- Review Price: £194.95
Even in this digital age of wonder in which we live, you’ll still find old photographers sitting in their favourite corner of the pub, nursing a pint of Otter Head ale and reminiscing about black and white film photography. For these reactionary Luddites, or “artists”, as they like to be known, film grain is what it’s all about. They’re not happy with a photograph unless it’s been shot at 32,000 ISO, developed at furnace-like temperatures and has grain the size of golf balls all over it. It’s “texture” you see, and of course the more you have, the more of an artist you are, and you can brag about it to all the other cardigan-clad weirdoes at the local camera club.
Of course for digital photographers, grain equals image noise and we hate it with a passion. For the vast majority of digital cameras, as soon as you turn up the ISO sensitivity beyond about 200, you start to see strange red-green colour artefacts in the shadows, and your picture quality goes to hell faster than Osama bin Laden on a skateboard.
Of course some cameras are better at coping with image noise than others, and all the main manufacturers claim to have made big improvements, but in truth only one manufacturer has made any real strides in this particular area and that is Fujifilm. Back in May I reviewed the Finepix F11, which was new at the time and offered a maximum ISO setting of 1600 and was actually usable at that setting, producing about the same noise levels as most other cameras do at 400 ISO.
This week I’ve got the latest in the F series, the F30, which goes one stop further with a maximum ISO setting of 3200 and is the only compact camera on the market that can make that claim. It was launched in May this year, and currently has a list price of £299.99. On the High Street you can get one for around £249.99, although if you shop around online you can find one for about £200 including delivery.
The F30 looks superficially similar in both size and shape to the F11, which it will most likely replace in Fuji’s range, however the style of the body has been completely reworked, with smoother, rounder lines, a nice two-tone brushed-steel colour scheme and an undeniable air of class about it. The body is all metal and the fit and finish are extremely good. The control layout is basically the same as the F11, with only the addition of a separate exposure compensation button to set them apart.
The 2.5in monitor screen has a resolution of 230,000 pixels so it’s nice and sharp and has an anti-reflective coating, so it’s easy to see even in bright sunlight. I did find that the monitor refresh rate was a little slow, especially in low light, but not sufficiently so to cause a problem.
Fujifilm has always made a big thing of pursuing picture quality through image processing rather than joining the megapixel arms race that most of the other manufacturers are engaged in. At a time when most of its rivals are pushing their latest 10.1MP compact cameras, the F30 has a maximum resolution of just 6.3 megapixels.
The F30 is equipped with Fuji’s SuperCCD HR sensor, which has large octagonal sensor cells arranged in a diagonal pattern rather than the perpendicular chequerboard pattern of smaller square cells used in a conventional CCD. This provides the advantage of a larger area to capture light, giving slightly better dynamic range than an equivalent conventional CCD, although not as much as Fuji’s SuperCCD SR sensor. What it does provide however is far better detail resolution than a conventional sensor of the same size. As you’ll see from the accompanying test shots, the image quality is exceptionally good, certainly better than most other six megapixle cameras I’ve tested recently.
Overall performance is outstandingly good. From a cold start the camera powers up in approximately 1.5 seconds, which is quick by any standards. The AF system is possibly the fastest I’ve seen in a compact camera. In good light it locks on in a fraction of a second, and even in low light it takes less that half a second to get into focus. It has an AF lamp with a range of about 4m, so it can focus in total darkness.
Shot-to-shot times are also good. In single shot mode it can manage a shot every two seconds, which is faster than average. It has three continuous shooting modes; in the long period mode it can shoot a frame every 1.4 seconds and keep it up until the card is full. The other two modes fire at two frames per second, but then only save either the first or the last three shots of the sequence.
The F30 is powered by a very large 1800mAh lithium-ion battery, for which Fuji claim a duration of 540 shots on a full charge. I didn’t have time to shoot that many photos, but the 100 or so that I did take didn’t even make a dent in the charge meter.
In maximum picture quality mode, the camera produces JPEG files with a nice low compression ratio and a file size of approximately 3.1MB, so a 1GB xD Picture card is enough for about 336 shots.
It is in low light performance that the F30 really shines though. As I’ve already noted, it has very good low light focusing, and it has picture-taking ability to match. Fuji has done a lot of work on high ISO noise reduction and the F30’s picture quality at 800 ISO is at least as good as most other cameras can manage at 200, which gives it at least a 2-stop advantage when shooting in low lighting conditions, which is when most social photos are taken. Image quality does drop off a little at 1600 ISO and is looking decidedly shaky at 3200 as the noise reduction system sacrifices fine detail to remove noise artefacts, but even at the highest setting the images are still reasonably good, with accurate colour reproduction and exposure.
The Finepix F30 is a stylish, efficient and easy-to-use compact camera with excellent picture quality, a useful range of features and outstanding performance, but even these qualities are overshadowed by its amazing low-light performance. It has easily the best high-ISO picture quality of any compact camera on the market, and is perfect for shooting pictures at any social occasion. While not exactly cheap, it does offer unique abilities that you won’t find anywhere else.
A range of test shots are shown over the next few pages. Here, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it in order for you to gain an appreciation of the overall quality. The following pages consist of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure. For those with a dial-up connection, please be patient while the pages download.
1/4sec, F2.8, ISO100
At this low ISO setting, the late evening light is too low for the exposure system and the shot is slightly under-exposed, however the image quality is fine and the colour balance is good.
1/4sec, F2.8, ISO200
At 200 ISO the exposure is spot on, and there isn’t a trace of image noise
1/6sec, F2.8, ISO400
Most other cameras are starting to have problems at 400 ISO, but the F30 produces a clean noise-free shot
1/12sec, F2.8, ISO800
At 800 ISO the noise reduction system is starting to lose some fine detail, but there is still no trace of the colour speckling produced by image noise
1/25sec, F2.8, ISO1600
At 1600 ISO more detail has been lost, but the image is still largely noise free and is quite usable. At 1/25th of a second we’re approaching hand-held shutter speeds.
1/45sec, F2.8, ISO3200
At 3200 ISO the image now looks quite blurred as the noise reduction system sacrifices more detail, however the colour and exposure are still good, and at 1/45th of a second this shot could have been taken hand-held.
This page consists of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure.
Fujifilm’s reputation for richly saturated colour is firmly upheld by the F30
The 8-24mm 3x zoom Fujinon lens produces very little barrel distortion at its widest setting
The lightning-fast AF system is ideal for catching spur-of-the-moment shots like this one
The F30’s flash is very powerful with a range of over 6m, but doesn’t over-expose at close range
The wide end of the zoom range is equivalent to 36mm, about average for a 3x zoom camera. Note that the exposure system has significantly under-exposed this shot.
Taken from the same position as the previous shot, this shows the telephoto end of the zoom range, equivalent to 108mm.
The front window of Exeter Cathedral. See below for a full-size blow-up of this shot for a detail comparison.
This 600×600 pixel full-scale enlargement shows the level of detail that the F30 produces. You can just make out the anti-bird netting over the stonework.
Score in detail
Image Quality 9
|Camera type||Digital Compact|
|Megapixels (Megapixel)||6.3 Megapixel|
|Optical Zoom (Times)||3x|