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FujiFilm FinePix Z1 Review

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Highs

  • Chic; slim 5MP digicam with 2.5-inch LCD

Rating

Our Score 8
User Score 0

Lows

  • No viewfinder; poor LCD screen; uses proprietary battery
The 5-megapixel FinePix Z1 definitely has high style.

Summary

The FinePix Z1 joins a gaggle of thin 5-megapixel digital cameras with large LCD screens and built-in 3x optical zooms.  Available from Sony, Nikon, Konica Minolta and others, this digicam design is geared for point-and-shooters who want a stylish, handy camera that takes good pictures.  The Fujifilm FinePix Z1 is a solid competitor in this group with above average sensitivity, a cool sliding door that turns on the power, and a decent, 2.5-inch LCD screen.

Like everything in this world, it’s far from perfect.  Sony T series cameras, such as the newer DSC-T7, have much better screens, and although camera start-up is quick, it doesn’t save 5MP Fine images with the flash as quickly as Sony.  Granted, it’s not like waiting to go through security at the airport, but still.  In fact, the camera does not have a Burst or Rapid-Fire mode.  And it uses more expensive xD Picture cards for storage, a limited format that costs $70 for a 512MB card (compared to $60 for a similarly sized SD card).  However, my biggest problems are the weak LCD screen, some focusing issues and the fact that it doesn’t have an AF Assist lamp for more accurate flash shots in dark situations.

Features and Design

The 5-megapixel FinePix Z1 definitely has high style.  Available in black or silver, the all metal construction feels solid, not cheap.  And it should feel substantial for a list price of $399, although we’ve seen it for around $360 in silver and $330 in black.  (Shopper’s note:  FujiFilm has a $30 rebate program going for this one).  I liked the overall design and citified black faceplate.  It’s definitely for someone who likes their nightclubs dim and patrons dressed in subtle shades of noir.  The only problem is that they’ll have trouble taking good shots in the VIP room unless they use the Natural Light setting!

The Z1 is a svelte .73 inches thick and easily fits in a pocket or purse.  Since it is all metal, it does weigh a bit more (5.2 ounces with memory card and battery) than the competitors.  Hardly hernia material, but it is hefty.  The faceplate has a cool sliding door that acts as the Power On/Off switch.  The camera has a non-protruding 3x optical zoom (a Fujinon lens) with a 36mm-109mm focal range in 35mm terms.  It does have a digital zoom, but we’re not fans of this feature and suggest you keep it in the Off position.

The top of camera only has a shutter button and a mode key to change between still images and videos.  An adjustable, 2.5-inch LCD screen (rated 115K pixels) dominates the back of the camera.  By comparison, the $349 Sony DSC-T33 has 230K pixels.  Also found here is a Wide/Telephoto toggle switch, a four-way keypad with Menu/OK button, a dedicated playback key, a FinePix Photo Mode key to change resolution, ISO and overall color quality as well as a trio of indicator lights that tell you if the camera is busy.  The bottom of the camera has the battery and memory card slot and a small jack that’s used to set the camera in place on the supplied docking station.  There is no tripod screw hole.  Once in the dock, the batteries will charge and you can transfer images to your computer or watch them on your TV, once you’ve made the simple connections.  It has a USB 2.0 port for faster downloads.

The Fujifilm FinePix comes with the usual accessories including a strap, USB and AV cables, lithium ion battery/charger, the docking cradle, software CD-ROM and a woefully undersized 16MB xD Picture Card.  Definitely budget for a 512MB card; the supplied card holds a mere six 5MP Fine shots or thirteen seconds of 640 x 480 pixel video at thirty frames per second.  On a more positive note, the camera is supplied with a nicely done 110-page owner’s manual.

FujiFilm FinePix Z1
The Z1 in Black

Image Courtesy of FujiFilm

Performance

Setting up the FinePix Z1 is easier than most.  Once you pop in the battery (rated 170 shots per CIPA) and card, you place it on the supplied dock.  The battery charges in less than two hours and then it’s time to set the clock and the basic parameters.  The onscreen menu is very simple and easy to read, thanks to the large LCD screen and distinct typeface.  As noted, the control layout is nicely done with little ambiguity.  I still feel, though, that camera makers should include a Quick Start guide in the box.  Fujifilm, to its credit, has one on its web site but you have to download and print it.  Come on, guys, take one more step and be really consumer-friendly.

The camera is supplied with a 16MB card, which is an insult because you’ll need a much larger one.  Since there’s no internal memory, I guess Fujifilm felt that they had to give you something; otherwise, the camera is useless.  I won’t go into a rant about proprietary memory card formats, but corporations should think hard before they make these moves.  A Google search will help you find the best prices.  I found a 512MB card for $72 including tax and shipping.

It was time to take some photographs and videos with the camera set on Auto (Multi Auto focus was selected instead of Center Weighted).  The camera started up in a heartbeat (Fujifilm claims less than a second); it seemed almost instantaneous to me.  Thank goodness, days of slow operating digicams are over.  The camera easily focused on flowers, plants as well as trees with strong blue skies quickly with little “grabbing.” It was here that I had my first problems.  Since I purposely tried to shoot with the bright sun shining directly on the screen, I immediately ran into problems.  Although the screen didn’t wipe out, I had trouble framing the image.  Instead of holding the camera in a comfortable arm’s out position, I had to bring the camera much closer to my face so my head could act as a block (no jokes, please).  It was better, but a little viewfinder would’ve solved those problems like the one on the Canon SD500.  The LCD does have a number of adjustments, including an Auto Gain Up as you move into darker territory, but overall quality was weak compared to other digicams.  There were problems indoors as well with the screen getting very grainy.

All was not totally negative; in less drastic conditions, I was able to frame the shots much more easily.  One of the hidden gems of this camera is the Natural Light setting, easily engaged via an onscreen menu.  This lets you take more natural-looking shots without a flash rather than a shot potentially washed out by a flash.  There’s even Anti-Blur Technology, which helps eliminate the shakes during this available light shots.  I got some terrific results from this.

The FinePix Z1 has a top ISO of 800, far higher than competitors (who usually stop at 400).  In Auto, the camera will use a higher ISO, such as 640, in order to take a shot.  Surprisingly, the amount of grain even at these high levels was more than acceptable.

FujiFilm FinePix Z1
Image Courtesy of FujiFilm

Unlike almost every other digicams out there, the Z1 does not have a Mode dial.  Like eliminating the viewfinder, the missing dial allowed designers to create a tiny, sleek camera.  But there’s where the tradeoffs come in.  To get to the scene modes, you click the Menu key and then choose between Natural Light, Portrait, Landscape, Sport and Night.  Here the camera makes the choices for ISO, aperture, shutter speed and white balance.  You just point and shoot.  Results were quite good in these modes with very accurate colors.  In Manual, you can make a few adjustments such as Exposure Compensation and White Balance.  There’s one quirky bit of software design:  To change ISO, you have to go to a different menu after pushing the “F” key.

This key contains one of the more fun tricks on this camera.  In the FinePix Photo Mode, you can shoot in standard  (for normal color), black-and-white and my new favorite “C” (for F-Chrome) that adds a lustrous, vivid tone to your shots.  Now, if only life could be so simple.  I really enjoyed shooting in F-Chrome.  I don’t know if Paul Simon will write a tune about it, but it really added some pop to the images.

The Movie mode is quite good at 640 x 480 pixels (30 fps); however, do realize that it eats up space on your card like five-time champ Takeru Kobayashi at a Nathan’s hot dog eating contest.  There is no zooming available while you’re in Movie mode and the sound is mono.  The built-in mic does pick up some camera noise during quiet scenes.

The flash is pretty potent and offers a wide variety of options including Red-Eye Reduction and Slow Shutter.  If there’s not enough light in Slow Shutter, an icon appears that warns you of the likelihood of a blurry shot.  This handy icon appears in other modes as well.  Since it does not have an AF Assist lamp, taking shots in the dark scenes with little contrast was problematic.

Battery life was close to stated.  Vacationers should consider buying a spare as well as a separate charger, since the supplied battery only gets charged while in the dock.

Conclusions

If ever there was a camera to carry along as you strolled the Via Veneto in Rome, the Champs-Elysee in Paris or some other chic boulevard, this is it.  In the right conditions where the LCD functions properly, the camera is a pleasure to work with and the resulting photographs are quite good.  However, it does have its limitations, as we’ve detailed.  No camera is perfect, but this is a very good 2005 digicam.

Pros

       

    • Slick, sophisticated style
    • 5-megapixel CCD
    • 3x Fujinon optical zoom
    • Only .72 inches thick, 5.2 ounces
    • Nice Natural Light option
  • Great F-Chrome

Cons

       

    • Needs better LCD screen
    • Uses expensive xD Picture Cards;
    • Requires budgeting for a larger card
    • No AF Assist lamp
    • Slower than competition when using flash
  • No burst mode