The 11.1-megapixel Fujifilm FinePix S100fs bridge camera features a 14.3x optical zoom, dynamic range expansion mode and a novel Fuji film simulation mode.
Bridging the Gap
Bridge cameras have long resided in their own category, existing independently of both ‘high-end’ compacts and DSLRs. Full manual controls and advanced functionality have alluded to their DSLR counterparts, yet the presence of simplified controls and, ultimately, a fixed lens and smaller sensor ensure they remain in the compact category.
Fujifilm has taken the idea of DSLR-style bridge camera to the nth degree with its new S100fs – a bridge camera that is, on the face of it, only distinguishable from a DSLR by the presence of a fixed lens.
A further difference, however, from its DSLR siblings lies under the bonnet in the shape of its 11.1MP, 2/3in Super CCD HR VIII sensor. The sensor is the largest in any current non-DSLR camera, except Sigma’s DP1, and benefits from the incorporation of several features from the company’s S5 Pro DSLR, such as the extended dynamic range that the model is noted for.
The S100fs’s 14.3x optical zoom provides a focal range of 28-400mm (f/2.8-4.9) in equivalent terms – a focal range that would necessitate two or more lenses with a DSLR. A maximum ISO, in standard mode, of ISO 3200 is offered, with the range extending to both ISO 6400 and ISO 10000 in 6MP and 3MP resolutions respectively.
Another noteworthy feature is the S100fs’s 2.5in, 230k pixel LCD screen that can be pulled away from the body on a protruding hinge and pivoted horizontally by approximately 120°. The screen is accompanied by what seems to be the marmite of camera features – an electronic viewfinder.
Full manual control is present in the ‘PASM’ style of a DSLR, along with two custom modes, Raw shooting capabilities and a range of scene modes. ’Film Simulation Bracketing’, from which the S100fs gains a third of its moniker, is also present, offering the choice to shoot in Velvia, Provia and Astia (Soft) simulation modes, which will no doubt appeal to Fujifilm fans.
The DSLR-aspirational nature of the camera extends through to its design. One could be forgiven for mistaking it for numerous entry-level DSLRs currently on the market, and its size is on a par as well, tipping the scales at a little over 900g. DSLR styling extends to the lens, while the S100fs’s zoom is operated via a rotation of the lens, as is manual focus. As a result, the camera has the feel of a quality model that is pleasing in action.
The control system of the S100fs benefits from the lack of a top-plate LCD, insofar as its absence allows an intelligent and convenient arrangement of operation buttons. Functions such as ISO adjustment, exposure compensation, face detection, metering and auto-exposure lock are located no more than a short thumb-stretch away.
Another feature that catches the eye with regards to design is the pronounced mode dial which is both reassuringly sturdy and unlikely to slip between functions.
In terms of operation speed, the S100fs is a bit of a mixed bag. Start-up time is slightly disappointing, taking a good two to three seconds to reach shooting status, but once ready to go the camera is by no means a slouch, with a prompt AF system and shot-to-shot delay negligible.
On test, I had a slight issue with the LCD screen – images seemed overexposed on review so steps were taken to correct exposure by stopping the lens down. However, when reviewing at the post-processing stage, it transpires that the exposures had indeed been correct first time around, and that LCD inaccuracies – which can be addressed by adjusting the LCD screen’s brightness – had caused confusion. With this in mind, metering and exposures are generally accurate.
Another feature worth mentioning is the capacity to shoot Raw. Many high-end bridge cameras offer a full feature set but negate the chance to fully utilise it in post production with Raw files. Fujifilm has chosen to include this function, and although the bundled software is not the most intuitive, it’s a welcome addition to the model.
While the operational buttons of the S100fs are intuitively designed, the same cannot be said of the menu system. The multi-tabbed approach is overly complicated, and the deep rooting of the set-up menu in which basic adjustments are located lacks planning.
Incorporating such a wide focal range into one lens often presents issues with image quality, and the 28-400mm glass on the S100fs shows several tell-tale signs of these. Fringing is evident in gradually strengthening intensity towards the edges of the frame, appearing as both purple and green streaks in areas of high contrast.
Negatives aside, the S100fs controls noise well, with images up to ISO 800 good, and ISO 1600 usable, despite in-camera noise reduction smearing fine detail. The S100fs displays Fujifilm’s characteristically vivid colour rendition, and tones are pleasant throughout the frame. Images also benefit from the HR sensor, with highlights and shadows preserved well throughout the frame, and the wide dynamic range is even better utilised when shooting Raw.
Value For Money
Value is a difficult proposition when considering the S100fs. On the one hand, you’re getting an awful lot for your money – the focal range of 28-400mm is virtually all encompassing, while the 11.1MP, 2/3in Super CCD is the one of the largest currently available in a non-DSLR.
However, all this technology comes at a price, and the price is little under what you’d pay for an entry-level DSLR, thus raising an important question for the consumer – do you invest in a bridge camera to which you are then tied for its lifespan or instead buy an entry-level DSLR that offers future expandability?
If you go for the former, undoubtedly you’ll have a lot of camera for the short term, yet the latter may make sense for the long term.
Fujifilm markets the S100fs as a ‘DSLR-styled camera without the bulk of additional lenses’, and that much is true. Indeed, the 28-400mm focal range is an asset, and it certainly handles like a DSLR. However, image quality is let down by the attempts to cram the focal range into one fixed lens, and by the fact that the sensor is still smaller than that of an entry-level DSLR. If you’re after the long focal range in just one fixed lens and don’t mind the bulk then the S100fs is a good choice of bridge camera.However, if you are going to be spending this kind of money then you’re likely to demand a camera that will deliver good results and will stand the test of time – and for that, an entry-level DSLR remains the preferable option.