"A Great Long Zoom"4.0 starson by iplawking
Pros: Feel, Operation, Zoom, Light Sensitivity Options
Cons: Highest Light Sensitivity (iso 1600) a Bit Noisy
Summary: Fuji Finepix S9000
The Fuji Finepix S9000 comes in the box with an average bundle, including a small 16 mb XD memory card and four alkaline AA batteries. Keep in mind that you will need to buy a bigger XD card or Compact Flash card (it takes both), but check the Fuji site before getting a Compact Flash card as not all will work. You will need a 256 mb card at the absolute minimum, and preferably 512 mb or 1 gb. You will also need to buy at least one set (and probably two) of four rechargeable NiMH (nickel-metal-hydride) AA batteries and a charger. So factor in the cost of these items when you are deciding whether to buy. With regard to the software, you can use it, but, as with many cameras today (Fuji is not alone), it is limited in terms of editing and managing photos. A great package to consider instead is Adobe Photoshop Elements or the free Picasa download from Google.
Look and Feel
The look and feel of the S9000 is outstanding. It is styled after DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex), just a little smaller and noticeably lighter than models like the Canon Digital Rebel. It fits and feels very nice in your hand. There are a number of dedicated buttons on the body that make changing settings and viewing informtion faster and easier than previous models. The 10.7x optical zoom lens is adjusted manually versus via motor (this is a good thing, as we will see later in the review). This allows for infinite adjustment between minimum and maximum zoom, rather than discrete steps allowed by a motor driven lens. The lens is of good quality, especially given the huge range (28-300 mm equivalent on interchangeable lenses). The body is heavy duty plastic/rubber, and feels quite well constructed. The LCD on the back can be pulled out and up for overhead and above head shots. Though not quite as handy as one that swivels, it is definitely better than a fixed one. The viewfinder is electronic, meaning it is basically a small LCD screen. Both are clear and quite useable, even in lower light (something that could not be said of prior prosumer models from Fuji), and provide near 100% coverage of the scene that will actually end up in the final picture. The flash pops up via manual release, and pops up nice and high, which helps ensure no red eye (red eye happens when the flash is too close to the lens). While not quite as strong as prior models, the flash is more than enough for most situations in terms of how far away it will light. There is also a connection to add an external flash, along with an input to plug in a sync cable for the flash, so that the camera can control the flash. The camera can sync with a flash up to an amazing 1/1000 seconds, which is actually better than most entry level DSLRs! The camera has an external focus assist lamp that uses a green light to help focus in lower light. There is a metal (not plastic) tripod mount that is well placed. Both the battery door and memory card door seem fairly solid (on some cameras, these feel quite flimsy). Overall, a very nice design and kudos go out to Fuji.
The marketing for the S9000 has heavily emphasized Fuji’s real photo technology. Without going into too much detail, the Fuji sensors are shaped different than conventional sensors, and actually take in more light (scene information). Coupled with some fairly sophisticated processing, in general the Fuji technology achieves higher resolution at a given megapixel count than the competition. It also allows for higher light sensitivity than conventional sensor arrangements. This is a plus, as it allows for picture taking in circumstances where a flash would be needed with conventional digital cameras.
Picture quality is absolutely beautiful at iso 80-100, and with 9 megapixels of resolution, outdoor photos in particular are stunning printed. Photo quality is also still very good at iso 200. Above iso 200, there is some noise. To be fair, other big zooms and most consumer level digital cameras have picture quality issues above iso 200 (and many at iso 200 too), so Fuji should not be singled out. Fuji’s problem is that people expect more from their technology, especially after the quality produced by the award-winning F10 pocket camera. Don’t get me wrong, it is great that the s9000 provides these higher iso options, since most other consumer cameras do not even offer it. Moreover, expecting a consumer level camera to give DSLR results is simply unrealistic; the sensors are just too small, and noise is unavoidable. If you have realistic expectations, the s9000 will not disappoint. I will say that iso 400 is still better than most non-DSLR cameras out there, except of course for Fuji’s F10.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the higher iso shots is the somewhat aggressive noise reduction, which in some cases does not help the photo, and reduces print size options to smaller sizes like 4x6. Unfortunately, there is no way to turn off the noise reduction at higher iso’s. However, I did find a way to cheat some of the noise at higher iso’s – turning the contrast down to soft. Not only does it reduce the amount of change between dark and light areas (you see more detail in shaded areas), but it also serves to mask the noise. It made a noticeable difference when printed at 8x10 size, and I was surprised to find that I actually liked the lower contrast, though of course everyone will have their own opinion on that. Although it really helped for iso 800 shots, the trick simply cannot save the iso 1600 shots. The only way to avoid the in-camera noise reduction is to use RAW, process the RAW with an Adobe or comparable product (a free very good product is s7raw – do a Google search), and use any number of excellent noise reduction software, like Noise Ninja or Neat Image.
One complaint with all Fuji RAW-equipped models is that RAW is buried in the menus. Just about everyone else treats RAW like a picture quality setting as it should be. In other words Mr. Fuji, please please please move it to the “F” button in the next model.
The burst mode (taking multiple shots one right after the other) on the S9000 could be a little more bursty. At 1.5 frames per second, the S9000 is a little slower than the competition in this department. Focusing seemed fairly robust, except maybe in low light when the focus assist lamp comes on, but that would be the case with any consumer level camera. The S9000 does offer a high-speed mode where it supposedly focuses faster, but frankly I just didn’t notice much of a difference. However, it is there and nice to have the option. Playback shot-to-shot times are a little on the slow side, but I’ve seen much worse. Both the EVF and LCD are useful in lower light (not pitch black or anything, but dim), as they gain up. Here’s another niggle. While I applaud Fuji for offering the option of two different types of memory cards (xD and Compact Flash/Microdrive), it would be great to copy/move from one to the other. Long exposure times (more than 4 seconds) are only available in full manual mode, though it is easy to focus.
The natural light and anti-blur modes on the S9000 do work as advertised, but there are caveats. The natural light mode is intended to help capture shots without flash and keep the mood (lighting) of the original scene using higher iso. The anti-blur mode is intended to combat camera shake and subject movement through the use of higher iso. Both modes will go up to iso 800. As far as camera shake goes, frankly a stabilized lens achieves the same thing but with a lower iso and hence lower noise. However, a stabilized lens does nothing to combat subject movement, like sports shots. So a stabilized lens is not a panacea either. The only way to combat subject movement is with a faster shutter speed. And the only way to get a faster shutter speed is with more light or higher iso. In this category, the S9000 succeeds. So it will depend on which is more important to you, a stabilized lens or higher iso capabilities.
In case anyone wonders like me, I couldn’t understand why the S9000 included both a chrome color setting, and the ability to choose high saturation for color. Well, there is a difference, and chrome is like super saturation, turn everything up to 11 (on a scale of 1-10), whereas high saturation is more of a milder saturation boost. It really and I mean really makes the colors pop. It won’t be for everyone, or for all situations, but it can make some scenes more interesting.
The S9000 has the same movie mode Fuji has been using for several years, and what has become standard, 640x480 at 30 fps (frames per second) with mono sound. There is also a smaller size 320x240 also at 30 fps. The big difference from prior models is that since this is the first manual zoom lens, you can finally use optical zoom while recording! Another plus is that if you use the optical zoom while recording, the camera is fast to refocus at the new focal length, something not all cameras with movie modes do. And I will have to say that there is less camera shake than I would have thought, though it is there on the long end of the zoom. The larger size of the camera helps reduce camera shake, and the fact that you always use two hands while holding it.
I think the S9000 is one of the best long zooms on the market. As long as you do not expect it to be an entry-level DSLR replacement, you should be satisfied. The pluses compared to entry-level DSLRs is of course no hastle with lenses, and the ability to take movies as well. Overall, a very nice camera.