Like to get more creative with your photography but put off making the leap from compact snapper to fully blown digital SLR by the perceived learning curve and bulk, plus the need to supplement the purchase with additional lenses? Then, in aiming to be a jack-of-all-trades, Fujifilm’s latest "super zoom", the 10-megapixel S1500, could just be the camera you’ve been waiting for.
It’s aimed squarely at the family man, or woman, with large, well-labelled controls and clear and concise menu system -a just as well there’s a degree of intuitiveness, as the full manual is on CD only. But the talking point is clearly the 33-396mm equivalent (in 35mm terms), 12x optical zoom lens bolted onto the front that’s perfect for candid portrait photography - or simply bringing the faraway closer without moving a muscle. There’s also an "instant zoom" feature if teasing the zoom ring with your forefinger proves too demanding, which in effect just crops in closer, offering landscape or portrait formats.
Requiring its supplied four AA batteries to be inserted into the base of its handgrip for power, the rest of the camera resembles a baby DSLR, but cheaper with it, at a very fair UK asking price of £220 all-in.
Also beginner friendly is the fact that the S1500 includes a fully automatic scene recognition (SR) mode. Point the camera at an intended subject and, in theory, it will switch settings to achieve an optimal result. In practice it can sometimes get confused, so best keep an eye on the rear LCD or electronic viewfinder (EVF) located just above.
As expected given the focal range, image stabilisation is included to hinder the blurring effects of camera shake at maximum telephoto. Here this takes the form of both CCD sensor shift to counterbalance external movement, plus a high ISO capacity. The latter extends to ISO 6400 equivalent, even if sadly resolution falls to 3 megapixels to limit noise at ISO 3200 or above.
A wobbly hand icon atop the camera indicates which button to use to turn stabilisation on or off. It’s not infallible, but we achieved a higher proportion of focused shots with it than without.
Continuing the user-friendly ethos, face detection and automatic red eye removal (if shooting with flash) likewise have their own dual-purpose button, and, selectable via the four-way control pad at the back, is continuous shooting for those with kids who never sit still. At its best it’s able to capture 7.5 frames per second up to 15 sequential shots - but again this is not without compromise, namely a detail softening resolution drop to 2 megapixels.
Key shooting settings meanwhile, including the ability to capture 640 x 480 pixel movie clips and (surprisingly) assign custom functions, are selected via a chunky mode dial located on the L-shaped top plate. With a gentle twist this clicks neatly into place at each option. Here more experienced users get access to program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual shooting modes, while a press of the "F" (for "Foto") button at the rear allows selection of ISO speeds, quality settings and Fujifilm’s brief colour effects.
Though due to its compact dimensions it’s possible to hold the camera in one hand, two feels more natural, especially with lens extended. There’s just enough room to squeeze three fingers around the grip, leaving a forefinger to hover over the shutter release button situated at its sloping front and a thumb pressed against a padded indent at the rear.
Full resolution JPEGs are written to memory in an instant and are for the most part reasonably sharp, though shutter delay was more pronounced than we’d have liked. Also, detail begins to noticeably soften above ISO 800, so that by ISO 6400 results are starting to resemble a badly tuned analogue TV. Colours look a little flat straight out of the camera, so benefit from a little post-processing to add visual punch. That said we liked the panorama mode, which automatically stitches three sequential images together, and were able to achieve reasonably professional looking wide format results.
Video is less successful. Obviously we’d have preferred its quality to be new fangled HD rather than bog standard VGA, but ultimately what ruins the party is that the camera’s built-in microphone picks up the sound of the lens travelling through its range.
Though no match for the picture quality and response time of an entry level DSLR, the S1500 is more approachable, the only extras required being a removable SD or SDHC media card for storing pictures plus a set of rechargeable AAs. It’s a "one size fits all" digital camera for those who have outgrown the limitations of a humble snapshot, but still want something the mother in law will be able to fathom.