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As I mentioned, the AF system is reasonably quick, locking on in good light in about 0.8 of a second, and thanks to the brightest AF lamp I’ve ever seen it will focus in total darkness at a range of at least 6m. The pop-up flash is also very good, with an effective range at wide angle of an impressive 8.3m, or 4.6m at the telephoto end.
Image quality is superb compared to most other 6MP cameras, thanks mainly to the quality of the lens. Despite its huge zoom range it manages to produce virtually no distortion at the wide angle end and is pin-sharp right across the frame. The 1/1.7in SuperCCD HR sensor appears to be that same one found in the FinePix F30, and has the same slight problem with purple fringes on high-contrast edges, but it is very minor and under normal conditions hardly shows up at all. Colour rendition, contrast and dynamic range are all excellent.
With the sensor the S6500 also inherits the F30’s amazing high-ISO performance. At 1600 ISO there is roughly as much image noise as the S9500 produced at 800 ISO, which is to say not much. At the maximum 3200 ISO the noise reduction system does sacrifice a lot of fine detail, but the exposure remains consistent and although there is some colour distortion in darker areas the images are usable. This gives the S6500 a big advantage over most other high-end super-zoom cameras. Despite its lack of image stabilisation it can be used hand-held in low light with a reduced risk of movement blur. Image stabilisation compensates for camera shake, but can’t do anything about your subject moving, which can still ruin a picture at low shutter speeds. By providing usable images at shutter speeds at least three stops faster than most other cameras can manage, the S6500 avoids the problems of both camera shake and moving subjects, resulting in sharper pictures.
The S6500fd is a very good camera for the price, with great handling, huge creative versatility and superior picture quality, but it suffers by comparison to the higher spec and similarly priced S9500 which is still available. The face-recognition technology is impressive, but really not all that useful. Will its outstanding high-ISO performance be enough to sell it?