Occasionally, a camera that is good becomes better when a low price is part of the overall package. That is sadly not the case with the 10-megapixel Fujifilm FinePix S1500, which is merely a good megazoom, but stays that way despite a street price of less than $200. It does have a large feature set including a 12x zoom lens and full manual, semimanual, and full automatic controls. However, its photo quality also noticeably worsens when shooting above ISO 200 and it's definitely not speedy. However, it is an inexpensive way--comparatively speaking--to get some added zoom power for daylight or well-lit indoor shooting.
|Fujifilm FinePix S1500
|4.1 x 2.9 x 2.7 inches
|Weight (with battery and media)
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type
|10 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder
|2.7-inch LCD, 230K dots/electronic
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)
|12x, f2.8-5.0, 33-396mm (35mm equivalent)
|File format (still/video)
|JPEG/Motion JPEG (.AVI)
|Highest resolution size (still/video)
|3,648x2,736 pixels/640x480 at 30fps
|Image stabilization type
|Mechanical and digital
|Battery type, rated life
|AA (4, alkaline included), 300 shots
Though it's certainly not as compact as other 12x megazoom cameras like the Panasonic ZS3, the S1500 is tightly packed (and considerably less expensive). The giant right-hand grip gives you something to really hold on to as well as housing the four AA-size batteries and SDHC card slot and room for shooting controls. This includes dedicated buttons for face detection and image stabilization along with the shutter release, zoom ring, and on/off slider, which if you don't hold it long enough won't turn the camera on or off. Also on top is a large Mode dial that's well marked with its 10 main shooting options. On back is a respectably big LCD and above it an electronic viewfinder. All settings are viewable on both; however, they also black out when a photo's been taken--not ideal for setting up the next shot as soon as possible, but typical of EVFs.
To the left of a textured thumb rest is a button for switching between the EVF and LCD. Below these are Playback, F-mode, Menu/OK, Exposure Compensation, and Display buttons, and a directional pad for navigation and changing burst, flash, and macro settings. Pressing F-mode brings up a contextual shooting menu while pressing Menu/OK brings up another set of shooting and setup menus. Fairly standard stuff and, really, once you get to remembering when to press F-mode instead of Menu, it's straightforward to use.
|General shooting options
|Fujifilm FinePix S1500
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)
|Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
|Auto, Fine, Shade, Fluorescent (daylight), Fluorescent (warm white), Fluorescent (cool white), Incandescent, Custom
|Auto, Scene Recognition Auto, Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual, Scene, Movie, Custom, Panorama
|Area AF, Multi AF, Center AF, Tracking AF, Continuous AF
|Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot
|Chrome, Black and White
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)
Those looking to either work up to using or supplement a digital SLR or who need to satisfy a number of different user types under one roof will appreciate the large assortment of shooting options. With full-manual and semimanual modes you get finer control or room for experimentation. There's also a Custom mode so you can define a frequently used group of settings. If you want the camera to do more work, there are Program, SR Auto (automatic scene recognition), and Scene modes. The Mode dial also features Panorama shooting, letting you capture three consecutive shots and the camera will stitch them together. Not unusual, but it's nice to have it so accessible.
Some extra features worth noting are the capability to limit the Auto ISO to max out at ISO 400 or ISO 800 (the prior will give you the best photos), and a bevy of burst shooting modes. The fastest is Top 15, though the resolution is knocked down to 2 megapixels. There are also a Top 6 at 5 megapixels, and Top 3, Last 3, Exposure Bracketing, and an unlimited continuous called Long Period, all at full resolution. The Top ones simply mean that it will capture up to the number that follows it as long as the shutter release is pressed. The Last 3 selection will continuously shoot up to 40 images, but will only save the last three before the shutter button is released.
Performance from the S1500 is mixed, but leans heavily toward slow. From off to first shot takes 3 seconds. Shutter lag is 0.8 second in bright and dim lighting--both bad and good, respectively. Shot-to-shot times in our lab tests were 3.3 seconds without flash and 4.1 seconds with. However, during field testing the camera felt much slower than that, with the autofocus being particularly slow. Finally, the camera has several burst mode options depending on what speed and resolution you want to shoot at. We tested using the full-resolution Long Period mode and achieved a solid 1.6 frames per second.
Photos are at their best at ISO 64 and 100 with very good detail and the least amount of visible noise at 100 percent. At ISO 200 photos viewed full size have noticeable noise and softening from noise reduction, but overall detail is still very good. Noise increases quite a bit at ISO 400, but the reduction isn't too heavy so you still get good enough detail for small prints. The last two full-resolution sensitivities--ISO 800 and 1,600--aren't good for much as photos get hazy and soft along with very noisy and colors turn flat. The color issue may have been more perceptible because the S1500 produces brilliant colors at ISO 400 and below. They were not terribly natural or accurate, however. Overall, photo quality is good outdoors, mediocre indoors, and poor in low light. In other words, it's average for its class.
The S1500 is at its sharpest in the Macro and Super Macro modes, and will produce very nice, detailed images. Outside of these modes, pictures do look a bit soft, but on par with other megazooms in the S1500's class. Also typical is the amount of barrel distortion at the lens's widest position, but no pincushioning was readily visible at its longest setting. Lastly, there was an average amount of purple fringing seen in test shots around high-contrast subjects. However, it was less than what's been produced by other budget megazooms I've tested.
If you want the most zoom with the most features for less than $200, the Fujifilm FinePix S1500 is probably the best way to go. There are other models that have more zoom in its price range, but aren't as versatile. Though its photo quality isn't great, it will suffice for those only making 5x7 or smaller prints or going straight to the Web with the results. It can perform frustratingly slow, though, and that's something you just can't work around.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot
|Typical shot-to-shot time
|Shutter lag (dim)
|Shutter lag (typical)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Find out more about how we test digital cameras.