The Fujifilm SL300 sticks with the tried and tested superzoom design with a DSLR like shape that slots quite neatly into the hand. The bulk of the camera is taken up by the large fixed zoom and deep handgrip, both of which are given a rubberised finish to give the camera a more tactile feel. We found that the camera sits the hand nicely and handles well, although overall build quality isn’t quite as tough as it could be.
Aside from the rubberised hand grip and lens barrel the rest of the camera body is a bit plasticky and doesn’t feel like it’ll stand up all that well to the inevitable bumps and knocks that occur over a camera’s lifetime. Given the camera’s position at the budget end of the superzoom market, however, it’s not altogether surprising to find that build quality isn’t as high as its more expensive rivals.
In addition to build quality there are some other aspects of the camera that do point towards a bit of cost cutting. The LCD screen for example isn’t the best quality and struggles to render an images accurately, especially in relation to colour hue. The EVF, meanwhile, is tiny, not particularly sharp and altogether not particularly user-friendly.
It’s not all bad though, as the Fuji SL300 does have some useful features. For example, we like how the camera has a dedicated point on the mode dial for the Panormamic guide mode that can be called upon to help you to stitch several individual shots into one super-wide panoramic image with. Also, Fuji’s Super Macro mode is a useful addition that allows you to focus as close as 2cm away from your subject. The camera also benefits from a secondary zoom rocker positioned on the left side of the lens barrel. The main rocker switch is pretty sensitive too, with approximately 45 individual steps between the maximum wideangle and telephoto settings giving you good control over the zoom.
Performance wise, the SL300 is generally quite reliable. The autofocus system is generally quite fast – at least when there’s plenty of light available – and also proves reliably accurate. The camera also offers a good range of AF modes to choose from, including AF-S whereby the camera will lock focus once the shutter has been half-pressed and AF-C where the camera will continue to maintain focus. In addition there’s also a Tracking focus mode to keep moving subjects in focus, although as with many cameras of this type it does tend to struggle if the subject is moving too erratically or fast. The various Face Detection focus modes are all useful additions too, that will help anyone who is primarily using the camera to shoot people with.
The SL300’s menu system is fairly basic and should be instantly familiar to anyone who has used a Fujifilm camera in recent years. Next to the main mode dial is a useful ‘F’ button that can be used to gain instant access to a range of the most popular settings, which in turn saves you the trouble of having to enter the main in-camera menu if you’re just looking to tweak something.
Sadly, the SL300 rather disappoints in terms of overall image quality. Even when the SL300’s budget price is factored in, the camera suffers from a number of issues that combine to make it a bit unreliable. On the plus side, when everything goes right the camera is perfectly capable of taking a half decent snap. Image sharpness is generally quite good – at least when the camera is being used at wideangle and mid-telephoto settings – while colour representation also tends to be accurate and pleasing. Unfortunately though, the camera suffers from some niggly problems in other areas and a general lack of consistency.
Metering, for example, can only really be described as hit and miss: when the SL300 is being used in matrix metering mode (which calculates what should be the correct exposure based on the whole of the frame) the metering module is prone to over- and under-expose images. This leads to images that are either too dark, or which have blown highlights. Of course, the SL300’s relatively narrow dynamic range is something it shares with most other compact digital cameras that use smaller 1/2.3in sensors, however unlike better cameras on the market the SL300 finds it harder to strike a reasonable balance, especially when presented with a high-contrast scene.
The Automatic White Balance (AWB) setting displays quite a worrying level of inconsistency too with images varying from too warm to too cold from shot to shot. You can, of course, choose to set the colour temperature yourself from shot to shot, but for most people looking for a point-and-shoot kind of camera this will quickly become quite a chore that detracts from overall enjoyment of the camera.
The Fujifilm SL300 is a competitively priced 30x superzoom that, on paper at least, looks to offer very good value. That said, the old maxim about getting what you pay for rings true and while the SL300’s large optical zoom and manual controls provide plenty of flexibility, the camera does cut some corners and come up short in other areas. While the plasticky build quality and limiting of video capture to 720p HD are both just about understandable given the price, the inconsistent image quality it delivers is less forgivable.
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