(Pocket-lint) - The Fujifilm FinePix S3200 is the latest 24x optical zoom camera that packs in plenty of zoom at an affordable price. Superzoom cameras have been going from strength to strength over recent months, though the 14-megapixel S3200 is a more budget model to fill the lower-priced gap in the market below the likes of the premium Fujifilm FinePix HS20.
In the picture
The S3200’s zoom lens has a textured grip around its base that looks a lot like a zoom ring, but doesn’t physically move - instead the 24x zoom is controlled using the toggle found around the shutter button. The lens’s 24mm wide-angle setting can fit plenty into the frame and this can extend all the way through to a 576mm equivalent to pick off far-away subjects. This is an obvious sell point and the scope for shooting wide-angle group shots through to portraits and more distant subjects is easily within your grasp. However the widest angle does show notable signs of distortion.
The S3200 has a variety of autofocus options - Center, Multi, Area, Continuous and Tracking - for tackling various subjects. The camera can decide where to focus in Multi mode, while Area provides more control to select the focus point on screen. Subject Tracking has some success, but as the subject has to be at the centre of the frame to begin with it’s also rather limited. Continuous autofocus may sound like a grand idea, the likes of which you’d usually have to pay much more cash for, but here the super-slow speed by which the camera slips between different subjects renders it obsolete.
With a classic superzoom form, the S3200 has both a 3-inch, 230,000-dot LCD screen and a 0.2-inch electronic viewfinder (EVF) above this. The screen itself doesn’t have a particularly good angle of view, which means when it’s not in line with your eye it’s harder to see, plus reflections from sunlight are problematic. However, the main issue is the poor quality of the pre-shot preview: frame up a shot and subjects can appear overexposed on screen, yet in the final capture this isn’t an issue. Such inaccuracy means the screen feels like more of a guide than accurate tool.
The light reflection issues can, in part, be overcome by using the viewfinder - not only is it shielded from sunlight but utilising it for extra support at longer focal lengths is helpful for sharper pictures too. The EVF may be small, but it’s of a reasonable standard for such a budget model and is most useful in practice, though its 97% field of view means some (3%) of the image you capture won’t be visible when composing.
Sensor-based and high ISO “dual stabilization” helps to keep shots steady too, though the system misses out the crucial lens-based stabilisation that would have helped when shooting at longer focal lengths.
As well as automated modes, including SR Auto (Scene Recognition mode), the FinePix S3200 also lays on the usual array of manual controls. This means more flexibility if you want to get more creative, though the aperture values tend to be restricted to two broad options which does put a bit of a dampener on things. Other options such as Face Detection will recognise faces within a scene for optimum focus, while the Panorama mode works in a real time panoramic sweep and auto-stitches shots in camera. Add to these a 720p HD movie mode that continuously autofocuses and allows for the zoom to be used during recording and there are plenty of enticing options to choose from.
Those hoping for a rechargeable battery may also feel let down by the S3200’s 4x AA batteries. Although the first set of batteries are included in the box, you’ll need to remember to add the cost of some rechargeables to the camera’s overall price, otherwise you’ll be spending loads of cash down the shop to replenish exhausted ones.
The S3200’s picture quality stands up well for a compact camera, with its ISO 64-400 settings returning decent enough shots. However, images are a little soft at full size and processing does sacrifice finer details, sometimes to the point of obscurity in larger areas. But for those who’ll never need 14 megapixels the files should be good enough for printing at less than full size and sharing online.
Don’t expect the world from the results, and note that the higher ISO settings (1600 is the top full size capture, while ISO 3200-6400 are of lower resolution) are far less welcoming due to image noise too. But the results are apt for this price point, all things considered.
Superzoom cameras are never without compromise, and it’s the FinePix S3200’s low quality LCD, and over-processed images that hold it back. However the camera does still deliver plenty considering its low price point (around £165-220). A huge zoom range, variety of autofocus modes, built-in viewfinder and array of manual controls put plenty of features at your fingertips. Don’t confuse this as a DSLR-beating camera, as it’s nothing of the sort. But if you’re looking for a wide-ranging zoom on a small budget then the S3200 really does deliver across the board.