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Fujifilm FinePix A303

Fujifilm’s FinePix A303 is a 3 megapixel mid-range digital camera with a 3X optical zoom and 16MB of memory. Costing just £229 it’s one of the cheapest 3 megapixel / 3X zoom brand-name cameras on the market, although some concessions have understandably been made on features compared to its pricier rivals.

Measuring 97 x 65 x 36mm, it’s pretty compact, and at just 180g including batteries it’s one of the lightest cameras in it class. The silver-finished body feels well-built, but the small protrusions on the front and rear don’t make for a particularly comfortable grip. Sadly there’s no underwater housing available from Fujifilm for the A303 at the time of writing.

Images are composed using the optical viewfinder or 1.5in screen, which is bright, but relatively low resolution and coarser-looking than its rivals. On the upside, like other Fujifilm digital cameras, you can overlay an optional three by three grid on the screen to aid composition. This is a great feature which would be welcomed on other cameras. The built-in flash offers the usual options and also a slow-synchro mode.

The A303 is powered by two AA batteries, but Fujifilm only supplies a pair of disposable Alkalines in the package – consequently all A303 owners should budget for a set of NiMH rechargeables and a recharger straightaway. The absence of rechargeable batteries is unforgivable on a digital camera, but at least the A303 is one of the lowest-priced models out there.

The A303 features a 3X optical zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent range of 38-114mm. Its actual focal length is 5.7-17.1mm with an averagely bright focal ratio of f2.8~4.8. The lens extends 1.4cm during its three second power-up, and like most of its mid-range rivals, there’s a built-in lens cover which slides out the way automatically. The closest focussing distance in macro mode is a modest 10cm, and there’s no further manual focus options.

The A303 employs a (1/2.7in) 3 megapixel sensor which delivers images with a maximum resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels – sufficient to make a good-looking 10 x 8in colour inkjet print. There’s three lower resolutions available, along with two levels of JPEG compression; like most mid-range cameras, there’s no RAW or TIFF image mode.

Fujifilm has fitted the A303 with an XD memory slot and supplied the camera with a 16MB card. Using the Fine and Normal modes at the top resolution produces images measuring around 1.3 and 0.6MB respectively, which means you’ll squeeze on around 12 or 26 pictures with each mode.

A simple five-position mode dial on the rear of the camera selects between self-timer, macro, Auto, Play and Movie modes. The latter captures up to 60 seconds of 320 x 240 video at 10fps, but without any sound. Movie modes may only be novelties, but the absence of sound makes them fairly useless.

More surprising though, the A303 doesn’t sport any of the scene presets which are now standard on its competitors. There’s no control over aperture or shutter speed either, and disappointingly no indication of the exposure settings the camera’s choosing for you – for the record though, it can automatically select between half a second and 1/2000. Unlike other cameras with variable sensitivities, the A303 is fixed at 100 ISO which means when it gets dim you’ll become reliant on the flash, and also unlike most of its rivals at this price point, there’s no video output to a TV.

The A303’s images were good but slightly below average in terms of detail captured. Images viewed at 100% also revealed higher than average amounts of speckled electronic noise, especially on flat areas like blue skies – although this was hardly visible on prints.

Where the A303 really falls down though is on basic missing features. Sensitivity is locked at 100 ISO and movies are recorded at just 320 x 240 without any sound. Unforgivably there’s also no video output nor rechargeable batteries. Annoyingly for a beginners camera, there’s no scene presets either.

On the upside, the A303 is one of the cheapest 3 megapixel / 3X cameras on the market and it’s small and light too, but for little more you can get a far more capable model. Indeed just £30 more gets you Fujifilm’s more recent A310, sporting a newer sensor, higher sensitivities and a TV output. If your budget isn’t flexible though, the A303 offers low-cost access to 3 megapixels and a 3X zoom, but similarly-priced models like the Olympus {mju:} 300 are a better buy.

Verdict

The A303 is one of the cheapest 3 megapixel / 3X zoom cameras on the market, but without any sound on movies, scene presets or even a TV output, there’s several key features missing. In fact just £50 more will get you a much more capable camera, but if your budget is very strict, the A303 is one of the cheapest ways to enjoy 3 megapixels and a 3X zoom lens.

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