Fujifilm FinePix F50fd Overview
by Alex Burack
Review Date: 03/20/08
Fujifilm's FinePix F50fd is likely to come across vastly different to general consumers versus industry insiders. Those immersed in the industry might question the jump in resolution up to 12 megapixels, viewing the F50fd as essentially a digression for Fujifilm, while general shooters could look to the camera's massive resolution, upgraded face detection, dual image stabilization, 2.7-inch LCD screen, and expansive sensitivity range and think this camera's got it all. Ultimately, there's a bit of truth to both.
The Fujifilm F50fd arrives almost a year after the release of the F31fd. The face detection system offers some nice modifications, which include the addition of white balance and red eye correction, slide show and cropping functionality, and an increase in the number of detectable faces.
The F50fd also marks the arrival of image stabilization to this portion of the line. Fujifilm calls it Dual Image Stabilization since it is composed of both mechanical sensor-shift image stabilization and high-sensitivity "digital" stabilization. The first method moves the sensor to correct for camera movement, and the second boosts the ISO to allow faster shutter speeds and freeze motion. Both elements work in tandem, with the camera determining how much of each to use for a given shot.
Along with its primary upgrades, the Fujifilm F50fd has a 2.7-inch, 230,000 pixel LCD screen, with a new Micro thumbnail view in playback mode. There's also a crop function in playback that works with the face detection system to isolate faces in the frame and create dedicated portraits. A blog mode resizes images to a Web-friendly 640 x 480 pixels, which can then be sent out to other IrSimple devices within range. Introduced in September 2007, the F50fd is now selling for just over US$200.
Fujifilm FinePix F50fd User Report
by Alex Burack
Fujifilm's F-series is grounded in solid performance and strong image quality at the 6-megapixel level (lots of detail, low noise at high ISO, responsive operation speeds, and impressive battery life). The foundation was set with the FinePix F10, expanded on with the F31fd, and the high-resolution FinePix F50fd ushers in a new era. Now the question arises: can Fujifilm leverage the strengths of its Super CCD design to overcome the strain 12 megapixels puts on a small chip? (Hint: The Fujifilm F50fd actually uses one of the largest sensors we've seen in a small point and shoot digital camera: 1/1.6-inch.)
The Fujifilm F50fd is a mélange of the market's trendiest features. Adding dual image stabilization is primary, because it paves the way for the camera's other enticing features, namely Face Detection 2.0, Portrait Enhancer, and Natural Light modes, to do their jobs effectively. These settings all seem to relate to two core objectives: capturing striking portraits and achieving better results in low light. Professional photographers buy expensive equipment and spend lots of time twiddling dials to achieve good results in these situations. Fuji does a good job of simplifying these tasks, while including an intuitive selection of options for point-and-shooters to play around with.
Design. The looker of the family, Fuji's F50fd plays more to style-seekers than previous models in its line. Though not quite as chic as some offerings in Canon or Sony's more-aestheticized arsenals, the FinePix F50fd has a smooth, flowing design with rounded corners and a polished sheen that's much easier on the eyes than its boxy predecessors. It spans a modest 3.6 x 2.3 x 0.9 inches, slightly broader than the slimmest point-and-shoots, but its flat surfaces help it to fit easily into most pockets. The F50fd is thinner and narrower than Fujifilm's FinePix F40fd and F31fd, but stands slightly taller than both.
The Fuji F50fd's large LCD dominates much of the rear panel, relegating the majority of its controls to a narrow strip of real estate along the rightmost portion of the back face, and a small section on the top.
Typical of Fuji cameras, settings and options are housed in two menu locations: the F-menu, and the Menu. If you're unaccustomed to this layout, it might seem unnecessarily confusing, but in time you'll grow used to it. After a few days testing the camera, I began to appreciate the separate F-menu because its options are limited, so there's no scrolling; any setting that's in there is visible when the menu opens. Some of the shooting options included and excluded do make me wonder, though. For instance, Power Management and Color Mode options are two of the four settings listed in that menu. I would have much preferred to see White Balance and Metering in there.
I held the FinePix F50fd with both one and two hands during shooting, finding the speed-bump-like flare on the front, and the small mode dial on the back were the only real elements to support my handle on the camera. The combination of its slick exterior and lack of a handgrip made taking advantage the wrist strap a wise decision.
Consistent with the majority of fashionably-aware point-and-shoots these days, the Fujifilm F50fd lacks an optical viewfinder, instead supplying an large LCD for both composition and playback. The expansive 2.7-inch screen is framed by a protruding panel whose darker color helps images pop onscreen. The 230,000-pixel screen was sufficient to check focus and image details after capture. I was disappointed with the angle of view, however. The screen has a good lateral range -- which is great for showing images to a group huddled around the camera -- but falls off almost immediately when tilted vertically. Looking up or down at the LCD, the display appears washed out and slightly solarized, making it tough to capture those over-the-crowd shots at a show or event.
On the LCD of the Fujifilm F50fd, a purple streak would occasionally run down the live view display when a bright light source was in front and overhead. It was not constant, and the streaks didn't show up in the captured image (even when viewed on the LCD right after capture), but were worthy of note.
Lens. The Fujifilm FinePix F50fd is led by a relatively standard 3x optical zoom lens that telescopes out when powered on, retreating back behind an automatic cover when shut down. The zoom spans a 35-105mm equivalent focal range. It's quite common, but it limits the wide end -- you'll need to be in a pretty large space to squeeze ten people into a group portrait.
Rotating a small ring around the shutter release adjusts the zoom. It's a sensitive control that moves pretty quickly, stopping at roughly eight individual points within its focal range. Optically, however, the lens is quite slow. With an f/2.8 max aperture that drops to f/5.1 at full telephoto, it seems Fujifilm's fashionably-late arrival to the image stabilization game is just in time.
For a few camera generations now, Fujifilm has ignored mechanical image stabilization, opting instead to concentrate its efforts on high ISO performance. With the Fuji F50fd, we see the combination of the two for the first time in an F-series FinePix point-and-shoot. The Fujifilm F50fd's 12-megapixel Super CCD HR sits on a shifting platform that moves to correct for camera shake. It can be set to work continuously or to engage only when you press the shutter release. The other component of the camera's dual image stabilization system is referred to as High sensitivity, and basically functions like many other digital image stabilization settings, boosting the ISO to use faster shutter speeds and freeze motion. The idea here is that the camera utilizes both collectively, intelligently discerning how much of each is needed for the best results given the subject and shot. In use, while walking around at night, I found the dual stabilization system effective, and necessary, since there is no true grip on the camera.
Shooting the Fujifilm F50fd with one hand at full telephoto, I was able to get tack-sharp images at 1/20 second, and occasionally at 1/15 second. As with any camera, the addition of "true" (non-digital) image stabilization is almost impossible to overstate. It's important to remember, however, that in low light, even dual IS won't "pause" moving subjects effectively.
Modes. Eight icons are arrayed around the Fujifilm F50fd's upright mode dial.
The lone red icon marks the camera's Auto mode, which locks out most exposure settings (with the exception of three selectable Auto ISO settings, denoted by top sensitivity).
A "Manual" mode is included, but it functions like a Program setting with a few overrides; users cannot manually set exposure. More control is granted in the camera's semi-automatic Aperture- and Shutter-Priority mode, but they're really to shape the visual effect of the image (depth-of-field and motion), more than to control exposure.
The Fuji F50fd isn't really about manual control anyway. Fujifilm instead makes an effort to create automatic modes that capture portraits and low-light shots the way an experienced photographer would. The most successful of these are the camera's Portrait Enhancer and Natural Light & with Flash modes, along with its overarching Face Detection 2.0 system.
Fujifilm's Natural Light & with Flash mode has been around for a few generations, and is one of the most practical settings on any point-and-shoot camera. The decision whether to shoot with flash or boost the ISO is often a tough one for novices or experienced photographers both. In this mode the camera quickly snaps two successive images, one without flash, and one with, and displays them both side-to-side, letting you evaluate them and decide which you prefer. How logical!
A new addition to the line, the F50fd's Portrait Enhancer mode leverages the camera's Face Detection system and applies "Double Noise Reduction" to faces the camera detects in the frame. The effect is basically a smoothing of detail that helps remove some noise and blemishes, and makes the face (and skin) look softer. It's actually a pretty successful quick fix on the fly.
Speaking of faces, this FinePix model touts an improved Face Detection system. Face Detection 2.0, as the name implies, expands on Fuji's efforts to orient image exposure and focus around recognized faces in the frame. FD 2.0's more refined effort covers up to 10 people in the frame, and is more sensitive to faces in profile and extreme tilts (270-degrees around). Fuji also added white balance correction based on facial tonalities and red eye removal (during the shot or playback) to optimize the presentation of the people in the image.
In my experiments with the feature, the camera effectively discerned 10 individual faces in a frame, and showed a visible improvement in recognizing skewed or cropped faces (tiled or in profile). It doesn't scan the frame; the brackets jump to the face closest to the lens or the center of the frame. A green square is superimposed over the primary subject, while other detected faces are bracketed in white. You can influence which face is the priority by tilting and slightly adjusting the angle of your wrist.
Face Detection 2.0 worked well on faces in profile, and didn't stumble when subjects' eyes were closed. However, there was some difficulty when people got too close to the camera. I don't mean against-the-lens close, but just slightly in front of the minimum focusing distance -- this spells trouble for those arms-extended self-portraits.
Playback mode also benefits from Face Detection 2.0. Pressing the face detection button once during image review brackets recognized faces; pressing the button a second time will zoom in on the primary face and allow users to inspect details or crop the image into an isolated portrait. Continuing to press the face detection button in group portraits will scroll though close ups of other detected faces in the picture. The feature can also be used in slideshow form, transiting between the various recorded faces. It may very well be one of the cheesiest features I'm comfortable appreciating in a public forum; but at some point, the family-photographer, socialite, or partygoer in you will appreciate it too.
Two additional, slightly-gimmicky features are integrated into the Fujifilm F50fd's Playback Mode for your viewing and publishing pleasures. A newly added Micro Thumbnail View displays up to 100 minute thumbnails on the LCD at once. When you scroll through the images, the highlighted frame is enlarges slightly, helping to see the individual image more clearly. When a Web-worthy shot is spotted that you want to upload, you can select the "Trimming for Blog" setting under the F-Menu and crop the images to an email- or Web-friendly file size (640 x 480). Images can then be transmitted directly to another IrSimple-enabled device. In all, it's nice to see the progression of face detection move beyond the shot -- when we can organize collections of images by specific faces, I'll truly be wowed.
Storage and battery. The Fuji F50fd is fitted with a 3.7v lithium-ion cell that's rated to get 230 shots on a charge, according to CIPA standards. The F50fd's endurance pales in comparison to previous models in the line, some of which attained well over double that on a charge, but it is about average. The F50fd's battery held up sufficiently in use, but it would be wise to take an extra cell on longer outings, particularly if viewing a lot of slide shows.
25MB of internal memory is nestled into the Fujifilm F50fd, which holds about five 12-megapixel JPEGs (Fine). This may help you in a pinch, should the card run full and the perfect moment arises, but with a native 12-megapizel file size, a reasonably-sized card (I'd say 1GB minimum) is a necessity. Fortunately, the F50fd carries a dual memory card slot that conveniently accepts both SD and xD media.
Shooting. My experiences handling the Fuji F50fd were mostly positive. The large LCD and clean layout made it easy to locate necessary controls and compose and capture an image. I didn't particularly take to the slick exterior's lack of a handgrip or any sort of texture or rubber to help handling. The slight accent on the front of the frame was just enough to support my hand (or finger). I found it often required both hands to really stabilize it; and even at that, it would have been nice to have something more than the mode dial on the back to provide support.
In terms of speed, the Fujifilm F50fd took its time performing many critical operations. Taking 2.8 seconds to start-up and snap an image, there was some waiting right from the start. Shot-to-shot speeds were also sluggish, hesitating for 3.07 seconds between shots (JPEG Large/Fine), though full-autofocus shutter lag leaned more toward average at wide-angle (0.60 seconds) and slightly slower at telephoto (0.63 seconds).
The Fuji FinePix F50fd is quick on the draw, however, when pre-focused -- meaning when the focus is already locked in with a half-press on the shutter prior to taking the image. So, even with some serious speed limitations, a little preparation can quell fears of missing that critical shot. These speeds may not be a problem, however, for most posed portrait shots, which the camera seems particularly oriented to.
The Fujifilm F50fd's leisurely continuous mode offers little improvement. It carries on at only about 0.34 frames per second (fps) for over 20 consecutive JPEGs (Large/Fine), which is quite slow by today's standards. There is a high-speed mode that can capture 12 frames at almost five frames per second (4.87 to be exact), but it operates at a reduced resolution of only three megapixels. The good news is that three megapixels at low ISO are more than enough to make a 4x6-inch print.
Upgrading to a larger 2.7-inch LCD screen, the Fujifilm F50fd struts a more contemporary look than preceding models in Fujifilm's FinePix line. Its massive display does come at a cost, however, cutting battery endurance in half.
I found the LCD performed well outdoors in bright daylight so long as it wasn't in direct sunlight. It washed out and lost contrast when the harsh sun was directly overhead, but that's pretty typical of most LCDs. Indoors, the screen is bright, with good contrast, but colors are a bit understated compared to the actual captured tones.
Image Quality. The Fujifilm F50fd comes from a line of strong performers. Following the FinePix F10, and moving through the F31fd, I had high hopes for the F50fd from the start. With the camera in-hand, I took to the fleetingly-sunny streets of Boston and ran the camera through a test spin.
With 12 million pixels coating its 1/1.6-inch Super CCD HR sensor, the FinePix F50fd has plenty of real estate on its sensor when compared to 1/2.5 sensors found in most digicams. Still, it struggled a bit to cleanly render fine details (refer to hair crops on the Exposure tab in the ISO & Noise Performance section). Blurring was evident near the corners of the frame, and chromatic aberration became increasingly apparent at wide-angle.
The hefty resolution -- as is often the case -- seems to come with its share of tradeoffs. Noise suppression is visible throughout most of the sensitivity range and sacrifices some of the detail the camera is capable of producing. I found the Fujifilm F50fd handled noise acceptably at its lower sensitivities, but at ISO 400, noise was pronounced. As the sensitivity is pushed to ISO 800, noise levels take a significant leap; by ISO 1,600 images look sandpaper-like, with details severely blurred.
Stumbling upon the waterway near South Boston, snapping a few sample shots affirmed the accuracy of the Fuji F50's color reproduction. Saturation levels were neutral, but came across as slightly underwhelming. This might disappoint shooters who prefer the more embellished look typical of many consumer cameras; however, post-processors will likely appreciate the camera's representational rendering, allowing images to be tweaked away from their "real" tones and more toward personal liking.
Looking down at the snowy dock, we can get a feel for the camera's tonal range and its ability to hold detail in both the shadows and highlights -- here it's really just the former. In the dock shot, the shadows are open, with visible information, and the transitions out of them are pretty smooth. The highlights, however, are completely blown out, taking on an almost charged glow. In a host of other images we shot with the F50fd, we found that preserving the highlights comes with limited shadow information.
Appraisal. The Fujifilm F50fd's hike in resolution yields sharp images with lots of detail, but it does come at a cost. Unlike previous models in the line, noise permeates images shot at ISO 400 and gets significantly worse as the ISO is pushed to 800 and beyond. Captured images also show evidence of noise suppression and slight edge enhancement throughout the most of the sensitivity range.
Colors rendered by the Fujifilm F50fd are realistic, with accurate hues and saturation levels. This true-to-life reproduction may not be as appealing to some as the more embellished look of most compact cameras. However, the precise tones do offer an almost ideal starting point for post-processing.
Optically, distortion and chromatic aberration are more apparent when zoomed out. The camera performs best at the telephoto end of its range, which is nice for a camera geared toward portraiture. Ultimately, with its incorporation of Face Detection, Portrait Enhancement, and dual image stabilization, point-and-shooters looking to snap scores of people pictures will be pleased with the results.
- 12 megapixel Super CCD HR sensor
- 3x optical zoom lens (35-105mm 35mm equivalent)
- 8.2x digital zoom
- 2.7-inch LCD with 230,000 pixels
- ISO Sensitivity from 100 to 6,400 (reduced res.)
- Shutter speeds from 8 to 1/2,000
- Max Aperture f/2.8 at wide-angle, f/5.1 at telephoto
- USB 2.0 Hi-Speed
- Powered by 3.7v lithium-ion battery
- Face Detection 2.0 sets the focus, exposure, and white balance for up to 10 faces
- Accepts SDHC/SD/xD Memory cards
- Zoom Up and Crop settings allow detected faces to become portraits in playback mode
- Dual image stabilization (CCD-shift, high sensitivity)
- Face-oriented slide show (face detection system will detect and zoom in during playback)
- Micro thumbnail view displays up to 100 images at a time; thumbnail images are enlarged when scrolled over
- Blog mode (auto resize; can transmit directly to other IrSimple-enabled device)
In The Box
The Fujifilm F50fd ships with the following items in the box:
- Fujifilm FinePix F50fd camera body
- Battery Charger BC-50
- Lithium-ion battery NP-50
- A/V cable
- USB cable
- F50fd user manual
- Wrist strap
- FinePix viewer CD-ROM
- Large capacity SD or xD memory card, (you'll need it for the 12-megapixel files)
- Additional Lithium-ion NP-50 battery
- Underwater Housing (WP-FXF50)
After resisting the temptation to chase megapixels for a number of camera generations, Fujifilm finally caved. With a jump up to 12 megapixels and the addition of mechanical image stabilization, some might feel the F50fd is a conventional move toward a more mainstream model. However, the F50fd's design and creative feature set do more than pad the marketing campaign.
Yes, the jump in resolution does come at a cost, despite the larger sensor, sacrificing noise performance and detail to an extent. However, its features -- Face Detection 2.0, dual image stabilization, and multiple available light modes -- work to neutralize some of the impact, and effectively achieve the camera's two primary objectives: producing better low-light images and portraits.
Though there is blurring due to noise suppression in even ISO 100 shots, most people won't notice it unless they're making prints at 11x14 or larger. Those who print 4x6s won't notice any image quality degradation until ISO 1,600, so here's an instance where high resolution actually does overcome most noise issues.
Ultimately, the FinePix F50fd will appeal to previous FinePix owners as well as general point-and-shooters who snap lots of people pictures. We're a little concerned about flash power and range, but if you keep your flash shots wide, and keep your subjects close, the Fujifilm F50fd will do just fine. Here's another case where a larger sensor and higher megapixels work to meet the average point-and-shooter's needs, making the Fujifilm FinePix F50fd a Dave's Pick.