DCRP Review: Fuji FinePix A303
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Saturday, October 19, 2002
Last Updated: Thursday, November 21, 2002

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If you're a bit confused by Fuji's 2002 camera lineup, you're not alone. As of this writing, Fuji has nine models. Hopefully the chart below will clear things up:

Model Resolution Optical Zoom
FinePix A200 1600 x 1200 None
FinePix A203 1600 x 1200 3X
FinePix 2650 1600 x 1200 3X
FinePix 3800 2048 x 1536 6X
FinePix A303 2048 x 1536 3X
FinePix F401 2304 x 1728 3X
FinePix F402 2304 x 1728 None
FinePix F601 Zoom 2832 x 2128 3X
FinePix S602 Zoom 2832 x 2128 6X

The camera in question here is the FinePix A303 ($350), a 3.2 Megapixel camera that uses a traditional CCD sensor (rather than the SuperCCD used by some other Fuji cameras), and has a 3X optical zoom lens.

There are a lot of small 3 Megapixel cameras out there. How does the A303 fare against the competition? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

The FinePix A303 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 (effective) Mpixel Fuji FinePix A303 camera
  • 16MB xD Picture Card
  • Two AA alkaline batteries
  • Hand strap
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROM featuring FinePixViewer software and drivers
  • 131 page manual

You're on your own as far as batteries go, as the A303 includes two AA alkalines that will quickly run out of juice. Since the camera uses just two batteries, one four pack of NiMH rechargeables will be a great place to start. Fuji estimates that you'll take about 175 photos (with 50% LCD use) with alkaline batteries, and 250 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 A303 is its use of xD Picture Cards, instead of SmartMedia like previous Fuji cameras. I really don't have anything good to say about the xD format, and if you missed my comments back when it was introduced, I will repeat them here. The cards are too small -- I almost lost it taking it out of the box. Imagine what happens when you lose a 1gb card (if they ever get that big -- they say they will)? Also, they have absolutely no advantage over other formats. If SmartMedia was truly at the end of the road, I would have preferred switching to an industry standard format, like Secure Digital, which is almost as small. Instead we got yet another memory card format.

Okay, rant over. The included 16MB xD card is decent for getting started with the camera.

Since the camera has a built-in (and stylish) lens cover, there are no lens cap worries. As you can see, the A303 is a compact, but not ultra-small, camera.

There aren't many accessories available for this camera. The choices include a camera case, AC adapter, xD USB card reader, and xD PC Card adapter.

The A303 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 A303 as a PC camera. 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 A303 is an attractive, compact camera that looks pretty nice in pictures. But the first thing I thought of when I held it was, "wow this thing feels cheap" -- it's mostly plastic. There are a lot of 3 Megapixel cameras out there that feel a lot more solid. Even other plastic cameras like the Pentax Optio 330GS feel sturdier.

The A303 isn't as small as say, the Canon Digital ELPHs, but it's pretty small nonetheless. The dimensions are 3.8 x 2.5 x 1.4 inches, and it weighs 145 grams. For the sake of comparison, the Canon PowerShot S230 Digital ELPH's stats are 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches and 180 grams (the metal body adds some weight).

The camera is very easy to hold and operate with one hand or two. Let's begin our tour of the camera now, starting with the front.

It's hard to take pictures of these shiny cameras, as you can see by the reflection.

The A303's lens is an F2.8-F4.8, 3X optical zoom model, made by Fuji of course. The focal range is 5.7 - 17.1 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 114 mm. The lens is not threaded and accessory lenses are not supported. I will mention that the FinePix 3800, also 3 Megapixel, supports accessory lenses.

There is also a digital zoom of 1.3X - 3.2X (depending on what resolution you're using), but image quality will be lowered if you use it.

At the center of the camera is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.3 - 3.5 m at wide-angle, and 0.6 - 3.0 m at telephoto. Not surprisingly, you can't add an external flash on the A303.

If you're looking for an AF-assist lamp, you won't find one. It's a shame that other manufacturers haven't followed Sony's lead and put them on all their models, even the cheap ones!

Here is the back of the camera.

The A303 has a 1.5" LCD display, which is fairly easy to see except in extreme lighting conditions. The LCD isn't as high resolution as those found on more expensive cameras, and you can't tell, even in my screen shots later in the review. Nose smudges on the LCD may be a problem if you use your left eye with the optical viewfinder.

Speaking of which, the optical viewfinder is up at the top corner of the A303. It shows 80% of the frame, and is decent-sized for a compact camera. One downsize is that it lacks a diopter correction knob, for those without perfect vision.

Between the LCD and viewfinder are three buttons: Display, back, and menu/OK. Display toggles the LCD and the displayed info on/off, and the other two buttons are fairly self-explanatory.

To the right of the LCD is the mode dial. This is one of those parts of the A303 that really feels "cheap" to me. Anyhow, the choices on the wheel include:

  • Movie mode
  • Playback mode
  • Record mode
  • Macro mode
  • Self-timer

One thing I don't like about having things like self-timer and macro on the mode wheel is that it's often restrictive. For example, the A303 cannot use the self-timer in macro mode.

Just below the mode wheel is the flash button. The flash modes are auto, auto w/redeye reduction, forced, suppressed, and slow synchro.

The final item on the back of the camera is the four-way switch, which doubles as the zoom controller. Using the up/down part of the switch, you can smoothly move the 3X zoom lens from one end to the other in about two seconds.

The only items on the top of the camera are the power switch and shutter release button.

On this side of the A303, you'll find the USB and DC in ports. The latter is for the optional AC adapter. There is no video output on the camera.

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

Down on the bottom of the A303, you'll find the battery compartment, xD slot, and plastic tripod mount. As I said earlier, this camera uses only two AA batteries. The included 16MB xD card is shown at left.

Using the Fuji FinePix A303

Record Mode

It takes just three seconds for the A303 to extend its lens and "warm up" after you turn it on. That's pretty quick for a camera with a zoom lens.

When you press the shutter release button halfway, the camera locks focus in about a second, though it does have trouble in low light. When you fully press the shutter release button, a shot is taken after a very noticeable lag -- probably 1/2 second. The shot-to-shot speed of 3 seconds is about average.

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 A303 doesn't have any TIFF or RAW mode, which isn't surprising considering the target audience of the camera.

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)
  • 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)
  • Option (Setup, LCD brightness, manual/auto mode)

In addition to those items, which should be self-explanatory, the A303 has a basic setup menu as well. You'll find things like post view (shows image on LCD after its taken), power save, USB mode, date/time, and language. One thing that's missing is any kind of file numbering system. Erase or format the memory card, the file numbering restarts at zero. That's a pain if you take a lot of photos.

Let's do our usual photo tests now.

While its macro mode is a bit limiting, I'm pleased with the results I got from the A303. 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.

Without any real manual controls, it's not surprising that the A303 didn't fare well at my night shot test. Even if I cranked the exposure compensation all the way up, it didn't help. The camera just doesn't take in enough light. There wasn't much noise to speak of, but then again, it wasn't that long of an exposure (1/2 sec).

The A303 did a decent job in the redeye test. There's a bit of redeye seen here, but it's nothing major. If you wanted, you could clean it up a bit more with software. Note that I enlarged this shot a bit so you could see the details.

In the end, the most important thing about a digicam is how well it takes pictures. And the A303 does a pretty good job at that. Fuji is famous for their vibrant, accurate color, and the FinePix delivers on that promise. Noise levels are low as well. There were some sample photos (not included here) that didn't come out since I had no control over what metering method was used, but overall I'm happy. Chromatic aberrations, AKA purple fringing, were not a major problem here. Don't just take my word for it though, check out the gallery and judge for yourself.

Movie Mode

The A303 has a pretty uninteresting movie mode. You can record clips of up to 60 seconds, without sound, at 320 x 240. At the 160 x 120 resolution, your clips can be as long as 240 seconds.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec. The frame rate is 10 frames/second.

Despite not recording sound along with the movie, you still cannot use the optical zoom during filming.

Here's a sample movie, taken in Berkeley near sunset.


Click to play movie (AVI format, 1.6MB)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The FinePix A303 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 13X into your photo, and then scroll around it.

There is no way to get any exposure information about your photos, unfortunately. The A303 moves through your photos at an average clip -- about two seconds go by before the next one is shown.

How Does it Compare?

The Fuji FinePix A303 is a camera which did not excite me very much, in case you didn't notice. It does take good, colorful pictures, except in low light. It's easy to use with an attractive interface. There were three items that turned me off though: the first is the very noticeable shutter lag -- it's easy to miss a shot. The second is the very limited feature set (options & movie mode, especially). Finally, the cheesy plastic body just doesn't compare to other cameras in the price range. If you take a lot of outdoor shots of stationary subjects, and don't want to deal with many options, check out the A303. However, if you take action or low light shots, or want more control over the camera, there are better choices out there.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Small, light body
  • Nice, easy to use interface
  • Improved FinePix Viewer software

What I didn't care for:

  • Shutter lag
  • Plastic body feels cheap compared to competition
  • Playback mode just OK
  • Very few manual controls means hard to get the shot in low/difficult lighting
  • No sound/zoom in movie mode
  • No AF illuminator
  • Not a fan of xD memory card format

Other small, 3 Megapixel cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot S230 Digital ELPH and S30, Casio QV-R3, Fuji FinePix 3800 (a much nicer camera!), Kodak DX4330, Kyocera Finecam S3 series (S3x, S3L), Minolta DiMAGE Xi, Nikon Coolpix 3500, Olympus D-550Z, Pentax Optio 330 series (GS, RS), Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P7 and DSC-P71, and the Toshiba PDR-3310 and PDR-3320. A long list, I know -- there is lots of competition!

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera reseller to check out the FinePix A303 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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