Tools Of The Trade: Fujifilm FinePix S9500 Zoom digital camera

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The Independent Online

With a high-resolution sensor, nine megapixels and the equivalent of a 28mm to 300mm lens, the S9500 should be all that most people will need to capture high-quality images.

Fujifilm describes the FinePix S9500 Zoom as a "bridge" between a compact digital camera and an interchangeable lens SLR. The camera's very long zoom range means that there is little need for extra lenses. There is a flash built in and a hot shoe (flash connection) for an external flash - for low-light work.

The camera is rather more compact than an SLR, and Fujifilm claims a fast start-up time of 0.8 seconds. This should enable the S9500 to handle action pictures, and there is a close-up mode as well as a wide range of film speeds. For storage, the camera can handle both the Compact Flash and xD memory card formats.

Impressive specifications do not, though, always add up to an equally impressive performance. The biggest drawback of the S9500 is that, rather than being a bridge, it falls between two stools. It does not have either the ease of use or the small, convenient size of some of the best compact digital cameras. And the results, although they can be good, do not quite measure up to those of a digital SLR.

The S9500 has more than enough buttons and dials to satisfy gadget fans, but this does not always make the camera easy to use, as the controls are not as logical as on a digital SLR. Instead, the photographer has to rely heavily on a complex set of menus, displayed on the camera's LCD screen.

There is a point-and-shoot mode, and in tests this produced the best results. But those modes that prioritised shutter speed, for moving images, and the aperture, for controlling the depth of field of the pictures, disappointed. The S9500 had a tendency to overexpose images in strong light and underexpose in dull light in both modes.

On automatic, the results were generally more pleasing, and both flash and close-up shots came out well. Experimenting with the camera's various settings did improve the exposure, but this is likely to be too much trouble for someone who is a business user rather than a dedicated photographer.

The camera also comes with an LCD, rather than an optical, viewfinder. Fujifilm and other manufacturers have used these for some time but optical viewfinders perform better in low light; they will also work when the camera is powered off. An LCD viewfinder does remove the shake that comes with an SLR's mirror, though, so it should be possible to practise handheld photography using the S9500 in conditions where an SLR would produce blurred shots.

One further drawback: the tiny, 16MB xD storage card supplied with the S9500 is far from sufficient.

The S9500 does have its good points and will produce quality results if you take the time to explore it. But it is not that much better than a good compact-style camera, and with digital SLRs such as the Nikon D50 now available at around £500 including lens, it might struggle to find a niche.

RATING: 3 out of 5.

PROS: lots of features.

CONS: some disappointing results; digital SLRs are falling in price.

PRICE: £499.99 including VAT.