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Back in November 2005 I reviewed the Fujifilm FinePix S9500, and to say I liked it is something of an understatement. I seriously considered selling my digital SLR – at the time a 6-megapixel and very dust-prone Pentax *ist D, and buying the S9500 instead. I didn’t, as it turned out, because I ended up getting a Sony A100, but it really was that good, as many satisfied customers will attest.
Because of that success, in August last year Fuji announced the replacement for the S9500, and surprised nobody by naming it the S9600. It has also proved to be extremely popular, particularly with reviewers, which is why it’s taken me until now to get my hands on one.
When I reviewed the S9500 it was on sale for a little over £400, which I considered to be a bargain at the time. The S9600 has a current list price of £349.99, but is widely available online for as little as £270. With a 9-megapixel 1/1.6in SuperCCD HR sensor, ISO 1600 at full resolution and a 28-300mm equiv. (10.7x) manual zoom f/2.8 – f/4.9 lens, only the Panasonic DMC-FZ50 (£329.95), Samsung Pro 815 (£400), Sony DSC-R1 (£570) and Leica V-Lux 1 (£590) stand as direct competitors. Beyond that you’re into the world of digital SLRs, starting at around £400 and heading rapidly upwards.
The S9600 is physically almost identical to the S9500, and indeed there are no immediately visible external differences apart from the model number on the top of the flash housing. This isn’t at all unexpected; the S9500 won much praise for its exceptional handling, so if it ain’t broke there’s little point in fixing it.
There are a couple of changes to the specification though. The S9500’s fold-out 1.8-in, 118,000 pixel LCD monitor has been replaced with a much better 2-in 235,000 pixel unit, which is – at least as far as I am aware – the highest resolution monitor on any camera currently available. It is bright and relatively non-reflective, making it usable in bright sunlight. As on the S9500, the monitor can be folded upward by 90 degrees for use as a waist-level finder, or downward by 45 degrees for overhead use.
The monitor now matches the electronic viewfinder which also has a resolution of 235,000 pixels, although it seems to me that it is slightly sharper than the one on the S9500. Critics who don’t like electronic viewfinders really should see this one; it is far and away the best I’ve ever seen. No, it’s not the same as a real optical viewfinder; for starters it’s brighter in low light and has a better information display. It is the first electronic viewfinder I’ve used that has been sharp enough for accurate manual focusing.