Fuji FinePix S4200 Camera Is a Terrific Value

superzoom cameraOffering the best features-to-value ratio of any camera I’ve used, this sub-$200 Fuji Film FinePix S4200 delivers on all counts.

I’m too much of a light packer to be weighed down by a bunch of DSLR gear, so my camera of choice that works for both my travel writing career and family outings is a super-zoom point and shoot. With this kind of digital camera you get manual controls when you want them, a serious zoom for getting close-ups, and a bigger lens than on your pocket point-and-shoot. With something like this Fuji FinePix super-zoom I can shoot photos good enough for a magazine spread without bringing along a whole other bag of equipment.

Not all of these are created equal, however. Since I started the original version of this blog way back when, I’ve tried a short-lived Casio one, two Kodak ones (see a review here), and a Nikon Coolpix L120. The first three were all good, but that last one was so crappy I only used it a few months and eventually sold it on eBay.

This Fuji one is not perfect: I hate this trend to use AA batteries requiring a separate charger and the body is a bit bigger than I’d like. The controls are also not as intuitive as many others I’ve used.

Fuji S4200I consider these rather minor inconveniences though because it does have a lot going for it that others don’t, including an optical viewfinder, which is really essential in bright sunlight or using the full zoom. It also has an impressive 24X zoom, which is enough to get facial shots from so far away the person doesn’t even know you’re there. In this picture to the left, for example, I was at least 30 meters away, across the road. The “noise” in the shot was so low I could have cropped down to her eyebrows and still had a clear photo.

This 14 megapixel camera takes terrific shots in the automatic setting, so I end up using that most of the time in good lighting. When I need to adjust, however, there are lots of preset modes that have become relatively standard across cameras: portrait, night shot, low light, snow, beach, sunset, fireworks, text, etc. There’s also an “SR Auto” mode that detects which of these is right for the situation and goes right to it—including smile detection. (There’s a blink detection mode too, though it seems to mostly come on when I’m photographing a statue…)

The time I go wishing for a little improvement is in the manual controls. You can go full manual, aperture adjustment, or shutter adjustment, with none of them being very quick or easy. Trying to figure out which buttons do what takes quite a bit of trial and error—and a few missed opportunities until you get the hang of it. Eventually, they work.

Fuji Film

Siem Reap in night mode, no tripod

There are controls for the built-in flash, which has a manual button to release it. I like that because it doesn’t pop up every time the camera thinks the light is too low. One of the special modes allows you to take two shots at once, one with flash and one without, which is pretty cool. Keep the best one, ditch the other.

Other features I now consider essential are in place: good HD video with sound, the ability to shoot multiple photos in succession, and a timer that’s easy to get to. I don’t really use the panorama mode much, but it seems to work okay when I do. The three-inch display is bright and crisp and I can shoot for days without needing to recharge the four AA batteries. This camera also turns on fast (rated 1.8 seconds, but really faster in my tests) and there’s almost no shutter lag.

Rounding out the features are ways to tag your photos for Facebook before uploading, but this seems like a gimmick that few people will use. It’s faster just to do it online.

Typical quality shot from the Fuji FInePix S4200 - unedited

Overall, for a camera that generally retails for $160 to $200, this Fuji FinePix S4200 really outperforms and delivers more than you would expect. It’s about the size of a DSLR—partly because of the 24X zoom—but it’s worth the little extra weight and bulk to have this kind of versatility. I’ve published photos from this camera in magazine articles and on webzines, so it’s certainly going to be good enough for your travel shots.

See the full specs at the Fuji Film website and pick up the S4200 at Amazon or search prices at other online stores.

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Tim Leffel

About the Author

Tim Leffel

Tim Leffel is founder of the Practical Travel Gear blog, as well as the Cheapest Destinations blog and the narrative webzine Perceptive Travel. He is the author of The World's Cheapest Destinations (now in its 4th edition), Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune, and A Better Life for Half the Price.

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It looks like a cool camera.


Love the Angkor Wat shot—gorgeous! This camera seems like an upgrade that won’t cost much.


Hi. I am having trouble finding info on this camera. I really just want a camera with good image stabilization, 10xzoom at least, that is fast enough to catch my kids without blur and doesn’t make me loose shots b/c of slow shot-to-shot time and shutter lag.
I would love to be able to take pictures w/o flash in big churches from a distance. My camera can’t function well enough in low light.
I wonder if you can comment of blur with moving children. My Canon A720IS almost never misses a shot to blur when I keep it on “kids and pets”, even when I and they are moving. On auto, it does blur when they move.
This has no “kids” setting evidently, and a CCD sensor, so I am worrying that it will not give me lower light pix, like in Churches, and will not be able to catch the kids playing without blur.
Also, I would like a camera I can use as a video camera too, as I don’t have one. Can this take video and stills simultaneously?
Are the videos indoors good?
I VERY much appreciate any info you can give as I need to quickly make a choose and just can’t find information anywhere!
Thanks so much.

Tim Leffel

Janice, on most counts this camera is performing well. I’ve taken loads of good shots in low light (though sometimes I had to tweak the settings) and all the videos I’ve done on this site and posted on YouTube (search Tim Leffel) were done with this camera. I can’t vouch for the sports action shots though as I haven’t used that setting much. Shutter lag time is generally good, though I’ve yet to find one as good as a Kodak I had three cameras back. Sometimes there’s a delay in this one because of the auto-focus having trouble.

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