Fujifilm FinePix F30 Overview
Reviewed by: Dan Havlik
Review posted: 08/19/2006
Times have changed, though, and 6.3MP Super CCDs don't impress like they used to. With consumers now all too familiar with the perils of putting so much emphasis on pixel power, manufacturers have had to re-tune their camera's bells and whistles to attract savvy buyers considering an upgrade. In the case of the F30, Fujifilm is pushing the camera's extraordinary low-light shooting potential. Fujifilm is not alone in taking this tack. Several manufacturers have been emphasizing the expanded light sensitivity of their compact cameras with their ability to reduce blur thanks to new image stabilizer technology. (See my review of the Canon SD700 IS, for example.) The Fuji F30 ups the ante, however, by offering an eye-popping light sensitivity rating of up to ISO 3200 equivalent, a level not even seen on many digital SLR cameras; and as of this review, not on any competing compact digital cameras on the market. According to Fujifilm, the camera's "sixth generation Super CCD sensor" produces a lot less "noise" (i.e. that fuzzy stuff you see in some digital images) than its predecessor, especially when shooting a higher ISO settings.
But does the Fuji F30's ramped up light sensitivity and added features like Picture Stabilization technology, and an "intelligent" I-Flash -- all of which Fuji has marketed under the umbrella rubric of Real Photo Technology -- add up to better pictures? Read on and find out if there really is life beyond megapixels.
Fuji FinePix F30 User Report
Luxurious Finish. Though the Fuji F30 isn't the thinnest camera on the market in this compact category, its dimensions of 3.6 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches (92.7 x 56.7 x 27.8mm) make it small enough to slide into a bag or coat pocket and take along anywhere.
One of the small touches I appreciated were the seven raised rubber bumps on the back of the camera below the zoom rocker which serve as a comfortable thumb grip with a nice tactile feel.
With an xD-Picture Card and its rather large proprietary rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the Fuji F30 weighs a substantial (but not quite hefty) 6.77 ounces (192 grams). There's a reason for the jumbo sized battery. According to CIPA ratings, the Fuji F30 can capture an impressive 580 pictures when this little brick is fully charged, which is a big plus if you're shooting out in the woods, for example, without access to an electrical outlet. The extra weight also gives the camera good balance, which helps keep it steady during shooting.
The Fuji F30's LCD screen is excellent, measuring 2.5 inches with 230,000 pixels of resolution, which renders sharp live preview and decent playback. Fuji's gone to lengths to have the LCD work well in a variety of lighting conditions with the display quickly adjusting its brightness in low light. The screen was made using Fuji's CV Film, which is designed to reduce glare and smudges. It was successful on both counts -- easy to use even in rather bright midday light and relatively smudge-resistant even when used with greasy fingers. (It's been a rather humid month here in New York City.) Since the Fuji F30's 2.5-inch display dominates most of the rear of the camera since there is no optical viewfinder on this model.
Very Responsive. As befitting a higher-end compact camera, the Fuji F30 was a very responsive all-around performer. Press the power button and it's ready to take its first shot in a lightning quick 1.7 seconds. The camera shuts down fast too, at just 1.6 seconds. The F30 switches nimbly from playback mode to image record in 0.5 seconds with just a tap of the shutter button. The camera was a little slow going the other way though, taking 4.4 seconds, according to our findings, to display a large/fine resolution image file immediately after capture. Shutter lag on the wide end of the zoom was short at just 0.56 second and a split second shorter on the telephoto end. When the Fuji F30 is prefocused, we found it took just 0.018 second till capture. The camera performed great shot to shot as well, taking just 1.96 seconds per shot in Large Fine JPEG capture. In Continuous Mode the camera could rattle off a Large Fine- JPEG picture every 2.02 seconds, or 0.5 frames per second. Overall, the F30's speed was just fine for me. Although I've tried cameras in this class that were slightly faster in certain areas, the F30 with its RP Processor II imaging engine was quick and reliable.Spot On.
One small gripe I had about the color -- and this seems to go for most of Fuji's compact cameras -- is the slightly oversaturated skin tones that the F30 produces. While pumping up the red channel just a tad will make your subject's skin look more fleshy and healthier, overdoing it will make skin seem pink and doll-like. This effect is especially prevalent if you switch the camera to Fuji's highly saturated "Chrome" setting. In its "Standard" color setting, the F30 is right on the edge.
While most compact digital cameras -- even at the low end -- can take good pictures in daylight settings at ISO 200 and below, the real test is how they fare in tricky low-light situations without flash. I don't know how many people have come up to me after they find out I review digital cameras and say: "This such-and-such 7 megapixel digital camera I bought is fantastic outdoors but when I took it to my friend's wedding reception, all the pictures looked horrible." When I asked them how they shot the reception, they usually say they tried some with the flash and then some without. The main complaints are typically that the flash shots make the faces look too washed out, and the shots without flash were blurred and full of all kinds of strange discolorations. These are the folks the F30 was made for.
Low-Light Options. Options abound for shooting in low-light and without a flash on the F30. For starters, there's that mind-blowing ISO range: 100 to 3200. Before anyone gets too excited about those numbers though, let me first get this out of the way -- in just about all circumstances, you're not going to want to touch that ISO 3200 setting. Furthermore, in most situations, you probably should stay away from ISO 1600 as well. This is not a slight at the camera's low-light capabilities. Fuji has made a strong effort in reducing noise in high ISO shots by improving the signal to noise ratio in its latest Super CCD HR sensor. Fuji has also implemented a new two-stage noise reduction system in this camera that is designed to break down and remove noise in low and high frequency bands in separate steps. While that might sound like a whole lot of technical jargon, for the most part it does a pretty good job.
Ups & Downs. While I was thrilled with how well the camera performed at high ISOs, the F30's other low-light abilities were somewhat confusing and less consistent. For starters, adjustable ISO is limited to the camera's Manual (M), Aperture Priority/Shutter Priority (A/S) and Night + Long Exposure (Night + M) settings. Pressing the camera's F button (F-Mode Photography) while in one of these modes allows you to select ISO settings from a flyout menu. Considering that this is one of the camera's showcase functions, wouldn't it have been easier just to have put a dedicated ISO button on the camera and let you adjust it in any of the modes?
The problem might be that the F30 seems aimed at two users groups -- the novice shooter who wants the camera to do everything, and the photo enthusiast who might want more flexibility in a range of modes. What you have with the F30 is an attempt to present a lot of automatic and manual functions in a camera that's just a little bigger than a deck of cards. So instead of having a real clear mode dial, settings are clumped together and hard to read. At the same time, if you know what you're looking for -- and this takes some serious manual browsing -- a wealth of automatic and manual functions are opened to you.
Bugaboo. One annoying aspect in the Fuji F30 is a strange programming choice regarding the Playback button's function. With the camera on, press the Playback button to enter Playback mode. No problem so far. Look at your pictures, play with the menu, do what you want. When you're done, you naturally press the Playback button to go back to shooting mode, right? Not on the Fuji F30. Instead, the camera brings up a message admonishing you to press the shutter button to go back to shooting mode. Honestly, if they can program the camera to bring up an error message with instructions, surely they can just as easily make the camera go back to capture mode.
Au Naturale. One of my favorite Fuji functions -- which I explored and explained in my review of the Fujifilm Finepix V10 -- is the "Natural Light & With Flash" mode which takes two shots in succession, the first without flash and the second with flash. When shooting in moderate to good light, this feature is fabulous, offering a telling side-by-side comparison of what you gain and lose by using flash. In lower light situations, however, the flashless shot will boost to the higher end of the ISO scale (800 and above) producing a naturally lit image that on the V10 seemed noisy, but on the F30 was a bit cleaner. (There's also a Natural Light only mode that takes one shot with ramped up ISO and shutter speed.)
The flash on the F30 -- which Fujifilm has dubbed the "i-Flash" -- also did a better job of not blowing out the subject. Fujifilm's marketing information about i-Flash claims it can "detect more accurately the subtle lighting differences within a scene, and then light the subject accordingly with a range of flash intensities." While that would be perfectly lovely, it seems to be overstating the case on this camera.
The camera's Picture Stabilization/Anti-blur mode -- which is identified on the mode dial by an icon of a person with blurry lines around it -- automatically lets the camera choose the correct light sensitivity and matching shutter speed to decrease blur. This mode is similar to the Natural Light setting and my results with both were mixed. While automatically combining high shutter speeds with increased ISO did a good job of freezing the action in low light, it comes with a price. Since the camera will usually default to ISO 3200 in lower light situations, the uptick in noise rendered images a tad soft on the edges of the subject, and mottled in the shadows and brown areas of a shot. So while you are, in effect, stabilizing the picture, other digital artifacting in the shots due to the increased ISO will make images appear slightly off. It would be nice to somehow cap the ISO on this feature at 800 which is far less noisy than 3200.
The Bottom Line
Despite some inconsistencies, the Fujifilm Finepix F30 offers the latest bold leap into high ISO shooting in a stylish compact digital camera. In most cases I wouldn't recommend shooting at ISO 3200, but that setting functions as well as it does on the F30 is a tribute to the engineers behind this camera. Shots at ISO 800 were some of the best I've seen from a camera in this class, which means you will get more out of your pictures under a variety of conditions with the F30. While I've preferred competing models with dedicated optical image stabilizers to the Anti-Blur/Picture Stabilization mode offered in the F30, this camera breaks new ground in offering effective expanded light sensitivity in a compact product. That's worth the price of admission alone.
- 6.3-megapixel Super CCD HR delivering image resolutions as high as 2848 x 2136 pixels
- 2.5-inch color, low temperature polysilicon TFT LCD monitor with 230,000 pixels of resolution.
- 3x Fujinon 36-108mm zoom lens, with f/2.8 to f/5.0 maximum aperture.
- Autofocus with adjustable AF area.
- Digital zoom of up to 6.2x.
- Auto, Manual, Aperture & Shutter Priority, and 15 Scene modes
- Adjustable white balance with eight settings
- Adjustable ISO setting with Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200 equivalents.
- Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to three seconds. (Long exposure mode permits exposures as long as 15 seconds.)
- Multi, Spot, and Average metering modes.
- Built-in flash with six modes.
- xD-Picture Card storage (No card included. 10MB internal storage).
- JPEG image format.
- Power supplied by proprietary rechargeable NiMH battery.
- Interface software and USB drivers included for Windows and Macintosh computers.
- Movies (with sound) at 30 frames per second and resolution of 640 x 480 or 320 x 240
- High-speed shooting mode for increased focusing speed.
- Top 3 Frame, Final 3 Frame, and Long-period continuous shooting modes.
- 10- and two-second Self-Timer modes for delayed shutter release.
- Long exposure mode allows manual selection of shutter speeds from three to 15 seconds in Night scene mode.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
- USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).
- Video cable for image playback on a television set.
In the Box
In the box with the Fuji F30 digital camera are the following items:
- Proprietary NP-95 Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery.
- Wrist strap.
- Terminal adapter
- AC power adapter
- USB cable.
- A/V cable.
- Software CD-ROM.
- Instruction manual, Quick Start guide, and registration card.
- Larger capacity xD-Picture Card. (I'd recommend 128MB as a minimum.)
- Additional Lithium Ion rechargeable battery. (Perhaps not really necessary, given the excellent battery life, though.)
- Soft camera case.
The Fujifilm Finepix F30 is the latest digital camera on the market to prove there's more to a great camera than just megapixels. Though the F30 has a very nice 6.3MP Super CCD HR sensor which takes vibrant images in daylight conditions, that's only a small part of the story. Fuji has been wise to emphasize the F30's range of excellent low-light options, its beautiful 2.5-inch LCD, and its superior battery life while marketing this camera because these are features that will genuinely improve someone's picture-taking experience. In terms of style, the camera has a subtly luxurious design to it that won't necessarily bowl you over at first glance, but will reveal its charms the more you try it out. The camera's new RP Processor II also proved to be very responsive in my testing and I never felt like the camera had trouble keeping up with my eye.
Though there are some inconsistencies with the Fuji F30's low-light abilities -- ISO 3200 is surprisingly good but not quite up to snuff beyond 5x7-inch prints -- and the new Picture Stabilization mode and i-Flash feature produced only mixed results -- as is clear from the long list of "pros" for this camera, the F30 has enough going for it on other levels to definitely warrant a Dave's Pick.