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Fujifilm FinePix S2500 HD
12.2MP | 28-504mm (18X) ZOOM | $240/£190

Fujifilm has been one of the key players in the 'big zoom' market for many years now, and has managed to carve out a nice little niche for itself at the 'affordable' end of the market. The FinePix S2500HD was announced in February this year as an upgrade to the S2000HD, and is the latest in a line of very similar models going back to the S3500 which was released in 2004. The zoom range has been expanded from 15x to 18 times, the nominal resolution has been increased from 10 to 12.2 megapixels and the screen has grown from 2.7 to 3.0 inches (albeit without an increase in resolution).

Like its predecessor the camera can record 720p HD video and display its still images on an HD TV set. This 12MP camera with 18x zoom (which starts at 28mm equivalent) also includes features such as Scene Recognition, Face Detection and dual image stabilization.

  • 12.2 effective Megapixels
  • 28-504mm equiv lens with 18x optical zoom and 6.3x digital zoom
  • 3.0 inch LCD with 230,000 dots resolution
  • Electronic Viewfinder with 99% field of view
  • 720p HD movie recording
  • HDMI-output
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 6400
  • 10 shooting modes, 16 Scene Modes including Zoom bracketing Mode
  • Program, Shutter-Priority, Aperture-Priority and Manual Exposure Mode
  • Scene Recognition and Face Detection

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Overview

Despite its large screen and use of AA batteries (which both place limits on just how small the camera can be made) the S2500HD is the smallest and most portable camera in this test. The lens also extends comparatively little, even at full zoom. It feels solid and, thanks to the rubberized grip, is comfortable to hold.

There is a good selection of external buttons which, in combination with the 'F '- menu, allow access to all essential parameters. The S2500HD retains Fujifilm's slightly peculiar menus - the setup menu is itself the last menu option of the main menu - but the additional external controls mean you rarely need to use them. The interface is not always in line with industry 'de-facto standards' (you have to press the exposure compensation button to change the image information in review mode for example) but once you've spent a couple of days with with the camera you'll find your way around it without any problems. Even without a dial there are also enough external controls to allow the manual and semi-manual (aperture and shutter priority) modes to be usable, if not quite as quick and simple as on most DSLRs.

Apart from 12MP stills the S2500HD allows the capture of 720p HD video and monaural sound. The movie mode is very basic though. You turn the mode dial to movie mode, select the quality and press the shutter button to start/stop recording. That's it in terms of user control.

Key Features

The S2500HD is the smallest cameras in this test but still fits well at least in small to mid-sized hands. Even at full tele setting the extension of the lens is very moderate.
The lens retracts into the body when the camera is off. When powered up it only extends a small amount. Here it's shown at its wide-angle position.
Continuous shooting and face detection are given their own buttons, while a well-packed mode dial offers a wide-selection of modes, including a custom setting and a panorama mode.
The S2500HD features essentially the same button layout as its predecessor with a button for the 'F' sub-menu and a dedicated button for exposure compensation, all placed around the four-way controller.
The S2500HD offers a focal length range that starts at around 28mm equiv. and extends out to the equivalent of 504mm, at 18x making the Fujifilm one of the shortest zoom range cameras in this comparison. The S2500HD's aperture range, which starts at f/3.1 and drops to f/5.6 at the long end, is also one of the slower ones.
The 'F '- menu provides quick access to key shooting parameters. External buttons can be used to set most other key settings, with the exception of white balance.
The Panorama mode can be found on the mode dial and helps create a panorama out of a maximum of three individual shots.

Image quality and performance

The Fujifilm S2500HD feels a little sluggish in some areas and is overall the slowest camera in our group. It takes approximately 3 sec to power up and browsing in review mode works at an average speed with image magnification being a bit slow. At 2.6 sec shot-to-shot times are not fast but well within acceptable limits; they increase to 3 sec when shooting with flash. Just make sure your AA batteries are fully charged before you go out, otherwise flash recycling times can increase. It takes approximately 2.1 sec to zoom from wide-angle to full tele setting. Considering the S2500HD's 'short' (compared to the competition) 18x zoom range this is not particularly quick.

While many photographers can probably live with the speed issues described above, the camera's slow AF is, from a performance point of view, arguably its main shortcoming. We measured 0.6/0.9 sec for wide-angle/tele setting in good light, but this can extend to as long as 1.8/3.1 sec in dimly lit scenes which makes the Fujifilm's AF by far the slowest system in this group test. It doesn't help either that, once light levels get very low, the camera's live view image becomes very grainy and the LCD screen appears to reduce its refresh rate significantly.

In terms of image quality, the S2500HD shows pretty much the same flaws as it predecessor, the S2000HD, but at a slightly higher output resolution. It's probably fair to say that the Fujifilm delivers the worst image quality in this test, and the main problems with image quality are noticeable even at standard size prints. At a pixel level the camera's output shows very obvious noise reduction artifacts and an overall lack of detail (fine, low contrast details such as foliage are smeared away completely). On our specific model we also found some quite significant corner softness at some focal lengths, although this may be sample variation.

As one would expect, detail resolution falls at higher ISOs. Extensive noise reduction and a not always 100% reliable focusing system mean that a larger than normal proportion of the S2500HD images appear soft with poor detail. The camera has also a tendency to overexpose which frequently results in washed out skies. Overall, no matter what your criteria are, the S2500HD produces image quality that is simply not quite on the same level as the competition in this group test. The differences are not enormous but certainly visible.

The S2500HD's movies are smooth but the image shows more grain and artifacts than most of the rivals. We also often found the camera trying to constantly refocus while recording a movie which results in small but visible focus shifts.

When the Fujifilm S2500HD gets things right it can produce, at least at standard print size, pleasant looking output with good colors. If you zoom into the image though, you'll find more noise reduction, smearing and artifacts than on any other camera in this test.

Unfortunately the S2500HD doesn't always get things right and has a persistent tendency to overexpose. On a camera with such a small sensor, this inevitably leads to large clipped image areas. Especially in bright conditions you should always have one finger on the exposure compensation button and check your results after each shot. That said, it doesn't help that the LCD screen rendition of your images isn't even close to what you'll see on a calibrated computer screen, so make sure you have a look at the histogram as well.

Summary

Looking at what we've written above it's a little difficult to recommend the Fujifilm S2500HD on any grounds other than its low price. It's the cheapest camera in this test but in most areas it's also the worst performer. The camera is also only a very minor upgrade to its predecessor S2000HD (increased MP and a larger screen) and amongst this latest generation of superzooms it looks, with it 18x zoom and very basic video mode, a little unimpressive on the features front.

While you would expect a slightly more modest feature set from a camera that is targeted at the budget-conscious user, the inconsistent exposure and and other image quality issues are more serious. Like on the S2000HD the the automatic systems aren't reliable enough and require manual intervention more often than we would like. This makes the camera less suitable for the average Auto-mode user but even experienced snappers will find the erratic metering annoying at times.

The S2500HD is not a terrible camera but it's simply not on the same level as the competition in this test. Yes, it is the smallest camera in this test, but if compact dimensions are high up your priority list we would recommend having a look at the Panasonic FZ35 which in many ways is a much better camera in an only marginally larger package (and still at a acceptable price point).

  • We like: Nice design, compact dimensions, low price

  • We don't like: Inconsistent exposure, occasionally unreliable focus, slow focus, slowish operation, poor pixel level quality, ineffective image stabilization, slow lens (F5.6 at long), grainy screen in low light with low refresh rate, very basic video mode
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