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Head to Head: Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd vs. Olympus SP-570 UZ
by David Rasnake -  7/16/2008

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 S8000fd, Fuji has the DSLR look down, giving the FinePix obvious visual appeal for serious shooters.

Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd

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.

Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd

A screen that’s good if not great is more than made up for by a very good electronic viewfinder.

Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd

In terms of construction, the Fuji’s solid if a little budget feeling in places.

Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd

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.

Olympus SP-570 UZ

Build quality is consistently excellent with the Olympus, with solid buttons, metal bezels, and an understated look that should have broad appeal for serious shooters.

Olympus SP-570 UZ

Though the Olympus is slightly larger all around, its construction is generally superior in almost every regard – from the buttons to the doors to the feeling of the pop-up flash. The grip and lens barrel also sit closer to the body than in the Fuji’s square-ish footprint, making it slightly easier to find a place to stuff the SP-570 in a crowded bag.

Olympus SP-570 UZ

The lynchpin of the SP-570’s ergonomic dominance is undoubtedly its SLR-style scroll wheel. As good as the Fuji can be ergonomically, without a wheel for quickly toggling shutter speed and aperture settings, the control arrangement always feels like a bit of an awkward compromise. By comparison, the SP-570 feels very sophisticated in this regard (even with much of the rest of the interface getting in the way) – once you wade through cumbersome setup modes and menus (more on this momentarily) and get down to the actual business of shooting, the Olympus is almost certainly the more natural feeling of the two.

Olympus SP-570 UZ

It shouldn’t go unnoted that the Olympus also has a rather unseemly appetite for AAs – an area where the Fuji, by contrast, does rather well. Beyond this slightly disturbing tendency, however, the SP-570’s ergonomics, construction, and baseline performance all present an air of refinement: the FinePix is undoubtedly good in its own right, but to draw an automotive analogy, the Fuji would be a rough and raw American muscle car to the Olympus’s poised and polished European luxury sedan.

Advantage: Olympus SP-570 UZ


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 Fuji’s “only” 18x zoom. In use, the differences between the two in terms of coverage are negligible, but Olympus carts off the bragging rights nonetheless.

A few more functionally significant, if still relatively minor, touches also put points in the SP-570’s column. Most notable among them is Olympus’s inclusion of a hot shoe for using external strobe units – a bit of advanced-shooter appeal that the S8100fd lacks. Likewise, Olympus has the clearly superior LCD of the two: it’s larger, more pleasing to look at, and easier to see in bright light.

As noted in the last section, the Fuji has a slight if secure performance advantage in shooting speed, and feels more responsive at times than the somewhat lumbering SP-570. This in itself may be enough to send some shooters straight for the Fuji, and with good reason. Still, if you can live with slower AF acquisition on the SP-570, almost everything else tips in its favor where features are concerned.

Advantage: Olympus SP-570 UZ


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 Fuji is a bit of an odd duck in the way that Fujis often seem to be. On first picking up the camera, it seems that nothing in the menus is where it should be, or is labeled in a way that’s familiar. A little time with the camera serves to mitigate the impact of this unfamiliarity, and the Fuji ultimately proves to have some (often hidden) nice touches. But it’s not a camera that will necessarily feel familiar right off the bat.

It would seem, then, that Olympus has Fuji squarely beaten on this score, and it would were it not for some oddities of its own. Olympus’s menus have their own brand of convolution – one that’s ultimately harder to adapt to in the long run. To be fair, Olympus has cleaned up its act somewhat with the SP-570 when compared to its predecessor (which pushed the envelope in defining “bloated”), but it’s not enough to make everything as lucid as it should be.

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


Image Quality

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 Fuji pushing the saturation and vibrancy just a little bit more than the Olympus. Macro shooting is also a particular strength of both cameras, with lens able to focus as close as a quarter of an inch.

Olympus SP-570 UZ
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
Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd
Olympus SP-570 UZ
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 Fuji competitor, but as noted, the Olympus offers a few substantive advantages (hot shoe, larger screen, more zoom) over the FinePix that may justify the cost for some.

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


Conclusions

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 Fuji, that’s not necessarily a criticism. Rather, the Fuji cuts out a lot of the fat that makes the SP-570 feel a little cumbersome, and for many users, it proves to be one of the absolute best performance values in this class. Greater refinement all around and a few more high-end features give the SP-570 its own appeal, however. If you can get past speed trade-offs, the overall feel in shooting with the Olympus is about as close as you’ll get to a DSLR without actually sinking the cash into a DSLR. For landscape shooters, especially, the SP-570 is still amazingly versatile given its price.

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 headtohead@digitalcamerareview.com.