The Fuji FinePix S9000 ($699) is a full-featured, high resolution ultra zoom 9 Megapixel camera. The S9000 (also known as the S9500) uses Fuji's 5th generation SuperCCD sensor, with the most noticeable change since the previous generation sensor being the lack of an interpolated mode. The sensor is nine Megapixel and so are the resulting images. (For the technically included, the sensor still does interpolate to a higher resolution before downsizing to your selected size.)
The S9000 uses Fuji's Real Photo Technology which allows for lower noise at high ISOs than comparable cameras, fast performance, and good battery life. Fuji says that the camera's good high ISO performance allows the S9000 to take sharp pictures without the need for image stabilization (we'll see how well it performs in a bit).
The other big feature on the S9000 is its 10.7X zoom lens. While most ultra zoom lenses are 38 - 380 mm (or similar), the S9000's lens starts at 28 mm for some good wide-angle action.
There's much more to talk about, so let's just move into the review now.
What's in the Box?
The FinePix S9000 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 9.0 effective Megapixel FinePix S9000 camera
- 16MB xD Picture Card
- Four AA alkaline batteries
- Lens cap w/retaining strap
- Lens hood
- Shoulder strap
- A/V cable
- USB cable
- CD-ROM featuring FinePix CX software
- 143 page camera manual (printed)
The S9000 comes with a tiny 16MB xD Picture Card, which holds just three photos at the highest quality setting. That makes a larger memory card a requirement, and I'd suggest 512MB or even 1GB as good starter sizes. One of the nice features of the S9000 is its dual memory card slots, support both xD and CompactFlash cards. The CF slot supports Type II cards, including the Microdrive. Since CompactFlash cards are cheaper and generally faster than xD cards, I'd recommend sticking with those. The S9000 takes advantage of high speed CompactFlash cards, and probably the "M-type" fast xD cards as well.
Something else you're going to be needing are some rechargeable batteries and a charger, since the camera doesn't come with either (kind of disappointing given the price of the camera). Instead you'll get four alkaline AAs, which will die after about 140 photos. For better battery life pick up two sets of NiMH batteries, 2300 mAh or better. Here's how the S9000 compares to some other cameras in its class when you've got good batteries in it:
||Battery life, LCD on
|Canon Digital Rebel XT
|Canon PowerShot Pro1
|Canon PowerShot S2 IS
||2300 mAh NIMH
|Fuji FinePix S9000
||2500 mAh NiMH AA
|Kodak EasyShare P880
|Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200
|Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D
|Nikon Coolpix 8800
|Olympus EVOLT E-500
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30
|Samsung Digimax Pro815
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1
||2100 mAh NIMH
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1
|* Number not obtained using the CIPA battery life standard
With the most powerful NiMH batteries installed the S9000 performs pretty well, though not quite as good as the D-SLRs.
I am a big fan of cameras that use AA batteries. For one, NiMH batteries cost way less than their proprietary counterparts. Second, if your rechargeables die you can always buy some alkalines to get you through the day.
The S9000 includes a lens cap and retaining strap to protect that huge piece of glass.
Also included is a plastic lens hood, which comes in handy when you're shooting in bright outdoor light.
Fuji doesn't offer many accessories available for the S9000. There's an AC adapter (around $35), a soft case, and that's about it (aside from memory cards and card readers, of course). I was surprised to see that Fuji doesn't offer any lens accessories for the camera. Since the lens is threaded for 58 mm attachments you can try adding third party filters (and maybe conversion lenses).
FinePixViewer 3.3 for Mac
Fuji includes their FinePixViewer software with the S9000 (version 5.1 for Windows, 3.3 for Mac). This software does very basic things, like image viewing, rotating, resizing, and e-mailing. There are no editing functions, so you'll want to pick up Photoshop Elements or similar for that.
The bundled ImageMixer VCD2 software lets you create Video CDs of your photos. If you shell out $50 it can also burn to DVD discs.
The last picture of software included with the camera is the Raw File Converter LE. This does one thing and one thing only: it converts RAW images to TIFF format. You can't edit any RAW properties and you can't convert to JPEG either. Fuji's Hyper-Utility software apparently can do this, but I can't seem to find it available for purchase anywhere. Adobe's Photoshop CS2 does not support the S9000's RAW files at this point.
So why all the hubbub about RAW images? I'll explain. RAW images contain unprocessed image data straight from the CCD. Since the data isn't processed on the camera you must do it yourself on your computer to get it into more usable formats like TIFF or JPEG. Ideally you'd have software that not only changes the format but also lets you adjust the various properties of the image like white balance, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction, but as I said, the Raw Image Converter doesn't do any of that. If this sounds familiar it's because Panasonic did the exact same thing with their DMC-FZ30 ultra zoom camera.
The manual included with the S9000 is just fair. The information you're looking for is all there, but it's not terribly user friendly when you're actually reading it.
Look and Feel
The FinePix S9000 looks just like a digital SLR, and a lot of people will probably think that it is one. But looks are deceiving: the lens is fixed, and the build quality isn't quite as good as most D-SLRs. Even so, the S9000 is well put together for a fixed-lens camera, and it should hold up well over time.
The camera is very easy to hold, with a substantial right hand grip and plenty of room around the lens for your left hand. The important controls are well placed, though there's a bit of "button clutter" on the various sides of the S9000.
Now let's see how the S9000 compares with the competition in terms of size and weight. I left out the D-SLRs in this table since their size will depend on your choice of lens.
||Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
|Canon PowerShot S2 IS
||4.4 x 3.1 x 3.0 in.
||40.9 cu in.
|Canon PowerShot Pro1
||4.6 x 2.8 x 3.6 in.
||46.4 cu in.
|Fuji FinePix S9000
||5.0 x 3.7 x 5.1 in.
||94.4 cu in.
|Kodak EasyShare P880
||4.5 x 3.1 x 2.4 in.
||33.5 cu in.
|Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200
||4.5 x 3.2 x 4.5 in.
||64.8 cu in.
|Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z6
||4.3 x 3.1 x 3.3 in.
||44.0 cu in.
|Nikon Coolpix 8800
||4.6 x 3.3 x 4.8 in.
||72.9 cu in.
||4.9 x 3.3 x 3.9 in.
||63.1 cu in.
|Olympus SP-500 Ultra Zoom
||4.2 x 2.9 x 2.8 in.
||34.1 cu in.
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30
||5.5 x 3.4 x 5.4 in.
||100.1 cu in.
|Samsung Digimax Pro815
||5.2 x 3.4 x 2.1 in.
||37.1 cu in.
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1
||4.3 x 3.3 x 3.1 in
||44.0 cu in.
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1
||5.5 x 3.9 x 6.3 in.
||135.1 cu in.
While its weight is pretty average, the S9000 is a pretty bulky camera, though not as bad as the FZ30 or DSC-R1. It's certainly not a pocket camera!
Let's move on to our tour of the camera now.
The FinePix S9000 has an impressive 10.7X optical zoom lens. Where most ultra zooms start at 36 or even 38 mm, the S9000's lens starts at 28 mm, so you get wide-angle capability without the need for conversion lenses. The exact focal range of the lens is 6.2 - 66.7 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 300 mm. The lens is threaded for 58 mm filters.
The lens isn't quite as "fast" (in terms of aperture) as some of the competition, though: the maximum aperture is F2.8 - F4.9. The Canon PowerShot S2 (F2.7-3.5), Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 (F2.8-3.7), and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1 (F2.8-3.7) all have faster lenses. What this means in real world is that near the telephoto end of the lens those other lenses let in more light, which allows for faster shutter speeds, and thus less camera shake.
One thing you won't find on the S9000 is an optical image stabilization system. Instead, Fuji is relying on their Real Photo Technology (which boosts the ISO sensitivity and therefore the shutter speed) to keep images sharp. We'll see how well it works later in the review.
Directly above the lens is the camera's pop-up flash. The flash, which is released manually, has a decent working range of 0.3 - 5.6 m at wide-angle and 0.6 - 3.0 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO). If you need more flash power then you can take advantage of the hot shoe on the top of the camera or the flash sync terminal that's to the lower-left of the lens. Just remove the plastic cover, plug in your flash via a PC sync cable, and you're set.
To the upper-left of the lens are two components of the S9000's autofocus system. The round thing is the AF-assist lamp (which doubles as the self-timer countdown light), while the item to the left is the external AF sensor. The external AF sensor helps the camera focus quickly in all situations, and when it's dark the AF-assist lamp kicks in for some additional help.
The S9000 has a 1.8" LCD that can be pulled away from the body and then tilted up to 90 degrees. While I prefer LCDs that flip to the side, you can still use this one to shoot over people in front of you, or take "ground level" shots of your kids and pets.
Here's a direct look at the back of the camera, with the LCD in a more "traditional" position. The screen itself is of good quality, with 118,000 pixels and adequate brightness. You can choose between 30 and 60 frame/second refresh rates, as well (Fuji says that the screen resolution drops a bit at the 60 fps setting). Low light visibility is excellent on the LCD.
Directly above the LCD is the aforementioned electronic viewfinder, or EVF. The EVF is like a small LCD that you view as if it was an optical viewfinder. Unfortunately, even the best EVF is inferior to a real optical viewfinder. The EVF on the S9000 is very good (though the Minolta DiMAGE A2's is still unmatched), and it offers the same choice of refresh rates as the main LCD. A diopter correction knob (to the left of the eyecup) lets you adjust the focus on the screen. As was the case with the LCD, the EVF "gains up" automatically in low light so you can still see your subject. Nice!
To the right of the EVF is dial for setting the metering mode (multi, spot, or average) with the AE lock button in the center of it. To the lower-right of that you'll find buttons for switching between the LCD and EVF as well as for the Focus Check feature. Focus Check enlarges the center of the frame (in manual and center-spot focus modes only) so you can make sure that your subject is properly focused.
The "F button" to the right of the LCD opens the Photo Mode menu, which has the following options:
- Image quality (see chart later in review)
- ISO (Auto, 80/100/200/400/800/1600) - much more on this later
- FinePix Color (Standard, chrome, black and white) - chrome is high saturation and contrast
To the lower-right of the "F button" you'll find the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation. To the lower-left of that is the Display/Back button, which is used to toggle the information shown on the LCD or EVF. It's also used to "back out" of menus.
The first thing to see on the top of the S9000 is its hot shoe. You can use any flash with the camera, as long as the flash wasn't designed specifically for a certain camera. Since there's no TTL flash control on the S9000 you will need to manually set up your flash. The camera can sync as fast as 1/1000 sec with the flash. Another way to attach an external flash is to use the flash sync port on the front of the camera.
To the right of the hot shoe is the mode dial, which has the following options:
||Fully automatic, many menu options locked up.
||Still automatic but with full menu access; a Program Shift features lets you use the command dial to choose from several aperture/shutter speed combos available
|Shutter priority mode
||You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the right aperture; choose from a range of 4 - 1/4000 sec; do note that 1/4000 sec is only available at the wide-angle position
|Aperture priority mode
||You select the aperture and the camera uses the proper shutter speed; aperture range is F2.8 - F8
|Full manual (M) mode
||You can choose both the aperture and the shutter speed; shutter speed range expands to 30 - 1/4000 sec while the aperture range is the same as before; a bulb mode allows you to keep the shutter open for as long as the shutter release button is pressed (30 sec max)
||More on this later
As you can see, the S9000 has full manual controls. I don't like how the full shutter speed range is only available in M mode -- I've knocked Olympus for this as well.
Fuji's Real Photo Technology (specifically the RP Image Processor) comes into play when you select the natural light and anti-blur features. Natural light mode allows you to take sharp photos in situations where you don't want the flash to wash everything out. The camera does this by boosting the ISO sensitivity as high as 800 so the shutter speed is fast enough to take a sharp photo. The Anti-blur mode is similar, but here the camera is trying to keep the shutter speed a lot higher (remember the 1/focal length rule for sharp telephoto photos?) by boosting the ISO as high as 800.
So how well do these features work? Well, that really depends on the situation. I'll start with Natural Light mode. Pretend you want to take a picture of some flowers you bought, and the lighting in the room isn't good enough for a handheld shot without the flash (at the lowest ISO setting, of course). So you use the flash and get something like this:
As you can see, the light only hits the flowers leaving the background dark. In addition the flowers look more washed out than they are in reality. Now let's take the same shot using Natural Light mode:
As you can see, Natural Light mode produced a much better photo, with vivid colors and a bright background. It did this by cranking the ISO up to 800, which allowed for a shutter speed that was fast enough to take a sharp photo. On most fixed-lens cameras ISO 800 would be a noisy mess, but on the S9000 is still quite usable, depending on what you plan to do with it. I took the above photo (as well as some other test shots I created) and printed it out at 8.5 x 11 inches, and to be honest, I probably wouldn't want it on my wall -- it's just a too noisy and too much detail has been lost. At 4 x 6 inches (the most common print size in the U.S.) the noise is not noticeable and the print quality is very good.
Bottom line for Natural Light mode: it works as promised, but don't expect to be making large size prints when the ISO really gets up there.
Now let's talk about the Anti-blur mode, which works in much the same was as natural light mode, except that 1) the camera will use the flash if it's popped up and 2) it won't let the shutter speeds go as low. Anti-blur mode is Fuji's answer to image stabilization, something which comes in VERY handy, especially on ultra zoom cameras. Where cameras with IS are able to counter the effects of "camera shake" by moving a lens element, the S9000 just boosts the ISO to get a faster shutter speed. Let's see some examples now:
I took this photo at the full telephoto end of the lens -- that's 300 mm -- and things aren't terribly sharp. No, it's not a focusing problem -- the shot is blurry because of the minute movements of my hands as I'm holding the camera. An image stabilized camera would probably do okay here since it can counter for this kind of motion. Since the S9000 doesn't have IS, let's try the Anti-blur feature instead:
Now that's a whole lot better! The S9000 merely raised the ISO from 80 to 100 to get a shutter speed that was fast enough for a sharp photo (it went from 1/ 250 to 1/500 sec). Since noise levels are still relatively low at ISO 100 this photo will print nicely at 8.5 x 11.
The Anti-blur feature isn't just useful at the telephoto end of the lens -- it can also come in handy at wide-angle as well. Here's another example:
Normal shooting (I love vitaminwater!)
These photos were taken at around the 2X zoom setting. The shot on the left that a shutter speed that was too slow for a sharp picture (1/20 sec) while the shot taken with Anti-blur mode had a shutter speed of 1/240 sec. Now, to get that shutter speed the camera had to go up to ISO 800, which results in the same too-noisy-for-big-print issue that I just raised. You could've manually selected a more modest ISO yourself (200 or 400 would've worked fine) to get a less noisy image.
Bottom line for Anti-blur mode: Yes, it works, but resulting images will be noisy if the ISO is at 400 or 800. A camera with true image stabilization would be able to accomplish these examples without having to raise the ISO. Remember that IS cannot work miracles, and there will be situations in which it will do nothing.
Okay, enough about that, let's continue with our tour, shall we?
Just to the right of the mode dial is the command dial, which is what you'll use for selecting manual controls. It's also used to choose things like flash setting and exposure compensation when their respective buttons are held down.
Speaking of buttons, above the command dial are these three buttons:
- Continuous shooting (Off, top 4, AE bracketing, final 4, long-period) - see below
- Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
- Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, slow synchro, slow synchro w/redeye reduction)
There are several continuous shooting modes available on the S9000. The "top 4" option will take four shots in a row at 1.6 frames/second. The "final 4" option will keep shooting at the same frame rate (for up to 40 photos) and the camera will save the last four images taken before you took your finger off the shutter release. The LCD/EVF keep up with the shooting so following a moving subject is no problem. Do note that the RAW image format cannot be used with any of those continuous modes, and that the camera will be locked up for upward of 10 seconds while the images are saved to the memory card (and that's with a fast card, too).
The "long period" option is only available in the automatic shooting modes, and the camera focuses before each shot is taken (unlike the other two modes). In this mode the camera will take up to 40 shots in a row at 0.8 frames/second.
The other continuous shooting mode is exposure bracketing. In this mode the camera will take three shots in a row, each with a different exposure. You can select from exposure intervals of ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV, or ±1EV. You cannot shoot in RAW mode here either.
The last thing to see on the top of the camera is the shutter release button, which has the power switch wrapped around it.
There's even more to see on this side of the S9000. I'll start by talking about the manual zoom and focus rings around the lens barrel. Both of things rings make you feel like you're using a digital SLR instead of a fixed-lens camera. The zoom ring has markings on it so you know what focal length you're using. It is mechanically linked to the lens so when you turn the ring you're moving the lens elements. The focus ring, on the other hand, is electronic: it tells the camera to move the lens elements, and it works quite well.
At the top-center of the photo you'll find the release for the pop-up flash. To the right of that is the camera's speaker.
Just to the right of the "10.7X optical zoom" able are two more buttons and the focus switch. The buttons are Info (shows shooting data on the LCD/EVF) and macro (more on this later).
Manual focus w/focus check on
The focus switch moves the camera between continuous autofocus (where the camera is always trying to focus) to single AF (where the camera focuses when the shutter release is halfway pressed) to manual focus. In manual focus mode you'll use that nice focus ring around the lens to set the focus distance. I was disappointed to see that there's no indication of the current focus distance on the LCD or EVF. By pressing the Focus Check button you can have the center of the frame enlarged. If you need a little help getting things focused you can press the button in the middle of the focus switch to have the autofocus kick in temporarily.
The last things to be found on this side of the S9000 are the I/O ports, which are kept under a rubber cover. They include USB, A/V out, and DC-in (for optional AC adapter). The camera supports the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol for fast image transfer to your Mac or PC.
On the other side of the camera you'll find the dual memory card slots. As I said at the start of the review, the S9000 supports both xD and CompactFlash cards. This is a Type II CF slot, so the Microdrive is supported. Do note that Microdrives put an extra strain on the batteries, and I personally have not had good experiences with them. The memory card slots are protected by a plastic door of average quality.
It's worth pointing out that the lens is at the full telephoto position in this photo.
On the bottom of the S9000 you'll find a metal tripod mount (which is inline with the lens) and the battery compartment. As you can see, the camera uses four AA batteries for power. The door covering the battery compartment is of decent quality.
Using the Fuji FinePix S9000
Since it has no lens to extend, it's not too surprising that the FinePix S9000 starts up quickly. It takes just 0.8 seconds for the camera to get ready to start shooting!
|The FinePix S9000 offers a traditional shot preview (including a histogram) as well as a unique view that shows the current shot as well as the three previous photos you took.
Thanks to its external AF sensor the S9000 focuses quickly, typically taking between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds to lock focus, and longer at the telephoto end of the lens. Turning on the "high speed shooting" option in the record menu will speed things up a bit, though do note that the focus range shrinks a bit. Low light focusing was good, thanks to the S9000's AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag was not an issue, even at slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.
Shot-to-shot speed is excellent when you're shooting in the JPEG format -- you can take another shot in about a second. Things are much slower when you're shooting in RAW mode, with a delay of eight seconds before you can take the next picture (and that's with a high speed CF card). Also, there's no way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you must enter playback mode first.
Now, let's take a look at the resolution and quality choices available on this camera.
||Approx. file size
||# images on 16MB xD card
|# images on 512MB xD card
3488 x 2616
3696 x 2464
2592 x 1944
2048 x 1536
1600 x 1200
640 x 480
See why you need a larger memory card?
As I said at the beginning of the review, the 5th generation SuperCCD HR sensor on the S9000 does not offer an interpolated resolution option. The camera still takes the 9 Megapixels worth of data and interpolates it up to 18MP (it has to due to the design of the sensor), but then it brings it back down to 9MP again. This is, in my opinion, a good thing.
I already covered the RAW image format and why it's cool earlier in the review. One thing I don't like about the RAW implementation on the S9000 (beside the lack of decent processing software) is how the option is buried in the setup menu. It's almost like they don't want you to use it...
The camera names files as DSCF####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the numbering even if you erase the memory card.
The FinePix S9000 uses the same "new" menu system as the FinePix F10, and I really don't care for it. I guess I'm not a fan of those little icons... Anyhow, here's the full list of menu items on the camera:
- Self-timer (Off, 2 sec, 10 sec)
- White balance (Auto, custom 1/2, sunlight, shade, daylight fluorescent, warm white fluorescent, cool white fluorescent, incandescent) - see below
- High speed shooting (on/off) - reduces focusing times by not focusing on close objects
- AF mode (Center, multi, area) - see below
- Flash brightness (-2/3EV to +2/3EV in 1/3EV increments)
- Setup - enters the setup menu described below
- Sharpness (Soft, standard, hard)
- Saturation (Low, standard, high)
- Contrast (Soft, standard, hard)
- Bracketing step (±1/3EV, ±2/3EV, ±1EV)
- Multiple exposure (on/off) - lets you overlay one image on top of another
- External flash (on/off)
The S9000's custom white balance feature lets you use a white or gray card as a reference to get perfect color under any lighting. You can store your two favorite custom WB settings for retrieval at any time.
The center AF mode always focuses on the center of the frame, while the multi AF option automatically picks an area in the frame on which to focus. If you want to do this yourself, turn on the area AF mode. This lets you manually select one of 49 focus points using the four-way controller.
And now here's that setup menu that I promised:
- Image display (Off, 1.5, 3 secs, continuous) - post-shot review
- Shutter volume (Off, 1-3)
- Beep volume (Off, 1-3)
- Playback volume
- Frame numbering (Continuous, renew)
- LCD/EVF brightness
- Media (xD, CF) - choose which memory card slot is used when both are full
- EVF/LCD mode (30, 60 frames/second)
- AE Lock mode (AE-L1, AE-L2)
- AF illuminator (on/off)
- Auto power off (Off, 2, 5 mins)
- Date/time (set)
- Time difference (set)
- Language (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean)
- Background color (Blue, purple, pink, orange, green, black) - choose the menu background color
- USB mode (DSC, PictBridge)
- Video system (NTSC, PAL)
- Discharge - discharges NiMH batteries
Those should be self-explanatory so let's move on to the test photos now!
The FinePix S9000 did an excellent job with our macro test subject. Colors look good and the subject has a very "smooth" look to it. The S9000's custom white balance feature made shooting with my quartz studio lamps a piece of cake.
There are two macro modes on the camera: regular and super. In regular macro mode you can get as close to your subject as 10 cm at wide-angle and 90 cm at telephoto -- not bad. If you want to get really close then turn on super macro mode. This lowers the minimum focus distance to just 1 cm. Do note that the lens must be at the wide-angle position in super macro mode.
The S9000 did a pretty nice job with our night test shot, though it's softer than I would've liked. The camera took in plenty of light thanks to its full manual control over shutter speed (though you may need to use M mode to get the shutter speed you want), and noise levels were low. Purple fringing was not a problem at all in this shot.
Since Fuji is talking up the S9000's high ISO shooting abilities I have two ISO sets for you in this review. The first is the usual night shot ISO test, using the same scene you see above.
The S9000 performs quite well through ISO 200. Details start to get a little blotchy at ISO 400, but this is still way better than what other fixed-lens cameras would look like at this point. At ISO 800 and 1600 details are getting destroyed and your output options become limited. I'm not sure what you could do with that ISO 1600 shot.
For my second ISO test I brought out the test scene that I created last year (apparently putting chocolates in a hot garage isn't such a good idea after all). Anyhow, below are crops from that test scene at each ISO. Click the link to see the full size ones.
Since these exposures aren't as long as the night shots, the noise levels are lower, and the images are more usable at high ISOs. I think you can make large prints (meaning 8 x 10 or so) up through ISO 400 without any worries about quality. At ISO 800 and especially 1600 you're going to be limited to downsizing them for web viewing or printing them at 4 x 6.
What a nice surprise -- there's no redeye at all on the S9000. Great!
There's very mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the S9000's big lens. The distortion chart also showed a bit of blurriness in the corners of the frame, and this was a minor issue in some of my real world photos as well.
Overall the FinePix S9000's image quality is very good. Photos were well-exposed with accurate color. Purple fringing did pop up occasionally but it's not too bad for an ultra zoom camera. Images are a bit softer than I'd like, but I think given the already above average noise levels on the camera that it's probably better that Fuji kept things where they did.
And speaking of noise: the S9000 is quite similar to the other ultra high resolution ultra zoom out there -- the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 -- in that noise levels are above average. There's always a noticeable grain to images, even at ISO 80. That doesn't really matter unless you're viewing images at 100% screen or making huge (like 11 x 17) prints.
The S9000 and FZ30 diverge when you start increasing the ISO. Where the FZ30 gets bad quickly, the S9000 is able to still produce usable shots up to ISO 400. Above that your output options become limited, with 4 x 6 inch prints being the largest size I found acceptable for photos taken at ISO 800 and 1600. Even with this limitation, you won't be able to pull this off with any other ultra zoom camera on the market. The S9000's high ISO shooting abilities aren't close to a digital SLR (some of which are in the same price range), but they're substantially better than the average fixed-lens camera.
Ultimately you'll need to decide if the FinePix S9000 quality meets your expectations. Have a look at our photo gallery and see what you think! Be sure to print the photos as if they were your own, too -- evaluate the photo quality in the way in which you'd use them!
The FinePix S9000 has an excellent movie mode. You can record movies at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with sound until the memory card is full. That doesn't take very long with the included 16MB card -- it holds just 13 seconds of video. If you buy a 1GB memory card you'll be able to take around 15 minutes of continuous video.
[Paragraph updated 12/20/05]
For longer movies you can cut the resolution in half to 320 x 240 (the frame rate remains at 30 fps). This essentially doubles recording time.
Since the zoom lens is manually operated you can zoom all you want during filming.
Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.
I got more than I bargained for when I took this sample movie for you:
Click to play movie (12.3 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
Playback mode on the S9000 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 5.8x times, depending on the resolution of the photo, and then move around in the zoomed-in area. I found this feature to be on the slow side.
Other features include in-camera image rotation and trimming (cropping).
The S9000 also offers a handy calendar view of your photos.
By default the S9000 shows you very basic information about your photo. But, by pressing the Info button on the side of the camera you'll get a lot more, including a histogram.
Moving between photos is very slow on the S9000. It takes nearly 2.5 seconds to go from one photo to the next, which is pretty lousy for a high-end camera.
How Does it Compare?
The Fuji FinePix S9000 is a camera that finds itself in a difficult position. It's an ultra zoom camera without optical image stabilization, and it's priced very close to the entry-level digital SLRs. In other words, Fuji had their work cut out for them. In most respects, the S9000 turned out quite well, though it's not a substitute for a digital SLR. Rather, it's a competent ultra zoom camera with a few things that other cameras in this class don't offer. At the same time, the S9000 has some room for improvement.
The S9000 is a large, SLR-like camera that fits nicely in your hands. The camera has a metal frame under a plastic shell and it feels very solid for the most part. Two things I really like about the camera are the manual zoom and focus rings, which are way better than what many other cameras offer. The camera features a 1.8" LCD display that can be pulled away from the body and tilted up or down. Its electronic viewfinder is very good, and perhaps more useful than the main LCD in certain situations. Both the LCD and EVF are very usable in low light conditions. The S9000 features two memory card slots: one for xD, the other for CompactFlash. As far as expandability goes, the S9000 offers both a hot shoe and a flash sync port so your external flash needs are covered. While the lens is threaded for 58 mm accessories, Fuji doesn't seem to offer any of them.
The FinePix S9000 is loaded with features, though it doesn't have some of the nice features from other fixed-lens and D-SLR cameras like white balance fine tuning. What you will find is a camera with full manual exposure control, manual focus, and custom white balance. While shutter speeds of up to 30 seconds are available, you'll be limited to 4 seconds in all modes except "M". The manual focus feature works nicely with the focus ring and Focus Check feature, but there's no guide on the LCD/EVF showing the current focus distance. The heavily marketed Natural Light and Anti-blur features do perform well, though they limit your output options to smaller print sizes once the ISO starts getting up there. A camera with image stabilization will usually produce images with less noise than the S9000 since they won't need to increase the ISO sensitivity to compensate for camera shake. The S9000 also has an excellent movie mode, with the ability to record VGA-sized video at 30 frames/second (with sound) until the memory card is full. Since the zoom is operated manually you can zoom while filming until your hands fall off.
Camera performance is a mixed bag on the S9000. On the one hand, the camera starts up very quickly, focus times are short, and low light performance is excellent. The camera has minimal shutter lag and shot-to-shot delays are brief when shooting in JPEG mode. However, there are some areas in which the S9000 is dog slow. If you're shooting in RAW mode (which is too much of a pain to turn on, might I add) results in 8 second delays between shots, and you can't use it in continuous shooting mode either (typically only D-SLRs can pull this off). If you take photos in continuous mode you should be prepared for a 10 second wait while the images (just four of them) are saved to the memory card. I found image playback to be quite slow, as well.
Photo quality is pretty good on the FinePix, though I find images taken with similarly priced D-SLRs to be a lot better. The S9000 takes well exposed photos, with accurate color and reasonable purple fringing levels for an ultra zoom. Redeye was not a problem at all. Noise levels are above average on the camera (just like they are on the Panasonic FZ30) which isn't surprising considering the number of pixels on the S9000's small SuperCCD sensor. As you increase the ISO sensitivity the noise levels go up even more, but you'll get much better results on the S9000 than you will on any other camera, save for the Sony DSC-R1 or a digital SLR. If you're printing at 4 x 6 inches then noise levels will be tolerable. If you want to print 8 x 10's at ISO 800 then you probably should be looking at another camera.
There are a few other negatives that I should mention. First, the S9000's RAW image support is pretty lousy, especially in the software department. The included RAW File Converter does just one thing: it converts RAW images to TIFF format. It doesn't let you edit any of the RAW properties that make the format compelling in the first place. At this point the best thing you can do is wait for Adobe to support it in their Camera Raw plug-in. My last complaints are with regard to the bundle. The included 16MB xD card is really inexcusable for a 9 Megapixel camera, so be prepared to spend at least $60 for a decent-sized memory card. And finally, it would've been nice if Fuji had included rechargeable batteries with their $700 camera.
Overall, I do recommend the FinePix S9000 as a capable ultra zoom digital camera. It's not a substitute for a digital SLR, as those take better pictures and are more responsive. It is an interesting alternative to things like the Canon PowerShot S2, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30, and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1, though it's missing the very useful image stabilizer that all three of those offer. While the S9000 can stabilize things by boosting the ISO sensitivity, this limits your output options to smaller prints in many situations. Since all four of these cameras are good performers, I'd recommend trying them in person to see which one you like using -- since that's what ultimately matters.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
- Good high ISO performance for a non-SLR camera
- Nice focal range for an ultra zoom, 28 - 300 mm
- Solid, SLR-style body with manual zoom/focus rings
- Full manual controls
- Fast startup, focusing, shot-to-shot speeds (assuming you're not using RAW mode)
- LCD/EVF usable in low light
- AF-assist lamp, good low light focusing
- Hot shoe and flash sync port for external flash
- Useful Natural Light, Anti-blur modes (though see issues below)
- No redeye
- Good macro mode for an ultra zoom
- Dual memory card slots
- Excellent movie mode; zoom lens can be used during filming
- Very good battery life
- USB 2.0 High Speed support
What I didn't care for:
- While better than fixed lens cameras, images are noisier than similarly priced D-SLRs
- Anti-blur mode works at stabilizing images, but increased noise limits output options; optical image stabilizers are better for this
- Sluggish performance in some areas: RAW recording, continuous shooting write times, playback mode
- Camera offers RAW mode but no software to do anything with it; RAW option is buried in setup menu
- No focus distance shown on LCD/EVF in manual focus mode
- Full shutter speed range only available in M mode
- Body suffers from "button clutter"
- Tiny memory card, no rechargeable batteries included
Some other high resolution ultra zooms to consider include the Canon PowerShot Pro1 and S2, Kodak EasyShare P850, Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200 and Z6, Nikon Coolpix 8800, Olympus SP-500UZ, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30, Samsung Digimax Pro815, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1 and DSC-R1 (only a 5X zoom). You should also take a look at these entry-level digital SLRs: Canon Digital Rebel XT, Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D, Nikon D50, Olympus EVOLT E-500, and the Pentax *ist DS2.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the FinePix S9000 and it's competitors before you buy!
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