In Part 1 of this review, I reported that there was almost no difference in image quality between the Fuji Finepix S100FS and the Nikon D200 at ISO 100, despite a 2.5X difference in sensor dimensions. Low-light noise was a different matter. I needed to drop the S100FS down to ISO 800 to match the shadow noise qualities of the Nikon at ISO 1600. Based purely on the 6X difference in pixel area, that's nowhere near as big a difference as one would expect if all things were equal. But as I point out frequently (even obsessively) things are never technologically entirely equal between cameras and generations.
What about my Fuji S6000fd? RAW images looked about like one would expect; the smaller pixels in the S100FS cost about half a stop in speed, relative to the S6000, above ISO 800. You can see this in illustrations 1 through 4, comparing ISO 1600 and 3200 performance of the S6000fd and the S100FS. Below 800, the superior imaging and noise characteristics of the S100FS won out.
3. This RAW photograph was made with the S100FS at ISO 1600. The S100FS has more pixels, so this opens at 75% scale, to make the S6000fd and S100FS illustrations correspond to same-size prints. It's midway in quality between the S6000fd's ISO 1600 and 3200 RAW images.
But, when I photographed JPEGs (illustrations numbered 5 through 8), the ranking changed! The JPEGs from the S100FS had over a full stop speed advantage on the S6000. Vastly better signal processing in the S100 does a much more sophisticated job of retaining detail and fine image structure. Yes, the S100FS JPEGs are noisier, but they're a lot more acceptable than the S6000's combination of mushed out detail, smeary grain, and salt and pepper shot noise.
8. A highest-quality JPEG made with the S100FS at ISO 6400. The opened illustration is at 100% scale, because the S100FS is binning pixels down to 6 MP. Better detail but more noise than an ISO 1600 JPEG from the S6000fd.
I assumed the ISO 6400 (6 MP reduced resolution) and ISO 10,000 (3 MP reduced resolution) JPEG modes would be a joke. While I still consider ISO 10,000 to be an act of desperation, the ISO 6400 setting actually served me well when I was photographing a collection of musician friends performing for each other. A big part of the reason was the camera's burst mode.
The S100FS can buffer seven highest-quality JPEGs or three RAW images. The S100FS accepts xD and SD(HC) storage cards. Avoid xDs, though; they're a lot more expensive and slower. Writing a RAW file to an xD-H card took 7.5 seconds vs. 2.5 sec for a 60X SDHC card. In normal use, camera cycle time was a little under one second. With a 60X SDHC card, that meant I could make five RAW exposures as fast as the camera would cycle before I had to wait while it cleared the buffer. In JPEG mode, I never had to wait.
In burst mode the S100FS photographs three RAW or seven JPEG images in one second. Then the camera needs to take a breath while it writes the data out (around seven seconds on the SDHC card). I used this in combination with the ISO 6400 JPEG setting to capture my musician friends' fleeting expressions with considerable success.
There's also a free-running burst mode, where the camera just keeps shoving exposures into the buffer until you release the shutter. Then it saves the last second's worth of photos.
Auto-bracketing burst mode was my favorite. Set the bracket interval in 1/3 stops up to +/– 1 stop, press the shutter button and in one second it captures three exposures on setting, plus the interval, and minus the interval. Faced with really extreme luminance ranges, I found it less distracting to just grab a burst and waste some storage space than fiddle with the exposure. I wish auto-bracketing went to +/–2 stops. That would be great for HDR.
Camera controls and other issues
Many (not all) of the controls are well-located. Just behind the shutter release are two buttons that bring up the ISO and the exposure information displays. Just behind them, conveniently positioned for one's thumb, is a control wheel that changes the ISO or the exposure compensation.
If neither button is pressed, spinning the wheel changes exposure settings. In Program mode, it trades off aperture for shutter speed. Using that in combination with exposure compensation, I wound up doing almost all my photography in Program mode, hardly needing to use either Shutter or Aperture priority.
Image stabilization works as advertised. Dynamic Range Expansion works, but at a price. Going from DR100 (the normal default setting) to DR200 forces the ISO up to 200 and going to DR400 forces that up to 400. DR400 will add about two stops to the range of a JPEG and somewhere between one and two stops to the range of a RAW image but with substantially increased noise. With 11 RAW stops at ISO 100 I doubt I'll care about DRE.
The LCD screen on the back of the camera has decent enough image quality that one can actually use it for sorting and previewing photographs. Pull it out at a 45-degree angle for comfortable viewing of the screen while the camera sits on the table in front of you.
Still to come...
All in all, I enjoyed using the camera, and I loved the innate image quality. The various exposure and burst modes made it easier to make many of my photographs and got me a higher percentage of successes. So, why did I keep flipping between loving and hating this camera? Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion of this three-part review. Here there be dragons!