It’s pretty startling how much camera you can get for less than 250 beans this winter. The F50fd is a good example with 12-megapixel resolution, mechanical and digital image stabilization, a larger-than-normal LCD screen and the latest version of Face Detection (2.0 to be exact). Let’s put this is a little perspective, shall we? It was just six years ago Sony broke the $1,000 USD barrier with a 5-megapixel camera (DSC-F707). Since digital cameras age in dog years, the industry has completely changed since then and 5MP is entry level—if you can even find one. For the record, Canon still leads the megapixel parade with the 21.1MP EOS 1Ds Mark III for eight grand so 12-megapixels is really no big deal with affordable models (sub $300 USD) readily available including the Kodak V1253 and many others along with this FinePix. And you know prices of 12MP models will continue to slide when 14-megapixel point-and-shoot editions arrive in 2008. Progress marches on! But is it really progress? That’s exactly what we wanted to find out.
Features and Design
Having reviewed several large mega zoom digicams recently, the F50fd was a bit of shock. It’s extremely compact, about the thickness of a deck of cards and a shade smaller. The silver- or black-bodied camera looks like so many other point-and-shoots but it does have a few nice metal accents. This is really a carry-around camera and fits neatly into almost any pocket. It measures 3.6 x 2.3 x .9 (WHD in inches) and weighs 5.4 ounces without battery and memory card, 7 ounces with, hardly an anchor and just right for toting around.
The front of the camera is fairly plain with its 3x optical zoom and built-in lens cover. The lens translates to 35-105mm in 35mm terms, the basic aim-and-forget focal range. No extra wide-angle or super telephoto here, just your basics which is a bit of let down. You’ll also see the built-in flash, AF Assist lamp and a few embossed logos and decals. It’s clean and neat.
On top you’ll find the tiny pinhole mic, on/off key, shutter with surrounding wide/tele control and another to turn the Dual IS on or off. Fujifilm uses a CCD sensor anti-shake system as well as automatically boosting the ISO to eliminate blur. It does a decent job but I prefer true lens-based OIS for better results. Also on top is an infrared port that lets you beam images to another IR-enabled device. I’d be surprised if even six people—outside of Fujifilm employees—would use something like this. (If you’re out there, please let me know.)
Given its small size, the 2.7-inch LCD screen dominates the rear. Slightly larger than the typical 2.5-incher, it’s rated 230K pixels. The screen is quite clear and had no problems with bright sunlight. This is a good thing since you have to drill down about five levels to fine-tune adjustments. You can do a quick power-up if you hit the nearby F-mode key, go into Power Management and pick Clear Display. This is still way too long a journey and Fujifilm engineers should shorten this process. The screen is surrounded by a black panel, helping it stand out. To the right of the screen is the mode dial and dedicated keys for Playback, F-mode menu, Display and Face Detection. Under the F-mode menu you can adjust ISO up to 6400 when you move beyond the basic Auto setting. There are governors that limit ISO to 400, 800 or 1600 when you’re in Auto. You can also adjust resolution between 12MP through .3 megapixels and FinePix Color so you can shoot in black-and-white, standard or F-Chrome for a more vibrant result. Display lets you eliminate icon clutter onscreen (grid lines are available). The Face Detection key lets you choose between two types of FD—with red-eye reduction on or off; you can also disable the function.
As usual the camera has a four-way controller with center menu/OK key. Tapping the four points lets you adjust the flash, self timer, macro on/off, delete or exposure compensation (if you’re in manual).
The main mode dial is your key control and here you can choose between Auto, Natural Light for shooting without a flash, Natural Light + Flash which takes two shots at the same time (with and without flash, naturally). Manual mode is pretty limited (you can change white balance and the burst mode) and Aperture- and Shutter-Priority lets you adjust those values between f/2.8-8 and 1 second to 1/1000th of a second. There’s a movie mode with 640 x 480 at 25 fps the top resolution, a lesser quality than the more typical 30 frames per second found on almost every other camera available. I don’t know why Fujifilm shortchanges this feature especially with the proliferation of large flat panel HDTVs. Perhaps they’ll bump it up next year. The final two options on the dial are for SP1/SP2; these Scene Positions are your basic scene modes such as sunset, landscape, sports and so on (15 in all). You can leave your favorite as the default as you switch between SP1 and SP2, nice options to have on hand. The onscreen menus as you scroll through the choices show a tiny thumbnail and offer brief descriptions. They’re nicely done and easy to follow.
On the right side is a compartment for the USB-A/V out jack and the wrist strap connection. The left has a four pinhole speaker while the bottom has a tripod mount and compartment for the battery and memory card. Hurray! Fujifilm got with the program and has a combo xD Picture Card/SD/SDHC card slot. Instead of forcing you to buy the more expensive xD cards like Olympus, Fujifilm gives *you* the option. Thanks, guys.
The FinePix F50fd comes with the basics including strap, battery, charger, a 164-page printed owner’s manual and a CD-ROM with basic FinePix View software (ver. 5.4a for Windows and Mac). Once the battery was charged, it was time to see what this point-and-shoot camera could do.
Image Courtesy of Fujifilm
Testing and Use
Setting the resolution to maximum (4000 x 3000 pixels Fine mode) and engaging the Dual IS, Face Detection with red-eye removal and ISO Auto 800 I started out in Auto then proceeded to the various manual options available.
The camera pops to life quickly (around 2 seconds) and it focuses fast as well. If it the focus seems slow you can engage a Quick AF mode that speeds up the process a fraction. Taking single shots the camera saved the 12MP files at a good clip—unlike the 8MP Olympus SP-560 UZ recently reviewed. However, when you move to burst at full resolution it saves three images to the buffer (with the flash off) and you’ll have to wait about 15 seconds before clicking again. The same held true when shooting in the Natural Light + Flash setting when two images are saved after the other. Here you had to wait around 10 seconds. One shouldn’t be surprised at this lack of speed in a sub-$250 USD digicam. If you want true speed, a D-SLR is the road to take. That said, the F50fd is rated 2 frames per second and it did do that in my tests but it stops after 3 shots to catch its breath. If you want more images in burst mode resolution drops significantly (to 3 megapixels) for 12 photos. Simply put: most point-and-shoots just can’t crank ‘em off like an M-16, it’s just the nature of the beast. However the vast majority of snap-shooters will take a shot at a time and although there’s a bit of delay as the camera saves the 12MP files, it’s not too bad.
Image Courtesy of Fujifilm
Since it was the holidays and the time of family gatherings, the F50fd’s Face Detection 2.0 was put to extensive use. As noted, I had it set with Red-Eye reduction on and the camera did an excellent job of capturing smiling faces without any red-eye whatsoever. This was quite impressive. With FD, the camera optimizes focus and exposure for human faces and the F50fd did a very good job delivering accurate colors. I shot up to three faces at a time and results were fine and dandy. I’d have to compare it to my favorite iteration of this feature found on Canon point-and-shoots like the SD870 IS . Fujifilm claims version 2.0 does a better job with faces on angles rather than straight on but my results didn’t show that. Still the Face Detection makes this camera a good option for family snapshots and this is really what the buyer of this model really wants.
Beyond smiling people faces (it doesn’t work on furry cat countenances), I shot a variety of shots indoors and out, using the camera’s manual options. Although the camera is pretty fast with good shot-to-shot times, it really slows down when saving two images when in the Natural Light + Flash mode, as noted earlier. Definitely be prepared to wait between clicks. When I was done loading an SD card, it was time to make some 8.5×11 full bleed prints with no tweaking.
First the good news: With enough available light the camera delivers very accurate images with a minimal amount of noise. You’ll be happy with the results. However, when shooting in low light, the F50fd’s images are very soft with lots of noise at ISO 800 and beyond. Even though noisy, the shots were much better than almost every point-and-shoot I’ve used in the past few months. If you like shooting in available light, definitely give this one strong consideration. Prints of outdoor subjects were also very good and smiling faces were very nice as well.
For less than $250 USD, you can hardly go wrong with this camera thanks to its solid feature package (mechanical image stabilization, 12MP resolution, improved Face Detection). Remember there are limitations, particularly shooting at high ISOs (800 and above), there are definite delays as the cameras saves two 12MP files in certain settings and resolution drops precipitously in burst mode. Still as an everyday carry-around camera, the FinePix F50fd does the job. When we started the review we asked if the move to 12 megapixels was progress. For this point-and-shoot the answer is not great progress because of the added noise. Folks you can’t expect a 12MP point-and-shoot imaging device to be the equal of a much larger D-SLR sensor—it’s just reality. Still the camera’s other features are a step in the right direction.
• Takes good snapshots with accurate colors
• Face Detection is excellent
• Nicely featured for a point-and-shoot
• High noise at ISO 800 and above
• Slow saving multiple files
• Menus need to be streamlined