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Fujifilm Finepix E550

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      27.08.2005 15:58
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      Yet another super camera from Fuji

      I bought the Fuji E550 camera for my other half earlier this year. Although I have my own camera, I often "borrow" this too, and have got to know it quite well. It seems odd that I bought another Fuji, considering the last 3 models have all developed problems over time - although the image quality has always been superb. What tempted me with this model was the high spec, and reasonably low price - I forget the exact amount, but Pixmania is selling it now for around £150 inc VAT, batteries and charger. It's original list price was double that.

      Some basic facts regarding spec:
      ***************************

      * It's a true 6.3 megapixel camera capable of interpolation to 12 megapixels. This offers an incredible 4048 x 3040 pixel resolution.

      * It uses the extremely compact xD memory format, and can take up to 1Gb cards.

      * Optical zoom is 4x, and macro focus to less than 10cm.

      * As well as full auto features, it can be used in manual mode, with control over shutter speed and aperture, ISO and much more.

      * It uses standard rechargable AA batteries (x2), or Li-ion if you'd rather.

      * Movies with sound are possible, and of a high quality. Voice recordings too.

      * It's compact, shiny and silver in colour!

      That should whet your appetite, without getting overly technical.

      What's included?
      **************
      The camera (of course)
      Battery charger
      2 x NIMH Re-chargeable Batteries
      16Mb xD memory card
      Hand strap
      USB and Audio/Video Cable
      Cradle Adapter
      CD-ROM, manuals etc

      What's not included?
      *****************
      A big enough memory card. Really, 16Mb is a poor inclusion for a camera which takes such large files. Buying a 512Mb card is sensible and will cost you an additional £50 at least. Go for a 1Gb, and expect to pay £80 or more. Expect to store 200+ images on a 512Mb card at the 6Megapixel setting.

      A docking cradle. Although you get a "cradle adapter", it's absolutely no use on it's own. The cradle will allow you to transfer images more easily, and allows you to charge up the optional Fuji NH-10 batteries. If you have a xD card reader, and use standard rechargeable AA's, you'll not need this. If you haven't got the card reader, you can still connect up using the USB cable, but you'll be draining your batteries when uploading large amounts of images.

      A case. Absolutely nothing to protect your shiny new toy. Luckily cases aren't expensive, and you'll likely get one included if you ask nicely enough (or spend enough).

      AC Power Adapter. This would be useful, expect to pay in excess of £20 for a Fuji one.

      You might think it odd that I devote a lot of space to what's not included, however it's important to know how much more you need to spend in order to get maximum enjoyment out of your camera.

      Style
      *****
      It's an attractive (although I don't fancy it) camera. It's solidly built, even looking slightly rugged. It is in fact plastic, but you'd be forgiven thinking it was some kind of metal. It's compact at 105 x 63 x 34, and lightweight at 190g. Gripping it tightly isn't a problem, it's designed well to fit in your hand whichever way you hold it. The 5cm LCD screen is big enough to see what you are taking, it's bright and shows a very accurate representation of the final image. There's a viewfinder too, although I find this a little small to be of much use., and to make matters much worse, it doesn't show the whole scene, more like 80%. There's not an overly huge number of buttons, much is hidden in the menu system, which is somewhat better than previous Fuji's we've owned - very colourful and easy to navigate. The front of the camera is simple, almost 50% being taken up by the lens area. Anway, it's all pretty sexy, as most of the Fuji's tend to be.

      Power
      *****
      Just 2 AA batteries will power this camera, I like that a lot. I'd suggest buying an extra 4 NIMH's, although you'll find that a fully charged set of 2 will last you all day, and well into the next - a good 200 shots using a mixture of flash, zoom and the rest of those battery eating features. The battery compartment is on the underside of the camera, the memory card is also in the same compartment. You could use standard AA's, although I doubt they'd last very long.

      Image Quality
      ************
      It's a myth that the more pixels you have the better the image quality. It's a combination of the lens, the processor and of course the photographer. The lens on the E550 is a Fujinon 32.5 - 130mm equiv. (4x optical zoom). Once you turn the camera on, the lens shoots out, start up time is very very quick. A half depress of the shutter button will focus, again very quickly in normal lighting conditions. A full depress of the button will take the image and save it to the memory card. Images can be taken at low resolution 640x480 (ideal for websites), and four other sizes up to the 4048 x 3040. This top size of course it interpolated. JPEG compression can be altered to give a smaller or larger file size, quality will be lost at the highest compression level. The RAW image format can be used - no compression at all, but very large file sizes, and will need to be processed later into TIF or JPG using the supplied software. Forgetting all the technicalities, and using everything in default mode, as long as you know the rules of composition, you should be able to take a great image in less than 3 seconds. The resultant images are sharp, vivid and life-like - just what the doctor ordered.

      More about features
      *****************
      Once you've mastered the Auto mode, you should really take a look at the more creative options, which could improve you picture taking. If you aren't quite ready to learn about traditional photographic fundamentals though, there are some pre-defined modes which are a halfway step. Portrait and Landscape mode adjust the aperture and other settings to provide the perfect images for your subject. The sports mode sets a faster shutter speed to capture moving subjects without the blur. The night mode on the other hand, uses a slower shutter speed to capture as much detail when the light is poor. Each of these modes is available at the turn of the dial, and no other technical knowledge is required.

      The next step up should be the "P" mode which does all the important things such as aperture and shutter speed automatically, but allows you fine control of many other aspects of photography. The most useful part of the "P" mode is program shift, which allows you to move the shutter speed and aperture combination without changing the overall exposure values.

      When you are ready for more control still, using the Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual modes are again available at the turn of the dial. Once in these modes, more options become available giving you total control, and is more akin to tradtional 35mm SLR picture taking, but without the film and developing.

      Want to get close to the subject? Insects? Flowers? The camera will focus down to less than 10cm, in the macro mode, without too much distortion and still mantain focus perfectly and quickly. The manual focus option can come in handy though, for times when the auto-focus can't quite get it right. Other focusing options are provided for even more control if you need it. Zoom on the other hand will get you closer distant subjects without moving. Although the 4x zoom is a little limiting, it's perfectly usable, and is nicely placed on the camera for ease of use.

      Exposure compensation - sounds complicated, but it's simple. This enables you to over-ride the cameras exposure decisions by going up and down in steps. You can therefore obtain the perfect exposure when the camera gets it's wrong. ISO control is also provided allowing the equivalent of 80 - 800 film speeds. The higher the ISO, the more use it is in low light situations, but the image may become grainy and contain noise. It's sometimes preferable to up the ISO to capture particularly cosy situations where the flash would completely spoil the mood. You'll probably need a tripod though.

      Self timer is great when you want to be in the picture too, and is simple to operate. Continuous shooting is ideal when you don't want to miss the perfect shot - a child coming down a slide, for instance. A number of shots can be taken one after another, and you can then choose which is the best to save.

      It goes without saying that the camera provides options to delete images, as well as play them back and zoom in and out, crop and re-size etc. These are standard features on digitals these days which should require no explanation to the average user.

      There are in fact, a lot more features to talk about, many of which perhaps aren't used so often, and therefore I shan't go into here.

      Flash
      *****
      The E550 has a built in pop-up flash. You need to pop it up yourself when the light is low - you'll see a little symbol indicating that the flash might be useful here. It's effective range is up to about 5 metres, considerably less when using zoom, so it's a bit limited, and there is no option for an external flash to be added. Various flash modes are provided including the pretty much standard red-eye reduction which works remarkably well. The recycle time can be a little slow at around 5 seconds, it can keep you waiting. Flash brightness can also be adjusted. White balance can be changed depending on the shooting conditions, ie indoor with normal lighting, or on the beach with bright sun.

      Summing up
      **********
      The proof is in the final output. As far as I can see, Fuji have done it again with a powerful compact capable of taking some very life-like sharp, vivid images in a variety of shooting conditions. Anyone should be happy with it's 6 megapixels which will allow prints as big as most home printers will go - and they'll look great too. With the price as low as it is, there's no excuse to buy anything less. So, do Fuji know their stuff when it comes to optics? Absolutely!

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