DCRP Review: Fuji FinePix F50fd
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The Fuji FinePix F50fd ($399) is the long-awaited successor to the popular FinePix F30 and F31fd. I was a huge fan of the F30: it had much better high ISO performance than your typical compact camera (thanks to its SuperCCD sensor design), plus snappy performance and top-notch battery life. Fuji didn't give in to the Megapixel wars, either: the F30 and F31fd had 6 Megapixel sensors, when everyone else was doing 7 or 8.
Things have changed dramatically on the F50fd, and not necessarily for the better. Fuji's marketing department somehow convinced the engineers to come up with a 12 Megapixel sensor, no doubt so they could keep up with the competition's spec sheets. The battery life went in the other direction: it dropped from amazing to average. On a more positive note, Fuji did add optical image stabilization and support for SD and SDHC memory cards to the F50.
The F50fd gained a "big brother" at the PMA show in Las Vegas in January 2008. The FinePix F100fd ($479) offers a 5X zoom lens, improved face detection, and dynamic range adjustments.
Before I move into the review, I want to discuss my unusual experience reviewing the F50fd. My initial camera produced images that were noticeably softer on the right side of the frame, so I sent it back. Fuji sent another camera, but it too produced unusually soft photos. I traded it for a third camera, which performs a lot better, though noise reduction still softens details quite a bit. Compare these photos from cameras two and three to see the difference in sharpness.
It's highly unusual for me to have to return a faulty camera, and the fact that it took three F50's to get a "good" unit brings up concerns over quality control. Of course, my sample size isn't statistically significant, so I can't draw any conclusions.
With that out of the way, we can begin our review!
What's in the Box?
The FinePix F50fd has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Like so many cameras these days, Fuji built memory into the F50fd instead of bundling a memory card. The F50fd has 25MB of built-in memory, which holds just five photos at the highest quality setting. That means that you'll want to buy a memory card right away. One of the new features on the F50fd is support for three memory card formats: xD, SD, and SDHC. If you're going to use an xD card, make sure it's a fast one (Type H), as the regular ones are really slow. I'd go for the SD or SDHC card myself, again going for a high speed model. I'd say that a 2GB card is a good starter size for a camera with this resolution.
The FinePix F50fd uses the NP-50 lithium-ion rechargeable battery for power. This battery has 3.7 Wh of energy, which is quite a drop from the 6.5 Wh battery used by the F30 and F31fd. As you might expect, battery life has suffered greatly as a result:
Ahh, how the mighty have fallen. The F31fd was easily the compact camera battery life champion, but the same cannot be said for its successor -- the F50 has 60% lower battery life numbers. That said, if you exclude the now-discontinued F31fd from the above list, the F50's number is just about average for the group.
A few quick notes about the proprietary batteries used by the F50fd and cameras like it. For one, they're quite expensive -- a spare will set you back around $50. Also, should your rechargeable die, you can't use an off-the-shelf battery to get you through the day. That said, you won't find a compact camera that uses anything else.
When it's time to recharge the NP-50, just pop it into the included charger. It takes around 140 minutes to fully charge the battery. This is my favorite kind of charger -- it plugs directly into the wall.
Something else that's common on all ultra-compact cameras is a built-in lens cover. As you can see, the F50fd is considerably smaller and sleeker than its predecessor.
The F50fd is pretty light in terms of accessories. Probably the most interesting one if the WP-FXF50 underwater case (priced from $132), which lets you take the camera up to 40 meters under the sea. There's also an AC adapter, though it comes in two parts. You'll need both the AC-5VX power adapter (priced from $37) as well as the CP-50 DC coupler ($25) in order to power the F50. And that's about it!
FinePixViewer in Mac OS X
Fuji includes their FinePixViewer software with the F50fd, which you can use to transfer photos from the camera to your computer. The Mac version is very basic, with slideshows, image rotation and resizing (both of which can be done in a batch), text overlay, and e-mailing being the major features. I'd probably use iPhoto instead.
FInePixViewer in Windows XP
As is often the case, Windows users get a better version of FinePixViewer. This one does everything the Mac version does, adding basic image editing, redeye reduction, and a slicker interface.
Fuji includes a detailed owner's manual with the F50fd. It's not the easiest manual to read, with lots of fine print on each page, but it should answer any question you may have about the camera.
Look and Feel
The FinePix F50fd is a compact (but not tiny) camera made almost entirely of metal. It's well put together in most respects, though I'm never a fan of a plastic tripod mount. Ergonomically speaking, the F50 is easy to hold and operate, with the important controls in the right places. The mode dial is a little wonky -- it turns so slowly that I felt like it was stuck in bubble gum.
Here's a look at how the the F50fd compares to other cameras in its class in terms of size and weight: