Fuji MX-600Z digital camera
Fuji adds a zoom to the popular MX-500, in their latest "killer deal-cam".
(Review first posted 11 May, 1999)
||1.5 Million pixel sensor|
||1280 x 1024 resolution|
||3X optical zoom|
||Autofocus lens w/macro|
||Flexible "manual" exposure mode|
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 superb macro attachment with built-in flash that made it a runaway favorite for oral surgeons documenting patient treatments.) Recently, they've been making significant inroads with their higher-end consumer digicams, with the petite (may we say "sexy"?) MX-700, and the 1.5 megapixel MX-500, one of the true bargains in the megapixel-plus market.
Now, they've updated the successful MX-500 design, starting with essentially the same sensor and camera electronics, adding a 3x optical zoom lens, and calling the new model the MX-600Z. (The "Z" presumably standing for "zoom".) The result is a camera that combines the excellent manual exposure adjustment capability of the MX-500 with the highly-desirable optical zoom. The new unit is also aggressively priced, doubtless causing some consternation among their competitors, and helping to maintain the downward price pressure we users appreciate.
High Points Overview
- 1.5 megapixel, 1/2 inch CCD sensor for great resolution
- 1280x1024, 640x480 image sizes
- 3x true optical zoom lens (35-105mm equivalent on 35mm camera)
- 2x digital zoom extends effective focal length to 210 mm equivalent
- Macro focus to 25cm
- Both optical and LCD (1.8", 70K pixel) viewfinders
- Internal 5-mode flash
- Flash modes include low-power "synchro" mode for use with external slave
- 64-zone through the lens (TTL) exposure metering
- Exposure compensation of +1.5/-0.9EV for ambient illumination
- Exposure compensation of +/- 0.6EV for flash (!)
- User-selectable autoexposure program bias toward large/small aperture
- Video output (NTSC US/Canada, PAL European models)
- 1/4 to 1/1000 shutter speeds
- ISO 100 light sensitivity, f3.8/7.6 (wide/tele) maximum lens aperture
- Uses SmartMedia memory cards, comes with 4MB unit
- Special LiIon battery pack, with included AC adapter/charger
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The MX-600Z has an attractive, compact, metallized plastic case, with a retracting lens that makes the package more compact in the "off" state. At 4.8 x 3.35 x 2.38 inches (122 x 85 x 60 mm), and 12 ounces (340 gm) without the battery pack, it is slightly larger than average for competing camera models. Its somewhat thicker body precludes it being called a "shirt pocket" camera, as it doesn't quite fit into a standard men's-size shirt pocket. We applaud the metal wrist-strap bracket though, which leaves us feeling a bit more secure about carrying the camera that way. It also has a sturdy metal tripod socket, a distinct rarity among even high-end digicams these days.
As with basically every digital camera we've tested, the MX-600Z is "right-handed," with most of the controls set up for use by the thumb and fingers of the right hand. Overall, we found its design, ergonomics, and user interface to be excellent: The camera controls and menus are easy to navigate in normal shooting, and even the complexity of "manual" mode is quite easy to maneuver through.
As with most current digital cameras, Fuji provides both optical and LCD viewfinders. The optical viewfinder on the MX-500 is clear and bright, but crops the image relative to the CCD's field of view slightly more than we'd like, showing only about 85% of the area actually captured by the camera at the wide-angle end of the lens' range, and 83% of the final area at the telephoto end. (An 85% field of view is typical of the optical viewfinders on most digicams we've tested.) The LCD viewfinder is much better, but still not perfect, revealing about 94% of the final image area. (Surprisingly, it's common for LCD viewfinders to crop the image as well, even though you'd expect they could easily show the full output of the CCD.) The area shown by the LCD viewfinder is consistently well-centered in the actual field of view of the sensor, as is the optical viewfinder at the wide-angle end of the lens' range. At the telephoto end of the zoom though, the optical viewfinder is biased toward the lower right corner of the CCD's view, producing images slightly off-center up and to the left. For some reason, our telephoto viewfinder-accuracy shot was rotated about 1.5 degrees clockwise, while the wide-angle view was perfectly square: We suspect this is due to error on our part, and will repeat the test as soon as possible.
Other than our complaint about excessive image cropping in the optical finder, both optical and LCD viewfinders worked well. The optical finder is bright and easy to use even for eyeglass wearers (a point we're always sensitive too, belonging to that category ourselves), and dioptric correction is provided spanning a surprisingly broad range from near- to far-sightedness. The LCD finder is quite bright and sharp, with a very high refresh rate that makes tracking even fast-moving objects quite easy. Unfortunately, it has the same tendency to wash out badly in direct sunlight that we've observed in all but a very few LCD screens.
Besides the "live" image itself, the LCD shows a number of useful information displays when used as a viewfinder, including data & time, current image quality setting, digital zoom mode, and a "shake" warning when the camera has selected a slow shutter speed, and the flash is disabled. In "manual" mode, the current status of essentially all of the adjustable settings are shown on the LCD, including exposure compensation, white balance setting, flash exposure adjustment, and whether "synchro" mode is enabled or not (more on this last option later). We found the on-screen information and menu overlays a particularly effective user-interface design, but also appreciated that we could turn them off when we wanted an unobstructed view of our subject in the LCD.
The MX-600Z sports an all-glass 3x zoom autofocus lens, with a focal length range equivalent to that of a 35-105mm zoom lens on a 35mm camera. (This translates to a range from moderate wide-angle to moderate telephoto.) A 2x "digital zoom" is also available, that crops down to the central 640x480 portion of the sensor array. The maximum lens aperture of f/3.8-f/7.6 (wide-angle to telephoto) is a bit "slower" than most current digital cameras, particularly at the telephoto end of the lens' range. In operation, the lens aperture switches automatically between the f/3.8-f/7.6 maximum opening and an f/5.5-f/11 aperture. The user can override this automatic switching via a menu option however, forcing the camera to use either the larger or smaller aperture. (The option choices read "max depth/max aperture".)
The autofocus distance for the lens ranges from 35 inches (0.9 m) to infinity in normal mode, and from 9.75 inches (25cm) to 35 inches in macro mode. The 105mm-equivalent telephoto performance of the lens combined with this close-focusing to produce a very good macro performance. In our tests, the minimum area covered by the MX-600Z in macro mode was 2.9 x 3.6 inches (74 x 92 mm).
The one significant limitation we found in the MX-600Z's optical design was the lack of filter threads for mounting external auxiliary lenses. This is unfortunate, as the camera's other excellent capabilities make it of interest to more-sophisticated users, who frequently would want to further enhance its functionality through auxiliary lenses. (In practice though, virtually all digital cameras with telescoping lenses have foregone filter threads, to avoid problems with damage to the lens mechanisms, resulting from overly enthusiastic attachment or removal of balky filters.) Some digicams with telescoping lenses forego lens covers, leaving the lenses exposed and prone to scratching and fingerprints. We were therefore pleased to see a cover included with the MX-600Z.
The MX-600Z's sensor is rated by Fuji at an official ISO equivalent of 100, very typical for the current crop of digital cameras. The combination of its slightly "slower" lens though, and a maximum exposure time of 1/4 second translates to fairly modest low-light performance: Taking the official ISO rating, maximum aperture, and maximum exposure time produces a minimum effective light level of about EV 10.5. This agrees fairly well with our own testing, in which we were able to obtain usable images down to EV 9 or 10, but found the best results at EV 10 and above. Not to despair though, as this light level roughly corresponds to well-lit residential interiors: Don't expect to use this camera for true night shooting, but it should work reasonably well with available light in typical home and office environments.
The MX-600Z uses a surprisingly sophisticated 64-segment matrix metering algorithm that produced very good exposures under a range of conditions. (Even our tough "outdoor portrait" shot only needed about +0.6EV of exposure compensation, less than most cameras we've tested.) We feel the camera fits the description of "point and shoot" very well indeed in this respect.
The MX-600Z provides an unusual degree of control over the exposure system in several ways. One such is via an LCD menu option that lets you specify a preference for either greater depth of field or higher shutter speed. While not quite an aperture- or shutter-priority exposure system, this option lets you bias the exposure program in favor of larger or smaller lens apertures, a simple yet useful extension of the camera's automatic exposure system.
Most digital cameras these days allow the user to adjust the camera's automatically-determined exposure somewhat, to handle subjects with difficult lighting. (Backlit subjects, for instance, require more exposure than the meter will indicate, since the meter's exposure calculation is based in part on the brighter background area.) The MX-600Z goes most of the competition a step or two better in this area though, by providing not only a wide range of +1.5 to -0.9EV in 0.3 EV steps for ambient lighting, but a range of +/- 0.6EV in 0.3 EV steps for flash exposure as well! The ability to adjust flash exposure is very rare in our experience, and is a feature we'd like to see more digicam manufacturers incorporate in their products. (We've found that reducing the flash exposure somewhat in indoor shots produces more-natural lighting overall.)
Another common exposure-control feature incorporated into the MX-600 is an exposure/focus lock function, when the shutter button is half-pressed. This can be useful for situations where a subject is off-center, or as a means to achieve more-accurate exposure by excluding strong light sources near the subject from the exposure determination. (With patience and a tripod, this can also be used as a way to balance the exposure for multiple shots used as part of a panorama.)
We particularly liked the MX-600Z's automatic image "preview" in manual mode: After each picture is captured, it is displayed on the LCD screen, giving you the option to either save it to the memory card, or discard it. The image remains more or less indefinitely, but if you take no action, it will be lost when the camera shuts down automatically to save power. (We'd prefer it if the camera defaulted to saving the image after some reasonable time, perhaps 15 seconds or so.)
We found the on-board flash of the MX-600Z to work very well, offering 5 different exposure modes. Its effective range is from 1.3 to 6.5 feet (0.4 to 2.0 meters) at the telephoto end of the lens' range, and 1.3 to 9.75 feet (0.4 to 3.0) meters at the wide-angle end. Available modes are on, off, auto, auto red-eye reduction, slow sync, and "ext sync." In our tests, we were surprised to find how well the built-in flash's illumination blended with the tungsten room lighting in our indoor portrait shot: Many cameras produce unnatural bluish highlights under these conditions, but the MX-600 showed no sign of this. We at first were disappointed in that it appeared that the MX-600Z disabled the onboard flash when in macro mode. (This is a somewhat problematic use of flash anyway, since the lighting tends to be so uneven when you get the onboard flash that close to the subject.) We were pleased then, when we discovered that this only occurs when the flash is set to "Auto" mode: Other modes do indeed fire the flash, which does a reasonable job of throttling-back its output to produce reasonable exposures at macro distances. (For even better results, we found that a slip of white bond paper taped over the flash tube's window provided both a reduction in light output, and a diffusion of the light, producing a much more natural final result.)
The "external sync" feature deserves special comment: Consistent with the greater degree of exposure flexibility the MX-600Z offers in other areas, it also includes a thoughtful provision for using it with external, slave-triggered flash units. In "ext sync" mode, the on-board flash fires a single, fairly weak pulse. This is enough to trigger a slave strobe unit at reasonable range, but not enough to contribute significantly to the exposure. In this mode, the shutter speed is fixed at 1/125, and the lens aperture at its smallest opening (f/7.6-f/11). The white balance is also adjusted to the 5700K value typical of most professional flash units. While far from the level of control provided by a professional 35mm camera, this minor extension of the MX-600Z's capabilities translates into a significant increase in usability, and pushes the camera's functionality into the "serious amateur" category.
The MX-600Z provides six different white-balance settings, including auto, sunny, cloudy, warm fluorescent, cool fluorescent, and incandescent. The white-balance settings are available in the "Manual" record mode, accessible via the 4-way rocker control on the camera's back panel. We found the MX-600's automatic white balance to work quite well within a reasonable range of illumination, but it had a hard time with the very strong yellowish cast of the lighting for our "indoor portrait" shot. We suspect at least part of this difficulty was a result of the somewhat lower light sensitivity of the camera/lens combination overall: There just didn't seem to be enough signal in the camera's blue channel to compensate for the strong yellow cast of the lighting. In common with many other digicams, we found that the "tungsten" manual white balance setting actually produced more highly-colored images than did the "auto" option. This is doubtless a result of to the "tungsten" setting being balanced for professional tungsten studio lights, which have a much higher color temperature than the household bulbs used to illuminate our test scene.
Shutter lag and 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, we now routinely measure it, using a little Windows utility developed by Digital Eyes.
We found the MX-600Z shutter delay to be slightly longer than most cameras we've tested, requiring about 1.3 seconds for a full autofocus cycle before the shutter tripped. Prefocusing by half-pressing the shutter release in advance of the exposure itself reduced the lag time to about 0.2 seconds, fairly typical of the current range of cameras shooting under that condition. Shot-to-shot cycle times range from 10 seconds in large/fine mode, to 4 seconds in 640x480 mode with "Basic" image quality selected, neither the slowest nor the fastest camera we've tested to date. (Note that the camera cycles anywhere from 1-3 seconds faster between shots if you turn off the LCD display, eliminating the "review" display just after a shot has been captured.)
Camera startup is fairly fast, at just over 5 seconds, and shutdown occurs in about 3.5 seconds. Switching from record to playback mode (with a large/fine resolution image to be displayed) also requires about 5 seconds, while the change back to record mode is almost instantaneous. (You can take a new picture as soon as you rotate the function dial back to either the manual or auto record position.)
Operation and User Interface
As we noted earlier, we found the user interface of the MX-600Z very easy to navigate, despite the range of functions and picture-taking controls it offers. Major operating modes are selected via the large function wheel in the upper right-hand corner of the camera's back, as shown at right. (We generally like function-wheel user interfaces, feeling that they make for easier, faster operation, with less-crowded onscreen menus.) Within each major mode, functions are selected from an LCD menu system, using the three controls just above and to the left of the rear-panel LCD screen. The function of these controls varies slightly, depending on whether you're in "Auto or "Manual" record modes.
The three menu-related controls of the MX-600Z are shown at left. The "Set" button brings up a set of four menus, governing flash operation, image compression, file size, and macro operation. Once the menu system is active, you can move between menus by pressing the right or left arrows on the 4-way rocker control (the round object with the cryptic "tele" and "wide" icons on it in the photo). Once a menu is selected, the up and down arrows on the rocker can be used to choose the menu option you want. After you've configured all your menu choices, pressing either the "Set" or "Menu/Exe" buttons saves the settings. In normal operation (when the menu system isn't enabled), the up and down arrows on the rocker control actuate the zoom lens. Holding down the up-arrow control in record mode for roughly 3 seconds after the lens has reached its maximum telephoto setting triggers the 2x digital telephoto feature.
In "Manual" record mode, the LCD is always active, with a 5-menu system constantly present. This manual-mode menu system controls white balance settings, exposure compensation for both ambient and flash illumination, exposure mode (full program mode, or large/small aperture preference), and the external flash sync function. In manual mode, you can immediately select any of the 5 menus by pressing the left or right arrows on the 4-way rocker control, and the using the up/down arrows to choose the desired option. You save your choices by pressing the "Menu/Exe" button, upon which the up/down arrows on the 4-way control return to their normal function of controlling the zoom lens. In manual mode, you can still access the 4-menu auto-mode control system discussed above, by pressing the "Set" button. After you make selections from this menu, pressing "Set" again returns you to the manual-mode menu system.
As noted, we found the combination of function wheel and LCD menu system very easy to navigate: We generally like "function wheels", because they separate major camera operating modes, and help prevent an "overloading" of functions on the various control buttons. In our opinion, this usually produces an operating interface that is easier for novices to learn quickly, and which is quick to navigate in actual use.
With the preceding as an overview, we'll now delve into our standard enumeration of camera functions, stepping through the major operating modes one at a time.
Setup mode produces the LCD menu shown at right. Options available here are as follows:
- Sharpness (Hard, Normal, Soft) - Like most digital cameras, the MX-600Z normally provides some degree of "sharpening" for its pictures, whereby image contrast is locally enhanced wherever an abrupt tonal change is encountered. (In other words, at a light-to-dark transition, the light side is lightened further, and the dark side darkened, right adjacent to the transition itself.) This tricks our eyes into seeing a "sharper" edge than we would otherwise. Unlike most cameras though, the MX-600Z allows the user to specify how much of this effect is applied. The "Hard" setting applies quite a lot, the "Normal" option is about typical of most digicams, while the "Soft" setting appears to apply no artificial sharpening at all. This last can be a real boon if you prefer to apply "unsharp masking" in Photoshop or other high-end imaging program after the fact, for tricky subjects.
- Color (Color, B/W) - The MX-600Z includes a black and white recording mode, which improves memory usage and removes color artifacts when shooting pictures with fine detail. If you're going to be using the final images in a black & white publication, this setting can save significant memory, while retaining high image quality.
- Frame No (Cont, Renew) - In the "Cont" setting, the MX-600Z will continuously increment the frame number used to create the file name for each image. This helps avoid problems of accidentally overwriting images on the host computer's hard disk that have the same file name.
- Beep (On, Off) - Turns the annunciator beeps on or off.
- Date/Time (Set) - Takes you to a menu screen for setting date and time.
- Reset (Exe) - Single menu option returns all camera settings to their factory defaults. (Useful for quickly resetting multiple manual-mode settings, combined with sharpness, color, etc.)
The self-timer option has its own position on the function dial, which unfortunately means you can't use it with any of the special options from the manual-record mode. In self-timer mode though, all of the normal automatic-mode menu options are available, including flash mode settings, image compression, file size, and the macro option. While we'd really prefer a self-timer that permitted use of the camera's advanced exposure features, we appreciate being able to use it in conjunction with the macro function.(We frequently find ourselves using self-timers in macro mode, to avoid camera shake on the rickety copy stand we use for our macro shots.)
Manual Record Mode
Five menus are available here, directly from the LCD viewfinder display:
- WB - White balance setting. Options include auto, sunny, cloudy, warm fluorescent, cool fluorescent, and incandescent.
- EV - Ambient exposure compensation. Settings range from +1.5 EV to -0.9 EV, in 0.3 EV steps.
- Flash - Flash exposure compensation. Settings range from +0.6 EV to -0.6 EV, in 0.3 EV steps.
- AE - Autoexposure program options. Settings include "P", for normal full-program operation, "Max Aperture" for a program biased to use the larger lens aperture whenever exposure conditions permit, and "Max Depth" for a program biased to use the smaller lens aperture, conditions permitting. Either aperture setting will be overridden if the light level is either too high or too low to accommodate the selected aperture size.
- EXT-SYNC - External Sync option for the onboard flash. Options are on and off. If set to On, other manual-mode controls are disabled, the shutter speed is set to 1/125, the lens aperture set to the smaller f/7.6-f/11 setting, and flash power reduced to the minimum required to trigger external slave units.
In addition to the preceding "manual mode" menu options, all the
standard "auto" mode options described below are also available in
manual record mode.
Auto Record Mode
In Auto record mode, the LCD display screen doesn't illuminate unless you press the "Disp" button just to the right of it, or the "Set" button above it. The "Set" button brings up the menu system, while the "Disp" button controls the LCD's use as a viewfinder, and display of the information overlay. Once you've made your menu selections, pressing either the "Set" or "Menu/Exe" button will save them. The menu called up by the "Set" button contains four sub-menus, as described below:
- Flash - Select flash operating mode. Options include auto, red-eye redution, fill flash, off, and "sync" mode. The "sync" mode provides a slow-sync function, in which a slower than normal shutter speed is used in conjunction with the flash, allowing more ambient light in, to help illuminate darker background elements.
- Quality - Select level of image compression. Options include Fine, Normal, and Basic.
- File Size - Choose base file size. Options include 1280x1024 and 640x480.
- Macro - Turns macro function on or off.
The MX-600Z provides several unusual in-camera effects in playback mode, that may be applied to pictures without resorting to the use of a host computer. Applying a special effect to an image leaves the original untouched, producing a new image in the camera's memory.
- Playback (Exe) - Begins a "slide show" playback of images in the camera's memory, at about 7 seconds per image at the 1280x1024 pixel size, and 4 seconds per image at the 640x480 size.
- Soft Focus (Level 1, Level 2) - Applies a "soft focus" effect to the currently-selected image, blurring the details. (Level 2 produces a greater blurring than Level 1.) After the effect has been applied, you're given the option of discarding the new image, or saving it. If you choose to save it, it is stored in a separate file on the camera's memory card.
- Cross Filter (White1, White2, Rainbow1, Rainbow2) - This effect places "cross" patterns on highlights in the image. The White options create white crosses, while the Rainbow ones create crosses tinged with rainbows, simulating an optical refraction effect. The two options for each type of cross produce larger or smaller patterns.
This one eluded us until we broke down and read the manual: You can quickly review images stored on the camera's memory card, viewing groups of 9 tiny "thumbnails" at a time. To access this review mode, press the "Disp" button twice in rapid succession. You can scroll through the images displayed by using the 4-way rocker control to move a cursor highlight from image to image. Once you've selected the image you want, you can display it full-screen by pressing the "Disp" button once again.
Playback zoom viewing
We often find ourselves wishing for more resolution and detail in the cameras' LCD screens during playback, to see if we caught fine details properly in the shots we've just taken, or if the framing is correct. Fuji addresses this need in the MX-600Z, by providing a "zoom" function when in the playback mode. To use this option, simply press the up-arrow on the 4-way rocker control when in playback mode. You can select display enlargement levels from 1.0 to 4.0x, in 0.2x increments. Even better, once you're zoomed to a given level, holding down the "Set" button turns the 4-way rocker into a scrolling control, moving the zoomed window around the picture as a whole. Overall, this is probably the best implementation of playback zoom we've seen to date.
Image deletion is handled in the MX-600Z through a separate setting of the function wheel. Three functions are provided, to erase either one frame at a time, all frames in the camera, or to reformat the memory card. In single-frame erase mode, you can either step through full-size images, or switch to the 9-up "thumbnail" display mentioned earlier, by pressing the "Disp" button twice in rapid succession.
As you take pictures with a larger memory card, you'll sometimes want to snap a number of exposures quickly, then "weed out" the ones you don't want to keep. One way of doing this is to use the "protect" mode to lock the images you want to keep, then go back to the Erase mode screen and use the "erase all" option to delete all the unprotected pictures in one fell swoop. Regardless of how you use it, the MX-600Z's ability to protect selected images against accidental erasure is a useful option.
Computer Connect Mode
The MX-600Z has a built-in serial interface port that can be used to connect it to a host computer for image downloading. As noted below, this works well, but is quite slow at transferring files. (We strongly recommend the optional FlashPath floppy-disk adapter.)
Image Storage and Interface
The MX-600Z stores its images on the tiny SmartMedia removable memory cards. It ships with a 4MB card, and supports cards as large as 32MB, the largest currently manufactured. (SmartMedia cards are slated to grow as large as 128MB over the next year, and we don't know whether existing cameras will be compatible with those larger sizes or not. Regardless, 32MB is a LOT of image storage, corresponding to probably 40-50 pictures at the MX-600Z's maximum image size and quality setting. (The furnished 4MB card stores anywhere from 5 to 80 images, depending on the image size and quality setting.)
We timed image transfers from the MX-600Z to our standard PentiumII (350 MHz) Windows workstation. We measured the transfer time at 143 seconds to move a 690K high-resolution file from the camera to the PC. This translates to a transfer rate of about 4.8 KBytes per second, a bit slow even for a serial-port transfer. By comparison, the FlashPath (see the following paragraph) copied the same file in only 25 seconds.
Although not included with the MX-600Z, a useful accessory is the "FlashPath" floppy-disk adapter. This device accepts a SmartMedia card in a slot in its side, and then plugs into a standard floppy drive on your computer. With appropriate driver software installed on the host computer, the SmartMedia card can then be read like a floppy of 4, 8, 16, or even 32 MB capacity, and files simply copied off of it. The FlashPath adapter provides file transfers that are typically about 5 times faster than those made with serial connections. Overall, we highly recommend the FlashPath for owners of SmartMedia-based cameras, feeling that the ~$80 "street" price is well worth it, when it comes to the increased enjoyment and usage you'll get from your camera. (We found our own digital camera usage at least doubled after getting a FlashPath adapter!)
As mentioned earlier, the MX-600Z has a jack for a video-out cable. When plugged in, it turns off the internal LCD monitor, and routes all signals out through the video port. We've found this a very handy function for grabbing screen shots of whatever would normally appear on the LCD screen, and it makes for a great way to share images with friends or colleagues. US and Canadian models of the MX-600Z will support the NTSC standard, while European models presumably will support PAL.
The MX-600Z is a bit different than most inexpensive digital cameras, in that it uses a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery, rather than the much more common AA cells. The advantages of the LiIon battery pack are that it's very compact for the amount of power it delivers (1350 mAh), has no "memory effect" as is suffered by NiCd batteries, and no self-discharge tendency, as do NiMH cells. The only drawback we see is that you can't get replacement batteries in a pinch at the corner drugstore. Besides the battery pack, the MX-600Z includes an AC adapter, which will both power the camera and recharge the battery pack. Fuji gives an official charge time for a fully-discharged battery as 7 hours. An optional external battery charger is available that cuts this time to 2.5 hours. (NOTE: Because the AC adapter for the MX-600Z also functions as an in-camera battery charger, we STRONGLY advise against using any power source other than the official AC adapter. Adapters not designed to charge the particular LiIon batteries used by the MX-600Z could cause severe damage and even a fire hazard!)
The MX-600 Zoom ships with a basic software package, allowing image acquisition and manipulation, on both Windows and Macintosh platforms. Software on both platforms includes an application called "Picture Shuttle" that handles communications with the camera, for downloading images. Picture Shuttle maintains a "desktop" metaphor, showing the camera and any "albums" it knows about as icons in a desktop-looking window, as seen in the screen shot below. (We say "desktop-looking" because it actually is a separate window, and not part of your compture's normal desktop.) PHOTO
When the camera is "opened" in Picture Shuttle, you see an index display of the pictures it contains, as shown below. (You can choose to see thumbnails of the pictures as shown, or turn the thumbnails off to speed up the initial display of the camera's contents.) PHOTO
When a picture is selected and downloaded, PictureShuttle automatically opens the "EZtouch" application, which provides for rudimentary image manipulation. The EZtouch screen is shown below.
Besides the PictureShuttle application, two TWAIN drivers are provided, which allow image acquisition directly into applications supporting the TWAIN interface (which include most applications on the Windows platform, and a few on the Mac). The normal TWAIN driver functions much like Picture Shuttle, allowing downloading of already-captured images. In addition to this, the SNAP TWAIN driver allows you to "snap" (capture) pictures with the camera while it is tethered to the computer. In our own testing, our Windows machine had reached a rather delicate state of too-many-drivers, and so we weren't able to successfully test the TWAIN software. (For those lucky enough to be unfamiliar with Windows, it periodically is necessary to completely "wipe" the hard drive and re-install Windows, if you're in the habit of installing and removing software applications on a regular basis. - We really needed to do this on our main Windows box, but couldn't afford the time out of our schedule to do so in time for this review.) We did however, find Picture Shuttle to be a very functional downloading application, although it was rather slow, as reported earlier. (We strongly recommend the optional FlashPath adapter for any serious users of the MX-600: The difference in speed relative to the serial port is dramatic, and ultimately makes the camera much more usable.)
The final software package included with the MX-600 is Adobe's ever-popular PhotoDeluxe. This program provides a broad range of image-manipulation and "project"-oriented capabilities, and has versions for both the Mac and Windows platforms.
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings: For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the MX-600Z's "pictures" page.
As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed: Explore the images on the Pictures Page for the MX-600Z, to see how well the camera performed, and how its images compare to those from other cameras you may be considering buying.
Overall, we felt the MX-600Z took very good pictures. Its exposures were consistently quite accurate, doubtless thanks to the 64-segment matrix metering it employs. Color and tonal rendition were quite good, producing good saturation on strong primaries, yet doing a good job with delicate pastels and skin tones as well. In most cases, with "daylight" lighting, we obtained the best results using the "Sunny" white balance setting, the auto white balance tending to produce a slight magenta tone.
Resolution was very good, with a visual resolution of 600-650 line pairs/picture height, in both vertical and horizontal directions. This puts it right at the top of the current crop of 1.3 and 1.5-megapixel digicams.
Macro performance is good, although not quite in the "microscopic" realm. Nonetheless, with a minimum coverage area of 2.9 x 3.6 inches (74 x 92 mm), it should more than meet the needs of most users.
See for Yourself!
Take a look at the test images from the MX-600Z (with extensive comments), or jump to the Comparometer(tm) page to compare its reference images with those from other digital cameras.
The MX-600Z is a very strong offering, following in the footsteps of the highly popular MX-500. That earlier camera set a benchmark for cost-effective performance that few competing units could match. With the addition of a 3X optical zoom lens, and the retention of all the exposure-control options of the previous unit, the MX-600Z is a great picture-taking machine at a very competitive price: Combining "point and shoot" ease of use, and great pictures, yet providing the photographer with a greater degree of exposure control than most competing products, it looks like Fuji has another winner!
Reader Sample Images!
Do you have a MX-600Z camera? If you'll post an album of your samples on one of the photo-sharing services and email us at [email protected], we'll list the album here for others to see!