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Fuji FinePix A101 Digital Camera

 

Camera QuickLook
User Level
Novice - Amateur
Product Uses
Family / Travel
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
Low, 1.3-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
4 x 6 to 5 x 7 inches
Availability
August 2001
Suggested Retail Price
$179


 
Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Sample Pictures
Specifications
Conclusion

Introduction
Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. has one of the broadest lines of digicams in the industry, with models reaching from entry level models to a high-end professional SLR. At the low end of their line, Fuji delivers excellent value and good image quality from simple, stylish cameras. One of their latest (late fall, 2001) is the 1.3 megapixel FinePix A101. A lower-resolution twin to the two megapixel A201 model, the A101 occupies the first rung of the quality digicam ladder, representing about the minimum investment you can make in a digicam and still expect to get good picture quality. (The introductory price of the A101 as this is being written in fall 2001 is $179.) At the moment, I don't know of a lower-priced camera that delivers anything I'd consider to be acceptable image quality. The A101 does just fine though, with accurate, bright color, despite its simple operation and low cost. Read on for the details, but this camera will make a good choice for people wanting a basic digicam that snaps pictures suitable for making good-quality prints up to 4x6 inches in size, or lower-resolution photos for emailing.


Camera Overview
The FinePix A101 is a palm-size, point-and-shoot digital camera that is small enough to travel comfortably just about anywhere you want to go. The durable plastic casing is lightweight, scratch-resistant, and features a sliding lens cover that makes it ideal for stashing in a shirt pocket or small purse and toting inconspicuously on vacation, to family outings, or to social events. The focus-free (fixed-focus) lens provides a wide-angle view that is perfect for small group snapshots, local scenery, landscapes, and (well-lit) indoor activities where space is at a premium, and the 1.31-megapixel resolution is more than adequate for making sharp 4 x 6-inch prints, or acceptable 5 x 7 prints if desired.

The A101 has a fixed-focal-length lens, equivalent to a 36mm lens on a 35mm film camera. (Moderate wide angle coverage.) Focus is also fixed, covering a range of approximately 2.6 feet (80cm) to infinity in normal shooting mode. (A Macro switch next to the lens allows you to focus on subjects as close as 3 inches / 80mm.) The fixed focal length lens is somewhat limiting in people photography, since its wide-angle view causes distortion in close-up face shots (an effect you can see in our "Close-Up Portrait" test image), and it also prevents you from zooming in on faraway subjects, like individual players on a large soccer field. The A101 does provide a "digital zoom," which digitally enlarges the center pixels of the image by as much as 2x (depending on image resolution), but it doesn't provide the quality magnification of a true "optical zoom" lens. (So-called "digital zooms" simply stretch the image captured by the sensor, reducing the resolution in the process. By contrast, an "optical zoom" enlarges the image the sensor sees, so there's no loss of quality.)

An On / Off switch on top of the camera opens the lens cover in both capture and review modes whenever the camera is turned on, while the Mode dial next to the switch allows you to choose between Still Record, Playback, and Movie modes. The fixed-focus lens makes it very quick on the draw, with virtually no shutter lag from the time you press down on the Shutter button to the time the shutter actually fires. The result is a camera that's much more responsive to the shutter button than many more expensive models. Aperture and shutter speed are automatically determined, but the user can choose from two file sizes (1M = 1,280 x 960 pixels and VGA = 640 x 480 pixels) and three file compression settings (Fine, Normal, and Basic). As we'll describe below, the user can also make minor exposure adjustments, to compensate for unusual lighting conditions. The A101's built-in flash is effective to approximately 2.6 feet (0.8 meters) from the camera and includes a forced flash, suppressed flash, slow synchro, and red-eye reduction setting that helps eliminate the occurrence of redeye in portraits.

The A101's exposure system is very straightforward, with an Auto Program mode that makes all of the shooting decisions and a Manual mode with three image adjustment options that are controlled through the on-screen menu: Flash (also available in Auto mode), Exposure Compensation (to lighten or darken an image) and White Balance (to adjust the color balance). There's also an Option Set menu that allows you to adjust the LCD brightness, select image quality, and choose between Auto and Manual exposure modes. A Set-Up submenu allows you to set specific camera functions such as language, date and time, and USB mode. Contained within the Option Set menu, the Setup submenu requires the greatest amount of user navigation.

Along with simplicity and portability, the A101 also offers some creative options. For example, you can record short QuickTime movies (approximately 20 seconds, without sound) of people, pets, or possessions (a great way to document items for insurance records). In Auto mode, you can use the camera's Self-Timer mode to trigger a 10-second delayed exposure, enabling you to press the shutter button and then move into position for a self portrait or to join in a group photo before the shutter is released. (Obviously, the camera must be mounted on a tripod or other stable surface for this.) Finally, the A101 can be used as a PC video-cam for videoconferencing over the Internet.

The A101 stores images on 3.3v SmartMedia cards and an 8MB card is supplied with the camera. We suggest buying a 16MB card (or larger - memory cards are awfully cheap these days) if you plan to travel a lot and won't have immediate access to a computer hard drive for downloading images. The camera comes with two AA alkaline batteries, but can also use NiMH, lithium, or NiCd batteries, as well as a CR-V3 rechargeable battery pack (sold as an accessory). The optional AC adapter is recommended for time-consuming tasks such downloading images to a computer.

Basic Features

  • 1.31-megapixel CCD.
  • Optical viewfinder.
  • 1.6-inch color LCD display.
  • Fixed-focal-length lens (equivalent to a 36mm lens).
  • 2x Digital zoom.
  • Program AE exposure control.
  • Built-in flash with four settings.
  • SmartMedia Card Storage (8MB card included).
  • Power supplied by two AA or one CR-V3 batteries, or optional AC adapter.
  • Fujifilm FinePix Viewer, Exif Launcher, ArcSoft VideoImpression software

Special Features

  • QuickTime movies without sound.
  • Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
  • White Balance (color) adjustment.
  • Exposure Compensation.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • USB AutoConnect (no driver software needed).
  • PC video-cam videoconferencing over the Internet.


Recommendation
The A101 is a very basic point-and-shoot digicam with just enough user options to handle most average shooting conditions. Its compact size and light weight make it a great option for on-the-go family photography, with limited external controls and a simple LCD menu system that should keep the learning curve to a minimum. Image quality was very good when shooting outdoors or when using flash photography, but we had below average results with low-light scenes or indoor (incandescent) lighting. Resolution is high enough to make ink-jet prints up to 5 x 7 inches, or to send e-mail attachments over the Internet. Overall, the A101 is a good starter digicam for consumers who want to get into digital photography with minimal investment.


Design
The FinePix A101 is a palm-size digital camera measuring just 3.9 x 2.5 x 1.6 inches (98.5 x 64.5 x 40.5mm) and weighing only 7 ounces (200 grams) with the SmartMedia card and batteries installed. Its molded plastic body is sturdy and well proportioned, with an attractive silver finish and "circular" detailing that reflects current design trends in high-tech consumer digicams. Its compact size and protective sliding lens cover make it perfect for carrying in a small pocket or purse, and the braided nylon wrist strap provides a secure hold when you pull it out to shoot. (We suggest buying a soft case to protect the LCD monitor though, if you carry it frequently.)

The front of the camera houses a very small, fixed-focal-length lens, equivalent to a 36mm lens on a 35mm film camera. Above it is the optical viewfinder window, which provides a fairly accurate (though tight) view of the image framing. A built-in flash is located in the upper left corner, with a small metering window below it and a tiny Self-Timer lamp that counts down the 10-second shutter delay activated through the LCD menu. Below the lens is a sliding Macro switch that positions a close-up lens over the normal lens (internally) to aid in focusing at shorter distances. A dome-shaped area in the middle of the front panel provides a raised ridge for gripping the camera when you hold it in your right hand.

The camera's right side has only a single plastic knob with an eyelet for attaching the wrist strap.

The left side of the camera houses the DC In and USB jacks, both of which were uncovered on our review model. (We generally like to see some sort of covering over these jacks, to help prevent dust or liquids from getting into the camera's body.)

The top of the A101 holds the On / Off switch and a large silver Shutter button surrounded by the Mode dial.

The remainder of the external controls are located on the camera's rear panel, along with the optical viewfinder eyepiece and 1.6-inch LCD monitor. Adjacent to the viewfinder eyepiece, on the right side, is a single LED lamp that reports camera status (battery charging, writing files to the SmartMedia card, etc.). A Four-Way Arrow pad is located in the upper right corner, with a Display button, Menu / OK button, and Back button lined up below it. The Up and Down Arrows function as Digital Zoom buttons.

The bottom panel holds the battery / memory compartment door on the right side, and a plastic threaded tripod mount directly adjacent to the door hinge. The tripod mount is too close to the battery compartment door to allow for quick battery changes while mounted on a tripod, but the sliding plastic door is very easy to open and close.


Camera Operation
Because the A101 has very limited exposure control and a small number of external buttons, the camera's user interface is pretty straightforward and easy to navigate. Sliding the power switch to the On position opens the lens cover and activates one of three operating modes: Record, Playback, and Movie. To activate the LCD monitor in Record mode, you have to press the Display or Menu buttons on the back panel. (The screen is automatically activated in Playback and Movie modes.) A four-way Arrow pad on the back panel serves several functions, including Digital Zoom control, navigating through on-screen menus, and scrolling through captured images. The Menu / OK button activates menus and confirms menu selections, while pressing the Display button cycles through various monitor displays. The Back button allows you to back out of the menu without making a selection.

The majority of the camera's exposure options are controlled through the LCD menu system, which features one or more submenus, depending on the mode, and one page of Setup options in each mode. These are fairly easy to navigate, but they can also be somewhat time-consuming when changing flash modes, self-timer, and image quality (functions we usually like to handle with external control buttons). Otherwise, we found the A101 very uncomplicated and quick to learn -- for a novice user, you'll need about 30 minutes to become familiar with its operation.


External Controls


Power Switch: This sliding button on the camera's top panel simultaneously turns on the camera and opens the lens cover in all three operating modes.


Macro Switch: Located under the lens on the front of the camera, the Macro button slides the close-up lens into place, changing the focus range from normal to macro shooting.


Shutter Button: Surrounded by the Mode dial on the camera's top panel,, the Shutter button triggers the shutter when depressed in normal shooting mode and activates the 10-second countdown when depressed in Self-Timer mode.


Mode Dial: Located on the right side of the camera's top panel, the Mode dial allows you to choose between three operating modes: Still Image Record, Playback, and Movie.


Four-Way Arrow Pad: Situated in the upper right corner of the back panel, each of the four arrows points in a different direction (up, down, left, right). In any mode, the arrow keys navigate through menu options.

In Record mode, the up and down arrows control the Digital Zoom.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images. The up and down arrows control "Display Panning" or playback zoom, enlarging captured images on screen. When images are displayed in Index mode, all four arrows scroll between images.


Display Button: Just below the Four-Way Arrow pad, this button controls the LCD monitor in Record mode, turning it on 1) with settings displayed, 2) with settings and a framing grid displayed, or 3) turning the monitor off.

In Playback mode it switches between 1) an image display with camera settings, 2) an image display without settings, and 3) Index mode.


Menu / OK Button: Directly below the Display button, this button calls up the settings menu in all three operating modes. It also serves as the "OK" button to confirm menu selections.


Back Button: Located below the Menu / OK button, the Back button allows you to exit the on-screen menus without making a selection.


Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: One of three camera operating modes selected using the Mode dial, this mode sets up the camera to take still pictures. The following exposure and camera options are available through the Record menu:

  • Flash: Sets the flash mode to Slow Synchro, Flash Off, Forced Flash, Redeye Reduction, or Auto.
  • Self-Timer: Turns the Self-Timer mode On or Off (for one picture only). This operation is only available in Auto Exposure mode.
  • Exposure Compensation: Lightens or darkens the overall exposure from -1.5 to +1.5 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. (One full EV unit is 2x (twice as much) or 1/2x (half as much) as the light that would normally be let into the camera at the metered exposure. One step of shutter speed or lens aperture equals one EV unit.) Only available in Manual Exposure mode.
  • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the image, based on the light source. Options include: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, and Tungsten. Only available in Manual Exposure mode.
  • Option Set Menu: Provides access to the following camera settings:
    • LCD Brightness: Adjusts monitor brightness in 10 steps.
    • Setup: Provides access to the following Set-up options:
      • Power Save: Turns auto shutdown On or Off.
      • USB Mode: Changes USB mode from DSC (image download) to PC Cam (live video feed).
      • Date / Time: Sets the camera's internal time and calendar.
      • Beep: Adjusts the camera beep from Off, to Low, or High.
      • Language: Sets the language to English or French.
    • Quality: Sets the image size and quality settings. Image size options are 1,280 x 960 ("1M"), and 640 x 480 ("VGA") pixels. Quality settings include Fine, Normal, and Basic. All three quality settings are available only at the 1M file size; Normal is the only available setting for VGA.
    • Manual Exposure Mode: Basically the same as Auto Exposure (below), Manual mode provides additional access to Exposure Compensation and White Balance settings.
    • Auto Exposure Mode: Sets up the camera to handle all exposure settings, including shutter speed, aperture, and white balance. The Self-Timer option is only available in this mode.

Playback Mode: The second of three camera operating modes selected using the Mode dial, this mode allows the user to review captured images and movies. The following playback options are available through the Playback settings menu:

  • Erase: Erases the currently displayed image, all images, or formats the storage media with an option to cancel.
  • DPOF: Marks the currently displayed image, or all images on the card, for printing on a DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible printer. You can also establish the number of prints for each image and add or remove the Date and Time print stamp.
  • Option Set Menu: Provides access to the following camera settings:
    • LCD Brightness: Adjusts monitor brightness in 10 steps.
    • Setup: Provides access to the following Setup options:
      • Power Save: Turns auto shutdown On or Off.
      • USB Mode: Changes USB mode from DSC (image download) to PC Cam (live video feed).
      • Date / Time: Sets the camera's internal time and calendar.
      • Beep: Adjusts the camera beep from Off, to Low, or High.
      • Language: Sets the language to English or French.

Movie Mode: The third of three camera operating modes selected with the Mode dial, this mode allows the user to record QuickTime movies without sound. The following options are available through the Movie settings menu.

  • Option Set Menu: Provides access to the following camera settings:
    • LCD Brightness: Adjusts monitor brightness in 10 steps.
    • Setup: Provides access to the following Setup options:
      • Power Save: Turns auto shutdown On or Off.
      • USB Mode: Changes USB mode from DSC (image download) to PC Cam (live video feed).
      • Date / Time: Sets the camera's internal time and calendar.
      • Beep: Adjusts the camera beep from Off, to Low, to High.
      • Language: Sets the language to English or French.

 

Sample Pictures
See our sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of our test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

Outdoor
Indoor
Indoor Flash
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy


Specifications
See the specifications sheet here.


Picky Details
Information on shooting speed, battery life, etc. can be found here.


Test Results
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the A101's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the A101 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

The A101 did a nice job with color and image quality throughout our testing. The camera's White Balance system handled most of our test lighting well, though we often noticed slight warm casts with some of our studio shots (namely, the House poster, Musicians shot, and Davebox). Color looked pretty good on our Davebox target, with the A101 distinguishing tough tonal variations and reproducing the large color blocks fairly well, though with a warm tone. Skin tones in our Outdoor and Indoor portraits had strong magenta tints. The camera also had a hard time with the incandescent lighting of our Indoor Portrait (without flash), producing a strong magenta cast. Still, not a bad job overall.

The A101 performed moderately well on our "laboratory" resolution test chart for its two-megapixel class. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 500 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. We found "strong detail" out to at least 700 lines, although there were very strong artifacts in the horizontal direction starting at 200. "Extinction" of the target patterns occurred at about 800 lines.

Optical distortion on the A101 is a bit lower than average for the wide-angle lens, where we measured only two pixels of pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration is high, showing only about five or six pixels of coloration on either side of the target lines, which was exaggerated by the strong corner softness.

The A101's full automatic exposure control limited its low-light shooting capability a great deal. The camera captured bright, clear images at light levels only as low as eight foot-candles (88 lux), which is about three EV stops brighter than average city street lighting at night and the "brightest" low light level we test at. Color looked good, however, though the overall color balance was slightly magenta. On a good note, images showed low image noise.

The A101's optical viewfinder was only a little tight, showing approximately 92 percent frame accuracy, which is excellent as far as optical viewfinders go. The LCD monitor fared a little better, showing approximately 96 percent of the image area. Given that we generally prefer LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the A101's LCD monitor does pretty well here.

The A101 performed about average in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of 3.58 x 2.69 inches (91.03 x 68.28 millimeters). Resolution was moderately high, with good detail throughout the frame. Color looked good as well, though a warm cast was present. Corner softness and slight barrel distortion were present, but not too strong. The A101's flash illuminated the macro area well, though with slightly uneven lighting.

Despite the limitations of the A101's full automatic exposure control, we were still pleased with the camera's performance during our testing. Though low-light capabilities were somewhat weak, and resolution was only moderately high at best, the A101 produced nice, clean exposures in our other test setups. The camera should be able to tackle most average shooting conditions with ease, but you'll need to use the flash for night exposures.


In the Box
Packaged with the FinePix A101 are the following items:

  • USB cable
  • Two AA alkaline batteries
  • 8MB SmartMedia card
  • Basic Manual and registration information
  • Wrist strap
  • Software CD


Recommended Accessories

  • Two sets of rechargeable AA batteries and charger (Camera uses two batteries at a time, buy four and a charger that can charge them in pairs, such as our favorite, the Maha C-204.)
  • AC Adapter
  • Additional SmartMedia card
  • Camera soft case for outdoor protection


About Batteries
We've gotten so many emails about power issues for digicams, that we're now inserting this standard notice in the reviews of all AA-powered cameras on our site: Don't even *think* about using alkaline AA batteries in a digicam! Despite their being packed in the box with many cameras, they simply don't have the juice to handle typical digicam demands. (Even the "high power" ones the battery manufacturers say are designed for devices like digital cameras.) Spend the $35-40 or so it takes to get a set (or two) of high-capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries and a good charger! The few dollars up front will save you literally hundreds of dollars in the long run, not to mention the hassle of wimpy batteries running out in the middle of the action. We suggest you buy two sets of batteries, so one can always be in the charger, ready to go, and so have two sets available for longer excursions. Good brands of batteries include Maha (our favorite), GP, Kodak, and Nexcell. Also, buy the highest capacity AAs the manufacturer makes, the few extra dollars for the extra capacity is usually well worth it. Getting a good charger is critical though, almost more so than buying good batteries. We recommend the Maha C-204F (see the photo at right), the charger we use the most in our own studio. - Read our review of it for all the details. Or, just click here to buy one, you won't regret it.

About Memory

One of the first things any new digicam owner will need is a larger memory card for their camera: The cards shipped with the units by the manufacturers should really be considered only "starter" cards, you'll definitely want a higher capacity card immediately. - Probably at least a 32 megabyte card for a 1.3 or 2 megapixel camera, 64 megabytes or more for a 3, 4, or 5 megapixel one. (The nice thing about memory cards is you'll be able to use whatever you buy now with your next camera too, whenever you upgrade.) To help you shop for a good deal on memory cards that fit the FinePix A101, we've put together a little memory locater, with links to our price-comparison engine: Just click on the "Memory Wizard" button above to go to the FujiFilm memory finder, select your camera model , and click the shopping cart icon next to the card size you're interested in. You'll see a list of matching entries from the price-comparison database. Pick a vendor & order away! (Pretty cool, huh?)


Conclusion
The FinePix A101 is clearly aimed at the entry-level, point-and-shoot user. As such it does a good job of delivering good-quality, color-correct images when shooting outdoors (or with the on-camera flash), but it doesn't perform well in low-light situations, including indoor available light. It does a good job of meeting most of the needs of entry-level users, includes decent exposure controls, plus it offers an extra bonus with the Movie and PC-Cam modes, all at a very affordable price. All in all, an excellent choice for someone looking for a rock-bottom entry-level camera with good picture quality.

 

 

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