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Fuji FinePix 4900 Zoom

Fujifilm extends its consumer digicam, with a 6x optical zoom lens and extensive exposure controls.

Review First Posted: 10/7/2000



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MSRP $999 US

 

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2.4 megapixel SuperCCD sensor delivers up to 2400x1800 pixel images
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6x optical zoom lens
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Extensive exposure control
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Numerous nice user-interface touches
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Internal and external flash support


Manufacturer Overview
Fujifilm has become one of the major players in the digital camera field, and this year in particular (2000) has had a number of major product announcements. One of their latest is the FinePix 4900 Zoom, a surpringly compact camera with a 6x optical zoom lens, and a host of advanced features. More than any other Fuji camera, the FinePix 4900 is aimed at the all-important "advanced amateur" market, with all the manual controls you could wish for, but excellent automatic options as well. Cameras in this category need to offer easy operation in automatic mode, but not restrict the photographer who wants to take full control of the exposure process. The FinePix 4900 meets both these needs admirably, and throws in a host of excellent user-interface functions and innovations. Overall a very strong entry for Fujifilm at the high end of the "prosumer" digicam market.

Highlights



Executive Overview
Compared to the rest of Fuji's extensive line of FinePix digicams, the FinePix 4900 Zoom immediately stands out, both for its larger size and for the rich assortment of controls it offers. Still, the camera is surprisingly compact, given the necessarily large barrel of its 6x, f/2.8 optical zoom lens. In the 4900 Zoom, Fujifilm has managed to make unusually effective use of the camera body's real estate, providing one-button access to most camera functions, somewhat offsetting its heavy reliance on its LCD displays for camera operation. While clearly not a shirt-pocket digicam, the 4900 Zoom is still quite portable, assisted by the neck strap that ships with it.

Another departure for Fujifilm is the use of an eyelevel LCD viewfinder on the 4900, rather than a purely optical viewfinder. This approach has the strong advantage of providing a lot of exposure and camera-status information in the eyelevel finder. Since the electronic viewfinder is essentially a miniaturized version of the larger LCD monitor, all menu screens and information displays remain available (although somewhat small when looking through the eyepiece). This isn't an entirely unmixed blessing, in that it limits the camera's usability in low-light shooting conditions: The 4900 can capture images in settings a good bit darker than those in which the LCD viewfinder is usable.

A 6x, 7.8 to 46.8 mm lens (equivalent to a 35 to 210 mm lens on a 35mm camera) is built into the 4900 Zoom, automatically telescoping outward when the camera is powered on. Focus can be automatically or manually controlled, with an effective range from 1.6 feet (50 cm) to infinity in normal mode, and from 0.3 to 2.6 feet (10 to 80 cm) in macro mode. We found the manual focus operation on the 4900 far more usable than similar options on competing cameras, thanks to a unique "magnifying glass" option that enlarges your view of the very center of the frame on the LCD display. This is one of the few digicams we've found that you can actually focus accurately using the LCD! A digital telephoto function increases the zoom range by up to 3.75x, depending on the image size setting, but also decreases the image quality proportionately with increased image noise and reduced resolution.

The 4900 Zoom offers a great deal of exposure control, with several exposure modes to choose from. The full Automatic exposure mode puts the camera in control of everything except the flash and image size and quality settings. Scene Program mode offers four preset shooting modes for specific situations (Portrait, Landscape, Sports and Night Scene). In Program mode, you can select from a range of equivalent exposure settings, and you also have control over features like white balance, metering, ISO, etc. In Aperture Priority mode, you can set the lens aperture from f/2.8 to f/11.0 while the camera sets the shutter speed, and in Shutter Priority mode, you set the shutter speed from three to 1/1,000 seconds while the camera sets the aperture. (Shutter speeds can go as fast as 1/2,000 of a second in the Sports Scene Program and Automatic modes.) Finally, a full Manual exposure mode allows you to select the shutter speed and aperture settings independently.

In the Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes, all of the 4900 Zoom's exposure features are available. In Manual mode though, the exposure compensation control switches the command dial's control between aperture and shutter settings, instead of its usual function of setting exposure adjustment between -2 and +2 EV in 1/3 EV units. White balance can be set to Automatic, Custom (manual), Outdoors-Sunny, Outdoors-Cloudy, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent and Incandescent, to match just about any light source you're likely to encounter. An ISO setting option adjusts the camera's sensitivity to 125, 200, 400, or 800 equivalents, increasing the camera's shooting ability in low light situations, or reducing image noise in bright conditions. An AE Lock button lets you base the exposure reading on a specific area of the subject, and three metering modes (averaging, multi-segment, spot) let you choose how the camera judges the exposure. There's also a two or 10 second self-timer, and an adjustable image sharpness setting. The built-in, pop-up flash offers Automatic, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, Slow-Synchro, and Red-Eye Reduction with Slow-Synchro modes, with an adjustable intensity setting from -2 to +2 in 1/3 EV increments. An external flash hot shoe on top of the camera accommodates a more powerful external flash, but disables the internal flash when in use.

The Auto-Bracketing feature captures a series of images, at three different exposure settings, to find the optimum exposure value for the current subject. The Continuous Shooting mode captures up to five consecutive images at intervals as short as 0.2 seconds, depending on the SmartMedia space and amount of image information to record. Additionally, a Movie mode allows you to capture up to 90 seconds of moving images at approximately 10 frames per second. (The actual amount of recording time depends on the capacity and available space on the SmartMedia card, and can go as high as 364 seconds on a 64 megabyte memory card.)

The 4900 Zoom stores images on a SmartMedia memory card, and a 16 megabyte card comes with the camera. Still images can be saved at 2400 x 1800, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, or 640 x 480 resolution sizes, with Hi (uncompressed TIFF), Fine, Normal, and Basic quality settings available. TIFF format is only available for the largest image size. (Note that the largest image size is interpolated up from the roughly 2.4 megapixel SuperCCD sensor size.) Movies are saved at the 320 x 240 pixel resolution size, with no quality choices. A USB cable and software CD also accompany the camera, for downloading images to a Macintosh or PC. US and Japanese versions of the camera include an NTSC video cable, for viewing and capturing images using a television monitor (European models are set up for PAL timing). For power, the 4900 Zoom utilizes an NP-80 rechargeable, lithium-ion battery, and comes with an AC adapter that doubles as a battery charger.

The 4900 is a significant extension to Fujifilm's FinePix camera lineup, its full exposure control and a 6x optical zoom lens expanding the line into true "enthusiast" territory. We expect it will find many happy homes: You can put it into full auto or Scene-Program mode and hand it to a complete novice photographer, or use it in full manual mode (including manual focus) to control absolutely every aspect of your shooting. - This is one camera that can span a full range of photographic abilities, and produce great photos in the process.


Design
The Fujifilm FinePix 4900 Zoom combines the brand's trademark compact size with a larger lens, achieving a mini-version of a traditional 35 mm camera. In fact, the camera appears to mainly be all lens, with the exception of the rather compact hand grip on the side. Measuring 4.3 x 3.1 x 3.7 inches (110 x 78.5 x 98.5 mm), and weighing 14.5 ounces (410 g), the 4900 Zoom is a bit of a breakaway from previous FinePix digicam designs. While the camera itself is larger than previous versions, it still maintains a slightly compact appearance, especially considering the size of many current digicam models. Fujifilm has used nearly every inch of space on the camera body, with dozens of controls covering the camera's surface. This bounty of controls appears somewhat complicated at first glance, but quickly becomes second-nature after a quick read through the manual.



The camera front features mainly the lens barrel and the slightly thin hand grip. As we mentioned before, the 6x optical zoom lens takes up a good portion of the camera's size. The lens is encased in a sturdy metal barrel, and features a ridged focus ring at the very end of the lens for manual focusing. When the camera is turned on, the lens telescopes outward into its operating position, and likewise returns to the lens barrel when the camera is shut off. A plastic lens cap protects the front of the lens, and attaches to the camera with a small strap. The slim hand grip features a soft, rubbery coating on the front that secures your fingers to the camera body, and is echoed on the back panel with a rubbery thumb grip.



On the hand grip side of the camera is the SmartMedia slot, with side access. The slot is covered by a hinged, plastic door that snaps into place securely. Another soft, rubbery grip area covers the outside of the compartment door, with a small lip that comfortably holds your thumb to the back panel. Also on this side of the camera is an eyelet for attaching the neck strap.



The opposite side of the camera, which is mainly taken up by the side of the lens barrel, features several controls, the connector compartment, and the other eyelet for attaching the neck strap. Control-wise, the manual / auto focus switch, zoom control, exposure compensation, white balance, flash release, and Info button adorn the side of the lens. Just beyond the control buttons is the connector compartment, covered by another hinged plastic door that opens downward. The USB, A/V out, and DC In connection jacks can all be found in this compartment.



The camera's top panel features the pop-up flash, external flash hot shoe, shutter button, mode dial, power switch, and a handful of other control buttons.



A few more control buttons can be found on the camera's back panel, including a rocker toggle button that aids in navigating through settings menus. The LCD display is present in the center of the circular pattern that equates as the back of the lens barrel, and the optical viewfinder rests just above, surrounded by a soft, rubber eyepiece.



Finally, the camera features a reasonably flat bottom, holding the metal tripod mount and the battery compartment. Unfortunately, the two are much too close together to allow quick battery changes while working with a tripod. This is just a minor complaint, but something we always pay attention to with the amount of studio work we do. The battery compartment, which makes up the hand grip, features a sliding door that slides outwards and then opens to reveal the battery.


Viewfinder
The 4900 Zoom offers an LCD monitor and an electronic optical viewfinder for image composition. This basically means that the image display in the optical viewfinder is simply a smaller version of the LCD screen, complete with the same information readouts and menu screens. A soft, rubbery eyepiece surrounds the optical viewfinder, and also serves to block out excess light for a clearer view of the 0.55 inch display.

A larger, two inch LCD monitor on the back panel features a low temperature, polysilicon, TFT design with 130,000 pixels. A button to the right of the optical viewfinder eyepiece (labeled "EVF / LCD") toggles back and forth between the optical viewfinder display and the LCD monitor display, so that either one is in use at all times. The Display button at the top right corner of the LCD monitor controls the information display and framing guidelines that appear over the image. Pressed once, the button pulls up the text information display, which reports the mode setting, number of captured images, exposure settings, and a central autofocus target mark. Pressing the Display button a second time activates a framing guideline, which divides the image into thirds horizontally and vertically, to help line up shots. The third press of the Display button cancels both displays. We were glad to see that the camera reports the aperture and shutter speed settings, even in Program mode, since we always like to know what the exposure variables are. Another helpful feature on the 4900 Zoom is the Info button, which is on the side of the lens. Pressing this button displays a quick reference screen that reports all of the exposure settings, such as white balance, exposure compensation, etc., for as long as the button is held down. This is extremely helpful, especially when you can't remember which settings you've already set.

In Playback mode, the LCD monitor offers a playback zoom, for inspecting captured images up close. Once enlarged, the arrow keys on the rocker toggle button scroll around within the image. Many cameras these days offer a playback zoom option, but the FinePix 4900's goes way beyond most we've seen: It appears to zoom all the way in to a 1:1 ratio between image pixels and LCD display pixels. Particularly in the highest-resolution capture mode, this is an incredible magnification factor, letting you discern the finest details and subtle nuances of focus. Very handy! At the other end of scale, a Multi-Frame Playback option displays up to nine thumbnail images on the screen at a time, great for selecting images for single-frame erasing, protecting, or resizing.


Optics
A 6x, aspherical glass, 7.8 to 46.8 mm lens (equivalent to a 35 to 210 mm lens on a 35mm camera) is built into the 4900 Zoom. As we mentioned earlier, the lens seems to take up a large part of the camera body, and is much larger than the lenses typically used on FinePix digicams. This is doubtless partly due to the longer than normal zoom ratio as well as the lens' fairly large maximum aperture at full telephoto (f/3.1 at 210mm equivalent). The lens telescopes out from the barrel when the camera is powered on, and returns when the camera is shut down. Focus ranges from 1.6 feet (50 cm) to infinity in normal shooting mode, and from 3.9 to 32 inches (10 to 80 cm) in macro mode. In addition to the contrast-detect autofocus system, focus can also be manually controlled by the notched focus ring at the end of the lens barrel. A switch on the side of the lens controls whether the camera is in auto or manual focus mode..

In the past, we haven't been too impressed with the manual focus options on most digicams we've tested, unless they included an explicit distance readout. This is because the LCD resolution is typically so low compared to that of the CCD that it's almost impossible to tell whether the subject is in focus, based on how it appears in the LCD: There just aren't enough pixels on the LCD to tell if the image is sharp or not. Thanks in part ot their SuperCCD technology, Fuji has come up with an excellent solution to this problem for the F4900: A focus check button on the back panel (just below the power button) enlarges the center of the image to about twice normal size. Surprisingly, this seems to be enough to make accurate judgments about image focus, and worked quite well in our own testing. Besides this focus-assist "magnifier" function, there's also a focus indicator that appears in the LCD, next to the "MF" icon. This indicator takes the form of two arrow icons, with a solid circle between them. It only appears as you adjust the focus in manual focus mode, and indicates by the arrow direction which way you need to turn the focus ring. In practice, we found this focus indicator a little unreliable, particularly in the case of low-contrast subjects, where we felt visual inspection of the magnified LCD view actually worked better.

Don't get us wrong though, as much as we liked the manual focus option on the F4900, it can't remotely be compared with manually focusing a 35mm SLR: The response time of the manual focus adjustment itself is rather slow, and it takes a bit of scrutiny to decide when you've really achieved optimum focus. (The manual focus ring on the F4900 is actually a "fly by wire" control, since its motion doesn't control the lens directly, but instead just instructs the camera's processor to move the lens elements appropriately. This gives very fine control when you're zeroing in on a focus setting, but is rather slow when making major focus changes.)

Aperture can be manually or automatically adjusted, depending on the exposure mode, from f/2.8-f/3.1 to f/11.0 with 13 steps in 1/3 "f" increments. The f/2.8-f/3.1 specification refers to the fact that the maximum effective aperture varies as the lens is zoomed from wide angle to telephoto. This variation is documented in Fuji's specs for the lens. It's likely that a similar variation occurs for smaller apertures as well (meaning that the minimum aperture at the telephoto end of the lens' range is likely some number higher than f/11.0, but Fuji doesn't provide this specification, nor does the camera report it in its JPEG file headers.

A zoom toggle button is located on the side of the lens, but you can also control the zoom with the up and down arrows of the rocker toggle button on the rear panel. The 4900 Zoom also offers a digital telephoto function that works with all file sizes except for the 2400 x 1800 setting. The amount of digital zoom allowed depends on the actual image size, with the largest amount of zoom equalling 3.75x for the 640 x 480 image size. Because the digital telephoto option just crops-out the center of the image, quality is compromised in the form of higher noise levels and/or lower resolution. Fuji's implementation of it is really done the way we like to see though: It never interpolates the image beyond what the sensor would normally deliver. Thus, no digital telephoto is available at maximum image size, and the amount of digital telephoto available at any chosen image size always corresponds to a simple cropping of the selected image size out of the maximum-resolution file. Digital telephoto will thus be slightly less sharp than the pure optical telephoto image at any image size, but won't degrade to the extent seen in some cameras.

Digital telephoto is activated by zooming past the optical zoom range. A zoom status bar appears on the LCD display, showing the amount of digital and optical zoom available with the current camera settings. There's no provision to disable the digital telephoto function, but you don't have to worry about inadvertently zooming too far and triggering digital telephoto when you don't want to: The zoom stops at the end of the optical range, and doesn't proceed into digital telephoto territory unless you release the zoom toggle and press it towards the telephoto setting again.

A set of threads on the inside lip of the lens barrel accommodate a wide angle lens conversion kit, available as an accessory from Fujifilm. We'd like to see the thread adapter part of this kit sold separately from the wide angle lens itself, so you could use it to attach filters or macro lenses to the camera, without having to purchase the whole kit. (Perhaps Fuji will read this review, and decide to package the adapter accordingly...)


Exposure
The 4900 Zoom offers a lot of exposure control, with Full Automatic, Program, Scene Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual exposure modes available. The camera's exposure mode is controlled by a mode dial on the top panel, and an icon in the top left corner of the LCD display reports the current mode setting.

Automatic exposure mode places the camera in complete control over the exposure, choosing both the shutter speed and aperture settings depending on the current light level. No options are provided for exposure compensation, ISO adjustment, or any choice of aperture. This is a pure point & shoot mode. Program mode leaves the camera in control of both shutter speed and aperture, but allows you to select from a range of equivalent exposure setting combinations. When you rotate the command dial in this mode, the camera will adjust the aperture up or down, varying the shutter speed to match and maintain the same exposure level. (We find this mode very useful when we want to gain some control over depth of field or motion blur in the subject, but don't want to have to deal with the separate aperture or shutter priority options.) Program mode also lets you control other camera settings, such as white balance and exposure compensation. Scene Program mode offers four special shooting modes: Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night Scene. Portrait mode blurs the background by using a larger aperture setting, keeping the subject as the primary focus. Landscape mode sets up the camera for daytime shots of scenery, using a smaller aperture setting for greater depth of field. Sports mode uses faster shutter speeds (up to 1/2,000 of a second) to capture fast moving action. Finally, Night Scene mode does just the opposite of Sports mode, using slower shutter speeds to allow more ambient light into the image. For night portraits, the Night Scene mode can be combined with the Red-Eye Reduction Plus Slow Synchronization flash mode, for natural-looking indoor photos. The other options on the mode dial offer more user control over the exposure. Shutter Priority mode allows you to control the shutter speed while the camera selects the best aperture setting. Shutter speeds in this mode can range from three to 1/1,000 seconds, with the slowest available shutter speed determined by the ISO setting (the slowest shutter speed ranges from three to 1/1.3 seconds, as the ISO is adjusted from 125 to 800). Aperture Priority works along the same lines as Shutter Priority, except that you control the aperture setting (from f/2.8 to f/11.0) while the camera selects the shutter speed. In Manual mode, you have full control over both settings, with the same range of shutter speeds available.

In all of the camera's capture modes, the LCD monitor reports the shutter speed and aperture settings on the LCD screen, if the information display has been enabled. In all three of the manually adjustable exposure modes, if the setting you select is out of the correct exposure range, that value turns red in the display. (For example, a shutter speed too fast for the available lighting, even with the lens aperture all the way open.) There's also an exposure bar that shows you the acceptable range of exposure settings for the current subject.

In all of the exposure modes except Manual, the AE Lock button on the back panel allows you to base the exposure on a specific area of the subject. You do this by framing the area of the subject you want to base the exposure on in the center of the autofocus target marks, and then pressing and holding the AE Lock button until you snap the picture. Notably, you can not only reframe the image, but zoom the lens and change the focus, as long as you continue to hold down the AE Lock button. - Think of this as a "super spot metering" mode: Suppose you have a backlit subject, such as a person with their face in shadow. With the FinePix 4900's AE Lock feature, you could actually walk up to them, get an exposure reading off their face, and then walk back to where you want to take the shot from. Alternately, you could use this in conjunction with the center-weighted metering option and the 6x zoom lens to zoom way in on the part of the picture you want to use as your exposure reference, lock the exposure, and then zoom back out to compose the shot. Overall, an incredibly useful feature! Autofocus lock works along the same lines, you just halfway press the shutter button to set focus and hold it down while you recompose the shot. Normally, autofocus and autoexposure lock are both set simultaneously, by half-pressing the shutter button. The 4900's separation of these two functions is an advanced option we've only seen on professional SLRs previously.

In any capture mode, a Preview option can be enabled through the record menu, which displays the captured image on the screen, allowing you to confirm the recording or opt to delete it.

Exposure compensation can be adjusted in the Program, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority exposure modes, from -2 to +2 in 1/3 EV increments. (This is an offset relative to whatever exposure setting the camera has chosen, to compensate for overly bright or backlit subjects.) We liked Fuji's implementation of the exposure compensation function: As long as the viewfinder is set to show the exposure-information overlay, pressing the +/- button on the side of the lens barrel displays an exposure indicator bar showing the current exposure compensation setting. Rotating the command dial while holding down the +/- button adjusts the compensation setting, and the display updates to show the new value selected.

White balance is adjustable in all exposure modes except Scene Program and Automatic, with eight options available: Automatic, Custom (manual), Outdoors -Sunny, Outdoors-Cloudy, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent and Incandescent. We like the variety of fluorescent settings available, as well as the manually adjustable Custom mode, which makes the camera extremely flexible with color balance. Under the Custom setting, you simply hold a white card in front of the camera and press the Custom White Balance button on the left side of the camera to set the value. If the white card was too bright or dark, the LCD will indicate "Over" or "Under", prompting you to reset the value again.

The 4900 Zoom offers three metering modes, available in all exposure modes except for Automatic and Scene Program. The Average setting takes several readings from across the entire image and averages them to determine the proper exposure. Spot metering mode bases the exposure on the very center of the image, and Multi metering independently evaluates multiple points within the image and selects the optimum exposure based on a sophisticated algorithm. (Multi will be the best choice for most shooting conditions.)

ISO can also be manually adjusted, with options for 125, 200, 400, and 800 sensitivity equivalents. As with the metering option, ISO can be adjusted in all exposure modes except for Automatic and Scene Program. As is always the case with digicams, the higher ISO settings give increased light sensitivity, but at the cost of higher image noise, visible as "grain" in your images.

Three sharpness levels are available as well: Hard, Normal, and Soft. Hard emphasizes the edges of objects in the picture, while soft turns off all in-camera sharpening, for images you intend to manipulate post-exposure in a program such as Photoshop(tm).

The 4900 Zoom features a two and 10 second self-timer function, activated by pressing the Self-Timer button on top of the camera. The self-timer is displayed in the LCD monitor when the mode is entered, with a "2" next to the self-timer symbol to indicate the two second timer (the traditional symbol alone indicates a 10 second timer). The countdown is triggered by fully pressing the shutter button, and a red LED on the front of the camera blinks during the countdown.


Flash
A pop-up flash is built into the 4900 Zoom, with an effective range estimated by Fujifilm as 0.9 to 14.7 feet (0.3 to 4.5 m) or 2.9 to 13.1 feet (0.9 to 4.0m) with the zoom set to telephoto. In our own testing of the evaluation unit Fuji sent, we found that the flash intensity fell off significantly beyond 8-9 feet. One explanation for this might be that the official Fuji specification for flash range is for Auto mode, in which the camera apparently automatically increases its ISO rating under dim lighting. We performed our testing with the ISO set to 100, which could easily explain the shorter range we measured.

Five operating modes include Automatic, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, Slow-Synchro, and Red-Eye Reduction with Slow-Synchro. The Automatic flash mode puts the camera in charge of when to fire the flash, based on the exposure information and light level. Red-Eye Reduction also fires automatically, but flashes a quick pre-flash before firing the full flash to reduce the occurrence of the Red-Eye Effect. Forced flash simply means that the flash fires with every exposure, regardless of the light level. Slow-Synchro combines the flash with a slow shutter speed to allow more ambient light into night and twilight images. Red-Eye Reduction with Slow-Synchro simply combines the two flash modes for night portraits. To completely disable the flash, simply push it back down into its compartment. A small button on the side of the flash compartment serves as the release mechanism. The internal flash is not available in Landscape, Movie, Continuous Shooting, or Auto Bracketing shooting modes. Flash intensity can be adjusted through the record menu, from -2 to +2 in 1/3 EV increments.

A standard external flash hot shoe on top of the camera accommodates a more powerful flash unit. When an external flash is connected, the 4900 Zoom's internal flash is automatically disabled. The camera can synchronize with the external flash at any shutter speed up to 1/1,000 of a second. Additionally, the External Flash setting in the record menu must be enabled, and the camera should be in Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, or Manual exposure mode. The camera manual recommends shooting with either Aperture Priority or Manual exposure modes when an external flash is being used, in order to keep the lens aperture at the fixed setting required for correct exposure with the flash in use. The F4900's hot shoe is of the "plain vanilla" variety, meaning it will be compatible with the majority of shoe-mount auto flash units on the market: No fancy options such as lens-coupled zoom flash heads or through the lens metering, but the upside is that any automatic flash unit should work as well as any other.

Movie Mode
Accessed through the mode dial (by turning it to the movie camera symbol), the 4900 Zoom's Movie mode captures up to 90 seconds of moving images without sound on the included 16 meg SmartMedia card, at approximately 10 frames per second. Movies are shot at a 320 x 240 pixel image size and files are saved in the Motion JPEG format. Actual recording time varies, depending on the amount of SmartMedia space available and the memory card capacity. (Fujifilm estimates that a four megabyte card can hold about 22 seconds, and a 64 megabyte card can hold up to 364 seconds.) Once in Movie mode, the lens is locked at the wide angle setting, focus is fixed at infinity, and only digital telephoto is available (up to approximately 1.88x). Shooting begins by fully pressing the shutter button, and continues until the shutter button is pressed a second time. The digital telephoto zoom can be changed during recording. Since the 4900 doesn't include a microphone though, movie files are video-only. (No sound.) Movie quality looks pretty good, with good resolution and not too many JPEG artifacts.

Continuous Shooting
A Continuous Shooting mode is available in all exposure modes except for Movie mode, and shoots up to five consecutive frames with intervals as short as 0.2 seconds. (We clocked the FinePix 4900 at 4 frames in one second, a frame rate of 4 frames per second, or 0.25 seconds per frame.) Actual shot-to-shot cycle times will vary with the amount of image information to be recorded, as well as with the image size and quality settings. If the Preview display mode is enabled, the series of images is displayed in the LCD monitor, in chronological order (pressing the Menu button records them to the memory card).

Auto Bracketing
In all of the exposure modes other than Automatic and Scene Program, an auto bracketing feature lets you take a series of exposures of the same image with different exposure settings. You can set the amount of exposure variation in the Record menu, with options of plus or minus 1/3 EV, 2/3 EV, or 1 EV. Once the exposure variable is set, the auto bracketing feature takes three exposures of the same image, one at normal exposure, one overexposed and one underexposed by the designated EV amount. If the Preview function is enabled, all three shots are displayed on the LCD monitor at once for confirmation.


Shutter Lag / Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time allows the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we now routinely measure it using a custom electronic test system.

FinePix 4900 Zoom Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
4.45
Time from power on to first shot captured
Shutdown
3.13
Time for lens to retract
Play to Record, first shot
1.38
Time until first shot is captured
Record to play (max/min res)
13.0/0.79
Maximum resolution (TIFF) images take quite a while to display.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
1.14
A bit slower than normal
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.54
About average
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.24
A bit better than average
Cycle Time, max/min resolution
3.74/2.45
A bit faster than average
Cycle time, continuous mode
0.25/4.0 fps
Very fast: Captures up to 4 shots, then you have to wait for the memory buffer to clear.

The FinePix 4900 starts up surprisingly quickly for a camera with a telescoping lens, and its cycle time is pretty fast as well. Our only complaint about its speed is the somewhat longer than average shutter lag time in full autofocus mode. In continuous mode, the 4 frame per second performance for four frames is impressive, great for capturing exactly the right moment in fast-paced action photography.


Operation and User Interface
Despite a somewhat daunting first appearance, thanks to the myriad of buttons and controls, we actually found the F4900's user interface quite straightforward after working with it for a short while. The camera body is liberally sprinkled with control buttons, which may initially seem a more complicated than scrolling through menu screens, but we actually prefer less reliance on an LCD menu system. Having camera controls directly accessible via external buttons makes for much faster access to the functions and settings. A fair number of the exposure variables are controlled through the LCD menu system, but the basic controls, such as shutter speed, aperture, and exposure compensation, are operated via the external controls. The only control we found a little awkward is the mode dial, which required two fingers to turn. We're more accustomed to being able to turn mode dials with our thumb as we grip the camera, but the 4900's mode dial rotates a bit too stiffly for our thumb to manage on its own. The camera's many controls are spread out on the top, back and side of the camera body, meaning you'll need both hands to operate it. Overall, however, the compact shape fit our hands nicely, and the finger grips are comfortable and natural.


Control Enumeration


Shutter Button: Located on the very top of the hand grip, this chrome button trips the shutter when fully pressed, and sets focus when halfway pressed in autofocus mode. When the Self-Timer mode is activated, fully pressing the shutter button triggers the two or 10 second countdown.


Macro Button: Also located on the top panel of the camera, this button enables the camera's macro shooting mode. Once pressed, the traditional flower symbol appears in the LCD monitor and the focus range changes to 3.9 to 32 inches (10 to 80 cm). A second press of the button cancels the mode.


Flash Mode: Directly to the right of the Macro button, this button controls the internal flash mode and cycles through Automatic, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, Slow-Synchro, and Red-Eye Reduction with Slow-Synchro operating modes.


Continuous Shooting Button: Marked with the Continuous Shooting symbol, this button also resides on the camera's top panel, to the lower left of the Macro button. Once pressed, this button places the camera in Continuous Shooting mode, allowing you to capture up to five consecutive images with one press of the shutter button, at intervals as short as 0.2 seconds. Pressing the button a second time cancels the mode.


Self-Timer Button: To the left of the Continuous Shooting button, the Self-Timer button activates the two or 10 second Self-Timer mode. Pressing the button repeatedly cycles through the two self-timer delay settings and normal shooting mode. Once either self-timer mode is enabled, a full press of the shutter button activates the timer countdown.


Power Button: Just below the Self-Timer and Continuous Shooting buttons, the Power button is located in the center of the camera mode switch. Pressing the Power button turns on the camera and triggers the lens to slide outwards into its operating position (if the camera is set to capture mode). Another press of the button shuts the camera down and retracts the lens into the camera body.


Mode Switch: Surrounding the Power button, this switch places the camera in either Capture or Playback mode.


Exposure Mode Dial: Situated on the very right side of the camera's top panel, and on top of the command wheel, this dial puts the camera into one of seven exposure modes, or into the Setup mode. Available mode settings are:



Command Wheel: Positioned directly beneath the exposure mode dial (and concentric with it), this notched wheel sets the shutter speed and aperture setting. In Shutter Priority mode, it controls the shutter speed. In Aperture Priority mode, it controls the aperture. In Manual mode, it by default controls the shutter speed, but pressing and holding down the Exposure Compensation Button (+/- button) switches its control to the lens aperture.


EVF / LCD Button: Located directly to the right of the optical viewfinder eyepiece on the back panel, this button toggles between the eyelevel viewfinder display and the rear-panel LCD monitor, alternately enabling one and disabling the other.


Focus Check Button: To the right of the EVF/LCD button, this button allows you to check the focus when shooting in manual focus mode. Pressing the button enlarges the very center of the subject by 2x, so that you can check the fine details for focus.


AE Lock Button: Situated to the right of the Focus Check button, this button locks the exposure setting based on whatever is currently centered in the frame. This setting is preserved as long as you hold the button down, letting you recompose (even changing the lens zoom) and refocus before taking the picture. (A very nice feature!)


Display Button: Also on the back panel, at the top right corner of the LCD monitor, this button cycles between three LCD display modes. The first press shows a camera settings information display, with information about the memory card, exposure settings, and exposure mode. A second press displays a set of framing guidelines, which divide the frame into thirds, horizontally and vertically. The third press of the button cancels both displays.


Menu / OK Button: In the center of the back panel, on the right side of the LCD monitor, this button pulls up the settings menu in both Capture and Playback modes. It also serves as the "OK" to confirm menu selections and changes.


Rocker Toggle Button: Just below the Menu / OK button, this control features four arrows, one in each cardinal direction. In both capture and Playback menus, these arrow buttons navigate through menu options and selections. In any capture mode, the up and down arrows control the optical and digital zoom. In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images. Also in Playback mode, when playback zoom is enabled, the four arrow buttons allow you to move around within the enlarged image to check fine details.


Back Button: Positioned below the rocker toggle button, this button cancels menu options and backs out of menu screens, returning you to the main image display.


Shift Button: Located on the left side of the LCD monitor, pressing this button, followed by the Display button lets you adjust the display brightness, in both capture and playback modes. In all capture modes except Movie mode, pressing this button, followed by the Flash button takes you to a screen for adjusting image size and quality settings. (This last in particular is a very handy shortcut, as it avoids having to rotate the mode dial to the setup position and make the size/quality changes there, a somewhat time-consuming process.

Popup Flash Release Button: Resting on the lens side of the popup flash compartment, this button releases the flash head into its operating position.


AF / MF Switch: Also on the lens side of the camera, this sliding switch selects auto or manual focus modes. In manual focus mode, focus is controlled by turning the knurled ring on the front of the lens barrel.


Zoom Toggle: Just beneath the AF / MF switch is the zoom toggle button, which controls the optical and digital zoom setting.


Exposure Compensation Button: To the right of the AF / MF switch, this button calls up the exposure compensation adjustment bar, allowing you to adjust the exposure compensation from -2 to +2 in 1/3 EV increments, in all exposure modes except for Automatic, Scene Program, and Manual. In Manual exposure mode, pressing this button while turning the command wheel adjusts the lens aperture.


Custom White Balance Button: Situated to the right of the Exposure Compensation button, this button sets the manual white balance value when working in the Custom white balance mode. Pressing this button while a white card is held up in front of the lens manually adjusts the camera's white balance to match the current light source.


Info Button: Located at the bottom of the lens side of the camera, this button displays a quick reference screen of the currently set exposure variables in all exposure modes except for Automatic, Scene Program, and Movie. Likewise, in Playback mode, the Info button displays the exposure information for the currently displayed image.


Focus Ring: Encircling the lens barrel, at the very tip, this notched ring adjusts the manual focus when working in manual focus mode.


Camera Modes and Menus

Capture Mode: Controlled by the camera mode switch on the top panel, Capture mode sets up the camera for recording images in one of the following seven exposure modes:


Record Menu: Pressing the Menu button while in Capture mode (in Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes) displays the following on-screen menu options:


Playback Mode: Also accessed through the camera mode switch, Playback mode allows you to scroll through captured images, as well as delete, protect, resize, and set up images for subsequent printing on a DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible device. Movies can also be played back in an index display mode, which allows you to edit out individual frames.

Playback Menu: Pressing the menu button in this mode calls up the Playback menu, with these offerings:


Setup Mode: The camera's Setup mode is accessed through the exposure mode dial, when the camera is in Capture mode only. Activating the mode instantly displays the following settings menu:



Image Storage and Interface
The FinePix 4900 Zoom uses SmartMedia (3.3v) for image storage, and a 16 megabyte card comes with the camera. Upgrades to 32 and 64 megabyte sizes are available as accessories. The entire SmartMedia card can be write-protected by placing a small sticker on the indicated area of the card. Write-protection stickers can only be used once, and they must be clean to be effective. Individual images can be protected through the Playback menu, which prevents them from being accidentally deleted (except through card formatting).

The 4900 Zoom offers four image sizes for stills: 2400 x 1800, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, or 640 x 480. There are also three JPEG image quality settings to choose from: Fine, Normal and Basic. An uncompressed TIFF option is also available (the Hi setting) at the 2400 x 1800 image size only. All still images are saved as JPEG compliant Exif. ver.2.1 or TIFF-RGB, and movie files are saved as AVI format motion JPEGs. Movie images are always recorded at 320 x 240 pixels, with no quality settings available. A 16 megabyte card can hold up to approximately 90 seconds of movies. Interface software and a USB cable come with the camera for speedy connection to a Macintosh or PC.

Following are the approximate number of storable images and compression ratios for a 16 megabyte card:

 

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
Uncompresses TIFF
Fine
Normal
Basic
2400 x 1800 Images 1 9 19 47
Approx.
Compression
1:1 7:1 15:1 38:1
1600 x 1200 Images N/A 20 39 N/A
Approx.
Compression
N/A 7:1 14:1 N/A
1280 x 960
Images
N/A
25
49
N/A
Approx.
Compression
N/A
6:1
11:1
N/A
640 x 480
Images
N/A
N/A
165
N/A
Approx.
Compression
N/A
N/A
9:1
N/A


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 4900, 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?)
Video Out
US and Japanese versions of the 4900 Zoom come with an NTSC video cable for connection to a television set. (We assume that European models come set up for the PAL video standard.) Images can be reviewed on the television screen or recorded to video tape. You can also use the television as an enlarged version of the LCD display for composing and capturing images.


Power
The 4900 Zoom uses an NP-80 rechargeable (lithium-ion) battery for power, and comes with an AC adapter that doubles as a battery charger. Fujifilm estimates that a fully charged battery should provide approximately 100 minutes of recording or playback time when using the LCD monitor, and approximately 120 minutes of time when using the LCD viewfinder. Because much of the 4900 Zoom's operation depends on the LCD display, we suggest purchasing an additional battery and keeping it charged and on-hand at all times. Through the Setup menu, you can activate the Auto Power Save option, which sets the camera to turn itself off after two or five minutes of inactivity.

Operating Mode
Power Drain
Capture Mode, w/LCD
720 mA
Capture Mode, eyelevel LCD
580 mA
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
720 mA
Half-pressed, eyelevel LCD
520 mA
Memory Write (transient)
720 mA
Flash Recharge (transient)
1100 mA
Image Playback
490 mA

Overall, power consumption is about typical of the two to three megapixel digicams we've tested. We were surprised to see the relatively small difference in power consumption between the large rear-panel LCD screen and the tiny eyelevel viewfinder LCD. There's a savings, but still a significant power drain. (Another argument in favor of conventional optical viewfinders, in our humble opinion.) Based on the approximately 4 watt-hour capacity of the NP-80 battery, we think Fuji's run time numbers should be pretty accurate.


Included Software
A software CD packaged with the 4900 Zoom contains the Utilities for Fujifilm Digital Camera software package, compliant with Windows and Macintosh operating systems. This utility package includes a USB driver, the Exif Viewer, and DP Editor, which allow you to download images and perform minor corrections. Windows users have a slightly better deal than Mac users, as additional software is included on the CD for PCs. Adobe PhotoDeluxe and Adobe ActiveShare provide even more image editing tools for Windows users, as well as some creative filters for digitally enhancing your images. Mac users will unfortunately need to purchase these programs separately, or choose a more comprehensive application, such as Adobe PhotoShop LE (Limited Edition).


Test Results
(Coming soon)


Conclusion
Overall, the 4900 Zoom is a fine digicam, combining a great deal of exposure control with an excellent 6x optical zoom lens and the first manual white balance adjustment we've seen in a consumer-level camera from Fuji. It also offers a host of innovative features, ranging from the excellent focus-assist magnifier function to its highly useful autoexposure lock function, and high-magnification playback zoom option. Overall, a very interesting camera for the true "enthusiast", yet one that can also be used in a fully automatic mode for the technology-challenged. A great package of features that significantly extends Fujifilm's consumer digicam line into the higher end of the product spectrum.


<<FinePix 4900 Zoom Sample Images | Additional Resources and Other Links>>

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