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DCRP Review: Fuji
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: January 11, 2006
Last Updated: April 6, 2008
The Fuji FinePix E900 ($499) is a midsized digital camera with a 9 Megapixel SuperCCD HR sensor -- yes, you read that right: 9 Megapixel. The E900 uses the same sensor as its big brother (the FinePix S9000), though it doesn't offer the ISO 1600 and anti-shake functions as that camera.
The E900 is the follow-up to the FinePix E550, which was introduced in July 2004. Both cameras share the same 4X zoom lens, 2" LCD display, manual controls, conversion lens support, and VGA movie mode. While the E550 offered an interpolated 12 Megapixel image size (double the resolution of the CCD), Fuji's latest SuperCCD-based cameras don't do that, so there's no 18 Megapixel setting on the 9 Megapixel E900.
While it has more resolution than most of the competition, the E900 finds itself among a strong group of cameras. Find out how it compares in our review!
What's in the Box?
The FinePix E900 has an above average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
The E900 comes with a tiny 16MB xD Picture Card, which holds just three photos at the highest quality setting. Why do they even bother? Anyhow, you definitely need to pick up a larger memory card right away, and I suggest 1GB as a good starter size. The xD cards used by the E900 tend to be a bit more expensive than other flash memory formats, so keep that in mind.
Fuji makes up for that memory card mishap by including two NiMH rechargeable batteries and a charger in the box with the camera. They even give you the most powerful NiMH batteries available: 2500 mAh. Using rechargeable batteries will get you the most battery life and it's better for the environment to boot.
Here's how the E900 compares to the competition in terms of battery life:
The E900 turns in above average battery life numbers. There are a couple of cameras (Olympus SP-350 and Samsung Digimax V800) that I wanted to have on this list, but unfortunately I can't find any battery life numbers for them.
I am a big fan of cameras that use AA batteries. For one, NiMH batteries cost way less than their proprietary counterparts. Second, if your rechargeables die you can always buy some alkalines to get you through the day.
When it's time to charge your NiMH batteries just put them into the included charger. This compact charger plugs directly into the wall, so there's no power cable to truck around. The charger won't win any awards for speed, however -- it takes five hours to fully charge the two batteries.
The E900 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no clumsy lens cap to worry about.
While there aren't tons of accessories available for the E900, there are still several worth mentioning. Here they are:
While Fuji does not make an underwater case for the E900, Ikelite does. This $270 case lets you take the camera up to 60 meters (200 feet) underwater -- wow!
Let's talk about the bundled software now.
FinePixViewer 3.3 for Mac
Fuji includes their FinePixViewer software with the E900 (version 5.1 for Windows, 3.3 for Mac). This software does very basic things, like image viewing, rotating, resizing, and e-mailing. There are no editing functions, so you'll want to pick up Photoshop Elements or similar for that.
The bundled ImageMixer VCD2 software lets you create Video CDs of your photos. If you shell out $50 it can also burn to DVD discs.
The last piece of software included with the E900 is the Raw File Converter LE. This does one thing and one thing only: it converts RAW images to TIFF format. You can't edit any RAW properties and you can't convert to JPEG either. Fuji's Hyper-Utility software apparently can do this, but I can't seem to find it available for purchase anywhere. Adobe's Photoshop CS2 software does not support the E900's RAW files at this point. One tool that does work is s7raw, which is for Windows only.
In case you don't know, RAW images contain unprocessed image data straight from the CCD. Since the data isn't processed on the camera you must do it yourself on your computer to get it into more usable formats like TIFF or JPEG. Ideally you'd have software that not only changes the format but also lets you adjust the various properties of the image like white balance, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction, but as I said, the Raw Image Converter doesn't do any of that.
The manual included with the E900 is just okay. The information you're looking for is all there, but it's not terribly user friendly when you're actually reading it.
Look and Feel
The FinePix E900 is a midsized camera made of a mix of metal and plastic. The camera feels very solid in the hand, and the important controls are well placed. My only wish is for a larger grip for your right hand.
While they're not exactly the same, the E900 looks a whole like its predecessor, with the main difference being the body color (black versus gray). A few buttons have been moved around as well.
Now let's see how the E900 compares with the competition in terms of size and weight.
The E900 is just slightly smaller than the old E550, as you can see. It's one of the larger cameras in this class, though not by much. While the camera probably won't fit in your pants pocket, it'll easily go in larger jacket pockets or in a small camera bag.
Let's start our tour of the E900 now, beginning as we always do with the front.
The FinePix E900 has the same lens as the E550 before it. This is an F2.8-5.6, 4X zoom lens with a focal range of 7.2 - 28.8 mm (equivalent to 32 - 128 mm). For this keeping score at home, this lens is quite a bit "slower" than the one on the Canon A620, which is arguably the E900's closest competitor. While the lens itself isn't threaded, by pressing that button to the lower-left you can remove that ring around the lens barrel. Then you can attach the optional conversion lens adapter which lets you use add-on lenses and filters.
To the upper-right of the lens is the optical viewfinder, with the microphone to its right. Below that is the self-timer countdown lamp. There is no AF-assist lamp, which is really a shame, as nearly all of the competition has one.
At the top of the photo you'll find the camera's pop-up flash, which is manually released. The working range of the flash is 0.3 - 3.7 m at wide-angle and 0.6 - 1.9 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO), which is about average. You cannot attach an external flash to the E900.
While the LCD size is the same as it was on the E550, the resolution has actually gotten worse: the E550's LCD had 154,000 pixels, while the one on the E900 has only 115,000. The screen on the E900 didn't seem too bad, though. Low light visibility was not great.
To the upper-left of the LCD is the camera's optical viewfinder, which shows 77% of the frame (the LCD shows 100%). The viewfinder is average-sized, and like most of the competition it's missing a diopter correction knob (which focuses what you're looking at).
To the right of the viewfinder is the release for the pop-up flash. Below it are two buttons:
There are three continuous shooting and one exposure bracketing mode on the E900. Top 4-frame is your standard burst mode: the camera takes four shots in a row at 1.6 frames/second. The final 4-frame mode lets you keep taking pictures at the same frame rate for up to 40 frames -- when you release the shutter release button the last four shots taken are saved to the memory card. The long-period continuous mode will keep shooting until 40 shots are taken. The camera focuses before each shot, so the frame rate is low -- around 0.8 frames/second. This mode can also be used only in the auto or scene modes. One nice thing about the E900's continuous shooting mode is that there's no LCD blackout between shots.
The auto bracketing mode will take three shots in a row, each with a different exposure. You can set the interval between exposures in the record menu, choosing from ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV, or ±1EV.
Let's move over to the right side of the LCD now. At the top-right you'll find the zoom controller, which moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.4 seconds. I counted nine steps throughout the 4X zoom range.
Below that are three buttons plus the four-way controller. The top-most button enters playback mode, while the bottom two are for Display/Back (toggles LCD on/off, backs up in menus) and opening the Photo Mode menu, respectively.
Pressing the "F" button opens the Photo Mode menu, which has the following options:
The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, manual controls, and also for:
That's all for the back of the E900!
On top of the E900 you'll find the power and shutter release buttons as well as the mode dial. The mode dial has the following options:
As you can see, the E900 has full manual controls. One thing I still don't like (on previous Fuji cameras as well) is how the full shutter speed range is only available in the "M" mode.
The camera shows off Fuji's Real Photo Technology when you put the camera into Natural Light mode. Here the camera increases the ISO until a "blur free" shutter speed is available, which allows for sharp photos using available light instead of the flash. Since the E900 has better-than-average high ISO performance (or at least that's the promise) you should be able to get more usable natural light photos than "regular" digital cameras.
Here's an example of how well the Natural Light mode works. Let's say you want to take a picture of a family pet, and first you try taking a flash picture. Here's what you get:
That's not very pleasant, is it? While the cat is nicely lit, the wall in front is way too bright, and the background is dark. Now let's try Natural Light mode:
Now, I don't know about you, but I like this picture a lot better. No more blown out foreground, and the background isn't dark either -- in other words, it's just as your eyes would see it. The E900 accomplishes this by increasing the ISO sensitivity, in this case all the way up to 800. The downside with this is that you're limited to small print sizes, as the noise levels are too high for large prints. You don't have to use natural light mode to get results like this: you can increase the ISO manually in any of the non-automatic shooting modes.
And now, back to our tour...
On this side of the E900 you'll find its speaker and I/O ports. The I/O ports, which are kept under a plastic cover, include A/V out, DC-in (for optional AC adapter), and USB. The camera supports the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol, unlike the E550 before it. And, to give credit where credit is due, thank you Fuji for actually attaching that plastic cover to the camera this time.
The only thing worth mentioning here is that the lens is at the telephoto position.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find the battery compartment, memory card slot, and plastic (boo!) tripod mount. The battery and memory card compartment is protected by a sturdy plastic door. Do note that you probably won't be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.
Using the Fuji FinePix E900
It takes about 1.4 seconds for the E900 to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures -- pretty good.
|The FinePix E900 offers a traditional shot preview, as well as a unique view that shows the current shot as well as the three previous photos you took.|
Autofocus speeds were good. The camera typically took between 0.3 and 0.5 seconds to lock focus, with longer waits on more difficult subjects. Low light focusing was not great -- this camera really needs an AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag was not an issue, even at slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.
Shot-to-shot speed is excellent when you're shooting in the JPEG format -- you can take another shot in about a second. Things are much slower when you're shooting in RAW mode, with a delay of six seconds before you can take the next picture.
There is no way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you must enter playback mode first.
Now, let's take a look at the resolution and quality choices available on the E900:
See why you need a larger memory card?
As I said at the beginning of the review, the 5th generation SuperCCD HR sensor on the E900 does not offer an interpolated resolution option. The camera still takes the 9 Megapixels worth of data and interpolates it up to 18MP (it has to due to the design of the sensor), but then it brings it back down to 9MP again. This is, in my opinion, a good thing, as the photo quality at the interpolated resolution was nothing to write home about.
I already covered the RAW image format and why it's cool earlier in the review. I still don't like how you have to go all the way to the setup menu in order to turn on the feature, though.
The camera names files as DSCF####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the numbering even if you erase the memory card.
The FinePix E900 uses the same "new" menu system as Fuji's other recent cameras, and I really don't care for it. Do note that some of these menu items are not available in the automatic shooting modes. And now, here's the full record menu:
The E900's custom white balance feature lets you use a white or gray card as a reference to get perfect color under any lighting. This feature comes in very hand if you're shooting under unusual lighting conditions.
The center AF mode always focuses on the center of the frame, while the multi AF option automatically picks an area in the frame on which to focus. If you want to do this yourself, turn on the area AF mode. This lets you manually select one of 49 focus points using the four-way controller. When the camera is in continuous AF mode, the camera will always be focusing. This reduces focus times, but reduces battery life.
The manual focus features lets you set the focus distance yourself. To do this you'll hold down the exposure compensation button and use the zoom controller. Unfortunately the camera doesn't show you the current focus distance on the LCD, nor does it enlarge the center of the frame, making this feature pretty close to useless.
Now, here's what you'll find in the setup menu:
Those should be self-explanatory so let's move on to the test photos now!
The E900 did a very nice job with our 3" tall macro subject. Colors are accurate and the subject is nice and sharp.
The minimum distance to the subject in macro mode is 7.5 inches, which is about average. Do note that the lens is locked at the wide-angle position while in macro mode, which some folks may not like.
The night shot turned out nicely as well. The camera took in enough light, though I had to use the full manual mode in order to get at the full range of shutter speeds offered on the camera. The buildings are nice and sharp, and noise levels are reasonable considering the resolution of the camera. Purple fringing levels were low.
Now let's take a look at the first of two ISO tests in the review. This one uses the night scene you just saw:
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The ISO 80, 100, and 200 shots all look very similar, and each is very usable at larger print sizes. Details start to go bye-bye at ISO 400, and things are even worse at ISO 800. All is not lost, though: after some noise clean-up in NeatImage I was able to make a good quality 4 x 6 inch print of the ISO 800.
For my second ISO test I brought out the test scene that I created last year (apparently putting chocolates in a hot garage isn't such a good idea after all). Anyhow, below are crops from that test scene at each ISO. Click the link to see the full size ones.
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This test is where the FinePix E900 really shows its stuff. The photos are very clean all the way through ISO 200. Noise levels are a bit higher at ISO 400, and things really aren't that bad at ISO 800, either. In fact, with some noise clean-up, you may be able to get a good-sized print out of that ISO 800 shot.
While it's not horrible, there is some redeye to be found in our flash photo test.
There's very mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the E900's lens. I did not see any dark or blurry corners in this test, or in my real world photos.
Overall, I'd say that the FinePix E900's photo quality is very good. Photos were well-exposed, with accurate color and good sharpness. Purple fringing levels were a bit higher than I would like to have seen, but I would not consider this to be a problem. The main complaint I have is that fine details get "mushy" -- have a look at the grass in this shot to see what I'm talking about. This only gets worse as the ISO goes up, with these two photos as examples. This won't be a problem for smaller prints, but at 8 x 10 and above you will likely notice this loss of detail. So, how this affects you really depends on what you plan on doing with your photos.
Ultimately, you'll need to decide if the FinePix E900 quality meets your expectations. Have a look at our photo gallery and see what you think! Be sure to print the photos as if they were your own, too -- evaluate the photo quality in the way in which you'd use them!
The FinePix E900 has an excellent movie mode. You can record movies at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with sound until the memory card is full. That doesn't take very long with the included 16MB card -- that holds just 13 seconds of video. If you buy a 1GB memory card you'll be able to take around 15 minutes of continuous video.
For longer movies you can cut the resolution in half to 320 x 240 (the frame rate remains at 30 fps), which essentially doubles recording time.
As you might expect, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming. The digital zoom is not available, either.
Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.
Here's a sample movie for you. Sorry that it's a little shaky, I think I was holding two cameras at the same time (such is my life).
Click to play movie (8.9 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
Playback mode on the E900 is typical of those on other cameras. The usual basic features are here, including slideshows, 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 5.8X (depending on the resolution of the photo), and then move around in the zoomed-in area. This feature is sluggish compared to what you'll find on other cameras.
Other features include in-camera image rotation and trimming (cropping).
The E900 also offers a handy calendar view of your photos.
By default the E900 shows you very basic information about your photo. However, press the exposure compensation button and you'll get a lot more, including a histogram.
Photo viewing is rather sluggish on the E900, with a delay of two seconds between photos. Strangely enough, there's no delay when you're viewing RAW images -- I guess they have a small JPEG embedded to speed up playback times.
How Does it Compare?
The Fuji FinePix E900 is an ultra high resolution camera that is a good at taking high quality pictures -- though you'll bump into its flaws while doing that.
The E900 is a midsized, black-colored camera with a metal and plastic body. It fits easily in your hand, and the controls are well-placed. Build quality is very good. The camera features a 9 Megapixel SuperCCD HR sensor, a 4X zoom lens (32 - 128 mm), and a 2-inch LCD display. The LCD has a fairly low resolution, and I wasn't thrilled with its low light performance either. Speaking of low light, the E900 surprisingly lacks an AF-assist lamp. In terms of expandability, the E900 offers both wide-angle and telephoto conversion lenses.
The E900 has a mix of automatic and manual features. For those who just want to point and shoot, there's an automatic mode as well as three scene modes. The natural light mode lets you take photos in natural light without resorting to the flash. Do note that your print sizes will be limited to smaller sizes if you use this feature. In terms of manual controls, the E900 offers all the important ones, including shutter and aperture priority modes, white balance, and focus. The manual focus feature leaves much to be desired, however. There's no distance shown on the LCD, and the center of the frame isn't enlarged either. The camera can record movies at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with sound until the memory card is full.
Camera performance was a mixed bag on the E900. The camera starts up quickly, focuses responsively, and there's no shutter lag to speak of. But low light focusing is poor, and shot-to-shot speeds are slow in RAW mode. Viewing photos in playback mode is also sluggish, though ironically RAW images come up instantly. Speaking of RAW, the included RAW File Converter is pretty lousy, slowly converting RAW images to TIFFs with allowing you to edit them (which is sort of the whole point of the format). I also don't like how the RAW option is buried deep within the setup menu.
Photo quality was very good for the most part. The E900 takes well-exposed, colorful images with good sharpness and reasonable purple fringing levels. My main complaint is regarding the watercolor-like look to fine details in photos, like grass, shrubs, and trees. The E900 does offer better-than-average high ISO performance. Though it's not up to D-SLR standards, it is noticeably better than what most compact cameras offer.
A few last complaints: I found some redeye in my flash test, which isn't too surprising given the proximity of the flash to the lens. In macro mode, you may be frustrated with the fact that the lens is locked at the wide-angle position. And finally, the included 16MB xD card is way too small for a camera with this resolution.
Overall, the FinePix E900 does get my recommendation, though I'd suggest that low light shooters and RAW aficionados consider something else, as the camera's main flaws are in those areas.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot A620, Casio Exilim EX-P700, Kodak EasyShare Z760, HP Photosmart R927, Nikon Coolpix L1 and P1, Olympus SP-350, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5, Samsung Digimax V800, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S90 and DSC-W7.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the FinePix E900 and it's competitors before you buy!
Want to see some pictures? Check out our photo gallery!
Want another opinion?
Read another review 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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