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Fuji FinePix A303 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date
12/03/02
User Level
Novice to experienced amateur
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
High, 3.3-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
Good prints to 8x10
Availability
Now
Suggested Retail Price
$299


Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Test Images
Specifications
Conclusion

Whether in the analog world or digital, Fuji is known universally for great color. In the digicam arena. they're likewise know for good-quality consumer digicams at very attractive prices. Combining quality and portability, Fuji's FinePix digicam line has been populated with compact, travel-worthy digicams that take great pictures. The latest additions to this line, the A303 and A203 models maintain Fuji's well-earned reputation for quality, offering 3.3-megapixel and 2.0-megapixel CCDs respectively, while keeping proportions small and portable. Though both models offer less image control than many of the FinePix digicams, their point-and-shoot simplicity will appeal to a wide audience of consumers. Probably the biggest news about these models is that they are the first Fuji digicams to accept the new xD-Picture Card, one of the tiniest memory card formats currently on the market.


Camera Overview

Small, compact, and light weight, the new FinePix A303 (along with its sister model, the A203) is one of the first Fuji digicams to accept the super tiny xD-Picture Card, which helps maintain the small case size. The A303's 3.3-megapixel CCD captures high resolution images with good detail, and its largely-automatic exposure control is a boon for novices. Loaded with batteries and memory card, the A303's surprisingly rugged-feeling, all-plastic body weighs in at only 7.1 ounces (200 grams). The A303 is pocket friendly as well, measuring just 3.8 x 2.5 x 1.4 inches (97 x 64 x 34 millimeters). With the lens retracted, the A303's front panel is mostly flat, letting it slip in and out of pockets quickly. A small strap secures the A303 to your wrist while shooting (a welcome feature given the A303's minimal hand grip), but you might invest in a small camera case as well. Its maximum resolution 2,048 x 1,536-pixel images are good enough for printing as large as 8x10 inches, although lower resolutions are available for printing as snapshots or sending as email attachments.

Equipped with a 3x zoom lens, the equivalent of a 35-114mm zoom on a 35mm camera (a moderate wide angle to a moderate telephoto), the A303 offers a maximum aperture of f/2.8-f/4.8 (depending on the lens' zoom position). Focus ranges from two feet (0.6 meters) to infinity, in normal mode, with a Macro setting ranging from 3.9 inches to 2.6 feet (10 to 80 centimeters). In addition to the A303's 3x optical zoom, the camera also offers up to 3.2x digital zoom. (Maximum digital enlargement depends on the image resolution, with more magnification being available at smaller image sizes.) I always remind readers that digital zoom decreases the overall image quality, since it only enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image, but that said, the A303 adopts my favored approach, simply presenting the available pixels as a smaller file, not trying to resample them back up to a full-sized image. Optical distortion was well below average, with the A303's lens producing a moderate 0.4 percent barrel distortion at wide angle, and only the barest hint of barrel distortion at telephoto. Chromatic aberration was high though, at about five or six pixels. (See the sample images page for further analysis.) For framing shots, the A303 offers both a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor. A limited information display reports camera settings on the LCD monitor, and a framing guideline option displays an alignment grid. The optional grid divides the image area into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, making it easier to line up tricky subjects. Fuji estimates approximately 80 percent frame coverage with the optical viewfinder, which is close to my findings (approximately 84 percent accuracy at wide angle, and about 79 percent at telephoto). The LCD monitor proved more accurate, at about 95 percent frame accuracy at wide angle (92 percent at telephoto). I generally like to see better viewfinder accuracy than this, particularly relative to the A303's performance at telephoto focal lengths. The LCD monitor is acceptably accurate however.

Exposure remains under automatic control, despite the A303's offering of both Auto and Manual exposure modes. The "Manual" setting simply expands the Record menu to include Exposure Compensation and White Balance options, as opposed to the purely "point & shoot" operation in Auto mode. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 1/2 second, and the lens aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/11.6, but the A303's LCD display doesn't report on either. (Most entry-level cameras don't report aperture or shutter readings, perhaps to avoid confusing novices with too much information. I'm a big proponent of at least presenting the information though, so people can have at least some idea of how sensitive the camera might be to motion at longer shutter speeds, or how much depth of field might be available, depending on the aperture setting.) To determine the best exposure, the A303 employs a TTL (through-the-lens) 64-zone metering system, which averages readings taken throughout the frame for the best overall exposure. Through the camera's Record menu, you can increase or decrease the exposure from -2.1 to +1.5 in one-third-step increments. White balance options include an Auto setting, as well as Outdoors, Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, and Incandescent presets. Though it's not adjustable, the A303's sensitivity is equivalent to ISO 100, which combines with the 1/2 second maximum shutter time to limit the camera's low-light shooting capabilities. (Indeed, the camera captured bright images at light levels only as dark as two foot-candles, or 22 lux, about twice as bright as average city street lighting at night. Darker conditions will definitely require use of the flash.)

The A303's built-in flash is effective from 1 to 11.5 feet (0.3 to 3.5 meters) depending on the zoom position, and operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, Suppressed, or Slow-Synchro modes. A Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second delay between a full press of the Shutter button and when the shutter actually opens, helpful in self-portraits or group photos. The A303 also features a Movie mode, which captures movies without sound. Two resolutions are available (320 x 240 and 160 x 120 pixels). Maximum recording times vary, depending on the resolution and amount of available memory space, with a maximum of 60 seconds for 320 x 240, and a maximum of 240 seconds for the 160 x 120 size.

As I mentioned above, the A303 and A203 digicams are the first Fuji models to accept the xD-Picture Card. A 16MB card comes with the camera, but you'll want to purchase a larger size almost immediately, given the A303's maximum 2,048 x 1,536-pixel resolution. (The xD-Picture Card itself is very tiny, rivaling the popular SD memory cards in size.) The A303 uses two AA-type batteries for power, either alkaline or NiMH, and an optional AC adapter is available. A set of single-use AA alkaline batteries comes with the camera, but I strongly recommend purchasing a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH batteries and a good charger, and keeping a spare set of batteries charged at all times. Click here to read my "battery shootout" page to see which batteries currently on the market are best, or here for my review of the Maha C-204F charger, my longtime favorite.

Basic Features

  • 3.3-megapixel CCD delivering image resolutions as high as 2,048 x 1,536 pixels.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 1.5-inch color LCD monitor.
  • 3x, 35-114mm (35mm equivalent) lens.
  • 3.2x digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control.
  • Adjustable white balance with seven settings.
  • Sensitivity equivalent to ISO 100.
  • Maximum aperture of f/2.8-f/4.8, depending on zoom.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 1/2 second.
  • Built-in flash with five modes.
  • xD-Picture Card storage (16MB card included).
  • Power supplied by two AA-type batteries or optional AC adapter.
  • Interface software and USB drivers included for Windows and Macintosh computers.

Special Features

  • Movie mode (silent only, no sound).
  • 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).

Recommendation

Midrange Point & Shoots
If you're interested in the camera in this review, here are some competing models that may also interest you. (Camera names that aren't links are those we haven't reviewed yet. - Stay tuned.)
Three Megapixel, 3x zoom
Canon A70 Prices
Fuji A303 Prices
Kodak DX4330 Prices
Minolta Xi (subcompact) Prices
Nikon 3100 Prices
Olympus 560 Prices
Olympus 550* Prices
Pentax 330GS Prices
Sony P72 Prices
* - model phasing out
Confused?
Check out Dave's Picks!

Trim and compact, the A303 travels well, and can be quickly stashed in a pocket when on the go. Exposure Compensation and White Balance adjustment options enhance the largely automatic exposure control, for uncomplicated picture taking. The A303 should immediately set novices at ease, as the user interface is quite simple and straightforward. Perfect for toting around town, to the kids' ball games, or on laid-back vacations, the A303 is a great "starter" digicam for teens or new users. You get the benefit of a 3.3-megapixel CCD (enough resolution for sharp 8x10 prints), 3x optical zoom, and Fuji quality, all in a neat little package.


Design
Measuring 3.8 x 2.5 x 1.4 inches (97 x 64 x 34 millimeters), the A303 is small enough for most shirt pockets and purses, but fits the average hand well. Loaded with batteries and memory card, the A303 weighs just 7.1 ounces (200 grams), thanks in part to the all-plastic camera body. The included wrist strap secures the camera in-hand, but a soft camera case would be ideal for protecting the camera during long excursions. The A303 is an uncomplicated camera, with largely automatic exposure control and a select few menu options. External controls are limited, and the LCD menu system is short and to the point. Let's take a look at the camera's external features:

Hidden beneath a sliding lens cover, the A303's telescoping lens keeps the front panel flat when retracted. The silver lens cover slides out of the way when the camera is powered on, allowing the lens to extend forward a little over half an inch. Also on the front panel are the flash, flash sensor, self-timer lamp, and optical viewfinder window. A small ridge provides a finger grip on the far side of the front panel, with a shiny silver finish highlighting the FinePix logo.

The right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) holds only the eyelet for the wrist strap. At the very bottom of the right panel, the edge of the memory card and battery compartment door is visible.

The opposite side of the camera features the USB and DC In connector terminals, both of which are uncovered.

On the A303's top panel are the Shutter and Power buttons, highlighted by a blue stripe.

The few remaining camera controls are on the rear panel, sharing space with the optical viewfinder and LCD monitor. The Display, Back, and Menu/OK buttons line the top of the LCD monitor, while a set of arrow keys in the top right corner control both zoom position and menu navigation. The center arrows are implemented as a two-way rocker button, controlling optical and digital zoom, in addition to other functions. A large Mode dial to the right of the LCD monitor selects the camera's main operating mode, with a series of ridges that provide a grip for your thumb as it turns the dial. Finally, the Flash button is located just below the Mode dial.

The A303's bottom panel is flat, with the plastic, threaded tripod mount in the center. The xD-Picture Card and battery compartment is just adjacent, with a hinged door that slides out before opening. Though I personally prefer to have access to the battery and memory card compartments while a camera is mounted to a tripod, I doubt this will be much of an issue on the A303, given its very portable nature.


Camera Operation
With automatic exposure control and only a sprinkling of manual adjustments available, the A303's user interface is a snap to learn. The large Mode dial sets the main camera mode (self-timer, macro, normal capture, playback, or movie mode), and common functions such as zoom and flash mode employ simple external controls. Although you'll have to get into the LCD menu system for any other adjustments, the menu screens are simply laid out, and feature only a handful of options each. Thus, the A303 shouldn't take much time to get acquainted with, and even novice users should have little trouble learning to use the camera.


External Controls


Shutter Button
: Located on the camera's top panel, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Power Switch
: To the left of the Shutter button, this switch turns the camera on and off.


Display Button
: Just above the top left corner of the LCD monitor, this button controls the LCD display, and also activates the framing grid. It also optionally disables the LCD monitor, so you can save battery power by using just the optical viewfinder.


Back Button
: Directly to the right of the Display button, this button backs out of camera menus without making changes.


Menu/OK Button
: On the right side of the Back button, this button displays the settings menu in Playback or Record modes. It also serves as the "OK" button, to confirm any menu selections.


Zoom Rocker and Arrow Buttons
: In the top right corner of the back panel, these three buttons serve as the arrow keys, for navigating through menu screens and captured images. The center button is a two-way rocker button, which also controls optical and digital zoom in any record mode. In Playback mode, the right and left arrow keys scroll through captured images, while the up and down rocker button controls digital enlargement.


Mode Dial
: On the right side of the LCD monitor, this dial controls the camera's operating mode, with the following options available:

  • Self-Timer: Activates the 10-second Self-Timer, which fires the shutter 10 seconds after the Shutter button is pressed.
  • Macro: Changes the focus range for photographing close-up subjects.
  • Still Image Record: Places the camera under automatic exposure control, with only limited user options available through the Record menu.
  • Playback: Displays captured still images and movie files, with options for deleting, protecting, and printing files.
  • Movie: Records moving images without sound, with the maximum recording length depending on the resolution setting and memory card space.

Flash Button: Below the Mode dial, this button controls the flash operating mode. Options are Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, Suppressed, and Slow-Synchro. Pressing the button repeatedly cycles through the available flash modes. An icon on the LCD display indicates the current mode.

Camera Modes and Menus

Self-Timer Mode: Activates the 10-second Self-Timer, which fires the shutter 10 seconds after the Shutter button is pressed.

Still Image Record Mode: Marked with a red camera icon, this mode allows the camera to capture still images. Exposure is automatically controlled, although the Record menu offers a few options.

Macro Mode: The traditional flower macro symbol marks this mode on the Mode dial. The focus range changes for close-up subjects in this mode, and limited exposure options are available.

Playback Mode: Accessed by pressing the Review button, this mode lets you review captured images and movies, as well as manage files.

Movie Mode: The first mode on the Mode dial, Movie mode is indicated by a movie camera icon. In this mode, you can record movies with sound, for as long as the memory card or internal memory has available space.

Record Menu: The following menu items appear whenever the Menu button is pressed in any Record mode. However, not all menu options are available in all modes.

  • Quality: Sets the image resolution to 3M-F (2,048 x 1,536 pixels), 3M-N (2,048 x 1,536 pixels, but with more image compression), 2M (1,600 x 1,200 pixels), 1M (1,280 x 960 pixels), or 0.3M (640 x 480 pixels). Movie mode options are 320 x 240 pixels or 160 x 120 pixels.
  • Exposure Compensation: Adjusts the overall exposure from -2.1 to +1.5 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments.
  • White Balance: Sets the white balance to Auto, Outdoors, Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, or Incandescent.


  • Setup Menu: Activates the Auto or Manual menu selections, adjusts the LCD brightness, and offers the following setup menu options:
    • Postview: Turns the post-image capture review screen on or off.
    • Power Save: Turns the power save option on or off. If on, the camera will shut down after 30 seconds of inactivity.
    • USB Mode: Sets the USB mode to DSC or PC Cam. PC Cam mode lets Windows users use the A303 as a webcam.
    • Date & Time: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
    • LCD: Turns the LCD monitor on or off. If on, the LCD monitor automatically comes on whenever the Mode dial is set to the Still Image Record position. If off, you must enable the display via the Display button.
    • Beep: Controls the camera's beep sounds, with options for Low, High, or Off.
    • Language: Sets the menu language to English, German, or French.
    • Reset All: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.

Playback Menu:

  • Erase: Deletes the current frame, all frames, or formats the xD-Picture Card.
  • Protect: Write-protects the displayed image, preventing it from being accidentally erased or manipulated (except via card formatting). Also removes protection, and offers options to protect or unprotect all images on the card.
  • DPOF: Marks frames for printing on DPOF devices, with an option to include a date and time overlay.
  • Setup Menu: Displays the same settings as under the Record menu, minus the Auto and Manual exposure options.

Test Images
See our test images 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: The A303 performed quite well here, producing pleasing, accurate color under most conditions. The Auto white balance setting producing the most accurate results overall, but color balance was just slightly warm most of the time. Nonetheless, difficult shots like the Musicians portrait turned out very well. The biggest problem was that both the Auto and Incandescent settings had quite a bit of trouble with the incandescent lighting of the Indoor Portrait (no flash), resulting in color casts with each setting. (I was sad to see this, as this is a pretty common light source for US users, and Fuji had previously made great strides in improving their handling of incandescent lighting.) Though a touch warm, color looked very good in the large color blocks of the Davebox target, with good saturation. (Actually, the red, green, and blue additive primary color blocks looked a little oversaturated to my eye.) Color also looked good in the harsh sunlight of the outdoor house picture and Outdoor Portrait, though just a hint warm. Very nice color overall.

  • Exposure: The A303 accurate exposures most of the time, although the Davebox and House poster are just a little overexposed. Contrast was a little high in the outdoor images, in response to the harsh sunlight. (This is a tough subject for many digicams to hold highlight detail with, and the A303 definitely fell prey to that problem.) In high contrast A303 generally showed a limited dynamic range, losing detail in bright highlights and dark shadows. However, the camera picked up the subtle tonal variations of the Davebox quite well, which is a difficult area for many digicams.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Overall, details were reasonably sharp, with good definition in the finer details. On the laboratory resolution test, the A303 picked up 1000 lines/picture height of detail, a fairly typical performance for a three-megapixel camera, but the image looked a little soft overall.

  • Closeups: The A303's macro performance was about average, with a minimum area measuring roughly 4 x 3 inches (101 x 76 millimeters), with good detail and resolution. Corner softness was stronger in this shot, particularly in the lower left corner. The A303's flash had trouble throttling down for the macro area, and underexposed the shot. (Plan on using external lighting for your closest macro shots.)

  • Night Shots: Operating strictly under automatic exposure control, with a fixed sensitivity setting of ISO 100 and a maximum shutter time of only 1/2 second, the A303 didn't perform too well here. Images were usable as low as two foot-candles (22 lux), about twice as bright as average city street lighting at night. You'll need to use the camera's built-in flash for any night shooting.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: The A303's optical viewfinder was rather tight, showing 84% of the final frame area at wide angle, and only 79% at telephoto. The LCD monitor was somewhat more accurate though, showing nearly 95-92% of the final frame under similar conditions. Given that I generally prefer LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the A303's LCD came up a little short, but still much better than its optical viewfinder.

  • Optical Distortion: Optical distortion on the A303 is quite a bit lower than average at wide angle, where I measured a barrel distortion of only 0.4 percent. At telephoto, it does even better, with almost imperceptible pincushion distortion, again much lower than average. Chromatic aberration higher than average though, with 5-6 pixels of coloration around high-contrast objects in the corners of the frame.

  • Battery Life: The A303 does surprisingly well in the battery life department, particularly considering that it's powered by only two AA cells. Based on my power measurements, I project worst-case battery life at nearly 2.5 hours (145 minutes), and run time in playback mode is nearly 5 hours (285 minutes). (All times are based on true 1600 mAh capacity NiMH rechargeables.) Despite the good run time, I still strongly advise users to purchase a couple of sets of good-quality NiMH batteries and a good charger. (See my Battery Shootout page for performance details on the latest crop of NiMH batteries on the market, and read my review of the Maha C-204F to learn about my favorite charger.)

In the Box
In the box are the following items:

  • Fuji FinePix A303 digital camera.
  • 16MB xD-Picture Card.
  • Two single-use, AA-type alkaline batteries.
  • Wrist strap.
  • USB cable.
  • Software CD-ROM.
  • Instruction manual and registration card.


Recommended Accessories

  • Larger capacity xD-Picture Card. (I'd recommend 32MB as a bare minimum, 64MB would be preferable.)
  • Two sets (total of four cells, minimum) NiMH rechargeable batteries and good charger.
  • Soft camera case.


Conclusion

Midrange Point & Shoots
If you're interested in the camera in this review, here are some competing models that may also interest you. (Camera names that aren't links are those we haven't reviewed yet. - Stay tuned.)
Three Megapixel, 3x zoom
Canon A70 Prices
Fuji A303 Prices
Kodak DX4330 Prices
Minolta Xi (subcompact) Prices
Nikon 3100 Prices
Olympus 560 Prices
Olympus 550* Prices
Pentax 330GS Prices
Sony P72 Prices
* - model phasing out
Confused?
Check out Dave's Picks!

The Fuji FinePix line of digicams has always been marked by good image quality and color, and the A303 continues this tradition. While its color balance is just slightly on the warm side, the A303 generally delivers excellent, pleasing color. The one notable exception to this is under incandescent lighting, where the A303 returns very warm-toned images. Exposure-wise the A303 does a good job considering its largely automatic, point-and-shoot design, its one weakness being that it has fairly limited low-light capabilities. (Plan on using the flash for night shots.) With only a handful of user-adjustable exposure options, the A303's pared-down setup leaves little for the user to worry about, making it an excellent choice for novice users. Ideally suited for typical daytime shooting situations and nighttime shots with flash, the A303 is perfect for novices who want a portable digicam offering good image quality and performance at an affordable price. With a 3.3-megapixel CCD, 3x optical zoom, and trim, compact size, the A303 offers just that.

 

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