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Back in September I reviewed the Fujifilm FinePix F30, and gave it high marks particularly for its market-leading low light and high ISO capabilities, which at the time were unmatched by any other camera on the market. It seems I wasn’t alone in my admiration of the F30, because it went on to win the TIPA (Technical Image Press Association) award for best compact digital camera of 2006, and positive reviews from other photography magazines and websites. It has proved to be an exceptionally popular model.
Naturally Fujifilm was keen to capitalise on this success, so in November it launched the FinePix F31fd, which is based on the F30 but features the addition of the ultra-fast hardware-based Face Detection technology first seen in the FinePix F6500fd, reviewed here in October. Its current list price is £259.99 but it is widely available from online retailers for under £200.
That makes it quite expensive compared to other 6MP compacts, such as the Canon A540 (£140), Kodak EasyShare C663 (£140), Nikon CoolPix L2 (£140), Olympus FE-200 (£170), Pentax Optio S6 (£185) or Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W50 (£145). However none of these rival cameras offer the same low-light, high-ISO capability, and only one of them (the Nikon L2) has face detection technology.
In appearance the F31fd is, unsurprisingly, virtually identical to the F30, with only the addition of a small rubberised grip on the front panel detailing, and an extra label on one of the rear panel buttons - which activates the Face Detection system - to tell the two models apart. It has the same strong all-metal body finished in a attractive anodized semi-matt texture, the same 3x zoom f/2.8 – f/5.0 Fujinon lens, and the same 230,000 pixel non-reflective 2.5in LCD monitor as its older sibling.
Internally as well the F31fd shares its main components with the earlier model. It is equipped with Fuji’s excellent Real Photo Processor II, the technology that makes the Face Detection system possible, and the Super CCD HR VI sensor.
As I’ve noted before, Fujifilm has always insisted, quite correctly, that superior image processing, a good lens and an efficient sensor are far more important for final picture quality than simply cramming more and more photo sensors onto the CCD. Other manufacturers and the buying public appear to be coming belatedly to the realisation that there is little real advantage to be had from a 10-megapixel compact, when the quality of most compact zoom lenses simply cannot match that kind of resolving power. 10MP sensors are also more prone to image noise and have relatively low dynamic range. It is generally reckoned that with current lens technology, between six and seven megapixels is the optimum resolution for compact cameras.