General performance is very good. The shot-to-shot time in the best quality JPEG mode is an impressive two seconds, and is slightly quicker in the higher compression normal mode. The camera has a full range of manual options, including aperture and shutter priority and full manual exposure. The longest shutter speed available varies depending on the mode, but in full manual it is a useful 15 seconds.
The pop-up flash has an impressive five metre range and very accurate metering, but the S5500 has no hot shoe for mounting an external flash, nor a sync socket for connecting to a flash system.
At just 1.5in, the LCD monitor is rather on the small side, especially considering the trend towards larger screens among most other manufacturers. Nevertheless, with 115,000 pixels at its disposal, the resolution can be considered above average. The electronic viewfinder features a 0.33in LCD screen also with 115,000 pixels, as well as the same information readouts as the monitor. It has a large rubber eyepiece surround, and dioptric adjustment for spectacle wearers. It’s comfortable to use and since the LCD monitor is on the small side, I’m sure that many people will prefer to frame their subjects through the viewfinder.
One feature I really don’t like is something that is found on most Fujifilm cameras, the ‘F’ button. This is a second menu button that gives access to image quality, white balance and colour mode options. Why the Fuji boffins think that this is better or easier than having all the options on one menu is beyond me. Personally I use metering and AF mode options far more often than colour mode, so I found myself having to switch between two separate menu systems.
Picture quality is generally very good, especially noise levels. At ISO 64-200 image noise was minimal, and even at the maximum ISO 400 it was well controlled with only a smidgen making an appearance in shadow areas. Even after a long eight second exposure image noise was not a problem.
One feature worthy of mention is the CCD-RAW mode. This is usually found on high-end cameras and hardly ever on a camera at this price. It records an unprocessed image straight off the CCD and requires the supplied RAW file converter software to turn it into a TIFF file. It offers a slightly better image quality than the JPEG-fine mode, although some tweaking in Photoshop will be required.
Colour rendition was very natural in standard mode, with plenty of detail even in bright yellows, while the ‘Chrome’ mode colours were very vivid, reminiscent of Fuji Velvia film. Exposure is on the whole accurate, but I did notice a higher than average number of under and over-exposed shots, although these were in difficult circumstances and could have easily been corrected by using exposure compensation or manual exposure. All in all, a creditable performance from a very nice sub-£200 camera.
With its SLR-like handling and impressive range of features, the S5500 is a good half-way point between the pocket compact and the serious semi-pro or D-SLR models costing hundreds of pounds more. Its excellent movie mode, big zoom range, good picture quality and solid construction make it a very tempting bargain for the price.