Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent resolution, lots of detail
  • Useful zoom range with real wideangle and good telephoto
  • Excellent color rendition
  • Very low noise up to ISO 400; ISO 800 usable
  • Comprehensive photographic controls
  • Fast and responsive operation
  • Very reliable focus and exposure
  • Excellent handling
  • Focuses well in low light
  • Bright, clear screen and large, clear viewfinder
  • AF illuminator
  • Raw option
  • Program shift
  • 640x480 pixel, 30fps movie mode
  • Good battery life

Conclusion - Cons

  • Minimum focus distance too long in normal mode, worse in high speed mode
  • Rather pointless super macro mode
  • Small screen
  • Some highlight clipping problems in high contrast/very bright scenes
  • No image stabilization
  • Occasional focus errors at long end of zoom
  • Some purple fringing and corner softness
  • Unimpressive burst modes
  • Slow write speed with CompactFlash
  • Poor menu system
  • Raw mode hidden deep in menu system
  • No fast access to white balance
  • ISO 1600 very noisy (with very strong noise reduction)
  • Quite pricey compared to other super zoom bridge cameras

Overall conclusion

I think - with the possible exception of the Panasonic FZ30 - it's fair to say the S9000 is the about as close any manufacturer has ever come to producing a fixed-lens camera that offers real SLR-like handling and operation. It certainly looks like a DSLR, and at lower ISO settings it produces results you have to look at very closely before you can see they're not from one. On the other hand it is in many ways frustratingly far from offering a true alternative to an SLR; high ISO performance is good for a small-sensor camera, but simply doesn't compare to even the cheapest entry-level SLR. Raw performance is painfully slow, and the lack of any tools to actually process the resultant files means the S9000 doesn't offer a true 'out of the box' raw solution. There are also a couple of interface and control issues that make the experience of using it far from fluid.

Inevitably how you view the S9000 depends on what you compare it to, falling as it does so squarely between two stools. It's certainly less expensive (though not considerably so) than a DSLR kit with lenses coving the same range, and marginally less bulky. It also offers the advantages of live preview and movie mode, but it simply can't compete on speed, image quality or versatility.

Compared to most - if not all - of its direct competitors (from the 5MP Canon S2 IS to the Panasonic FZ30) it fares much better, though it is more expensive than most of them, and doesn't have image stabilization, something the ISO 800 and 1600 options don't completely make up for, and something that can lead to camera shake at the long end of the zoom. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that after the promise shown by the FinePix F10, which showed you can have usable ISO 1600 in a compact, Fujifilm chose to squeeze an extra 3 million pixels onto a sensor only the tiniest bit bigger, which means the top end of the ISO scale is much more seriously compromised by noise. On the upside the 28mm equivalent wide end of the zoom is much, much more useful than the 35 or 36mm that most super zoom cameras start at.

In conclusion, then, the S9000 is a camera that promises much, and for the most part delivers on that promise. I think it's stretching credulity a little to suggest it's a direct competitor for an entry-level SLR system, but for many users the image quality differences will be marginal compared to the appeal of live preview and so on. Good, very good in fact; not perfect, but then what camera is?


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