Zoom range

The 18X zoom has rapidly gone from being a one-manufacturer feature to almost a class of cameras in itself. Although there are drawbacks to having one lens trying to cover such a range of focal lengths and challenges in terms of holding the camera acceptably steady while shooting, the ability to shoot very distant objects or take close-ups of things a moderate distance away, is pretty entertaining.

As the example below shows, the range offered in an 18x zoom - especially one that as here starts at a 'proper' wideangle setting of 27mm (equiv) is astounding (both samples taken from the same distance).

27mm (equiv) Wide framing compared 486mm (equiv) Tele

Image stabilization

The Fuji S8000fd is one of the first Fuji models (along with the F50fd) to offer image stabilization. This is a particularly important feature on a camera with a lens this long. Fuji's competitors have long offered some type of stabilization on their long-zoom cameras which has left the Fuji's S-series cameras lagging behind. The problem is that any shaking of the camera is exaggerated by the length of the zoom - the slightest shake of the camera is significant in relation to very distant objects and photos are easily shaken.

The stabilization test

In this simplified version of our SLR IS test, eight hand-held shots were taken of a static scene with the stabilization off and on. The shutter speed was decreased by a third of a stop and repeated (from 1/400 sec to 1/40 sec). The zoom was set to its maximum position (486mm equiv.), the test chart was 4.5 m away from the camera. This procedure was repeated ten times.

The resulting images were then inspected and given a blur score - 'Sharp' (no visible blurring at 100%), 'Mild Blur' (the kind of camera shake that is tolerable at small print sizes) 'Heavy Blur' (unusable due to camera shake) and 'Very Heavy Blur' (little discernible detail).

As the charts below show we were able to get a measurable one and a third stop advantage. More importantly we were able to get 'usable' results around half the time at shutter speeds of 1/60th of a second, rather than the one-in-ten hit rate we could manage hand-held.

Hand-held, no stabilization (486mm equiv.)

As you can see from the chart below once we dropped to below 1/125th second we had little or no chance of getting a usable shot, and only at 1/400th second were we guaranteed of a sharp result every time.

Image stabilization on (486mm equiv.)

The S8000fd insists on using the term 'Dual IS,' which is a combination of sensor-shift IS and automatic boosting of the sensitivity (ISO) to keep the shutter speed up. We tested the camera with ISO locked at 64 so that the test reflected your chance of getting a sharp image at the best image quality. Oddly, the camera continues to insist that 'Dual IS' is being turned on, even though one aspect of it is suppressed.

Semantics aside, the IS system proves pretty useful, allowing you to regularly get sharp shots several shutter speeds slower (about 1.3 'stops') slower than just by hand holding. Using the electronic viewfinder to give an SLR-like shooting stance would offer still further benefits. With a lens this long, it's impressive to be able to get anything at all at 1/60th of a second, considering the traditional rule-of-thumb would advise caution below 1/500th (around 1/equivalent focal length).