Fujifilm sells the S9000 as an alternative to a digital SLR, and with that in mind it's no surprise to see that - from a styling point of view - it looks very much like one; much more so than any of its predecessors. It's also roughly the same size as most of today's consumer DSLR models (see below), though it is a little lighter, especially when you include lens(es) to cover the same range. The all-plastic body feels a bit 'cheap' for want of a better word, but does seem very sturdy. the lens construction (which includes some metal parts) is much better, and has a lovely, smooth zoom action. As you can see from above (and further down the page), Fuji's engineers weren't afraid to cover the S9000 in buttons and switches, which can make it seem a little daunting when you first pick it up, though it does mean a lot of the most-commonly accessed shooting functions get dedicated external controls (though not, frustratingly, white balance or ISO, both of which are still menu-based). Overall, compared to other 'super zoom' bridge cameras the S9000 is hard to fault from an ergonomics point of view - and it's certainly comes the closest yet to recreating that elusive 'SLR-like' handling experience.
Side by side
The S9000 is not, by any stretch of the imagination, compact. It is, to all intents and purposes the same size as a digital SLR, though obviously the small sensor means that the lens, though quite heavy, is smaller than the equivalent lenses for an interchangeable lens camera. Below is a side by side shot of three of the biggest non SLR cameras on the market today next to the Canon EOS Rebel XT (EOS 350); from left: Fuji S9000, Panasonic FZ30, Canon Rebel XT, Samsung PRO 815 (which at the best part of a kilogram is by far the heaviest camera here).
In your hand
Size has its advantages, and the S9000 has superb handling, something many cameras sacrifice in the name of miniaturization. It may feel a little plasticky, but it certainly isn't lightweight - around 750g fully loaded - and it is very well balanced. The large, deep grip fits the hand well.
On the base of the hand grip is the battery compartment door which slides forward to open. As you can see from this image the S9000 takes four AA batteries, and though it works very well with alkaline cells (as supplied), we would recommend a good set of NiMH rechargeables. Battery life is pretty good for a camera with an electronic viewfinder; a good (2500 mAh) set of NiMH batteries should give you around 340 shots (using the CIPA standard testing and xD for storage).
The side of the grip has a large door covering the xD-Picture Card and CompactFlash storage slots. You can use a MicroDrive if you wish, but in our tests this slowed down the camera and reduced battery life unacceptably - especially when shooting RAW.
The left side of the camera (viewed from the back) is home to the USB, A/V and DC-in ports (under a fairly solid rubber cover). Next to this are buttons for macro / supermacro mode, focus mode (AF-single, AF-continuous and manual, one touch AF) and 'INFO'. The latter is used to overlay shooting information on the live preview and playback screens.
The pop-up flash is manually released (using a button on right side). It sits fairly high, which helps minimize red-eye, and there's a very efficient AF illuminator just below, which allows focus in almost complete darkness at distances of up to around 3m. The flash itself isn't particularly powerful, and at the slower (tele) end of the zoom this means the S9000 tends to select a fairly high ISO (in auto mode) when using the flash.
Fortunately there is the option to add a more powerful flashgun thanks to the inclusion of a hot-shot connector (there's also a PC connector for studio flash on the front of the camera). We were disappointed to see that Fuji is still using a 'dumb' hot shoe (there's no way for the flash to talk to the camera), so you need to know what you're doing to use an external flash. That said, this does mean you can buy a fast, powerful flash for the S9000 without breaking the bank.
At a time when the DSLR market is following the compact camera trend towards larger screens (with 2.5-inch now common), it's slightly disappointing to see a 1.8-inch LCD on the back of the S9000. That said, it's bright, fairly crisp (118,000 pixels) and very smooth - thanks to a 30fps refresh rate. You can increase the refresh rate to 60fps, but this does drain the batteries. The screen automatically gains up (brightens) in low light.
One of the few true advantages of this type of camera over an SLR is live preview, and a moveable screen can really help when shooting from unusual angles. The S9000's screen tilts up by 90 degrees and down by about 45 degrees, but doesn't offer the same degree of movement as the swing out and tilt 'camcorder style' screens offered by, say, Canon (apparently this is a patent issue). To see the full range of movement click on the image.
The electronic viewfinder is actually very good (and it has to be if this camera is to be seen as a real alternative to a digital SLR). It's fairly big (0.44-inch) and - at 235,000 pixels - fairly high resolution, helped by the high refresh rate. Sure, it's not as clear - or as bright - as a good DLSR, but it is perfectly usable.
The S9000 has a 10.7x optical zoom, which provides an equivalent focal length range (on a 35 mm camera) of 28 to 300 mm. The 28mm wide end makes a huge difference to the shooting versatility of the S9000 over most of its competitors (which tend to start at around 35 or 35mm). The maximum aperture varies from F2.8 at the wide end to a less impressive (and camera-shake inducing) F4.9 at the 300mm end. The lens has a 58mm filter thread.
Fuji supplies a 'flower' lens hood that clips onto the outside of the lens barrel. We found some evidence of flare in daylight shots at the wide end of the zoom, so it's worth keeping it on.
The shutter release sits at the top of the grip, in the middle of the main power/mode switch (note also the threaded cable release socket). The rather aggressive power saving system means that after two minutes of inactivity the camera doesn't merely go to sleep; it powers down entirely, meaning you have to turn it off and then on again to take another picture. Fortunately this 'helpful' feature can be turned off, or the time before activation extended to 5 minutes.
Also found on the rather crowded top plate are the main mode dial, AE-compensation button, flash mode button and drive mode button, plus the command dial - used for changing exposures, amongst other things.
The rear of the camera is home to several more buttons and switches (see next page for more detail), including the ubiquitous four-way controller and the 'F' (Photo Mode) button, which offers a quick menu for changing image size, ISO and color mode.