Gimmick or not, it has to be said that Fuji’s FD system is very good, as far as such systems go. It will detect any face in the central two-thirds of the frame almost instantly, including faces in photographs or on TV and even my Star Wars action figures. However it only detects faces that are looking directly at the camera, and even a slight angle is enough to confuse it, as is strong side lighting. Also for some reason it will sometimes recognise cats’ faces, but doesn’t seem to like dogs.
Face detection systems work by pattern recognition, detecting the relative positions of eyes, mouth and nose to the general shape of the face, so anything that obscures part of the face, such as a broad-brimmed hat, a scarf or large sunglasses will also usually confound it. Since FD systems aren’t infallible and are so easily confused, it’s not a good idea to rely on them.
Face Detection aside, the F31fd has the same major selling point as the F30, namely its exceptional high-ISO performance. It has a maximum setting of 3200 ISO at full resolution, and while that setting is quite noisy, at 1600 ISO it performs better than most other cameras do at 400, and is effectively noise free at 800 ISO. Combined with its excellent low light focusing ability this makes it an ideal camera for social snapshot photography, able to take photos in dimly lit rooms or outdoors in twilight conditions without the flash.
Image quality is also very good. The lens produces excellent corner-to-corner sharpness, and has virtually no wide-angle barrel distortion. Exposure metering is outstanding, and colour reproduction is also faultless. The only criticism, and one that I’ve made before about Fujifilm cameras including the F30, is a higher than usual level of purple fringing on high-contrast edges, especially next to very bright highlights. This isn’t unique to Fuji cameras, but is worse than some competing models.
All in all the F31fd is an extremely good camera, capable of producing outstanding results in circumstance that would defeat most other models. The only question is whether you think that the addition of FD technology is worth the price. If not, then the F30, currently available for £154, may be a better option.
Like its predecessor the F30, the Fujifilm FinePix F31fd has the best high-ISO performance on the market, as well as a number of other useful features, not least of which is class-leading battery duration. Build quality, style, performance and photographic results are also as good as anything else on the market. However the Face Detection technology is probably not enough to justify the relatively high price compared to the outstanding F30.