Operation and controls

The advantage of a larger camera is that the designers can fit more controls onto the body - and allow them room to breathe, so it doesn't feel too 'cramped'. And the S8000fd certainly has more than its fair share of buttons and switches, which between them give the user instant access to pretty much all the most commonly accessed controls - although you still need to use the menu system if you want to change white balance or metering, or to use the self-timer (infuriatingly the self-timer also cancels itself after every shot). As with most feature-heavy cameras the S8000fd is one that becomes considerably more fluid to use after a few weeks getting really familiar with the controls and user-interface. This is also a camera that - for the serious user - is crying out for a control dial of some sort, which would reduce the frustration of using manual controls (as covered below). We'd also like to see Fuji adding a little more in the way of customization, so users can tailor the extensive feature set to their own way of shooting.

Rear of camera

Users of any of Fuji's bridge cameras over the last few years will feel perfectly at home here - the control layout hasn't changed a great deal. It's nice and simple, with a 'one button, one function' philosophy that makes operation generally fast and intuitive, though I personally don't like using the arrow buttons to change exposure settings (a control dial is so much quicker). There is also a little too much emphasis on the use of menus for our liking (though you need to be a serious user of manual settings for this to really bother you).

Top of camera

The top view of the S8000fd shows its 'mini SLR' styling with deep grip. The lens retracts into the barrel when powered down, but the S8000fd is still a rather deep camera.

Display and menus

As usual we found the S8000fd's menu and control system slightly frustrating in the manual or semi automatic modes (in fully automatic 'point and shoot' operation there's no real issues). The menus themselves, though they improve marginally with each FinePix generation, are still messy and could be a lot easier on the eye.

There are four main shooting screens:
1) Just the image
2) Image with shooting info overlaid
3) Overlay and grid lines
4) Post shot assist view (see below)

This is the shooting info display in manual mode which includes the current meter reading.

In manual mode, if you follow the on-screen prompt and press the exposure compensation (+/-) button, you can adjust the shutter speed by pushing up or down on the four-way controller or the aperture by pushing left or right. It's not quite as simple as a low-end DSLR, but usable once you're familiar with it. A tiny live histogram shows the effects of your changes.
Post shot assist mode displays the previous three photos that have been taken, which helps you check the composition and exposure compared to the previous shots you've taken. There is also a manual focus mode but it does not give any indication of how far through the focus range you are. It is also unusable as soon as there is too little light to form an image on the LCD, ruling out night shooting.
Changing modes brings up a little display telling you which mode you're selecting and what it does. Sensitivity, image size/quality and color mode can be directly accessed though the 'F ' button on the back of the camera. Once again we'd like to see white balance in here.
The rest of the camera's settings live in the record menu, which includes all the things you're likely to want to change. It also leads on to... ...the Setup menu that includes all sorts of other options, including the highlight color used on the menu system. It doesn't let you stop or delay the lens automatically retracting while in playback mode, though.
There are two scene mode positions on the camera's mode dial, which can be set to represent any of 13 modes. Assigning a mode brings us a brief description of what it does. In this instance, it's the rather cute "Auction mode," that creates a montage of up to four frames at a web-friendly size for Internet auction sites. In "Auction mode," you are presented with a choice of layouts for you final image. Whichever you choose, the final result ends up as a 640x480 pixel image.
Having selected layout '3,' the camera presents the normal shooting screen but cropped to the aspect ratio of the frame you're going to fill. When each shot is taken, you have the option to re-take it until you're happy, so that you don't have to get all your shots in one take.
The Fuji's playback mode is fairly standard with the zoom lever zooming in or out from any image. Zooming-out twice takes you to a 3x3 thumbnail grid view. Doing so again takes you to the unique 10 x 10 grid view that lets you fairly quickly skip back to review an earlier image.