Fujifilm FinePix S1800 Review
The Fujifilm FinePix S1800 is a new super-zoom digital compact camera that looks and feels like a DSLR. Featuring an 18x zoom lens with a 28-504mm focal range, 12 megapixels and a 3 inch LCD screen, the Fujifilm S1800 offers full manual photographic control for the more experienced user and an Automatic Scene Recognition mode for beginners. For movie makers the S1800 has the must-have feature of 2010, high-definition 720p video recording at 30fps. Dual Image Stabilization, an electronic viewfinder, ISO 64 up to ISO 1600 at full resolution, high-speed shooting of up to 20 frames at 8 fps (at 3 megapixels), Tracking Auto Focus and Panorama Shooting mode complete the S1800's main specifications. With a very competitive price tag of £179.99 / $229.95, the Fujifilm FinePix S1800 is one of the cheapest super-zoom cameras available.
Ease of Use
The single difference between the S1800 and the slightly more expensive S2500HD is the latter's mini HDMI Port which provides quick and easy connection to a HDTV. The Fujifilm FinePix S1800 bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor, the S1500 model. This is a bridge or 'super zoom' camera that, despite resembling a digital SLR that's been shrunk in the wash, shouldn't scare off those more used to operating pocket-sized point and shoots - which happens to be exactly the main audience that Fujifilm are targeting. The cost is likewise unthreatening, which at a suggested asking price of an affordable £179.99 / $229.95 is a lot less than both more fashion-orientated snapshot models and competing super-zoom rivals. Size and pricing aside, this 12-megapixel camera is as much about user friendliness as creative flexibility. For those with kids or subjects that don't stay put its auto focus tracking ability will doubtless come in handy, as will its most prominent feature, the immensely versatile 18x optical zoom, which has been both widened and lengthened in comparison to the S1500's mere 12x lens.
Given the enormous lens reach of 504mm, image stabilisation is included, here the 'belt and braces' arrangement of CCD shift anti shake plus high ISO speed (up to ISO 6400, albeit with a drop to 3 megapixels if straying above ISO 1600). In practice therefore with the Fujifilm FinePix S1800 it's mostly a case of a half press of the shutter release button and the camera does the rest, particularly with Fujifilm here including an 'auto everything' scene recognition (SR) auto mode. Although far from infallible - if you're not paying close attention and it's presented with a busy scene it'll call up landscape when macro is needed and vice versa - it adds to the beginner friendly feel. And, if there's not time to set the photograph up manually, with a single button press an instant zoom feature crops in closer (using either 1.4x or 2.0x digital zoom), providing either a landscape or portrait format image.
Also worth a mention up front is the S1800's high speed-capture capability - up to 20 pictures sequentially at 8 frames per second - albeit with, as perhaps expected, resolution dropping to three megapixels to achieve its headline-grabbing numbers. A compromise would be 10 sequential photographs at 3.3fps at a reduced resolution of 6 megapixels - at least that way a level of quality might be achieved that you would actually want to produce a print from.
The S1800 introduces high-definition video for the first time to the Fujifilm S-series, capturing 1280 x 720 pixel footage at 30fps with mono sound, full use of the 18x zoom and a maximum recording time of 15 minutes per clip. Alternatively there are also 640 x 480 pixels and 320 x 240 pixels modes, also at 30 fps. Although there's no built-in HDMI port as on the more expensive S2550HD model, you could use Fujifilm's optional HD Player Kit instead, which includes an HD card reader that connects the camera to your HDTV, and even a wireless remote control.
Given its beginner market the Fujifilm FinePix S1800's buttons and controls are for the most part large, particularly the familiar mode dial on top. They're also sufficiently self-explanatory that the manual - a full version here on CD only - doesn't need to be digested before you're up and shooting. As for the remainder of the box contents, you'll need to supply your own SD, SDHC or SDHX card for image storage, though thankfully the four AA batteries required for power are included.
The front of the S1800 looks much the same as any bridge model; that's to say it's dominated by the lens barrel, the tip of which extends 1.5cms past the grip when the camera is inactive, and then extends by a further 3cms when zoomed to full telephoto. Above the lens sits the forward sloping ridge housing the integral pop-up flash. A dedicated button for activating this spring-loaded mechanism sits to its right, three pin prick-sized holes for the built-in microphone just below.
Over at the other side of the lens is a portal housing the AF assist light, to the left of which is the comfortably moulded grip, with some leather-effect padding to help prevent your fingers slipping. For anyone with average sized hands there's just enough room to squeeze three fingers around the grip, leaving your forefinger automatically hovering over the shutter release button situated at the front of its slope, and your thumb pressed against the slightly indented pad at the rear. While you certainly wouldn't want the grip to be any smaller, it feels just about right given the overall size of the camera.
The Fujifilm FinePix S1800's L-shaped top plate looks at once familiar and approachable, the largest control being a ridged mode wheel featuring 10 settings. Starting with full auto mode and moving clockwise we come to one of the camera's main selling points, the aforementioned SR (Scene Recognition) auto, and, continuing in the same direction next alight on SP (Scene Position). This mode features standard pre-optimised settings for 15 familiar scenes and subjects, accessed by pressing the 'menu' button at the camera's rear, and includes portraits, landscapes, sunsets, fireworks plus a natural light and museum mode amongst its selection.
Continuing clockwise around the dial we come to another of the Fujifilm's user-friendly features, its panorama mode, which allows the user to shoot a sequence of three images that the S1800 automatically stitches together in-camera - no additional software or technical skills required. A narrow portion of the previous frame is displayed as the user pans from left to right taking shots, so you can line up the joins with a reasonable level of accuracy. Though not essential, it's another fun extra that should appeal to the family target market, and will surely come into its own as an aide memoir for holiday vistas. After a little practice, surprisingly successful results can be achieved, although the overall resolution of the resulting picture is limited to 4880x1296 pixels.
Next around the dial is a setting for the already mentioned video capture - note that there's no one-touch video-record button on this camera. What's more of a surprise is that with a successive turn of the dial we come to a user-attributable custom setting, a feature more commonly found on a DSLR proper. Compounding the indication that the S1800 perhaps has something to offer the photo enthusiast after all, there follows the creative quartet of manual, aperture priority, shutter priority and program modes, allowing full access to manually selectable ISO speeds, quality settings and of course colour effects. And, with a further twist, we're back to full auto again.
Alongside the shooting mode dial is a larger than average on/off slider, partly recessed into the bodywork to prevent accidental activation. Slide this to the right and the S1800 powers up in just over a second - pretty quick for this class of camera - the rear LCD displaying a Fujifilm logo initially before blossoming into life. There's also the option of an electronic viewfinder for shot composition - more on which later.
Forward of this slider are a pair of raised, identically sized buttons. To the left is a dedicated control for activating face detection which biases the focus and exposure toward any faces in the frame. Press it once to couple this with automatic red eye removal (if using flash obviously), or again to shoot without the red eye removal option. Joining face detection are blink detection, which warns you if any of your subjects have blinked, and Smile Detection, which automatically takes the picture when your subject bares their pearly whites.
The button to the right is for accessing the various burst mode settings, as mentioned above. This replaces the S1500's Image Stabilisation button, which is now found in the main menu system. Like every other such system in existence, the one employed by the Fujifilm FinePix S1800 isn't infallible - it's tricky, if not impossible, to get a perfectly sharp image when shooting handheld at maximum telephoto even in seemingly ideal light conditions. But, given the focal range, its inclusion here is a must.
Forward again of these buttons is the shutter release button, surrounded by a lever for operating the zoom. Happily the former has a definite halfway point so that a premature capture is avoided, the camera giving an affirmative 'beep' when focus and exposure have been determined and the AF point highlighted in green dancing around the screen if either your camera or subject is moving. With a nudge of the zoom lever, the camera takes just under four seconds to move through the range from maximum wideangle to telephoto. Full resolution JPEG images are saved almost instantaneously when shooting in single shot mode, so no complaints there.
At the rear of the S1800 we find the rest of the operational controls. Like the top plate, these are well laid out and their functions ably illustrated. Starting top right of the 3-inch, 230k-dot LCD screen, there's an EVF/LCD button for alternating between the two features, although, with the larger screen literally staring you in the face when you pick the camera up, it's hard to see the S1800's target audience bothering to squint to use the EVF situated above.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
Directly below this button there's an identically sized one for playback, and, to its right, one for Fujifilm's 'F' (for 'Foto') mode. As with the rest of the manufacturer's compact range, one press of this provides access to an abbreviated menu containing just the essentials: resolution and compression level, ISO setting and, arguably less essential, three different colour effects. Immediately below this again we have a four-way control pad/jog dial with a familiar menu/OK (set) button at its centre. Placed at the four points are icons for deleting images and setting the monitor brightness, selecting flash modes (auto/slow synchro/forced flash), the aforementioned image-cropping 'instant zoom' feature which presents a choice of two successive landscape ratio crops and two portrait ones, plus macro and super macro settings.
Press the Fujifilm FinePix S1800's central 'menu' button in anything but auto mode and you're presented with two clearly read screens of shooting options when in capture mode or review mode (if shooting using one of the auto settings, options are abbreviated to turning self timer or high speed shooting on or off, plus access to the set up menu). The set up menu itself is divided into three folders allowing the adjustment of operational volumes, screen brightness, and the ability to format the inserted memory card or internal memory. Thankfully here Fujifilm has indeed gone with the more widely available SD than retaining historical loyalty to the now outgunned (in terms of available capacity) xD-Picture Card, a slot for which is provided at the base of the camera where it's shared with the four regular AAs required for power. This means that if you're shooting with the camera on a tripod, you have to first remove the camera to remove the card, which is a bit of a pain but far from uncommon.
Located beneath this central four-way pad is a final pairing of buttons. On the left we have the self-explanatory 'Display/Back'. Pressing this turns off the visible icons on screen and/or calls up a nine zone compositional grid when in capture mode, or, as it sounds, jumps back a step if you are poised to delete an image in playback mode but think better of it. The final button to the right is for exposure compensation. Press this in any of the auto modes and a live histogram displaying the areas of brightness across the image is revealed. Press it again in any of the creative modes and the user not only gets a histogram but an adjustable exposure slider too, plus the ability to change the aperture and/or shutter speed, depending on which mode you're using.
The right hand flank of the S1800 (when viewed from the back) features a plastic flap covering a combined AV out and USB port, above which is an eyelet for attaching the provided shoulder strap. On the left hand flank there's another eyelet at the top plus a built-in speaker near the base. The base of the Fujifilm FinePix S1800 meanwhile features a plastic screw thread for a tripod next to the large compartment housing the memory card and batteries.