Like its predecessors, the 5600 is surprisingly compact with handling and simple use at its core, but is it any good?
Neat, slip-proof surfaces provide confident grippiness while all the main controls are on dials around the body, so you don’t have to constantly delve into set-up menus to get settings changed.
The 5600 is around 30g heavier than its predecessor, weight that is in no way a burden but has been arrived at via the addition of a larger (but still small by today’s standards) 1.8-inch colour screen. Other new technology includes Fuji’s “Anti Blur Mode”, in effect a boosted ISO setting. That means the camera can achieve a faster shutter speed due to the increased sensor sensitivity, helping reduce camera shake or subject blur.
"Ah!" I hear you cry, "what about boosted noise?". Well, Fuji’s done some neat software trickery and combined it with the camera’s 5th Generation SuperCCD HR sensor, which combined allow for a much lower noise ratio at a given ISO setting. That said I still had some weird image artifacts (primarily crowds of dense, black pixels in shadow areas) in some less contrasty scenes.
The 5600 retains a 10x zoom lens offering 38mm to 380mm zoom range, so more than enough to play with, but unlike the 5500, which had a F2.8 optic, the 5600 has a less bright F3.2 maximum aperture, meaning that extra noise reduction processing is called into play sooner than would otherwise be needed. Moreover and ultimately, it is this processing that I believe is creating the odd crowds of artifacts within shadows.
Shooting in the camera’s CCD-RAW mode provides you with virgin, unprocessed-by-the-camera images that you can convert to TIFF files later with the supplied RAW File Converter LE software on a PC, which allows you to tweak all the image parameters as required. In this way, the 5600’s combination of manual and auto controls and RAW capture, provides almost complete control - as befits the camera’s SLR-style inspiration.
Another 1.1-million pixels over the 5500 provide 5.1-megapixel resolution, that’s enough for prints up to A3 in size, so there’s more than enough detail to play with within the images. If you know a bit about image processing, you will get bigger prints even than this with a modicum of PC tinkering.
Auto settings include the usual gamut of Landscape, Portrait and Night scene modes, for example. Auto settings get a big boost from a range of other settings including a high-quality 640x480, 30fps video mode (with sound), and a Natural Light mode, optimised for lower lighting or where you cannot use the flash. A high-speed shooting mode is ideal for fleeting subjects while the camera’s ISO range runs between 64 and 1600 ISO making it one of the best in its class.
Other, more advanced features include histogram display and highlight warning, both during playback; exposure compensation to +/-2EV, image trimming (in playback again) and there’s a built-in pop-up flash unit that is a tad underpowered for my liking.
The new colour screen is a 1.8-inch device and replaces the 1.5-inch version on this camera’s predecessor, but it is still small by today’s standards. It’s bright and crisp though, so is a cinch to use and it even comes with a fast, 'LCD brighten' button for fast switching if you suddenly find yourself in the spotlight - or in bright sunshine. However, the EVF is flippin’ ‘orrible. It’s grainy and dark to use and all but useless for critical focus judgment, which brings me neatly too…
Image quality. The S5600 easily lives up to the standards set by its forbears with sharp colourful images. A vivid ‘Chrome’ setting allows for extra saturation of shots (there’s a black and white mode too and I’ve included a shot in that mode in this test for you too), ideal for vivid greens and reds. Noise is well controlled as we’ve discussed but highlights become lost quickly if there’s a bright background in a scene for example. All almost identical problems I found with the 5500. Over processing for noise is an issue on this model however, but shooting RAW allows you to control this with even more precision.
There's an accomplished 64-zone metering set up, even if it is overly biased to darker foregrounds, the net result of which, worsens the lost highlight problems. Focusing is fast and there’s almost no shutter lag, very impressive, until that is you switch to macro mode. The darn camera would not focus no matter what I did, and turning the camera this way and that.
Switching to manual focus was better but very fiddly and I had to virtually slide rule the distances to small subjects in order to get that right. Macro focusing aside however, image quality is good enough to please all but the most discerning of photographers needing very large, ahem! enlargements. But I doubt they’d buy a camera of this ilk anyway.
The 5600 provides just enough in terms of new kit and more advanced shooting options to make it a worthy upgrade of the 5500. The EVF is a nightmare, as was macro focusing, but the overall package, with its improved image noise suppressions and manual controls make it worthy of scrutiny if you've got £299.99 to spare on a digital camera.