Camera Review: Fujifilm Finepix F31FD

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.

Camera-Review-Fujifilm-Finepix-F31FD

Camera-Review-Fujifilm-Finepix-F31FD

Camera Review: FujiFilm FinePix F31FD15725837FujiFilmF31FDWhen you go to school to learn the craft of journalism, one of the first things you're taught is to not take anything that you write or photograph at face value. I can still see my professor saying "Look deeper, Mark... What is it that you really see?" I reminded myself about this fact after opening the box that the Fujifilm Finepix F31FD (Street $399) came in. To look at it, it almost looks out of date by today's sexy yet ever-so-slender point-and-shoot standards. I held it in my hand and thought, "What a clunker this is..." But like the ugly duckling, what really matters here is what's on the inside. And in this case, the Fuji is significantly ahead of many of the competing cameras on the market today. The F31FD is a 6.3MP camera that has multiple scene modes, shoots NTSC quality video, sports a very sharp Fujinon 3X (36-108mm f/2.8-5.0 35mm equivalent) lens, IR data transmission on the IR Simple standard, a 2.5 inch (230,000 pixel) LCD/Viewfinder screen and Real Photo Processor II and new Super CCD HR VI sensor. The camera also has a respectable range of manual controls as well. The good news though, is that these aren't even the best features. Facial Detection: The FD in the name stands for "Facial Detection." Fuji engineers originally developed this technology for its printing kiosks and have translated the technology to work in their camera line as well. By triangulating between the eyes and mouth and through mathematical computations, this system can acquire multiple targets at once, detecting up to ten faces in one frame and then configuring the optimal exposure and focus for all of them. The F31FD does this in an astounding .05 of a second, making it, according to Fujifilm's claims, the fastest facial recognition system in the world.

When you go to school to learn the craft of journalism, one of the first things you're taught is to not take anything that you write or photograph at face value. I can still see my professor saying "Look deeper, Mark... What is it that you really see?" I reminded myself about this fact after opening the box that the Fujifilm Finepix F31FD (Street $399) came in. To look at it, it almost looks out of date by today's sexy yet ever-so-slender point-and-shoot standards. I held it in my hand and thought, "What a clunker this is..." But like the ugly duckling, what really matters here is what's on the inside. And in this case, the Fuji is significantly ahead of many of the competing cameras on the market today.

The F31FD is a 6.3MP camera that has multiple scene modes, shoots NTSC quality video, sports a very sharp Fujinon 3X (36-108mm f/2.8-5.0 35mm equivalent) lens, IR data transmission on the IR Simple standard, a 2.5 inch (230,000 pixel) LCD/Viewfinder screen and Real Photo Processor II and new Super CCD HR VI sensor. The camera also has a respectable range of manual controls as well. The good news though, is that these aren't even the best features.

Facial Detection

What's Hot • Sharp Fujinon lens • Face Recognition system • Excellent low light capability • Solid feel and construction • Excellent battery life • Extended dynamic range What's Not • xD memory card format • Dim viewfinder/LCD screen in sunlight • Issues with flash shadow in close macro • No video zoom Product Gallery Image Quality Gallery

The FD in the name stands for "Facial Detection." Fuji engineers originally developed this technology for its printing kiosks and have translated the technology to work in their camera line as well. By triangulating between the eyes and mouth and through mathematical computations, this system can acquire multiple targets at once, detecting up to ten faces in one frame and then configuring the optimal exposure and focus for all of them. The F31FD does this in an astounding .05 of a second, making it, according to Fujifilm's claims, the fastest facial recognition system in the world.

The FD mode is simple to engage as well. By pressing the lower right button on the back of the camera, you're in full face detection mode. Press the button once again and it's turned off. No complex menu to navigate, which is nice. Even though the Fuji is a sleeper to look at, it is one of the most impressive "people" cameras we've seen in a long time and the facial recognition system is a major reason for this assessment.

Hands on Feel

The F31FD has a stout, almost chiseled look to it. The layout is minimalist -- nothing extra or fancy with simple buttons and modest styling. Yet for all its' plain-Jane attributes, it feels rock solid in your hands and has a weightiness that's missing in so many of today's point-and-shoot cameras. Its skin is a brushed finish that reflects silver highlights but has an old world pewter feel and color. This finish envelops the overly simple chrome buttons, but like the rest of the camera, they have a solid feel that's equally agreeable. The telescoping lens is embellished with a large brushed chrome band that's oversized in comparison to the rest of the camera, but repeats the minimalist design nicely.

I found the LCD screen to be more coarse and dark in comparison to other cameras. In bright sunlit situations, it was difficult to see fine detail, making framing the shot precisely a chore. The screen functioned very well indoors and in more dimly lit environments, however. The 230,000-pixel count for the monitor is adequate, but again, doesn't show the sharpness and detail available on comparable cameras.

Power

If you open the battery compartment, you'll also notice that the power cell is about twice the thickness of the common point-and-shoot fair. Fuji has smartly designed this in as a feature- giving the average shooter an amazing 580 available shots on one charge using the CIPA standard for battery life. Even the most ambitious shooters will have difficulty draining this much power in a single outing. I tried to wear the battery down and after almost 200 shots, the battery display didn't budge from the "full" indicator.

Low Light Shooting

Another feature that is surprisingly good is the F31FD's ability to shoot in low light situations. The camera uses Fuji's Super CCD sensor, which is geometrically different from standard CCD sensors. Rather than having a checkerboard pattern of square cells like those used in the common CCD chip, the F31FD uses octagonal shaped sensor cells that are arranged in a diagonal pattern. The end result is that these cells are physically larger and record a higher dynamic range than the typical CCD. This also translates to recording images at full sensor quality at very high ISO's such as 1600 and 3200 with comparatively little noise. To assist in the low light shooting, Fuji designed in an incredibly bright focus-assist light that beams outward 10-12 feet in normal conditions.

Video Recording

The video recording on the F31FD is straight forward. On the main mode dial, you simply switch to the movie camera icon and press the shutter and you're shooting video. Like many in this price range, there is no zooming when the camera is recording video and to change focal lengths means that you must stop recording, rack the zoom and press the shutter once again to being recording. With a 2GB xD card, the F31FD can record approximately 30 minutes of high quality video in AVI format. Unfortunately, one of the areas that the Finepix is lacking is any type of simple video editing in-camera. And while this isn't a major defect, it would be nice to have this ability simply because other cameras in this class do.

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.

Navigation

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.

Storage

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.

Conclusion

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:
Finepix F31FD
Li-ion battery NP-95
AC power adapter
Hand strap
USB cable
A/V cable
CD-ROM

Dimensions:
155g (without battery)
92.7 x 56.7 x 27.8 mm (3.6 x 2.2 x 1.1 in)

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