Fujifilm SL1000 vs Nikon P520 Superzoom Comparison

November 10, 2013

Two bulls head to head, Nikon P520 and Fujifilm SL1000 cameras

In this article I will compare two popular superzooms, the Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 vs Nikon Coolpix P520.  These two cameras feature very big zoom lens—the SL1000 features a 50x optical zoom, whether the P520 features a 42x optical zoom. Some people might buy the camera with the biggest zoom, but in fact that’s not the only thing to consider. In this comparison we’ll take a closer look at the key features of both cameras and inspect the image quality to see which camera is better, and which one fits better for one’s specific needs. I’m pretty sure that after reading this comparison, you’ll have a much better idea which one you should buy.

Camera Body

The camera body plays a significant role in the consumer’s decision. Some photographer might give more weight to the viewfinder quality, others might prefer a camera with a more advanced control and a more flexible LCD.

Both the SL1000 and P520 are aimed towards the advanced photographer and for those who are searching for a travel camera with very big zoom lens. Design wise, both cameras resembles an external design resembles an entry-level DSLR camera. Both cameras feature a top rotating wheel for switching between various camera settings, including a P/S/A/M modes that allows photographers to choose the mode that fits their shooting style, including full automatic mode down to full manual mode that gives you full control over the ISO, aperture and shutter speed. This means that both cameras are a good choice even for novice photographers that have no knowledge in operating an advanced digital camera—you just put it in full auto (‘A’ mode) mode and you are ready to shoot great photos. However, if you need more control over the exposure, both cameras will give you just that.

Fujifilm SL1000 and Nikon P520 top view size comparison

Fujifilm SL1000 and Nikon P520 top view size comparison

Both cameras have a T/W switch at the top of the camera on top of the grip which allows easy zooming from wide-angle to tele. The Nikon P520 is smaller and lighter than the Fuji SL1000, but the difference is not that significant. With the SL1000 you get a slightly larger camera, but you can a larger grip in return, which might improve handling for people with large hands.

The P520 had an advantages of employing a back command dial wheel which makes it easier to step between the camera settings options while composing your shot through the viewfinder without the need to change them using the rotary multi selector.  The P520 features a top Fn (function) button which you can use to gain fast access to one of many functions, including white balance, metering, continuous shooting (default), ISO, AF area, etc. The SL1000 features  two buttons at the top of the camera, a burst mode button and an exposure compensation button. Nothing special to talk about here, and I personally prefer having a function button which let me choose how to customize it to my preferred camera settings.

The SL1000 is made almost entirely with plastic, even the tripod mount is made of plastic—P520 is entirely plastic as well.  I personally find the SL1000 to be more comfortable to hold and like the curvy design to feel and look better than the P520—but you might feel otherwise.

Both cameras feature a pop-up flash, however the SL100o feature a hot-shoe which you can use to mount an external flash, whether the P520 lacks a hot-shoe and a sync terminal either. I personally don’t see this as a disadvantage, as many photographers won’t take advantage of this socket. If you do intend to use an external flash to mount an external flash unit, you should take this feature into consideration.  With the Fuji SL1000 you can choose between three shoe-mounted flash units, including the EF-20 (compact with rotating head), EF-42 (the most advanced one) and EF-X20 (compact and lightweight)—you can find more information here.

The Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 feature a 0.2-inch 920K-dots high resolution LCD eye-level viewfinder and a 3.0-inch 920K-dot tilting LCD monitor (with eye-sensor), both with 97% coverage. The Nikon P520 features a 0.2-inch 201K-dot electronic viewfinder and a 3.2-inch 921K-dots fully articulated LCD display. This means that the SL1000 viewfinder is much better than the Nikon’s one, which makes it easier to compose your shot, especially when shooting with the camera in bright daylight. If you find yourself shooting most of your shots via the viewfinder, the SL1000 will certainly give you a better experience, and many photographers give this feature a very high weight, me included.

Tilting vs full articulated LCD monitor

Tilting (SL1000) vs full articulated (P520) LCD monitor

A fully articulated monitor is better than a tilting display because it allows more flexible viewing, including the option to view the screen when looking in the front of the camera (e.g. For group shots, self-portraits). I personally prefer a fully articulating screen when recording video clips, because it gives me more control over the composition when shooting low and high-angle, like a above my head and below the waistline.

I didn’t mention the price yet, but for those of you whom already a fixed one one right now, the Fujifilm SL1000 sells for approximately $295 (last checked on Amazon 11.10.2013) and the Nikon COOLPIX P520 sells for approximately $375 (last checked on Amazon 11.10.2013 – visit Amazon.com for updated and accurate pricing).

So as for right now, you should ask yourself whether or not you want or need a fully articulated display, high-res EVF or a high-res viewfinder. I personally find the SL1000 offering to be more appealing to my needs and prefer the high-res viewfinder and hot-shoe than the low-res EVF and fully-articulated display of the P520, and I also find the ergonomics of the SL1000 to be better. Again, you might have a different preference, I just share mine with you.

The Lens — SL1000 vs P520

The lens plays a significant role when buying a new ultra zoom camera.  The Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 features a 50x optical zoom Fujinon lens — 24-1200 mm f/2.9-6.4 image stabilized lens. That’s a huge zoom, same as the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS and Sony HX300 but less than the Panasonic FZ70 (60x zoom) .  The FZ70 gives you the same range at the telephoto, but has a wider lens (20mm) than the SL1000 and P520 (24mm).

The P520 features 42x optical zoom—24-1000 mm f/3-5.9 Nikkor lens with Nikon’s VR lens-shift image stabilization.  So both cameras give you the same 24mm (35mm equivalent) wide-angle, but SL1000 gives you a slightly larger range when zooming in, and it’s a tad faster considering the same 1/2.3″ sensor size.

So you might want to know whether this is a big difference, I mean between 42x and 50x, and the answer is no. In this case it’s better to inspect the lens performance at the tele-end and see which performs better in terms of AF speed and resolution, than picking one camera only because it comes with a bigger zoom range. The difference between f/3 and f/2.9 is also insignificant here, and it’s better to check how both perform in high ISO if you want achieve good exposure in low-light.

Both cameras can focus as close as 1cm, no difference here for macro photographers.

Both lenses feature a wide-to-tele (W/T – Zoom Out / Zoom In) zoom lever on the left side of the lens, to make it easier to smoothly zoom in and out without taking your eyes of the viewfinder. The SL1000 lens is also much bigger in size and with much longer barrel, which can be an advantage instead of a disadvantage, because it’s easier to stabilize the camera, especially for people with large hands.

Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 Zoom all in (50x) test video by ePhotoZine

Nikon Coolpix Zoom all in (42x) test video


Image Quality / High ISO Performance

We’ve went through the SL1000 and P520 lens specs, and regardless the optical zoom difference,  you should take the optical performance into consideration as well. Let’s remember that we are dealing with lenses with very high zoom and those lenses usually perform poorly at the tele-end and the output tends to be rather soft.

The SL1000 in most part and after viewing many sample images provide very detailed images, but the camera start losing details starting ISO 400. I really liked the natural colors and how the camera handles difficult scenes in terms of expose. There is little to complain about the image quality at low-ISO, but certainly higher ISO left something to be desired. Let’s not forget that the Fuji a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor with 16.2MP resolution—this is a very small sensor which can be found on many superzooms cameras in order to keep the lens relatively small. I was also less impressed with the IQ at 1200mm, but overall IQ was is excellent, as long as you shoot below ISO400.

Nikon P520 high ISO performance is less impressive than the Fuji, around 1.5-2 EV stops in favor of the SL1000. Up to ISO400 image quality is excellent and start falling down quite considerably from that point on. There isn’t any side by side scene comparison on dpreview  or other camera review websites, however after inspecting some 1000 mm sample images, it looks to me that the Nikon is better (less soft) than the SL1000 at 1200mm.

As long as you don’t expect miraculous performance at the tele-end, you’ll be very satisfied with the results coming of both cameras. The SL1000 can shoot up to ISO12800, whether the P520 can shoot up to IS3200. I personally find the SL1000 to perform better. The Nikon P520 also lacks raw support, whether the Fuji does provide shooting in a RAW file format.

Fujifilm SL1000 sample images (via Flickr)



Nikon P520 (via Flickr)

Nikon P520 macro

Sensa Coffee Shop

Nikon P520 @ 1200 mm

Low ISO image quality is excellent as you can see — vivid yet natural looking images!

Other Features Worth Mentioning

Let’s take a look at some other built-in features that certainly worth knowing about.

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As you can see from the comparison table above, the SL1000 features a faster burst, 30 minimum shutter speed for long exposure shots and more slow-mo frame rate shooting options and much better battery life. However, the P520 enjoys 30p and 24p (cinematic frame rate) video shooting frame rates that will be favored among video enthusiasts. It comes with a built-in GPS for geotagging images, faster maximum shutter speed at low ISO and you also have the option to attack an optional Wi-Fi adapter. If you see yourself shooting lots of videos, the P520 is the better camera of the two, no doubt about it. If not, you will appreciate the faster burst and much better battery life of the SL1000.

Nikon designed the P520 to offer good stills and video functions, but in most part, the P520 is behind the SL1000 in terms of its stills capabilities with its better viewfinder, faster burst, better autofocus performance, great image stabilization better high ISO performance and higher upper high ISO sensitivity, RAW uncompressed file format, bigger zoom, slightly faster lens at the wide angle, hot-shoe, significantly longer battery life, improved ergonomics (very comfortable hand grip) and  significantly longer exposures. It doesn’t make it a bad stills camera, but I believe that advanced / enthusiast photographers will find the Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 to be a more attractive offering.

All in all, I find the Fujifilm to be the better travel camera of the two and if I had to choose between the two, I personally go with the SL1000.  I personally am not a fan of small sensor superzooms and prefer buying a camera with less zoom but with a larger sensor that significantly improved image quality. Having said that, there is nothing like shooting with an ultrazoom camera– the photos that you can take with these type of cameras is just out of the ordinary.  The reason you won’t find a superzooms camera with both a larger sensor and a ~50x zoom lens is because camera manufacturers need to use a huge lens and such lens will cost a fortune.

Another reason to get a lens with a smaller zoom is the aperture size of the lens. You can buy the Panasonic FZ200 (with 24x optical zoom lens) which comes with a 2.3 millions dots electronic viewfinder and also a constant F2.8 aperture lens. A faster constant f/2.8 lens will boost the camera’s low-light capabilities, as well as giving you much more pronounced shallow depth of field.  This camera costs around $500 as of the time of writing, so it’s more expensive than both the SL1000 and P520, but you get much more in return, including faster burst (12fps), faster AF performance (0.1 sec), 60p video recording, etc.

You can clearly see that there are some obvious differences between the two cameras. If you shoot mostly stills, get the SL1000, it’s the better camera of the two in that regard. If you also shoot a lot of videos too, consider getting the P520. I also think that the P520 will appeal better for the novice photographer.

Which one you prefer? — Share your opinion in the comment section below. Thanks for reading.

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