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Not everybody wants their digital camera to be festooned with dials and buttons galore, or to offer 687 scene modes that they're never going to use. A lot of people, and understandably so, buy their cameras based on simplicity and ease of use rather than how much user control they offer. Fujifilm were certainly aiming at that market when they launched the FinePix A400 in 2006, as is evidenced by their own comment that this camera "spares you the technical complexity that can get in the way of a good shot", which is a euphemistic way of saying that it doesn't have very many features!
Four megapixels of resolution was decidedly moderate even four years ago, and this has always been a budget camera, so it would be unfair to expect miracles from the design. However, I actually think that the A400 looks reasonably nice when seen head on, and this is not a camera you're going to be ashamed of being seen with in 2010. The design is pretty conservative, and there's nothing in particular to remark upon. Although it is, as you would expect, plastic, the build quality is perfectly acceptable for a low-end camera, and though it doesn't feel particularly solid in use nor do you worry that it's going to come apart in your hand. It's also reasonably secure to grip, with a few little raised dots around the back helping here.
I'm rather less happy with the rest of the rear design. Fujifilm didn't seem to like the idea of four-way controllers for some years, and instead you get a rather uncomfortable setup whereby the zoom control also doubles as the up/down buttons, with two separate buttons either side for left and right. There are other cameras that have dual zoom/direction buttons like this, notably the earlier models in the Canon A4xx series, but the FinePix A400 is worse, because the zoom control itself is not well thought out. Instead of the rocker switch or shutter collar most cameras have, you have to click a little lever up or down to zoom in or out. You get used to it after a while, but it never quite becomes second nature.
The LCD is a 1.8-inch affair, which is acceptable, I suppose; it's okay to look at, if not all that bright. There's also an optical viewfinder, but I rarely find those very comfortable (or very accurate) and the same is true here. The menu system the A400 displays on that LCD was quite outdated even in 2006, and it now both looks and feels thoroughly antiquated. It's not that it's particularly difficult to get to grips with - ease of use is the one area where this camera truly shines - but the eye-watering bright oranges and pinks combine with the old-fashioned ALL CAPS labels to make changing settings a less than slick experience. Compared with most of its contemporaries, even at this end of the market, it's underwhelming to say the least.
The A400 has a cut-down feature set when it comes to user control, though as this was a deliberate design decision it's hard to be too critical about that. At least you can choose the ISO setting (100, 200, 400 or Auto) which is something that even some current cameras don't allow. You also get the usual pair of white balance (no manual setting, though) and exposure compensation. Taken together, these are just enough to allow photos to look acceptable under most normal conditions. You wouldn't expect shutter speed or aperture control on a simple model like this, and indeed you don't get them. There are a whole four (count 'em!) scene modes, though, and a standard self-timer.
There is a movie mode on the A400, though I hesitate to mention it at all since it's not very good. Actually, scratch that: it's absolutely appalling. The absolute best you can do is a one-minute movie, at 320x240, without sound, at ten frames per second. This is a 2006 digicam, remember, and yet its capabilities in this department have not really advanced at all over those on my A201, which came out *five years* earlier. Really, it's best to forget that this setting even exists and to treat the A400 as a stills-only camera. You'll save yourself a great deal of frustration, believe me.
Which leads me to talking about the lens. It's a pretty bog-standard 3x optical zoom lens, with an equivalent zoom range of 38mm to 114 mm; like a lot of compacts, it doesn't have as much of a wide angle as I'd really like, so wide shots of buildings or interiors aren't that easy. It's only averagely fast (f/3.3 at wide; f/5.5 at full telephoto) but that will do for most people. Its macro capabilities aren't anything to rave about, but they're not disastrous either; you can focus down to about ten centimetres before the camera fails to focus properly. Despite the awkward zoom control mentioned above, the lens itself does zoom in and out without too much fuss or racket. Shutter lag is a bit on the high side, though.
Despite its limitations in terms of features, the A400's ease of use means that it would be a decent choice as a basic camera... if only it weren't so obviously let down by its picture quality. I don't have any real complaints about colours (an area where Fujifilm cameras consistently do well) which are slightly less saturated than the likes of Canon tend to produce but which look entirely acceptable. However, images simply aren't sharp enough: most of the photos I've taken with this camera have looked noticeably fuzzier than the same scene with a good 3mp camera (say a Canon A75), and computer editing later can't quite compensate for it. Flash photos are okay, and are usually reasonably well lit as long as the subject is quite close, but still exhibit this lack of sharpness.
This camera uses the titchy little xD memory cards; there is 12 MB of internal memory, but as each shot takes about one megabyte you're not going to find it hard to fill that! I'd recommend about a 512 MB card to give you a reasonable amount of breathing space. USB transfer, though it works well enough, is fiddly and battery-draining; use a card reader if at all possible. As you'd expect from a basic camera such as this, the A400 takes two AA batteries. These don't last very long, though, and alkalines will run out very fast. Even if you do as you should and use NiMH rechargeables, you'll probably find yourself needing a spare pair on a really full day's shooting.
You can probably get hold of an A400 for little more than a tenner on eBay, though a boxed one is likely to cost double that. I can't really recommend it, though: despite the simple operation and the good colour, there are just too many irritating little problems that nag away at you. It feels in use as though it's really a 2003 model transplanted three years forward in time into a 2006 body, and there are alternatives for an inexpensive second-hand camera that do most things better for very little more money. For example, the Canon PowerShot A430, which has the same resolution, is not quite as simple to use and also has a fiddly zoom control, but is a better camera in almost every other way. Unless ease of use really is everything to you, I'd advise buying something like that instead.
The Fujifilm Finepix A400 is a very good camera for those of you who don't really have much experience with cameras. It is not complex to understand or use, although there are many features that more sophisticated and expensive digital cameras that this one doesn't have, so if you are looking to upgrade your digital camera to something that can do a bit more, this is perhaps not for you.
The controls are generally quite easy to use, power switch on the top and slightly sunken, making it tricky to push. This is good, as it makes it very hard to accidentally turn it on or off. It has a zoom lens which can give you 3x optical zoom, allowing close in pictures that don't detract too from the quality of the image, and the zoom button is a toggle bar, with directional buttons for panning once you have zoomed. The button for taking the picture is on the top to the right, and there are three other buttons. One gives you the menu options and also lets you scroll through the pictures you have taken, the other takes you back through the menu and scrolls through your display options, so that you can choose what info you want on the screen.
There is also a button with a 'play' symbol on it (arrow pointing right), which will let you view the last photo you took. The viewfinder is an inch and a half wide. I personally prefer cameras with larger viewfinders, but this is decent enough, particularly for a beginner to use. The general quality of the camera is good for the price, and you can currently get one of these for around the £60 mark from amazon.co.uk. It is battery operated and you would need to get your own memory card to use with it. The batteries will last you a decent amount of time as long as you don't leave it on whiule you're not using it, thus draining the battery.
USB cable is normally included, and you can use this to transfer your photos or mini-videos over to a computer or a hard drive. There are various flash modes depending on your location, and it is quite robust and lightweight and streamline. Overall a very good camera for starting out, and even if you just want to take pictures normally, and aren't too fussed about extra options or gadgets to go with a camera.
This is a wonderful entry level digital camera. I put off the purchase of a digital camera for ages before I finally settled on the A400 after plenty of research.
DO NOT be fooled by a camera boasting 6, 7 or 8 million mega pixel photo quality. Any digital camera is only as good as the lens it has fitted. Mega pixels really only count when you come to print your photos. The A400 has a good quality 3x fujinon technology lens coupled with a perfectly adequate 4.1 mega pixel resolution. The A400 is lightweight and compact enough to fit neatly into most trouser pockets, unless you still wear really tight jeans. The LCD screen is 1.8" in size, which is smaller than many digital cameras being produced today but is suitable to frame any picture and take video effectively. Being LCD technology, you have to look directly at it to see a clear picture. If you view the screen from an angle or with the sun directly behind you, the images are harder to make out and frame.
When you turn the camera on there is inevitably a momentary period of inactivity whilst it loads. This means you are not going to be 'camera-ready' if you need to take an emergency photograph of your uncle falling into a river on his daily walk. Also, when you turn the camera on the LCD screen immediatley lights up by default. This uses up battery power, so it is a good idea to select the function which turns the screen off. That said, the rechargeable batteries I have in my A400 have only been recharged 4 times since April this year. A more significant absence from the camera is an audio recording feature when taking video. This surprised me as I had assumed that the audio feature was guaranteed in a camera capable of video recordings.
Downloading your photos from the camera to a PC or viewing them on a TV is blissfully easy. Both cables are included in the basic package as is the easy-to-use software. The speed at which the pictures transfer from camera to PC is very good indeed via a USB connection. Photo results are stored as JPEGS and video as AVI files, both of which integrate into the most commonly used media applications of PC's.
Various flash modes, macro options and changeable picture quality features means the A400 has left very little out in terms of a persons requirement to take photographs of family days out, holidays and picturesque landscapes. To date, I have not needed the A400 to perform any function which it has not already catered for.
Overall, this is a robust, lightweight, value for money camera which is serving me well and satisfies my digital photography needs.