The Imaging Resource
Fuji FinePix E550 Digital Camera
Super CCD HR
|Very good, 11x17, or 8x10 with heavy cropping|
Suggested Retail Price
The Fuji FinePix E550 is one of the latest digital cameras made by Fujifilm, and arguably one of their best to date. Based on a fourth-generation Super CCD HR chip design, the Fuji E550 offers great resolution for an attractively-priced consumer digital camera, with a 6.3 megapixel image sensor, whose output is interpolated into a 12.3 million megapixel image. With a sharp 4x zoom lens, compact size, and straightforward user interface, the Fuji E550 is an excellent all-around point & shoot model that should appeal to novice users and more experienced shooters alike. Read on for all the details.
More than just a basic "point & shoot" camera, the Fuji FinePix E550 offers the best of both worlds in terms of exposure control. Automatic and "Scene" modes simplify operation for point-and-shoot users, while a range of exposure options including a full manual exposure mode provide enough control to satisfy even experienced photo enthusiasts. Small, compact, and light weight, the E550 offers Fuji's fourth generation 6.3-megapixel Super CCD HR, which produces file sizes as large as 4048 x 3040 pixels. Because of Fuji's unique "SuperCCD" pixel layout, the natural translation of the sensor's diagonally-arranged honeycomb-shaped pixels into normal square ones in the final JPEG image files means that the 6.3 million sensor pixels turn into 12.3 million pixels in the finished files. Despite the increased file size, resolution in the final file is roughly equivalent to that of a 6.3 million pixel image from an ordinary CCD, although I can personally attest to the fact that SuperCCD images do seem to capture at least slightly more subject detail than conventional sensor designs with the same pixel counts. While it delivers slightly more subject detail, the downside of this unusual interpolation scheme is that the E550's image files are a good bit larger than those from competing 6-megapixel cameras, which means that fewer images will fit on memory cards or computer disks. Fortunately, camera and computer storage is cheaper than ever, and getting even cheaper all the time, so this is much less of a consideration than it would have been at one time.
While the handgrip makes the camera's dimensions a little tight for most shirt pockets, this camera is still quite compact at 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.4 inches (105 x 63 x 34.4 millimeters). The hybrid metal/plastic body is surprisingly light at 10.1 ounces (285 grams), with the batteries and memory card loaded. The 4x telescoping lens and built-in lens cover keep the E550's front panel fairly smooth when not in use, allowing the camera to slip into a pocket or purse without a hang-up.
The Fuji E550 features a 4x Fujinon lens, equivalent to a 32.5-130mm lens on a 35mm camera, a range from a reasonable wide-angle--one that is better than most--to a useful telephoto. Aperture can be automatically or manually adjusted from f/2.8 to f/8, with the maximum aperture gradually reduced to f/5.6 as it zooms to the full telephoto zoom setting. Focus can also be manually or automatically adjusted, and ranges from 2.0 feet (60 centimeters) to infinity in normal mode, or from 3.0 inches to 2.6 feet (7.5 to 80 centimeters) using the camera's Macro setting. The E550 employs a TTL contrast-detection autofocus mechanism, and offers an adjustable AF area. You can assign the AF area to the center of the image area, or move it to one of several points around the frame. The E550 also features a continuous autofocus mode, accessed through the menu. The FinePix E550's autofocus system works very well in daylight or bright indoor lighting, but does poorly after dark, just barely managing to focus at light levels equivalent to typical city street lighting. A manual focus option lets you adjust the focus yourself, but the E550 provides no numeric distance scale, so the only way you can determine focus is by watching the LCD screen. (A marginal process in daylight, and little help at all in dark conditions.)
In addition to the 4x optical zoom, the E550 offers as much as 6.3x digital zoom, depending on the image Quality setting, but keep in mind that digital zoom decreases the overall image quality, since it just crops out the center pixels of the CCD's image. For framing shots, the E550 offers both a real-image optical viewfinder and a 2.0-inch color LCD monitor. The optical viewfinder is a little "tighter" than most, showing only about 78-84% of the final frame area, depending on the lens' zoom setting. The LCD viewfinder is much more accurate, showing 100% of the final image area. The optical viewfinder has a rather low eyepoint, which means that eyeglass wearers can just barely see the entire viewfinder image, even with their lenses pressed against the viewfinder bezel. There's also no dioptric adjustment on the viewfinder eyepiece to compensate for less than perfect vision. An information overlay reports camera settings (including aperture and shutter speed) on the LCD monitor, and a framing guideline option displays an alignment grid. The grid divides the image area into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, making it easier to line up tricky subjects.
The E550 offers a full range of exposure control, with Auto, Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual exposure modes available via the Mode dial, along with Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night Scene options. In straight Auto mode, the camera controls everything about the exposure, except for options like zoom, macro, and some flash settings. (There is no "forced off" flash mode, but if you don't want to use the flash, just don't pop it open.) Program AE mode keeps the camera in charge of aperture and shutter speed, while the user retains control over all other variables, including exposure compensation. Within Program AE mode, you can select from a range of equivalent exposure settings, simply by pressing the up and down arrow keys. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes provide user control over one exposure variable, while the camera maintains control over the other. Finally, Manual exposure mode lets you control both aperture and shutter speed independently. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to three seconds, depending on exposure mode. Metering options on the E550 include the default 64-zone Multi mode, which bases exposure on contrast and brightness values read from the entire scene, as well as Spot and Average options. The camera's Exposure Compensation setting lets you increase or decrease the automatically-determined exposure from -2 to +2 EV 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, Incandescent, and Custom settings. (The latter lets you set the color balance based on a white card held in front of the lens.) The E550 also features an adjustable light sensitivity setting, with Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 ISO values available. The Auto option actually ranges from 80 to 640 equivalents. To reach up to ISO 800, the camera brings the resolution down to 3 megapixels, which significantly reduces the image noise in the resulting pictures. The settings menu also offers adjustments for color and image sharpness, as well as an Auto Exposure Bracketing mode for automatically snapping several shots at slightly different exposure settings. Continuous shooting modes allow the capturing of four images, or the last four of up to forty exposures.
The E550's built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, Suppressed, Slow-Synchro, and Slow-Synchro with Red-Eye Reduction modes. The Red-Eye Reduction mode fires a pre-flash a fraction of a second before the exposure itself, to make the irises of your subjects' eyes contract, avoiding the red-eye effect. Slow-Synchro combines the flash with slower shutter speeds, to allow more of the ambient lighting into your exposure. (Slow-Synchro is handy for getting more natural-looking flash photos at night, with more of the background visible.) An intensity adjustment lets you adjust the strength of the flash output, from -2/3 to +2/3 EV, in one-third-step increments. The flash doesn't pop up and fire automatically, even in Auto mode, but the LCD screen shows an Open Flash/"shake" warning when the indicated shutter speed falls below 1/60 second, giving the user the option of opening the flash or firing away without it. A Self-Timer mode provides either a two- or 10-second delay between a full press of the Shutter button and the time that the shutter actually opens, helpful in self-portraits or group photos. (The shorter delay is handy for times when you want to use a tripod or prop the camera on something when shooting under dim conditions, to avoid blurred photos caused by camera shake.) The E550 also features a Movie mode, which captures movies with sound at either 640 x 480- or 320 x 240-pixel resolutions, both at 30 frames per second. Maximum recording times vary, depending on the resolution and amount of available memory space. A Voice option in Playback mode lets you record short audio clips to accompany captured images.
The E550 stores image files on xD-Picture Cards, and comes with a 16MB starter card. I have to say, I would much prefer for FujiFilm to reduce the cost of the camera by $10 and include no card at all rather than cripple the user with such a tiny card. At the full interpolated 12 megapixel file size of this camera, you can get a grand total of 2 images on this card; the manual claims 3, but that depends on how easily compressed the image is; I only saw 2 fit in the shots I took. So it goes without saying that before you leave the camera store or click on the checkout button, you'll want to add at least a 256MB xD card to the mix. For enthusiast-class users, the camera's CCD RAW file format fills up enough of the included card that you can only get one shot per 16MB card. For power, the E550 uses a pair of high-capacity NiMH batteries, a set of which are included with the camera, along with a charger. Battery life was a very pleasant surprise, with a worst-case run time (capture mode with the LCD turned on) of three hours with the included batteries. Very impressive, but I do still recommend that you purchase a second set of high-capacity NiMH cells as spares. (See my Battery Shootout page for battery capacity ratings.) Also included with the camera is a USB cable for direct connection to a PC or Macintosh computer, and a software CD loaded with Fuji's FinePix software. Installation of software is not required on most Macs or PCs, however, because the camera supports PTP mode, which allows the camera to appear on the computer as a hard drive. An A/V cable connects the camera to a television set for reviewing images in Playback mode.
- 6.3-megapixel Super CCD HR delivering image resolutions as high as 4048 x 3040 pixels (Slightly (but not dramatically) more detail than from a conventional 6.3 megapixel chip).
- Real-image optical viewfinder.
- 2.0-inch color, low temperature polysilicon TFT LCD monitor.
- 4x Fujinon 32.5-130mm zoom lens, with f/2.8 maximum aperture.
- Auto and Manual focus options, plus an adjustable AF area.
- Digital zoom of up to 6.3x, depending on quality setting.
- Program AE, Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Movie, and four Scene Program exposure modes.
- Adjustable white balance with eight settings, including a manual option.
- Adjustable ISO setting with Auto (80 to 640), 80, 100, 200, 400, and 800 equivalents.
- Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to three seconds.
- Multi, Spot, and Average metering modes.
- Built-in flash with six modes.
- xD-Picture Card storage (16MB card included).
- JPEG and CCD RAW image formats.
- Power supplied by two rechargeable NiMH batteries.
- Interface software and USB drivers included for Windows and Macintosh computers.
- Picture Cradle adapter included for optional cradle for connecting to a computer and for in-camera battery charging.
- Movie (with sound) and Voice recording modes.
- Top 4 Frame, and Final 4 Frame continuous shooting modes.
- Auto Exposure Bracketing mode.
- 10- and two-second Self-Timer modes for delayed shutter release.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
- USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).
- Video cable for image playback on a television set.
Light weight, portable, and easy to use, the Fuji's FinePix E550 is an excellent point-and-shoot digicam for novices just getting their feet wet in digital photography, as well as a capable tool for more experienced users looking for more manual control. With exposure modes ranging from full Auto to full Manual, the E550 is easy to use, yet offers room to grow as their photography skills mature. Four preset Scene modes simplify common shooting situations, and a handful of image adjustment options provide some creativity. The camera's simple, straightforward user interface means little or no downtime for learning, and makes the E550 good for shooting on the fly. Priced very aggressively for a quality 6.3 megapixel digicam, the Fuji E550 offers excellent value in an "all around" digital camera.
Measuring 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.4 inches (105 x 63 x 34.4 millimeters), the E550's body is small enough for most coat pockets and should fit easily into most purses. The smooth camera front and rounded hand grip make pocket retrieval hassle-free, and the sleek, silver metal and plastic body is attractive, fashionable, and rugged. Though compact, the E550 fits the hand well, and the plastic handgrip on the right side provides some grip. The included wrist strap provides some extra security. The Fuji E550 weighs in at 10.1 ounces (285 grams), with the batteries and memory card loaded.
The E550's metal front panel is nearly flat with the lens retracted, except for the rounded handgrip, which extends about half an inch. Turning the camera on extends the lens about an inch and a quarter from the camera body. A shutter-like lens cover protects the front of the lens when closed, and quickly retracts when the camera is powered on. Near the top of the front panel are the viewfinder window, the flash control sensor and a microphone. Below the lens on the left is a release button for the adapter ring. Removing it allows attachment of an adapter for filters or accessory wide or telephoto lenses. A self-timer lamp is embedded in the plastic handgrip, and the popup flash is visible near the center when opened.
The right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) holds only the eyelet for the wrist strap.
The opposite side of the camera features a speaker and three ports: an AV out socket, a USB connection, and a DC In connector. The three connectors can be protected by a single plastic cover, which is not attached to the camera. Fuji provides a second cover with the camera, apparently on the safe assumption that the small, flexible cover is bound to be lost. (As is the second cover, for that matter. Note to Fuji: Protective flaps of this sort really need to be attached to the camera body!)
On the E550's top panel are the Shutter button, Mode dial, Power button and popup flash. The flash is released by a button that can be seen from both the top and back.
The remaining camera controls are on the rear panel, sharing space with the LCD monitor and optical viewfinder eyepiece with viewfinder lamp. The exposure compensation button is to the left of the LCD monitor, and the Flash open button is above it, to the right of the eyepiece. The zoom rocker is just below the mode dial on the right. Down the right side is a raised lip that provides a secure thumb rest to counter the front handgrip. The mode switch (record/playback) is below the zoom control. A Five-way arrow pad next to the lower right corner controls macro and flash modes, and provides navigation controls for the LCD menu system, with a Menu/OK button at its center. In record mode, the left arrow doubles as a Macro button, and the right arrow cycles through Flash settings. Adjacent to the Arrow pad are a Function button and a Back/Display button, for backing out of menu screens in playback mode, or displaying an alignment grid/turning off the LCD display in record mode.
The E550's bottom panel is flat, with the threaded plastic tripod socket roughly centered, but slightly out of line with the lens. The shared xD-Picture Card and battery compartment is adjacent, with a hinged door that slides out before opening. The distance between the battery compartment and tripod mount is too short to allow quick battery or card changes while shooting with a tripod. A supplied Cradle Adapter can be used with an optional Picture Cradle to provide instant connection to a computer, as well as in-camera battery charging. A connector terminal inside the dock connects to the camera's USB/AV Out terminal, so the camera sits on-end in the cradle.
Although the E550 offers a varied range of exposure control modes and a good feature set, its user interface is pretty straightforward. The Power control is a simple on/off switch, and the Mode Switch sets to either record or playback. The Mode Dial rotates to five standard exposure control settings, a Movie mode, and four preset scene modes. Exposure Compensation can be controlled without using the menus. Instead, you hold down the Exposure Compensation button and make adjustments in 1/3 stop intervals (up to +/- two stops) by using the left/right arrows on the Arrow Pad. The Function button accesses a simplified menu for quickly adjusting Quality (image size), ISO equivalent, and Color (choices are Standard, B&W, and a Chrome setting for vivid color and contrast). Menus are accessed through the Menu/OK button. When you need to access these menus, screens are short and sweet, and require little navigation. Users familiar with typical digicam features and nomenclature should be able to operate the camera straight out of the box, referring to the manual only for more specific details. Even novice users should need less than an hour of studying the manual and playing with the camera to become familiar with its main features.
Record Mode LCD Screens
In Record mode, the E550's LCD monitor reports the basic exposure settings, as well as other exposure settings such as flash mode, focus mode, etc. The number of images available and resolution also appear. Pressing the Display button enables an alignment grid, or turns the information overlay off. In Auto and Scene modes, the LCD itself may be turned off, while in the more advanced exposure modes, the LCD remains on at all times, to display exposure parameters.
Playback Mode LCD Screens
In Playback mode, the information display includes the image number and date of capture, but this information disappears after a few seconds. The Display button enables an index display mode as well, for seeing quickly what images are on the memory card. When in playback mode, the zoom toggle lets you zoom in on the image to check small details.
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 Button: Between the Shutter button and Mode dial, this button turns the camera on and off.
Mode Dial: To the right of the Power button, this dial controls the camera's exposure modes, offering the following options:
- Auto: Places the camera in control of all basic exposure settings, including aperture and shutter speed. The user has control over zoom, macro mode, and some flash settings.
- Program AE: The camera maintains control over the aperture and shutter speed, though the user now has control over all other exposure variables, including exposure compensation and the full range of flash settings. Pressing the up and down arrow keys lets the user select between a range of equivalent exposure settings.
- Shutter Priority: In this mode, the user can adjust the shutter speed from 1/2,000 to three seconds, while the camera controls the aperture setting.
- Aperture Priority: Here, the user controls the aperture (from f/2.8 to f/8 depending on zoom), while the camera adjusts the shutter speed.
- Manual: This mode provides the user with total exposure control, including aperture and shutter speed settings.
- Movie: Records moving images with sound, at either 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels, both at 30fps.
- Night: This preset night scene mode adjusts ISO to 100 by default, if previously set to Auto, or leaves ISO at whatever value was last set by the user in one of the other modes. (ISO in all Scene modes can be changed by user), favors slow shutter speeds.
- Sports: Sets ISO as above and favors faster shutter speeds.
- Landscape: Sets ISO as above and cuts off flash.
- Portrait: Sets ISO as above and softens sharpness.
Zoom Rocker: In the top right corner of the rear panel, this rocker controls the 4x optical and the up-to-6.3x digital zoom. In Playback mode, these buttons let you zoom in on captured images, for closer viewing.
Mode Switch: Below the zoom rocker is a switch that sets to either Record or Playback mode.
Flash Open Button: Opens the pop-up flash. The Flash only pops up when activated by this button, and remains unavailable until it is activated. When the indicated shutter speed falls below 1/60 second, an Open Flash warning appears on the LCD panel, increasing the chance of a blurry picture due to camera shake.
Function Button: Located on the left side of the LCD monitor, this button displays the Function menu when pressed in Record or Playback modes. The following options are available:
- Quality: Sets the image resolution to 12M F(fine) (4,048 x 3,040), 12M N(normal) (4,048 x 3,040), 6M (2,832 x 2,128 pixels), 3M (2,048 x 1,536 pixels), 2M (1,600 x 1,200 pixels), or 0.3M (640 x 480 pixels) for still images. In Movie mode, resolution options are 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels. (A lossless "RAW" file format can be enabled separately, via the Setup menu.)
- ISO: Adjusts the camera's sensitivity to Auto (ISO 80 to 640), 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 equivalents. (The 800 option is available only for quality settings of 0.3M, 2M, and 3M.)
- Color: Adjusts the color to Black and White, Chrome (high
saturation and contrast), or Standard.
- DPOF: Accesses the camera's DPOF settings, with options to print the image with or without a date stamp.
- DPOF Reset: Resets the DPOF settings to their defaults.
Display/Back Button: Directly below the Function button near the lower right corner of the LCD monitor, this button controls the LCD display in Record mode. Pressing the button toggles the image and information display on and off, and activates an alignment grid display for setting up shots. In Playback mode, this button turns the image information display on and off, and activates the index display mode. When menus are activated, it backs out of menu screens without making any changes.
Five-way Arrow Pad and Menu/OK Button: In the lower right corner of the back panel, this large rocker button features four arrows for navigating through menu screens and captured images. The central Menu/OK button activates the menu system in any camera mode, and subsequently confirms menu selections. In Record mode, the up and down arrows control exposure parameters: In Program AE, the up/down arrows select from among a range of equivalent exposure settings, while they control aperture or shutter settings in aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes. In Manual exposure mode, the up/down keys normally control shutter speed, but switch to controlling aperture when the +/- button is held down. The left arrow turns Macro mode on or off in all non-Scene exposure modes, while the right arrow controls the flash mode. In Playback mode, the right and left arrow keys scroll through captured images. All four arrow keys pan the view of an enlarged image.
Exposure Compensation Button: To the left of the LCD screen, this button lets you adjust the exposure compensation from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments when held down while pressing the right and left arrow keys. In Manual mode, however, this button adjusts the aperture setting instead.
Camera Modes and Menus
Record Mode: Marked with a red camera icon on the Power/Mode switch, this mode allows the camera to capture images. Exposure modes include Auto, Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Movie, Night, Sports, Landscape, and Portrait. Pressing the Menu button displays the following options (not all options are available in all modes):
Activates the two- or 10-second Self-Timer, or turns it off.
- White Balance: Sets the white balance to Auto, Custom (manual setting), Outdoors, Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, or Incandescent.
- Focusing: Controls the AF mode and AF area mode. Options are Manual Focus, Continuous AF, AF Area (use arrows to select area), AF (Multi), and AF (Center).
- Photometry: Metering can be set to Average, Spot, or Multi (Pattern).
- Continuous Shooting: Modes include Off, Top 4 (shoots and saves 4 frames), Bracketing (3 frames with different exposures), and Final 4 (shoot up to 40 frames, camera saves last 4).
- Option (SET): Allows user to change LCD Brightness or activate Setup Menu (see below).
- Bracketing: Designates the step-size for the exposure variation between shots, when shooting in Auto Exposure Bracketing mode.
- Sharpness: Adjusts the in-camera sharpening to Hard, Normal, or Soft.
- Flash Brightness: Adjusts the flash power from -2/3 to
+2/3 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments.
- Setup Menu: Adjusts the LCD brightness, and offers the following
setup menu options:
- Image Display: Turns the post-capture image review screen on or off. If set to Preview, this function lets you delete the just-captured photo before it is recorded.
- Power Save: Turns the power save option off, or sets it to shut down the camera after two or five minutes of inactivity.
- Format: Formats the xD-Picture Card, which erases all files, regardless of whether they've been "protected" via the Playback menu.
- LCD: Turns the LCD monitor on or off. If on, the LCD monitor automatically comes on whenever the Power/Mode switch is set to the Record position. If off, you must enable the display via the Display button.
- Beep: Controls the volume for the camera's operating sounds.
- Shutter: Adjusts the volume of the shutter noise.
- Date & Time: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
- Time Difference: Allows a second date/time setting for another time zone.
- Frame Number: Renews frame numbering with each new memory card, or continues numbering from card to card.
- USB Mode: Sets the USB mode to Printer (Direct), DSC (Storage device), or PC Cam (allows the E550 to be used as a webcam).
- CCD RAW: Sets the image quality to RAW, which captures and stores the full image information from the CCD without any processing. (CCD RAW-format files can be converted to standard JPEGs via Fuji's provided software.)
- Language: Sets the menu language to English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, or Japanese.
- Video System: Sets the video output signal timing to match either the NTSC or PAL standard. (NTSC for the US and Japan, PAL for Europe.)
- Discharge: Allows user to fully discharge NiMH batteries to avoid reduced capacity due to the "memory" effect.
- Reset All: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.
Playback Mode: The traditional green playback symbol marks this mode on the Power/Mode switch. Here, you can review captured images and movies, as well as manage files and set up images for printing. Pressing the Menu button displays the following options:
- Erase: Deletes the current frame or all frames.
- 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.
- Playback: Enables an automated slideshow of captured images on the memory card, with options for different image durations and transitions.
- Voice Memo: Allows you to record a short audio clip to accompany a captured image, with a maximum duration of 30 seconds.
- Trimming: Allows you to zoom in to part of an image and trim away the remainder.
- Option (SET): Allows you to change LCD brightness, adjust the memo Volume, or access the Setup Menu.
In the Box
In the box with the E550 digital camera are the following items:
- Adapter for Picture Cradle camera dock.
- 16 MB xD-Picture Card.
- NiMH batteries and charger.
- Extra port cover.
- Wrist strap.
- USB cable.
- Software CD-ROM.
- A/V cable.
- Pack of Fuji 4" x 6" paper.
- Instruction manual, Quick Start guide, and registration card.
- Larger capacity xD-Picture Card. (I'd recommend 128MB as a minimum.)
- Additional NiMH rechargeable batteries.
- PictureCradle for in-camera battery charging and connecting to computer.
- Soft camera case.
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
See my standardized test photos and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of our test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.
See the specifications sheet here.
Information on shooting speed, battery life, etc. can be found here.
For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos
from the Fuji E550, we've put together a "photo
gallery" of more pictorial shots captured with the E550.
In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the FinePix E550's "pictures" page.
As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the E550's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Fuji FinePix E550 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best! Meanwhile though, here's my analysis of the Fuji E550's pictures:
- Color: Better than average, appealing color. The
E550 generally produced accurate, appealing color. Its Auto white balance
handled most lighting situations well, although it left a bit more color
cast in the Indoor Portrait shot than I would have liked, and there were
very minor color casts under other lighting conditions as well. The E550's
Manual white balance option worked very well under a wide range of light
sources. The E550 shows the slight oversaturation of many colors (particularly
strong reds) that most consumer cameras show, and that most consumers themselves
seem to prefer, but oversaturation is relatively slight, and the net effect
is quite pleasing. Overall, a very good job.
- Exposure: Average exposure accuracy, slightly limited
dynamic range. The E550 handled my test lighting well, accurately exposing
most of the studio shots. Looking at shots that typically require exposure
compensation adjustments, on some the E550 required more adjustment than
average, but less than average on others. Like most consumer digicams, it
had a somewhat contrasty tone curve, which led me to use only +0.3 EV of
compensation on the "Sunlit" Portrait test, producing rather dark
midtones and shadows, while still losing some detail in the strong highlights.
I saw similar behavior on the harshly-lit Far Field test shot as well. Overall,
a workmanlike performance in the exposure category, not wonderful, not terrible.
- Resolution/Sharpness: Very high resolution, 1,600+
lines of "strong detail," but significant artifacts at that level.
The E550 performed very well on the "laboratory" resolution
test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions
as low as 1,000 lines per picture height on vertical edges, 1,200 lines
on horizontal details. I found "strong detail" all the way out
to 1,600+ lines, although there were a lot of artifacts visible at that
level. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until
right around the 2,000-line limit of the target.
- Image Noise: Noise on the low side of average, finally
a Fuji SuperCCD camera with a low ISO option! The E550's image noise
is on the low side of average numerically, and the camera also doesn't seem
to trade away too much subject detail to achieve its low noise levels, at
least at low ISO settings. With the E550, Fuji has finally dropped the minimum
ISO of their SuperCCD cameras to 80, a very welcome change, as the image
noise levels decreased significantly in the process. In my testing, noise
levels were quite low at ISO 80 and 100. At ISO 200, noise was somewhat
more noticeable, but the main impact was loss of subtle subject detail.
At ISO 400, great amounts of detail were lost, and the noise artifacts were
rather obtrusive. (I personally wouldn't consider the E550 usable at ISO
400, particularly for indoor photos.) At ISO 800, the camera forces a 3
megapixel image size to reduce noise, with the result that the images are
soft and a little ugly, but probably not worse than a typical 3 megapixel
camera shooting at ISO 400.
- Closeups: A small macro area with good detail in the
dollar bill. Flash is partially blocked by the lens, however. The E550
captured a very small macro area, measuring only 2.38 x 1.79 inches (60
x 45 millimeters). Resolution was very high, and detail was very strong
in the dollar bill. A lot of fine detail was also present in the coins and
brooch, though these were softer due to a limited depth of field when shooting
this close. As is often the case with digicam macro modes though, details
were much softer in the corners of the frame. The E550's flash was partially
blocked by the lens, casting a strong shadow that dominated the lower portion
of the images. (Plan on using external lighting for your closest macro shots
with the E550.)
- Night Shots: Limited low-light performance, but it
should handle average city street lighting at night pretty well. Very poor
autofocus performance under dim conditions though. The E550 produced
clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lux) light
level at the 80, 100, and 200 ISO settings. Increasing the sensitivity to
ISO 400 produced a reasonably bright image at the 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux
setting), while the maximum sensitivity (ISO 800) produced a bright image
at 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux). You could see the test target at 1/16 foot-candle
(0.67 lux), but the image was pretty underexposed. Color balance was slightly
warm with the Auto white balance setting, but not bad. Noise was moderate
at the lower ISOs, but did increase at the 400 and 800 settings. However,
it actually wasn't too bad considering the long exposures and low lighting.
The E550's biggest problem for low-light shooting is its autofocus system.
- It can only focus reliably down to about one foot-candle, roughly the
level of typical city street-lighting at night. This means that the camera
can shoot at light levels quite a bit lower than it can focus at. (It does
have a manual focusing option, but that may not be much help either, as
there's no distance readout to help you set the correct focal distance,
so you'll have to rely on what you can see on the LCD screen. - Which may
not be much, under dim shooting conditions.) Bottom line, probably OK for
city night scenes but realistically, not any darker than that.
- Viewfinder Accuracy: A tight optical viewfinder, but
nearly dead-on accurate LCD monitor. The E550's optical viewfinder was
somewhat tight, showing about 84 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and
only about 78 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor fared much better, though
was actually a little loose, showing just a hair more than what made it
into the final frame. Since I prefer LCD monitors to be as close to 100
percent accuracy as possible, the E550's LCD monitor is essentially perfect
in this regard, but its optical viewfinder could use a little help.
- Optical Distortion: High barrel distortion at wide
angle, low distortion at telephoto, but corners become very soft at telephoto.
Optical distortion on the E550 was high at the wide-angle end, where
I measured approximately 0.9 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end
fared much better, as I measured only 0.07 percent barrel distortion there
(about two pixels). Chromatic aberration was average to a little above average,
showing about five or six pixels of moderate coloration on either side of
the target lines at wide angle focal lengths. (This distortion is visible
as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field
of view on the resolution target.) The E550's images were quite sharp from
corner to corner at wide angle focal lengths, but softened somewhat in the
corners at "normal" focal lengths, and developed very soft corners
at the telephoto end of the lens' zoom range.
- Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Better than average shutter response,
very good shot to shot speed, very good continuous-mode performance.
With shutter delays ranging from 0.64 - 0.75 second, the E550 is somewhat
faster than the range of 0.8-1.0 second that I've found to be average among
cameras of its class. When "prefocused" by half-pressing and holding
down the shutter button prior to the shot itself, the shutter lag drops
to a very brief 0.076 second. Shot to shot cycle times are also quite good,
at 1.56 seconds between shots at the camera's highest resolution, and no
apparent buffer-size limitation: It will snap photos that quickly until
the memory card is filled. A four-shot continuous mode grabs a shot every
0.34 seconds (3 frames/second), and is ready to snap the next photo 10 seconds
after the last shot of the series has been captured. Finally, the camera
starts up and shuts down quite quickly (only 1.3 seconds from power up to
the first shot captured), a nice feature in a digicam.
- Battery Life: Excellent battery life, but still plan on buying an extra set of batteries. The E550 sips power pretty sparingly from its batteries, with a worst-case run time (capture mode with the LCD turned on) of about 136 minutes on my "standard" 1600 mAh NiMH cells, and almost six hours with the LCD turned off. In playback mode, runtime is a very impressive 4.5 hours. Better yet though, the E550 ships with a charger and pair of very high-capacity NiMH batteries (rated capacity of 2300 mAh, actual capacity of 2200 mAh in my tests), which should push the worst-case run time to more than three hours. This is excellent by any standards, let alone for a relatively compact camera. I do still strongly recommend purchasing a second set of high-capacity NiMH cells, so you can always have a spare set fully charged, but the E550's battery life is quite remarkable for a camera powered by only two AA cells. (See my Battery Shootout page for a listing of actual performance figures for a large number of NiMH AA cells, as an aid to finding high-capacity cells.)
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