Let the pros do what they want with their money.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Fujifilm S2950: A camera for everybody else (with added comment)

July 24, 2011

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, The Post-Standard

Digital SLR cameras are popular -- and expensive. They let you snap off one lens and snap on another, and you have a cool viewfinder to use instead of trying to compose all your photos on that awkward rear screen other cameras have.

Hold it! Give me rewrite.

"Digital SLR cameras aren't worth the money for most serious amateur photographers. Their lenses are detachable, meaning dirt and dust can get into the camera and make a mess of the sensor. And the eye-level viewfinder is so dim that you might as well forget using it in anything but the brightest light."

There. I said it. I've been an anti-fan of DSLR cameras for years, for the reasons I just listed. I realize the pros couldn't live without them. But for people who don't make their money selling pictures, DSLRs are turkeys.

There's a much better kind of fancy camera. It's called a "bridge camera" -- and, no, I don't mean it's for taking photos of bridges. A bridge camera spans the gap between pocket point-and-shoot cameras and DSLRs. Bridge cameras have a non-detachable, or fixed, lens that can take photos from wide angle all the way to super-zoom, along with extensive controls (just like DSLRs) for manual operation when desired.

The best bridge cameras have eye-level finders, too. They're usually not the dim-bulb optical finders of DSLRs but the EVF type -- electronic viewfinders -- with a viewing lens that focuses on a small, bright LCD display inside the top of the camera.

If you combine that kind of camera design with a high-quality zoom lens and clever auto-setting circuitry, you get a camera that can take pictures all but indistinguishable from photos taken by a DLSR -- at a price far below what you'd pay for a good digital SLR.

You get the Fujifilm S2950, for example. It's replaced the aging Sony DSC F707 -- arguably the first bridge camera ever taken up by serious amateurs -- as my camera of choice. The S2950, which discounts for $200 to $240, is a 14-megapixel camera with an 18-power zoom lens. The lens extends from the 35mm equivalent of a 28mm wide angle to an impressive 504mm telephoto.

It's got amazing low-light capabilities, freeing you from the need for flash in many situations, and both the eye-level EVF and the rear 3-inch screen are bright and clear. The camera's "SR Auto" mode guesses right nearly all the time.

But there's a problem. Not with the camera, but with the way most of us use cameras in general.

If you do not read the Fuji manual, you will never take good pictures with the S2950. That's because you need to read the manual to find out that the camera will not focus until you press and hold the shutter button half-way down. If you simply aim the camera and press the shutter button, you've just wasted a shot; it will be out of focus.

I've mentioned this trait to a few others, and got an odd reaction. One said "all cameras do that, and you don't have to worry about the picture -- just press the shutter and everything will come out OK."

Wrong. Double wrong. The Fujifilm S2950 (and its identical stablemate, the Walmart-sourced Fujifilm S2940WM) takes out-of-focus pictures unless you hold the shutter button half-way down while it focuses.

Do that, and you'll have a $200 camera that should be able to outshoot a professional's $2,400 DSLR. Let the pros do what they want with their money. The S2950 is a camera for everybody else.

Added July 27, 2011

I received this letter today. My response is below.

I always enjoy your articles and make it a point to read them every week. I have a question concerning your Sunday Technofile feature. You mention that you asked others about the need to half press the shutter button on cameras to allow them to focus. You go on to say that one response, "all cameras do that," as being wrong, but you offer no explanation as to why that is wrong. It has always been my practice with every camera I have owned (both point and shoot film and digital) to prefocus the camera by half pressing the shutter button. This allows for quicker shots because the camera is already focused and adjusted settings. If there is something I have wrong I would love to hear your opinion.

Some cameras don't have any appreciable delay when you do this, Bob, so you never have to worry about it; they just focus (and make the other adjustments) fast enough so that they don't care if you pause or not half way down. The Fuji I reviewed doesn't act that quickly, and if you fail to pause long enough half way down it will not focus properly.

My Sony F707 ALWAYS focuses and sets all the other parameters, no matter what else the camera is doing, regardless of the position of the shutter button, and the sole function of the half-press is to tell the camera to hold the settings it already has. I suspect, although I can't prove (because I haven't tried most of the cameras out there), that this is the way many of the best cameras work. My Lumix camera only makes these settings when the shutter is half-way down but it works very quickly; even if you simply press the shutter button, it knows that at the halfway point you told it to set those parameters.

The Fuji seems to me to be unique. If you press the shutter in one continuous motion, even a slow motion, it will take an out-of-focus picture. We've learned to compensate for it by stopping half way down.

So the point is this: Cameras routinely let you stop half way down to STORE the settings and use them if you aim somewhere else, letting you compensate for backlighting and so forth. The Fuji does this, too. The difference is that if you don't pause, the Fuji doesn't get around to focusing at all.

You can see this in action with the Fuji by using the timer. When the timer reaches zero, it takes the picture after pausing a little on the scene in the viewfinder. It's literally doing an internal version of pressing the shutter half way down and waiting for the focus to catch up.