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Fuji FinePix S9000

Fuji's latest bridge camera offers a larger, 9.0-megapixel SuperCCD HR imager with a high resolution electronic optical viewfinder.

Review First Posted: 12/14/2005




MSRP $699 US

 

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Executive Overview

Released as a successor to the popular (but now rather long-in-the-tooth) FinePix S7000 model, the Fujifilm FinePix S9000 digital camera continues with the traditional 35mm shape that gives the camera a more serious appearance. Though it's larger than other Fujifilm FinePix models (and indeed, quite a bit larger than the S7000), the Fuji S9000 is still no bigger or heavier than a typical consumer digital SLR with a kit lens. When you consider its powerful 10.7x zoom lens, the FinePix S9000 has a significant size and weight advantage. The body appears to be almost entirely composed of structural plastic, but the camera nevertheless has a fairly solid "feel" to it. Despite its reasonable weight though, you'll definitely want to attach the neck strap to keep it securely around your neck when walking around.

The big news on the Fuji S9000 is twofold: its Super CCD HR image sensor, which produces high-quality images as large as 3,488 x 2,616 pixels (9.0 megapixels) without the need to resort to interpolation, and its powerful 10.7x Fujinon optical zoom lens. The resolution is higher than any consumer-level camera currently out on the market, and the zoom range puts it near the top of the line as well. A few other improvements over the S7000 include an unusual double-tilting LCD display that helps when shooting from waist level or over the head, a greatly expanded range of ISO sensitivities, a new high-speed shooting mode that trades some battery life and focusing range for reduced focusing lag, and a refined control layout that includes a mechanical zoom control for greater accuracy and control.

The Fuji FinePix S9000 features a lens that dominates its front face, giving the camera a serious, professional look. A removable, plastic lens cap attaches to the camera body or the neck strap, and protects the lens surface from harm. The same threads that hold the lens cap in place also accept 58mm accessories, although Fujifilm itself doesn't offer any at the current time. Most camera control is accomplished via external controls, so there's less reliance on the LCD menu system than would be the case otherwise. Because the S9000 uses an electronic viewfinder (EVF) system you can conserve some power by switching to the EVF over the LCD, though not as much as you can with an optical viewfinder. Though the control layout may seem daunting to the uninitiated, I actually found it quite intuitive after shooting with the camera for a while. I found I could access commonly-used shooting controls very quickly, thanks to an interface design that let me avoid the LCD menu system most of the time.

As just mentioned, the Fuji S9000 has both an "electronic" optical viewfinder and a larger rear-panel LCD monitor for framing shots. The electronic optical viewfinder is actually a miniaturized (0.44 inches) version of the larger LCD, and shows the same information displays. An EVF / LCD button switches the viewfinder display between the two monitors, so that only one is active at a time. As an eyeglass wearer, I appreciated both the inclusion of a dioptric adjustment on the EVF, and its relatively high eyepoint, which made it easy to use with my glasses on. With 235,000 pixels, the EVF on the S9000 is also easier on the eyes than some rivals when it comes to viewing finer details and menu screens. The 1.8-inch color LCD monitor also has a very sharp display, with some useful focus enlargement options in record mode, and a histogram display.

The Fujinon 10.7x zoom lens (28-300mm equivalent) offers an aperture range from f/2.8-f/8 (or f/11 in manual exposure mode), manually and automatically adjustable. Focus ranges from 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) to infinity in normal AF mode, and from 3.9 inches to 9.8 feet (10 centimeters to 3 meters) in Macro mode. A Super Macro mode focuses from 0.4 inches to 3.3 feet, or from 1 centimeter to 1 meter, about the closest macro range I've seen on a digicam, matched by only a small handful of models. The camera's autofocus system operates in either Single or Continuous AF modes, with an adjustable AF area. A focus switch on the left side of the camera goes between Single AF, Continuous AF, and Manual focus modes, and the focus ring around the back of the lens barrel adjusts the manual focus with a fly-by-wire system. The One-Touch AF button quickly snaps the image into focus in manual mode, letting you tweak the focus from there, while a Focus Check button enlarges the center of the frame 2x to help with manual focusing. (Overall, the S9000 has some of the best focusing options of any prosumer-level digicam, although I do wish it had a numerical distance readout.) In addition to the impressive 10.7x optical zoom, the S9000 also offers a fixed 2x digital zoom, though as always, image quality decreases with digital enlargement.

The Fujifilm FinePix S9000 offers a wide range of exposure control, from full Auto to full Manual modes. A Power / Mode dial sets the camera to either Record or Playback modes, while the Exposure Mode dial on top of the camera features Auto, Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Movie, Night, Landscape, Portrait, Natural Light, and Anti-Blur exposure modes. Shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds in full Manual mode, with a Bulb setting for arbitrary exposures up to 30 seconds, but the range decreases to 1/2,000 to 4 seconds (wide angle) or 2 seconds (telephoto) in other modes.

In all exposure modes except for Auto, Scene Program, and Manual, Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. By default, the Fuji S9000 uses a 256-zone, multi-segment metering system, but Average and Spot metering modes are available through the settings menu. An AE Lock button locks the exposure reading independently of focus. Through the Drive menu, an Auto Exposure Bracketing function snaps a series of three images at different exposure settings, which can vary by 1/3, 1/2, or one full EV step (set through the menu system). In any exposure mode except Natural Light or Anti-Blur, the camera's ISO sensitivity setting offers Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, or 1600. White Balance choices include Auto, Daylight, Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, Incandescent, and two Custom (manual) settings. You can also adjust image sharpness, contrast, and saturation, and a Self-Timer mode offers two- and 10-second countdowns. The camera's built-in, pop-up flash operates in Auto, Forced On, Red-Eye Reduction, Slow-Synchro, and Red-Eye Reduction Slow-Synchro modes. An external flash hot shoe with a single contact and PC sync connector both accommodate more powerful flash units, but the S9000 also features an adjustment to increase the flexibility of its onboard flash.

Three Continuous Shooting modes are available through the Drive menu: Top-4 Frame, Final-4 Frame, and Long-Period Continuous Shooting. The Long-Period Continuous Shooting mode is only available in Auto exposure mode, but allows very long sequences of images to be captured. The Final-4 frame continuous mode is unusual, in that the camera begins acquiring images continuously when you press the Shutter button, and then saves the last four it shot before you released the shutter. This is great for capturing fleeting moments in sports and other fast-moving situations. Just hold down the Shutter button, then release it as soon as the event has occurred.

In Playback mode, a Voice Memo option records as much as 30 seconds of sound to accompany still images, great for more lively captions. The Fuji S9000's Movie mode offers 640 x 480- and 320 x 240-pixel resolutions, and records for as long as the memory card has available space, at a full 30 frames/second. For more creative shooting, the S9000's Multiple Exposure mode overlaps as many exposures as you like, producing a double-exposure effect.

Images are stored on either xD-Picture Cards or CompactFlash type II memory cards (a 16MB xD-Picture Card comes with the camera), as the S9000 has dual memory card slots. The camera also accommodates microdrives, and since it uses the FAT32 file system, it can access the full capacity of the latest solid-state and Microdrive cards, where cameras that support only FAT16 would be limited to seeing the first 2GB of available space. Quality choices include two JPEG compression levels, and an uncompressed RAW option. An included A/V cable lets you connect to a television set for image playback and composition, and a USB cable provides high speed connection to a computer. The software CD that comes with the camera, also includes Fuji's FinePix Viewer software for image downloading, and ImageMixer for creating CD albums, as well as a RAW converter for processing the RAW format files. Power for the Fuji FinePix S9000 is provided by four AA-type alkaline or NiMH batteries, and a set of alkaline batteries comes with the camera. As always, I strongly recommend picking up a couple of sets of high-capacity rechargeable batteries and charger. An AC adapter is available as a separate accessory.

 

Design

The Fujifilm FinePix S9000 looks a lot like a compact film-based SLR, and is much the same size as a small consumer DSLR with a kit lens attached. It's actually quite small nonetheless though, if you take its powerful 10.7x zoom lens, 9 megapixel imager, and panoply of features into account. Getting all that in a 5.0 x 3.7 x 5.5 inch (127 x 94 x 140 millimeters) package is impressive. Its body appears to be almost entirely composed of structural plastic, but it nonetheless has a quite solid "feel" to it, much more what I'd normally associate with a metal-bodied camera. It's light enough to hold easily with one hand, but the weight of the lens and the number of controls on the left side of the lens body will make you want to hold it two-handed. Despite its relatively light weight at 1.72 pounds (27.6 ounces; 783 grams), its non-pocketable size means you'll almost certainly want to use the included neckstrap when walking around with it.

The 10.7x f/2.8-4.9 Fujinon zoom lens dominates the front view of the camera, a substantial optic given the camera's sensor size. The lens telescopes out an additional 1.5 inches or so from the camera body as you move across its zoom range. Ribbed focus and zoom rings surround the lens barrel, with the focus ring being nearer to the camera body, and the zoom ring nearer to the front of the lens. The focus ring adjusts focus using an electronic "fly by wire" system when the camera is put into manual focus mode. The zoom ring adjusts the optical zoom mechanically, which provides much greater control than the electronic zoom controls on many cameras. Mechanically linked zoom mechanisms can usually be adjusted more precisely, and the zoom can be quickly flicked from one end of its range to the other, or gradually tweaked to perfection. Just above and to the right of the lens (as seen from the rear) is the round LED autofocus assist lamp, which doubles as an indicator for the camera's self-timer function. To the right of this is the passive AF sensor, which uses a phase difference detection system to help gauge focus. At the very bottom of the camera's front, below the AF sensor, is a standard PC sync terminal, allowing for the camera to control off-camera / studio flash strobes. A tiny cap protects the terminal, but it has no tether to prevent accidental loss. The handgrip is large and allows a firm hold, with a leather-like texture that provides good traction for your fingers as they wrap around the camera. A groove also runs down the inside of the grip to give the tips of your fingers even more leverage. Hidden on the left side of the lens and beneath the flash compartment is a tiny hole for the microphone used to record audio.

The camera's top panel hosts a number of controls, as well as the pop-up flash compartment and external flash hot shoe. An Exposure Mode dial and Command wheel sit side-by-side on the far right, with the Drive, Flash, and Exposure Compensation buttons closer to the front. A Mode switch controls the main operating mode and encircles the silver Shutter button, which features a screw mount for a cable release. (There are very few digital cameras with an old-fashioned cable release like this, but it makes so much sense we're hoping to see it more often.)

On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) is one of the neck strap attachments, as well as the memory card compartment. A locking plastic door protects the card compartment, which has one slot for xD-Picture Cards and one for CompactFlash Type II memory cards. It is compatible with the Hitachi Microdrive.

The opposite side of the camera is more feature-laden, with a number of control buttons, the other neck strap attachment, speaker, and a connector compartment. Controls include Macro and Info buttons, as well as a Focus switch and One-Touch AF button (nestled inside the focus switch). The DC In connector jack, USB, and A/V Out jacks sit beneath a fairly thick door that presses firmly back into the side of the camera. Also visible on this side of the camera is a tiny flash release button, just beneath the flash compartment. Finally, a sixteen hole grille at the base of the pop-up flash indicates the location of the camera's speaker.

The rest of the camera controls are on the back panel, sharing the space with the electronic viewfinder eyepiece and LCD monitor. The LCD monitor is mounted on a rather unusual mechanism that allows it to tilt upward 90 degrees, or downward 45 degrees. With both mechanisms extended together, the display tilts 45 degrees upward, projecting about two inches from the rear of the camera body. A small diopter adjustment dial adjusts the electronic viewfinder for eyeglass wearers, and a firm rubber eyecup surrounds the viewfinder eyepiece. Nestled in the middle of a metering mode selection dial to the right of the viewfinder, there's an AE-lock button. A Four-Way Arrow pad with central Menu / OK button, EVF / LCD button, focus check button, FinePix button, and display / back button complete the back panel controls. As seen on many of Fujifilm's other recent digital cameras, the FinePix button accesses more commonly-used functions like resolution, sensitivity, and color settings (without you having to cycle through the main LCD menu options). A small LED lamp next to the memory compartment door (on the right side) lights whenever the camera is writing to the memory card, indicating that you shouldn't open the compartment door. (This LED also lights when the flash is charging, there's a problem with the camera, or to indicate the status of the AE / AF systems.)

The Fujifilm S9000's bottom panel is nice and flat, with a metal tripod mount centered beneath the lens. The tripod mount is centered on the axis of the lens. Panorama enthusiasts will note that it's quite a bit back from the lens' optical center, so you'll still need a special tripod head for seamless panoramic shots; but that's not a real knock against the camera. While becoming more common on prosumer digicams, I still applaud Fuji for their use of a metal tripod socket, rather than the cheaper but less rugged plastic. Also on the bottom panel is the battery compartment, with a plastic door that slides out before opening.

 

Viewfinder

The Fujifilm S9000 offers an "electronic" optical viewfinder, essentially a smaller version of the 1.8-inch LCD monitor that's viewed through the camera's eyepiece. The 0.44-inch optical viewfinder display has the same detailed information display as the larger LCD monitor, complete with exposure information such as aperture and shutter speed, and offers higher than average resolution at 235,000 pixels. This makes it more useful for focusing, particularly in conjunction with the 2x focus-assist magnification feature. The added resolution is also welcome when it comes to reading menu items. A firm but resilient eyecup surrounds the viewfinder eyepiece, and shouldn't cause any problems for eyeglass wearers, given the S9000's fairly high eyepoint. A diopter adjustment dial on the left side of the eyepiece adjusts the focus of the display across a fairly wide range, so most eyeglass wearers should be well accommodated. An EVF/LCD button on the back panel switches the display between the viewfinder eyepiece and the larger LCD monitor.

The 1.8-inch, low temperature polysilicon TFT LCD monitor comes on automatically when the camera is turned on, but goes to sleep quickly if the camera remains inactive. The LCD monitor is mounted on a rather unusual mechanism that allows it to tilt upward 90 degrees (ideal for shooting from waist level or lower) or downward 45 degrees (useful for shooting with the camera held above your head. Both mechanisms can be extended together, which results in the display pointing 45 degrees upward, projecting about two inches from the rear of the camera body. While it is certainly a lot more useful than a fixed LCD, this double--tilt mechanism lacks some of the versatility of mechanisms seen on cameras from other manufacturers. There's no way to turn the LCD inward toward the camera body for protection, nor to swivel the LCD forward for self-portraits. You're also not able to place it vertically at right-angles to the camera body, which can be useful for shooting landscapes around a corner, or shooting portrait-format shots above your head or low to the ground.

A display button at the bottom right corner of the LCD controls the level of information displayed on both viewfinders. The first press enables the information display, while the second pulls up an alignment grid that divides the image area into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. A third press of the button calls up the post-shot assist display mode, which shows the last three photographs captured alongside the current preview, helping you to take shots with similar compositions. A fourth press provides a full view of the subject area, with no text or graphic overlay.

For a quick rundown of the exposure settings, a press of the Info button on the side of the camera reports various menu settings, as well as shows a small live histogram display.

In Playback mode, the Info button optionally shows a histogram of a captured image, and reports exposure information as well, though the display reverts to normal shortly after you release the button. Also in Playback mode, the Display button enables the nine-image index display mode, and the "sorting by date" mode, where up to 12 image thumbnails from the same date are shown at once, alongside a bar on which you can select the date you wish to browse.

Activated through the Setup menu, an Image Review function automatically displays the last captured image on the LCD monitor as it's being recorded to the memory card. Images can be reviewed for 1.5 or three seconds, or until the Menu / OK or shutter buttons are pressed.

Another useful feature on the Fujifilm S9000 is the Focus Check button (just to the right of the LCD monitor), which enlarges the central portion of the image on the LCD display 2x. This makes manual focusing quite a bit easier, as you can clearly see the finer details as they sharpen.

The Fuji S9000's electronic viewfinder system is very accurate, showing close to 100% percent of the final frame area at both wide angle and telephoto zoom settings. The LCD monitor is also very accurate, since it shows the same view, just on a larger screen. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the S9000's LCD monitor is essentially perfect in this regard.

 

Optics

The Fujifilm FinePix S9000 is equipped with a high quality, Fujinon 10.7x zoom lens, with a 35mm equivalent range of 28-300mm. (A useful wide angle to a strong telephoto.) Aperture ranges from f/2.8 (f/4.9 with the lens at its telephoto position) to f/8--except for the manual mode where apertures to f/11 are possible--and is manually and automatically adjustable. Focus ranges from 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) to infinity in normal AF mode, and from 3.9 inches to 9.8 feet (10 centimeters to 3 meters) in Macro mode. A "Super Macro" mode focuses from 0.4 inches to 3.3 feet (1 centimeter to 1 meter), although at such close distances it can be difficult to avoid casting a shadow on your subject. In Super Macro mode, the S9000 captures an area of only 1.48 x 1.11 inches (38 x 28 millimeters). Both macro modes are accessed via the Macro button on the left side of the camera.

The Fuji S9000's autofocus system operates in either Single or Continuous modes, set by turning the Focus switch on the side of the camera. Single AF mode adjusts the focus only when the Shutter button is halfway pressed. Alternatively, Continuous AF mode continuously adjusts focus, without the Shutter button being pressed. This is useful for moving subjects, and reduces the shutter lag slightly so you can grab faster shots. The S9000's Record menu offers an AF mode setting, which controls the AF area. Options are Area, Center, and Multi. In Area mode, you can change the autofocus area simply by holding down the One Touch AF button (in the center of the focus switch on the side of the camera) and using the arrow keys to move the focus target on the LCD screen. The Multi setting puts the camera back in charge of the AF area, selecting the area corresponding to the closest portion of the subject. Center mode simply focuses from the center of the screen. A High-speed shooting mode reduces focusing lag by about 30% at the expense of increased power consumption, and with a limited focal range of 2 meters (wide) / 4 meters (tele) to infinity.

The camera's manual focus options lets you adjust focus using an electronic "fly by wire" system by turning the ribbed focus ring surrounding the lens barrel, close to the camera body / rear of the lens. A pair of arrows appear on the LCD display, indicating the direction of adjustment needed, with a solid circle surrounding them indicating sharp focus by turning yellow. Though the camera doesn't feature a distance readout for the manual focus, you can use the Focus Check button to enlarge the center of the frame 2x and determine when focus is sharp. A nice touch on Fuji S9000 is that you can use the camera's AF system to set an approximate focus even when you're focusing manually, simply by pressing the One Touch AF button in the center of the manual/auto focus selector switch. This lets you get a quick approximation of your final focus, then make fine adjustments manually.

With no need to telescope into place when the camera is turned on, the Fujifilm S9000 starts up reasonable quickly, with the time from startup to the first picture captured being 0.9 seconds, thanks in part to its not having to telescope its lens out from a stowed position. A removable plastic lens cap protects the lens surface when not in use, and comes with a small strap to attach it to the camera body and prevent it from being lost. Fuji also provides a lens cap holder, which attaches to the neck strap. A zoom ring near the front of the camera's lens adjusts the optical zoom mechanically, which provides a much greater feeling of control than the electronic zoom controls on many cameras. (Mechanically linked zoom mechanisms can usually be adjusted more precisely, and the zoom can be quickly flicked from one end of its range to the other, or gradually tweaked to perfection). A fixed 2x digital zoom increases the S9000's capabilities up to 21.4x, and is accessed by pressing the up arrow button on the four-way arrow pad (the down arrow button cancelling the digital zoom). As with any "digital zoom" function, remember that image quality suffers from the enlargement, with sharpness decreasing in direct proportion to the degree of digital zoom - although the S9000's digital zoom actually performs comparatively well, with low noise and only moderate blurring. The S9000's lens barrel has a set of 58mm filter threads, though Fujifilm doesn't seem to offer any compatible add-on lenses or filters for the camera.

Optical distortion on the Fuji S9000 is average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 0.8 percent barrel distortion with the lens set to its widest-angle setting. The telephoto end was a much better than average though, where I measured just 0.1 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration is a little high, showing approximately seven or eight pixels of coloration on either side of the target lines. (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.)

 

Exposure

Exposure control on the Fujifilm FinePix S9000 can seem a little complicated at first, given the number of external controls and their wide layout. Once you get the hang of it though, camera operation becomes very simple. The large number of external controls is actually a great time-saver, helping you avoid fishing through LCD menu screens for common settings changes. The S9000 also features the FinePix menu button, which provides quick access to the resolution, sensitivity, and color settings - but oddly not to the camera's RAW file format, which remains hidden in the setup menu.

A Power / Mode switch on top of the camera puts the Fuji S9000 into either Record or Playback modes, with an Off setting that completely powers down the camera. Once in Record mode, the main exposure modes are all accessed via the Exposure Mode dial, with options of Auto, Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Movie, Night, Landscape, Portrait, Natural Light, and Anti-Blur. In full Auto exposure mode, the camera controls most aspects of the exposure, leaving you in charge of zoom, flash mode, metering mode, focus mode, ISO sensitivity, AE lock, and any special drive settings. The Scene Program modes offer a handful of preset shooting modes, set up for specific situations. Portrait, Landscape, and Night Scene modes are self explanatory; the Natural Light and Anti-Blur modes bear a little further explanation. Natural Light mode boosts ISO sensitivity, enough to allow low light scenes to be captured without blurring, and without using a burst of flash that might disturb your subject, and give harsh, unflattering shadows. Anti-Blur mode likewise boosts ISO sensitivity, but with a bias toward faster shutter speeds that freeze both blurring from camera shake and subject movement. Both modes aim to take advantage of the better-than-average high ISO sensitivity of Fujifilm's proprietary SuperCCD image sensors, although we still found images shot at ISO 800 and 1600 to have objectionable levels of noise that gave images a pointillist effect.

The remaining exposure modes on the dial offer a range of manual control options. Program AE lets the camera control shutter speed and aperture, but gives you control over all other exposure variables. A nice feature here is that rotating the Command wheel cycles through a range of equivalent exposure settings, letting you choose between wider apertures and faster shutter speeds or the opposite. (A nice touch, since this is often what you're trying to accomplish when you'd otherwise drop into Aperture or Shutter Priority mode.) Aperture and Shutter Priority modes both offer limited control, letting you adjust either the lens aperture or shutter speed while the camera picks the best value of the other variable. In both modes, turning the Command wheel adjusts the setting you're controlling. An exposure readout on the LCD reports whether the resulting shot will be under- or overexposed, giving you a chance to change the setting. Finally, Manual exposure mode offers total exposure control, letting you select both aperture and shutter speed together. In all exposure modes other than Auto, the Scene modes, and Manual, the Exposure Compensation adjustment lightens or darkens the overall image from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments.

Unusually, neither the shutter or aperture priority modes allows access to the full range of the variable in question. In Shutter priority mode, shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 to four seconds at wide angle, or 1/2000 to four seconds at telephoto. In Aperture priority mode, available apertures range from f/2.8 at wide angle or f/4.9 at telephoto to f/8. Manual mode unlocks the full range - shutter speeds from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds (plus Bulb, which is likewise limited to 30 seconds), and apertures as small as f/11. It is fairly common to see cameras restrict the longer shutter speeds in Auto, Program and Shutter priority modes, but rather less common to see faster shutter speeds or the aperture range restricted in all but manual mode. Turning the Command wheel alone in Manual mode sets shutter speed, while holding down the Exposure Compensation button and turning the wheel adjusts the aperture setting.

By default, the Fuji S9000 uses a multi-segment metering system, which bases the exposure on readings taken from 256 zones throughout the frame. The camera also offers Average and Spot metering modes, accessible using the metering mode dial on the camera's rear dial (which can be a bit fiddly to grip and turn - good to prevent accidental settings changes, but awkward to adjust in a hurry). Average metering reads the entire scene and bases the overall exposure on the average value. Alternatively, Spot metering bases the exposure on a reading from the very center of the frame (good for off-center or high contrast subjects). The AE Lock button lets you lock the exposure for a specific part of your subject, by aiming the camera to center the area you want to base exposure on in the viewfinder, and then pressing the button until the AE Lock icon appears on the LCD display. Depending on the AE-Lock Mode setting in the camera's menu system, the exposure will either remain locked until the AE Lock button is pressed again or the Shutter button is fully pressed and released, or the lock will be held for only as long as the AE-Lock button remains pressed in.. While you can achieve much the same effect with most cameras by half-pressing and holding the Shutter button prior to the exposure, that approach has the sometimes undesired side effect of also locking focus. You may not need it often, but when you do, a separate AE Lock control is invaluable.

If you're not sure of the exact exposure to use, an Auto Exposure Bracketing function snaps a series of three images at different exposure settings, making it easier to get a good exposure in critical shooting conditions. You can set the exposure step size for these series through the Record menu - either 1/3, 2/3 or 1EV steps. The camera captures one image at the normal exposure, one slightly underexposed, and one slightly overexposed. In any exposure mode except for the Natural Light and Anti-Blur scene modes, the camera's ISO sensitivity setting can be adjusted to Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, or 1600.

The Fujifilm S9000 has a full range of color balance settings, adjusted through the White Balance option. Choices include Auto, Custom 1, Custom 2, Daylight, Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, and Incandescent settings. The two Custom settings are manual adjustments, and base the white balance on a white card placed in front of the camera. These settings are saved in the camera's memory, allowing you to recall either the Custom 1 or Custom 2 setting at any time. (Having two separate custom white balance settings can be very handy if you're shooting in an environment with mixed lighting.) In addition to white balance, a choice of Sharpness, Saturation, and Contrast adjustments lets you control each variable in-camera, with one arbitrary step above or below the default setting. A Color adjustment lets you record images in Standard Color, Black-and-White, or Chrome. The Chrome option raises contrast and saturation for more vivid images.

For delayed exposures, the Fuji S9000's Self-Timer mode offers two- and 10-second countdowns between the time the Shutter button is fully pressed and when the shutter actually fires. The 10-second option gives you time to compose the shot, then run around in front of the camera to get into your own pictures. The two-second self-timer option is very handy when you have the camera propped on a tripod or other support for a long exposure, and don't want the pressure of your finger on the Shutter button to jostle it. With the short self-timer option, you can prop the camera, trip the timer, and the shutter will release a couple of seconds later, after any vibrations have died down.

 

Drive Modes

The Fuji S9000 offers a range of high-speed shooting modes, all selected by holding down the Drive Mode button and turning the Command wheel. The available modes are called Top-4 Frame, Auto Bracketing (discussed above), Final-4 Frame, and Long-Period Continuous Shooting.

Perhaps the most interesting of the continuous modes are the ones called Top-4 Frame and Final-4 Frame. Top-4 Frame captures four consecutive frames at intervals as quick as 0.61 seconds, depending on the file size and quality settings. After the series is captured, all images are displayed at the bottom of the LCD screen as thumbnails while they are being recorded to the memory card. Final-4 Frame mode captures as many as 40 frames at the same 1.65 fps frame rate while the Shutter button is held down. The camera then records the last four frames of the series, recording what happened just before you released the shutter button. Final-4 Frame mode is thus especially handy for capturing fleeting moments. If you're like me, you always recognize the perfect expression on your child's face or the perfect pose by your pet a fraction of a second after it's gone. With the Final-4 Frame feature, I can finally capture all those previously-missed moments, since the camera effectively reaches back in time to grab what I was looking at up to a second before I released the shutter button. For more extended rapid-fire shooting, Long-Period Continuous Shooting mode works only in Auto and Scene exposure modes, and at a reduced speed of 1.1 frames per second. What you gain though, is the ability to capture a maximum of 40 frames in a row, although the camera does slow after the first several frames. (See the detailed timing information later in this review for more information on buffer capacities and capture speeds.) As with the Movie mode though, you do need a fast memory card to get the best performance from Long-Period Continuous Shooting mode, and the S9000 seems to do quite a bit better with xD Picture cards than even high-speed CF cards.

A Multi-Exposure mode available only in the Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual modes lets you overlay images in the same file, for a double-exposure effect. Activated through the settings menu, Multi-Exposure mode continuously overlays exposures until you tell it to stop, merging each new image with the one (itself possibly also a composite) already in memory. A preview screen appears after each shot, so that you can check the effect. You can also opt to return to the previous version of the image (before your last exposure) and start over from there. It seems easier to do this (with more control to boot) in an image-editing program, but perhaps users who prefer to make prints directly from their camera may appreciate the feature.

 

Flash

The built-in, pop-up flash on the Fuji FinePix S9000 has a reasonable degree of power, effective to 18.4 feet (5.6 meters) at full wide angle. (At telephoto, the flash is effective to 9.8 feet (3 meters), not bad but the smaller maximum aperture at telephoto definitely hurts its range. The flash operates in one of five modes, all accessed by turning the Command wheel while pressing the Flash button on top of the camera. Modes include Auto (lightning bolt icon with an "A"), Red-Eye Reduction (eyeball icon), Forced On (lightning bolt), Slow-Synchro (lightning bolt with an "S"), and Slow-synchro with Red-Eye Reduction (eyeball with "Slow" beneath it). Auto and Forced On are pretty self-explanatory. Red-eye Reduction means that the camera fires a small pre-flash before the full flash, to reduce the occurrence of the Red-eye Effect. The Slow-Synchro modes combine the flash with a slow shutter speed and are good for night subjects because they allow more ambient light into the image. (This helps avoid the common syndrome of a ghastly white subject in front of a pitch-dark background so common in flash shots from low-end cameras.) A small release button on the left side of the flash (as viewed from the back) mechanically releases the flash from its compartment. Note that the flash must be popped up in order to change its operating mode. To disable the flash, it is simply pressed back down, latching it shut once more. A brightness adjustment accessed through the settings menu increases or decreases the overall flash power from -0.6 to +0.6 EV in one-third-step increments. This is handy for balancing flash exposure with light coming from other sources in the scene, although I'd really like to see it extend further toward negative exposure compensation, for those times when you really want only a subtle fill-light.

The external flash hot shoe on top of the camera features a single contact, and hosts a range of Fuji and third-party flash units, apparently synchronizing to shutter speeds as fast as 1/1,000-second. The internal and external flash units cannot operate together, so the pop-up flash should be closed when an external flash is in use. Finally, a PC Sync connector on the front of the camera caters for off-camera / studio flash strobes.

 

Movie and Sound Recording

The Fuji S9000's Movie mode captures moving images with sound at either VGA (640 x 480 pixels) or QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) resolutions, with a frame rate fixed at 30 fps, for as long as there is available card space. Full VGA resolution movies are becoming a little more commonplace these days, but as with most cameras offering such capabilities you do have to have a very fast memory card to keep up with the high data rate. Fujifilm also notes that when using microdrives in higher ambient temperatures to record movies, the microdrive may eventually overheat, requiring the camera to stop recording automatically. Movie recording stops and starts with a full press of the Shutter button, and a timer appears in the LCD monitor to report the available recording time. Most of the exposure features are adjustable in Movie mode, with the exception of flash, digital zoom, and the high-speed still-capture shooting options.

Accessed via the Playback menu, a Voice Memo mode lets you record short sound clips to accompany already-recorded still images. Voice captions can last as long as 30 seconds. When activated, Voice Memo mode begins recording audio immediately, with a recording indication on the LCD screen.

 

Shutter Lag/Cycle Times

When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time or delay before the shutter actually fires. This corresponds to the time required for the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is rarely reported (and even more rarely reported accurately), and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, I routinely measure both shutter delay and shot-to-shot cycle times for all cameras I test, using a test system I designed and built for the purpose. (Crystal-controlled, with a resolution of 0.001 second.) Here are the numbers I collected for the Fujifilm FinePix S9000:

Fujifilm FinePix S9000 Timings
Operation
Time
(secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
0.9
Camera boots and LCD turns on. Pretty fast, helped by not having to deploy a telescoping lens.
Shutdown
0.2 - 10
First time is simple shutdown, second time is worst-case buffer-clearing time. Buffer clearing time is for large/fine Top4 mode to an xD card, fast CF cards may be slower, slow CF cards may be slower still.
Play to Record, first shot
0.3
Time until first shot is captured. Very fast.
Record to play
4.5 / 2.0
First time is that required to display a large/fine file immediately after capture, second time is that needed to display a large/fine file that has already been processed and stored on the memory card. About average.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.67 / 0.65
First time is at full wide-angle, second is full telephoto. Reasonably fast, but not up with the best of its competitors.
Shutter lag, High Speed mode
0.43
Reduced focus range. (2 - 4 meter, 6.6 - 13 foot minimum distance, depending on zoom setting.) Very fast, an excellent option! (Just don't forget to turn it off again, when you need to shoot closer subjects.)
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.011
Time to capture, after half-pressing shutter button. Extremely fast.
Shutter lag, continuous autofocus
0.71
As usual, no benefit to continuous AF mode for stationary subjects, and we have no way of reliably testing lag with a moving subject.
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.34
About average, a little slow for this class of camera.
Cycle Time, max/min resolution

1.20 / 1.19

First number is for large/fine files, second number is time for "TV" mode (640x480) images. Times are averages. In large/fine mode, shoots 10 frames this fast, then slows to about 1.4 seconds per frame with an XD card. With a fast CF card (50x Kingston or faster), the time between frames drops to 0.91 second for only four frames, then slows to just over two seconds per frame. Buffer clears in three seconds with an xD card, or in 8 seconds with a fast CF card. Slower CF cards would take even longer to clear. In TV mode, maintains this pace indefinitely. Buffer clears in 3 seconds. Good speed, a bit better than average for this level of resolution and class of camera.
Cycle Time, RAW
(xD, CF)
7.51/10.01 Times are averages. Maintains this pace indefinitely, clearing the buffer after each shot. First time is with an xD card, second is with a fast CF card. (50x Kingston 1GB card.)
Cycle Time, Flash exposures 8 (Flash at maximum power output) A little on the slow side, but a fairly powerful flash.
Cycle Time, long-period continuous mode, max/min resolution 0.91 / 1.17
(1.10 / 0.85 fps)
First number is for large/fine files, second number is time for "TV" mode (640x480) images. Times are averages. In large/fine mode, shoots 7 frames this fast, then slows to about 1.1 seconds per frame. In TV mode, maintains this pace indefinitely. Buffer clears in 4 seconds for large/fine shots, in 2 seconds for "TV" sized images. On the slow side. Times measured with xD card. This continuous mode is only available in the cameras Auto and various scene modes, not in manual, program, aperture priority or shutter priority modes.
Cycle Time, Top 4 mode 0.61
(1.65 fps)
Shoots a burst of 4 frames at the same rate for any resolution. Buffer clears in 10 seconds for large/fine shots, in 6 seconds for "TV" sized images. Times measured with an xD memory card.

The S9000 performance ranges from moderately fast to just average, depending on what figure you're looking at. Startup time and shutter response are reasonable, and quite good for a camera with a telescoping lens. Shot to shot times are slightly better than average, but continuous mode speed is a bit below par except in the Top4 mode, and even there isn't particularly impressive. Flash recharging time is just slightly on the slow side for its class, but downloading over the camera's USB 2.0 connection is exceptionally quick. Prefocused shutter lag is the one real standout - at just 0.11 second, this is blazingly fast, among the best on the market. We also noted that buffer clearing and shot-to-shot times were noticeably better with xD than with either a SanDisk Extreme III CF 1GB or a Kingston 50x card, with the xD capturing seven images and clearing the buffer in four seconds, and the CF cards capturing only four images and clearing in eight seconds. Clearing times in Top4 mode were 8.44 seconds for the xD card, and about 12.4 seconds for the CF cards. Time to bring up images and switch between images in Playback mode are really way too slow, almost always measuring four seconds between frames at the highest resolution.

 

Operation & User Interface

With a lot of knobs, switches, and buttons spread out around its case, the S9000's user interface at first seems more complicated than it really is. Most of the exposure features can be controlled externally, though they do require the LCD display to be active so that you can see the settings you've selected. (A small status display panel would be handy here for making quick changes while keeping the LCD display in the smaller EVF view.) When you do have to deal with the LCD menu system though, it's straightforward. There are three main menus - Record, Playback, and Setup - each spanning several scenes, which are indicated as tabs to the left of the menu items. For quick access to a specific setting, you can select which tab you want directly, rather than having to page through multiple screens of settings to access the correct tab. The FinePix button on the rear panel is useful for accessing often-used settings, such as resolution, sensitivity, and color modes. Though you'll probably spend an hour or more learning to use the camera, operation becomes progressively easier and faster as you get to know it.

 

Control Enumeration


Shutter Button
Located on the top panel in the center of the Power / Mode dial, this silver button sets autofocus and exposure when halfway pressed and fires the shutter when fully pressed. If the self-timer is activated, a full press of the Shutter button triggers the two- or 10-second countdown. A screw mount in the center of the button accommodates a mechanical cable release, useful with Bulb exposures or any time you don't want to risk camera shake from pressing the Shutter button.

Power / Mode Dial
(See image above.) Surrounding the Shutter button on the top panel, this dial controls the camera's power, and selects either Record or Playback operating modes.


Exposure Compensation Button
Just behind and to the left of the Power / Mode dial on the top panel, this button lets you adjust the exposure compensation from -2 to +2 EV units in one-third-step increments, by pressing it while simultaneously turning the Command wheel (except in Manual, Scene Program, and Auto modes). In Manual exposure mode, this same set of actions adjusts the lens aperture setting from f/2.8 to f/11.


Flash Button
Just to the right of the Exposure Compensation button, this button sets the onboard flash mode. If the pop-up flash is released to its operating position, pressing this button displays the on-screen flash menu. Holding the button down while turning the Command wheel selects Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Slow-Synchro, or Red-Eye Reduction Slow-Synchro modes. (The flash is disabled altogether by pushing the popup mechanism back down, so there's no "Forced Off" setting). Not all flash settings are available in all exposure modes.


Drive Mode Button
Directly behind the Exposure Compensation button, pressing this button displays the on-screen Drive menu. Turning the Command wheel with the Drive Mode button held down selects Single Exposure, Top-4 Frame, Auto Bracketing, Final-4 Frame, and Long-Period Continuous Shooting modes (Auto Bracketing only being available in P, A, S, and M modes, and the Long-Period Continuous mode in the Auto and Scene modes only).


Command Wheel
Located in the far lower right corner of the top panel, behind the Drive Mode button, this ribbed black wheel adjusts various camera settings when turned while pressing a control button. In Manual mode, turning this wheel with no control button pressed sets the shutter speed. In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, turning the wheel adjusts the corresponding exposure setting (aperture or shutter speed, respectively), while in Program AE mode, turning the wheel selects between a range of equivalent exposure settings. (This last lets you bias the camera's exposure system to prefer larger or smaller apertures, giving you some degree of control over depth of field and shutter speed, while still maintaining automatic exposure control.)


Exposure Mode Dial
Directly to the left of the Command wheel, this large, ribbed dial controls the camera's exposure mode, offering the following selections:


AE-L Button
Positioned to the right of the electronic viewfinder on the camera's rear panel in the center of the metering mode dial, this button locks the exposure setting, either while held in, or until it is pressed again / the Shutter button is fully pressed and released (depending upon camera setup).

Metering Mode Dial
(See image above.) Surrounding the AE-L button on the rear panel, this dial selects from the available metering modes - Multi Pattern, Spot, or Average.


EVF / LCD Button
Directly below and to the right of the AE-L button, this button switches the viewfinder and playback displays between the electronic viewfinder eyepiece and LCD monitor.


Focus Check Button
Directly below the EVF / LCD button, this button enlarges the center portion of the frame on the LCD monitor by about 2x, making it easier to see the results of manual focus adjustments.


FinePix Button

Beneath and to the left of the Focus Check button, this button calls up the FinePix menu, with the following options:

Record Mode:

Movie Mode:

Playback Mode:


Four-Way Arrow Pad
Located to the right of and below the FinePix button on the back panel, this multi-directional button toggles up and down or left and right, with an arrow in each direction. In any settings menu, the arrow keys navigate through menu options and selections.

In Record mode, the Up and Down arrows respectively enable or disable the camera's fixed 2x digital zoom. In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images on the memory card. When an image has been enlarged in Playback or in Preview mode, all four arrows move around within the enlarged view.

Menu / OK Button
(See image above.) Tucked in the center of the Four-Way Arrow pad, this button calls up the settings menu in any mode. This button also acts as the "OK" to confirm menu changes or acknowledge menu prompts, and selects an image to enlarge when in the multi-frame or "by date" playback modes.


Display / Back Button
Beneath the FinePix button on the back panel, this button cycles through the information display options in both Playback and Record modes. In Record mode, the Display / Back button pages through the live image preview with text overlay, without text overlay, with framing guidelines, or with post-shot assist window. The framing guideline display mode includes an alignment grid that divides up the image area into thirds, horizontally and vertically. (This is very handy for lining up the camera with objects in the scene, to insure that your photos are square and level.) The post-shot assist display mode shows the last three photographs captured alongside the current preview, helping you to take shots with similar compositions. In Playback mode, the Display / Back button pages through the single image display with text overlay, single image display without text overlay, multi-frame playback, and "sorting by date" display modes. Multi-frame playback shows nine thumbnail images on screen at once, and "sorting by date" mode up to 12 images at once, all captured on the same date, alongside an indication of the dates of images stored on the camera's flash cards. This is great for quickly jumping to a particular date so you can browse photos from a specific trip, for example.

The Display / Back button also backs out of menu selections without making any changes. It can also be used to quickly exit from some camera functions. (Such as enlarged playback of images.)


Diopter Adjustment Dial
Just on the left side of the optical viewfinder eyepiece, this dial adjusts the focus of the viewfinder to accommodate near- or farsighted users.


Pop-Up Flash Release Button
Nestled on the left side of the camera, just beneath the pop-up flash compartment, this button mechanically releases the spring-loaded flash to its operating position.


Info Button
Just beneath the neck strap eyelet on the left side of the camera, this button displays exposure and camera information in both Record and Playback modes. In Record mode, it lists the current exposure settings, as well as a small histogram (in Single AF mode only). In Playback mode, it shows a histogram of the captured image, as well as the exposure settings used to capture it.


Focus Switch
Below the Info button, this switch sets focus to Manual, Single AF, or Continuous AF modes.

One-Push AF Button
(See image above.) Centered inside the Focus switch, this button momentarily triggers the autofocus system to quickly adjust the focus when you're in manual focus mode. (This is very handy for getting the focus "in the ballpark" before fine-tuning it manually.)


Macro Button
Directly below the Focus Switch (and marked with the standard Macro flower icon), this button cycles through Normal AF, Macro, and Super Macro modes when pressed repeatedly.


MF Adjustment Ring

One of two rings encircling the end of the lens barrel, this notched ring is the closer of the two to the camera's body, and adjusts the focus using an electronic "fly-by-wire" style system when the camera is in manual focus mode.


Zoom Ring

The second of two rings encircling the end of the lens barrel, this notched ring is the further of the two from the camera's body, and mechanically adjusts the camera's when the camera is in manual focus mode. Markings on the ring and barrel give an indication of the 35mm-equivalent focal length the zoom is currently set to.

 

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode
Indicated by an icon on a red background at the bottom left of the LCD display (unless the display is in image only mode), this mode allows the camera to capture images. Exposure modes are selected using the Mode dial.

Playback Mode
This mode lets you scroll through captured images and movies, view a nine-image index display, view images by date captured, zoom into a captured image to inspect it more closely, view movies, delete unwanted images, and set up images for printing on DPOF compatible devices.

Record Menu
Accessed by pressing the Menu button in any of the Record modes. Not all options will be available in all exposure modes.

Playback Menu: Accessed by pressing the Menu button in Playback mode.

Setup Menu: Accessed from the Set-Up option in all Record or Playback menus (but not the Photo Mode or DPOF menus), the Setup menu offers the following options:


 

Image Storage and Interface

The FinePix S9000 is relatively unique in that it features a dual-media slot that accepts xD-Picture Cards as well as CompactFlash Type II memory cards (including microdrives). The camera comes with a 16MB xD-Picture Card, which won't hold very many high resolution images. Given the S9000's large maximum file size (3,488 x 2,616 pixels), I highly recommend buying several large memory cards, or possibly a microdrive. In addition to the Fine and Normal JPEG quality settings (only for nine megapixel images), the S9000 also offers a RAW format, although it is hidden in the camera's Setup menu (it would be more logically placed in the Photo Mode menu).

The LCD display reports the number of available images at the current resolution/quality setting, so you always have an idea of the remaining image capacity. The table below shows the number of images of each size that can be stored on the rather puny 16 MB card included in the box, and the approximate level of JPEG compression used for each. Look at the table, and you'll see that you really have to plan on buying an extra card or cards with the camera: The included 16MB card really isn't very useful with files this large. Thankfully, the S9000 does support the FAT32 file system, so it will work with memory cards greater than 2GB in size.

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
16 MB Memory Card
Fine Normal
RAW
3488 x 2616 Images
(Avg size)
3
4.6 MB
6
2.3 MB
0
19.3 MB
Approx.
Compression
6:1 12:1 1.4:1
2592 x 1944 Images
(Avg size)
- 12
1.3 MB
-
Approx.
Compression
- 12:1 -
2048 x 1536 Images
(Avg size)
- 19
803 KB
-
Approx.
Compression
- 12:1 -
1600 x 1200 Images
(Avg size)
- 25
639 KB
-
Approx.
Compression
- 9:1 -
640 x 480
Images
(Avg size)
- 122
131 KB
-
Approx.
Compression
- 7:1 -

As you would expect, the memory card should never be removed while the camera is in operation to avoid damaging the media. An LED lamp nestled next to the top of the memory card compartment door lights when the camera is accessing the card. A steady orange light indicates that the camera is writing to the card, while a flashing orange and green light means that the camera is writing to the card, but is ready to capture another image. A blinking red light indicates a problem with the card. Other patterns of blinking indicate the status of the camera's AF / AE / flash systems.

The Fuji S9000's Playback menu offers write-protection for individual images or all images on the card, preventing files from being accidentally erased or manipulated. The Erase menu option under the Playback menu lets you erase individual or all images while in Playback mode. (Note that formatting a memory card erases all files on the card, even those with protection.)

A USB cable and software CD accompany the camera, for connection to a computer. Like many USB-equipped cameras these days, the Fujifilm S9000 is a "storage class" USB device, meaning that it will show up on the desktop of Mac OS 8.6 and higher machines, as well as those of Windows Me, XP, and 2000 computers, without having to load driver software. This is a really handy feature, since it makes it a lot easier to connect the camera to computers other than your own, without having to worry about special driver software, etc. It also supports the PictBridge standard, allowing the camera to be connected directly to PictBridge-compatible printers, and prints made without the need for a computer. Downloading files to my Sony desktop running Windows XP (Pentium IV, 2.4 GHz), I clocked it at 4323 KBytes/second. (Cameras with slow USB interfaces run as low as 300 KB/s, cameras with fast v1.1 interfaces run as high as 600 KB/s. Cameras with USB v2.0 interfaces run as fast as several megabytes/second.)

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee if it doesn't retrieve your images. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

Video Out

The Fujifilm FinePix S9000 comes with an A/V (audio and video) cable that allows you to connect the camera to a television set for reviewing images and movies. Since the viewfinder signal in record mode is also routed to the video jack, you can also use a video monitor as an expanded viewfinder for composing shots. A setup menu option offers NTSC and PAL video timing settings.

 

Power

The S9000 uses four AA-type batteries for power, and comes with a set of single-use alkaline batteries. As you'd expect, the increased power capacity provided by high-capacity NiMH AA cells brings some clear benefits in terms of extended operating times. As always, I strongly recommend buying a few sets of high-capacity NiMH AA cells and a good charger, and always keeping a freshly charged set on hand as spares. You can read my battery test results here, or see this article for a review of my favorite charger.

An AC adapter is available as a separate accessory, handy when downloading images or reviewing captured files, essential / mandatory if you plan to use the S9000 for extended studio shooting sessions. An Auto Power Off function shuts off the camera automatically after either two or five minutes of inactivity (adjusted through the Setup menu), but can be disabled if you want to keep the camera ready all the time, at the obvious cost of shorter battery life. The table below details power consumption in various operating modes. (Note that the numbers in this table are based on the use of NiMH AA cells with 1600 mAh capacity, to maintain compatibility with earlier reviews. Actual run times will depend on the capacity of the batteries you use. Modern NiMH cells have true capacities of 2000 mAh or more, so you could see battery life 25% or more higher than shown here.)

Operating Mode
Power
(@5.0 volts on the external power terminal)
Est. Minutes
(four 1600 mA cells)
Capture Mode, w/LCD
510 mA
181
Capture Mode, no LCD
521 mA
177
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
521 mA
177
Half-pressed w/o LCD
531 mA
173
Memory Write (transient)
615 mA
n/a
Flash Recharge (transient)
947 mA
n/a
Image Playback
198 mA
466

The Fuji S9000 offers good run time, particularly if you use the latest high-capacity NiMH cells to power it. (Worst-case run time with true 2000 mAh cells would be a bit over 3.7 hours, very good indeed.) I still recommend purchasing a second set of rechargeable batteries, and always keeping one set topped-off via a trickle charger, to avoid the Murphy's Law problem of batteries failing exactly when you most need them. As noted above, see my battery shootout article, for the latest test results of various NiMH cells under actual load conditions.

 

Included Software

Packaged with the S9000 is a software CD containing Fuji's "Software for FinePix 5.1a," compatible with Windows 98 / 2000 / Me / XP and Macintosh OS 8.6 to OS X. In addition to USB drivers, the software package includes FinePix Viewer for organizing files, and ImageMixer for creating CD albums, there's also a RAW file converter.

 

In the Box

Included in the box are the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Test Results

We ran the Fujifilm FinePix S9000 through our usual battery of tests, and have summarized our findings here. To see the full set of our test images, with explanations of what to look for in them, see the Fujifilm FinePix S9000 Sample Pictures page. For a complete listing of all our test and "gallery" shots, go to the Thumbnails page.

A collection of more random, pictorial images can be found in the FinePix S9000 Photo Gallery.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Fuji S9000 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!

Lens

Zoom
An excellent 10.7x optical zoom range, with good performance.

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
28mm
300mm
2x Digital Zoom

The Fuji S9000 zooms over the equivalent of a 28-300mm range, a very generous zoom range for its class. Results are good at wide angle, with sharp details, though some coma distortion and flare is noticeable in the leaves against the sky in both upper corners. The 2x digital zoom actually performs better than one might expect, with low noise and only moderate blurring, but as always, digital zoom is basically just cropping-out the central pixels of the sensor's image. Details remain fairly sharp with the digital zoom enabled.

Macro
A larger than average macro area in the normal mode, but a tiny area in Super Macro. Flash exposes fairly well in normal macro mode.

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Standard Macro Macro with Flash Super Macro

The Fuji FinePix S9000's normal macro setting did OK in our test, but it captured a larger than average minimum area measuring 5.02 x 3.76 inches (127 x 96 millimeters). The camera's Super Macro setting captured a much smaller area, a very small 1.48 x 1.11 inches (38 x 28 millimeters), but the close shooting range made lighting difficult. Detail was strong and resolution high, with only a moderate amount of softening in the corners from the lens. (Most cameras have some softening in the corners in macro mode.) The flash throttled down pretty well, but obviously can't do much in Super Macro mode due to the very short shooting distance.

Distortion
Moderate barrel distortion at wide angle, low pincushion at telephoto.

This is the tendency for the lens to bend straight lines outward (like a barrel--usually at wide angle) or inward (like a pincushion--usually at telephoto). The Fujifilm FinePix S9000's 0.8% barrel distortion at wide angle is about average among the cameras I've tested, although I personally feel that this level is too high. At the telephoto end, the S9000's 0.1% pincushion is low. (It's worth noting that the S9000 manages to stay within the typical range of distortion for cameras we've tested, despite its more than 10x zoom ratio, an impressive achievement.)

Barrel distortion at 28mm is 0.8%
Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Pincushion at 300mm is 0.1%
Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image

Chromatic aberration
High to moderate in the corners of the images. Worst at wide angle, slightly better at telephoto.

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Wide:
High and bright, top left @ 200%
Tele:
Less bright but still high, top left @200%

Chromatic aberration is rather high at wide angle, showing about 7-8 pixels of very bright coloration on either side of the target lines. The effect decreases only slightly at telephoto focal lengths, but is in the opposite direction. (The green fringes are towards the outside edges of the frame at wide angle, but toward the center of the frame at telephoto.) At intermediate focal lengths, the chromatic aberration decreases and passes through zero. (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.) Overall, the chromatic aberration from the Fuji S9000's lens is higher than we'd like to see at both ends of its zoom range, but does decrease to a acceptable level over a broad range of intermediate focal lengths.

Corner Sharpness
Fairly strong softening in the top corners of the frame, strongest effect in the upper right corner. Lower corners soft, but effect not as strong.

Wide Angle:
Strong blurring in the upper right corner.
(Other corners not nearly as bad, also
gets much better at f/4.)
Wide Angle:
Center of frame for comparison
(Uncommonly crisp)
Telephoto:
Again, blurring in upper right corner.
(Once more though, other corners are
better, this one gets much better at f/4.)
Telephoto:
Center of frame for comparison

The Fuji S9000 produced soft corners in a few shots, the upper right corner being by far the worst. (Perhaps the sensor chip in our sample was slightly tipped up in that corner? - Non-planar sensor chips are a surprisingly common problem in digital cameras.) Apart from that particularly problematic corner though, sharpness in the corners of the frame was noticeably better than average, even when shooting at maximum aperture, as seen above. (As we saw earlier though, chromatic aberration is fairly evident in these tests.)

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Excessive warm cast with both Auto and Incandescent white balance settings, but Manual option produced very good results. More exposure compensation required than usual, but Incandescent white balance required less.

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Auto White Balance +1.3 EV Incandescent WB +0.7 EV
Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image  
Manual White Balance +1.3 EV  

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was quite warm in Auto and Incandescent white balance modes, but the Manual setting produced much more accurate results. The FinePix S9000 required a +1.3 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, which is higher than average for this shot. (Though the Incandescent white balance looked best at +0.7 EV, a puzzling variation.) Overall color with the manual setting looks good, if a little reddish, though the blue flowers are dark and purplish. (A very common outcome for this shot.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulb, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the US.

Outdoors, daylight
Good overall color balance, though a hint red. Good color and average to a bit better than average exposure accuracy.

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Auto White Balance, +0.3 EV Auto White Balance, Auto Exposure

Outdoor shots generally showed fairly accurate exposure, though highlights were easily blow-out and the deep shadows lost some detail. The Fuji FinePix S9000 generally required less exposure compensation than average outdoors as well. Color is quite good, vivid without appearing at all overdone, although bright yellows and greens were a bit more muted than with many consumer-level digital cameras.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution, 1,600 lines of strong detail.

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,600 lines per picture height, with extinction past 2,000. (Some reviewers will doubtless argue for higher numbers, but past 1600 lines, the level of artifacts and aliasing starts to swamp the target detail itself.) Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Beware that while you might be able to make out what looks like distinct lines at numbers higher than those we've mentioned here, the camera is just doing its best to continue interpreting the lines. If you zoom in and follow them from the wider portions, you'll see the lines converge and reappear a few times at the higher numbers.

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Strong detail to 1,600 lines horizontal Strong detail to 1,600 lines vertical

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Fairly sharp images, with some blurring of detail from noise suppression.

Pretty good definition of high-contrast elements. Low contrast areas lose detail. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here.

The Fujifilm FinePix S9000's images are quite sharp, with relatively little over-sharpening or excessive edge enhancement on the camera's part. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.) Though some edge enhancement is at play here, results are still very good, and the camera's images take strong/tight unsharp masking in Photoshop(tm) very well. (Try 200% at an 0.3 pixel radius to bring out lots of fine detail.

Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears, but is also frequently found in shots of foliage. The crop at top right shows this somewhat, with darker areas of Marti's hair showing only slightly limited detail, though is still good here. You can also see areas in the pine foliage of the crop above left where the subtle detail is just missing altogether. (The level of detail loss shown here isn't all that obvious on prints 8x10 inches or smaller though.)

ISO & Noise Performance
Low noise at the normal sensitivity settings, though very high noise that blurs detail at the higher settings.

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
ISO 80 ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1,600

The Fuji S9000's lower ISO settings produced low to moderate noise, with only slightly blurred detail in areas of subtle contrast. As the ISO setting increased, so did the noise level and the amount of blurring caused by the noise reduction processing. Images at ISO 400 are visibly soft on-screen, but still look surprisingly crisp when printed at 8x10 inches. At ISOs 800 and 1,600, noise is so high that the pixels give the image a pointillist effect, almost like a Seurat painting. At a print size of 8x10 inches and a normal viewing distance of a foot or so, the graininess of ISO 800 shots is noticeable but probably acceptable, while ISO 1600 shots are really unusable at that size. Dropping down to 5x7 inches, ISO 800 shots are still a little grainy looking, but should be acceptable to most users, while ISO 1600 shots are still very rough. Printed as 4x6 inch snapshots, the ISO 1600 images finally become usable, but still look a bit rough and have a visibly different color balance resulting from all the noise pixels.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, but slightly high contrast limits both shadow and highlight detail. Excellent low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and darker.

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Normal +0.3EV +0.7EV

Sunlight:
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)

The FinePix S9000 handled the above challenge fairly well, but its somewhat high contrast resulted in limited highlight and shadow detail. The effect of noise suppression is visible in the deep shadows, and does contribute to the moderate loss of detail here. The default exposure preserved the strong highlights in this shot, but the +0.3 EV image is just a bit brighter and better-looking overall, despite the loss of highlight detail. (In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)

  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
ISO
80
Click to see S9KLL00803.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL00804.JPG
4 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL00805.JPG
10 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL00806.JPG
20 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL00807.JPG
30 sec
f2.8
ISO
100
Click to see S9KLL01003.JPG
1.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL01004.JPG
3 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL01005.JPG
8 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL01006.JPG
15 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL01007.JPG
30 sec
f2.8
ISO
200
Click to see S9KLL02003.JPG
1/1 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL02004.JPG
1.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL02005.JPG
4 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL02006.JPG
8 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL02007.JPG
15 sec
f2.8
ISO
400
Click to see S9KLL04003.JPG
1/2 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL04004.JPG
1/1 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL04005.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL04006.JPG
4 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL04007.JPG
8 sec
f2.8
ISO
800
Click to see S9KLL08003.JPG
1/5 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL08004.JPG
1/2 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL08005.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL08006.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL08007.JPG
4 sec
f2.8
ISO
1600
Click to see S9KLL16003.JPG
1/10 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL16004.JPG
1/5 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL16005.JPG
1/2 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL16006.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
Click to see S9KLL16007.JPG
2 sec
f2.8

Low light:
The Fujifilm FinePix S9000 performed very well here, capturing bright images even at the lowest light levels. Color balance looked good with the Auto white balance setting. The camera's autofocus system worked unusually well, able to focus on the subject almost down to the darkest light levels we test at, even with its AF-assist light turned off. (About 1/8 foot-candle, roughly 1/8 as bright as typical city street lighting at night, as long as the camera and subject were both motionless.) With AF-assist on, the camera easily handled the darkest level we test at.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page, or see the Dave's SLR Picks, for some of our favorite models.

Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Slight oversaturation in bright reds and blues, though good overall color and hue accuracy.

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.
Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. The FinePix S9000 did slightly overdo the strong red and blue tones, though overall color looked pretty good in most cases. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc. The S9000 did render skin tones just slightly on the pink side, almost certainly within the range that would be acceptable to most consumers.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. Here, the Fuji S9000 also performed fairly well. Depending on the white balance setting, the S9000 had a tendency toward slightly reddish or slightly warm overall color, often resulting in deep blues in the flower bouquet. On the color error chart above right, we see that, as with most digital cameras we test, the S9000 shifts cyans towards pure blues, a very common tactic to improve sky colors. Orange hues are shifted slightly towards pure reds, but all other colors are quite hue-accurate.

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image

Our random "Gallery" shots showed very pleasing color across a wide variety of subjects. (See our Fujifilm FinePix S9000 Photo Gallery for more shots taken with the camera.)

Viewfinder

Coverage
Very good accuracy with the LCD monitor and electronic optical viewfinder.

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
28mm eq., LCD monitor 300mm eq., LCD monitor

The Fuji S9000's electronic optical viewfinder and LCD monitor showed essentially identical results, at close to about 100 percent frame accuracy for both zoom settings, though my standard measurement lines were just out of frame in the final shot.

Flash

Coverage and Range
The FinePix S9000's flash has a limited range, and produces a slight blue cast in combination with typical incandescent room lighting. However, our standard shots required a little less exposure compensation than average.

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
28mm equivalent 300mm equivalent
Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Normal Flash +0.7 EV Slow-Sync Flash +0.7 EV

Flash coverage was slightly uneven at wide angle, with a small shadow in the lower portion of the frame from the lens. At telephoto, results were quite dim. In the Indoor test, the flash on the Fuji S9000 underexposed our subject at its default setting, requiring a +0.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get reasonably bright results. Even here, the exposure is a little dim, with a strong orange cast. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced only slightly brighter results, though with a stronger pinkish-orange cast from the room lighting. The Slow-Sync flash also required a +0.7 EV exposure adjustment for bright results.

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
Click to see S9KFL08.JPG
1/60 sec
f3.8
ISO 100
Click to see S9KFL09.JPG
1/60 sec
f3.9
ISO 100
Click to see S9KFL10.JPG
1/60 sec
f4.0
ISO 100
Click to see S9KFL11.JPG
1/60 sec
f4.0
ISO 100
Click to see S9KFL12.JPG
1/125 sec
f4.1
ISO 100
Click to see S9KFL13.JPG
1/125 sec
f4.2
ISO 100
Click to see S9KFL14.JPG
1/125 sec
f4.4
ISO 100

Even at eight feet, our closest test range, the S9000's flash underexposed the target somewhat. Flash power continues to decrease with each additional foot of distance, becoming quite dim at 14 feet.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Excellent print quality, good color, very good 13x19 inch prints. ISO 400 images are very soft at 8x10, acceptable at 5x7, great at 4x6.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

The Fujifilm FinePix S9000 produced very crisp-looking 13x19 inch prints on our i9900 printer. We've observed in the past that Fuji's SuperCCD sensor technology really shines in printed output, more so than when viewed on-screen, and the S9000 once again proves that out. Even 13x19 inch prints stood up very well to close inspection, appearing sharper than we'd normally expect 9-megapixel prints to look when printed at that size.

As noted above, the S9000 does fine at lower ISO settings, but its image quality degrades fairly rapidly above ISO 400. ISO 800 shots will probably be usable as 8x10 inch prints for most folks interested in displaying them on a wall or table, where they won't be scrutinized too closely. At 5x7 inches, ISO 800 shots are still a bit grainy, but should be satisfactory for most users. At ISO 1600 though, the noise is so high that the resulting images really shouldn't be considered for use printed any larger than 4x6 inches, and even there the color balance of the images may shift due to the large amount of blue-channel noise.

Color-wise, the S9000's images looked very nice when printed on the i9900, with color that managed to appear bright enough to be pleasing, without appearing at all oversaturated. Skin tones were very natural in daylight conditions, and became only slightly reddish under incandescent lighting, when using the manual white balance option. All in all, a very nice performance, resulting in very high-quality prints.

Timing and Performance

Fujifilm FinePix S9000 Timing
Good to average speed for a consumer camera.

Startup/Shutdown:
Power On to first shot 0.9 seconds
Shutter response (Lag Time):
Full Autofocus Wide
0.67 second
Full Autofocus Tele
0.65 second
Full Autofocus Tele
(High Speed Mode)
0.43 second
Prefocused
0.011 second
Cycle time (shot to shot)
Normal large/fine JPEG 1.20 seconds
Flash recycling 8 seconds
Continuous mode 0.91 second
1.10 frames/second
(7 large/fine frames)
Continuous mode,
Top 4 mode
0.61 second
1.65 frames/second
(4 large/fine frames)
Download speed
Windows Computer, USB 2.0 4,323 KBytes/sec

The FinePix S9000's performance ranges from moderately fast to just average, depending on what you're trying to do. It starts up fairly quickly, and has a reasonable quick shutter response when the lens is set to both zoom positions. Its "High Speed" autofocus mode makes a considerable difference though. By limiting the focusing range to a minimum of several feet, the shutter lag drops to a very fast 0.43 second. Finally, if you "prefocus" the camera by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before the final exposure, it's blazingly fast, with a shutter delay of only 0.011 second, among the fastest on the market. Shot to shot cycle times are a little better than average, at about 1.2 seconds for large/fine JPEGs, and it can capture as many as eight shots this quickly (when using an xD Picture card) before it has to slow down and wait for the memory card to catch up.

As noted in our full-length performance tests earlier in the review, the S9000 is also quite a bit faster when writing to xD Picture cards than it is with every very fast CompactFlash cards. This won't affect its shot to shot time before the buffer memory fills, but the buffer will empty more than twice as fast with an xD than a CF card, effective buffer capacity is over twice as great, and RAW-mode cycle times are 25% better when using an xD card.)

Continuous-mode speed is somewhat slow for this class of camera, at a bit over one frame/second, for up to seven shots in succession, but its "Top 4" mode is faster, at 1.65 frames/second. The flash takes about eight seconds to recharge after a full-power shot, about average for this class of camera. Connected to a computer, download speeds are exceptionally fast.

Bottom line, the S9000 is responsive enough to handle most normal photo opportunities, though sports photographers may want a more responsive camera in terms of continuous shooting.

Battery and Storage Capacity

Battery
Good battery life with either the LCD or EVF viewfinders.

Operating Mode
Battery Life
Still-image capture mode
LCD on
181 minutes
Still-image capture mode
LCD off
177 minutes
Image playback
LCD on
466 minutes

The FinePix S9000 uses four AA-type batteries for power. The table above shows maximum run times based on our power measurements and the rated performance of its battery. These are excellent battery-life numbers, but our standard recommendation of buying a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH cells and a good-quality charger still stand.

Storage
A (totally inadequate)16MB xD Picture Card is included with the FinePix S9000, although it also accepts CompactFlash cards.

Image Capacity with
16MB xD Picture Card
RAW Fine Normal
3,488 x 2,616 Images 0 3 6
File Size 2.1 MB 4.6 MB 2.3 MB
2,592 x 1,944 Images     12
File Size     1.3 MB
2,048 x 1,536 Images     19
File Size     803 KB
1,600 x 1,200
Images     25
File Size     639 KB
640 x 480
Images     122
File Size     131 KB

The 16MB xD Picture card included with the S9000 is just silly: It's far too small to be useful for anything other than verifying that the camera works. I strongly recommend buying at least a 128MB card, preferably a 256MB one, to give yourself extra space for extended outings. If you plan on shooting a lot of rapid-fire action with the S9000, you'd do well to buy a high-capacity xD Picture card, as the camera clears its buffer memory noticeably faster with xD cards than CF ones. For large capacity at bargain prices though, CF cards can't be beat.


The Bottom Line

Pro: Con:
  • Extremely high resolution
  • Good overall color
  • Powerful 10.7x zoom lens gets you close to the action, but offers a useful wide angle as well
  • Very little distortion at telephoto
  • Mechanically linked zoom control is more precise and versatile than an electronic "fly by wire" zoom
  • Sharp, clear electronic viewfinder and LCD display with excellent framing accuracy
  • Articulated LCD lets you shoot high or low with ease
  • Higher than usual ISO sensitivity for a non-SLR digicam, and low noise levels at ISO 400 and below
  • Great "feel" in the hands
  • Sturdy, tight build
  • Fast, high-resolution movie mode
  • Excellent low-light performance
  • Superb prefocused shutter lag
  • Very good autofocused shutter lag in "High Speed" (restricted focus range) mode
  • Super Macro mode gets you really close (but see note at right about lighting)
  • Very good battery life
  • Uses AA batteries, spares are easy to find
  • Compatible with a manual screw-in remote shutter release (!)
  • High chromatic aberration at both wide and telephoto focal lengths
  • Some softness in the corners of images (our sample may have had a tilted CCD though), but greatly diminishes one stop down from wide open
  • Occasional inaccurate exposure metering
  • 1.8" LCD is smaller than average these days
  • LCD articulation is more limiting than competing tilt/swivel designs
  • White balance selection should be on an external control
  • RAW file format option and CF/xD card selector buried in setup menu, rather than in the FinePix Menu
  • High noise levels at ISO 800 and 1600
  • Over-aggressive noise reduction loses subtle detail on some subjects
  • Super Macro mode puts you so close you can't get light on your subject
  • Limited flash range at longer focal lengths
  • Below average continuous-mode speed
  • Hopelessly small bundled memory card
  • Very slow CF Record and Playback times, better in xD (but still very slow). Stepping between shots in playback mode can be painfully slow, even with a fast CF card.

 

Conclusion

As time goes on, the falling prices of digital SLRs make it harder and harder for high-end all-in-one cameras to find a place in the market. That said though, the Fujifilm FinePix S9000 makes a pretty compelling case for itself, offering an excellent 10.7x zoom lens (that extends to a very useful wide angle equivalent focal length of 28mm) and loads of resolution at a price a hundred dollars or more less than the least expensive d-SLR equipped with only a modest 3x zoom. It doesn't quite approach the quickness or low light/high ISO prowess of most d-SLRs, but certainly does well enough in these areas to suit the needs of most amateur photographers. A flash hot-shoe permits the use of powerful external strobes, and it even offers a threaded cable-release socket on its shutter button. (Why more digital camera makers don't offer this is beyond us, it can't cost more than a few pennies to add to a camera, and is very useful for all sorts of situations where you don't want to jostle the camera by pressing the shutter button.) Control-wise, the Fuji S9000 offers a full range of exposure modes from fully automatic to fully manual, with program, aperture-priority and shutter-priority in between, as well as a good handful of useful scene modes. This is a camera that a pure novice can start with and grow into as their skills mature. No camera is perfect, and the S9000 has its own set of foibles, but on balance, it's a great choice for enthusiast photographers on a budget. A Dave's Pick for its good build, smooth operation, rich feature set, and affordable price. (Oh yeah -- it takes great pictures too!)

<<S9000 Sample Images | Additional Resources and Other Links>>

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