Fuji FinePix E900 Review

The 9MP CCD offers a lot of cropping options and some of the prints rivaled D-SLRs.
The 9MP CCD offers a lot of cropping options and some of the prints rivaled D-SLRs.
The 9MP CCD offers a lot of cropping options and some of the prints rivaled D-SLRs.

Highs

  • Good 9MP image quality; lightweight

Lows

  • Uneven focusing; no AF Assist lamp or hot shoe

Summary

Seven- and 8-megapixel cameras are so last year! A new wave of 9- and 10MP digicams are now in stores and more will arrive shortly. They range from the fairly straightforward Fujifilm FinePix E900 to *uber* models like the $999 10.3MP Sony DSC-R1 and the 10.2MP Nikon D200 S-SLR for $1,700. And not to leave the E900 by itself, Fujifilm also introduced the more expensive 9MP FinePix S9000 ($699) with a 10.7x optical zoom.

Given all these announcements have we reached a point of diminishing returns where the megapixel horsepower race has become meaningless? Is 9MP overkill for the average picture taker and is a $199 4MP model like the Canon A520 with a 4x optical zoom good enough? Nah; boys will be boys and we love our toys. What red-blooded American would buy a 4-cylinder car when a supercharged 8 is rumbling next to it? It’s in our DNA…

The E900 with its 4x optical zoom seems like a baby compared to the other 9- and 10MP digicams and is a fraction of the price. Yet for around 450 beans, the compact digicam seems to offer a wealth of photographic treasures including RAW file capture and the Natural Light setting we liked so much in the 6MP FinePix F10. To see how it fares, click on…

Features and Design

The FinePix E900 feels great. The black-bodied digicam has a built-in grip that is very comfortable. The camera is studded with silvery metal accents, giving it a nice retro look and it’s a pleasant change from the all-silver cases that are so prevalent in the 200-plus digital cameras available today. It weighs a light 9.2 ounces loaded with two AA batteries, xD Picture flash memory card and measures a compact 4 x 2.5 x 1.4 (WHD, in inches).

The camera has a 4x Fujinon lens with a 35mm equivalent range of 32-128mm, a good step above the usual 35-105mm point-and-shoot focal length. And for comparison Canon 4x zooms are rated 35-140mm. As an added bonus, the camera accepts optional wide-angle and telephoto accessory lenses by simply twisting off the ring surrounding the lens.

The front of the E900 is dominated by the lens that folds into the body when powered down; it has a built-in lens cover. There’s also the viewfinder window, speaker, self-timer lamp, adapter ring release key and nice silver accents.  The top has the power button, shutter and mode dial and flash compartment. Unfortunately, the flash has to be manually opened instead of working automatically in very dark scenes but I guess Fuji wants you to use the Natural Light setting (more on this in a bit). And there’s no accessory hot shoe.

The rear of the camera has no surprises: it does have a very accurate 2-inch LCD screen rated 115K pixels. You’ll also find a tiny viewfinder to help when the screen wipes out in bright sunshine, a wide/tele toggle switch, the flash open button and four-way menu navigation ring with OK button. There are other keys for burst mode (up to a startling 40 shots at .6 fps), exposure compensation, playback and display. There’s also one of my favorite Fujifilm features, Photo Mode, so you choose between Standard, B&W and Chrome levels of quality. I like playing with Chrome since it gives a vivid, saturated tone to photos but that’s just me.

The right side of the E900 has a slot for the strap while the left has a relatively large speaker for movie playback and voice narration. There’s also a panel with A/V, DC and USB connections; the plastic door seems a bit flimsy. The bottom has the battery/xD card compartment and tripod mount.

In the carton is an insulting 16MB xD card that holds a whole three 9MP Fine images and zero RAW files. Expect to pick up a 512MB edition for around $50 since it holds 113 3488 x 2616 pixel JPEG Fine images, 27 RAW or around 7 minutes of 640 x 480 pixel video clips at 30 fps. You’ll also get a pair of rechargeable NiMH batteries with charger, cables, 136-page owner’s manual, a handy Quick Start guide and software CD ROM with FinePix Viewer, driver and a RAW file converter that just opens the files. Alas, you’ll need additional software to do any editing–and that’s what RAW files are for. Why Fujifilm left this gaping hole is a mystery to me. Abode Photoshop CS2 should handle it although the E900 is not listed for RAW support (as of early November) but many other recent FinePix models are on the list.

After charging the batteries, setting the date/time and loading a 512MB SanDisk card, it was time to take some photographs just to see if 9-megapixels are worth the investment.

Fujifilm FinePix E900
Image Courtesy of Fujifilm

Performance

The E900 starts up in a flash and is ready to go in less than two seconds. Initially I set the camera on 9MP JPEG Fine before taking RAW images. The built-in processor handled the large JPEG files with just a little lag; the much larger RAW files took longer. This lag is just a physical fact of life since the processor is handling so much information. It isn’t a deal breaker but something you should be aware of. This is not D-SLR performance but then again you’re not spending twice the money or lugging around another appendage.

The menu system for changing the various options is very easy to follow and simple to read with a nice clear typeface. Fuji designers went a little crazy using icons instead of text for the various parameters. And they could use some editing; although it’s easy to change JPEG resolution by pressing the “F” key, you have to go into a completely different menu to move in RAW or change the compression settings. They really should be on the same screen. Note to Fuji: check out the menus on the latest Kodak cameras such as the P880 for an excellent example of menus as they ought to be. That said the resolution of the 2-inch LCD helps legibility. And note to JVC engineers: find out who supplied this to Fujifilm and use it in the GZ-MG70U camcorder.

Since the FinePix E900 is really a compact camera, I popped it into my pocket and carried it with me when I traveled around for about a week. I found holding it very comfortable and taking photos was lots of fun something you should expect from a camera. Along with the basic Auto setting, the E900 has four scene modes for shooting fast action, portraits and at night. The standout is Natural Light that lets you take good images in dim light without resorting to a flash. The E900 adjusts sensitivity (ISO) up to 800, depending on the scene so it does a decent job of eliminating blurry images from shaky hands common with dark scenes. Although there is noise at such high levels (400 and up), the photos are usable something that can’t be said for most cameras at high ISOs. It’s fun to watch as you move into Auto from Natural Light and immediately a warning pops up on screen to open the flash. This setting opens some nice options for photographers who’d rather shoot in available light. However, it’s not perfect as the focus would try to “grab,” particularly with subjects that didn’t have sharp edges or contrast. And it’s not a cure-all in low light since you still have to hold the camera very steady or you’ll get blur. Optical image stabilization would be a nice addition but that would jack up the price. I definitely urge you try it in non-critical situations so if it’s a clunker you can send it to the delete bin.

After spending some quality time filling the card, it was time to check out the results and see if 9 megapixels makes sense. And the answer is yes. I made some gorgeous 8.5×11 prints of 9MP Fine images shot outdoors on some glorious Fall days. The photos were printed straight from the card with no edits. I even did some pretty severe crops and enlarged the files to fit the letter-sized paper. Although there was a fall-off in resolution (to be expected) the prints were acceptable. The huge file size lets you do some serious cropping, a major benefit of mega-megapixel cameras.

Working with Natural Light was a mixed blessing as I appreciated the ability to work without the flash. However I encountered some blur in really dim scenes (a vase of flowers in the corner). Popping the flash and moving to Auto took care of it but now it had harsh accents. As I mentioned earlier, this is a good feature but it’s not the solution to all your needs.

The E900 goes way beyond Auto and Natural Light. Along with the other scene modes there’s full manual as well as aperture and shutter priority. Changing settings is very simple although I’d like to see some better onscreen descriptions like Kodak and Olympus since this camera is geared more for point-and-shooters.

The continuous shooting mode was pretty amazing given it was taking 10-shot bursts at full JPEG resolution (it doesn’t work in RAW). The camera definitely seemed to be huffing and puffing under the load but it still worked. Videos at 640 x 480 and 30 fps were OK but there’s no zooming allowed; you have to set the focal length and start recording. At least it eliminates the zoom lens noise typically picked up by other digital cameras. As we always say digital cameras are not replacements for MiniDV camcorders; they’re just good for grabbing a clip on the fly.

FujiFilm FinePix E900
Image Courtesy of FujiFilm

Conclusions

The Fujifilm FinePix E900 is a good–not great–digital camera. The tendency for the lens to grab focus in low light was annoying. Outdoors or shooting with a decent amount of ambient light eliminated this problem but it’s still there. The E900 uses the same CCD as the more expensive FinePix S9000 but that’s more D-SLR-like and has a potent 10.7x optical zoom with a top ISO of 1600. This camera does not exhibit the noise we experienced with some 8MP digicams such as the Panasonic DMC-FZ30. The 9MP CCD offers a lot of cropping options and some of the prints rivaled D-SLRs I’ve used. At around $500, the folks at Fujifilm have a tough sell on their hands especially when you can pick up a 7MP Canon A620 with a 4x optical zoom for $375. But boys will be boys…

Pros

       

    • 9-megapixel resolution
    • Shoots RAW files
    • Fairly responsive when handling huge files
    • Nice style, feel
    • Quality LCD screen and viewfinder
  • Uses two AA batteries

Cons

       

    • “Grabs” for focus in some low light/contrast scenes
    • No AF Assist lamp or hot shoe
    • Flash has to be manually opened
    • Software only opens RAW files (no editing)
    • Uses more costly xD Picture Card media
  • No diopter adjustment