DCRP Review: Fujifilm MX-2900
by Jeff Keller [DCRP Creator/Webmaster]
Last revised: Tuesday, July 27, 1999

Note: This camera was a pre-production unit -- things may change in the actual cameras that you'll be able to buy in the stores.

I never thought I'd be saying that it's time for "yet another 2 Mpixel camera" but here we go again!

This time we get a stylish offering from Fuji -- the $899 MX-2900 -- but how does it stack up?

Above: The MX-2900 has a stylish SLR-like body. Definitely the best looking of the 2Mpixel crowd.
Jeff's note: All the photos of the camera are taken with the Coolpix 950, in case you were wondering.

What's in the Box

Fuji gave me all the goodies with this camera. In addition to the camera, I also got a 16MB SmartMedia card, a Flashpath adapter (which I didn't use since I don't have a floppy drive!), and a very nice Fuji branded SmartMedia USB card reader (more on this below).

Inside the box for the camera, you'll find:

  • The 2.3 megapixel MX-2900 camera
  • An 8MB SmartMedia card
  • Lithium-ion battery (see below)
  • AC adapter
  • Hand strap
  • Lens cap strap (hurrah!)
  • Video-out cable
  • Two serial cables: instead of a PC connection and Mac adapter, you get a PC cable AND a Mac cable. Nice.
  • Software package including PhotoDeluxe
  • Owners manual

As you can see above, the MX-2900 includes a rechargable Lithium-Ion battery, which looks like the same one used in the Toshiba PDR-M4 that we just tested. Fuji claims that you can take 80 photos with the LCD on, and 250 with it off. I wish more camera companies would catch on and include batteries like this.

Since I always complain about lens covers, let me compliment Fuji in not only including a lens cover, but giving you a strap that attaches to the side of the camera (earth to Olympus!).

The manual is well done -- there's tons of diagrams, and for once, they explain certain features in more detail. For example, most digicam manuals just mention that the camera does exposure compensation, and how to adjust it. Fuji goes beyond that, and tells you when to use this feature, and what it does. Bravo!

Above: The SM-R1 USB SmartMedia card reader

As I mentioned, Fuji tossed in a SM-R1 USB SmartMedia card reader (manufactured by Hagiwara Sys-Com, as it turns out), which was great. A quick install of drivers and you're ready to go. If you've got USB ports on your computer, forget the Flashpath adapter-- get the card reader!

Look and Feel

While the MX-2900 has a sexy body, it seems that looks aren't everything. I found that this camera has the same design shortcomings as the Coolpix 950 and the C-2000Z.

From the Coolpix 950, we have the two hand problem: To change some pretty basic settings, such as photo quality, you have to use both hands. The problem it shares with the Oly C-2000Z is that it's hard to hold: You can't seem to find a good place for that left hand. While bulky, I still find the Olympus D-600L to be one of the most comfortable cameras out there.

The MX-2900 is a gadget-lovers dream: it looks like something out of Star Trek. Upon turning it on, you see more flashing lights than you've ever seen on a camera before. If you look at the photo above, you can see the circular set of buttons on the right side. Each of those four buttons inside the circle has a red light, and they blink in a circular fashion to say "hold on, the camera's thinking."

Elsewhere on the back of the camera, we have the shift button, which allows you to adjust more functions (such as photo quality, resolution, LCD brightness, and manual focus). But do use it, you've got to hold it down, while hitting another button elsewhere on the camera-- which takes two hands. The circle of buttons is where you'll spend the most time: the four buttons (which I just described) are for scrolling around menus, and the cancel/back and menu/exe buttons are for executing functions within those menus.

Speaking of menus, the Fuji uses a very different system than the other cameras I've tested. The setup menu (seen above) was the first thing I looked at when I used the camera, and I thought "wow, these are really nice and easy to use". Well, that was the only menu. There are no traditional menus in play or record modes, which seemed a little strange to me. More on this later.

Getting back to all the buttons on the back: Above the LCD is a sliding button for power, which was nice compared to the other cameras I've tested. Just northwest of that is the diopter correction for the optical viewfinder. To the northeast of the power button you'll find buttons for Macro, Flash, and zoom.

I really like the zoom button: it's moves up and down, and is much better than the stupid buttons on the Coolpix, for example. If you just picked up the camera, you might not notice that this button is for zoom, but I found it to be very comfortable once I got used to it.

Looking at the top of the camera, the first think you notice is a genuine hot shoe for an external flash! None of the other 2Mpixel cameras have this, and Professional photographers should be quite pleased with this feature. If you look way back up to the top of this review, you can see the internal flash, which pops up if you press the button to the left of it (see above).

To the right of the flash is the standard issue LCD. Too bad more companies can't backlight their LCDs, like Toshiba did.

The usual mode wheel is on the far right. Here, you have several modes: PC connect, play, record, manual record, setup, and timer. I did use the timer once, for the macro shot of the famous pepper shaker, and the flashing lights really get going as it counts down.

The camera feels very well built, with absolutely no flimsy parts to be found. The plugs on the side of the camera have no cover at all, which is okay here, and the SmartMedia slot door is sturdy (see above).

Above you see the SmartMedia door open, with a 16Mb SmartMedia card resting against it. These cards are definitely thicker (or perhaps, more solid) feeling than the 8 meggers -- I wonder what the 128Mb cards will be like one day!

Using the Fuji MX-2900

You know how I kept saying just how fast the PDR-M4 was that we tested last month? The Fuji was just the opposite -- I could not believe how slow it was. From turning on, to taking pictures, and especially viewing photos, this thing is like an elephant stuck in tar (if you excuse the poor metaphor). Of the five 2Mpixel cameras I've tested, the MX-2900 definitely comes in last in speed.

Anyhow, back to usage: Let's start with setup mode. Here, you can set the defaults for quality (Hi, Fine, Normal, and Basic). "Hi" mode is the uncompressed TIFF mode, of which you can fit 3 photos on the 16Mb card that I used. On the included 8Mb card, you can store 8-141 photos, depending on the quality mode. You can probably fit 1 or 2 uncompressed TIFFs on the 8Mb card.

In the setup menu, you can also choose sharpness, auto power off (yes or no, not an amount of time), photo numbering, sound volume, and the date.

Moving over to Auto record mode -- where auto is the operative word. Here you point, and shoot. You can toggle flash and macro settings, and that's it - there is no menu here.

Once it's time to shoot, things got a little weird for me. My first complaint is that the shutter release button is way too sensitive: you have to press it just right to go halfway down for focus, and not move, or else it will try to focus again. Along with this was something that annoying myself (and the folks I showed it to) even more: the noise this camera makes when focusing is unbelievable. My manager at work thought she was taking pictures, when the camera was in fact just focusing. I can only hope that Fuji addresses these concerns before they ship this camera -- I found them both frustrating.

The 3X optical zoom is fast and smooth. If you use the 2.5X digital zoom as well, you can get in pretty close, but quality goes downhill.

Photo junkies will probably do most of their work in Manual record mode. Here, there's no menu either -- instead we get an overlay menu system, similar to what the Toshiba had (in addition to the regular menus).

So what can you control in manual mode? I'll move left to right through this scrolling menu that you see above.

  • White balance: Sun, shade, three types of fluorescent lamps, and incandescent lamps.
  • Exposure compensation: Moves between -0.9 and 1.3, in 0.3 EV increments
  • Aperture/shutter priority mode: Strangely, you can only choose between F4 and F8 apertures. From there, you can let the camera decide on the shutter speed, or you can set it yourself. With an F4 aperture, you can set the shutter between 1/500 sec and 3 secs. In F8, you can choose speeds between 1/1000sec and 3 secs.
  • Flash intensity: You can choose flash brightness, in 0.3Ev increments. You can also activate your external flash here.
  • Metering mode: Choose between average value, spot, and multi (matrix) metering.
  • Continuous shooting: Unfortunately, this feature only works in 640x480 mode. It's a shame, because the competition can do it at full resolution.

So once you choose a setting, you do the usual shutter release thing, and it asks you if you want to keep your photo or lose it, before it's written to the card. Unlike the other cameras we've tested, this choice is always presented. It won't write the image until you say so.

That said, the camera does take some nice photos -- as you'll see in the gallery on the next page.

Switching to play mode: The most frustrating thing here, as I mentioned, was the slowness in loading thumbnails. I realize that these are large images, but heck, the Fuji people should take the PDR-M4 out for a spin to see how fast things are these days.

Above: The camera in play mode.

Everything else in the Playback mode was fine, though. You can't easily delete a group of photos, which is my only complaint. You can zoom into your photos, scroll around them (though not in real-time like on the PDR-M4), resize them, and apply effects like sepia to your images.

How does it compare?

The Fuji MX-2900 is a very well-designed, good looking camera, with some frustrating flaws. On the plus size, the design is attractive--almost sexy. Photos are competitive with the other 2Mpixel offerings, it's fairly easy to use, and the inclusion of a hot shoe is much needed.

But, the cameras overall slowness became annoying. The lack of menus seemed strange, and the noisy auto-focus could make you think you took a photo, when in fact you had not.

My advice, as always, is to try the cameras out yourself, in the store, to make your own judgement. If the flaws I mentioned don't bother you (or are fixed in the production model), and you want that hot shoe, you may want to consider it. I would say that there are better options out there in this arena, though.

Photo Gallery

Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.

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