50x optical zoom has become the benchmark for superzoom digital cameras. The first to feature such a massive telephoto lens was the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS that could extend to a whopping 1200 mm—equivalent to those long-barreled super telephoto lenses used in sports and wildlife photography. Today we have the Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 that features equally capable optics. Sounds exciting? Check out what our extensive tests revealed.
Zooms almost three times more than an average travel zoom digital camera
Design and features
The 16 megapixel FinePix SL1000 can easily be mistaken for a DSLR camera. It’s about the size of an entry-level DSLR and the large protruding lens with a ribbed rubber grip makes it even more convincing. You’ll realise that it’s actually a digital camera with a superzoom lens only when you notice that the lens isn’t interchangeable. When completely retracted, the lens somewhat resembles a stock 18-55 mm lens that comes with most entry-level DSLRs. Pull the zoom lever and keep it held, and you’ll be amazed to see it extend to twice the length—almost half a foot from the body. That’s 50x optical zoom!
Large grip and hotkeys for EV and burst mode
Thanks to the 1/2.3-inch type sensor used in this camera, it’s possible to have a single lens that can cover an enormous focal range. The lens starts at 24 mm and extends all the way up to 1200 mm, making it suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. Up to 20x optical zoom is very much usable indoors for shooting portraits and close-ups. Now, you may wonder if you’d get steady shots at such high zoom ratios—rest assured, you can get crisp handheld shots at shutter speeds as low as 1/5 sec and 20x zoom, all thanks to the effective optical image stabilisation. The extreme telephoto end comes in handy when you’re outdoors. You can get very (really very) close to subjects that are more than a kilometre away—not kidding! So, if you’re into photographing birds, sports and architecture, you’ll fall in love with the 50x zoom lens on this camera. To give you an idea, here’s what the lens is capable of.
24 mm wide – note the highlighted area (click on the photo for full view)
50x zoomed view of the highlighted area – an old church more than 1.5 km away
The maximum aperture at the wide end is a respectable f/2.9, which yields pleasing shallow depth of field—it’s more pronounced in close-ups and macros. At the telephoto end, you can drop the f-stop up to f/6.3, which is quite good for 1200 mm. But there’s a catch; the Aperture Priority and Manual modes that let you adjust the aperture only allow selecting from the largest, a step smaller and the smallest aperture at the set focal length. For example, at 1200 mm you can choose from f/6.5, 7.8 and 19, but you cannot progress 1/3-step at a time from the largest to smallest aperture. This straightaway renders the A and M modes almost useless.
Much of the camera’s heft comes from the lens and the large grip with textured rubber coating. The top of the camera houses a pop-up type flash releasable by a tiny button to its left. Just behind it are stereo microphones and a hot-shoe for external flash strobe. Moving on to the right, you have the mode selection dial, hotkeys for EV and burst modes, and the zoom lever with the shutter release button at its centre. A zoom rocker is also present on the left side of the camera, which is more convenient for zooming while shooting videos.
Zoom rocker and flash release button on the side
The rear of the camera is dominated by a 3-inch tilting LCD monitor with a pixel count of 920K. You can tilt the LCD monitor to take shots with the camera held over your head, or tilt and pull it out to shoot from bug’s eye level or with the camera held anywhere below your eye level. We would have liked if the LCD monitor was of the fully-articulating type. It would have been convenient to shoot then from odd angles. An EVF equipped with an eye sensor is also present should you want to switch from the LCD monitor. The EVF/LCD button lets you switch between LCD, EVF and eye sensor mode. Even though it’s helpful, we found the eye sensor a bit annoying at times. It’s oversensitive and switches from LCD to EVF even if the camera is a good four inches away from your eye.
3.0-inch tilting LCD and EVF with eye sensor
The control panel comprises a 5-way D-pad with a jog dial and buttons for video recording, playback and info display/back. The D-pad has shortcuts for flash, self-timer, macro/super macro and a customisable Fn button. If you wish to have instant access to ISO, white balance, metering modes, AF mode or face detection, you can assign it to the Fn button via the settings. A mini HDMI port and USB port reside under a rubber flap on the right side of the body.
The user interface of the FinePix SL1000 is typical of Fujifilm’s digital cameras. If you already own a Fujifilm digital camera, then it won’t take more than a few minutes to get used to this camera. Unlike many other digital cameras, there’s no stack of controls to the left or right of the screen. Pressing the Menu button brings up the Shooting Menu from where you can set all the shooting parameters such as ISO, images size, image quality, colour mode, white balance, AF mode, metering mode, flash intensity, bracketing and so on. There are three pages of parameters with five to six items on each page, and mind you, navigation can be painful when you want to change values frequently. To top this, the interface is a bit sluggish. You have to be patient while the selection takes its own sweet time to move up or down—rotating the jog dial quickly makes things worse. To change the selected parameter, you have to press the Menu or Right button on the D-pad and then select the desired option or value. After changing values, you’re back to the Shooting Menu and you have to press the back button to exit. Extremely painful!
Besides the PASM modes, you get Panorama (similar to Sweep Panorama in Sony Cyber-shot cameras), Auto, Scene Recognition Auto, Scene Preset and Advanced Filter modes. The SR Auto mode automatically analyses the subject and frame and selects the most optimal scene preset. The SP mode has the usual bunch of presets including Fireworks, Portrait, Sport, Night, Sunset and Flower. Most fun to use is the Advanced Filter mode that includes effect filters such as Toy Camera, Miniature, Pop Color, High-Key, Soft Focus and Partial Color. Also included are useful modes such as Pro Low-Light, HDR, Natural and Zoom Bracketing.
The FinePix SL1000 can shoot videos at up to full HD at 60 fps. Other modes include 1280 x 720 (60 fps), 640 x 480 (120 fps) and high speed modes (320 x 240 at 240 fps) that yield super slow motion videos. Optical zoom is available while shooting videos, plus you can enable colour modes (black & white and sepia) for video recording. It’s advisable to avoid zooming frequently while shooting videos as the mics pick the sound of the zoom motor.
Build quality and ergonomics
The entire shell of the Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 sports a matte rubberised finish. Along with the ribbed rubber grip around the lens barrel and textured rubber grip for handling the camera, you actually feel like you’re wielding a high-quality product. What disappointed us were the tacky on/off switch and jog dial. The design of the camera and use of textured rubber for grip inspire good confidence while shooting. The buttons on the top as well as those on the control panel are in comfortable reach of the thumb and index fingers. It’s only the fidget UI that ruins all the fun.
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