Fujifilm FinePix A500 Overview
by Dan Havlik
Review posted: 07/25/2006
Even with all the advances in bargain basement digital cameras in recent years, there are still drawbacks to a camera this inexpensive. (They had to leave something out didn't they?) Whether cost-cutting measures that affect the Fuji A500's performance will bother you depends on how much experience you've had with digital photography so far. If you've spent any time with slightly more sophisticated models, you might be inclined to throw this bare-bones Fujifilm model back. But if it's your first time with a digital camera and you don't want to make a huge investment, the Fuji A500 could be the right catch.
Fuji A500 User Report
Though it's made primarily of polycarbonate, the Fuji A500 does a good job of trying to convince you that it's metal. The camera's tapered rectangular body has a sleek metallic finish that mimics stainless steel on the handgrip and a ring surrounding the retractable 3x zoom lens. The 3.7 x 2.4 x 1.1-inch (93 x 60 x 27.5mm) body is almost entirely plastic though, weighing in at just 6.56 ounces (186 grams) with the battery and xD-Picture Card. Though it feels solidly built, some cost-cutting design choices on the Fuji A500 are questionable.
For one, instead of covering the Video Out, USB, and DC In sockets with a plastic flap as on just about every other camera on the market, Fuji leaves them exposed on the left side of the camera, which makes them susceptible to lint, crumbs and whatever debris might be floating around inside a bag or carrying case. Consequently, a small case for this camera is a must.
While its boxy design is pretty generic, the Fuji A500 is easy to hold and will feel familiar to a first-time digital camera user since it resembles most point-and-shoot film cameras on the market. Controls are well-placed, but not particularly touch-sensitive, so basic tasks such as turning the camera on and off, or switching to the playback mode, takes some significant pressure on the buttons. I was also thrown off by the placement of the zoom rocker between the left and right toggle switches, which also turn on the camera's Macro mode and flash. I kept accidentally pressing the left and right buttons -- instead of the up and down zoom rocker in the middle -- which would turn the Macro on, or switch the flash preset modes. A little bit annoying if you're not used to this configuration, though anyone buying the Fuji A500 will have plenty of time to get used to it.
Only a year ago, a 1.8-inch LCD would seem pretty exciting on a camera this cheap, but I was less than thrilled with the Fuji A500's ho-hum screen. At just 77,000 pixels of resolution, the live preview was slightly dark and fuzzy, making it difficult to tell whether an image had the right exposure or sharp focus. Using the screen outdoors was a nightmare. In standard sunlight conditions, I had a hard time making out what I was taking a picture of on the LCD.
Thankfully, the Fuji A500 has an adequate optical viewfinder that helps compose pictures in sunlight. Generally speaking, I'm a proponent of LCDs over optical viewfinders, but this was the first camera I've tested in awhile where I relied on the optical viewfinder almost exclusively outdoors. One nice feature of the optical viewfinder on the Fuji A500 is that it includes hash marks to tell you which portion of an image will be cropped out when taking a picture at a range of 1-2 meters (3.3 to 6.6 feet).
Along with cost-cutting in the design, another area where you're going to feel the pinch of buying such a low-priced camera is in the Fuji A500's sluggish all-around performance. The camera powers on in a respectable 2.8 seconds and shuts down with lens fully retracting in a fairly quick 1.6 seconds. Getting to first shot is also not a problem, with our tests showing the camera taking just 0.4 seconds to take its first picture. Displaying that first image, though, is where the Fuji A500 starts to get bogged down. We timed the camera at 4.6 seconds to show a large/fine image file immediately after capture. Shutter lag when taking a picture at the wide angle of the autofocus was 0.72 seconds which is slow for a camera in this class. At the telephoto end, the FinePix A500 took 0.61 seconds to capture an image. Things improve dramatically when you pre-focus the camera, however, with the Fuji A500 capturing an image at a rather quick 0.012 seconds after half-pressing and then holding down the shutter button.
Shot to shot, though, is where the camera struggled the most, taking one Large/Fine-size JPEG image every 2.24 seconds with the buffer clearing between each shot. Strangely, the camera was even slower when shooting in smaller, 640x480 image-size mode, averaging 2.33 seconds per shot. Unless you're a leisurely picture-taker -- and I'm definitely not -- shooting with the Fuji A500 can be a frustrating experience. I kept seeing great candids and interesting moments when I took this camera out one sunny afternoon in New York City, only to miss them when the A500 couldn't keep up with my eye. Even worse, there's no continuous mode on the camera, making the Fuji A500 strictly for portraits and landscapes at best.
Pictures Better Than Expected
Image quality in average daylight conditions was better than expected on the Fuji A500 which is probably due to the decent 5.1-megapixel Super CCD HR imaging sensor that Fuji has put in the camera. The Fuji A500 also has a better than average Fujinon 3x (38-114mm in 35mm equivalent) zoom lens offering automatic apertures of f/3.3 - f/5.5. Rich color, which has been Fujifilm's forte since the film days, is in evidence here with images showing nice vibrancy and balanced skin tones.
Though the Fuji A500 wasn't always on target with its exposures and had a tendency to blow out whites -- particularly in shots of skies -- the camera produced pictures with pretty good dynamic range. Images had some blurriness in the corners and purple fringing on tree branches and railings in high contrast situations, but overall chromatic aberration was low, especially when shooting at ISO 100.
When cranking the light sensitivity to ISO 400, however, noise and digital artifacts increased, which was disappointing, but not unusual for a camera in this class. With some competing models taking away manual control of ISO -- such as Nikon's L-Series digital cameras -- it's nice to see that Fuji is still offering it even though results are a mixed bag. My suggestion would to keep the camera's flash on in low-light situations. While its throw is modest at 2 to 10 feet (60cm to 3.1 meters) it's perfectly adequate for most low-light situations. The Fuji A500's five flash settings -- which include Auto, Red-eye reduction, Forced Flash, Suppressed Flash, Slow Synchro, and Red-eye Reduction + Slow Synchro -- should also give you enough options to cover most conditions.
Along with Auto, there are just four basic shooting modes on the Fuji A500 but they're the ones most people are likely to use -- Night, Sport, Landscape and Portrait. In all modes, you can adjust the ISO light sensitivity rating between 100 and 400. In the "Manual" mode, you get some additional control including the ability to change Exposure Compensation between 2 to +2 EV in 0.3 EV steps; and the option to choose between seven White Balance pre-sets. This camera isn't, obviously, directed at someone who will be making a lot of manual adjustments, but it's nice to be offered some creative choices.
Navigation on the Fuji A500 is utilitarian, and switching between modes is an easy but slow process on the camera's basic menu system. Since buttons on the A500 are sparse, most of the camera's functions are buried in menus. Movie mode is very basic on the A500, offering video clips without sound at either 320 x 240 pixels or 160 x 120 pixels at a herky-jerky 10 frames per second. This camera definitely requires patience. If you're someone in a hurry to take a lot of pictures and video clips using a lot of different modes and adjustments, I'd suggest you try a different model.
The Fuji A500 uses two AA-type batteries for power, either alkaline or NiMH, and an optional AC adapter is available. A set of single-use AA alkaline batteries comes with the camera, but I strongly recommend purchasing a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH batteries and a good charger, and keeping a spare set of batteries charged at all times. With AA alkalines, the Fuji A500 can capture only about 100 images. With NiMH rechargeables, it can capture approximately 400 pictures.
The Bottom Line
As far as bargain basement digital cameras go, the Fuji A500 is not a bad choice if you can overlook its sluggish performance and bare bones design and feature set. If you've had any experience with a more sophisticated digital camera, however, I'd say pass on this model -- it's limitations will definitely cause you some frustration. However, if you're a first-time digital camera user and want to put your foot in the water for a very low price, the Fuji A500 is about as good as any camera in this category when it comes to taking quality pictures in standard daylight conditions.
- 5.1-megapixel Super CCD HR delivering images as large as 2,592 x 1,944 pixels.
- Real-image optical viewfinder.
- 1.8-inch color LCD monitor.
- Fujinon 3x, 38-114mm (35mm equivalent) lens.
- 5.2x digital zoom.
- Auto and Manual (EV and White Balance only), plus Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night Scene modes.
- White Balance with seven settings.
- Maximum aperture of f/3.3 to f/8.5, depending on lens zoom position.
- Shutter speeds from 1/1,500 to two seconds, depending on exposure mode.
- Built-in flash with six modes.
- Auto ISO equivalent to 100 to 400.
- TTL 64-zones Multi metering.
- Macro (close-up) lens setting.
- xD-Picture Card storage (No card included. 12MB internal memory).
- Power supplied by two AA-type batteries or optional AC adapter.
- Interface software and USB drivers included for Windows and Macintosh computers.
- Movie mode (without sound).
- PictBridge support.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
- Exif Print to record optimized print settings.
- Two- or 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
In the Box
- Fujifilm FinePix A500 digital camera.
- Two single-use, AA-type alkaline batteries.
- Wrist strap.
- USB cable.
- AV cable.
- Software CD-ROM.
- Instruction manual and registration card.
- Larger capacity xD memory card. (I recommend 128MB as a bare minimum, 256MB would be preferable.)
- xD-Picture Card USB Drive (DPC-UD), a compact USB card reader.
- Two sets (four) NiMH rechargeable batteries and charger.
- Soft camera case.
If price and basic image quality are your only concerns, the Fujifilm FinePix A500 might be right for you. At less than $200 list, and even lower for its "street" price, the A500 offers seemingly good bang for the buck with a solid 5.1-megapixel Super CCD HR image sensor, a 3x optical zoom, some basic scene modes, and the image quality and rich color Fujifilm is know for. Despite the progress that's been made at the lower end of digital photography, you do give up quite a bit in overall performance with this inexpensive snapshooter. For one, the camera is very sluggish to use. In particular, the glacial shot to shot performance on the Fuji A500 can be frustrating and since it has no Continuous mode, there are not many options for speeding it up. Pre-focusing your shots does help a bit, but if you're someone who likes to take candid shots on the fly -- like I do -- using the Fuji A500 may teach you an unwanted lesson in patience. For standard family portraits and landscapes, you'll likely have a better experience.
Other cost cutting measures such as leaving the I/O ports on the camera uncovered and unprotected is a questionable choice. The Fuji A500's 1.8-inch LCD is lacking as well, offering just 77,000 pixels of resolution and poor sunlight performance, making it difficult to see the live preview on the screen. This was the first time in quite awhile that I was happy Fujifilm decided to keep the tiny optical viewfinder on A500, even though its coverage was limited.
In terms of image quality, however, the Fuji A500 produced pictures with rich color and good sharpness which should appeal to most consumers. Despite a somewhat heavy overall color saturation, skin tones were rendered fairly accurately with good tonal balance. If this is your first digital camera, you might be delighted with the results. However, if you've tried other current entry-level models, you'll quickly notice that the Fuji A500 lags behind in its overall picture-taking performance which is why we cannot make it a Dave's Pick.