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DCRP Review: Fuji
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: October 5, 2004
Last Updated: April 6, 2008
The FinePix E550 is top dog in Fuji's new E-series of digital cameras. Here's a quick look at the lineup and what differentiates one model from the next:
The E550 is the only camera of the three to use Fuji's exclusive SuperCCD HR sensor, which can produce images with 12 million pixels (though that's not always desirable, as you'll see later). It has more zoom power than the E500/510 at the expense of a little wide-angle capability. In addition to the features show in the above chart, the E550 has much more robust performance and a few extra features, all of which I'll cover in the review, which starts now!
Since the cameras are so similar, I'll be reusing much of the text from the E510 review here.
What's in the Box?
The FinePix E550 has a good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Fuji includes a 16MB xD card with the camera, which holds a grand total of three photos at the highest quality JPEG setting. So consider a larger card "a must". xD cards are currently available as large as 512MB, and I think 256MB is a good starter size for most people. Be warned that xD cards tend to be more expensive than CompactFlash and SD cards.
The E-series cameras use two AA batteries for power. Unlike with the E500 and E510, Fuji gives you rechargeable batteries with the E550. And they're powerful, too, packing 2300 mAh which is as good as it gets right now. Fuji says that you'll be able to take about 200 photos per charge using the new CIPA battery life standard. That's about two-thirds of the battery life of the cheaper E-series cameras, which get 290 photos per charge.
I'm a big fan of cameras that use AA batteries. Rechargeables like those included with the E550 cost much less than their proprietary counterparts, and you can use alkaline batteries to get you through the day when your rechargeables run out of juice.
When it's time to charge the included batteries just pop them into the included charger. This isn't a terribly fast charger, as it takes 4.5 hours for a full charge to be completed.
Fuji offers an optional camera dock for the E-series cameras known as the PictureCradle CP-FXA10 ($50). It will charge the optional NH-10 battery pack (and nothing else) and allow you to connect the camera to your PC or television. You can do all of this without the cradle.
The E550 has a built-in lens cover so there's no lens cap to worry about.
There are a few accessories available for the E-series cameras, and I've already mentioned two of them (the battery pack and cradle). Those most interesting ones are the lens accessories. The WL-FXE01 wide-angle conversion lens ($95) reduces the focal length by a factor of 0.76, thus bringing the wide end of the camera down to 24.5 mm. If you want more zoom power then check out the TL-FXE01 1.94X teleconverter ($95), which brings the telephoto end of the lens up to 252 mm. To use either of these lenses you must first buy the AR-FXE02 conversion lens adapter ($19). This adapter lets you use any 43 mm filter, as well.
The only other accessories worth mentioning are an AC adapter ($39) and two soft cases ($13 - $30).
FinePixViewer 4.2 for Mac
Fuji includes their FinePixViewer software with the E550. The version numbers are 4.2 for Windows and 3.3 Mac OS 9 and OS X. Even with the differing version numbers, the software acts about the same on each platform. FinePixViewer is for basic image organizing and editing, and is no substitute for something like Photoshop Elements.
RAW File Converter LE for Mac
Also included is the RAW File Converter LE software, which converts images from RAW to TIFF format. JPEG conversion is, unfortunately, not an option, adding another step to your workflow. More on why RAW is nice later in the review.
Two other software notes: ImageMixer VCD2 for Mac is included, which lets you turn your photos into a VCD slideshow. Drivers are also included that allow Windows XP users to also use the E550 as a webcam for videoconferencing.
The E550's manual is typical of those included with most digital cameras. It's complete, but finding what you're looking for may be difficult. There's lots of small print as well.
Look and Feel
The FinePix E550 is a midsize camera made of a mix of metal and plastic. The E550 has more metal on it than the E510 that I reviewed, giving it a more solid feel. While the controls are logically placed, I didn't care for the "feel" of all of them. Despite having a fairly small right hand grip, I found it easy to hold the E550 with one hand. While not what I'd call a small camera, the camera fits into most pockets with ease.
Here's a look at how the E550 compares in terms of size and weight with the competition:
As you can see, the E550 falls right in the middle of the pack. The FinePix F810 is an intriguing option for those who want the E550 in a sleeker body. You'll get a wacky 16:9 LCD display too.
Enough numbers, let's start our tour of the camera now, beginning with the front.
The E550 has a different lens than the rest of the E-series. Instead of getting a 3X zoom that starts at just 28 mm, you'll get a 4X model that starts at 32.5 mm. The maximum aperture on the lens is F2.8 - F5.6 and the focal range is 7.2 - 28.8 mm (equivalent to 32.5 - 130 mm).
The E550 allows you to attach conversion lenses and filters, as I mentioned before. Just press the button to the lower-left of the lens, remove the plastic ring, and attach the conversion lens adapter (and then your lens).
At the top of the picture is the E550's pop-up flash, which has a working range of 0.6 - 4.5 m at wide-angle and 0.6 - 2.2 m at telephoto. This range is a little better than on the E510. You cannot attach an external flash to the E550.
To the upper-right of the lens is the optical viewfinder, flash sensor, and microphone. There is no AF-assist lamp on any of the E-series cameras.
On the back of the camera is where you'll find one of the E550's standout features: its large 2.0" LCD display. While I always prefer rotating LCDs like the one on the PowerShot A95, there's something to be said for this sharp and bright screen. The LCD has a healthy 154,000 pixels.
The low light functionality on the E550 is the same as it was on the E510: not good. Unlike some cameras, the E550 doesn't "gain up" automatically in such situations, rendering that big screen useless in dim light. I found the screen to be difficult to see in bright outdoor light, as well.
To the upper-left of the LCD is the E550's optical viewfinder, which is average-sized. It shows approximately 77% of the frame (which seems a little low) . It lacks a diopter correction knob (as does the one on the A95), which is used to focus what you're looking at. Just to the right of the viewfinder is the button which pops up the flash.
To the left of the LCD is the exposure compensation button, which has the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments range.
At the top-right of the photo is the zoom controller, which doesn't have as much "play" as I would've liked. The controller moves the lens quietly from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.2 seconds. I counted just seven steps throughout the zoom range.
Below that is the switch used to move the camera between record and playback mode.
Photo mode menu (sorry some of these are so crappy; the E550 doesn't send the record menus through the video out port)
Continuing downward we find the "F", or Photo Mode, button. Pressing this opens the menu seen above, which has the following options (in record mode):
Next to the Photo Mode button is the four-way controller. This is used for menu navigation, adjusting manual settings, and more. I don't care for how it feels -- they're too flush with the body and they don't have a lot of "play". The additional functions of this controller are:
The final button here is the display/back button. This is used for toggling what's shown on the LCD, turning on thumbnail view while in playback mode, and "backing out" of a menu.
On top of the camera you'll find the power and shutter release buttons as well as the mode dial.
The items on the mode dial include:
As was the case on the E510, the slowest shutter speed on the camera isn't very slow: here it's 3 seconds instead of 2. Since the E550 is the high-end camera in the series I was hoping for better. Don't get me wrong, though -- I still appreciate the manual controls!
On this side of the E550 you'll find the speaker as well as the I/O ports.
The I/O ports here include A/V out, USB (1.1), and DC-in (for optional AC adapter).
The E-series cameras have one of those design decisions that makes you say "huh?": they have a plastic cover for the I/O ports -- that's untethered. That means that you're probably going to lose it. Judging by the fact that Fuji gives you a spare cover with the camera, it seems that they also know that.
Nothing to see on this side, aside from the fact that part of the grip is metal on the E550 versus plastic on the E500/510.
Here's the bottom of the E550, with my trusty lens cap helping balance things. Here you'll find a plastic tripod mount as well as the xD card slot and battery compartment. Those last two are covered by a fairly sturdy plastic door.
The tripod mount is located toward the center of the camera. Do note that removing the memory card is impossible while the camera is on a tripod.
Using the Fuji FinePix E550
Performance is where the E550 truly shines. The camera starts up in just 1.2 seconds, which is amazing for a camera with a lens that must extend.
No histograms to be found here
Autofocus speeds were good, with a 0.4 second delay in most cases before the camera locks focus. Even at the telephoto end the camera focused in under 0.8 seconds. The fun stops here, though, as low light focusing was not good. Here's why AF-assist lamps are needed on all cameras! In addition, the LCD is too dark to see in dim light conditions.
Shutter lag was not an issue, even at slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.
Shot-to-shot speed was excellent, with a one second delay between photos at 6M or lower, maybe 1.5 seconds at 12M, and 6 seconds in RAW mode.
By setting the post-shot review feature to "preview", you can save or delete each photo immediately after it is taken.
Now, let's take a look at the resolution and quality choices available on this camera.
See why I recommended buying a larger memory card back in the first section of the review?
There are two things I want to talk about here: interpolation and RAW mode.
While the E550 has 6.3 million effective pixels, the unique design of the SuperCCD HR sensor require all images to be interpolated to 12 Megapixels. If you chose one of the lower resolutions, the images are then downsized to that resolution. Bottom line: every picture you take is 12 Megapixels at one point and that's a trait of the sensor. Whether the the native resolution is 6M or 12M is up to you.
Along those lines, an image saved in RAW format is that image data in the 12 Megapixel state. It's as close to "original" as you'll get on the E550. The catch is that you must process the image later on your PC to get in into a more usable format like TIFF or JPEG. The benefits of RAW are clear, though: you can edit things like color and white balance without reducing the quality of the image.
The camera names files as DSCF####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the numbering even if you erase the memory card.
The FinePix E550 has a nice looking, easy-to-use menu system. Here's a look at what you'll find in the record menu, keeping in mind that many of these options are not available in auto mode:
There are a few things worth mentioning here. First off, the E550 has a custom white balance option, unlike the E500/510. This lets you use a white or gray card for perfect color in any light.
There are several more focus modes on the E550 than the E510. AF center always focuses on the center of the frame, while AF multi will pick an area of the frame automatically. AF area lets you choose one of 49 focus points by using the four-way controller. The continuous AF feature will make the camera focus constantly, even without the shutter release button pressed. This can reduce focus times but will put an extra strain on your battery.
In manual focus mode, you use the zoom controller (while holding the exposure compensation button down) to set the exact focus distance. This feature could be a lot better: there's no indication on the LCD of the current distance, nor is there the useful center-frame enlargement feature found on other cameras.
There are three types of continuous shooting on the E550. The top 4 mode will take up to 4 shots in a row at 3.3 frames/second. The final 4 mode will keep shooting at 3.3 fps for up to 40 pictures and it will save the last four pictures taken before you released the shutter release button.
The auto bracketing feature takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure. You can set the EV interval in the record menu. If you've got the space on your memory card, this is great way to always ensure proper exposure.
There's also a setup menu, of course, which is accessed from the record or playback menu. The items here include:
Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now. All images were taken at the 6M setting!
The E550 did a fine job with our macro test subject. Mickey's colors are accurate, and the whole image is very "smooth".
Macro mode on the E550 isn't as nice as on the E500 and E510. Here you can get 7.5 cm from your subject, versus 2.5 cm on the other two models.
My night shot experiences mirrored those that I had with the E510. Framing pictures is hard when you can't see the LCD and the camera just did not like to focus on the city skyline. At least there's manual focus, but it's still hard to see if the buildings are in focus. The other issue is that the 3 second shutter speed limit just isn't long enough for a proper exposure for this shot. Don't let that discourage you too much, though, as this photo proves that the camera is capable of nice night shots even with that 3 sec limit.
The above photo is (besides being underexposed and a little crooked) is just okay. It seems to be softer on the left side than on the right -- something I've seen before but can't explain. Noise levels are average, and I didn't see any purple fringing (which is interesting, since the camera has a fair amount of it in normal daylight shooting).
Now, using that same shot, let's see how the camera performs at higher ISO sensitivities:
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ISO 800 (3M)
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As you can see, noise increases steadily, especially at ISO 400 and above. The ISO 800 option is a rare one, and you can thank the SuperCCD sensor for it. The catch is that the resolution is limited to 3M at that setting.
As was the case with the E510, there's a bit of redeye on the E550. While your results may vary, I think it's a safe bet that you'll see it at least occasionally.
Barrel distortion levels on the E550 are mild, and not as noticeable as the E510 (which has a wider lens). I don't see any vignetting here.
Image quality on the E550 is good, presuming you choose the right resolution. Images taken at the 12M setting are noisy, soft and overall quite unappealing. Therefore, unless you're making large prints (larger than 8 x 10), I would shoot everything at the 6M setting, and there are three ways to do that:
Obviously the last option on the list is the easiest, but it won't necessarily result in the best photo quality. Since Fuji really cranks up the JPEG compression in 6M mode, the best option (in terms of photo quality) is to shoot at 12M/Fine and then downsize. The difference isn't huge, but you'll get fewer JPEG artifacts than shooting in 6M mode. I would steer clear of RAW mode because there's no real increase in photo quality for the amount of time you'll spend post-processing the files.
In fact, shooting in RAW seemed worse than 12M, as these crops illustrate:
See those horizontal lines? They're quite a bit worse in RAW mode than in 12M mode (and they shouldn't be there in the first place). While I didn't see any lines in the same shot taken at 6M, I did spy them in another photo (look carefully at the statues on the right side). Bottom line: if you don't mind the work, shoot at 12M/Fine and downsize to 6M. If you're lazy like me, just shoot at 6M and forget about resizing. Either way, the photo quality will be very good.
Other photo quality issues worth mentioning: color and exposure were both good. Noise levels were about average. One thing that was worse than average was purple fringing: all of the E-series cameras have more of this than I'd like to see.
That was a lot of rambling... and I can understand if you're confused. So here's what I'd suggest: view our photo gallery, print the photos if you'd like, and then decide of the E550's photo quality meets your expectations.
Unlike the other two E-series cameras, the E550 has an awesome movie mode that competes with the best of them. You can record video at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with sound until the memory card is full. Unfortunately the included 16MB card holds 18 seconds of video, so you'll want a large xD card if you're serious about video (a 512MB card holds about 10 minutes worth).
A lower resolution option is also available: 320 x 240 at 30 frames/second.
As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming.
Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.
Here's an exciting sample movie for you:
Click to play movie (10.9MB, 640 x 480, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
Playback mode on the E550 is typical of those on other cameras. Basic features are here, including slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, voice annotations (30 seconds worth), and zoom and scroll. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
The zoom and scroll feature lets you enlarge your image by up to 21.1X (wow!), depending on the resolution of the photo, and then move around in the zoomed-in area. Once you're zoomed in, you can use the trim feature to crop your images right on the camera.
By default the E550 doesn't tell you much about your photos. But press the exposure compensation button and you'll get plenty of info, including a histogram.
The camera moves between photos without delay -- it really is instant. Nice.
How Does it Compare?
As long as you stick with the 6 Megapixel resolution, the Fuji FinePix E550 is a good choice for those who want a very responsive camera with good photo quality and manual controls. The resolution issue is an important one, as the E550 uses the unique SuperCCD HR sensor. While it can produce images with 12 million pixels, you'll get the best results by shooting at the 6M mode, or even better, by downsizing from the 12M/Fine mode. A RAW mode is available, but the quality wasn't noticeably better than 12M/Fine (in fact, it may be worse) and the post-processing is time consuming (especially with the lousy RAW converter that's included). At the 6M size, images are colorful and sharp, though purple fringing levels are above average. The E550 also has an excellent movie mode, with unlimited recording at 640 x 480, 30 frames/second.
Performance is where the E550 really shines. It starts up quickly, has brief focus and shutter lag delays, and shot-to-shot speeds are fast. Browsing images in playback mode is quite snappy as well. The camera has a nice 4X zoom lens, and if the 32.5 - 130 mm range doesn't do it for you, wide and telephoto conversion lenses are available. The E550 has a full suite of manual controls, ranging from shutter speed to focus to white balance. Unfortunately, the focus and shutter speed options are what I'd call "crippled". There's no indication of the current focus distance while using manual focus, and the useful center-frame enlargement feature is missing. While I love having full control over the shutter speed, the 3 sec limitation on the slow end puzzles me.
While I always like a large LCD display, the one on the E550 doesn't perform well in bright outdoor light and, more importantly, in low light. And in those low light situations the camera has great difficulty focusing. Image quality at the RAW and 12M settings isn't great -- soft and noisy -- and I saw some strange horizontal lines in a couple of my test photos. (That's why I recommend using the 6M setting.) Lastly, the inclusion of a tiny 16MB xD card is ridiculous.
I'm not entirely thrilled with the E550, but if you plan on taking shots in good light and understand that this is not a 12 Megapixel camera, then I'd recommend it. There are better choices out there if you do a lot of low light / long exposure shooting.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other high resolution cameras that won't break the bank include the Canon PowerShot A95 (5MP) and S70 (7MP), Casio Exilim EX-P600 (6MP), Kodak EasyShare DX7630 (6MP), Olympus C-60Z (6MP), Pentax Optio 750Z (7MP), and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P150. This is my "short list" -- check out the Reviews & Info section for more cameras.
For a unique twist on the E550, check out the Fuji FinePix F810, which has the same sensor and lens but offers a 16:9 ratio LCD display and widescreen shooting mode.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the FinePix E550 and it's competitors before you buy!
Want to see some pictures? Check out the photo gallery!
Want another opinion?
Read another review over at Steve's Digicams.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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