Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 review

The Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 puts 50x zoom power into a compact SLR-style camera, but it's not the best we've tested at high ISOs.
Photo of Fujifilm FinePix SL1000

The Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 ($399.95 direct) packs a 50x zoom lens into a the form factor that’s best described as a mini-SLR. The 16-megapixel camera features a deep handgrip, a tilting rear LCD, and an eye-level EVF. It impressed us with a sharp lens and speedy performance, but it’s not good enough to oust the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 as our Editors’ Choice superzoom. The Lumix features a similar design, and although its 24x zoom lens isn’t quite as ambitious, it maintains an f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range and it does better at high ISOs, making it a better option for getting the fast shutter speeds required to freeze action and grab steady shots at long focal lengths.

Design and Features
The SL1000 looks a lot like a scaled-down SLR. All of the standard signs are there—a protruding lens, deep handgrip, a big pop-up flash, and a viewfinder topped with a hot shoe. But the camera measures just 3.4 by 4.8 by 4.8 inches (HWD) and weighs in at 1.5 pounds. That it covers a 50x (24-1,200mm-equivalent) zoom range is impressive; a feat made possible by the 1/2.3-inch image sensor. That’s the standard size for compact cameras, but it’s much smaller than an SLR. The smaller sensor makes it possible for a lens that’s not the size of a bazooka to cover such an impressive focal range. You can see the camera at its widest and most telephoto focal lengths below.

The big difference between using the SL1000 and an SLR—aside from not being able to change lenses—is that the lens zoom is activated by a switch, rather than a manual turn of the barrel. This makes smooth, even zooming a reality, but not everybody loves it. Fujifilm offers the HS50EXR and the top-end X-S1 for shooters who prefer a manual zoom control, but both are pricier, and they use slightly larger image sensors, so they’re larger too.

There are two controls on the body to adjust the focal length; a rocker on the left side of the lens barrel itself, as well as one that’s integrated in the shutter release (located at the front of the handgrip). The other controls are scattered about the body. On the top plate you’ll find the mode dial, power switch, and buttons to adjust the exposure compensation and set the drive mode. Around back, there’s a toggle button to switch between the EVF and LCD (there is an eye sensor, so automatic switching is possible), a record button for video, playback controls, and a control wheel with four directional settings. The wheel controls the self-timer, enables macro focusing, and adjusts the flash settings; the up direction is programmable, but by default adjusts the ISO.

The 3-inch, 920k-dot rear LCD is hinged so it tilts up and down. It’s impressively sharp to the eye, more so than the 460k-dot screen found on the Panasonic FZ200. The FZ200 has a vari-angle design that swings out from the body and can face forward, which is one feature that the SL1000 lacks. The 0.2-inch eye-level EVF also packs a 920k-dot design. It’s adequate for framing and confirming focus, but it’s a bit lacking in contrast. What the FZ200 lacks for in sharpness in its LCD it makes up with its 1,312k-dot EVF. It doesn’t sound like a lot more pixels, but it’s a lot nicer to look through. An EVF is important with a camera with a long telephoto reach; you’ll be able to get a steadier shot with the camera to your eye than is possible when holding it at arm’s length and using the rear LCD to compose your shot.

The SL1000′s stabilization system did a good job in helping counteract camera shake; I was able to get a shot of a static subject with crisp edges at an impressively low 1/50-second shutter speed when using the EVF; a similar shot using the rear LCD showed some blur. Even though it’s a decent f/2.9 at its wide end, the lens narrows to a very modest f/6.5 when zoomed all the way in. This means that you’ll be pushing the camera’s ISO to its limits when trying to capture telephoto scenes in dim light, so you’ll want to shoot at as low as a shutter speed as your subject matter will allow in order to get sharp images when zoomed all the way in. The stabilization system also makes it easier to keep your subject in frame, as it’s easy to lose track of a subject when shooting with a 1,200mm lens, even one that’s stabilized.

The camera’s menu system is an overlay design, but it largely obscures your frame as you navigate through settings. The JPG color output control is one example of a setting that requires a trip to the menu. It lets you choose from Standard, Chrome, Black and White, or Sepia—other Fuji cameras that we’ve looked at have named the Standard and Chrome settings after classic film stocks, but even though there are no settings for Provia, Velvia, or Astia, the idea is the same.

Some shooting controls are directly accessible via buttons, but there are some common adjustments that will require a menu dive to adjust. The metering pattern requires you to jump into the menu to make adjustments, as do the autofocus settings. Raw shooters who occasionally like to shoot in burst mode will want find themselves changing the file quality setting with some frequency, as the SL1000 doesn’t let you engage continuous drive mode if Raw capture is enabled. You can reassign the Fn button to one of these; an additional programmable control would have gone a long way to reduce the time spent in the menus, however.

Performance and Conclusions
The SL1000 is no slouch when it comes to speed. It starts and shoots in just 1.6 seconds and manages a short 0.15-second shutter lag. It’s capable of burst shooting at 10, 5, or 3 frames per second, but each of those settings is limited to JPG capture only and the camera can only manage 9 shots before it slows down; it requires 5.9 seconds to write the files to a SanDisk 95MBps memory card. The SL1000 is limited to JPG capture when shooting in continuous drive mode; if Raw shooting is enabled, the function doesn’t work. The budget-priced GE X2600, which packs a more modest 26x lens, requires 2.2 seconds to start, requires a lengthy 0.4-second to focus and fire a photo after tripping the shutter, and can only grab a photo once every 1.2 seconds.

I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the camera’s lens. It bettered the 1,800 lines per picture height that we require to call a photo sharp using our standard center-weighted testing method. The SL1000 notches 2,773 lines on that test. That’s a better result than Fuji’s HS50EXR, which scored 2,132 lines. Both are examples of excellent lenses in a superzoom; often these cameras struggle to hit 1,800 lines thanks to the ambitious zoom ranges. A good example is the top-end Fujifilm X-S1, which marries a long lens to a larger 2/3-inch image sensor, but only hits 1,685 lines on the sharpness test.

Imatest also checks for noise, which can impair image quality as you increase a camera’s sensitivity to light, measured in ISO. The lowest ISO that the SL1000 is capable of is 100, but it can be pushed all the way to ISO 3200 when shooting in full resolution; ISO 6400 and 12800 are available at reduced resolution when shooting in JPG. We consider an image to have too much noise when it makes up more than 1.5 percent of the photo. The SL1000 only manages to control noise through ISO 400; pushing the ISO to 800 increases noise to 1.7 percent, and it tops out at 1.8 percent at ISO 3200. Those numbers don’t’ sound too high on paper, but close examination of photos on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W display shows that details start to disappear at ISO 800, and at ISO 1600 they’re smudged away. You can eke out just a little bit more by shooting in Raw, but even at ISO 1600 Raw files fail to capture fine lines. The Panasonic FZ200 does better in low light; it keeps noise under control through ISO 800, and its lens stays open at f/2.8 throughout the zoom range. That’ a decisive advantage when shooting at telephoto distances in questionable light.

The SL1000 impressed us with its video capabilities. It records 1080p60 footage in QuickTime format (720p60 is also an option), and it can also shoot high framerate, slow-motion video at lower resolutions. You can opt for 120fps at 480p, 240fps at 240p, or 480fps at 180p. The high-definition footage looks great, and the stereo mic does a good job with audio. There’s some whir on the soundtrack as the lens zooms in and out, but it’s not overwhelming. Motion is smooth and the camera is quick to reacquire focus as the scene changes. There’s a mini HDMI port, so you can connect the camera directly to your TV and review your photos and footage, as well as a propriety USB port, a standard card slot with support for all flavors of SD, and a hot shoe that supports an external flash. An external battery charger is included.

The Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 is a solid option for any shooter in the market for a long-zoom travel camera. Its 50x lens covers wide angles and captures extreme telephoto scenes, its lens is impressively sharp, and it’s a speedy performer. There are some improvements we’d like to see: There could be an extra programmable function button or two, and the SL1000 doesn’t have Wi-Fi, which is becoming more and more common, especially in cameras that hit this price point. The lens aperture narrows all the way to f/6.5 when zoomed in, but that’s not uncommon for this class. But we still prefer the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200, which is significantly more expensive and its zoom range isn’t as impressive. But it does better as you push its ISO to higher levels and its 24-600mm lens maintains an f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range. It’s also a power zoom design, though; if you like a manual zoom, you’ll want to look at either the Fujifilm HS50EXR or the top-end X-S1.

Specifications
Dimensions 3.4 x 4.8 x 4.8 inches
Interface Ports Proprietary, mini HDMI
GPS No
Megapixels 16 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.1 seconds
LCD dots 921000
LCD size 3 inches
Touch Screen No
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 12800
Type Superzoom
Sensor Type CMOS
Optical Zoom 50 x
Boot time 1.6 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 24 mm
Weight 1.5 lb
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Lines Per Picture Height 2773
LCD Aspect Ratio 3
Image Stabilization Optical
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 1200 mm
Shutter Lag 0.15 seconds
Sensor Size 1/2.3" (6.2 x 4.6mm) mm
EVF Resolution 921000 dpi
Viewfinder Type EVF

Verdict
The Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 puts 50x zoom power into a compact SLR-style camera, but it's not the best we've tested at high ISOs.
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