Face Detection is all the rage for 2007 digicams. Fujifilm can take credit for it since the company put the technology on the map late last year with the introduction of the FinePix S6000fd and F31fd. Although other companies tried it, Fujifilm refined Face Detection by incorporating the circuit in hardware rather than software. This made it more accurate and faster, per Fujifilm’s claims. Now everyone else has jumped on the bandwagon and is hyping the feature. Simply stated Face Detection looks for human eyes, nose and mouth then adjusts to capture them in focus with the proper lighting and exposure. In the case of Fujifilm, it looks for up to 10 faces in a frame, compared to eight of the Sony DSC-T100, and fewer by other cameras. Note: it only works with humans; forget a cute portrait of dogs, cats or parakeets—you’ll need the new HP Photosmart R837 for that. With the FinePix F31fd, Face Detection has a dedicated on/off key rather than making you use onscreen menus to adjust the setting. Beyond the “fd,” this digicam has a 6.3-megapixel CCD, a 3x optical zoom, long battery life and a stratospheric ISO (3200). Now let’s see if this camera is worth the money.
Features and Design
The F31fd is a very ordinary looking metallic bodied digital camera. Not overly slim or standing out in any way, it won’t win any design awards or be seen on fashion runways. The camera measures 3.6 x 2.2 x 1.1 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 7 ounces with battery, strap and xD Picture Card. To its credit, it does have a nice solid heft and feel. The front features the 3x Fujinon zoom that translates to the usual 36-108mm focal length. When you power up, the lens emerges from the camera; power down and it retracts behind a built-in lens covering. Logos are fairly low-key and you’ll find the flash, mic and AF Assist lamp. There’s also a finger notch where Fujifilm wants you to hold the camera for stability; I didn’t use it that often. On the top is the shutter, a mode dial and a tiny power button (better keep your fingernails sharp for this one). The mode dial has settings such as Auto, Manual, aperture- and shutter-priority, movie mode, Natural Light (a favorite), and Picture Stabilization. Alas this is not true optical image stabilization but simply raises the shutter speed to reduce blur. It’s not the real deal but it is better than nothing.
The rear of the F31fd is dominated by a 2.5-inch screen rated a good 230K pixels. Along with the wide/tele toggle switch, four buttons surround the four-way controller with OK button. One is for playback, another adjusts the display, the third “F,” gives access to ISO (up to 3200), resolution and FinePix Color that lets you adjust color levels (standard, chrome or B&W). There’s a nice option for setting ISO. Although it does hit 3200, you can determine how high you want it to go in Auto–400, 800 or 1600. This is a well thought-out option since images shot at 3200 have tons of digital noise. The last button is Face Detection on/off.
The left side has a compartment for an A/V out and DC-in to charge the battery. The bottom has a plastic tripod mount and the door covering the battery compartment and the xD Picture card slot. I won’t go into my xD Picture card rant since Fujifilm has seen the light and will incorporate combo xD/SD card slots in future cameras such as the new F40fd.
The FinePix F31fd also has an unusual feature—IR Communication. With it you can beam images to any other device that’s compatible with the IrSimple system. You can also receive images from devices with IrSimpleShot. Now what would you do with such as a feature escapes me but I’m sure there must be a good reason to include it! Right?
The Fujifilm FinePix F31fd comes with a decent kit—camera, strap, battery, AC adaptor, 180-page owner’s manual and a CD ROM with the FinePix Viewer software for PC and Mac. This program lets you do basic editing and it’s more than enough to get you started. Once the battery was charged, we hit the streets.
Image Courtesy of Fujifilm
Like all decent digital cameras, the F31fd is good to go in about two seconds as its boots up and the lens extends from the body. As DT readers know, I start out in Auto then move to the various manual options.
In Auto, the camera responds very quickly. The only hang-ups occurred with the shutter button as it sometimes snapped faster than expected. Also there was some “grabbing” as the auto focus attempted to lock in. This slowed overall operation a bit; it wasn’t the end of the world but it was annoying.
Since Face Detection is the “thing” this season, I had to try it out. I brought this camera along to a restaurant, just as I had the Sony DSC-T100. Like the Sony and the Canon Powershot SD1000 Digital ELPH and other cameras, frames appear on the LCD and track the faces on the screen. I only shot three people and the camera did a decent job of it but lagged the Canon and Sony for overall quality. This comparison was done with 8 ½ x 11 full bleed prints and the difference was quite noticeable. Fujifilm may have brought the feature to the attention of consumers but Canon and Sony do it better. Such is life in the Darwinian electronics business…
As far as other settings were concerned, the FinePix F31fd has one of my favorites—Natural Light And Flash. Turn the mode dial to N/SP and you can engage this setting that takes simultaneous shots with available light and another with a flash. When you download them at home you can decide which one to keep. This is very good feature. Hopefully, it will entice photographers to take more shots with available light rather than just shooting with a flash in Auto. The only drawback is the time it takes the camera to save the files. This is not a D-SLR and doesn’t cost anywhere near one.
Blur is one of the issues when shooting in available light since it’s hard to keep the camera steady during a long exposure. Fujifilm deals with this by bumping up the ISO and shutter speed rather than using optical image stabilization (they call it Picture Stabilization). To its credit, Fujifilm cameras do a very good job handling digital noise, a real bugaboo for the vast majority of non D-SLRs. Although this camera hits 3200 (unusable), shots at 800 were very good and those at 1600 were OK. I’d still use the ISO “governor” and max out at 800.
Images taken outdoors were very good with accurate, natural colors. Overall response was good, not great and the camera labored to save the two images when in the Natural Light And Flash mode. Focusing was not the sharpest and I wished for a finely adjustable focus among the manual options. There is aperture- and shutter priority to experiment with once you get your photographic wings. This is usually not found on point-and-shoot digicams so give Fujifilm credit here. Camera users should get out of the Auto rut (even though it’s so easy) and try these advanced settings just to see what your new toy can do. You may swear by it or go back to Auto, but at least give it a shot.
Image Courtesy of Fujifilm
This is a good not great 6.3-megapixel digicam. Although it has a lot going for it, it really didn’t ring the bell for me. There were issues with sharpness, some focusing problems and the camera labored saving big files. And Face Detection, one of its highly touted features, didn’t measure up to competitors. If the F31fd dipped well below $300, I’d consider it but this Made In China digicam didn’t make my most favored list.
Consumer alert: Fujifilm will soon release the FinePix F40fd for $299 so you can expect prices of this one to drop nicely. The new model has an 8.3MP CCD, a combination xD/SD card slot but a lower ISO ceiling (2000 versus 3200) so you’re really not giving up much sensitivity but are gaining in resolution.
• Good not great photo quality
• Low noise at high ISOs
• Good battery life
• Face Detection not as good as competition
• No optical image stabilization
• Focusing and sharpness issues