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Fuji MX-2900 digital camera
Manual exposure control, manual focus, and external flash make an ideal "enthusiasts camera."

(Review first posted 29 September, 1999)

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2.3 Million pixel sensor
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1800 x 1200 resolution
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3X optical plus 2.5x digital zoom
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Full manual exposure control
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Internal or external (hot shoe) flash
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Provision for external auxiliary lenses

Preface
Fuji is a longtime player in the digicam marketplace, having produced some excellent units over time, and finding some unique market niches. (For instance, their VGA-resolution DS-220 had a unique macro attachment with built-in flash that made it a runaway favorite for oral surgeons documenting patient treatments.) Their latest lineup is one of the broadest in the industry, including a very affordable and surprisingly full-featured 0.8 megapixel mode (the DX-10), two 1.5 megapixel models (the inexpensive MX-600, and the sleek & sexy MX-1700), a tiny 2.3 megapixel model with a fixed focal-length lens (the MX-2700), and now a very flexible "enthusiast's" camera, the 2.3 megapixel MX-2900.
We call the MX-2900 an "enthusiast's camera", because its rich reature set is clearly aimed at people for whom picture-taking is more than an idle passtime: If you're just looking for a simple point & shoot digicam to pack along on daytrips, you'd probably be better served by the DX-10, MX-1700 or MX-2700. On the other hand, if you're interested in using auxiliary lenses or an external flash unit with your digital camera, the MX-2900 could be just the ticket. What's more, it brings fully manual exposure control to the digital photographer (allowing fully independent control of aperture and shutter speed), a feature that's become something of a holy grail for more-advanced photographers considering digital. With the MX-2900 topping their current "prosumer" lineup, Fuji literally has a digital camera for every need, at least in the under-$1,000 marketplace.
Major Features

  • 2.3 megapixel CCD sensor with resolution up to 1800 x 1200 pixel resolution
  • Sturdy, magnesium alloy body
  • 2.0 inch 130,000 pixel low temperature polysilicon TFT LCD monitor for preview and image replay plus a standard optical viewfinder
  • Glass Fujinon optical 3x zoom lens (f3.3/f7.6 wide angle, f5/f11 telephoto) (equivalent to 35-105 on a 35mm camera)
  • TTL autofocus from 35.4 inches to infinity and 9.8 inches to 35.4 inches in Macro
  • Wide angle field of view with macro position and autofocus function
  • ISO equivalent 125
  • Shutter speed from 1/4 to 1/2,000 seconds using AE and three seconds to 1/1000 in Manual mode
  • Four image quality modes from Hi to Basic
  • Full manual photography functions (manual exposure, aperture priority AE, slow shutter speeds, light metering mode selection and manual focusing)
  • Automatic popup flash with high precision wide range flash control sensor
  • Hot shoe for mounting an external flash unit
  • Continuous shooting at three frames per second (in 640 x 480 pixel mode)
  • Framing Guideline Function makes it easy to compose professional looking shots
  • Special effects functions so you can quickly and easily modify images in the camera
  • Mode dial and four direction button for simple operation
  • Compatible with 3.3V, 2MB to 32MB SmartMedia
  • Runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) compatibility makes it easy to order prints



"Executive Overview"

We really liked the "35mm" styling of the MX-2900: The hand grip is comfortable and natural, giving you a solid hold on the camera. The addition of an external flash hot shoe is a definite plus as well. Overall, the camera's design replicates the look and feel of a standard 35mm camera, immediately setting most camera buffs at ease. You still have to deal with a lens cap on this one, but at least it ties to the wrist strap lug so you don't have to keep up with it.
Both an optical and LCD viewfinder help you compose each shot with the added bonus of a dioptric adjustment slide control next to the optical viewfinder. We found that the LCD panel's color display was almost accurate, except when shooting under incandescents, where some of the color information got lost. (It tended to show the images as having a more neutral color balance than they actually did.) The LCD records almost exactly 100 percent of the full frame coverage as opposed to the optical viewfinder's 76.5 percent coverage.
The Fujinon lens is a true 3x zoom lens with an aperture range from f3.3 to f7.6 in wide angle and f5 to f11 in telephoto. Focal length ranges from 7.4 to 22mm, equivalent to a 35-105mm lens for a standard 35mm camera. There's a built in option for auxiliary lenses via mounting tabs on the camera body, at the base of the lens. An optional lens adapter that ships with the 0.85x wide angle adapter has 43mm filter threads.
Exposure-wise, the Automatic setting is fairly typical with the camera controlling the aperture, shutter speed, white balance and metering. We got really excited about the full manual exposure control however. You have control over virtually everything with a variety of aperture and shutter speed options at your fingertips. There are also seven white balance settings but it reverts back to Auto when using the flash. The flash options are pretty standard as well, but we were perplexed that the Night/Slow Synchro option as only available in the Automatic capture mode.
The Self-Timer mode on the MX-2900 gives you 10 seconds to get into the picture. A red light beside the lens lights solid for the first five seconds, then flashes during the remaining five seconds. There's also a countdown on the LCD panel so you have two visual cues while getting in position. Only one delay setting is provided though, making it tedious to use the self timer in place of a cable release for long exposures on a tripod.
The Macro function on the camera allows image captures from 9.8 to 35.4 inches and is initiated and cancelled by hitting the Macro button on the camera's back. The Auto flash setting is unavailable in this mode, but Red-Eye Reduction, Forced and Suppressed modes are all accessible.
The MX-2900 also features a 2x "Digital Telephoto" mode, which is basically a digital zoom option. Remember that digital zoom compromises the quality of the image. We found this feature most useful when trying to manually focus on difficult-to-focus subjects.
As we mentioned, we really liked the addition of an external flash hot shoe. The camera's popup flash reaches from 1.3 to 8.2 feet in telephoto and 1.3 to 11.5 feet in wide angle. Flash is available in five modes: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, Suppressed and Night/Slow Synchro. As we said earlier, the Night/Slow Synchro option is only available in Automatic capture mode, but the others are all controlled by the Flash button.
The MX-2900's user interface was overall pretty easy to use. With all the controls on the back panel, you're not fumbling around to find them. We like the idea of a rocker toggle button (as on the Fuji MX-1700 and MX-2700) better than the four individual arrow buttons used on the MX-2900, but the buttons didn't present any navigational problems. The SmartMedia and input/output sockets are in their usual side positions and the battery slot is still accessible from the bottom of the camera (which as we've noted on other digicams, is somewhat annoying when using a tripod).
Images are stored on standard 3.3V SmartMedia cards (an 8MB card comes with the camera). An exciting note is that the MX-2900 offers a true, uncompressed TIFF mode. Another interesting feature is that you have the ability to perform minor image manipulations right on the camera (black and white, sepia tones, silver cross and rainbow cross options).
The MX-2900 shows a relatively high power consumption level, although well within the normal range among other two megapixel digicams out there. We found battery life to be a bit short, likely due in part to the somewhat limited 3.76 watt hour capacity of the NP-80 battery. (We suggest keeping up a few spares around.)
The camera comes with Picture Shuttle and EZtouch software, which give you limited manipulation capabilities, and Adobe PhotoDeluxe which provides a wider range of options (like greeting card formats and extra filters).
The MX-2900 offers features and a range of control over the creative process that photo buffs should love. People looking for a simple, fit-into-your-pocket type camera may be interested in a more sleek design, such as Fuji's MX-1700 or MX-2700 models.
Camera Design

The MX-2900 looks and feels more like a standard 35mm camera than most digicams. The bulkier hand grip gives you more to hold, but at the expense of the camera's portability. (Given the decision to make a physically larger camera, we're puzzled why Fuji didn't include a larger battery pack.) The design also includes a popup flash and hot shoe for an external flash connection, both familiar traits of 35mm design. A relatively light weight magnesium alloy body weighs in at about 12.2 oz (345 g) excluding all accessories, battery and attachments. Dimensions are 5.1 x 2.7 x 2.4 inches (129.5 x 68.5 x 59.8 mm) also excluding accessories and attachments.


A protective shield covers the lens at all times and the lens cap is attachable to the camera via a cord that ties in at the same place as the wrist strap. This makes it hard to lose but you also have to deal with it swinging around when off of the lens.


All of the camera controls are easily accessible but still require two handed operation. Four arrow buttons control the menus and a Shift button gives some of the buttons extra functions. In addition to the large color LCD screen on the back of the camera, a smaller, black and white LCD readout rests beside the Mode dial and displays the camera's settings when the camera is on. When the camera turns on, the lens comes out of its "storage" space and likewise retracts once the camera is turned off. Power on the MX-2900 is controlled by a power switch separate from the Mode dial. A playful, red light display occurs around the arrow keys when the camera is turned on, accompanied by a musical series of beeps.


Viewfinder

The MX-2900 offers both an optical and LCD viewfinder. The LCD is a 2.0 inch low temperature polysilicon TFT design, featuring 130,000 pixel resolution. The LCD accurately records 100 percent of the full frame coverage, while the optical viewfinder shows about 76.5 percent of full frame at both wide angle and telephoto settings. In Manual mode, the LCD never turns off completely because you need the LCD screen to control the Manual menuósomething to be aware of for power consumption. The LCD panel defaults to off in Auto mode and is called back to action by the Display button.
The LCD panel displays reasonably accurate color, but tends to be less so when shooting under incandescents. Regardless, we still found it helpful as a relative indicator for choosing the best white balance setting. What's more annoying is that the LCD seemed to show our indoor images as brighter than they ended up in the actual file. This seemed to have more to do with image contrast than just backlight LCD brightness. You could certainly get used to this, "calibrating your eyeballs" to recognize proper exposure, but really, the camera should do this for you.
A big plus on the camera for some people is the dioptric adjustment for eyeglass wearers on the optical viewfinder.

Optics
The MX-2900 features a Fujinon 3x zoom lens with an aperture range of f3.3 to f7.6 in wide angle and f5 to f11 in telephoto. Focus length ranges from 7.4 ~22mm (equivalent to 35 to 105mm on a 35mm camera), and you can focus from 35.4 inches to infinity in the normal setting and 9.8 inches to 35.4 inches in Macro mode.


In our testing, we found the lens to be optically good with only 0.3 percent barrel distortion at the wide angle end and 0.0 percent (no barrel or pincushion) at the telephoto end. (In our earlier tests, we didn't measure this distortion: Thus, you may not find it mentioned in some reviews, even though it is present.) The zoom appears to have small "steps" to it, in that there appear to be some focal length settings you can't get to. The focal length resolution is still quite good, perhaps having from 10 to 15 steps across the full range. For tight framing, this could be a bit of a nuisance which professionals might notice, however we doubt most amateurs will really care. Another point we haven't commented on, but that one reader pointed out could be important in "candid" shooting situations, is that the autofocus/shutter mechanism is quite noisy. There's quite a range of variation in digicams in this respect and the MX-2900 lands toward the top of the range.
We got an evaluation unit of the 0.85x wide-angle accessory lens along with the camera and played with it briefly. This extends the normal 35mm wide angle limit of the zoom lens all the way out to 29.5 mm, a pretty good wide angle. This could be useful for the always mentioned real estate market, taking pictures in cramped quarters, indoors, etc. This auxiliary lens appeared to be of fairly high quality, with an all-glass, multi-element construction, and anti-reflection coatings on the lens' outer surfaces.
As is common with telescoping lens designs, the MX-2900's lens doesn't have filter threads to use in attaching auxiliary lenses or filters. There is a fairly robust provision for auxiliary lenses though, in the form of  mounting lugs hidden beneath a cosmetic cover, on the body of the camera around the base of the lens assembly. The wide-angle accessory lens mentioned above came with an adapter ring that mated with the body lugs and provided 43mm filter threads which the accessory lens attached to. We don't know whether Fuji intends to sell this adapter ring separately, but certainly hope they will. Given the sophistication of the MX-2900, we suspect that many owners will want to use it with auxiliary lenses and filters, and it would be a shame if they had to purchase a (probably expensive) lens just to get the adapter ring.
Exposure

We experienced good control over both ambient exposure compensation and the flash settings. The Night/Slow Synchro flash mode does a good job of letting more ambient light in to affect the exposure, but surprisingly is only available from the Auto mode. This means you can't use any of the exposure compensation adjustments with it. We give Fuji big kudos for the full Manual exposure setting and the provision for the external flash. The combination of the two gives great control when using an external flash unit. Any garden variety hot shoe auto flash unit will work, but the camera's limit of only two aperture settings means you need to pick a flash whose indicated apertures for ISO125 match the f/4 and f/8 aperture options. The manual white balance settings appear to also be functional when the external flash is used, again allowing much greater creative control than would otherwise be the case.
A minor annoyance is that there is apparently no way to turn off image confirmation in Manual mode. We often wanted to just set the exposure compensation etc., then shoot a bunch of frames, but the camera insisted on making us press the Menu/Exe button to confirm that we really wanted to keep each one. The process is somewhat time consuming, and we'd like to see a menu option to bypass it.
The camera does feature a manual focus option, available in both Auto, Manual and Self-Timer modes. To access manual focus, hold down the Shift button and the Shift menu explains what buttons have extra Shift capabilities. For manual focus, push either the up or down arrow buttons to adjust the focus and MF will appear in the LCD panel. To cancel, hit the Cancel/Back button. Manual focus is useful when the AF feature cannot focus on a subject but only works when the LCD monitor is on. We particularly appreciated that the MX-2900's manual focus provided a continuous range of adjustment, rather than the discrete steps common in even high-end consumer digicams from other manufacturers. (About the only added manual-focus feature we'd ask for would be a readout in feet and/or meters, showing what the current focus setting was. This would make it easier to achieve correct focus in situations where the light level was too low to see the results of your manipulations clearly on the LCD screenÖ)
Automatic Mode
Auto mode is the quintessential point and shoot mode. You simply focus the camera by halfway pressing the shutter button and fire when ready. You can control zoom in this mode by pressing up or down on the zoom lever (just above the arrow buttons). A small light by the optical viewfinder will tell you when the camera is finished focusing and ready to take an exposure by showing solid green. If it's green and flashing, it's still trying to focus or there's a camera shake warning and you need a tripod. The same light glows orange while the data is recorded and no pictures can be taken at that time.
The manual states that you can control AE and AF lock while in Auto, but not through the use of buttons. Instead, it suggests composing your image and then moving the camera to focus on the part of the image that is most important to you. While halfway holding the shutter down, let the camera focus and then move back to your original composition and press the shutter button all the way to take the picture.
You do have a framing guideline function available while in Auto mode (as well as in self-timer mode). When you hit the Display button on the back of the camera, you can use the arrow buttons to choose between Scene, Group Shot and Portrait (vertical shot frame). For each selection, a grid or guidelines will appear and help you compose your shot. The manual notes that the lines in the Scene frame guide roughly divide the recorded pixels into three equal parts horizontally and vertically. When the image is printed, the resulting print may show a slight shift from the original Scene framing. (We didn't test this explicitly, but apparently the framing guides can't be counted on to exactly correspond to the same parts of the final image as they do on the LCD display. - This seems odd to us, given the near-100% overall framing accuracy of the LCD viewfinder in our tests.)
Manual Mode
We loved the Manual mode on this camera. You get a lot of control through relatively clear menus. As soon as you set the mode dial to Manual, the settings menu appears on the LCD panel. If you hit the Display button, the image disappears and only the setting menu remains. Hit Display again to bring back the image. All the menu items are accessible by hitting the right and left arrow buttons, while hitting the up button activates an individual menu. To confirm menu selections, hit the Menu/Exe button or cancel with the Cancel/Back button. You can control White Balance, Brightness (EV), Manual Exposure, Flash intensity, Photometry (metering) and the Continuous Shooting mode from this menu. EV compensation has nine levels in approximately 0.3 EV increments from -0.9 to 1.5. The EV setting is disabled automatically when using the flash. (We found the user interface confusing in this respect, in that it allows you to change the exposure compensation settings when the flash is activated, just as you would normally: There's no indication that the control is actually disabled!)
Under the Manual Exposure menu, you have the option of Program/Auto, Aperture Priority and Manual Setting. Program allows the camera to dictate aperture and shutter speed based on the conditions. Aperture Priority allows you to choose between f4 and f8 while the camera selects the appropriate shutter speed. The Manual Settings option gives you the freedom to set both the aperture and shutter speed independently, regardless of lighting conditions. With an aperture setting of f/4, you can choose an automatic shutter speed of from three to 1/500 seconds. For an aperture of f/8, you can do the same but up to 1/1000 seconds. Note that for any other aperture setting than Program, the flash will only operate in either Red-Eye Reduction or Forced mode. If the shutter speed is not set to Auto (that is, when in full manual mode), the Exposure Compensation and Metering Mode functions are disabled. At shutter speeds slower than 1/4 seconds, noise may appear in the image: We found the MX-2900 was capable of capturing images at very low light levels, but 3-second exposures invariably contained large amounts of noise. (This noise is mostly of the "fixed pattern" type though, which means you can manually subtract much of it out of your images in Photoshop(tm), given a "black reference" image and some patience.)
Manual mode also gives you control over the flash intensity. Under the Flash option in the Manual menu, correction levels go from -0.6 to +0.6 in 0.3EV increments. Note that this only controls the camera's popup flash, not any external attachment.
Under the Metering Mode option of the Manual menu ("Photometry" in Fuji's parlance), you can select between Average, Spot and Multi. Average simply takes an average of the entire image. Spot optimizes the exposure for the center of the image and Multi automatically assesses the scene and selects the optimum exposure available.
Also only available in Manual mode is the Continuous Shooting option, where the camera captures successive frames as long as the shutter button is held down. The file size in this mode is fixed at 640 pixels. A total of nine continuous shots can be recorded, at up to three frames per second. Flash and Digital Telephoto (explained later) are unavailable during Continuous Shooting and the focus and exposure are fixed at the values selected when the shutter was opened. At the end of the exposures, all the frames are displayed on a nine image screen.
Self-Timer
The Self-Timer is controlled by the mode dial. You don't have any timing options here, the only countdown is 10 seconds. Once you've adjusted the exposure and focused the image, fully press the shutter button. A red light next to the lens lights solid for five seconds and then blinks for five more. A countdown is displayed on the status display on top of the camera as well as the back LCD panel. Cancel the Self-Timer by hitting the Cancel/Back button. As we mentioned earlier, we'd like to see an option for a shorter delay added to the MX-2900's self-timer function. It's often useful to employ the self timer to avoid camera vibration when taking longer exposures on a tripod: A delay of a couple of seconds will let any vibration resulting from pressing the shutter button die out before the picture is actually captured. You can certainly still do this with a 10-second self timer, but it requires more patience.
White Balance
The MX-2900 has seven white balance settings available, only controllable in Manual mode. You have the option of Automatic adjustment, Outdoors in fine weather, Outdoors in shade, Daylight fluorescent lamps, Warm White fluorescent lamps, Cool white fluorescent lamps and Incandescent light. The MX-2900's Auto white balance setting proves somewhat weak under strong incandescent lighting, but the Incandescent setting does very well under household lights. This is somewhat unusual in that most digicams seem to have the Incandescent setting adjusted for professional lighting, which has a much higher color temperature than household bulbs. Another note is that the white balance setting apparently disables when using the flash and reverts to Auto, even though the back-panel LCD menu will continue to indicate whatever setting you had previously chosen. The manual suggests switching to Suppressed flash mode to fully utilize white balance. (We found the MX-2900's tendency to change its behavior without alerting the user via the menu system to be rather annoying: If a mode or setting has been changed or disabled, the camera clearly should show you that this has happened.)
Macro
The Macro feature on the MX-2900 is controlled by a button on the back of the camera, right next to the Flash button (indicated by a flower symbol). Once you press the button, the same flower symbol appears on the LCD display (which will automatically come on if it was turned off). Press the same button again to cancel the setting. In this mode, you can photograph subjects between 9.8 inches to 35.4 inches (25cm to 90cm). Flash is automatically set to Suppressed mode, but you can change this setting by popping up the flash and then selecting the mode you want. When you cancel Macro mode, the flash is automatically returned to its original setting. Auto flash mode is unavailable while in Macro.
Digital Telephoto
A Digital Telephoto option is available in all photography modes by simply pressing the up and down arrow keys. Press the up arrow once for 1.2x enlargement and twice for 2.5x (displayed on the LCD panel). The down arrow cancels each enlargement. It's still better to use the true zoom on the camera, for quality's sake. If the file size is set to 1800, then the recorded file will be 1280 x 1024 pixels at 1.2x and 640 x 480 pixels at 2.5x. If the file size is already at the 640 pixel setting, the digital telephoto does not change the recorded file size. One good use of this digital zoom is in the manual focus setting when you're having trouble focusing on a subject. Don't forget to cancel before exposing the image.
Flash
An exciting feature of the MX-2900 is the popup flash and the additional hot shoe for an external flash connection. The built-in flash reaches from 1.3 to 8.2 feet (0.4 to 2.5m) in telephoto and 1.3 to 11.5 feet (0.4 to 3.5m) in wide angle. You have five options for controlling the flash, four of them triggered by the Flash button on the back of the camera (Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced and SuppressedóSlow Synchro is operated through the menu button on the back of the camera. To get to the mode that you want, simply hit the Flash button until the correct icon appears in the LCD panel. For Automatic, no icon appears and the camera will judge for itself how best to use the flash. Red-Eye Reduction emits the typical preflash before popping the real one. Forced is good for backlit subjects and Suppressed means the flash doesn't fire at all. You'll more than likely get a camera shake warning on this one and a tripod is recommended in low light situations.
As we mentioned earlier, the Slow Synchro mode is controlled elsewhere on the camera, however, it's only available in Auto and Self-Timer modes, meaning you can't apply any exposure compensation adjustments. While the camera is in either of these modes, hit the Menu/Exe button and use the arrow keys to turn Slow Synchro either on or off. You can cancel the mode through the same process or merely by closing up the flash. If the camera is turned off with the flash up while in Slow Synchro, the mode setting will be saved.
The external flash option on the MX-2900 is particularly well-implemented, in that you can combine it with the full-manual exposure mode. This lets you select fast shutter speeds for use in conjunction with the flash, reducing the effect of the ambient lighting, and insuring sharper photos of moving subjects, even under fairly bright lighting conditions. (We didn't experiment with this too much, so can't say what the fastest flash-sync speed is, but it's at least 1/125, and likely higher.)
Shutter Lag/Cycle Times

The MX-2900 comes alive in about three to four seconds and the quickest we could get a shot off was at about 3.8 seconds from power up. It took anywhere from two to eight seconds to switch from one of the capture modes to Playback. This time will be longer with fine/high resolution shots and shorter with basic/low resolution shots.
The shutter lag at full autofocus was about 1.0 seconds and 0.32 seconds with prefocus. The full autofocus is a little slow compared to many competing cameras which run about 0.8 seconds. Prefocus is also a bit slow with many competing units running about 0.2 seconds.
At 11 seconds, shot-to-shot cycle times were very fast in uncompressed TIFF mode when compared to other 2 megapixel cameras we've tested. High resolution images required about seven seconds, much better than most two megapixel cameras, but still not as good as some. Speed stayed pretty consistent from shot to shot, so buffer memory apparently isn't being used to store images before processing and saving them on the SmartMedia memory card. The bad news is that high-resolution cycle times never get faster than seven seconds. The good news is that they never get worse either, even if you're shooting a long series of exposures. Low resolution images required about five seconds between shots.
In Continuous Shooting mode, shot-to-shot speed was about eight shots in 3.2 seconds, or 2.5 frames per second.
User Interface

We found the user interface for the MX-2900 to be pretty good overall. The mode dial is similar to those of other digicams but doesn't control the power. A small display panel sits on top of the camera, just to the left of the mode dial and displays the camera settings when it's on. The shutter button is placed just in front of the mode dial, right on top of the handle grip.


All the controls are on the back panel of the camera and pretty simple to negotiate. The camera turns on with a slide power switch on the back, just above the LCD viewfinder, and a small light and audio display occurs to let you know the camera is "awake". The radially arranged push buttons which steer the menus aren't as convenient to operate as a rocker toggle button, but the menus themselves navigate well. A Cancel/Back and Menu/Execute button lie just beside the arrow keys, taking a step out of the menu navigation process. A nice touch we found is that if you've been adjusting one of the manual controls (such as EV compensation), take a shot and then want to adjust the same control again, pressing the Menu/Exe button takes you right to that menu. This eliminates having to search through the list of other menu options again.

The Zoom, Macro and Flash controls are above the radial arrow keys. The Display button sits directly to the right of the LCD panel and on the opposite side is a Shift button, which allows you to access many of the camera's setup features without going into Setup mode.

A dioptric adjuster for the optical viewfinder is also on the back of the camera, right next to the viewfinder itself. It simply slides back and forth to adjust.

 

Both the SmartMedia slot and I/O jacks are on the sides of the camera. The SmartMedia slot has a plastic cover with a slide latch to keep it in place at all times. On the other side, the Digital, Video Out and DC input jacks are exposed, unlike many other digicams which have a plastic cover. A metal tripod mount is on the bottom of the camera as well as the battery slot. (Kudos to Fuji for the metal tripod socket: Most digicams these days use plastic for these.)



Mode Dial
From here you can choose between six options to operate the camera with. Counterclockwise from upper right, the options are:

  • Self-Timer: allows you to set up the shot and then get in it.
  • Setup: allows you to change things like the date and time as well as other camera settings like image quality and sharpness.
  • Manual: (also designated by a small red camera but with an M next to it) gives you complete control over the exposure.
  • Automatic: (designated by a small red camera) allows you to point and shoot with no thought about settings involved.
  • Playback: (denoted by a small green arrow in a green box) allows you to view and erase images.
  • PC: allows you to connect to your PC and transfer images.

Shutter Button
A two stage shutter button sits right on top of the camera in the usual right hand location. Press the shutter button down halfway to focus the camera and then all the way to make an exposure. This is also where you control the autofocus lock function, by moving the camera to the section of the image you want to focus on and then back to the subject.
Flash Button
You can select the flash mode you'd like to use, except for the Night/Slow Synchro which is controlled elsewhere.

  • Auto Mode: The camera controls when and how much flash is used based on existing light levels.
  • Red-Eye Reduction: Fires a small pre-flash before the shutter opens to reduce the Red-Eye effect on the subject.
  • Forced: The flash always fires, no matter what the lighting conditions are.
  • Suppressed: Completely disables the flash, regardless of dark conditions.

Macro Button
In all camera modes, this button allows you to capture a subject from 9.8 to 35.4 inches (25cm to 90cm). The flash is automatically set to Suppressed, but can be changed by popping up the flash and then selecting the flash setting via the Flash button.
Zoom Lever
(Upper right-hand corner of camera back.) This button controls zoom up to 3x through three settings (equivalent to a 35 - 105mm lens on a 35mm camera). The zoom is automatically set to 80mm when the camera is turned on.
Shift Button
In the various capture modes (Self-Timer, Manual, and Auto, Shift allows you to change the following settings. (LCD brightness and manual focus are only available when the LCD is turned on though.)

  • Adjust the LCD brightness (Shift + Display)
  • Adjust image quality (Shift + Flash)
  • Adjust file size (Shift + Macro)
  • Turn on Manual Focus (Shift + up or down arrows)

In Playback mode, Shift controls LCD brightness and Panning during "zoomed" playback. (Shift + any combination of the arrow buttons).
Display Button
In PC mode, the Display button turns the LCD panel off and on.
In Auto and Self-Timer mode, the Display button turns the LCD panel on and off, and also activates the Framing Guideline Function, with specific framing setups chosen by the left and right arrow buttons.
In Playback mode, hitting Display twice brings up a nine shot, multi frame playback screen.
Cancel/Back Button
In any mode, allows you to cancel previous menu selections or back out of menus. Once you've taken an exposure in Manual mode, the Cancel/Back button allows you to delete the image without saving it to the SmartMedia card.
Menu/Exe Button
Allows you to access the Playback menu while in Playback mode and confirm menu selections in all other modes.

  • In Auto mode, the Menu/Exe button allows you to access the Night/Slow Synchro flash mode when the flash is popped up.
  • In Manual mode, the Menu/Exe button allows you to confirm saving an image after an exposure.

Radial Arrow Keys
Key controls for navigating the menu system and selecting camera options:

  • In Recording modes:
    • In both recording modes, allow you to move up, down, left and right within menus. Also control Digital Telephoto by moving up and down to digitally zoom in and out. When combined with the Shift key, up and down arrows control the Manual Focus option.
  • In Playback mode:
    • The up and down arrows allow you to zoom an image up to 4x in 2x increments and the left and right arrows cancel the action (except when combined with the Shift key, which allows you to move around in a zoomed image).
    • The left and right arrows let you scroll through previously-captured images images.

Pop-Up Flash Button
(Top of camera, next to the flip-up flash head.) Once pressed, releases the flash.
Dioptric Adjustment Control
(Rear of camera, just to the right of the viewfinder itself.) Slides either left or right to adjust the optical viewfinder for your eyes.
Lens Adapter Mount Lock Release Button
(Front of camera, just to the right of the lens.) When pressed, releases the lens adapter mount cover.
Camera Modes & Menus

Following is a description of the major camera modes and the LCD menu options associated with them (all mentioned briefly above in the description of the mode dial).
Setup Mode
The Setup menu is automatically displayed when the mode dial is placed on Setup. Options here are:

  • Quality: Sets the compression ratio for recording. Choose between Hi, Fine, Normal and Basic. Default is the Normal setting.
  • File Size: Sets the number of pixels for each image, either 1800 x 1200 or 640 x 480.
  • Sharpness: Five levels available from no sharpening to extremely sharp.
  • Auto Power Off: Sets the Auto Power Off to either on or off. If on, the camera shuts down when unattended for two minutes. This function does not operate in Automatic Playback or PC mode. (The camera stays indefinitely in those modes.)
  • Frame Number: Specifies which frame numbering option is used. Choose between:
    • Renew: Pictures are stored on each SmartMedia beginning with file number 0001.
    • Continue: Pictures are stored beginning from the highest file number stored on the last SmartMedia used.
  • Beep: Sets the buzzer volume for camera operation with choices of high, low and off.
  • Date/Time: Sets the date and time.
  • Reset: Pressing the Menu/Exe button here resets the settings in the Setup menu, excluding the date and time, to their defaults.

Self-Timer Mode
Gives you 10 seconds once the shutter button is pressed before the shutter is released. Once the shot is composed and the shutter button fully pressed, an LED beside the lens lights solid red for five seconds and then flashes for the remaining five seconds. A countdown is also displayed in the back LCD panel and the status display on top of the camera. The Cancel/Back button cancels the self-timer midway. Hitting the Menu/Exe button in this mode gives you access to the Night/Slow Synchro flash mode, with the choices of on or off. As in other exposure modes, the automatic exposure and focus systems lock-in values as soon as the shutter button is half-pressed, retaining these settings until the exposure is finally taken.
Manual Mode
Allows you to control your exposure through aperture and shutter speed settings, white balance, flash intensity and exposure compensation (EV). The settings menu is automatically displayed at the bottom of the screen upon switching to Manual mode. Here are the options:

  • White Balance: Gives you the choice between Automatic, Shooting Outdoors in Fine Weather, Shooting Outdoors in Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent and Incandescent. In Auto mode, the correct white balance may not be obtained in situations like closeups and special lighting.
  • Brightness (Exposure Compensation): Allows you to select the amount of exposure compensation needed in 0.3 EV increments from -0.9 to +1.5. This setting is disabled when using the flash.
  • Manual Exposure: Selects from Program, Aperture Priority AE or Manual exposure settings:
    • Program: The camera automatically selects the aperture and shutter speed.
    • Aperture Priority (AE): Allows you to fix the aperture at f4 or f8.
    • Manual Settings: Gives you the ability to set both the aperture and shutter speed.  An aperture of f4 can choose from Auto, three to 1/500 seconds shutter speeds. An aperture of f8 can choose from Auto, three to 1/1000 seconds.
  • Flash Brightness: Sets the flash power for optimum brightness with correction levels in 0.3EV increments from -0.6 to +0.6.
  • Metering Mode: Only available when Manual Exposure is selected and shutter speed is set to Auto. Choose between:
    • Average: An average exposure value for the entire image is taken.
    • Spot: Meters for the center of the image.
    • Multi: Evaluates contrast and brightness across the entire scene and then selects the optimum exposure setting.
  • Continuous Shooting: When turned on, up to nine shots are taken at about three per second while the shutter button is held down. Flash and digital telephoto are not available. The file size automatically changes to 640 pixels. (In our own measurements, we clocked the frame rate at 2.5 frames per second, the camera capturing 8 frames in 3.2 seconds.)

Auto Mode
Best for taking pictures under average light conditions. The camera controls flash, aperture, shutter speed, focus and white balance. Hitting the Menu/Exe button in this mode displays the Night/Slow Synchro flash menu with the options of turning it on or off.
Playback Mode
Turning the mode dial to the Playback symbol allows you to view your captured images as well as perform some minor image manipulations. Once in Playback you hit the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the images. You can zoom into a particular section of an image by using the up or down arrow buttons. The zoom scales up to 4.0x and can be set in 0.2x increments. Pressing the left or right arrows cancels the zoom and advances to the next image. Once you've zoomed an image, you can move around the image by holding down the Shift key and any of the four arrow buttons. The Cancel/Back button returns you to the normal, non zoom display.
Pressing the Display button twice gives you a nine shot multi frame display, navigable by the arrow buttons. To view a selected frame, push the Display button again. If you have more than nine images, hit the Shift button in conjunction with the left or right arrow button to change pages. You can also view images by connecting to a television set via the video playback cable included with the camera.
Pressing the Menu/Exe button in Playback mode gives you these options:

  • Erase: Gives you the option of erasing a single frame, all frames, or formatting the memory card. Formatting erases all of the data on the SmartMedia.
  • Effect: Gives you four options for altering the image but requires ample space on the SmartMedia to save the effects. (The original file is not overwritten.)
    • B/W: Converts the image to black and white.
    • Sepia: Converts the image to sepia tones.
    • Silver Cross: Adds shining highlights to the image, similar to a star filter.
    • Rainbow Cross: Adds rainbow highlights to the image.
  • Automatic Playback: Plays all the images recorded frame by frame (cancelled by hitting the Cancel/Back button).
  • Resize: Allows you to resize the image from 1800 to 1280 or from 1800 to 640 (only images already at 1800 can be resized).
  • Protect: Gives you the option to protect or unprotect a single frame, all frames, or unprotect all.
  • DPOF: Allows you to set up prints for ordering, compliant with the Digital Print Order Format (DPOF). You can set the date and time, select individual frames for printing, preview selections, select all frames or cancel all.
    • Date/Time: selects whether or not the date and time are displayed on the shots.
    • Frame: Use the arrow buttons to find a specific frame. Once found you can set the number of prints to be made and specify any cropping that needs to be done.
    • Set All: Specifies one print to be made for each image.
    • Cancel All: Cancels all DPOF selections.

PC Mode
When you're ready to transfer images to a PC or Macintosh, turn the dial to the transfer selection and connect with the appropriate cable (AppleTalk or serial RS-232C) to your machine. A CD packaged with the camera includes image transfer software compatible with Windows 95, 98 or NT 4.0.
Image Storage and Interface

The MX-2900 utilizes SmartMedia for image capture and storage. An 8MB card comes standard with the camera, but you can purchase additional cards at 4MB, 16MB and 32MB. Be sure to only use the 3.3V SmartMedia (sometimes only labeled as 3V) and stay away from the 5V versions. The 8MB card can hold anywhere from one to 12 Hi quality images depending on the compression ratio and from 35 to 141 Basic quality images. The table below shows average file sizes, compression ratios, and the maximum number of images per 8 megabyte card for each of the possible combinations of image quality and size settings:

Resolution/Quality vs Image Capacity
High Resolution
Standard Resolution
Images
Approx.
Compression
Images
Approx.
Compression
High Quality
1
1:1
12
1:1
Fine Quality
8
5:1
46
5:1
Normal Quality
17
10:1
89
8:1
Basic Quality
35
20:1
141
16:1


SmartMedia should never be removed while the camera is on and neither should the camera be turned off while performing operations to avoid damaging the media. Always load the SmartMedia with the gold electrodes going into the camera first.
You can write protect SmartMedia by placing a write protection sticker in the designated area. Write protection stickers can only be used once and must be clean to be effective. You can protect individual images through the Playback menu in Playback mode. The MX-2900 gives you the freedom to select one image or all of them to protect from deletion, file resizing or any other manipulation.
Frames are stored on SmartMedia and assigned file numbers from 0001 to 9999 with a preceding directory number. Once 9999 is reached, the directory number goes up by one. Setup mode allows you to alter the frame numbering sequence by selecting Renew or Continue. Use Renew to start images at 0001 each time a new SmartMedia card is used, or all images on the current card erase. Continue stores images beginning from the highest file number recorded on the last SmartMedia used. The Continue option ensures that images are not duplicated when downloaded to a computer.
You can conserve memory by resizing images, which is also controlled in the Playback menu in Playback mode. Note that you can only resize images that were originally set to 1800 pixels down to 1280 or 640 pixels. You can only do this one image at a time.
You can erase images via the Playback menu while in Playback mode. Here you have the option of erasing a single frame or all images on the card. Additionally, after making an exposure in Manual mode, you are asked to delete or record the image.
Video Out

The MX-2900 features a Video Out terminal for connection to your television set in NTSC format (European models feature PAL). The camera must be in Playback mode on the mode dial to see images on the screen. All the options of the Playback menu are available during video playback.
Power

The MX-2900 shows a moderately high level of power consumption, on par with other two megapixel digicams out on the market. Battery life seems pretty short, due to the small 3.76 watt hour capacity of the LiIon battery. We definitely suggest picking up a few extra batteries to keep with you. Here's what we found:

Operating Mode
Power Drain
Capture Mode, w/LCD
830 mA
Capture Mode, no LCD
160 mA
Capture Mode, manual recording
650 mA
Half Pressed Shutter, w/LCD (1290 transient)
890 mA
Half Pressed Shutter, no LCD (900 transient)
600 mA
Memory Write (transient)
800 mA
Flash Recharge (transient)
1100 mA
Image Playback
630 mA
"Sleep" Mode
0 mA

These numbers are for the most part fairly typical of the current crop of 2 megapixel digital cameras. The only one that stands out somewhat is the figure for manual recording mode, which is higher than many cameras we've tested. (Also note that these measurements were made while the camera was powered by a 5-volt external power supply, and the
Included Software

A software CD comes with the MX-2900 and includes the data transfer software Picture Shuttle, a DS-Serial TWAIN driver, EZtouch and Adobe PhotoDeluxe. Software is compatible with both Macintosh and Windows operating systems (Windows 95, 98 and NT). A separate software manual fully explains the system requirements for each operating system. A noise suppression core is also included with the camera and clips onto the serial cable, in case your PC has difficulty maintaining the connection with the camera while transferring files.
Once you connect the camera (in PC mode) to your machine and open up Picture Shuttle, images can be transferred. A picture index window is displayed from which you can view images or open them for editing. Opening an image triggers EZtouch, where you can perform some minor image manipulations (such as the white vignette and emboss filters). You can also crop, color correct and take out Red-Eye. You can save images in either BMP; high, medium or low quality Exif-JPEG files or in Exif-TIFF.
A couple of important notes about the Fuji software: EZtouch is handy, but unfortunately re-compresses JPEG images from the camera, when saving them back to disk. That is, if you open images using EZtouch, and save them to disk using the JPEG format, you'll lose some picture information relative to the original JPEG file on the camera's memory card. You can avoid this by either (a) using an external card reader to copy images to your PC, or (b) use PictureShuttle to just drag & drop images from the camera to your hard drive. Either of these approaches will avoid any unintended modifications to the files themselves.
The second important note about the MX-2900 is that the uncompressed TIFF format the camera uses can't be opened by most imaging programs, apparently because the data it contains is stored in some unusual color space. We've seen several complaints on the internet of users being unable to read these files in Photoshop(tm) etc, but fortunately the solution is straightforward if a little laborious. All you need to do is open the files first in EZtouch, then save them back to disk, using the "Exif-TIFF" file format. The newly-saved TIFF file will be in a standard TIFF format that most imaging programs should be able to read. (In a related issue, we'd also heard of some readers being unable to open the Fuji software without the camera connected. On our Mac, PictureShuttle did complain about not finding the camera, but clicking "OK" on the alert box let us proceed normally. We were then able to proceed normally. The one tricky thing is that PictureShuttle has to be "told about" a hard drive folder before it will display it in its window. Thus, to be able to translate TIFF images read via an external card reader, you must first us the "new folder" command in PictureShuttle to identify the folder containing the images. Working directly in EZtouch though, we simply opened the images we wanted to and saved them where we liked...)
Adobe PhotoDeluxe expands your image manipulation capabilities even further with a wider selection of filters and the option to put images on cards, calendars, etc. There's also an Internet connectivity option where you can email images and set up electronic greeting cards.
Test Results

See for Yourself!

Take a look at the test images from the MX-2900 (with extensive comments), or jump to the Comparometer(tm) page to compare its reference images with those from other digital cameras.
Conclusion
Overall, we liked the MX-2900 a lot. The handgrip design was very comfortable and natural to hold, and the larger dimensions and "heft" made it feel more like a "real" camera. On the other hand, the larger size is in sharp contrast to Fuji's tiny MX-700, MX-2700 and recent MX-1700 cameras. Together with its rather sophisticated exposure controls and provision for external flash and optional add on lenses, this camera is more suited to the camera buff than the person just wanting a "take anywhere" camera to stick in their pocket on a whim. We'd like to see Fuji sell the lens adapter gadget separately from the wide angle accessory lens. A lot of people would probably like to use it to add macro lenses, etc. and shouldn't be forced to buy the (presumably not inexpensive) Fuji wide angle lens to have that ability.

Reader Sample Images!
Do you have a MX-2900 camera? If you'll post an album of your samples on one of the photo-sharing services and email us at photos@imaging-resource.com, we'll list the album here for others to see!

 

For More Info:
View the data sheet for the MX-2900

View the test images from the MX-2900

 

Reader Comments!
Questions, comments or controversy on this article? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about Fuji MX-2900, or add comments of your own!


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