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Fujifilm S9500 digital camera

Fujifilm FinePix S9500 Zoom nine-megapixel camera

Can it compete with budget SLRs?

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The S9500's long optical zoom range is very useful, particularly the 28mm wide angle end when most manufacturers settle for starting at 35mm. This gives you the flexibility of capturing decent wide views, while also being able to zoom-in on distant detail. Sony's R1 gets a little wider still at 24mm, but only zooms into 120mm. Panasonic's FZ30 starts at a relatively modest 35mm, but extends to a whopping 420mm; it's all a case of weighing up which range suits you best. One thing's for certain though: all are far more flexible than the typical 3X optical range you get with budget digital SLR kit lenses.

To illustrate the S9500's coverage, we took the same photo from the same position on a tripod using it and Panasonic's DMC-FZ30 which offers a 12x optical range equivalent to 35-420mm. The photos below were taken moments apart.

Zoomed-out to wide-angle, the S9500 captures a visibly wider field than the 35mm equivalent focal length of the Panasonic DMC-FZ30, although not as wide as the 24mm equivalent of Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-R1.

Fujifilm S9500 digital camera
Fujifilm FinePix S9500 Zoom - 6.2-66.7mm at 6.2mm, f8 (28mm equivalent)

Fujifilm S9500 digital camera
Panasonic DMC-FZ30 - 7.4-88.8mm at 7.4mm, f8 (35mm equivalent)

Below are examples of both cameras zoomed all the way in, again taken from exactly the same position and moments apart. Here the massive 300 and 420mm equivalent focal lengths of each camera demonstrate their impressive reach over both the Sony R1's 120mm equivalent, and the relatively paltry capabilities of a typical 3x lens bundled with a digital SLR. Note, there are similar lens coverage examples taken with the Sony R1 and Canon 350D/Digital Rebel XT from exactly the same spot, although on a different day in our Sony R1 review here.

The Panasonic unsurprisingly wins in this respect, although whether it's offers a greater benefit than the wider angle of the Fujifilm S9500 is entirely down to personal preference and your style of photography.

Fujifilm S9500 digital camera
Fujifilm FinePix S9500 Zoom - 6.2-66.7mm at 66.7mm, f8 (300mm equivalent)

Fujifilm S9500 digital camera
Panasonic DMC-FZ30 - 7.4-88.8mm at 88.8mm, f8 (420mm equivalent)

Long focal lengths are all very well, but they increase the risk of camera shake. While many manufacturers counter this with optical image stabilisation, Fujifilm has opted for a simpler electronic solution: simply increase the ISO to allow faster shutter speeds. So where most all-in-ones peak between 400 and 640 ISO, the S9500 offers sensitivity from 80 right up to 1600 ISO. This will certainly let you achieve the kind of shutter speeds required to avoid camera shake under most conditions.

By increasing sensitivity, you also suffer from higher noise levels. Later, we'll compare the S9500 with the Panasonic FZ30, along with the Sony R1 and Canon EOS-350D which both feature physically larger sensors. While optical stabilisation may seem the technically preferable solution though, it must be said it won't freeze any subject in motion. In contrast, while higher ISOs increase the noise levels, they do allow faster shutter speeds both freezing action and reducing the risk of camera shake.

To illustrate this we took handheld photos of the same subject with both the S9500 and the Panasonic FZ30 zoomed-in to their maximum focal lengths; the photos were taken within moments of each other. We've taken 1410x1060 pixel crops from each image to show similar areas, then reduced them by five times for 20 per cent reproduction below. Each crop represents approximately 2/5 of the original image coverage. The FZ30 shows a smaller area because its focal length was longer and the resolution slightly lower. Despite slightly different resolutions, the reproduction of both crops from the original images is roughly equivalent and adequate to illustrate this example.

Fujifilm S9500 digital camera
Fujifilm FinePix S9500 Zoom - 6.2-66.7mm at 66.7mm, f8 (300mm equivalent)
1600 ISO, 1/350th

Fujifilm S9500 digital camera
Panasonic DMC-FZ30 - 7.4-88.8mm at 88.8mm, f8 (420mm equivalent)
80 ISO, 1/13th

At 80 ISO, the S9500 required a shutter speed of 1/13th, which for a focal length equivalent to 300mm was far too slow to handhold without considerable camera shake. Fujifilm's answer is of course to increase the sensitivity, and once we'd set the camera to 1600 ISO, the exposure had shortened to 1/350th, allowing a sharp handheld result.

Set to 80 ISO, the FZ30 also required a shutter speed of 1/13th, but amazingly its optical image stabilisation allowed us to handhold the shot without any camera shake - and this was at a longer equivalent focal length of 420mm.

As explained earlier though, both approaches have their pros and cons. The high sensitivity demanded by the S9500 may have resulted in high noise levels and also some smearing of detail, but any motion has been frozen. In contrast, the stabilisation of the Panasonic may have allowed us to handhold at 80 ISO and enjoy a noise-free image, but the long zoom and slow shutter speed have resulted in blurring of motion. Which is better depends on your style of photography. If you shoot moving subjects, the S9500's higher sensitivity has the edge. Conversely, if you shoot mostly static subjects the FZ30 will be more suitable. Either way, you can't help but be impressed by the stabilisation of the Panasonic FZ30.

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