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Review – Fuji FinePix F30


Fuji FinePix F30 Review

by David Tong

If you’re into photography, this little pocket digital camera needs no introduction. The Fuji FinePix F30 was one of the rare digital cameras that resisted the megapixel war and instead, strive to offer a superior sensor that stayed with an ideal 6-megapixel resolution range with a larger-than-normal super CCD sensor that offered excellent high-ISO, low-light performance that puts virtually all other newer point-and-shoot to shame.

Fuji prides itself with sensor development with their unusual hexagonal CCD sensors in some of the FinePix cameras and their DSLRs. It was refreshing to see a manufacturer not playing the ridiculous megapixel war of cramming as much megapixels on as sensor size that can’t support more than 5MP efficiently in the first place. The higher the resolution, the more photosites are required in a sensor. Having more small, inefficient photosites will only create more noise in images while creating unnecessarily large image sizes.

Overview and Features

The actual camera reviewed is almost 2 years old I was quite fortunate to buy this from Amazon before Fuji gave up on the sensor development and joined the megapixel battle (sales pressure?) as the price shot up by more than 25% after the release of the 12-megapixel, Fuji FinePix F50fd, as avid photographers realized the new camera sported a similar-sized sensor as the F30 and F31fd, but crammed twice as many megapixels in.

I spent around US$300 through Amazon back in Xmas 2006, around mid 2007, the camera was selling between US$370-400 in Amazon! To this day, eBay ads still sell this at around US$250 range. This is for a pocket camera that’s over 2 years old!

In comparison, the excellent Canon PowerShot G7 that sold for about US$450 now sells for about US$280! So if you bought an F30/F31 when it first came out, congratulations!

This camera belongs to my mother-in-law now, and despite the fact I get to use a much newer Panasonic Lumix TZ3 and Fuji FinePix Z20fd more often, I’m still envious of the F30 and wish I didn’t sell the extra FinePix F30 that I had.

From Fuji UK:

You take more pictures in poor light than you probably realize. And poor light is bad news for most digital compact cameras. Blurry results, grainy digital ‘noise’ and under-powered flash are all associated with camera sensors that aren’t sensitive enough. But the FinePix F30’s amazing picture quality is at its most distinctive when the light is low. Not only is its range of light sensitivities unsurpassed in a compact digital camera*, but its 580-shot battery life means that you won’t have to limit the amount you use it.

Key Specs

Number of effective pixels
6.3 Million Pixels
CCD sensor
1/1.7-inch Super CCD HR
Storage media
Internal memory (approx. 10MB), and xD-Picture Card™ (capacities currently up to 1GB – available to buy separately)
File format
Still image : JPEG (Exif Ver 2.2 ), Movie : AVI (Motion JPEG ), (Design rule for Camera File system compliant / DPOF-compatible)
Lens
Fujinon 3x optical zoom lens with 2 aspherical elements, F2.8 – F8 in 1/3 EV increments
Lens focal length
Equivalent to 36 – 108mm on a 35mm camera
Focus
Auto focus with Macro
Focus distance
Normal: Approx. 60cm to infinity Macro: Approx. 5cm (at wide angle)
Shutter speed
15 sec. to 1/2000 sec. (exposure mode dependent)
Aperture
F2.8 to F8
Sensitivity
Auto / equivalent to ISO 100/200/400/800/1600/3200
Exposure modes
Programmed AE (AUTO/SP), Aperture Priority AE, Shutter Priority AE
Dimensions
92.7mmW x 56.7mmH x 27.8mmD / 3.6
Weight
approx. 155g / 5.5 oz (not including accessories)
Digital Zoom
6.2x
Shooting modes
Auto, Preprogrammed Scene Position (SP), Macro, Movie, Burst/Continuous, Aperture or Shutter Priority AE
Movie recording
Movie Recording: 640 x 480 pixels ( 30 frames/sec.), 320 x 240 pixels ( 30 frames/sec.) Monaural sound. Zoom cannot be used during movie recording.

Exterior

The size of the Fuji FinePix F30 is pretty standard for a point-and-shoot, measuring 3.6″ wide, 2.2″ high, and 1.1″ in depth at its thickest. The camera has a adequately solid feel with ample mixture of metal and plastic with tight tolerances between panels. The Fuji FinePix F30 slips into your pocket easily as there are no awkward protrusions that will snag your clothes. It is light enough to keep in your pocket without weighing you down but has ample heft during regular use.

The front of the camera contains only the lens, flash unit, microphone, AF assist light, and the small notch for a more stable grip. The top panel holds the large shutter button, power button, and the main shooting mode dial. The power button is well recessed to avoid accidental activation, but the shooting mode dial feels flimsy and turns too with too little effort for my tastes. Having said that, the main dial never failed the past year so it’s a minor quibble.

The 2.5″ LCD occupies 2/3′s of the rear and the rest of the back panel hosts the main 4-way controller that controls the LCD brightness boost, flash, macro, and self-timer (as well as deleting images in playback mode). The “f” button controls the ISO, image size, and quality, while the exposure compensation, playback, and display/back button round up the list.

The base of the camera houses the battery and memory card compartment. Stubbornly, Fuji still uses the xD card as their memory card, which is expensive, slow, and fiddly. The battery slot has a locking tab that keeps the battery in place when changing memory cards. Speaking of the battery, the NP-70 lithium-ion battery is very efficient and provides more than ample juice between charges. Fuji claims that the battery can shoot 580 frames in a single charge, and the truth is not very far off based on actual, day-to-day usage. You can use the camera intensively for a couple of days between charging. Let me put it this way, most pocket cameras claims 150-300 shots max, the FinePix F30 can shoot almost 600 images – go figure.

To the left of the camera contains the charging and USB/video transfer ports. Fuji employed a strange implementation of camera charging where the battery has to be inside the camera and the camera should be plugged in during charging. While that doesn’t sound unusual, it is in application as it prevents you to charge a battery individually and you cannot use your camera even if you do have an extra battery.

Lastly, the top panel contains the shutter button, power button, and the shooting mode selector.

Usage

The Fuji FinePix F30 is easy enough for the casual point-and-shoot user to shoot with but it also sports a lot flexibility for more advance users. The Fuji FinePix F30 allows the user to use shutter and aperture priority modes, use custom white balance, metering modes, etc.

The Fuji FinePix F30 is a fast-performing camera. The shutter lag, power-up, data-writing response times are very fast, you’ll hardly feel any lag during regular use. Flash recycle time is rather slow, however, as well as the time it takes to delete an image, which could take up to 0.5sec before an image can be deleted, regardless of image size.

The menus are easy to understand and use, but I feel that the “f” button is rather unnecessary as it merely separates 3-4 functions from the main menu, which is accessed by the “OK” center button. Even after a year’s use, the natural instinct is to press the bigger button to access the image parameters rather than the much smaller “f” button. The “f” button can also be accidentally pressed because of its position and sensitivity.

File transfer can be done using the supplied USB cable or if you’re resourceful enough to actually spend on a xD compatible card reader. Transferring the 6MP files can take a while but thanks to the expensive xD card, you won’t have access to huge card sizes anyway.

Shooting modes include full-automatic, full-automatic with parameter controls, Natural Light/Scene modes, aperture and shutter priority, along with Anti-blur where the camera selects as high of a shutter speed as possible at high-ISO and/or flash to maintain a sharp photo, and movie mode.

The Natural Light mode is very useful for many cases, what it does is set a higher ISO while using flash at the same time to ensure that both ambient and flash-exposed subject are exposed naturally. If you’re tired of flash-lit subjects with dark backgrounds, this is the mode to use.

Macro mode is decent for a pocket camera, especially at wide-angle which can shoot at 5cm distance. At telephoto, however, the camera struggles to find contrast points to focus on even with a 30cm minimum focus distance.

I can’t comment on the software as I never installed them.

Image Quality

The Fuji FinePix F30′s image quality is good to above average compared to other 6MP cameras of the same price range. While I have produced better image quality from other cameras (even my older 4MP Canon PowerShot S40), the FinePix F30 is designed for one thing, indoors/low-light photography. The FinePix F30 is without equal in ISO higher than 400, even on more expensive prosumer, super-zoom models.

The noise control still can’t be compared to DSLRs (even the small 4/3 sensors of Olympus) but it is closer than anything out in the market. The noise isn’t handled by marketing gimmicks either. Many modern “high ISO-capable” pocket cameras claim they can produce “clean” high-ISO shots but fail to mention that they use very aggressive noise-reduction algorithms that results to smudged images that make your subject look like wax figures devoid of sharp details.

FinePix F30′s noise handling is more balanced, the high ISO shots will still contain grainy patterns but the details are there for you to manipulate using a better noise-reduction software on your computer, if desired. Other digital cameras use so much noise reduction that there’s no way for you to extract any details even at ISO 400. The FinePix F30′s ISO 1600 is comparable to most ISO 400 from other point-and-shoots.

See the following images for high-ISO comparison taken in relative low light. Note that these are 100% crops.

ISO 100

ISO 100

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 100

ISO 400

ISO 100

ISO 800

ISO 100

ISO 1600

ISO 100

ISO 3200

The lens is sharp and contrasty, but I find the 36mm wide angle hardly is wide enough and you’ll yearn for at least a 32mm wide angle for most landscape work. Response is pretty fast especially at the wide end which can open up to f/2.8, couple that with high ISO settings, you won’t miss a lot of indoor shots.

It also seems like the engineers at Fuji concentrated so much on low-light imaging that it forgot that people shoot outdoor photos with a lot of light too.

Outdoor shots often comes out flat and dull in colors and auto white balance tends to prefer a bluish hue, possibly because of their assumption of mostly indoor lighting.

The lens is also prone to chromatic aberration/fringing where high-contrast areas show a distinct blue/purple halo.

The flash is very well designed and is powerful enough for fill lighting outdoors and when used with high-ISO, your indoor portraits will always proper ambient/subject lighting ratios.

Movie mode is pretty standard, 640×480 @ 30fps with audio. I’ve included a basic sample photo, but I’m not well-informed with video performance, so let’s skip that.

Having said that, the Fuji FinePix F30 camera is truly in a class of its own. No other pocket point-and-shoot offers true low-light, indoor performance, even two years after its initial release. While frequent daylight shooters may find this camera a bit average, most of us use our cameras indoors and in poor light, and that’s what the Fuji FinePix F30 really is for.

We can save a lot of well-lit, outdoor shots through adding some contrast, color saturation after a shot is taken, but we can’t add details and sharpness in low-light photos that are tainted with blur, excessive grain and noise, and lack of ambient light altogether.

The Fuji FinePix F30 is truly the only digital pocket camera that I know of that deserves a place in history for being a true high-performance camera designed for the real world. I leave you with a set of images taken with the Fuji FinePix F30.