter speed range only available in "M" mode
  • Poor bundle: tiny memory card, no rechargeable batteries, unimpressive software (most notably the RAW converter)

Other low-cost ultra zooms worth looking at include the Canon PowerShot S1 IS (image stabilizer), HP Photosmart 945, Kodak EasyShare DX6490 and DX7590, Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3 (image stabilizer) and Z10, Kyocera Finecam M410R, Nikon Coolpix 4800, Olympus C-765/770 Ultra Zoom, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3 and DMC-FZ15 (both have image stabilizers).

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the FinePix S5100 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see some pictures? Check out the photo gallery!

Want another opinion?

Read another review over at Steve's Digicams.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.