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Fuji FinePix A201 Digital Camera

 




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Camera QuickLook
User Level
Novice - Amateur
Product Uses
Family / Travel
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
Medium, 2-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
4 x 6 to 8 x 10 inches
Availability
September 2001
Suggested Retail Price
$249


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

Introduction
Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. has made a strong showing in the consumer and prosumer digital photography markets this year (2001), with several new Super CCD cameras designed for the serious digital photographer, two models designed primarily for business and computer users, and now three point-and-shoot models for the entry level consumer. The FinePix A101, A201, and 2600 Zoom digital cameras are stylish new pocket-size digicams designed for ease of use and maximum portability. The 2-megapixel 2600, with a 3x optical zoom lens, expands Fujifilm's midrange line of cameras, while the 1.3-megapixel A101 and 2-megapixel A201 are the first in a new line of A-Series FinePix cameras, targeted at the novice user who wants to buy an inexpensive digicam that delivers good quality images at a reasonable price. With list prices of $179 and $250, respectively, these two cameras deliver a lot of pixels for the money. Take the low price and add a compact, lightweight body; user-friendly interface; plus PC-Cam and video-recording capabilities, and it looks like Fujifilm's new A-Series is off to a great start.


Camera Overview
The FinePix A201 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 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 2-megapixel resolution is more than adequate for making sharp 5 x 7-inch prints, or acceptable 8 x 10 prints if desired.

The A201 has a fixed-focal-length lens, equivalent to a 36mm lens on a 35mm film camera. Focus is also fixed, covering a range of approximately 10 inches (256mm) to infinity in normal shooting mode. (A Macro switch next to the lens allows you to focus on subjects as close as 3 inches / 76mm.) 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", and it also prevents you from zooming in on faraway subjects, like individual players on a large soccer field. The A201 does provide a "digital zoom," which digitally enlarges the center pixels of the image by as much as 2.5x (depending on image resolution), but it doesn't provide the quality magnification of a true "optical zoom" lens.

An On / Off switch on top of the camera automatically opens the lens cover in both capture and review modes, 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. Aperture and shutter speed are automatically determined, but the user can choose from three file sizes (2M = 1,600 x 1,200 pixels, 1M = 1,280 x 960 pixels, and VGA = 640 x 480 pixels) and three file compression settings (Fine, Normal, and Basic). The A201's built-in flash is effective to approximately 10 feet (3 meters) from the camera and includes a red-eye reduction setting that helps eliminate the occurrence of redeye in portraits.

The A201's exposure system is very straightforward, with a fully automatic Program AE mode that makes all of the shooting decisions, plus a simple Manual mode that provides two additional image adjustment modes: Exposure Compensation (to lighten or darken an image) and White Balance (to adjust the color balance). The majority of shooting options are controlled through the A201's on-screen menu system, which means you'll have to navigate a small number of submenus to change quality settings or make exposure adjustments.

Along with simplicity and portability, the A201 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. (The camera must be mounted on a tripod or other stable surface.) Finally, the A201 can be used as a PC video-cam for videoconferencing over the Internet.

The A201 stores images on 3.3v SmartMedia cards and a 16MB card is supplied with the camera. We suggest buying an additional 16MB card (or larger) if you plan to travel a lot and don't have 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. (We strongly recommend buying a set of high-capacity NiMH batteries and a good charger to use with your A201.)


Basic Features

  • 2-megapixel CCD.
  • Optical viewfinder.
  • 1.6-inch color LCD display.
  • Fixed-focal-length lens (equivalent to a 36mm lens).
  • 2.5x Digital zoom.
  • Program AE exposure control.
  • Built-in flash with four settings.
  • SmartMedia Card Storage (16MB card included).
  • Power supplied by two AA or one CR-V3 batteries, or optional AC adapter.
  • Fujifilm FinePixViewer, 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)


Recommendation
The A201 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 in low-light scenes or with indoor incandescent lighting. Resolution is high enough to make inkjet prints up to 8 x 10 inches, or to send e-mail attachments over the Internet. Overall, the A201 is a good starter digicam for consumers who want to get into digital photography without a huge investment.


Design
The FinePix A201 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 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 to aid in focusing at shorter distances. A circular rib around the 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.

The top of the A201 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 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 quite easy to open and close. We're not crazy about having to open the battery compartment to get at the memory card, but it's likely that most purchasers of this camera will just use the built-in USB port to connect to their computers, rather than an external card reader.


Camera Operation
Because the A201 has very limited exposure control and 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 A201 very uncomplicated and quick to learn -- A novice user, should only 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 1M and VGA resolutions only).

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

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

  • Flash: Sets the flash mode to Auto, Redeye Reduction, Forced Flash, or Off.
  • Self-Timer: Turns the Self-Timer mode On or Off (for one picture only). This operation is only available in Auto Exposure mode.
  • Option Menu: Provides access to the following camera settings:
    • LCD Brightness: Adjusts monitor brightness in 10 steps.
    • Set-Up: 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 1,600 x 1,200 (2M), 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 2M file size; Fine and Normal are available in 1M; and 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.

Manual Record Mode: This mode also sets up the camera to take still pictures, but provides more exposure options. The following exposure and camera options are available through the Record menu in Auto mode:

  • Flash: Sets the flash mode to Auto, Redeye Reduction, Forced Flash, or Off.
  • 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 Menu: Provides access to the same camera settings described above, under the Auto Record Mode menu heading.

Playback Mode: One 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 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: One 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 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

  • Color: Color was very accurate and well saturated when shooting outdoors or when using the on-camera flash. Outdoor shots were very pleasing and somehow "inviting" to look at. However, the color balance was very warm (had an overall red cast) when shooting indoors under normal room light. Switching the White Balance setting to "Incandescent" improved color somewhat, but not to the degree we would expect. The A201 fared a little better under fluorescent office lights, with three different White Balance settings to accommodate various types of fluorescent lighting.
  • Exposure: The A201 performed well in the exposure category, recording bright clear images in most cases, although we found that we had to use the exposure compensation adjustment quite a bit to correct for a persistent underexposure in brightly-lit scenes.Tonal range and contrast were pretty good. - The A201 tends to lose some highlight detail when you get the exposure right for the midtones, but photos were "snappy" and pleasing to our eyes.
  • Sharpness: Image sharpness is about average for a 2-megapixel camera, though we noticed some corner softness from the wide-angle lens. Optical distortion quite low, but chromatic aberration in the corners of the image was somewhat high, perhaps aggravated by the corner softness. (The corner softness was really quite high, but limited to only the extreme corners of the images.)
  • Closeups: The A201's macro capabilities were better than expected. The camera was able to capture a surprisingly small 2.5 x 3.5-inch (63.5 x 88.9mm) area at a distance of about 3 inches from the lens. Color was good, with sharp edges and details. Impressive for a 36mm focal length lens!
  • Night Shots: The camera has very limited low-light capabilities, reliably recording well-exposed pictures at nighttime down to only 8 foot-candles or higher, which is approximately eight as bright as a well-lit city street at night. (We prefer to see clear images down to at least one foot-candle.) Therefore, we don't recommend the A201 for taking available-light pictures at night or in dimly-lit interiors.


In the Box
Packaged with the FinePix A201 are the following items:

  • USB cable
  • Two AA alkaline batteries
  • 16MB SmartMedia card
  • Basic Manual and registration information
  • Wrist strap
  • Software CD

Recommended Accessories

  • Two sets of rechargeable AA batteries and charger
  • 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 A201, 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 A201 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 do well in low-light situations, including indoor available light. That's a shame, since it's outdoor photos show such nice, appealing color. It does a good job of meeting most of the needs of entry-level users, plus it offers an extra bonus with the Movie and PC-Cam modes, all at a very affordable price. If most of your shooting is done outdoors, the A201 would be a very good choice for an entry-level, take-anywhere camera.

 

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