Other than that, picture quality is superb. Another minor tweak to the camera’s system is improved image processing, providing better noise reduction at high ISO settings, although it’s still not in the same league as the FinePix F30. Colour rendition and exposure were never less than perfect.
The level of photographic detail that the camera can capture is extremely impressive. The S9600 has a 1/1.6in sensor, not as large as the APS-C sensors used in most digital SLRs, but larger than most other compacts. Larger sensors have better colour depth and are inherently less prone to image noise, so it’s a good choice for a serious enthusiast’s camera. As I said in my review of the S9500, the only way you’ll get better image quality is to buy a good mid-range SLR, which is going to cost twice as much.
Like many high-end cameras and all DSLRs, the S9600 has a RAW mode option, allowing you to bypass the in-camera processing and JPEG compression. It comes with Fuji’s HyperUtility 2 software for converting RAW files. This package does produce lovely results, and is especially good at noise reduction, but it is quite possibly the slowest and most awkward RAW converter I’ve ever used, with the exception of HyperUtility 1. Batch processing a few dozen RAW files can take the best part of an hour. Unfortunately using the Camera RAW plug-in for Adobe Photoshop doesn’t produce anything like the same quality, and can result in very noisy high-ISO images, so you’ll just have to be patient. At least there’s a nice 162-page owner’s manual to read while you’re waiting.
To be honest, the fine JPEG mode with its big low-compression files so is so good it’s hardly worth using the RAW mode most of the time, unless you really want to hand-process all of your shots. You’ll still get the best picture quality this side of a good mid-range SLR, and you’ll be able to enjoy the camera’s improved performance.
The S9600 offers only a few minor improvements to what was already an outstanding enthusiast’s camera. If you’ve already got an S9500 it’s probably not worth upgrading, but if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to a digital SLR, or a second camera for when you don’t want to cart your whole kit around, the S9600 is the best choice on the market.