Bridge digital cameras are designed to offer the shooting comfort and feel of a DSLR camera, but the feature set offered is similar to that of travel zoom digital cameras. Bridge cameras are a notch better because they feature large telephoto lenses with optical zoom that stretches far beyond 20x. The FujiFilm FinePix SL300 is one such digital camera that comes across as a DSLR at first glance. Let’s find out what it packs within its hefty shell.
An affordable bridge camera with a decent feature set
Design and Features
FujiFilm has tried its best to provide utmost comfort to the user. The textured rubber grip and the ridged rubber ring around the lens lend a DSLR-like feel. The rear and top panels of the shell also have a rubberised finish. Only the front portion of the shell feels like it’s made of plastic, but again, the grainy finish gives a premium look and feel. There is absolutely no compromise on the quality of components used for the construction of the exterior. Even the buttons, dials and zoom rocker have a good finish and tactile feel.
Rubber grip around the lens and good telephoto end
Much of the heft of this 14 megapixel shooter comes from the lens and the grip that houses a li-ion battery pack within. When completely retracted, the lens resembles a standard 18-55 mm lens that comes with most entry-level DSLR cameras. Only when the lens keeps extending endlessly on holding the zoom rocker that you realise how incredibly large it is at the telephoto end. The lens has a focal length of 24 mm at the widest end and it extends up to a whopping 720 mm at the telephoto end, which translates to 30x optical zoom. To make zooming into subjects easier, the lens has an additional zoom lever on the left. Here’s the tricky bit; no matter how far you stretch the zoom lever, it absolutely doesn’t affect the speed as it zooms in or out. Due to the absence of graduated control over zoom, you don’t have a tight control over the focal length.
The top and rear panels have plenty of shortcuts, which make adjusting the shooting parameters very convenient while shooting. At the top you have hotkeys for drive mode and cropping, both accessible using the index finger. The mode dial and the F-mode menu button to its right are in comfortable reach of the thumb. Apart from PASM modes, you get Auto, Scene Presets, Panorama, Custom and Movie recording modes.
Well laid-out control panel
The rear panel is dominated by a large 3-inch LCD monitor and a control panel to the right, which comprises of a 5-way D-pad and buttons for EV, info display and playback. The D-pad has shortcuts for delete, flash, self timer and macro. There’s an eyecup above the LCD monitor that houses an electronic viewfinder. It would have been nice if Fujifilm had added a proximity sensor so that the camera automatically switches to EVF on looking through it. Here, there’s a button that allows toggling between the EVF and the LCD.
The flash is of the popup type and it can be released by pressing a tiny button to its left. Additionally, you have the option to use an external flash strobe courtesy the provision of a hot shoe just above the EVF. The HDMI port and a common port for USB interface and composite video output reside under a thick rubber flap. The package bundles a combo cable with connectors for both USB and composite video.
The large rubber grip and a dimpled grip on the rear panel inspire good confidence for single-handed shooting. Even with the camera held only with the right hand, accessing the buttons doesn’t strain the thumb and index finger. The user interface is snappy and intuitive. What we didn’t like is that navigating the menus and changing values require too many button presses, which can be frustrating especially when you want to change settings rapidly between shots.
We started evaluating the performance of the FinePix SL300 with the noise test. The ISO speed ranges from 64 to 6400. However, at ISO 3200 and 6400, images are shot at a lower resolution. Up to ISO 400, the noise is handled very well, after which graininess starts hampering image quality significantly. Move on from ISO 800 to 1600 to 3200, and you’ll see colours and details taking a nosedive, with a lot of nose creeping in. Higher ISO values should be used only in extremely low lighting, when you no longer have aperture and shutter speed to fall back on.
The incredibly large focal range you have at your disposal while shooting is the forte of the SL300. In bright light, you can capture crisp handheld shots at full 30x zoom.
Widest at 24 mm
About half the zoom range – 200 mm
At full 30X optical zoom!
The overall reproduction of colours and details of the SL300 isn’t remarkable, but quite acceptable. Colour saturation and contrast are very good – our sample shots looked nice and punchy. It’s the average reproduction of details that takes away the charm. When scaled to fit full screen, the photos look good. However, when you crop a portion or view the photo at 100 percent zoom, you’ll find excessive sharpening and water paint-like patchiness, which impacts detailing. Macro shots and close-ups look great. The SL300 has a super macro mode that allows shooting subjects from as close as 2 cm.
Videos can be recorded at 1280 x 720. You have to use the mode dial to activate the movie recording mode and then press the shutter release button to start recording. There is no dedicated button for video recording. Captured videos look good – there is negligible stutter while panning and the objects look well-detailed. The drawback here is that the camera doesn’t allow using optical zoom while shooting videos. You have the option to use digital zoom, but that kills the details.
Verdict and Price in India
The price band of bridge cameras starts from Rs 20,000 – we’re talking about premium models. Priced at Rs 19,499, the FinePix SL300 lies at the entry point of the band. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s great bang for your buck and you shouldn’t look elsewhere. There are models such as the Canon PowerShot SX500IS and Sony Cyber-shot HX200V that deserve serious consideration. The FinePix SL300 will appeal to those who want plenty of optical zoom and acceptable performance for a relatively low price. However, some of its serious qualms will keep enthusiasts away. In fact, some of the travel zoom cameras such as the FujiFilm FinePix F660EXR and Canon PowerShot SX240HS perform much better than the SL300 when it comes to image quality and video recording. If you’re ready to sacrifice a bit on the telephoto end, rest assured that your investment will be better justified.
Hit the Next Page button to check out the sample shots.
Crisp handheld shot at full 30X zoom!
Shot using fill-flash in Program mode at ISO 400
A 100 percent crop of a macro. Great colours, awesome details
Close-ups look crips and well detailed
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