Fujifilm has a lot of experience making high-end cameras with big fixed lenses. Models such as the FinePix 6900 Zoom, S602Z and S20 Pro have established a strong reputation for handling, performance and image quality. The S9500 takes the design concept of these cameras, adds some SLR know-how from the S2 and S3 Pro and pumps the mixture full of steroids. It has a 5th-generation 1/1.6in Super CCD HR with 9.0 effective megapixels, generating a massive image size of 4,864 x 3,648 pixels when converted from RAW mode. That’s large enough to print out at 16 x 12in at 300ppi photo quality, which is nearly A2 paper size. We’re going to need a bigger printer.
The 6.2-66.7mm (28-300mm equiv.) F2.8-4.9 Fujinon lens is newly designed specifically to match the S9500’s sensor, and provides excellent optical quality throughout its zoom range. There is some minimal chromatic aberration visible in the corners of the frame at the wide-angle end, but no more than would be found using all but the most expensive SLR lenses. Many other cameras with long zoom lenses now feature image stabilisation mechanisms designed to counteract camera shake at slow shutter speeds, usually providing around 2-3 stops of extra hand held shooting in low-light conditions. Surprisingly for a camera with a 300mm lens, the S9500 doesn’t have image stabilisation. However its F2.8 maximum aperture and extremely good high-ISO noise reduction give it an extra 3-4 stops in low light, which more than makes up for it.
The manual twist-barrel zoom control allows both rapid changes from one end of the range to the other, but also precise framing, meaning fewer pixels are wasted cropping images after shooting. Manual focus is also available, using a twisting collar on the lens barrel that is linked to the AF motors, a system first seen on the FinePix 4900 Zoom.
Since its introduction in 2001 there has been much debate over Fuji’s SuperCCD technology and its use of interpolation, and some reviewers remain skeptical, but the fantastic level of detail in the images produced by the S9500 should settle any arguments once and for all. In the eight years that I’ve been reviewing digital cameras, the only one I’ve seen with better image quality is the Canon EOS 1DS MkII, which at £4700 is nearly 12 times the price of the S9500. Focus, exposure, contrast, colour rendition, sharpness and noise control are all absolutely superb. In fact, as the sample pictures will show, it is astonishingly noise-free even at 800 ISO.
This is now officially my favourite camera, and if Fujifilm want it back they’ll have to fight me for it.
With the S9500 Fujifilm has produced what is unquestionably the best fixed-lens camera currently available. Its SLR-like handling and performance make it a real pleasure to use, while its amazing picture quality and fantastic versatility are matched only by its price. A total bargain at £400, I predict that this camera will be selling by the truckload this Christmas, so get your order in early.