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Fuji FinePix 40i

Look! There in your pocket! It's a camera! It's an MP3 player! It's... The Fujifilm Finepix 40i!

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Page 6:Exposure & Flash

Review First Posted: 11/03/2000

The F40i offers very limited exposure control, operating in either Automatic or Manual modes. Don't let the nomenclature fool you. In Automatic mode, the camera controls everything except Flash mode, File Size/Quality, and Digital Zoom. In Manual mode, the camera continues to control the aperture and shutter speed settings, adding only Exposure Compensation and White Balance to the menu of adjustable options. You can access Menu items while the camera is in Record mode by using the right and left arrow keys to scroll through options on the LCD monitor. Flash settings are the only functions controlled outside the Record menu, by depressing a button on top of the camera.

Light sensitivity on the F40i is fixed at an ISO 200 equivalency and aperture is fixed at f/2.8. Shutter speeds range from 1/1,000 to 1/4 second, limiting the camera's low-light shooting capabilities. (We were able to get images as low as one foot candle in our testing, which equates to a typical city night scene). Exposure compensation, which is available in Manual exposure mode only, is adjustable from -1.5 to +1.5 exposure values (EV) in 0.3-step increments, but it is automatically disabled when shooting with the flash in Auto or Red-Eye Reduction modes, and in Forced Flash mode when shooting a very dark scene.

The F40i's White Balance adjustment (available in Manual exposure mode only) is controlled within the Record menu. Options include: Auto, Outdoors (sunny), Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, and Incandescent. Like the Exposure Compensation mode, the White Balance setting is automatically disabled when you use the flash. Another option selected from within the Record menu, the camera's 10-second Self-Timer can then be activated by fully depressing the shutter button to trigger the 10-second countdown. The 10-second countdown can be visibly tracked with the countdown bar on the LCD monitor, or a small self-timer lamp next to the lens on the camera's front panel (the light is solid for the first five seconds and blinks for the last five seconds).

The camera's wired remote control (included as standard equipment with the camera) not only activates the camera's MP3 and image playback functions, but also allows you to remotely capture images - a useful feature when using the camera's Self-Timer mode.

The F40i's built-in flash features five operating modes: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced Flash, Suppressed Flash, and Slow Synchro. The Auto mode puts the camera in control of when to fire the flash, based on existing light levels and exposure readings. Red-Eye Reduction mode fires a small pre-flash before the real flash to reduce the red-eye effect; Forced Flash triggers the flash with every exposure; and Suppressed Flash completely disables the flash function. The Slow Synchro setting combines normal flash with a slow shutter speed, which allows more ambient light exposure in night scenes, and helps to balance the subject's flash exposure with its darker surroundings.

Fujifilm estimates that the F40i's flash is effective from 1.3 to 8.2 feet (0.4 to 2.5 meters), which is consistent with our findings. In our Flash Range test, we noticed that the brightest flash exposure was achieved at eight feet from the target, with flash intensity decreasing with each additional 12 inches, all the way out to 14 feet.

Movie Mode
A Movie mode with sound recording can be accessed through the mode dial on the back of the camera (marked by the red movie camera symbol). The F40i allows you to record up to 80 seconds of moving images at a time, at approximately 10 frames per second. The resolution is automatically fixed at 320 x 240 pixels in Movie mode. Digital Zoom is available in this mode, but at a more limited, 1.88X enlargement value (approximately 36 to 68mm equivalent). Remember that digital zoom can affect image quality by increasing noise levels and softening the image, although in the already-reduced resolution of Movie mode makes the point somewhat moot. Movie recording starts and stops with a full press of the shutter release button, and a recording time bar display on the camera's LCD monitor, enables you to track the remaining time. Exposure compensation and white balance are both unavailable in Movie mode.

MP3 Playback
Probably the most interesting function on the F40i is its MP3 playback capability. The camera comes with a set of mini earphones and a wired remote control that can clip onto a shirt or pants pocket. The Power/Audio switch on top of the camera puts the F40i into MP3 playback mode by sliding the switch to the Audio position (left). The wired remote must be inserted into the Remote jack on the left side of the camera to control Playback, Pause, Volume, Rewind, Fast Forward, and Skip functions. The back of the remote features the Bass and Mode buttons, as well as a Hold switch. The Hold switch locks the buttons and prevents them from being accidentally pressed. The remote also features a small display panel that reports battery power, bass level, playback indicator, mode display, track number, volume, and the Audio mode icon.

Several MP3 playback modes are available: Normal, Repeat All Tracks, and Repeat Track. The Normal mode plays all of the tracks on the SmartMedia card, then stops at the end. Repeat All Tracks plays each of the tracks and then repeats them, until you signal the playback to stop. Repeat Track continuously repeats the same track, until it is stopped. The Bass button also offers three modes: Normal, Bass 1, and Bass 2. Normal keeps the bass at a normal level, while Bass 1 and Bass 2 incrementally increase the bass sound. The F40i comes with MP3 downloading software and requires SmartMedia with ID cards for playback, both of which are discussed later in this review.

We feel the 40i's MP3 capabilities were somewhat of a mixed blessing, but at the same time, don't think it entirely deserves some of the knocks it's taken from other reviewers in this area. One major peeve we have with it probably isn't Fuji's fault at all, but is more an issue to lay at the feet of the RIAA and others in the music industry seeking to impose technological solutions to copyright-infringement problems: We were quite surprised to discover that we couldn't simply drag-copy MP3 files to the memory card using a card reader, but rather had to go through a somewhat laborious process of "encoding" them onto the card using Fuji's provided software. This ties the files to a specific memory card, reducing the potential for copyright infringement, through users copying files between each other's cards. Frankly, this is an absurd limitation, given that MP3 files currently float freely all over the internet with no such restrictions. - And since you're likely already starting out with an MP3 file anyway (one that's not encrypted or tied to a specific card) what's the point? We're not sure who's idea this was, or who's enforcing the need for it, but it strikes us as one of more pointless attempts at copyright protection we've seen yet. (For the record, we're actually strong proponents of artists being paid for their work, and are generally in the anti-Napster camp, but this really struck us as bordering on the absurd.)

The second major beef we had with the 40i's MP3 capability is that it's very awkward to manage memory card space between MP3 files and camera images. We can envision setting out with a card full of music, and subsequently deleting songs as we took more pictures, to make room for the photos. The F40i doesn't allow this, as the camera only gives you the option of deleting all audio files, or none: There's no way to selectively toss out one or two of the files from your card. In our minds, this is a glaring user-interface omission that we'd like to see corrected in future models. (One workaround though, would be to simply carry a second card for your images, and swap them in and out as needed. A bit cumbersome, but the SmartMedia cards are so tiny, you can easily carry one in your wallet without noticeable bulk.)

Our third gripe has more to do with the realities of product pricing and the memory demands of MP3 files than it does any inherent limitation: The 16 MB SmartMedia card included with the camera is just too small to be useful for audio uses. You really need to plan on buying a 32 or better yet 64 MB card to be able to effectively mix audio and pictures, and that represents a hefty additional investment.

Having roundly criticized the 40i, we'll now come to its defense: Some reviewers have given the 40i bad marks for its audio capabilities, because it only supports a maximum bit rate of 128 Kbps: The feeling is that true "CD quality" requires at least 160 or more likely 192 Kbps. (Kbps stands for kilobits per second, a measure of how much data is used to construct each second of live audio. Higher numbers mean higher sound quality.) While we personally tend to digitize our own CDs to 160 Kbps for listening on our computers, we don't think the 40i deserves any special criticism for the 128K limitation: Many "high end" products (we're thinking of a particular "MP3 Jukebox" used in high-end car-audio installations) share the same limitation. We don't intend here to engage in a full-fledged debate over the merits of various bit rates, but merely want to point out that 128K is a limitation found in many products, many of which cost more than the 40i. For a portable device, we find 128 Kbits/second quite acceptable.

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