DCRP Review: Fuji FinePix F601 Zoom
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, March 17, 2002
Last Updated: Friday, May 24, 2002

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This first look is now a full review. All photos are from a production model camera, and the text and illustrations have been updated where necessary.

Back before PMA in February, Fuji introduced three new cameras, each of which uses the new SuperCCD III sensor. This is the 3rd generation SuperCCD, and Fuji promises better pictures with less noise. The "deal" with the SuperCCD is that the individual light sensors on the SuperCCD are arranged in a different pattern that on traditional CCD, allowing for a higher density. That's how a 3.3 Megapixel SuperCCD produces images with 6 million pixels. Of course, there is some interpolation ("guessing") going on by the camera in order to pull that off.

The FinePix F601 Zoom ($599) replaces the FinePix 4800 and 6800, which used second generation SuperCCD sensors.

Is the 601 a good choice for a small, high resolution camera? Find out now!

What's in the Box?

The FinePix F601 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.1 (effective) Mpixel Fuji FinePix F601 Zoom camera
  • 16MB SmartMedia card
  • NP-60 Li-ion rechargeable battery
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROM featuring FinePixViewer software and drivers
  • 133 page manual

There's been a battery change between the FinePix 6800 and the F601. While the 6800 used the NP-80 battery (also seen in cameras made by other manufacturers), the F601 uses the thin NP-60 battery, similar to those seen in the "micro-cameras" that I've reviewed.

The battery is rated at 3.7V, 1035 mAh, which gives it 3.2 Watt/hours of power.. Fuji estimates that you should be able to take approximately 150 photos with the LCD on, or 300 with the LCD off, on a single charge. To charge the battery, you just plug the included AC adapter into the side of the F601.

Fuji includes a rather skimpy 16MB SmartMedia card with the camera. Prices for memory have come down so much, but why are some companies still giving you such a small card?

Since the camera has a built-in lens cover, there are no lens cap worries. You can get a good idea about the F601's size in that picture.


Optional docking cradle

There really aren't any accessories to speak of for the F601 -- except one. Just like on the 4800 and 6800, Fuji offers a docking cradle for the F601 ($59). This cradle allows you to charge the battery and transfer photos while the camera comfortably rests in the cradle. Do you need it? Well, you can do both without it -- just not at the same time. The included USB cable plugs into the bottom of the camera, and the AC adapter plugs into the side.

The F601 works fine with Mac OS X and iPhoto. While I can't confirm it, it should work fine with WindowsXP 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.

The camera manual included with the FinePix F601 was better than average, as usual.

Look and Feel

The FinePix F601 is a pretty small camera. Not as small as, say, a Digital ELPH, but small nonetheless. This comparison chart should give you an idea:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D) Weight
Fuji FinePix F601 Zoom 2.8 x 3.7 x 1.3 220 g
Canon PowerShot S200 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 180 g
Canon PowerShot S330 3.7 x 2.5 x 1.2 245 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P9 4.5 x 2.0 x 1.4 206 g
Olympus D-40Z 3.4 x 2.6 x 1.7 190 g
Pentax Optio 330/430 3.6 x 2.3 x 1.2 205 g
Kyocera Finecam S3 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.2 165 g

If the F601's dimensions seem "backwards" compared to the others, it's because the F601's body is "vertical", compared to the more traditional "horizontal" bodies of the others.

The FinePix's body is all metal, and it feels as good as it looks. The camera fits well in your hands, but you must watch out where you put your right hand, for reasons I will cover in a second. The F601 fits in your pockets with ease. One thing I don't like about all these small metal cameras is that they tend to scratch easily.

Let's begin our tour of the camera now, starting with the front.

The F601 features an F2.8, 3X optical zoom lens. The focal range of the lens is 8.3 - 24.9 mm, which is equivalent to 36 - 108 mm. The lens is not threaded, so don't expect any conversion lenses for this one.

Straight above the lens is the popup flash. The flash has a working range of 0.2 - 3.0 m at telephoto, and 0.2 - 4.7 m at wide-angle. Again, no external flash options are available, nor would one be expected from a small camera like this.

The four items to the left of the lens are what I was alluding to earlier when I warned about right hand placement. From top to bottom, these are:

  • Flash sensor
  • Microphone
  • Self-timer lamp
  • ???

I'm not sure what that last one is, as it's not pointed out in the manual. Anyhow, remember how on the Nikon Coolpix 5000, people were having trouble with flash exposure because their fingers were covering the flash sensor? Well, if you're not careful, you can do the same thing here on the FinePix F601. The microphone is also something that you can accidentally cover. In other words, keep your hands on the top of the camera.

If there's anything missing from the front of the F601 (and all Fuji cameras), it's an AF illuminator, to help with low-light focusing.

Here is the back of the camera.

The 1.5" LCD is a bit smaller than on many larger cameras, but it's par for the course for a small digicam. It's bright and useable in most conditions, except outside when it's bright. LCD brightness is adjustable via the setup menu.

Just above the LCD, in the same gray square, you'll find (left to right) the "Display" button, the "mode icons", and the power button. The Display button toggles the LCD on and off. The mode icons (my term) show what mode you're currently in, though it seems redundant since you can just look at the mode wheel. The power button needs no explanation.

Towards the top left is the optical viewfinder. It's a bit small, and it lacks diopter correction, but it's far away enough from the LCD to prevent nose smudges.

Over to the right are more buttons and switches. The three on the left are for Flash open, Back (in the menus), and Record/Playback. The four-way switch handles menus, and doubles as the zoom controller for the camera. The zoom controls are smooth and accurate. Pressing the four-way switch into the camera will activate the menus.

Finally, those little holes toward the bottom-right of the photo are for the speaker.

The only items of note on top of the camera are the popup flash, and the mode wheel with the shutter release button inside it. The choices on the mode wheel are:

  • Manual record
  • Scene mode
  • Auto record
  • Movie mode
  • Audio recording mode

If you choose Scene mode, you can then choose between five preset situations:

  • Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Sports
  • Night scene
  • Continuous shooting

Continuous shooting mode will take up to 40 shots at a rate of about 2 frames/second. The catch? They're all at 1280 x 960.


Audio recording mode

The F601 has robust audio recording capabilities. You can record up to 33 minutes of audio on the included 16MB SmartMedia card, and up to 4.5 hours on a 128MB card. As you record, you can hit the "up" button to leave an "index mark" (like a bookmark), so you can quickly get back to that point in your recording. You can have up to 256 of these indices. Audio is recording in WAV format, by the way.

I'll cover the other modes later in the review.

I should also add that the F601 does not have an LCD info display, which means that you'll have to turn on the main LCD to check settings and see shots remaining. The FinePix 6800 had one on the back of the camera.

The only thing to see on this side of the F601 is the DC in port, where that AC adapter will plug into. There is no video out support on this camera, unlike on its predecessor, the FinePix 6800.

On the other side, you'll find the battery and SmartMedia slots, under a plastic cover. The cover seems pretty flimsy, so be careful. Let's open it up and take a look inside.

Here you can see the open cover, along with the NP-60 battery and my 64MB SmartMedia card (yours will be 16MB).

Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. Here you can see the connector for USB (and the optional dock) as well as a metal tripod mount. There's a little cover that slides over that USB/dock connector as well.

Using the Fuji FinePix F601 Zoom

Record Mode

It takes about two seconds for the F601 to extend its lens and "warm up" after you turn it on. That's pretty darn fast for a camera with a zoom lens.

When you press the shutter release button halfway, the camera usually locks focus in under a second, though it does have trouble in low light. Pressing the button fully results in a picture quickly, with little shutter lag. Shot-to-shot speed is good, but not exceptional. Expect to wait just under three seconds before you can take another shot at the 6MP setting.

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)
6M
(2832 x 2128)
Fine 6 26
Normal 13 53
Basic 33 137
3M
(2048 x 1536)
Fine 12 52
Normal 26 107
1M
(1280 x 960)
Fine 25 101
Normal 49 198
VGA
(640 x 480)
Normal 122 497

There is no TIFF or RAW support on the FinePix F601.

The FinePix F601 uses a new menu system, and I don't like it. A friend who used the camera didn't care for it either. The main menu items are arranged in a circular fashion (see photo above left) on two different menu pages. My big complaint is that navigating the menus is really clumsy. Once you actually make it to a menu item, you watch as the choices "drop" into place (which just slows down the whole process). I'm hoping that this system will disappear soon.

Enough ranting, let's see what is actually in these menus. Items in bold are only seen in manual mode.

  • Voice Memo - record up to 30 seconds of audio with each picture (appears to only be available in Auto record mode)
  • Self-timer (on/off)
  • Flash setting (Auto, redeye reduction, forced flash, slow synchro) - to suppress the flash, just close it
  • Continuous shooting/AE bracketing (on/off, bracketing) - in continuous shooting mode, the camera will take up to 4 shots at an interval of 0.2 sec; AE bracketing takes three shots in a row at different EV settings (1/3, 2/3, 1EV increments)
  • Macro (on/off)
  • Focus mode (AF, AF area, MF) - in AF area mode, you use the four-way switch to pick the subject to focus on. A manual focus feature is also available.
  • Resolution/Quality (see above chart)
  • Setup - the usual options
  • Program Mode (Program, aperture priority, shutter priority, full manual) - more on this below
  • Photometry/Metering (Multi, spot, average)
  • Exposure compensation (-2.1EV to +1.5EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Flash exposure compensation (-0.6EV to +0.6EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, fluorescent (x3), incandescent) - still no manual white balance!
  • Sensitivity (160, 200, 400, 800, 1600) - more below
  • Sharpness (Hard, normal, soft)

I want to comment on some of these menu items. I'll start from the bottom. The F601 has unmatched ISO flexibility for a consumer-level camera, with a range of 160 - 1600. The catch? If you want ISO 800 or 1600, you'll be forced to use the 1MP resolution.

Since a few readers asked, below is a rather unscientific example of the different ISO settings. I took an indoor picture and cropped it down for easier viewing.


ISO 160

ISO 200 (default)

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600
 

As you can probably tell, things get noisier as the ISO goes up. Why would you crank up the ISO so high? In situations when you really need a slow shutter speed (and thus a tripod), a higher sensitivity will allow you to use a faster shutter speed than you would otherwise, at the expense of noise.

The other menu item I wanted to talk about was the Program mode option. This lets you choose between programmed auto, aperture priority, shutter priority, and full manual modes. Aperture priority mode lets you choose from a few values between F2.8 and F8. In shutter priority mode, the range is 2 - 1/1000 sec. In full manual mode, you can shoot as fast as 1/1600 sec.

Let's do our usual photo tests now.

The FinePix did a "fine job" with the macro test. As is the norm with Fuji cameras, the color is right on. You can see a bit of the SuperCCD "artifacting" if you look closely (more on this in a second).

The F601 was able to produce a fairly noise-free night shot as well. I wish things were a bit sharper but it's still pretty good. The manual controls on the camera will help you take low light shots like this. Remember, a tripod is a must!

Here's a crop of a photo I took with the flash. The skin tone looks good. Though it's not available here, you could see some barrel distortion in the full shot (which was taken at wide-angle).

And here is the redeye test. Taken in low light with the flash's redeye reduction turned on. The image was cropped and enlarged 200% so you can see the details. There's a bit of a reflection here but nothing horrendous.

The FinePix F601Z has very good photo quality, for the most part. Fuji is great with color accuracy -- just look how great the flowers photos in the gallery look. Also, chromatic aberration (purple fringing) as not a problem. One big issue with these SuperCCD cameras is "artifacting". I will repeat something I wrote in my FinePix S602 Zoom review:

When you look at the images on the screen -- especially those taken at the 6MP setting -- you will see noise, artifacts, and "jaggies". Downsizing the image gets rid of them, as does printing -- the 6MP images are excellent when printed on a capable photo printer. The images seem oversharpened at times (again, mainly at the 6MP setting), so you may want to experiment with the soft sharpening setting, and let Photoshop do the rest.

Please check out the photo gallery and decide about the F601's photo quality for yourself!

Movie Mode

One of the big new features on the FinePix F601 is its super movie mode capabilities. You can record video at 320 x 240 or 640 x 480 (!), 15 frames/second, with sound! Of course, you can only 27 seconds of the high res video on the 16MB memory card, so if you're serious about it, you'll want a larger card. On a 128MB card, for example, you can store about four minutes of VGA video. (The major difference between the F601 and S602 movie modes is that the S602 records at 30 fps versus 15 fps on the F601.)

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

The only real downside here is that the optical zoom isn't available during filming.

I've got two samples for you in this review. The first one was taken at the QVGA (320 x 240) setting, while the second one was taken at the full VGA (640 x 480) size. Be warned that the second one is quite large.


320 x 240 movie sample (I hope you like sea lions). AVI format, 1.8MB

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.


640 x 480 movie sample. AVI format, 9.5MB

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The FinePix F601 Zoom has an average playback mode. While it does feature thumbnail mode, DPOF print marking, zoom and scroll, and voice captions, the F601 lacks a slide show feature.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) lets you zoom in as much as 18X (!) into your photo, and then scroll around it. Another nice feature is the ability to crop photos when you're zoomed in.

There is no way to get any exposure information about your photos, unfortunately. The F601 moves through your photos at lightning speed -- one of the fastest cameras I've seen in that regard.

How Does it Compare?

The first thing that you need to remember is that no matter what you read about the FinePix F601 Zoom, it's a three -- not six -- Megapixel camera. The camera is at its best in 3MP/Fine mode. Once you get into the 6MP mode, things don't look as nice. That said, the images taken in the 6MP mode look great reduced in size or printed.

As for the camera itself, the F601 is a worthy update to the FinePix 4800 and 6800. It has just about everything you desire on a digital camera, including full manual controls. The only exception is the lack of a TIFF mode and manual white balance. The F601's operation is robust, especially when it comes to turning it on, and playing back photos. The camera loses some points for a just so-so playback mode.

Overall, though, the FinePix F601 Zoom is a nice choice for a midrange digital camera, and it gets my recommendation.

What I liked:

  • Small, nice looking body
  • Almost full manual controls
  • High quality pictures in most cases (esp. when downsized or printed)
  • Quick startup time, minimal AF/shutter lag
  • Very good movie mode (not as good as S602, though)
  • Good bundle

What I didn't care for:

  • SuperCCD noise issues at 6MP especially
  • Playback mode just OK
  • Clumsy menus
  • No manual white balance or TIFF mode
  • No AF illuminator

Other small, 3 Megapixel (or greater) cameras include the Canon PowerShot S30 and S40, HP PhotoSmart 812, Kodak DX4900, Kyocera Finecam S3, Minolta DiMAGE F100, Olympus D-40Z, Pentax Optio 330 and 430, and the Sony DSC-P71 and DSC-P9.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera reseller to check out the FinePix F601 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?

Don't miss the review of the F601 at Steves 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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