Whatever my immediate misgivings, there's no doubt that the F50fd is a nice looking camera. The body design has been completely changed from that of previous F-series models. The new body is somewhat shorter and slimmer, measuring 92.5 x 59.2 x 22.9mm (Fuji's website has the wrong measurements), although it is exactly the same weight at 155g excluding battery and card. Build quality is as good as ever, with the body being made mainly of steel with chrome and black plastic trim. It is available in black or the anodised silver of my review sample. The front of the body has a subtly sculpted grip on the right, and the position of the main mode dial on the back doubles as a thumbgrip, making the camera very comfortable and secure to hold. The layout of the controls is much the same as the F40fd, with a main mode dial, a D-pad and four buttons. Zoom control is via a rotary bezel around the shutter button.
The main shooting modes are also very similar to the F40fd, with a full auto mode in which most of the menu functions are disabled, a "manual" auto mode with full menu functions, two natural light modes, in one of which the flash is disabled, and two scene mode positions, which can be pre-set individually from a selection of 14 scene programs, so you can quickly switch between them. A new feature for the F50fd is the inclusion of aperture and shutter priority modes. Unusually for a compact camera the F50fd actually has a good range of aperture settings, from f/2.8 to f/8 in 1/3EV increments. Shutter speeds of one second to 1/1000th of a second in 1/3EV steps are also selectable.
Face detection is the current mode du jour for digital cameras, so naturally Fuji had to go one better. The F50fd has "Face Detection 2.0", not to be confused with Web 2.0 or any other trendy marketing buzzwords. It is basically an improved hardware-based face detection system, and it is indeed a little more advanced than some other such systems. Unlike many face detection systems it will recognise faces that are not pointing directly at the camera, even going as far as a profile view, but it is still easily confounded by faces that are partially covered, in strong shadow or wearing larger sunglasses or goggles. It also sometimes mistakes other objects for faces, which can cause it to focus on the wrong part of the frame. As usual with such systems, it has its uses but is not reliable.
The face detection system overrides exposure metering and AF mode. Switching off face detection gives access to multi-zone, centre weighted or spot metering, as well as centre, continuous or selectable-point autofocus. The F50fd also features Fuji's version of moving-sensor image stabilisation, which is just as effective as the similar systems used by Olympus, Sony, Pentax and Ricoh. I found it was good for stable hand-held shots down to about 1/20th of a second regardless of focal length. Apart from that, the Fuji doesn't offer much in the way of creative features. The only colour options are normal, high colour "Chrome" mode and monochrome, but it does have a wide selection of continuous shooting modes, including saving either the first 3 or 12 shots, the final 3 or 12, plus a long-period setting. There are several features in playback mode, including a face-detection automatic red-eye removal function, and a versatile portrait trimming feature.