DCRP Review: Fuji FinePix 3800
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Monday, November 4, 2002
Last Updated: Wednesday, December 18, 2002

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One of the hottest Christmas gifts last year was the Fuji FinePix 2800Z (see our review). And I wasn't surprised at all. The 2800 broke out of the boring field of 3X zoom cameras, featuring a 6X zoom lens for a great price.

Fuji is at it again this year with the FinePix 3800 ($449), which uses the same lens, but bumps the resolution to 3.2 Megapixel, adds support for conversion lenses, and switches from SmartMedia to the new xD Picture Card format. I don't have to tell you that these are going to go quickly!

Should the FinePix 3800 be under your tree this year? Find out in our review!

What's in the Box?

The FinePix 3800 has an above average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 (effective) Mpixel Fuji FinePix 3800 camera
  • 16MB xD Picture Card
  • Four AA alkaline batteries
  • Adapter ring
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROM featuring FinePixViewer software and drivers
  • 134 page manual

You're on your own as far as batteries go, as the 3800 includes four AA alkalines that will quickly run out of juice. I highly recommend buying two or more sets of NiMH rechargeables, which will lost longer and protect the environment too. Fuji estimates that you'll take about 320 photos (assuming you use the EVF) with alkaline batteries, and 350 with NiMH rechargeables.


How xD stacks up with other memory cards. From left to right: Memory Stick, SmartMedia, Secure Digital, CompactFlash, xD

One of the big features of the 3800 is its use of xD Picture Cards, instead of SmartMedia like previous Fuji cameras. xD cards are very small -- perhaps too much so. They are faster than other memory cards out there (on paper at least), but I still wish we didn't have another memory card format to deal with. The included 16MB card is enough to get started, but you'll probably want a larger one soon after buying the camera.

The 3800 has a huge lens cap, as you can see. Speaking of which, I'm very pleased that Fuji supports conversion lenses on the 3800. Better yet, they have included the adapter (shown later in the review) in the box. The lens adapter also doubles as a lens hood, for shooting outdoors. There are two conversion lenses available, each priced at $179. The WL-FX9 wide-angle lens has a magnification ratio of 0.79, which means you can shoot at 30 mm. The other lens is the TL-FX9 tele converter, which magnifies things 1.5X, for a grand total of 340 mm. Remember that you can only use these at the end of the zoom range: wide-angle with the wide converter, telephoto with the tele converter.

Other FinePix accessories include a camera case, AC adapter, xD USB card reader, and xD PC Card adapter.

The 3800 works fine with Mac OS X and iPhoto. While I can't confirm it, it should work fine with Windows XP as well.

I am pleased to say that FinePixViewer is now Mac OS X compatible, and is greatly improved over its Mac OS 9 predecessor. It's snappy and much more useable than ever before. The software is only really useful for viewing and rotating images -- you can't correct redeye or anything like that.

If you use a Windows-based PC, you can also use the 3800 as a "PC cam" for video conferencing. I haven't tried it though.

Fuji's manuals have always been better than average, and that continues to be the case here.

Look and Feel

The FinePix 3800 is a well-built, mostly plastic camera. It looks a little strange, but I found it very easy to hold and operate. There's a large grip for your right hand which makes it easy to keep the camera steady.

The dimensions of the camera are 3.9 x 3.0 x 2.7 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs 295 grams empty. It's not a small camera by any means and probably won't fit in your pocket. At the same time, it was never a burden to carry around.

Let's start our tour of the 3800 now!

The biggest feature on the 3800 is undoubtedly its 6X Fujinon zoom lens. This F2.8-F3.0 lens has a focal range of 6 - 36 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 228 mm. As I mentioned earlier, the lens is threaded and you can add conversion lenses.

Directly above the lens is the 3800's pop-up flash. The flash has a working range of 0.3 - 3.5 m at wide-angle, and 0.8 - 3.5 m at telephoto. This camera does not support an external flash.

The three little holes just northeast of the lens make up the microphone.

That's the last item on the front of camera. Keeping with recent Fuji tradition, there's no AF illuminator lamp, which means that for low-light photography will be frustrated.

On the back of the 3800, you can see the 1.8" LCD display. One thing I don't like about Fuji's mid and lower-end cameras are their low resolution LCDs. This one here has only 62,000 pixels. For the sake of comparison, the Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi (the last camera I tested) had twice that number. The images on the LCD aren't bad, they just aren't really sharp. Like most LCDs, it becomes harder to use in bright light outdoors. It's also quite grainy in low light.

Straight above the LCD is the electronic viewfinder, or EVF. EVFs are the norm for cameras with a big zoom lens. An EVF is a little LCD screen that you look at through the viewfinder. It shows the same thing as the LCD, and virtually 100% of the frame. Fuji has a large rubber eye piece which helps keep your nose off the LCD. The two negatives here are the lack of a diopter correction knob (to focus the image on the EVF), and the fact that it becomes unusable in low light. Cranking up the brightness does not help matters.

The camera's default is to use the EVF in record and movie mode. To switch between the EVF and LCD, you can press the button between the two.

To the right of the EVF is the four-way switch. In addition to menu navigation, this is used for controlling the zoom, activating macro mode, and changing the flash mode (between auto, auto w/redeye reduction, forced, slow synchro, and slow synchro w/redeye reduction). The zoom controls move the 6X from wide to telephoto in about 2 seconds.

The three buttons to the right of the LCD are fairly self-explanatory. The Disp button toggles the information shown on the LCD/EVF.

I had to brace the camera with the lens cap, which is why this shot looks a bit funny.

On the top of the camera, you'll find the mode wheel (two of them, actually), and the shutter release button. The mode wheel around the shutter release button moves between off, playback mode, and record mode.

The other mode wheel will move you between movie, auto record, scene, and manual record modes. Auto record mode is totally point and shoot. Manual mode opens up all the menus, but the controls you'll find aren't really that advanced. More on those later.

The scene mode has a number of presets for various situations. This includes:

  • Portrait
  • Scene (landscape)
  • Sports
  • Night Scene - only way to get long exposures, with up to 3 sec shutter speed
  • Continuous - takes two shots in a row at about 1 frame/sec

Well that last one isn't very exciting. But I did find that the night scene mode was the only way I could pull off a respectable night shot. But more on that later in the review.

There's a lot to see on this side of the camera!

The first thing that I want to point out is the conversion lens adapter that I screwed on. The lens cap sort of fits on it, but it doesn't like to stay put.

There are two I/O ports to see here: USB and DC in (for optional AC adapter). There is no video out on the FinePix 3800.

Just above those is the xD Picture Card slot, with the included 16MB card shown at right. Pretty tiny!

Further up, we have the speaker. Above that is the release for the pop-up flash.

The only thing over here is the connector for the neck strap.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find the battery compartment (note clever use of one battery to brace the camera) and a tripod mount. I'm not 100% positive, but I think the tripod mount is metal.

Using the Fuji FinePix 3800

Record Mode

The FinePix 3800 has an impressive startup time of just over 2.5 seconds. The EVF is turned on when you start the camera, and the LCD is off.


You'll see the same thing on the LCD and EVF

In good lighting, the 3800 locks focus less than a second after you halfway-press the shutter release button. In dim or low lighting, expect a lot of frustration. I dimmed my lights in my office and was unable to get the camera to focus on anything. Here's where that AF illuminator comes in handy. The camera does better in terms of shutter lag -- press the shutter release fully and there's a very short delay before the picture is taken.

Shot-to-shot speed is good: about three seconds between pictures.

Now, let's take a look at the resolution and quality choices available on this camera.

Resolution Quality # photos on 16MB card (included) # photos on 64MB card (for reference)
3M
(2048 x 1536)
Fine 12 50
Normal 26 107
2M
(1600 x 1200)
Normal 39 159
1M
(1280 x 960)
Normal 49 198
0.3M
(640 x 480)
Normal 122 497

The 3800 doesn't have any TIFF or RAW mode. Files are named DSCFxxxx.JPG, where x = 0001-9999. One annoying Fuji tradition is the lack of any file numbering memory. Erase the card, the numbers reset. This can be frustrating.

The FinePix has a basic, nice looking menu system. There aren't many options, but it's easy to find your way around what's there.

One thing I really like is how the menu tells you have many photos you can take in each quality mode (see above).

Let's see what is actually in these menus. Items in bold are only available in manual mode. Like most of Fuji's mid and lower-end cameras, there's nothing really "manual" about manual mode.

  • Quality (see chart)
  • Self-timer (on/off)
  • Exposure compensation (-2.1EV to +1.5EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • White balance (Auto, sunlight, shade, daylight fluorescent, warm white fluorescent, cool white fluorescent, incandescent)
  • Flash brightness (-0.6EV to +0.6EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Sharpness (Hard, normal, soft)
  • Aperture priority (Auto, F2.8, F4.8, F8.2) - more below
  • Option (Setup, LCD brightness, manual/auto mode)

The FinePix 3800 is the first low-cost Fuji camera to have any sort of "real" manual control. Unfortunately you only get three aperture values to choose from, but hey, it's a start. By changing the aperture, you can manipulate the depth of field. By selecting a wide aperture (like F2.8), you will have a blurred background. A narrow aperture (F8.2) will result in the foreground and background both being in focus.

In addition to the menu described above, there is also a setup menu. Items there include the usuals: power saver settings, USB mode, beep noises, etc.

Okay, enough about menus, let's talk photo quality now.

While its macro mode is a bit limiting, I'm pleased with the results I got from the 3800. The colors look good and the subject is sharp. In macro mode (accessible only via the mode dial), the camera will be locked at the wide-angle setting -- you can only use the digital zoom. The focal range in macro mode is 10 - 80 cm.

Fuji has pulled it off: they have finally made a lower-cost camera that can take a decent night shot. The secret is the night scene mode; auto or manual modes won't get you this. In night scene mode, the 3800 can shoot as slow as 3 seconds. While the above photo won't win any awards, it's still pretty good. Noise levels are respectable as well. Go Fuji!

The 3800 also did a good job with the redeye test. There's really nothing to complain about! As always, I've enlarged this crop a bit so you can see the details.

Though I didn't take as many photos as I would've liked, I was happy with what I saw. The 3800 takes vibrant, sharp images, with Fuji's trademark color accuracy. Noise levels were a bit higher than I would've liked, but are certainly acceptable. Purple fringing (chromatic aberrations) never showed up in any of my test shots. But don't just take my word for it though, check out the gallery and judge for yourself.

Movie Mode

I was not impressed with the FinePix 3800's movie mode. You can record for a long time: 60 seconds at 320 x 240, and 200 seconds at 160 x 120. Sound is recorded with the movie.

So what's wrong? The lens is locked at the wide-angle position! It's one thing to lock the lens during filming, but to restrict you to wide-angle only on a 6X zoom seems, frankly, stupid. You can use the digital zoom if you want, but the quality is lousy if you do so.

Here's a very short sample movie for you. The quality isn't great, as you will see. I apologize for the "jump" at the end -- I was waiting to cross the street!


Click to play movie (AVI format, 1.0MB)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The FinePix 3800 has an average playback mode. While it does feature thumbnail mode, DPOF print marking, zoom and scroll, and 30 second voice memos, it lacks the common slide show feature.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) lets you zoom in as much as 12.8X into your photo, and then scroll around it.

There is no way to get any exposure information about your photos, unfortunately. The 3800 moves through your photos at an average clip -- about 1.5 seconds go by before the next one is shown.

How Does it Compare?

Although it has it's share of problems, the Fuji FinePix 3800 still gets my recommendation. The thing that will attract people the most to the 3800 is the 6X optical zoom lens. Behind the lens is a 3.2 Megapixel CCD which takes good quality photos. In terms of controls, the 3800 is pretty limited, though it was nice to see a kind of aperture priority mode. The night scene feature was also welcome, as it allowed me to finally take a respectable night shot with a low cost Fuji camera! Support for conversion lenses is a plus. Some annoyances include the lousy movie mode, lack of a file numbering system, and poor low light focusing. The latter is important: if you take a lot of shots in dim light, this is not the camera for you. Some kind of manual focus feature would've helped to make up for the lack of an AF illuminator. So hopefully you can take what you've learned from this review and decide if the Finepix 3800 is the right camera for you!

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • 6X optical zoom in a lower priced camera
  • Nice, easy to use interface
  • Quick startup, shooting speeds
  • Impressive redeye, night shot results
  • Support for conversion lenses

What I didn't care for:

  • No AF illuminator -- poor low light focusing ability
  • Lousy movie mode. Wide-angle only?
  • No memory for file numbers
  • EVF hard to see in low light
  • Bundle could be better

The only other lower-cost cameras with a 6X zoom or better are the HP Photosmart 850 (8X), and the Olympus C-720 and C-730 Ultra Zooms (8X and 10X, respectively). I for one would love to see more manufacturers coming out with < $500 big zoom cameras!

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera reseller to check out the FinePix 3800 and its competitors, before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photos turned out? Check out our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

You'll find one at Steve's Digicams!

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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