Friday, November 17, 2006


Fuji Finepix F30 review - first impressions

I didn't really want to like this 6MP P&S from Fuji, but kept reading up on it on various photo forums as having great low-light performance at 1600 and 3200 ISO equivalents, like it's predecessors, the F10 and F11 models. So I did some digging, and the photos I found taken with this camera were impressive, both in low light situations, and like most new digital cameras, it did fine in outdoor bright photos as well. The only other low light P&S digital cameras I have (an old Kodak, 2 Canons, and Lumix FZ3) max out at ISO 200 or 400 with pretty bad noise and low resolution (2-3MP). My Pentax *ist DL, while not a P&S, does work well in low-light, but only with my slow manual focus 35/f1.9 lens and is so large and slow, that I often don't bring it along everywhere. My film cameras are rarely loaded with anything faster than 400 film, and also take time to focus well at their fastest speeds of f1.5, f2, and f2.8. The bottom line is that the F30's ISO 3200, f2.8 lens, and small size will let me take photos in places, and at times I just wouldn't be able to with my other cameras.

The reasons I didn't want to like this P&S vs many others out there were numerous. It used yet another proprietary battery which I would have to get a spare of, and have to always remember to travel with the charger. It came only in flashy silver, not black. It used xD cards, which none of my other cameras do, and none of my computers have xD readers, but all have SD card readers, so I had to get a couple of xD cards, as well as an xD reader. Also, this camera is built in China instead of Japan where the earlier F10 model was manufactured, though my initial impression is that it's build quality is fine for a P&S.

I looked long and hard at the new and older Panasonic Lumix P&S cameras that used SD cards, especially the models equipped with a 28mm wide angle 35mm equivalent lens. Some of these went up to 10MP including offering RAW mode output. However, after looking at a lot of sample photos, the Lumix photo examples at higher ISO settings gave a type of noise that just didn't seem as nice as the F30. Also, lens sharpness seemed a bit better even at low ISO equivalents on the F30 than on some of the examples from the Lumix models. The F30 currently has a $50 rebate from Fujifilm, and also is priced quite a bit lower than the Lumix models, so I decided to get it

Upon unpacking the F30, it seemed smaller than I had envisioned, which is good. There is no viewfinder, meaning that you must frame your image on the bright LCD, which occasionally is difficult to do in bright light, but using one hand as a shade, it can work OK. I prefer AA cameras since so many of my other cameras use them with NiMH rechargeable batteries, but I realize that these new mini cameras are just getting too small to use those larger batteries.

After charging the battery, which took a few hours, and quickly browsing through the thick manual, I stuck an xD card in and started shooting inside at ISO 1600 and 3200 with good results on the bright LCD screen. Upon zooming in on the review screen, 3200 is pretty noisy, but it's a film like noise. In b&w mode, it appears to be nice and grainy like Kodak Tri-X film. ISO 1600 is a little grainy even without zooming in, but will probably turn out to be very usable for color and b&w web-shots and small 4x6" prints. ISO 800 is relatively grain free, and resembles ISO 200 or lower clarity compared to some of my other digicams.

Like most digicams, the WB must be set right or interior colors are off, auto seems to work fine outdoors, and indoors with real sunlight coming through a window. But as with most digicams, colors accuracy drops in the Auto mode under pure indoor light sources.

The live LCD is a little sluggish, more so than my Lumix FZ3. It's almost not really live, like always 1/10th or so of a second behind. Also, there is no live histogram like in the Lumix, or blown highlights indicator as on my Pentax *ist DL. In any case, there are good Av and Tv metering modes, as well as manual, along with average, center weighted, and spot metering.

So far the auto-focus is working well, but I have had a few low-light scenes where it took many seconds to lock on.

The controls take some getting used to, although they are laid out cleanly. The top deck has only 3 buttons, a power on/off button, mode dial with 6 selections. I've only used the A/S mode for aperture/shutter priority mode, the other modes are for movies, full metered manual, and 3 others which I'll have to play with later to figure out. Probably one of those "other" ones is an EZ auto mode. The 3rd button is the shutter, which has a half-way mode for locking both focus and exposure. Not sure yet if you can select it to do only one. It would be nice to use it as an AE lock, to quickly meter without backlit lighting, then move the frame to the backlit scene, while having auto-focus continue to update.

The back is more cumbersome. The ISO and picture mode is selected with an "f" button, and a 4 way controller selects flash mode, self-timer, macro, and delete functions. Dedicated buttons are there for review mode, display mode (both in capture and review modes), and a +/- button for setting exposure comp, or your Av or Tv setting by using the above 4 way controller.

The first 100 or so photos I took were indoors in varying light sources and levels, and also outdoors driving and stopping alongside some open fields. I setup the F30 to use center weighted metering, Av mode (where you can set the display to show the ISO you've set, as well as the shutter speed it is selecting, and any exposure comp you have set). Every few dozen shots I would review on-screen and adjust the EV comp as necessary, usually about -1/3 or -2/3.

All works pretty well so far, but evaluating all of these parameters clutters up the display screen fast, and makes one wonder if the optimal parameters have been set for each photo.

What I've done for now, and may keep it in this mode for awhile, is I've set it on ISO 3200, b&w mode, which has a very nice grain to it on the LCD, yet to see what it will look like in print. This mode shows yet another shortcoming of this camera for daylight use, even in a medium bright indoor room, one must increase the aperture up to F4 or 5.6 to prevent the shutter speed from maxing out at it's 1/1000 setting. So it really is a low-light only P&S, and would require the use of small apertures, and low ISO's to be used outdoors on sunny days.

I will show photos from the F30 here soon, hopefully in several of the modes, but I'm having a blast right now keeping it set in the 1600 and 3200 speed, in b&w mode, to try to get some nice grainy prints in low light situations. There is a built-in flash, but for now I'll be keeping it off.

I've had my F30 for about 4 months now and I'm looking forward to seeing your photos!
How do you like yours? I just "developed" my first card, and will be picking some out to post soon.

On screen the high ISO b&w looks great (a few look like they could have used fill flash).
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