Although not as sexy as some of its competitors, for portraits and people
shots, the Finepix F31FD is significantly ahead of many of the competing
cameras on the market today.
Like many other point-and-shoot cameras, the F31FD has other shooting modes as well. Included on the function dial at the top of the camera is the main control dial with Auto, Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority/Scene Mode, Electronic Image Stabilization (ISO Boost, in other words) and Video. In the Scene mode, you have a choice of 15 preset scene types, including snow, fireworks, portrait, natural light and one that we thought particularly useful -- Natural Light and Flash, or a fill-flash mode. There's also a listing for "Underwater" mode, which is a little confusing. The F31FD isn't an underwater camera, but rather can shoot underwater while inside an underwater housing. According to Fuji, this mode gives blues in the ocean a more vivid saturation. Another interesting menu item in manual mode is the ability to switch from "Finepix" color to "Chrome" or "Black and White." In black and white mode, even the viewfinder turns monochrome and allows you to see the image in black and white before you make your photos. At first I though it was a little strange, but ended up really liking this ability and used it with great success while shooting on the beach. In "Chrome" mode, the color saturation is boosted to have more of a "Fujichrome" look to it, which many photographers covet.
The Finepix also has several white balance modes that include Auto, Custom, Fine, Shade, 3 fluorescent modes and an incandescent light mode. With the in-camera custom white balance and a calibration tool, such as the Expodisc, the color in all images can be perfect with very little if any post processing for color-correction, saving the photographer valuable computer time.
Overall, the menu system on the F31FD is as plain as the cameras appearance and wasn't as intuitive as it should be. Formatting the xD card, for example, is buried pretty deeply in the second series of menu items rather than close to the top where you'd expect it. Navigation should be one of those things that is intuitive, so in this area the Finepix gets a C+.
The F31FD also has a good macro mode that's activated on the back of the camera. I liked the sharpness and detail that the camera provides in macro, although with the telescoping lens, there is a constant shadow in the image when the flash is used, due to the flash position and close distance to the subject. And even if the lens didn't extend to a length that interferes with the flash, the coverage would still be uneven. Since many cameras like this have a similar issue, it would be groundbreaking to have someone make a point and shoot that's dedicated to serious macro work. One of the ways this could be accomplished is by having 3 separate flash units located on the camera. One for "normal" non-macro shooting located in the traditional position and then two that are positioned on each side of the lens and can have their output adjusted individually -- in essence, giving you the same capabilities as a ring light strobe that's available to high end DSLR users. The other option would be placing it on the very front of the lens itself as a circular tube, so that you'd get the same effect as a ring light. With Fuji's innovation in the point-and-shoot market, smart money says they'll be producing this kind of camera in the not-too-distant future.
One feature that I have difficulty getting excited about is the Fuji's use of the xD card format. It is generally slower, older technology that's proprietary and limited to a 2GB maximum. In most cases, this should be more than adequate for storage, but if you're going on an extended vacation and don't want to lug along a laptop or invest in a bunch of xD cards, this can be problematic.
The camera also has a continuous shooting mode that was about equal to other cameras of this design and price range. The F31FD shoots about one frame a second and on a good burst, can shoot 3-4 frames. There's also 26MB of internal memory, which equates to 17 high resolution JPEG images. While Fuji isn't the only camera manufacturer that's stingy with in-camera memory, it would be nice if manufacturers would consider this a vital selling point and include at least 256MB of memory in cameras like this. That way, if your memory card does malfunction, you can still shoot. RAM is so cheap now that it could be included in the price of the camera for literally pennies more.
Overall, there's a lot to like about the F31FD. The one thing that I come back to again and again with this camera is the image quality, which is truly impressive and ultimately, at the end of the day, this is what's going to make a great camera. The unit responds well and does exactly what it's designed to do and as stated earlier, is amazing at shooting people photos. The startup and shutter response is quick and accurate -- particularly if you're shooting group shots in the face recognition mode. The other modes in the camera are well thought out and in most instances, deliver exactly what they were designed to do. I also really liked the feel of the camera. It simply has a stronger presence in comparison to other similar cameras and is nice to hold.
Another big plus is the ability to shoot in normal digital color space as well as the "Chrome" and "Black and white" spaces. I really liked the black and white feature because it assisted me in the visualization process. Many old-time zone system photographers carried around a Wratten filter that showed them what the tonality of a scene would look like. That's not necessary with the F31FD. So, if you're looking for that perfect camera to take to a party or family reunion, the Fuji F31FD may well be the answer to your needs.
In the Box:
Li-ion battery NP-95
AC power adapter
155g (without battery)
92.7 x 56.7 x 27.8 mm (3.6 x 2.2 x 1.1 in)