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Back to Full Fuji FinePix F601 Zoom Review
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Fuji FinePix F601 Zoom

A new SuperCCD sensor gives Fuji's latest ultra compact true 3.1 megapixel resolution and great color.

Review First Posted: 6/21/2002




MSRP $599 US

 

*
True 3.1-megapixel Super CCD, interpolates to 6.03 megapixels for a maximum resolution of 2,832 x 2,128.
*
Excellent color rendition.
*
Unique "cradle" design for easy downloads, web cam capability.
*
Movie and Audio modes make camera a true multimedia tool.


Manufacturer Overview
For several years now, Fuji has produced a line of compact, stylish digicams in a unique vertical format. Their smooth contours fit readily into typical pockets, and their classic design makes them welcome accessories for even the most style-conscious users. At the same time, Fuji has endowed the line with a nice collection of features, and user interfaces comfortable for the novice. Perhaps their greatest strength lies in the excellent color that's become a hallmark of Fuji's camera lineup. (Many professionals shooting portrait and wedding photography have gravitated toward Fuji's pro SLR cameras for their beautiful handling of skin tones.)

The latest model in this line is the Fuji FinePix F601 Zoom, a model built around the most recent generation of Fuji's SuperCCD technology. The camera sports a 3.1 megapixel SuperCCD (producing 6.0 megapixel finished file sizes) and a 3x optical zoom lens, and a surprising range of features, all packed into sleek metal case. Overall, a very appealing little camera for the snapshooter looking for high style and excellent color. Read on for all the details!


High Points


Executive Overview
Sleek lines and smooth contours define the distinctive design of Fujifilm's recently released FinePix F601 Zoom camera. Improving on previous FinePix models, the F601 Zoom has sophisticated styling with the benefit of significantly expanded exposure features, including a full manual exposure mode. Despite the extensive features set, the camera's small size keeps it portable and compact enough to fit into larger shirt pockets. Adding to its portable appeal is the F601's light weight, at 8.8 ounces (250 grams), with SmartMedia and battery pack. The F601 Zoom uses Fuji's Super CCD technology, featuring a 3.1-megapixel CCD that interpolates into 6.03-megapixel image files (as large as 2,832 x 2,128 pixels with interpolation). The honeycomb pattern of the CCD, combined with a primary-color filter array, delivers high quality images with great color.

Like the 6800 Zoom before it, the F601 Zoom is designed to fit the cradle or "dock," available as a separate accessory. With DC In and USB jacks on its back side, the cradle serves as both a battery charger and a card reader for downloading images, while a Video Out jack connects to a television set for image viewing. For computer users, the cradle keeps the camera in an upright position facing forward, allowing it to be used as a videoconferencing tool (along with the included Windows-only PictureHello software).

An 8.3-24.9mm lens (equivalent to a 36-108mm lens on a 35mm camera) gives the F601 Zoom a 3x optical zoom range, with available apertures ranging from f/2.8 to f/10.8 (depending on the zoom setting and lighting conditions). Focus options include either manual or automatic control, with the autofocus system employing a contrast-detection focus mechanism. You can also change the autofocus area from its default center position to any other area in the frame. As much as 4.4x digital zoom is available as well, with the actual amount of digital zoom depending on the current resolution setting. (Smaller resolution settings result in higher available digital zoom values.) Remember that digital zoom generally compromises image quality because it only enlarges the center portion of the CCD image. For composing images, the F601 Zoom offers both a real-image optical viewfinder and a color LCD monitor. The 1.5-inch LCD monitor features a detailed information overlay display, which can be canceled those times you want an unobstructed view of your subject. The LCD monitor reports the aperture and shutter speed information when the Shutter button is halfway pressed, a useful feature when you're trying for special exposure effects. The F601 Zoom's LCD also offers an optional framing guideline feature, which divides the image into thirds horizontally and vertically, to help you line up shots.

The F601 Zoom's expanded exposure options include Auto, Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes. A set of five preset "scene" modes set the camera for specific shooting conditions, and include Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Scene, and Continuous Shooting modes. The Mode dial on top of the camera controls the main exposure mode, with options of Manual, Scene, Automatic, Movie, and Audio. The Automatic exposure mode takes full charge of the exposure, giving you control of only the flash, self-timer, and macro mode. Switching to Manual mode expands the Record menu options to include white balance, ISO, exposure compensation, flash level, metering, and sharpness, in addition to the other four exposure modes.

By default, the F601 Zoom employs Multi-Metering, which bases the exposure on multiple readings made throughout the image area, but you can also opt for Spot or Average metering modes. An Auto Bracketing feature takes three consecutive exposures (one at the metered reading, one overexposed, and one underexposed), with exposures varying by 1/2, 1/3, or one exposure equivalent (EV) increments. Alternatively, you can manually adjust the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments. White balance options include Automatic, Sunny, Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, and Incandescent settings, and ISO equivalents include 160, 200, 400, 800, and 1,600 adjustment settings. The F601 Zoom also offers a sharpness adjustment and a 10-second self-timer. The built-in flash offers Automatic, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, Suppressed, and Slow Synchro operating modes, as well as an intensity adjustment to control brightness.

The F601 Zoom offers two Continuous Shooting modes, one as a Scene mode and one as a standard drive setting. The Scene Continuous Shooting mode captures 40 consecutive shots (as long as you hold down the Shutter button), though only at the 1,280 x 960-pixel image size. The standard Continuous Shooting mode (accessed through the Record menu) takes as many as four consecutive frames at approximately 0.2-second intervals, depending on the image size and quality settings, and the amount of available memory card space. The F601 Zoom's Movie recording mode captures movies with sound, at either the 640 x 480- or 320 x 240-pixel resolution setting. The Audio mode records audio files for as long as 4.5 hours (depending on available memory space), useful for recording lectures and speeches. You can also record short sound clips to accompany captured images.

Images are saved on SmartMedia memory cards, and a 16MB card comes with the camera. The F601 Zoom offers four still image resolutions, including 2,832 x 2,128 (interpolated), 2,048 x 1,536, 1,280 x 960, and 640 x 480 pixels, with Fine, Normal, and Basic JPEG compression levels.

For high-speed connection to a computer, the F601 Zoom comes with a USB cable, which can be plugged directly into the camera or into the accessory cradle. A software CD loaded with Fuji's FinePix interface software, as well as USB drivers, and ArcSoft Video Impression facilitates downloading images to a computer and provides minor editing and organization utilities. Most software is compatible with both Windows and Macintosh operating systems, with the exception of the web conferencing PictureHello utility, which is for Windows only. (I was impressed to see a copy of FinePix Viewer for Mac OS X included as well.)

An NP-60 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack is included with the F601 Zoom, as well as an AC adapter. The AC adapter doubles as an in-camera battery charger, either by connecting to the camera directly or connecting to the separate cradle accessory.

The F601 Zoom is a well-designed digicam, with a stylish exterior and a surprising variety of exposure options. The compact shape is great for travel, and the range of exposure control makes it suitable for any level user, from novice to advanced amateur. Preset Scene modes and an Automatic setting simplify operation for novices, while the full manual control provides complete control when you need it. The 3.1-megapixel SuperCCD delivers great resolution images with excellent color. Overall, the F601 Zoom is an excellent update to the FinePix line, and should do very well for itself in the marketplace.


Design
With a very fashionable design aesthetic, the Fuji FinePix F601 Zoom's aluminum-magnesium alloy body is both attractive and sturdy (and reminiscent of previous F. A. Porsche-designed Fuji digicams). Compact and lightweight, the F601 Zoom's small dimensions of 3.1 x 3.8 x 1.4 inches (80 x 97.5 x 36.3 millimeters) should let it slip into most larger shirt pockets with no trouble, and will definitely help it find its way into average sized handbags. Weighing only 8.8 ounces (250 grams) with SmartMedia and battery pack, the F601 Zoom is very portable, qualifying for the "ultra compact" class of digital cameras. The F601 Zoom's sleek design fit my hand well, although I found the grip and controls slightly cramped when holding the camera one-handed. Though the grip is a bit more precarious than I'd have liked, the included wrist strap provided the extra security I needed to keep from worrying about dropping it.

The F601 Zoom "interpolates" the images from its 3.1-megapixel Super CCD to produce six-megapixel image files (2,832 x 2,128-pixel resolution). Without interpolation, the highest resolution is 2,048 x 1,536 pixels. The Super CCD features an interwoven pixel pattern (shaped like a honeycomb) and a primary-color filter for accurate, high-definition color. Like the 6800 Zoom before it, the F601 Zoom is designed to fit into a cradle (a separate accessory), which works similarly to the cradle of a cell phone or palm PC device. A USB cable connects the cradle to a computer, letting you just drop the camera into the cradle to transfer image files to your computer. The cradle also lets the camera act as a "webcam" (with the included Windows-only software), holding the camera at a fixed angle during Internet videoconferencing. The cradle also connects to the AC adapter, charging the battery pack whenever the camera is docked. While the F601 Zoom doesn't have a Video Out jack itself, you can connect an accessory AV cable from the cradle to a television set for viewing images.


The front of the F601 Zoom is sleek with a matte, silver finish and lightly sculpted design elements. The 3x lens shares the camera front with the optical viewfinder window, self-timer lamp, flash exposure sensor, and microphone. As in several FinePix designs in the past, the F601 Zoom's lens is protected by a sliding metal cover that retracts instantly when the camera is powered on. The lens then telescopes outward an inch or so to its shooting position. Likewise, the lens retracts and the cover slides closed when the camera is powered off. A very slight hand grip is sculpted onto the right side of the camera (as viewed from the back), providing a tiny, beveled edge for your fingers to cling to. (As I mentioned above though, I'd feel more comfortable with a more secure grip on the camera.)


The right side of the camera holds the battery and SmartMedia compartment, protected by a sliding plastic door that flips open after first sliding outward. The NP-60 battery and SmartMedia card slots line up side-by-side vertically, making the most of the small space available. A small button at the bottom of the compartment releases the latch holding the battery in, popping it out for easy removal. Just above the battery and memory compartment is an eyelet for attaching the wrist strap.


The opposite side of the F601 Zoom features only the DC In connector, for connecting the AC adapter.


On top of the camera are the pop-up flash compartment, Mode dial, and the shiny, silver Shutter button. The ridged Mode dial encircles the Shutter button, and both slant downward on the right side. I like the very pronounced notches on top of the Mode dial, which gave my thumb a substantial grip for turning the dial, but I still found it a little awkward to operate.


The majority of the camera's external controls are on the rear panel, along with the optical viewfinder and LCD monitor. A status LED on the left side of the viewfinder eyepiece reports camera status, indicating when exposure and focus are set, when the flash is still charging, etc. Opposite the viewfinder is a bank of controls, which includes the Open Flash latch button, Back button, Multifunction pad control, and sliding Mode switch. I found the Multifunction pad very interesting, as it navigates in eight different directions, reflecting the LCD menu system's circular layout. ("Pad" is a bit of a misnomer here, but I don't know what else to call it - It's really more of a joystick arrangement, but it sits more flush with the camera body than anything I'd normally call a joystick.) The remaining controls (Power and Display buttons) dot the top corners of the LCD monitor, with a series of mode icon LED lamps in between. The camera's speaker is tucked away on the thumb rest near the lower right corner.


A very flat bottom panel completes the F601's clean design. A threaded metal tripod mount is off center from the lens on the far right side. I'm glad to see that the position of the tripod mount won't interfere with accessing the battery compartment door. On the other hand though, the off center position makes for a less stable mount on most tripod heads. (Realistically though, the portable design of this camera means it probably won't spend too much time in a studio setting or otherwise mounted on tripods.) Also on the bottom panel is the digital connection jack, which connects the camera to the separately available cradle or to the supplied USB cable.


Viewfinder
The F601 Zoom features both a real-image optical viewfinder and a color LCD monitor for composing images. The optical viewfinder display features a black outline circle in the center of the view, indicating the autofocus and autoexposure target area. A set of offset black crop marks indicate the framing for macro shooting, and seem to do a good job, based on an informal test. Though the optical viewfinder does not feature a diopter adjustment, it does have a reasonably high eyepoint, and was easy to see through when wearing my glasses. (See my notes about the accuracy of the viewfinder at the end of this section though.)

A small LED on the left side of the optical viewfinder serves as a status indicator, reporting various camera states. For example, a solid green LED indicates that focus and exposure are set and the camera is ready to shoot, while a flashing green LED warns of slow shutter speed or that the autofocus and autoexposure systems are still processing the scene. The LED flashes green and orange when the camera accesses the SmartMedia card and lights solid orange while the camera records an image. Finally, a blinking orange LED indicates a charging flash or that PC communication is occurring, while a flashing red LED reports a problem with the SmartMedia card or lens. For all warnings, a detailed message appears in the LCD monitor, if it's activated.

The 1.5-inch, low-temperature polysilicon TFT LCD monitor has a resolution of 110,000 pixels, making menu items and information displays relatively easy to read. The Display button just over the top left corner of the monitor controls the information and image display, in record mode cycling through options including image with exposure information, framing guideline overlay, or no display at all. Exposure information and various camera settings are reported via the information overlay, and the shutter speed and aperture settings display when the Shutter button is halfway pressed. The framing guideline function divides the image area into thirds horizontally and vertically, to help you line up shots. The viewfinder display changes to reflect the camera's operating mode as well, with different displays for each setting of the Mode dial. Immediately above the LCD monitor area, a series of icons light to indicate the current shooting mode.

In Playback mode, the Display button again controls the LCD monitor display, showing image information (such as filename, the number of captured images, date and time, etc.) and the Multi-Frame Playback option, which shows as many as nine thumbnail images on the screen at a time. A Fast Forward function displays three thumbnail images at the bottom of the screen, letting you quickly scroll through saved images. There's also a playback zoom which enlarges images as much as 18x, depending on the resolution setting. The maximum magnification results in a 1:1 pixel ratio between the LCD screen and the captured image, making it easy to see even the tiniest detail in your captured images. At any zoom level, pressing the Display button switches the Multi-Directional Arrow pad from zooming to panning controls, so you can move the magnified view around the image. Once enlarged, images can be cropped and saved as smaller files, at either the one-megapixel or VGA file sizes.

The camera's Setup menu offers an LCD brightness adjustment, as well as a Preview option for displaying each image immediately after capture on the LCD monitor. There are two preview options to choose from, one that simply displays the image for a few seconds, and one that displays the image and offers an option to delete or record it. During the image preview, you can also "zoom in" to check on minor details before deciding whether or not to keep the image.

In my testing, the F601 Zoom's optical viewfinder proved to be very tight. I measured its accuracy at only 76 percent frame coverage at wide-angle, and approximately 77 percent at telephoto. The resulting images showed extra space along the top and left sides of the frame, so keep that in mind when framing images. The LCD monitor was only a slightly more accurate, showing approximately 86 percent frame accuracy at wide-angle, and roughly 88 percent at telephoto. Given that I generally prefer LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the F601 Zoom's LCD monitor has some room for improvement. - The poor viewfinder accuracy was one of the most obvious weak points in an otherwise excellent camera.


Optics
A 3x, 8.3-24.9mm lens provides an optical zoom equivalent to a 36-108mm lens on a 35mm camera. Fujifilm used low dispersion glass and aspherical elements in the lens design to improve sharpness and reduce distortion. The telescoping lens extends from the camera about 1.5 inches when the camera is powered on, and retracts when the camera is shut off. Instead of a lens cap, a sliding metal cover automatically covers the lens when not in use. The lens telescopes into place fairly quickly when the camera is turned on, but does so in two steps. The total time to first shot is thus a bit longer than in some designs I've tested.

Apertures range from f/2.8 to f/10.8, depending on the lighting conditions and lens zoom setting. (Note that while the effective aperture actually ranges from f/2.8 to f/4.5 as the lens zooms, the camera always reports it as f/2.8.) The lens actually has just two aperture settings, which the camera switches between as needed. The wide aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/4.5 as the lens zooms from wide angle to telephoto. (One aperture setting, but the effective aperture changes with the focal length.) The smaller aperture ranges from f/7.0 to f/10.8.

Focus ranges from 2.0 feet (60 centimeters) to infinity in normal mode, and from 0.6 to 2.6 feet (20 to 80 centimeters) in Macro mode. The F601 Zoom's autofocus system uses a contrast-detection method to determine focus, based on the central portion of the image. You can change the focus area through the Record menu, using the Multi-Directional Arrow pad to move the focusing point around the image. A manual focus option is also available, but doesn't report the distance on the LCD monitor, limiting its usefulness somewhat. Despite the lack of a distance scale or readout though, the manual focus option does work well, and the sharp LCD monitor made it surprisingly clear when the view was in focus.

In addition to the 3x optical zoom, the F601 Zoom's digital telephoto option enlarges the image as much as 4.4x, depending on the image size setting. Zooming past the normal optical zoom range engages the digital zoom, with a zoom bar display in the LCD monitor indicating the amount of digital zoom in use. Digital telephoto is unavailable with the interpolated, 2,832 x 2,128-pixel resolution. At 2,048 x 1,536 pixels, digital zoom extends to 1.4x, while 1,280 x 960-pixel images can be enlarged to 2.2x. At the smallest 640 x 480 image size, digital enlargements as high as 4.4x are possible. As always, keep in mind that digital telephoto is no substitute for true optical zoom, as digital zoom merely crops out and enlarges the central portion of the CCD image. Digital telephoto images therefore suffer a loss of resolution and sometimes increased image noise as well.


Exposure
Exposure control is fairly uncomplicated on the F601 Zoom, though you have a lot of options to choose from. The Mode dial selects between Manual, Scene, Auto, Movie, and Audio recording modes, while a Mode switch on the back panel controls whether the camera is in Record or Playback mode. In Auto mode, the camera maintains control over the entire exposure (including aperture and shutter speed settings), leaving you only to decide whether to use the flash or not. Both shutter speed and aperture are reported on the LCD monitor when the Shutter button is halfway pressed, giving you an idea of what the exposure will be. Under Manual exposure mode, you have the option of working in Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or full Manual exposure modes. Program AE keeps the camera in control of both shutter speed and aperture, while the remaining modes offer control over one or both settings. (Note though, that the "Shutter priority" mode is rather limited because the camera has only two aperture settings available to match up with the selected shutter speed.) Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to three seconds, giving the camera good low-light shooting capabilities. (I noticed rather noisy results at the highest sensitivity settings in the low-light test, but camera performance at the other ISO settings was good enough to capture bright, clear images in average city street lighting.)

In Scene mode, you have five preset "scene" options to choose from: Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Scene, and Continuous Shooting. In Portrait mode, the camera employs a larger aperture setting to decrease the depth of field, capturing a sharply focused subject in front of a slightly blurred background. Alternatively, Landscape mode uses a smaller lens aperture and sets focus at infinity to capture broad vistas of scenery. Landscape shots typically have both the foreground and background in sharp focus, and the flash is unavailable. Sports mode selects faster shutter speeds, for capturing fast-moving action. The flash is available in Sports mode, but only with Auto or Forced settings. Night Scene uses slower shutter speeds for shooting at lower light levels, allowing more ambient light into the image. Night Scene is good for sunsets and city night shots (such as neon lights), as the increased amount of ambient light allowed into the image preserves color in darker settings. Finally, Continuous Shooting mode captures as many as 40 consecutive shots while the Shutter button is held down. Resolution automatically switches to 1,280 x 960 pixels in Continuous mode, although both Fine and Normal quality settings remain available. Continuous mode also automatically disables the flash. (Note that this Continuous Shooting mode is separate from the one available through the main Record menu, described further on.)

The F601 Zoom's three metering modes include Average, Spot, and Multi settings. Average metering reads the entire scene and averages the readings to get the best overall exposure. Spot metering takes just one exposure reading from the center of the subject, and works best when the lighting on the subject is significantly different than that on the background. The third option, Multi, takes a series of exposure readings throughout the image to determine the best overall exposure. Multi is the default metering system in most exposure modes. Instead of offering an AE / AF lock button, the F601 Zoom lets you manually lock exposure and focus by framing a portion of the subject in the center of the frame, halfway pressing the Shutter button, and then recomposing the shot while keeping the Shutter button halfway pressed. You can also use this method to lock exposure only, after setting the manual focus. An exposure compensation adjustment is available through the Record menu in Manual record mode only, adjusting the exposure from -1.5 to +1.5 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments. If you're unsure of the correct exposure, an Auto Exposure Bracketing option captures three consecutive shots at different exposure settings (one at the suggested meter reading, one underexposed, and one overexposed). Successive shots can vary by 1/3, 2/3, or one exposure equivalent (EV), depending on your selection in the Record menu. (Auto Bracketing is activated through the Continuous Shooting option of the Record menu.) After the series is shot, a preview screen appears on the LCD monitor, letting you select which image you want to record to the memory card. (You can also choose to record or delete all three images.)

Light sensitivity options include ISO equivalents of 160, 200, 400, 800, and 1,600. When 800 or 1,600 equivalents are selected, the image resolution is automatically set to 1,280 x 960 pixels with Normal JPEG compression. White Balance settings match a wide variety of light sources, including Sunny, Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, and Incandescent, with an Auto setting as well. When the self-timer is activated (through the Record mode), the camera counts down from 10 seconds by lighting a small LED on the front of the camera for five seconds, and then flashing it for another five seconds. A numerical countdown also displays on the LCD monitor. Finally, there's also a sharpness adjustment that softens or sharpens the outlines in the image, with settings of Hard, Normal, and Soft.


Flash
A Flash Open button at the top of the back panel pops the flash up from its compartment on top of the camera. The default flash mode is Auto, which fires the flash as dictated by lighting conditions. Three other flash modes are controlled through an option in the Record menu, and include Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, and Slow Synchro. Red-Eye Reduction works in a similar manner to Auto, although the camera fires a small pre-flash before the main exposure to make your subjects' eyes contract, reducing the occurrence of Red-Eye. Forced flash mode means that the flash fires with every exposure, regardless of light level. For night or twilight exposures, the Slow Synchro flash mode fires the flash in conjunction with a slower shutter speed, allowing more ambient light into the picture to balance the flash exposure. A fifth flash mode, Suppressed, is accessed simply by returning the flash to its compartment, preventing the flash from firing at all. The F601 Zoom also allows you to adjust the intensity of the flash from -0.6 to +0.6 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third increments.

Fuji rates the F601 Zoom's flash as effective from 0.6 to 11.5 feet (0.2 to 3.5 meters) at wide angle and from 0.6 to 6.6 feet (0.2 to 2.0 meters) at the telephoto lens setting. These numbers agreed well with my own testing, and if anything are a little on the conservative side.

Continuous Shooting
The F601 Zoom can capture as many as four consecutive frames in rapid succession, at intervals as fast as 0.2 seconds in the standard Continuous Shooting exposure mode. (This mode is accessed through the Continuous Shooting option of the Record menu, as opposed to the Scene Continuous Shooting mode). In my own testing, the minimum interval I measured between frames in Continuous mode was 0.24 seconds, not quite up to Fuji's stated spec. After the series is captured, a preview screen displays all four images at thumbnail size, letting you review the series and pick the images to be recorded or deleted. The camera may capture less than four consecutive shots if the SmartMedia card is out of memory space. Interval times may vary as well, depending on the image size and quality settings, and the amount of image information to record. The camera apparently captures the raw CCD data to a buffer memory in continuous mode, meaning that lower resolution settings don't result in longer capture series.

Movie Mode
Indicated on the Exposure Mode dial by a tiny movie camera symbol, Movie mode captures movies with sound for as long as the SmartMedia card has available memory space. Both 640 x 480- and 320 x 240-pixel resolutions are available, and movies record at approximately 15 frames per second. The LCD monitor must be activated in Movie mode, and the flash is disabled. Digital zoom is also deactivated in this mode, but the full range of optical zoom is available. Recording starts and stops with a full press of the Shutter button, and a timer appears in the upper right corner of the LCD monitor to count down the remaining seconds of available recording time.

Audio Recording
In addition to the sound recorded with movie files, the F601 Zoom can also record as much as 4.5 hours of sound per audio recording, depending on the amount of SmartMedia space available. As with Movie mode, the available recording time appears on the LCD screen, and a full press of the Shutter button starts and stops recording. To prevent the lens from extending from the camera, turn the Mode dial to the Audio position (small microphone icon) before powering on the camera. An Audio Indexing feature lets you mark key points in an audio recording. Simply pressing the up arrow of the Multi controller during recording places an index marker in the file, so you can quickly return to each key moment. As many as 256 index markers can be set in one recording, with intervals between them as short as one second.

You can also record voice captions to accompany captured still images, although in Automatic exposure mode only. To record captions, simply turn on the Voice Memo option in the Record menu. Once you capture an image, a "Rec Standby" message appears in the LCD monitor. Pressing the Menu/OK button begins the recording, which can last as long as 30 seconds. The amount of remaining recording time appears in the LCD monitor. Pressing the Menu button again saves the sound clip on the SmartMedia card.

For both types of audio recording, Fuji recommends placing the microphone (on the front panel) at least 7.8 inches (20 centimeters) away from the subject.


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 is to allow 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, I now routinely measure it, using a crystal-controlled test setup I designed and constructed for the purpose.

FinePix F601 Zoom Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
2.44
Fairly fast.
Shutdown
3.41
About average
Play to Record, first shot
1.74
Pretty quick.
Record to play (max/min res)
2.56/1.66
Average to a bit better than average.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.8
Slightly better than average. (Average is about 0.9-1.1 seconds.)
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.49
Average.
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.19
Faster than average. (Average is about 0.3 seconds.)
Cycle Time, max/min resolution
1.46/0.92
Pretty fast.
Cycle time, continuous mode
0.24/0.19
Very fast.


The FinePix 601 is a bit faster than average in most of its parameters. Shutter delay is slightly ahead of the pack, while cycle times are quite fast. Startup is fairly quick for a camera with a retractable lens, while shutdown is about average. Although it forces a reduced image resolution, the continuous mode is impressively fast, particularly for a compact camera.


Operation and User Interface
The F601 Zoom's user interface is fairly straightforward, with limited external control buttons as the LCD menu controls all but the most basic camera functions. A Mode dial on top of the camera accesses the different capture modes, while a Mode switch on the back panel chooses between Record and Playback settings. The LCD menu system admittedly took me a while to figure out, as Fuji redesigned the menu system from previous models. However, once I got the hang of the new menu setup, changing settings was a snap. The F601 Zoom's LCD menu positions each option in a circular layout, easily navigated by the eight-point, Multi-Directional Arrow pad. Once an option is selected for changing, a vertical listing of settings appears on the screen. The LCD menu system isn't too exhausting however, featuring at most about two pages worth of settings. It'll probably take most users the better part of an hour to get the controls straight, but after that, camera operation should be quite smooth.


Control Enumeration


Shutter Button: Sloping downward to the right on the camera's top panel, this shiny, silver button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed. A full press fires the shutter.


Exposure Mode Dial: Surrounding the Shutter button, this ridged dial controls the camera's exposure mode, placing it in either Manual, Scene, Auto, Movie, or Audio modes.


Open Flash Button: The topmost of a bank of controls on the back panel, this button releases the pop-up flash from its compartment.


Back Button: Just below the Open Flash button, this button backs out of menu selections and preview screens, serving as the "Cancel" key.


Mode Switch: Directly below the Back button, this sliding switch puts the camera into either Record or Playback mode.


Multifunction Control: Situated to the right of the Mode switch and Back button, this rocker toggle features eight arrows (four point up, down, left, and right, with the remaining four pointing to directions in between). When the LCD menu system is displayed in either Record or Playback modes, the arrows navigate through menu settings and options. The center of the pad, marked "Enter," pulls up the settings menu in each mode, as well as confirms menu selections.

In Record mode, the up and down arrows control the optical and digital zoom. In either of the Manual exposure modes, the right and left arrows highlight the available exposure settings. Once a setting is highlighted, the up and down arrows then change the setting. In Manual Focus mode, the up and down arrows adjust the focus. While recording in Audio mode, pressing the up arrow places an index marker in the audio file, so that you can quickly skip to a marked section during playback.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images and movies on the SmartMedia card. The up and down arrows control the amount of playback zoom. Once an image is enlarged, all eight arrows move the view around the frame. During movie playback, the down arrow starts and pauses the playback, while the up arrow stops playback entirely. Left and right arrows control the Forward and Rewind movie functions, allowing you to skip sections. If the movie is paused, pressing the right and left arrows moves frame by frame through the movie file.


Power Button: Tucked above the top right corner of the LCD monitor, this button turns the camera on and off.


Display Button: Located just above the upper left corner of the LCD monitor, this button controls the LCD image and information display in both Record and Playback modes.

Battery Release Button: Hidden below the battery slot in the battery compartment, this button pops the battery up from the slot so it can be easily removed.


Camera Modes and Menus

A rant about the user interface
I don't normally have very strong feelings about the user interfaces on cameras, liking some more, other less. The user interface on the F601 though, proved to be one of the most annoying I've yet come across. (I hope I'm not offending any of my friends on Fuji's engineering staff, but I had such a strong reaction to the 601's UI design that I felt I just had to say something.)

There are two unique aspects to the 601's interface, and I found both inconvenient. As you'll see below, the sub-menus for the various functions available in each mode are arranged in a circle on the LCD screen. The problem with this arrangement is that you can't just press the rocker toggle in a single direction to step around the circle, but rather have to change from pressing left or right to up or down as you navigate around the choices. This is needlessly confusing to the user, and awkward besides.

The thing that really set me off though, was what happens once you'd selected a particular function you want to control. Rather than just presenting you with a list of the options available for that function, the F601 forces you to wait through a cutesy animation, in which horizontal bars containing the various options drop down from the top of the screen and "bounce" on the bottom before coming to rest. This is cute the first time you see it, but quickly becomes intensely annoying. I found myself gritting my teeth repeatedly, wishing that the camera would just let me *set the darn options* rather than making me wait for its clever animation to finish. There may be a way to disable this behavior, but I didn't uncover it in my time with the camera. (A suggestion for Fuji for the next firmware rev: Give the user some way to turn the animation off.)

OK, flame off and back to the review. I'm probably getting way too wrought up over something as trivial as a silly little animation in a camera's user interface, but this one really got my goat...

Manual Mode: (Camera icon with an "M.") Manual capture mode offers four exposure modes, including Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual. In each, the user has partial or total control over the exposure, as well as all other camera features. Pressing the Enter button pulls up the first of the two Record menu option screens (reported here clockwise from the top, followed by the items appearing on the second menu page):


Scene Position: In this mode, you can choose between a variety of preset "scene" shooting modes, including Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Scene, and Continuous Shooting (40-frame mode). Exposure is automatically controlled, and the flash may or may not be available, depending on the scene selected. The Record menu offers the following, more limited selections in this mode:

Automatic Exposure: In Automatic exposure mode, the camera controls all exposure decisions, with the exception of the flash mode. Pressing the Menu button again offers a limited set of options. - The same options in fact as under the Scene Position setting just described. (And hence there's no point in repeating them here.)

Movie Mode: (Movie camera icon.) This mode records moving images with sound for as long as the SmartMedia card has available space, at either the 640 x 480-pixel or 320 x 240-pixel resolution setting. Only file size option and the Setup menu are available through the Record menu.

Audio Mode: (Microphone icon.) In Audio mode, the F601 Zoom records audio only (no image) for as long as 4.5 hours per recording (depending on SmartMedia space). No settings menu is available.

Playback Mode: Accessed by pushing the Mode switch to the playback symbol (as opposed to the Exposure Mode dial for the modes described above), Playback mode displays captured images and movies. Files can be erased, given a voice caption, or set up for printing on DPOF devices. Still images can be enlarged and cropped, or viewed in an index display. The Playback Menu offers the following options:


Image Storage and Interface
The F601 Zoom stores images and movies on 3.3v SmartMedia memory cards, and comes with a 16MB card. SmartMedia cards are available in sizes as large as 128MB, and I highly recommend picking up a larger card given the F601 Zoom's large file sizes. The LED next to the optical viewfinder eyepiece flashes orange and green when the camera accesses the memory card, and glows orange when recording to the card. The SmartMedia slot is on the right side of the camera, and the card inserts with the gold electrodes going in first, facing the front of the camera.

SmartMedia cards come with a set of write-protection stickers that prevent the card from being erased or written to. Each sticker can only be used once, and must be clean to be effective. Interestingly, the F601 Zoom does not feature individual image write-protection, so you'll either need to protect the entire card, or leave it as is. A trimming function allows you to crop images in Playback mode, creating smaller files from larger ones. The crop area is designated by enlarging the image with the Playback Zoom function, then pressing the Menu / OK button to crop and record the image.

The F601 Zoom offers a variety of image size and JPEG quality settings. The largest is the interpolated 2,832 x 2,128-pixel size, which offers quality settings of Fine, Normal, and Basic. The remaining image sizes are 2,048 x 1,536, 1,280 x 960, and 640 x 480 pixels, with Fine and Normal quality settings available. Movie files can be recorded at either 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels, with no available quality settings.

Following are the number of images and approximate compression levels for a 128MB SmartMedia card. (Cards of this size are cheap enough these days that you should really consider one as standard equipment for a camera like the F601.):

 


Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
Fine
Normal
Basic
Highest Resolution 2,832x2,128 Images 53 113
275
Approx.
Compression
7:1 15:1
37:1
High Resolution 2,048x1,536 Images
102
215
N/A
Approx.
Compression
7:1
15:1
N/A
Standard Resolution 1,280x960 Images
204
398
N/A
Approx.
Compression
6:1
11:1
N/A
Low Resolution 640x480 Images
497
N/A
N/A
Approx.
Compression
9:1
N/A
N/A

 


The following shows the approximate amount of movie and audio recording time for a 128MB SmartMedia card:


File Type
Seconds
320 x 240 Movie
544
640 x 480 Movie
223
Audio file
272 minutes
 

The F601 Zoom comes with a USB cable and a software CD for downloading images to a computer. Download speed is about average, as I clocked it at 398 KBytes/second on my 500 MHz PowerMac G4.

Lost Images? - Download this image-recovery program so you'll have it when you need it...
Since we're talking about memory and image storage, this would be a good time to mention the following: I get a ton of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. It's tragic when it happens, there are few things more precious than photo memories. Corrupted memory cards can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. "Stuff happens," as they say. 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...

 


Video Out
The F601 Zoom itself does not come with a Video Out function. However, the separate accessory cradle unit features a Video Out jack and comes with an AV cable for connecting the cradle to a television set. Once connected, the F601 Zoom plays back captured images and movies on the television screen.


Power
An NP-60 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack powers the F601 Zoom. An included AC adapter also acts as an in-camera battery charger (you can also charge the battery through the cradle accessory). The self-timer LED lights solid on the front of the camera whenever the battery is charging. Fuji estimates that a fully charged NP-60 battery pack should provide about 120 shots with the LCD monitor on, and 250 shots with it switched off (or two hours of video/audio recording with the LCD monitor on and four hours of audio recording with the LCD off). A battery icon flashes in the LCD monitor when the battery power is getting low.

Operating Mode
Power Drain
(@ 5v)
Estimated Minutes
(1035mAh, 3.7v
NP-60)
Capture Mode, w/LCD
507 mA
91
Capture Mode, no LCD
397 mA
116
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
561 mA
82
Half-pressed w/o LCD
561 mA
82
Memory Write (transient)
1021 mA
n/a
Flash Recharge (transient)
1021 mA
n/a
Image Playback
250 mA
183


Battery life is average to a bit better than average for a compact digicam. An hour and a half of run time with the LCD on in capture mode (the worst case power mode for normal operation) is about as good as you can expect from a compact digicam. Given this relatively short run time, my normal recommendation to purchase a second battery to keep charged and on hand applies even more strongly than usual. (These batteries are a little hard to find on the open market. DigiPower has begun manufacturing an NP-60 replacement unit though: Look for the DigiPower model BP-NP60 in retailers carrying that line.)


Included Software
A USB cable accompanies the camera, as well as a software CD loaded with USB drivers, Fuji FinePix Viewer, and ArcSoft VideoImpression. All software is compatible with current versions of Windows and Macintosh operating systems (with an additional copy of FinePix Viewer for Mac OS X). Fuji's FinePix Viewer software lets you view and categorize thumbnail images and set them up for printing. You can also view images at full size and perform minor corrections. The Windows version of FinePix Viewer includes the PictureHello software utility, which sets up the F601 Zoom as a videoconference tool, and provides limited remote control of the camera. ArcSoft's VideoImpression software provides minor video editing capabilities, letting you add or delete frames, add music, etc.


In the Box
Packaged with the FinePix F601 Zoom are the following items:


Test Results
In keeping with my standard policy, my comments here are rather condensed, summarizing my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the F601 Zoom's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the F601 Zoom performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

The F601 Zoom produced good color and saturation throughout most of the testing, and the White Balance system generally handled the test lighting well. I typically chose the Auto setting as the most accurate, though it often produced a slightly warm cast. The Daylight setting did the best job with the difficult Musicians poster though, as the preponderance of blue in the composition followed the Auto setting somewhat (a common problem among digicams). The tough incandescent lighting of the Indoor Portrait (without flash) gave the F601 a hard time as well, with both the Auto and Incandescent white balance settings producing strong color casts on that shot. The F601 Zoom had no problem distinguishing the tough tonal variations of the Davebox target, and reproduced the large color blocks well, though saturation was weak in the subtractive primary colors. Outdoors, colors were bright and vibrant, without being oversaturated. Skin tones in particular look pleasant and lifelike, although the camera's slightly high contrast caused it to lose some highlight detail and plug the shadows in the contrasty lighting of the outdoor portrait test.

The F601 Zoom did pretty well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as high as 550 lines per picture height, but showed "strong detail" out to at least 1,200 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns occurred at about 1,450 lines. (There were a lot of artifacts in the closely-spaced target lines at resolutions well below the 1200-line limit though.)

Optical distortion on the F601 Zoom is a good bit higher than average at the wide-angle end, as I measured a 1.44 percent barrel distortion at that zoom setting. The telephoto end showed only about 9 pixels of pincushion distortion present, about 0.33 percent. Corners of the target are quite soft, but there's fortunately only a little color there from chromatic aberration. (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. - There's about 8 or 9 pixels of blur, but the coloration is fairly slight.)

Though the F601 Zoom has a Manual exposure mode, its maximum shutter time is three seconds, which limits the camera's low-light shooting capabilities. The camera captured bright, clear images at light levels as low as 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) at the 1,600 ISO equivalent setting, and as low as 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux) at ISO 800 and 400. ISO settings of 100 and 200 wouldn't go much below one foot-candle (11 lux), though a somewhat dark image could potentially be used at 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lux). Autofocus worked to surprisingly low levels, about 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux) at all ISO settings. Since average city street lighting at night is equivalent to about one foot-candle, or 11 lux, the F601 Zoom should handle much darker shooting conditions fairly well, though you'll need to boost the ISO.

The F601 Zoom's optical viewfinder was very tight, showing only about 76 percent of the final frame area at wide-angle, and approximately 77 percent at telephoto. Images framed with the optical viewfinder were also shifted toward the lower right corner, with some extra space along the top and left sides. The LCD monitor was only slightly more accurate, showing approximately 86 of the final frame accuracy at wide-angle, and approximately 88 percent at telephoto. Given that I generally prefer LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the F601 Zoom falls short in this area.

In the Macro test, the F601 Zoom performed very well, capturing a minimum area of only 2.37 x 1.78 inches (60.1 x 45.2 millimeters). Resolution was high, with excellent detail on the coins, brooch, and dollar bill. Details were just slightly soft, however, with a fair amount of corner softness that extended down the right and left sides of the frame. Exposure looks good, though color balance was warm from the Auto white balance setting. The F601 Zoom's flash did a good job throttling down for the macro area, actually slightly underexposing the macro test subject.

Despite a slightly warm color balance in some cases, I was pleased with the F601 Zoom's performance throughout the testing. Image quality was good, as well as color accuracy, and the camera's macro and low-light shooting capabilities are very good. With all of the F601 Zoom's manual exposure controls, I'd like to see a manual white balance option thrown in as well. Still, a good job overall.


Conclusions
The FinePix F601 Zoom builds on an already impressive Fuji digicam design, continuing the good looks of last year's models, and adding the flexibility of full manual exposure control. The 3.1-megapixel Super CCD offers great resolution and color, and the expanded exposure options make the camera extremely versatile. Movie and Audio recording modes, a handful of preset Scene modes, and varying levels of exposure control give the camera universal appeal, and should attract both novice and more advanced consumers alike. Apart from an annoying (!) user interface, I liked the F601, particularly its accurate color and very pleasing handling of skin tones. If you're looking for a compact, stylish camera that snaps good pictures, the F601 deserves serious consideration.

<<FinePix F601 Test Images | Additional Resources and Other Links>>

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