The other changes are harder to spot, but are significant nonetheless. The S9600’s autofocus system has been massively improved, and is now a claimed 40 percent faster than its predecessor, which was itself by no means slow. I would have to say that the Canon S3 IS is faster still, but there’s not much in it. However when I heard the noisy AF motor powering the Fuji’s big lens, I suddenly missed the whisper-quite ultrasonic motor in the Canon.
Overall performance is very good. The camera starts up in about a second and has virtually zero shutter lag. Low light focusing is extremely good, including focusing in total darkness thanks to a powerful AF lamp.
Shot-to-shot times are quick enough in JPEG mode, with a delay of only about 1.5 seconds between shots. The camera has several continuous shooting modes, with top-4, final-4 and auto bracketing, as well as a conventional drive mode. This isn’t as fast as I’d hoped, but it’s not too shabby, managing 1.1 frames per second for 40 frames.
Battery life is pretty good, although since it runs on 4x AA the actual duration will vary depending on type and quality. I was able to take over 150 shots using the cheap alkalines that came with the camera, and well over 200 on a set of 2100mAh NiMH rechargeables.
Shooting in top-quality JPEG mode the S9600 produces very low compression files averaging around 4.5MB each, so a 1GB card will be enough for around 220 shots. Shooting in RAW mode the files are a chunky 18.25MB each, so the same 1GB card will only hold 53 of them.
The S9500’s impressive 10.7x zoom Fujinon lens is also unchanged. With a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at wide angle to f/4.9 at the telephoto end it isn’t as fast as the lens on the Canon S3 IS that I reviewed last week, but it more than makes up for this with its smooth and accurate manual zoom control. Anyone who has used an SLR camera will feel right at home with it. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I vastly prefer a manual zoom control on a super-zoom lens. It is much quicker, allows much more accurate framing, and of course places no drain on the batteries.
The optical quality of the lens is very good, with excellent edge-to-edge sharpness. It does suffer from slight barrel distortion at the 28mm end, but barely enough to be noticeable. There is also some chromatic aberration toward the corners at the wide-angle end, but again it is very slight and not enough to cause a major problem.