It used to be that a point-and-shoot camera with a 10x zoom was enough to elicit “oohs” and “aahs” from excited fans. These days, you can find that kind of range in a camera that almost fits comfortably in a pocket. A growing number of cameras with zoom ranges greater than 15x are where the excitement is, putting the “ultra” in “ultrazoom” with lenses that would have been unthinkable for a consumer camera not so long ago.
Having recently checked out review units of several of the latest ultrazoom models, we thought we’d put two of our favorites from the mega-ultrazoom category – the Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd and the Olympus SP-570 UZ – up for a little friendly competition, Head to Head style.
Sophistication and Style
Though it’s largely unchanged from the previous-generation
The blacked out look with chrome accents is nice enough, and in terms of layout and approach, the S8100fd feels like a high-end camera.
A screen that’s good if not great is more than made up for by a very good electronic viewfinder.
In terms of construction, the
There’s nothing to get bent out of shape about in the FinePix’s construction, but side-by-siding it with the SP-570 makes it seem a little bland by comparison.
If the FinePix looks more like a DSLR, however, the SP-570 feels more like one. Positioning of the shutter release and exposure compensation buttons on a sloped deck atop the grip make the camera feel instantly familiar for DSLR shooters moving into a fixed-lens camera.
Build quality is consistently excellent with the
The lynchpin of the SP-570’s ergonomic dominance is
undoubtedly its SLR-style scroll wheel. As good as the
It shouldn’t go unnoted that the Olympus also has a rather
unseemly appetite for AAs – an area where the
Features and Specs
A straight-up specs sheet comparison shows these two devices to be fairly evenly matched. As light upgrades to two of last year’s models, the SP-570 and S8100fd both use what may well be identical 10 megapixel sensors. Electronic viewfinders grace both cameras as well, providing a familiar composition and control setup for advanced shooters. P/A/S/M modes as well as compendious lists of scene presets are available on both cameras, and in general, both devices cover some serious ground – offering features that advanced users demand alongside options to help novices make the most of what these big-zoom behemoths have to offer.
So what distinguishes the two? The biggest difference where
marketing copywriters are concerned is quite possibly the SP-570’s use of a
simply astounding 20x zoom lens. It’s slightly wider than the S8100fd’s lens,
and covers nearly 50mm more on the telephoto end compared to the
A few more functionally significant, if still relatively
minor, touches also put points in the SP-570’s column. Most notable among them
As noted in the last section, the
Ease of Use
In some ways, this is a “lesser of two evils” comparison where these two are concerned: for all of the good qualities of these (and many other) ultrazooms, ease of use isn’t always among them.
In terms of interface, the
It would seem, then, that Olympus has
Unfortunately, the physical interface isn’t much better here. As Howard said in reviewing the camera, “On the physical side of the interface, the SP-570 UZ’s control layout is (like most of its competition) a little cluttered, which also makes the camera a bit harder to use than it really needs to be.”
Compounding this error (in the general consensus ‘round these parts, at least) is Olympus’s fly-by-wire zoom ring: the setup, which uses a rubberized ring around the zoom barrel to move the lens in and out, is ergonomically good, but its electronic rather than mechanical coupling to the barrel makes things jerky and imprecise. Our final assessment pronounced this design decision “somewhat troubling” at best – another case in which the SP-570 seemed to be harder to use than it needed to be.
Overall, neither camera proves to be an in-use failure, with a lot that works well about both devices. But in both cases, we came away feeling like there was some complexity solely for complexity sake about both of these cameras. With a more adaptable, less densely layered interface, the Fujifilm takes the day on this score, if not by much.
Advantage: Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd
Outrageously wide-ranging zooms are rarely the place to look for extreme optical precision – too many complexities and compromises are involved in designing for the kind of coverage these cameras bring. In both cases here, our subjects show themselves to be competently if not stunningly sharp throughout a good portion of the range, though extreme telephoto shots on both cameras tend to suffer noticeably under inspection. Difficulties in adequately stabilizing lenses this long don’t help either, making getting the most out of the 300mm-plus range a job best suited to a tripod.
Both cameras present a nice, neutral image tone, with the
Olympus SP-570 UZ, Super Macro mode
In spite of utilizing what appears to be the same (or at least, similarly speced) sensors, differences in processing approach make the FinePix the better high-ISO performer by a clear margin to my eye.
Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd
Olympus SP-570 UZ
Cleaner shots from the Fuji, combined with more consistent AF lock in low light than the SP-570 provides, make the FinePix the clear winner for ultrazoom users needing a fairly competent low-light camera, and this distinction alone is enough to pull the S8100fd into the lead where image quality is concerned.
For more sample images and a detailed breakdown of image quality for each camera, take a look at our full reviews:
Advantage: Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd
Price and Value
Prices have held relatively steady on these two evenly
matched cameras since there release, with huge discounts on either model few
and far between. Current price gaps put the SP-570 UZ a firm $50 more than its
Looking at the pricing difference from the flipside, however, it’s hard to not see the S8100fd as the better deal: it offers most of the SP-570’s features, plus more speed, slightly better image quality, and generally more consistent performance at a $50 discount. And with occasional pricing put the S8100fd a full $100 under the SP-570, it’s really no contest.
Advantage: Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd
Ultrazooms as a class just keep getting better and better, and it’s impossible to come away from some time spent with these two cameras and not be impressed by how much they do well. Given the trade-offs made by the loads of zoom offered up here, neither camera proves to be a class leader where image quality is concerned (in our book, that honor still goes to the solid but significantly less zoom-endowed Canon S5), but both offer performance that should keep most hobbyists and all casual shooters happy. In light of the technical challenges involved in bringing a reasonably priced camera with this kind of power and zoom range to the market, both the S8100fd and the SP-570 seem that much more impressive.
With its pared down features set, the S8100fd comes off in
this comparison looking like a “poor man’s SP-570,” but in light of
fleet-footed performance from the
Lots of great ultrazooms that didn’t get mentioned in this piece, including Panasonic, Nikon, and Sony offerings, make wading through this growing market more and more difficult. But if you’re looking for a camera with maximum zoom, two of the best options in our opinion are right here.
Head to Head is a monthly camera overview and comparison column showcasing competitive cameras and discussing their relative strengths and weaknesses. If there are two or more cameras that you'd like to see compared in a future story, send us an email at email@example.com.