We’ve had manufacturers such as Panasonic with its pioneering incorporation of ever-larger zooms into increasingly slim compact camera bodies that will fit in your pocket. At the other end of the spectrum there are the big zoom models that resemble DSLRs in nearly all respects – apart from the fact that the lens on the front cannot be swapped. Falling in between the two camps is the new 14 megapixel Fujifilm FinePix S2800HD, which offers a focal range equivalent to a wide angle 28-504mm in 35mm film terms, which is impressive.
Yes, like those 24x, 30x and 35x optical zoom models, such as its own acclaimed FinePix HS10 and Canon’s PowerShot SX30 IS, the S2800HD does resemble a DSLR in its design. But unlike them it’s much, much smaller – if still a squeeze for all but a deep jacket pocket, even with lens fully retracted. Official dimensions are 110.2 x 73.4 x 81.4mm and weight is a manageable 337g, four AA batteries good for 300 shots inserted into the base of the handgrip plus optional SD card lending it a solid feel when gripped. We didn’t mind that the battery compartment is shared with the one for the card, except when we were trying to retrieve our card. This forced us to cup a hand around the batteries to stop them falling out every time.
As a concession it’s fortunate that as diminutive as the S2800HD’s bodywork is the price. This JPEG-only shooting, 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor sporting model doesn’t cost much more than a conventional 3x or 4x snapper. So, is the world’s smallest 18x zoom camera really the £150 bargain it seems?
A thumb flick of the on/off power switch located just behind the shutter release button and encircling zoom lever activates the S2800HD. The camera readies itself for the first capture in around 2 seconds, which is standard for its class. The “HD” model number suffix indicates that it shoots high-def video clips, though here they’re at 1280 x 720 pixels rather than the Full HD 1920 x 1080 pixels resolution.
On paper the full extent of the optical zoom can be used when filming, which is good, though in practice the integral microphone does pick up the mechanical buzz of the lens adjusting as the zoom lever is nudged. Whilst this isn’t overly off-putting, we did find the S2800 very slow to automatically regain focus if we adjusted the zoom while recording; the result being that we constantly had footage go blurred for a moment or two. In combination this was enough to put us off adjusting the zoom at all whilst filming, and of course there’s no manual ring with which to alternatively adjust focus by hand, which felt like a missed opportunity.
That said a mini HDMI output port is provided, which is again good for the price. This is unobtrusively hidden along with combined AV and USB port under a plastic flap on one flank. The actual cable for hooking up to a flat panel TV inevitably costs extra.
Shooting at the telephoto end of such a large-ish zoom also introduces the possibility – one may say inevitability – of camera shake when doing so. In an attempt to prevent this, the S2800HD features the “belt” of sensor shift image stabilisation plus the “braces” of ISO/shutter speed-boosting digital anti shake. Like others of its ilk, Fujifilm’s blur prevention system proves only partially successful and at times we needed two or three attempts to get a sharp image when shooting handheld at maximum zoom. Again though, this was not unexpected, and we had similar issues when shooting with the 35x Canon PowerShot SX30 IS, which yes has a longer lens reach but is also more than twice the S2800HD’s price. So we don’t feel we can grumble too loudly.
The S2800HD, like most superzoom models, incorporates a pop-up flash, here without the option of also adding an accessory flash, as there’s no provided hotshoe. Again, what do you expect for the price? For those who do want to attempt naturalistic low light photography however, we do get a broader than average light sensitivity range, starting as low as ISO 64 and extending up to a maximum ISO 6400, albeit with a resolution drop to help limit the appearance of possible image noise/grain at ISO 3200 and above.
These ISO options are located with a press of the camera’s “F” (for “Foto”) button, a regular Fujifilm shortcut to key settings, such as image quality and colour effects, rather than being offered as an option within the more expansive menu screens. They work well, and though ISO 1600 is distinctly gritty in appearance at full resolution, the pixel drop at ISO 3200 results in a cleaner image, so it’s only really at top whack ISO 6400 that we’re both losing detail and getting an intrusively grainy appearance. Fujifilm has also included a couple of optimised night shooting modes among its regular scene modes located via the chunky top plate mode wheel, that, if used with a tripod or a flat steady surface, managed to deliver cleaner results than we expected – particularly so from a £150 camera.
Pictures and video are composed via the S2800HD’s 3-inch fixed backplate LCD or tiny electronic viewfinder (EVF) above, with a switch enabling the user to instantly switch from using one to the other falling under the thumb or thereabouts when gripping the camera. Because of this positioning we accidentally triggered the switch-over on a number of occasions, which proved frustrating. Neither viewfinder option offers a particularly high resolution nor searing sharp clarity, the main screen a standard 230k dots and the EVF above a lesser 200k. Sometimes it’s more a case of point and hope than point and shoot – harsh winter light (or low interior light) particularly affecting screen visibility, though brightness can be auto adjusted, whilst the EVF’s image is simply so small and fuzzy that we didn’t find ourselves using it that often.
As this camera is surprisingly affordable given its outward appearance of sophistication, we weren’t expecting image quality to be any great shakes – and to an extent that is true. Don’t expect crisper results than your average £100+ snapper would deliver and you won’t be disappointed. Come to the S2800HD expecting photography on a par with a physically larger superzoom compact at twice the price and you will be. It’s good but it’s not that good.
Though admittedly we were shooting with the FinePix across some particularly dull winter days, default colour settings were slightly cool for our tastes and were occasionally affected by a blue-ish daylight colour cast. Also, when shooting at maximum wide angle, barrel distortion/fish eye effect can be quite pronounced – more noticeable when shooting the clean would-be straight lines of man-made structures – plus, there is some softening of detail towards the corners of the frame and more pronounced pixel fringing between areas of high contrast. Not a perfect showing by the S2800HD by any means then, although as we noted earlier we were surprised by the good results achievable with a steady surface in low light without flash when compared to lesser rivals.
OK, so whilst you cannot change the lens on the front of the S2800HD, like you can with a DSLR or compact system camera, like all superzooms the pitch here is that with this broad a focal range on offer, why would you want to anyway? For those who are more inclined to point and shoot anyway and hope to achieve reasonable results with the minimum of fuss, the Fujifilm will prove to be an able tool. As it will for any amateur snapper looking to extend their framing and compositional options beyond the usual, 3x, 4x or 5x zooms in this price bracket.
In summation then, whilst it’s not the camera to cause a photo enthusiast’s palms to sweat, if you can track down the Fujifilm FinePix S2800HD for a street price in the region of £150-170 you’ll be getting something of a bargain.
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