Product Type: Fujifilm digital cameras
Newest Review: ... is of slightly better resolution than I had expected from such a simple camera, and it doesn't cause many problems except in direct sunligh... more
Fine pix can be yours for a song
Fujifilm Finepix A350
Member Name: davidbuttery
Fujifilm Finepix A350
Advantages: Extremely easy to use, excellent colour, decent lens, pleasing battery life, cheap to buy
Disadvantages: Few features, struggles in dim light, irritating zoom control
Not so long ago I reviewed the Fujifilm FinePix A400, and was not all that impressed. However, the sharp eyed amongst you may have noticed that on one or two occasions elsewhere I *have* praised this camera, the A350. It may surprise you that two quite similar cameras could get such differing assessments, and in truth it surprised me when I tested the A400 to find how (relatively) poor it was. If you're in the market for a basic camera that produces nice snaps and is very easy to use, then the A350 is probably the preferable choice.
This is a five-megapixel camera, in resolution terms at the top of the A3xx range. (In spite of their names, the A360 is a 4 mp model and the A370 another 5 mp one.) This is actually quite a nice resolution for the cost-conscious; 6 mp seems to be the point at which many consumers think of a camera as "modern", yet a well made 5 mp model is very much capable of taking good-looking snaps under most ordinary conditions. Of course, if you're after blowing your photos up to wall size then you should look elsewhere, but the Fujifilm A-series has never been about niche markets anyway. This is a snapshot camera plain and simple - and indeed those two words sum up the A350's approach very well.
The camera looks reasonably attractive to me, though rather nicer from the front than round the back. Even though it's a little chunkier than the self-consciously slim digicams of today, it will happily sit in a jacket pocket without causing any discomfort. It's only available in silver as far as I know, but it's not trying to look particularly stylish, and I don't think I'd call it ugly even as it is. There's a reasonable grip, partly thanks to the raised "FinePix" logo on the front, and it feels fairly comfortable and reassuringly steady in my hand, despite not being a very heavy camera. Overall, little special here but not much to complain about either.
This is an extremely easy camera to use; it would make an excellent introduction for someone who had never used a digital camera before. It's about as "point and click" as you can get, and the simplicity means that a complete newcomer can be taking nice-looking photos within a few minutes of opening the box. It helps that the documentation is pretty good, with a relatively clear Quick Start guide to get you going as well as a more in-depth full manual, which very pleasingly contains lots of step-by-step guides to doing various things, all of which boast clear diagrams as well as text instructions.
The flip side of that ease of use is that there aren't many features to play around with. In particular, even in the dubiously-named "Manual" mode you can't alter the ISO. This is undeniably a disappointment (and one area where the A400 does beat this model) but the camera makes a better job than some of selecting the automatic setting appropriately. The real difference between Manual and Automatic is that in the former you can set white balance and exposure compensation; interestingly the range for the latter is -2.1 to +1.5 (so allowing photos to be pushed further to the dark side than to the light) rather than the equal +/- range usually found.
There are a couple of other features on the A350 that are worth mentioning. Although you don't get the wide array of scene modes that buyers of new digicams have now come to expect, you do still have the basics: Portrait, Landscape, Sports and Night. There's a self-timer (2 or 10 seconds) and a simple continuous shooting option, which at the best resolution can take five or so photos in a row before the camera's memory buffer becomes full. There's also a good macro mode, which can go in to about 6 cm before focusing becomes impossible: not class-leading, but ahead of the pack for this class of camera; and crucially it's reliable. I hate it when the camera won't focus down the first time, and the butterfly (for example) that I wanted to photograph then flies away!
The camera's controls are adequate for the job it does, though they can't be called outstanding. It is a bit disappointing that it doesn't have a proper four-way pad, and I can't claim to like the slightly awkward zoom control whereby you have to click a little ridge up and down; a simple rocker switch would have been better. Once you get used to it, you can navigate around the menus okay, though as they look very basic indeed you probably won't be doing that for fun! There is a simple optical viewfinder, but you'll probably stick to using the LCD screen. This isn't huge (1.7 inches) but is of slightly better resolution than I had expected from such a simple camera, and it doesn't cause many problems except in direct sunlight.
It was pleasing to see that Fujifilm had not gone down the path of giving a simple camera a sub-par lens. You get a straightforward 3x optical zoom, with a straight-down-the-middle equivalent range of 35 mm to 105 mm. It's not too slow, either (f/2.8 at wide and f/4.7 at telephoto) and awkward button or not, the actual zoom does its job without any fuss at all. The lens barrel itself doesn't seem too fragile, and it's nice to see a lens where I think it should be: in the middle of the camera face! Note, though, that you can't use the zoom in the bare-bones movie mode (320 x 240, 15 fps, unlimited length).
Although it would be untrue to say that the A350 produces the best 5 mp photos I have seen, it is certainly not among the stragglers either. As is usual with Fujifilm cameras, it does very well indeed with colour, which appears natural and bright without being overdone; I am very happy with my results on that score. Detail and sharpness seem okay without being excellent, but should be fine for most purposes. That's for outdoor photos in daylight, however; the lack of an autofocus assist lamp does mean that this camera has a pretty hard time focusing when light levels are low. Some Fujifilms are excellent in such conditions, but not this one. With the flash on, of course, this isn't a big problem, though I did find that this resulted in pretty obvious image noise.
Summing up a few other points: I have seen one or two reviews of this camera that suggest it has dreadful shutter lag, but that hasn't been my experience. It's no Usain Bolt in that department, but I don't think it's all that much worse than many other similar cameras. Build quality is on the plasticky side of acceptable, but it'll do. The A350 takes xD memory cards up to 1 GB, but happily it *does* accept the faster H and M types as well as the original versions. It is powered by the expected pair of AA batteries; if you use decent NiMH cells (as you should) their life is hearteningly good, and unless you're snapping away like a mad thing you won't have to change them too often.
Whether it's that initial 3 in the camera's number that makes people believe it's older than it really is (five years), I don't know, but it can act to your advantage as a buyer. This camera can be picked up for very little money on eBay - finding a boxed example with all the accessories (including a starter 16 MB xD card) for £20 isn't unheard of, and for the camera alone you can go much lower; mine cost me £9.99, which was a pretty good deal but not startling. Yes, it has its flaws, and it's far from being a five-star model, but unless low-light photography is important to you the A350 is a fair choice for those who don't need or want lots of bells and whistles. It really deserves three and a half stars, but I have to choose three or four. Its good colour and very useful macro bump it up to the higher rating.
Summary: Not perfect, but good enough that it's hard to be upset at this price
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