My work is primarily nature photography, everything from bald eagle nests hundreds of feet away to insects and flower blossoms. I had been considering a digital SLR, but I could not justify $500 or so for an avocation when I found the Fujifilm FinePix S4250 for $149. I'm glad I did.
The S4250 manages everything from 24X telephoto (500 mm equivalent) to wide angle (24mm equivalent) to macro, all in one unit. As a bonus, I would still consider it to be a compact camera compared to bulkier units such as an SLR, especially considering that you don't need to carry extra lenses. It's not uncomfortable to have hanging around your neck all day.
In addition to excellent automatic modes, it makes it easy to override automatic in order to optimize for such things as shutter speed, aperture, etc. with a single control at the top of the camera so you don't have to fiddle around with an electronic menu. (Wildlife subjects don't tend to wait around for you.) The image quality is outstanding: if you often do postproduction processing (e.g., enlarging and cropping a distant subject like the eagle's nest I mentioned), the 14 megapixel capability will give you a rich image file to work with. Another feature I fine extremely helpful is the viewfinder as an alternative to the viewing screen, especially in bright sunlight. It makes it easier to find and follow a subject without distraction.
I have not used the video mode much other than to test it, but with 720 scan lines and a choice of height/width ratios, it seems quite adequate at the very least.
The S4250 also manages a few tricks that others may find useful. If you are standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon, you may be glad to have the Panoramic mode. The camera can also be "taught" to recognize a half dozen different faces and optimize exposure for each, which may sound rather specialized until you have tried to photograph people with highly divergent skin tones (think Scandinavian blonds vs. people with deep coffee complexions).
The package includes a minimal instruction manual to get you started, but unless you have never used a digital camera before, the controls seem intuitive and self-explanatory. The package does NOT include an SD card, so you have an opportunity to make another improvement: get a fast card like the Wintec high speed 32 GB SDHC flash card. The higher capacity (32 GB) is easy to understand: a few minutes of video or an afternoon's still shooting will fill a card in a hurry. Less obvious is speed. Think of it this way--the camera may have captured an image in a tiny fraction of a second, but until the card gets done handling and storing the image, the camera can't get on with the next image. For run of the mill situations, most people would not notice. But if, for instance, you want to catch more than one picture of a bird as it's taking off, the read and write speeds of your card matter.
In brief, if you are more interested in photography than the camera and are ready to graduate from pocket cameras, you should consider the Fujifilm S4250. It will not cramp your style.
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