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The Fuji FinePix S1500 is the latest incarnation of the very successful FinePix S1000fd. It is very SLR-like in appearance and the added bulk of the battery-holder/grip does give it an assured feeling in your hands. Of course, this can be a disadvantage, and if you want a camera that you can just slip in-and-out of your pocket, then maybe a slimmer compact should be considered.
The 12x optical zoom is excellent and it equates to 33-396mm in 35mm terms - and if this isn't enough, there is a 5.7x digital zoom feature too.
The menus are friendly and easy to navigate, and there are helpful explanatory prompts that appear on thew LCD screen when the mode-dial setting is changed.
There are 14 preset scenes to choose from, each setting the camera to its optimum settings for the given scenario, but on top of this, the camera can be used like an SLR in Shutter Priority or Aperture Priotity modes, giving the user much more control over the image then many compact cameras, which insist on doing everything for you. There is also an Automatic Scene Selection, that was not available on the previous model (the S1000fd), which is accessed via the mode-dial and selects the scene for you based on the conditions.
Annoyingly, the S1500 retains the sluggish response of its predecessor and, if anything, I would say it is slightly slower still.
The Panorama Mode is a nice feature and there are a wide range of resolution choices, some of which are enforced by the scene mode that is selected. Video is also available - 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 with mono sound.
Sensor-shift Image Stabilization has been added in the evolution from the previous model and this is accessible via a button on the top and applies across all modes; This is a vast improvement.
In the upgrade from S1000fd to S1500, I would have like to have seen the introduction of a dedicated rechargable battery but instead it retains the 4 x AA configuration of the previous model. Also, it would seem that support for XD memory cards has been dropped from this model, leaving a choice between SD and SDHC formats - and the 24MB internal memory remains unchanged.
There are several options available for continuous shooting but be aware that some of these will restrict the resolution of your pictures.
Also, there are a number of feature that may appeal to a more professionally minded user and that you might not expect to find on a digital compact, such as a histogram and a full range of ISO options - again, only available in certain modes/scenes.
By far the most useful addition to this model - in my opinion - is the Autofocus Tracking system, which allows the user to focus on a moving object and then the camera will keep it in focus as it moves around (providing it stays within the boundaries of the LCD display)
In summary, it is a seemingly natural progression from the S1000fd and, if you don't think you need the new Image Stabilization, Automatic Scene Selection or Focus Tracking features, then the S1000fd is still an option. The S1500 is an excellent camera for learning the basics of photography because you can start of with everything automated and then gradually take control of different aspects yourself as your confidnce grows. Of course, you could do that with an entry-level SLR, but not for this price. It is also nice to have a camera that produces quality pictures but is small and convenient enough to take to parties or on holiday.