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Fujifilm FinePix F30 Overview

Reviewed by: Dan Havlik
Review posted: 08/19/2006

If you're looking for some sign on the Fuji F30's all-metal body for how many megapixels it has, you'd better look closely. The camera's respectable 6.3-megapixel imaging capability is discreetly etched along the Fuji F30's front grip which is, of course, covered by your finger every time you take a picture. Even the little green and white promotional sticker Fujifilm has placed on the camera highlighting its most important features doesn't say how many pixels the camera has. Just a few short years ago this sort of approach would have been downright bizarre. Back then, everyone knew that megapixels meant imaging power, and the more you had the better. So if your camera came equipped with a fine 6.3MP Super CCD HR, like the Fuji F30 has, you put that information front and center on the camera for all the world to see.

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.

Soft grip. Nice raise rubber bumps serve as a soft, grippy place to rest your thumb.

While from a distance the camera might look like a rather ordinary silver box, on closer inspection you'll notice the Fuji F30's luxurious curved finish, with the smooth, dark silver of the camera's metal frontplate locking into the lighter silver matte back section. Priced at just under $400 list, the Fuji F30 is on the high end of the market and the camera's stylish accents and sleek details let you know you have a luxury product.

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.

Cramped Mode dial. I found the dial a bit tough to read.

Controls are placed logically, with the shutter, mode dial and power button on the top and the zoom rocker and various function buttons and four-way controller on back. The mode dial really could have been bigger, though, considering that there are six choices, including movie mode, that look clumped together on the small dial.

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.

Vibrant action. The Fujifilm F30 handled action in daylight well.

In standard picture-taking circumstances, the Fuji F30 captured some great shots with the rich color Fuji is known for. On a bright day in Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, I got some vibrant images of a group of street performers taking turns leaping over a row of "volunteers." Though the camera wasn't fast enough to capture the full sequence of the performer jumping over the group -- just the first shot as he begins his leap and the aftermath of him hitting the ground on the other side -- the Fuji F30 did a great job of freezing the action in its Sports setting.

Sharp. Images were crisp and refreshing, much like the water coming from these fountains.

The Fuji F30 has a 3x (36-128mm in 35mm equivalent) Fujinon lens with an aperture range of f/2.8 to f/8 and shutter speed of 1/2000 to 15 seconds, and sharpness was often spot-on, which is refreshing for a camera in this class.

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.

ISO 1600 example. Not bad for a high ISO shot. Exposure was 1/35 at f/2.8

However, when you use a 1/1.7-inch CCD sensor you're bound to have some noise. Your threshold for noise will vary. For a little camera like this that can shoot relatively clean images at ISO 1600 and 3200, the noise levels are impressive. For instance, take a look at this shot of a Cuban restaurant in Baltimore captured with the F30 at ISO 1600. Overall, the image looks pretty decent considering it was low-lit with theatrical reds and blues and I had the flash turned off. Despite the difficult conditions, the walls and the wooden Cuban flag mural show only limited speckling.

Closer look. Stippled effect is more noticeable, but most cameras would have introduced not only blurring but color noise at this point. There's slight motion blur from the 1/35 second exposure. Still, very impressive.

When you look more closely at the black table and the ketchup and mustard bottles though, that's when you can see the stippled look and slight pointillist effect that distorts detail. Still, this is pretty good.

A little brighter. Even better at ISO 3200 due to less motion blur from a higher shutter speed of 1/75 second at f/2.8. See below for noise sample.

Things degrade further in the same shot at ISO 3200, which is not surprising. While both of these images print decently only up to 4x6, that's really not bad considering I've shot images at ISO 400 with some competing models that I wouldn't want to print at all because of excessive noise.

Still controlled. ISO 3200 was still well controlled, especially in terms of chroma noise. This is the best we've seen from a point-and-shoot, hands down.

What all this means is that while ISO 1600 and 3200 may be just okay on the F30, ISO 800 is downright great. And, for the most part, ISO 800 is the most you'll need since it lets you shoot in a variety of low-light situations -- indoor events such as parties; group photos at restaurants; rock concerts -- without turning on your flash.

ISO 800. Noise abatement efforts are more obvious in daylight, where you'd likely use a lower ISO anyway.

On an overcast day at the National Zoo in Washington DC, I was able get some sharp, low-noise shots of an elephant and zoo staff at ISO 800. Though, with brighter light, the watercolor effect from the camera's noise reduction is more obvious.

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.

Night mode. I was able to get a fun picture of a friend dressed as a pirate at a Pirate-themed birthday party on a Manhattan pier with Night mode.

If you're shooting a night scene and want to capture some of the background while tamping down the exposure on your subject, I suggest the Night mode on the F30 which uses a slow sync between the flash and exposure to pick up detail. Most competing cameras have similar Night modes but the F30 was more effective for capturing a well-balanced shot.

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.

Basic Features

 

Special Features

In the Box

In the box with the Fuji F30 digital camera are the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Amazing high-ISO performance for such a small camera, as good as any we've seen on the market
  • Great range of options for shooting in low-light including both flash and flashless modes
  • Excellent detail, less subject detail lost to anti-noise processing than usual
  • Rich color and good sharpness, even when subject is moving fast
  • Large LCD screen provides adequate resolution and good gain up feature for shooting in low-light
  • Very speedy processor cuts down on lag during start-up and shot-to-shot
  • Nice, subtly luxurious design
  • Extra manual control including Aperture and Shutter Priority settings are appreciated
  • "Natural Light & With Flash" mode is a great concept
  • Better than average shutter response (Much faster than average in "High Speed Shooting" mode.)
  • Extremely bright AF-assist light, helps autofocus in the dark at greater than average range (sometimes bothers subject's eyes though, so aim carefully!)
  • Really excellent battery life
  • Mode dial too small and hard to read
  • Skin tones oversaturated at times, tend to come out a bit too pink
  • Various modes and settings are difficult to navigate through
  • Playback button stubbornly refuses to return you to Capture mode
  • Camera seems aimed at two user groups -- amateurs and more experienced shooters so adjustments can be confusing
  • Needs dedicated ISO button

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.