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Fuji MX-1700 digital camera
Fuji squeezes a 3X zoom lens into the tiny MX-700 form factor!
1.5 megapixels and a 3x optical zoom fit in any pocket!

("First Look" Review posted 26 August, 1999)

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1.5 Million pixel sensor
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1280 x 1024 resolution
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True 3x optical zoom lens, plus 2x digital zoom
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Autofocus lens w/macro
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Built-in flash
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Flexible "manual" exposure mode
   

 

A "First Look" at an amazing new camera!
Many people have been impressed with the tiny, literally pocket-sized Fuji MX-700 and MX-2700, but have said "If only they had a zoom lens!" Most of us saying this held little hope that there'd ever be a product like that though, given the extraordinarily slender design of the MX-700-style body: There just didn't seem to be any way to shoehorn all the elements required for a zoom lens into that small a space, and it looked like there'd forever be a tradeoff to be made between compactness and the availability of a true zoom lens. (While many digicams, including the MX-700 and MX-2700 have a "digital zoom" function, we don't feel that really qualifies as any sort of a substitute for a true optical zoom lens. - All the digital zooms do is crop into the center portion of the CCD array, not actually magnifying the picture as it appears to the sensor at all. Thus, you lose exactly as much resolution as the amount you "zoom.")
You can imagine our surprise then, when the phone rang yesterday (that is, 8/24/99), with a Fuji rep at the other end, saying that he had a new digicam for us to take a look at: He said it was essentially an MX-700 with a true zoom lens! With only 4 units available, we couldn't have one to play with for more than a day or two, but when asked if we'd like to have a unit on those terms, we immediately jumped at the chance. This morning the FedEx truck rolled up with a package from Fuji, and inside was the MX-1700! We wasted no time putting it to work, with the results reported below, and in the full review to come. The shot at right shows the MX-1700 cradled in Dave's covetous (if not terribly photogenic) hand.
Our excitement over the MX-1700 reveals some of the biases we have in looking at digicams that we normally try to keep from creeping into our reviews. Recently though, some of our readers have asked us to let a little more of our personal opinions make their way into the reviews, so they can have a little more of a sense of how we feel and think about the products we test. We're going to try doing this, but will also try to be careful to segregate our personal views, and keep them separate from parts of the review that deal with the more purely objective characteristics of the various products.
In the case of the MX-1700, it plays into a pet theory of ours about what makes a "useful" digital camera, and also keys on our strong preference for cameras with zoom lenses. The "pet theory" is that cameras that are big and bulky tend to get left in a drawer at home more than cameras that are small and portable. - And a camera that's in a drawer at home doesn't capture the passing moments of life that turn into memories years down the line. Of course, that said, we need to 'fess up that our own cameras (film and digital both) tend toward the big, bulky side, with lots of knobs and buttons for all the manual-control features we like to play with, and supporting the studio-oriented work that we do in support of this website. That probably makes the "theory" a little hypocritical, but we'll still stand by it: Maybe someday when we can afford *two* digicams, one of them will be a "pocket wonder" like the MX-1700...
In the meantime, for those of you blissfully free of our obsession with manual controls, and front-element lens attachments, the MX-1700 offers 1.5 megapixels of resolution, good color, and a true optical zoom lens, in a package that will fit even a small shirt pocket! We'll be working on a full review over the next week or so, but in the meantime, have put together the following brief tour of the MX-1700:
Front View
We'll start with the front of the camera, shown below. (By the way, on a typical monitor, this photo will be about 15-20% larger than life-size!) The lens is top-right, shown in the main figure in its "active" position: When the camera is off, it telescopes back into the body, and a metal shutter swivels shut over it, acting as an "automatic lens cap," as shown in the inset photo below. - No lost lens caps or smudged/scratched lenses here... The onboard flash is at left, an in between the lens and flash are two openings, the upper of which is for an LED that illuminates during self-timer operation, and the lower of which is presumably for the flash exposure sensor. At the bottom left is a diagonal rib of hard rubber, which contributes greatly to the ease with which you can hold the camera in one hand.


Back View

The back of the MX-1700 will be immediately familiar to anyone who's held an MX-700 or MX-2700: There are buttons to control the flash mode and macro option, enable or disable the LCD display, and activate the menu system. The large rocker control on the right serves both as a control for the zoom lens (up and down), and also as a tool for navigating the LCD menu system. (We're not sure who had the first rocker-toggle, it may well have been Fuji on the MX-700. Whoever invented it, a number of manufacturers seem to be adopting it in their cameras, as it provides a nice user interface for navigating menus, etc.) In the case of the MX-1700, the rocker toggle is right where your thumb would naturally lay when gripping the camera in your right hand, and the net result is a camera that's actually very easy to operate single-handed, at least in "auto" mode. - We didn't have an opportunity to test the earlier MX-700, and don't have an MX-2700 on hand to compare to as we write this, but our overall impression was that the MX-1700 was easier to manipulate with one hand than was the MX-2700.


Top View
A top view of the MX-1700 shows the power switch and the "Mode Dial" that selects major camera operating modes. Clockwise from lower left, the icons on the dial represent Computer Connect, Playback, Auto Capture, Manual Capture, Setup, and Self-Timer modes. We generally like mode-dial interfaces, as they greatly simplify the LCD menu structure. We weren't that crazy about the ergonomics of the MX-1700's dial though: It was a bit stiff and hard to turn, more as a result of it's being hard to get a grip on than from the stiffness itself. The little projection at 2 o'clock in the picture works reasonably well in giving your thumb something to bear against, but our repeated inclination was to try to grab the nonexistent sides of the dial to rotate it. The shutter button is directly in the middle of the dial, and we have no complaints against it. (It works in typical fashion, a half-press triggering the autoexposure and autofocus mechanisms, a full press tripping the shutter itself.


Bottom View
Not much here, other than the battery compartment and the tripod socket. Note that the tripod socket is metal, a hallmark of Fuji's digicams that we're particularly appreciative of (having to constantly mount and dismount the digicams on our tripod in the studio, in the process of testing them).


Left Side: Ports and SmartMedia Compartment
At right is an enlarged view of the lower left-hand side (as viewed from the camera's back) of the camera, showing the ports for digital I/O (RS-232 serial port), video output (NTSC in the US & Japan, probably PAL elsewhere in the world), and the jack for the AC power supply, which also serves as a charger for the Lithium-Ion battery. (More on this in a bit.)

 

Initial Impressions
In our initial shooting with the MX-1700, it felt quite responsive, seeming to respond quickly to the shutter button, and cycling quickly between shots. A couple of quick measurements on the test bench confirmed this impression, showing a surprisingly short shutter lag time of only about 0.5 seconds for full autofocus, and 0.1-0.2 seconds when the lens was pre-focused with a half-press of the shutter button. What's more, the shot-to-shot cycle time for maximum-resolution pictures was only about 4.5 seconds. (These are approximate times only, we'll follow up with more statistically valid numbers in the full review.) All of these times are quite fast, relative to competing cameras, and create a very quick, responsive feel to the camera. - This touches on another bias of ours: We feel that responsiveness in digicams is a greatly underrated quality, as it affects the user experience much more than you'd think just from reading a spec sheet. A "fast" camera like the MX-1700 lets you pay much more attention to what you're photographing than to planning your shots around when the camera wants to take them.
While we don't have exact numbers yet, the viewfinder systems are a bit "looser" than we'd like, the stated coverage of the optical finder being only 80% of the final image area. Even the LCD used as a viewfinder only seems to cover about 90% of the area seen by the LCD. Macro performance seemed pretty good, with a minimum focusing distance of 9.8 inches (25 cm), and sharpness was quite good at that distance. (Although the flash was less useful for copystand work than some, given the very close proximity to the lens required by the compact case design. - This produced glaring reflections back into the lens when shooting our standard "Macro" test shot.)
Other than the aforementioned awkward mode dial, our only other operational complaint with the MX-1700 is one we have with some of Fuji's other cameras as well: Battery life. In the case of the MX-1700 is probably unavoidable due to the tiny case size, but we still see it as something for potential buyers to be aware of: The NP-80 LiIon rechargeable battery just doesn't seem to pack nearly the "punch" a set of AA NiMH cells do. On the face of it, this might seem strange, as the LiIon cell has a rated capacity of 1100 mAh, pretty close to that of many NiMH AAs, particularly earlier versions. The truth of the tale is to be found in the total energy capacity of the two battery types though, which is a product of the cell voltage and current capacity. In the case of the NP-80, this product is 3.6 volts x 1100 mAh, or 3.76 watt-hours. By contrast, a set of 4 AA 1300 mAh NiMH cells has a energy capacity of 4.8 volts x 1300 mAh, or 6.24 watt-hours, about 64% more capacity. That's a significant difference! The advantage of the LiIon cells of course, besides their much smaller size, is that they don't self-discharge the way NiMH cells do. Thus, a workable solution is to buy 2 or 3 extra NP-80 cells and just plan on packing them along with the camera whenever you're heading out for an extended outing. Fuji rates the NP-80/MX-1700 combination for "100 consecutive shots" with the LCD operating, or 300 without, but in actual use, we think you'll find yourself running out of juice quite a bit before that. (Then again, we tend to use the LCD a lot, perhaps more than typical users would do.) This is by no means a show-stopper with the MX-1700, and as noted is a tradeoff that may be mandated by the small case size of the camera. Still, we observed it, and felt led to comment...
Image Quality
Given that we've literally only had the camera in our hands for a few hours, we haven't had the opportunity yet to go over the pictures we've taken with our proverbial fine-toothed comb. This will happen over the next week or so (perhaps two weeks, given that Dave has just decided to venture out to the Seybold conference after all). In the meantime though, we wanted to get our readers at least a cursory look at what the MX-1700 can do. To that end, we've included scaled versions of several of our standard test shots here, each of which is linked to the full-sized image if you click on it. (NOTE that we haven't had the time yet to put these images in our standard "carrier" pages though, so we ask that readers respect our copyrights...) ALSO NOTE that we haven't done the exhaustive side-by-side we usually do before commenting on the digicam pictures (we generally inspect images from each digicam onscreen in Photoshop(tm) with those from up to a half-dozen of its closest competitors, before rendering judgements on their quality and characteristics. In this case, we haven't had the chance to do this yet, and so are just reacting to the images here in a more or less "standalone" fashion. - In that light, please take the comments below with a grain of salt! All this not withstanding, herewith the photos:

 

Resolution Target
Resolution looks pretty good, at about 700 lines per picture height in both horizontal and vertical directions. There's a moderate amount of color aliasing visible in the verticle direction, although we didn't encounter any problems with this in the "natural" targets we shot. The shot shown here was taken at the wide angle end of the lens' zoom range, and shows moderately severe barrel distortion: At the telephoto end, the lens was almost entirely distortion free. The good news is that there's virtually no chromatic aberration visible anywhere in the frame. (Well, just a teensy bit along the extreme right-hand edge, but it's really just a sub-pixel shading, not a full color fringe.) (628k)

House Poster
Oops! - Blew the framing on this one, we'll reshoot it as soon as we're able! Other than our sloppy framing though, the MX-1700 did pretty well here. Color and detail are both very good, as is tonal range. The only quibble is the overall slight yellowish cast that we also observed with the MX-2700. (As noted there, a perfect candidate for the PhotoGenetics(tm) program we review elsewhere on this site!) We'll have a more valid reaction to this test after comparing the results with other 1.5 megapixel cameras we've tested. (712k)

Musicians Poster
Again, a nice picture, good color, tone, and detail, with a somewhat warm cast overall. ("Auto Levels" in Photoshop(tm) cleans it up beautifully though, although we didn't have the time to present it here. (728k)


Davebox Target
Dave's eponymous all-in-one test target shows up problems with color and tonal handling quite readily. There's the same (remarkably consistent) yellowish cast here (which again is very easily dealt with in Photoshop, and which could be handled in a completely automatic manner with the PhotoGenetics software). Other than that overall cast though, the color is remarkably good, with strong saturation in all colors, across the spectrum, yet good handling of the pastels as well. Tonal range is excellent, with lots of detail in both highlights and shadows. Noise is present in the shadows, but is pretty good relative to what we're used to seeing with other cameras. (Even the always-difficult blue channel isn't as bad as most we've seen.) (648k)


Macro Test
Macro performance doesn't reach the "microscopic" levels of some recent cameras, but is nonetheless very respectable, with a minimum coverage area of 2.3 x 2.9 inches (5.9 x 7.4 cm). Detail and sharpness is quite good. (680k)


Summary (for now)
While we have a lot of testing yet to do, our first "take" on the MX-1700 is very positive: It takes excellent pictures, and is small enough to fit comfortably into any shirt pocket or purse with ease. By combining a zoom lens with the tiny form-factor of their earlier MX-700, we think Fuji's produced a real winner. - Just be sure to buy a couple of extra batteries along with it. With an opening list price of $599, street prices should be in the $500-550 range, which should translate into good sales: That's not a bad price for 1.5 MP with zoom, and when you combine it with the tiny case, we think it will be very popular!

 

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