Following on from the 10-megapixel S1500 from last year, the S1600 steps into the superzoom arena with its 15x optical zoom in a compact body.
Design and features
Shaped like a normal superzoom camera, the S1600 sports a 15x optical zoom lens up front. It's relatively compact and easy to carry at just 337 grams without memory card or batteries. Those batteries are four AA ones, by the way, which slot in underneath the camera body to neatly shape the hand grip. The memory card, SD or SDHC, slots in along with the batteries under the same base flap.
The sliding on/off control is a little deceptive at first; rather than a button, it's a slider that controls the power at the top of the unit. Nearby is the mode dial with full PASM control as well as automatic mode, movie mode, panorama, and SP mode (automatic scene selector). Control buttons around the back are appropriately labelled depending on their task, but the Fuji menu interface takes some getting used to for those unfamiliar with the company's cameras.
Around the side, connectivity is limited; there's just one AV-out port using a proprietary mini-USB connection. The lens cap is rather intriguing; rather than having a more standard "pinch and attach" method, it's a bit like the end of a drainpipe — covering the end of the lens. In practice it works quite well, making it easier to remove quickly, but it does slide off much easier than the traditional design, which could result in damage to the lens. Opening up to 28mm at its widest, the lens is a Fujinon branded unit, with an aperture range of f/3.1-5.6.
The 3-inch LCD at the back is absolutely huge compared to the electronic viewfinder (EVF) that sits above it. Both are low resolution though; the EVF at just 200,000 dots and the LCD at 230,000 dots. The LCD is difficult to see in direct sunlight and makes it difficult to view images when you zoom in on camera as it's just not capable of rendering enough detail. There's a dedicated button to switch between the EVF and the LCD (no automatic eye-level sensor here, unfortunately). The viewfinder itself is incredibly small.
Inside you'll find a 12.2-megapixel CCD sensor, as well as HD video recording (720p) at 30fps, with mono audio recording. Fortunately, you can use the entire optical zoom length during video recording, but on the downside there is no dedicated record button on the camera. It's a tedious process having to enter into the correct mode via the top dial and then pressing the shutter button to begin recording. A pop-up flash at the top of the unit, enabled by pressing a physical button, completes the exterior.
A shot taken with the S1600 at its full 15x optical zoom reach. Click the image for the full, unaltered version straight from the camera. (Credit: CBSi)
There are multiple burst shooting modes available, from standard full resolution continuous shooting, last three shots which shoots continuously and stores just the final three shots, long continuous shooting and two reduced resolution continuous shooting modes.
The f button provides quick access to some shooting options, like ISO settings, aspect ratio (16:9, 4:3 or 3:2), image quality (fine or normal) and the colour mode (standard, Fujifilm chrome or Fujifilm black and white).
A comparison between standard and chrome picture modes. As you can see, the difference is minimal but the chrome version looks a tad underexposed and more saturated. (Credit: CBSi)
The S1600 takes an incredibly tedious 7.1 seconds to start up and take its first shot; the welcome screen and camera initialisation process makes up most of this waiting time. As noted there are multiple burst shooting options available from the dedicated button just behind the shutter. For our tests we used the "Top 3" mode, continuous shooting at full resolution, which took three shots in 1.7 seconds. Shutter lag is just under 0.4 second.
In the past, Fuji superzooms have usually delivered some exceptional images, like the S200EXR, which makes us all the more disappointed to report that the S1600 performs way below expectations.
Overall, colour rendition is good if a little muted (though this can be adjusted by tweaking the picture mode). As images creep up to higher ISO sensitivities, noise and smear increases rapidly. Images at full magnification at ISO 400 and above also don't look sharp and have coloured noise visible. Fortunately, it's not an issue for small prints and web use, but large prints and cropping work will demonstrate the lack of overall sharpness. Chromatic aberration is very visible, as well as blown out highlights as the S1600 struggles to adequately capture areas of shadow and light in the one image.
A 100 per cent magnification (inset) of a shot taken at ISO 1600. (Credit: CBSi)
There's a distinct amount of lens distortion visible, particularly barrel distortion at the wide end, which is noticeable on screen and just after a shot is taken. However, we're sure the S1600 performs some lens distortion fixes in-camera during image processing, as shots viewed in playback don't exhibit the same degree of barrel distortion as when they are captured.
Video is encoded in AVI format and the quality is average for a camera of this class. The audio from the in-built mono microphone is also very noisy, susceptible to wind and ambient sound.
The S1600 has a lot going for it in terms of features and just how compact it is, but it's let down by image quality at sensitivities over ISO 200. It does, however, offer a convenient alternative to the Lithium-ion battery superzooms that are out there for photographers who prefer the AA option.