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Fuji FinePix S3100 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date 11/15/04 
User Level Novice - Amateur
Product Uses Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design Point and Shoot
Picture Quality Good, 4.0-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes up to 11x14, 8x10 with some cropping
Availability Now
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)
$299.99 

 

Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Test Images
Specifications
Conclusion

Fujifilm produces a wide range of digicam models, from bare-bones entry-level models up to and including a high-end digital SLR. To my mind though, their greatest success has been in creating good-quality midrange cameras that sell at very competitive prices, and the new Fuji FinePix S3100 is a good example of that trend. A couple of years back, Fuji brought long-zoom digicams down to affordable price levels with their FinePix 2800 and 3800 models. Now, the Fuji S3100 advances the cause even further, with a 4.0 megapixel CCD, a 6x optical zoom lens, and a host of exposure features. While it still sports a super-easy fully automatic mode, the Fuji 3100 goes beyond basic "point & shoot" capability with an Aperture Priority mode and handful of adjustable exposure options. (However, the Fuji S3100 drops the sound recording capability and the Continuous Shooting modes seen in some of its predecessors, presumably to keep the cost low in the face of its higher resolution.) All in all, the Fuji 3100 offers true long-zoom capability at a surprisingly affordable price.

 

Camera Overview

Featuring a miniaturized, "SLR-style" body design reminiscent of the FinePix 2800 and 3800 digicams, the Fuji FinePix S3100 offers the same great 6x optical zoom lens, though now complemented by a full four-megapixel CCD. To accommodate the camera's long zoom lens, the Fuji S3100's body is a little chunky, but still compact compared to many long-zoom digicams. Very portable and lightweight, the S3100 will definitely be handy for impromptu outings and social gatherings. An included lens cover/accessory lens adapter ring provides protection and doesn't add too much to the bulk, so users would do well to keep it attached to protect the projecting lens from impact damage. Conveniently, the lens cap fits on both the lens and the lens with adapter ring. Too large for a standard shirt pocket either way, the Fuji 3100 should fit into larger coat pockets and purses, and comes with a shoulder strap to make carrying it easier. Measuring 3.9 x 3.0 x 2.7 inches (100 x 77 x 69 millimeters), the S3100 weighs 14.5 ounces (410 grams) with batteries and xD-Picture Card, and fits well in one hand. A substantial handgrip provides a very firm hold, nicely balancing out the weight of the lens barrel. The Fuji 3100's 4.0-megapixel CCD delivers clear, sharp images as large as 2,272 x 1,704 pixels, suitable for printing as large as 11x14 inches with great detail, or 8x10 inches with some cropping. (A lower resolution is also available for more email-friendly file sizes.)

The Fuji S3100's Fujinon 6x, 6-36mm lens is the equivalent of a 39-234mm zoom on a 35mm camera, representing a focal length range from moderate wide-angle to pretty substantial telephoto. A small, plastic lens cap protects the lens when not in use, and tethers to the camera so you don't have to worry about losing it. The telescoping lens extends about an inch from the camera when powered on, and promptly retracts when the camera is shut off. Apertures range from f/2.8 to f/8, and can be manually set through the Record menu (in Manual mode only). Focus remains under automatic control at all times, with a focal range from 2.6 feet (0.8 meters) to infinity in normal mode, and from 3.9 to 31.5 inches (10 to 80 centimeters) in Macro mode. In addition to the 6x optical zoom, the S3100 also offers as much as 3.4x digital enlargement, depending on the image size selected. However, I always point out here that digital zoom compromises image quality in that it simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD, resulting in less detail and higher image noise. Packaged with the Fuji S3100 is a lens adapter ring, which screws into filter threads on the inside lip of the lens barrel. The ring protects the lens when it's extended and accommodates Fuji's wide angle, telephoto, and macro lens adapters, which extend the camera's zoom capabilities. The S3100 offers both a TTL electronic optical viewfinder (EVF) and a 1.5-inch, amorphous silicon color LCD monitor. The viewfinder display switches between the EVF and LCD monitor via a button on the rear panel, which means that the complete display is available on the EVF, including the settings menus. The viewfinder's information display reports various camera settings with a central AF target, and an optional framing guide display divides the image into thirds horizontally and vertically for more accurate framing.

Though the camera offers an Automatic and what is called a Manual exposure mode, exposure control is mainly automatic, even in the "Manual" mode. The Mode dial on top of the camera puts the camera into Manual, Scene, Auto, or Movie modes. Auto mode determines the entire exposure automatically, with the user able to adjust the zoom, flash mode, and image size and quality settings only. Manual exposure mode expands user options to include white balance, exposure compensation, sharpness, flash power and aperture settings. Shutter speeds range from 1/1,500 to two seconds, but are not reported on the LCD display. The Aperture Priority option under the settings menu offers three apertures and an Auto setting, but this mode requires some fiddling to get to. The Fuji 3100 uses a 64-zone metering system to determine exposure, placing the greatest emphasis on the center portion of the image area. Light sensitivity is nominally rated as equivalent to ISO 100, and is not adjustable. However, the manual states that the sensitivity will be automatically adjusted from 64 to 250 ISO equivalents as the shooting conditions dictate. When shooting in Manual exposure mode, exposure compensation is adjustable from -2.1 to +1.5 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. White Balance offers seven settings, including Auto, Daylight, Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, and Incandescent. The S3100's Scene mode offers four preset "scenes" for shooting in potentially tricky situations, and includes Portrait, Landscape, Sport, and Night Scene modes.

The Fuji FinePix S3100's built-in, pop-up flash operates in one of six modes, which include Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, Suppressed, Slow Synchro, and Slow Synchro with Red-Eye Reduction modes. Through the settings menu, flash power is adjustable from -0.6 to +0.6 EV values in one-third-step increments. For self-portraits or those times when pressing the Shutter button might result in camera movement, the S3100 features a Self-Timer that delays the shutter release until 10 seconds after the Shutter button is fully pressed. The FinePix S3100 can also capture movies without sound for a maximum of 240 seconds at its smaller resolution setting or 60 seconds at the higher resolution, while in Movie capture mode. Movie files are saved in the Motion JPEG format, at either 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels. Interestingly, Fuji dropped the sound recording capability found on the previous 2800 and 3800 models, as well as a Continuous Shooting mode option for capturing a rapid succession of images.

Images captured by the Fuji S3100 are saved to xD-Picture Cards. A 16MB card comes with the camera. In addition to the 2,272 x 1,704-pixel resolution size, the S3100 also offers 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; and 640 x 480-pixel resolutions. Two JPEG compression ratios are available, including Fine and Normal. The Playback menu offers DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) settings for printing images on a compatible device. A USB cable and software CD accompany the camera, allowing for high-speed connection to a computer. The software CD contains Fuji's FinePix Viewer software, which organizes and displays downloaded images, and provides printing and minor editing capabilities.

The Fuji 3100 utilizes four AA batteries for power, and a set of alkaline cells accompanies the camera. As always, I strongly recommend purchasing a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH batteries and a good charger, and keeping a spare set of batteries charged at all times. Click here to read my "battery shootout" page to see which batteries currently on the market are best, or here for my review of the Maha C-204F charger, my longtime favorite. An AC adapter is also a separate accessory, but helpful for saving battery power while reviewing and downloading images or when using the S3100 as a webcam. Unless you're taking advantage of the camera's webcam capability though, rechargeable batteries would eliminate the need for the AC adapter.

With its compact and lightweight body, the convenience of full automatic and partial manual exposure control, 4.0-megapixel CCD, and impressive 6x zoom lens, the S3100 is a good choice for consumers looking for a portable, affordable, easy to use digicam that takes good pictures. The S3100 offers a basic level of exposure control when you want it, some preset shooting modes for common tricky situations, and a Movie mode for capturing quick bits of action. Given the aggressive "street" prices the S3100 is selling at, it's one of the better bargains in the digicam market today.

Basic Features

  • 4.0-megapixel square-pixel CCD delivering imageS as large as 2,272 x 1,704 pixels.
  • 6x, 6-36mm lens (equivalent to a 39-234mm zoom on a 35mm camera).
  • Digital enlargement to 3.4x, depending on image resolution.
  • 1.5-inch color LCD monitor.
  • Electronic optical viewfinder.
  • Full automatic and partial manual exposure control.
  • Shutter speeds range from 1/1,500 to two seconds.
  • Adjustable apertures from f/2.8 to f/8.
  • Sensitivity equivalent to ISO 100, though automatically set from 64 to 250 depending on conditions.
  • Built-in, pop-up flash with six modes and variable intensity.
  • Images saved in JPEG format to xD-Picture Card (16-megabyte card included).
  • Power from four AA batteries or AC adapter (separate accessory).
  • Interface software compatible with both PC and Mac platforms.

Special Features

  • Movie mode (without sound) and Voice Captioning function.
  • Scene mode with four preset "scenes."
  • 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes.
  • Sharpness adjustment.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).

Recommendation

The Fuji FinePix S3100 offers excellent value and a good feature set for photographers interested in more telephoto capability than you normally find in zoom-equipped digicams. Its 6x zoom lens gets you twice as close to distant objects as the typical 3x zoom you find on most digicams, while Fuji's reputation for color expertise ensures bright, vibrant colors. The S3100 would work well as an all-around everyday camera, as well as for shooting distant landscapes or wildlife, and is portable enough to travel with you. All in all, a nice, easy-to-use camera with a long zoom at a very affordable price.

 

Design

Small, lightweight, and comfortable in the hand, the Fuji FinePix S3100 adds to Fuji's growing line of very portable digicams. Building on the previous designs of the 3800 and 2800 Zoom models, the S3100 features an all-silver plastic body with charcoal accents on the handgrip areas. The S3100 easily fits into one hand, but is a little too chubby for most shirt pockets. Still, the Fuji S3100 could easily find its way into larger coat pockets and purses, and the accompanying neck/shoulder strap is a convenient carrying option. Measuring 3.9 x 3.0 x 2.7 inches (100 x 77 x 69 millimeters), the camera's all-plastic body keeps it fairly lightweight at just 14.5 ounces (410 grams) with batteries and xD-Picture Card. The S3100's silver exterior is very curvy, with smoothly sculpted protrusions for the handgrip and optical viewfinder mechanism. Camera controls are somewhat sparse, as most features are automatically controlled by the camera. This keeps the user interface uncluttered and clean, as well as simple to operate, but doesn't present the sophisticated exposure controls "enthusiasts" look for.

The front of the Fuji 3100 is sleek and stylish, with shiny silver highlights on a matte silver body. The lens barrel protrudes from the camera front about an inch or so, and features the same matte silver finish as the rest of the camera body. When the camera is powered on, the lens telescopes another inch from the camera body. A plastic lens cap protects the lens from scratches when not in use, and tethers to the camera body to prevent it from being lost. Just inside the lip of the lens barrel, a set of plastic filter threads host the lens adapter ring that comes with the camera. The lens shares the front panel with the self-timer LED (the small, red LED between the Shutter button and pop-up flash). With the pop-up flash released, the flash itself is visible, as well as the tiny flash sensor. The bulky handgrip on the left side of the front panel ensures a secure hold on the camera, and is bulky enough to be useful without detracting from the camera's portable size.

The right side of the camera (viewed looking from the rear) is pretty empty, showing only a neck strap attachment eyelet.

The DC In, USB, and Video Out connection jacks are on the opposite side of the camera, and lack any protective covering. I generally like to see some type of covering over these terminals, as dust and dirt can easily find their way into these small openings, especially on a very portable camera such as this one. Also on this side of the camera is the second neck strap attachment eyelet, mechanical pop-up flash release button, and xD-Picture Card slot. The card slot is protected by a hinged, plastic door, which snaps firmly into place. When this door is opened, power is cut to the camera, and the camera must be switched off and back on again to resume use.

The Fuji S3100's top panel features the Exposure Mode dial, Shutter button, Power/Mode dial, and pop-up flash.

The remaining camera controls are on the back panel, along with the LCD monitor and EVF viewfinder eyepiece. Positioned to the right are the zoom controls and arrow buttons (arranged as a four-way arrow pad), and below this are the Menu/OK, Display/Back, and Low-Light Viewfinder buttons. The right and left arrow keys also control flash mode and macro mode, respectively. A sculpted thumb rest on the right side of the back panel facilitates a tight grip on the camera, reinforced by the good hand grip on the front. Beneath the EVF eyepiece is a small LED, which reports the camera's current status (such as when focus is set, flash is charging, etc.), and the EVF/LCD button.

The Fuji 3100's bottom panel is nice and flat, though a series of raised bumps gives your fingers something to grip when opening the battery compartment cover. This sliding cover protects the battery compartment, and moves outward (toward the side of the camera) before opening on a hinge to reveal the compartment. This is a great design for making the best use of space on the camera body, but bad for tripod work because you have to dismount the camera from the tripod to change batteries. I suspect this won't be much of an issue for users of this camera however, as its designers were clearly intending it for on-the-go use, not studio shooting. The tripod mount features metal threads (kudos for that) and is slightly off-center from the lens. The off-center mount is a little awkward for shooting panorama photos (a fairly arcane practice, I suspect), but the position places it close to the camera's center of balance, increasing stability and reducing strain on the tripod threads.

 

Camera Operation

With only a few controls, the Fuji FinePix S3100's user interface is straightforward. Exposure mode, flash, macro mode, and zoom all feature external controls. Settings like exposure compensation and white balance are adjusted through the (likewise uncomplicated) LCD menu. Because the S3100 operates mainly under automatic control, the user need only worry about a few adjustments. Navigating the LCD menu system is no problem, as there are only a few options for the Record menu, the options depending on whether the camera is in Auto or Manual mode. The Setup menu is accessed as an option on the Record and Playback menus. The camera's small size and few controls also make it easy to operate one-handed. All things considered, experienced digicam users may not even need to read the manual to operate the FinePix S3100.

Record Display: In any shooting mode, the EVF and LCD monitors show a concise information readout by default. An outline box and crosshair indicate that the AF and exposure metering are determined from the center of the frame. Also displayed is the exposure mode, resolution, quality, and number of available images. Camera settings such as flash mode, EV, etc. are also displayed if enabled. Pressing the Display button once enables a fine black framing grid in addition to the information display, which divides the image area into thirds horizontally and vertically. (Grids like this are handy for lining up buildings and other objects.) A second press of the Display button cancels both information and framing overlays, while a third press returns to the default information display.

Playback Display: In Playback mode, the main display shows the captured image and a small playback symbol, while the date and time of capture and the file number appear for just a few seconds as you scroll to each new image. Pressing the Display button removes the icon and disables the momentary information display, showing the image only. A third press calls up the index display mode, which displays images on the memory card as tiny thumbnails, nine at a time, and also shows the date and time of capture and file number of the currently highlighted image for a few seconds.

 

External Controls


Shutter Button
: Located on top of the camera, this button sets focus and exposure when pressed halfway. A full press fires the shutter.

Power / Mode Dial: Surrounding the Shutter button on the top panel, this dial selects the camera's operating mode. Three choices are available:

  • Record: Sets up the camera for recording still images.
  • Playback: Allows the user to review captured images, delete them, zoom in on them, or set them up for printing.
  • Off: Shuts off the camera, signaling the lens to retract.


Exposure Mode Dial
: Adjacent to the pop-up flash compartment on the top panel, this dial controls the main exposure mode. Choices are:

  • Manual: Offers partial manual control over exposure, with Aperture Priority, White Balance, and Exposure Compensation adjustments available. Shutter speed remains under full automatic control. Options for setting Sharpness and adjusting flash power are also only available in Manual mode.
  • Scene: Accesses the camera's four scene shooting modes (Portrait, Landscape, Sport, and Night Portrait).
  • Auto: Places the camera under full automatic exposure control. The user can adjust zoom, flash mode, and image size and quality settings.
  • Movie: Allows the camera to record moving images without sound.


Zoom Rocker Control
: In the top right corner of the back panel, this zoom control with discrete "T" and "W" buttons is flanked by two arrow keys. In Record mode, these buttons control the optical and digital zoom, and doubles as the up and down arrow keys when navigating the LCD menu system. In Playback mode, the up and down button controls digital enlargement of captured images. Once playback zoom is activated, pressing the left or right arrow key switches the action of these buttons to control panning within the enlarged image. Hitting the Disp/Back button returns these buttons to controlling the playback zoom level.

Right and Left Arrow Buttons: Located on either side of the Zoom Rocker button, these buttons navigate left and right through settings menus. In Record mode, the left button accesses the Macro shooting mode, while the right button controls the flash mode. In playback mode, these buttons switch from enlargement to panning mode. Once you're in panning mode, these buttons scroll left and right within the enlarged image.


EVF/LCD Button
: Tucked away on the left side of the EVF eyepiece, this button alternates the viewfinder display between the eye-level viewfinder and the rear-panel LCD monitor.


Menu / OK Button
: The top button in a series of slim buttons lining the right side of the LCD monitor, the Menu / OK button activates the settings menu in any mode. This button also serves as the OK to confirm menu selections.


Display / Back Button
: Directly below the Menu / OK button, this button backs out of menus and menu selections. When no menu screen is displayed, this button cycles through several LCD display modes. The image and information display is on by default. A framing grid is added to that display with the first press of the Display button. A third press displays only the image. In Playback mode, this button toggles between an image information overlay, no image information at all, and an index of images on the storage card. When playback zoom is enabled, this button switches from panning mode back to zoom mode.


Low Light Viewfinder Button
: Below the Display / Back button, this button brightens the LCD display. Pressing the button a second time returns to the normal brightness level.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: Marked on the Power / Mode dial with a red camera symbol, this mode allows you to capture still images. Four exposure modes are available via the Exposure Mode dial, including Manual, Scene, Auto, and Movie. Auto mode is fairly self-explanatory. Manual mode simply increases the menu options under the Record menu, but keeps the shutter speed under automatic control. (An Aperture Priority option lets you set the aperture or leave it under auto control.) Scene mode lets you select between Portrait, Landscape, Sport, and Night Portrait modes . Finally, Movie mode records short movies without sound. Following is the complete Record menu, though some options are not available in all modes:

  • Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases the exposure from -2.1 to +1.5 EV in one-third-step increments.
  • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance. Choices are Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Daylight Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, and Incandescent.
  • Aperture Priority: Places the aperture under automatic control, or offers f/2.8, f/5, and f/8 settings.
  • Sharpness: Adjusts the in-camera sharpening to Hard, Normal, or Soft.
  • Quality: Sets the image resolution and quality. Choices are 4M Fine (2,272 x 1,704), 4M Normal (2,272 x 1,704), 2M (1,600 x 1,200), 1M (1,280 x 960), and 0.3M (640 x 480). In Movie mode, options are 320 x 240 and 160 x 120 pixels.
  • Self-Timer: Activates the 10-second Self-Timer mode.
  • Flash Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases flash power from -0.6 to +0.6 in one-third-step increments.
  • Scene: (Scene mode only.) Places the camera into Portrait, Landscape, Sport, or Night Portrait modes.

  • Option/Set-Up: Accesses the following Setup submenu, as well as the LCD Brightness adjustment.
    • Image Display: Turns on an instant image review, which displays the image immediately after capture.
    • Power Save: Sets the Power Save function to enable after two or five minutes of inactivity.
    • Format: Formats the xD-Picture card, erasing all files (even protected ones).
    • Beep: Sets the camera's operational beep sound to Low or High, or turns it off.
    • Date Time: Sets the camera's internal calendar and clock.
    • Time Difference: This option lets you set the time for another time zone. For example, when traveling, you can specify the time at home and for where you are, and the time difference is applied to captured images.
    • Frame Number: Continues frame numbering from card to card, or Renews numbering with each new card.
    • USB Mode: Sets the USB mode to DSC (storage class device), WEB (for using the camera as a videoconferencing tool on Windows machines, or PictBridge (for connecting to a PictBridge device).
    • Language: Sets the menu language to one of six options. (English, French, German, Spanish, and two Asian languages.)
    • Video System: Designates the video signal as NTSC or PAL.
    • Discharge: Discharges the power in the batteries, handy for avoiding "memory effect" in rechargeable cells (do not use for alkaline cells).
    • Reset: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.

Playback Mode: The traditional playback symbol (a green arrow within a rectangular outline) designates this mode on the Power / Mode dial. Here, the user can review captured images, enlarge them, delete them, or set them up for printing on a DPOF-compatible output device. Pressing the Menu button pulls up the following options:

  • Erase: Deletes the selected frame or all frames.
  • DPOF: Marks the current frame for printing, and allows you to establish whether the date is imprinted over the image.
  • Protect: Adds or removes write protection for individual frames or all frames.
  • Set: Allows you to adjust the LCD brightness, or pulls up the same Setup menu as in Record mode.
  • Automatic Playback: Enables an automated slide show of captured images on the memory card, letting you select the transition style and interval.
  • Trimming: Lets you crop an image by zooming in and saving the cropped portion as a new file.

     

In the Box

Packaged in the box are the following items:

  • Fuji FinePix S3100 digital camera
  • Neck / shoulder strap
  • Lens cap with strap
  • 16MB xD-Picture Card
  • USB cable
  • Four AA-type alkaline batteries
  • Lens adapter ring
  • Software CD-ROM containing USB drivers, FinePix Viewer, QuickTime, and ImageMixer VCD
  • Instruction manual and registration information

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Specifications

See camera specifications here.

 

Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.

 

Sample Images

See the full set of my sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

"Sunlit"
Indoor Flash
Indoor

House
Musicians
Macro

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy

 

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Fuji FinePix S3100's "pictures" page.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Fuji FinePix S3100 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

Need to compare specs and features? Check out our "compare cameras page," where you can compare all the specifications and features of the S3100 against other cameras you may be considering.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the Fuji S3100 pictures page, to see how the S3100's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

  • Color: A tendency toward warm color casts, but good accuracy and pleasing color otherwise. Overall, color was somewhat warm with the Fuji S3100, and both the Auto and Daylight white balance settings typically produced similar color casts. As a result, skin tones tended to be warm and red/orange, and the blue values appeared purplish. Indoors, the S3100's Incandescent white balance option worked fairly well with the difficult household incandescent lighting of my Indoor Portrait test, but still left more yellow in the image than I'd personally prefer. In the Davebox test shot, the S3100 produced fairly accurate results, the main issue being significant oversaturation of the red-hued color blocks on the MacBeth(tm) chart. Outdoors, the camera tended to overreact slightly to reds, but generally delivered very pleasing colors.

  • Exposure: Good exposure accuracy, but high native contrast. The S3100's exposure system performed fairly well, though the high-key lighting of the "Sunlit" Portrait threw it slightly. Contrast in response to the deliberately harsh lighting there was high, and midtones slightly dark, though detail remained fairly strong in the midtones. It underexposed the outdoor house shot slightly, but it did a good job holding detail in the shadow area. I generally needed to use less exposure compensation with the Fuji S3100 than most cameras I test, but I'd have been happier if its images were a little less contrasty.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,150 - 1,200 lines of "strong detail." The S3100 performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 600~800 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to 1,150 - 1,200 lines in both directions. "Extinction" of the target patterns occurred around 1,300 lines.

  • Image Noise: Slightly better than average image noise. The Fuji S3100 has no ISO adjustment, so we can't talk about its high-ISO image noise, but at its default ISO of 100, its images generally show slightly lower image noise than I'm accustomed to seeing from other 4-megapixel cameras.

  • Closeups: About average macro performance, but good detail. Flash throttles down a little too much, is shaded slightly by the lens. The S3100 performed about average in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of 2.99 x 2.24 inches (76 x 57 millimeters). Resolution was very high, and detail was strong in the dollar bill, as well as in the coins and brooch. Details softened in the corners of the frame from some lens distortion, but were still well-defined elsewhere. The S3100's flash throttled down a little too well for the macro area, and underexposed the shot. (Probably plan on using external lighting for your closest macro shots with the S3100.)

  • Night Shots: Limited low-light shooting capabilities, but good enough for typical city night scenes. Very limited low-light autofocus capability though. The S3100 produced clear, bright, usable images only down to the one foot-candle (11 lux) light level. Color was warm with the Auto white balance setting, and the warm cast increased as the exposure dims. Image noise was moderate. Its ability to capture images at one foot-candle would let it snap decent-looking pictures under typical city street-lighting at night, but the S3100's biggest low-light limitation is its autofocus system, which can only focus well down to about a two foot-candle limit. - You'll thus only be able to expect sharp photos under very bright outdoor lighting at night.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A slightly tight electronic viewfinder and LCD monitor. The Fuji S3100's electronic "optical" viewfinder (EVF) was surprisingly tight, and showed only about 88 percent frame accuracy at both wide angle and telephoto zoom settings. The LCD monitor proved slightly more accurate, showing about 90 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and about 91 percent at telephoto. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the S3100's LCD monitor has a little room for improvement here.

  • Optical Distortion: Average barrel distortion, higher than average pincushion though. Moderate chromatic aberration, better than average sharpness in the corners of the frame. Optical distortion on the S3100 was about average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 0.8 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared only slightly better, as I measured approximately 0.6 percent pincushion distortion. (That's a fairly large amount of pincushion, but not unusual for a long-zoom lens.) Chromatic aberration was moderate, showing about four or five pixels of coloration on either side of the target lines, visible at both wide angle and telephoto focal lengths. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) The S3100 did do a bit better than average job of maintaining sharpness in the corners of its images, something a lot of digicam lenses have difficulty with.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Good to slightly slow shutter lag, average cycle times. With shutter lag that ranged from 0.68 to 1.11 second, the Fuji S3100 spanned the range from faster than average to a bit slower than average. - But it did pretty well when compared with other long-zoom digicam models. Prefocus lag was 0.12 second, a very good number. Shot to shot times were average, at 2.2 seconds/shot for large/fine images. (All shots happened that fast though, there was no delay after a buffer memory filled.) The S3100 has no continuous shooting mode.

  • Battery Life: Really excellent battery life. With a worst-case run time of 4.3 hours with "standard" 1600 mAh NiMH cells, and a run time of over 8 hours in playback mode, the Fuji S3100's battery life is much better than average. I still recommend that you purchase a good set of high-capacity NiMH batteries and a good-quality charger, but the S3100 does much better than average in the battery life department.

 

Conclusion

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The previous Fuji FinePix 2800 and 3800 Zoom cameras turned out to be exceptional values for the money, and the updated FinePix S3100 offers the same great value with the addtion of a 4.0-megapixel CCD. The S3100's higher resolution is a welcome improvement, providing great image quality for a budget-priced digicam, and its 6x optical zoom is excellent for distant subjects. Though it lacks "enthusiast" features such as full manual exposure options, the S3100 does feature an adjustable aperture setting, adjustable flash intensity, and a selection of preset "scene" modes. For everyday outdoor shooting, the S3100 does very well and really sets a benchmark for an affordable long-zoom digicam.

 


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