The Fujifilm Web site currently lists no fewer than nine superzoom compact cameras, with so many permutations of zoom range, sensor resolution and up-to-dateness that you could very quickly go mad. But we've sorted it out. Probably. The FinePix S1500 is the latest low-cost, entry-level model, boasting a 12x zoom, 10-megapixel sensor and a price tag of around £190.
That price tag makes the S1500 pretty good value. Superzooms from other makers are mostly clustered in the £200 to 300 range. The S1500, though, offers you the opportunity to sample digital SLR-style controls for the price of a standard compact.
For the money, the S1500 also feels well made. It's small but it has a chunky grip with a tough, rubbery finish. On the top are a big power switch and a large mode dial. This offers full program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual exposure modes, so you can set the aperture and shutter speed yourself, instead of leaving it to the camera to choose. Aperture and shutter speed adjustments are made by pressing a button on the back and then using the navigational buttons. The S1500 doesn't have a control wheel, but manages perfectly well without one.
The controls are generally excellent. They're clearly marked, not too cramped and have a light but very positive feel. If only all compacts had buttons this good.
You can compose shots using the 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD on the back, which is very crisp, colourful and clear, or the electronic viewfinder, which is okay but prone to colour fringing. The zoom speed is adequate, although the autofocus is rather slow. This is a budget superzoom, though, so you've got to make some allowances.
Battery power is supplied by four AAs, and Fujifilm quotes a life expectancy of 300 shots, even using alkalines. This bumps up to 700 shots using disposable lithium cells and 500 shots with NiMH rechargeable batteries.
As they say up north, you never get owt for nowt. First of all, the lens is right at the bottom of the superzoom scale. The 12x range is pretty modest by today's standards, and it's not a wideangle zoom either. The main point, though, is that you can get this kind of zoom range in a pocket-sized compact these days. If you're going to put up with the bulk of a miniature SLR-style design, you'll probably want a longer zoom range to make it worth it.
The controls aren't universally praiseworthy, either. As ever, Fujifilm separates off the ISO, quality and colour mode settings under an 'F' button on the back, while consigning the white balance, metering pattern and other routine adjustments to the main menus. Why, oh why, doesn't Fujifilm use the 'F' button as a shortcut to all these common settings like any other camera maker?