Fujifilm has a decent reputation with superzoom cameras. This year’s HS10 model, for example, earned a decent amount of praise from reviewers for its fast performance, full HD video capability, and 30x zoom. That’s a very good camera, able to compete with heavy hitters like the Panasonic FZ100 or Canon SX30.
Fujifilm’s latest superzoom, the FinePix S2800, looks decent on paper: 14 megapixels, 18x zoom, 720p HD video, 3-inch screen plus an electronic viewfinder, autofocus tracking, ISO range up to 6400, and most importantly, a street price under $220.
But just because two cameras both have big lenses and a dSLR-esque design does not mean that they’re created equal. To an inexperienced camera buyer, the S2800 might look like an advanced camera at a reasonable price, but to others, that will seem too good to be true. Let’s see how it stacks up.
Body and Design
As with most superzoom cameras, the S2800 looks roughly like a miniature dSLR. The contours are similar, just on a smaller scale, and at a glance, it looks more expensive that it actually is.
It has a comfortable in-hand feel, aided by a grippy surface. It’s light enough to hold up with one hand for a while, and the shutter and mode dial are in convenient positions to adjust, even with the one-handed grip. The shutter has a nice resistance, though the zoom tilter around the base feels too small, and is unresponsive at times. The flash is folded into the crest of the camera, and there’s a release button to the left that requires a spare hand to trigger (the camera will not automatically lift the flash), but there’s nothing to complain about regarding the flash operation.
The other useful buttons -- one for the “function” menu, an exposure compensation hotkey, and the viewfinder/LCD toggle -- are laid out comfortably as well. The typical digicam four-way pad is on the backside, though it’s slightly different than what I’m used to seeing. It’s more like an eight-way pad that only has functions assigned to five of the slots, including one for autofocus lock and one for brightness settings. But just because it’s different doesn’t make it bad. Up top, we get hotkeys for burst shooting and face detection settings. There is no dedicated video record button, which is pretty rare these days. In general, the ergonomics are quite good, and my few complaints are only minor.
But I do have some big complaints about the general build quality. It feels hollow, the hallmark of cheap electronics. The battery door feels particularly flimsy. The LCD is decent, but the electronic viewfinder (EVF) is very low-res, distractingly so at times. Obviously, something had to give to offset the cost of the big zoom lens, so corner-cutting is expected, and it’s great that Fujifilm included a viewfinder at all. However, I’ve reviewed a few cameras in the same price range, with similar specs no less, with a more solid build than the S2800.
User Experience and Performance
I’m not intimately familiar with Fujifilm’s menu system, so there was a bit of a learning curve. But in general, I found the menus easy enough to navigate. The surplus of direct-access keys makes for relatively smooth operating.
The actual performance is on the slow side compared to most superzooms we’ve tested in the past year. Startup is a bit lazy. Shutter lag is noticeable, and shot-to-shot time is sluggish. Even the zoom is unresponsive at times, especially right after coming out of picture review mode -- I’d push the tilter toward telephoto as soon as the picture review disappeared, but nothing would happen until I let go and tried again.
Autofocusing is particularly slow, bordering on unreliable in certain situations. It’s acceptable in good lighting, but can still turn out unfocused pictures, or at least ones that are focused on some obscure object toward the edges of the frame. Locking the autofocus indoors and at full zoom often took a few tries, though the mediocre image stabilization probably had more to do with the fuzzy shots at the telephoto end. Tracking autofocus, one of the few features that separates the S2800 from its predecessors, seemed to work most of them time -- once the focus was locked on an object, it stuck with it.
The S2800 is equipped with sensor-shift image stabilization, but it’s not entirely effective for freehand shooting at longer focal lengths. That presents a challenge for any stabilization system, but the systems in top superzooms pull it off. Still, any stabilization at all is a great thing, and it absolutely helps ameliorate blurring to a degree, but you’ll probably want a tripod if you plan to do a healthy amount of telephoto shooting.
As we’d expect on a superzoom, the S2800 does offer quite a few manual settings, including PASM modes and exposure tweaks. The right adjustments can give performance and image quality that extra edge. It’s always a good idea to read a camera’s manual, but it’s required reading with the S2800.
Image QualityTake this as you will: Image quality is about what’s expected from a sub-$250 superzoom. If you’re a casual shooter, you’ll probably be pretty happy with shots that are taken in good conditions: well-lit outdoor scenes. Colors are a bit flat, but even basic photo software can add some zazz with just one mouse click. Exposure generally appropriate in good lighting, and not terribly awkward in poor lighting. However, it’s best to view these pictures at a medium-to-small size on a computer screen. Some small prints should look decent, too. Blow the pictures up any larger, though, and a whole range of inconsistencies become apparent, especially so in dim conditions. This is not a camera for enthusiasts or pixel peepers.
Noise is controlled pretty well up to ISO 400, though noise reduction starts to smudge details at that setting. At a pixel level, edges are fuzzy even at lower ISOs. At ISO 800 and especially 1600, shots are quite noisy and details are totally smeared. There are reduced-resolution ISO 3200 and 6400 settings, too. ISO 3200 is actually usable for on-screen purposes if you don’t mind the smaller picture, but ISO 6400 is a complete mess.
As for other common issues, purple and green fringing is a big problem in areas of high contrast, especially at full zoom (check out the fringing on the left side of the clock tower picture below), and the edges of the frame are often soft and visibly distorted even at the wide angle. In short, there are plenty of reasons to be dissatisfied with the S2800’s image quality. But casual shooters who mostly shoot outdoors, aren’t afraid to use a flash indoors, and rarely make large prints probably won’t notice most of these issues.
Wide-angle (28mm) vs. telephoto (504mm)
The S2800 has an “HD” tag attached to its name on the packaging, so Fujifilm wants you to know that this is a high-def shooting camera. HD video is pretty ubiquitous this year, so it’s not a special feature in my mind, and the S2800’s video quality isn’t anything to brag about either. It’s suitable for a camera at this price range, nothing more. Zoom does work during video, but the sound from the lens motor is particularly loud -- it’s present on most cameras if you listen closely (and if the camera doesn’t cut the microphone), but it’s a high-pitched whining noise on the S2800.
So the Fujifilm S2800 is flawed, in build quality, in performance, and in image quality. But it’s really a matter of perception. We shouldn’t expect great things from a sub-$250 superzoom. It’s inappropriate to compare it to an advanced camera, or even a $400 superzoom.
So compared to other low-cost superzooms -- Olympus’ latest SP-series cameras, or Fujifilm’s slightly older S1800 and S2550 models, to name a few -- the results are fairly similar. We tested the Olympus SP-600UZ a few months ago and the images are of similar quality, maybe slightly better because the megapixel count is lower (and so the shots are less susceptible to noise), though there is no EVF. If I were to buy a low-cost Fujifilm superzoom, I’d probably go with the S1800 or S2550. All three of the cameras are very similar, but the S2800 is the newest, so it’s the most expensive, and I’m not wild about the increased megapixel count, which I’m fairly confident has a net negative effect on the picture quality, all other things equal.
The bottom line is that the S2800 is a cheap compact camera with a big ol’ zoom lens stuck on the front of it to make it look impressive on paper, even if it can’t muster much in practice. It's priced so competitively that I can look past some of its faults and give it a relatively generous B+ rating. Still, you can do better as long as the S1800 and S2550 are still on the market. They'll shoot the same pictures, for the most part, and the older models cost less. But if you're actually in the market for a serious superzoom, save up another $50 and go for a better model from the 2009 season while they're still available, like the Panasonic FZ35 or Canon SX20.