Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Fuji F30 Review

I get a lot of questions around here about the cameras I use. By far, most of the shots you see on the blog here were taken with a pocket camera. I started out using a Pentax S4i and then last year I got a Fuji F10 (which was a little bigger but had much higher image quality) and just recently I got a Fuji F30. I've been meaning to do a review of that camera but I've been very busy with work lately. DPREVIEW.COM just posted an extensive review of the F30.

Here are a few statements from the review that I endorse...

... after using the F10 regularly for the last 15 months I can tell you that I was being kind when I described it as a little clunky and counter-intuitive; the user interface appears to have been designed by someone with either a very cruel sense of humor or a serious sadistic streak. The F30, thankfully, features an all-new menu system that - though still a little inelegant - is much, much easier to use and nowhere near as frustrating.

...the F30 would appear to have a good two stop advantage at ISO 200-800, compared to the best you can get from a conventional CCD (the Canon SD 700 IS) it is nothing short of astounding. For the first time you have a compact digital camera that offers perfectly usable output from ISO 100-800... It doesn't take a professional reviewer to be able to see the superiority of the Super CCD sensor at ISO 800; whereas the Canon result is suitable only for use when you've got no alternative, and for very small prints, the F30 is in an entirely different league. To put things into perspective, the F30 has a similar level of noise (and detail) at ISO 800 to the SD 700 IS at ISO 200. Very, very impressive.

OK, so the Super CCD sensor has amazing high ISO capabilities, but it isn't magic, and once you get to ISO 1600 and above, in the words of the Starship Enterprise's chief engineer 'ye cannae change the laws of physics'. That said, the ISO 1600 result is still better by a wide margin than the F10, and - for small prints - might well get you out of a tight spot when light is very low. For snaps of friends and family in low light (faces don't need that much detail) the ISO 1600 setting would be, just about, usable. I wouldn't go to ISO 3200 unless I had no other way of getting the shot; the noise reduction is so extreme that most fine detail has been lost, and there is so much bleeding of color that the result looks a little like one of those magic coloring books after a good soaking.

On the downside the F30 is not as impressive on bright sunny days as it is indoors or at night; sure, the sharpness and low noise are still there, but the tone curve often produces images that lack highlight or shadow detail, yet can look a bit flat. You'll get some amazing results if you know your way around Photoshop (or similar), but I often (though by no means always) found the 'out of camera' results slightly disappointing. Add to this the tendency to over expose and you've got a camera that really needs to be used by someone who knows what they're doing to get the most out of it.

I've been saying for a while that these new Fuji cameras (the F10 as well as the F30) are capable of amazing things, but not in full-auto mode. In this mode, the camera tends to overexpose and it also runs the ISO up higher than is necessary. You really need some expertise to coax the best out of the camera.


Stacey said...

I would agree. You can get good results from a lot of cameras if you take the time to learn the camera, and exploit its strengths, and try to avoid its weaknesses. The camera is not the silver bullet... the photographer is.

Philip said...

When did you switch to the F30? I missed the transition.

Timothy Putnam said...

Hey Philip,
That's a cool looking backpack!

Rick, I have a super selfish question. I know there are several reasons for posting small pictures. 1) copyright. You do this for a living! 2)bandwidth. 3) copyright. (etc.) But would there be a way to make a few of these available for desktop-wallpaper? Maybe with the end user license that they cannot be used for any published work. And maybe with a nice watermark at the bottom linking them back to your site?

You do some great work!

Thanks for sharing it with us all.

windblownbutterfly said...

Hey, that's a great idea timothy just had! I'd love to have one of your pics on my desktop (the biggest problem would be choosing which one).

Here's a technical question for you. You are right about learning the ins and outs of whatever camera you have to coax the best quality from it. But, is there a digital camera that does give really good quality in full auto mode? My father is 73 years old, suffers from Parkinsons and his mind is not what it used to be. He LOVES taking pictures (especially of the grandbabies) and he needs a good digital camera but there is no way he could learn the various settings and whatnot involved with most cameras these days. The camera he has now is a standard 35 mm film job and has such tiny buttons on the back that he pulls out his pen to try to push them. He's wasted so many rolls of film because he accidentally pushes the film rewind button instead of whatever the other one is right next to it. It's so frustrating for him, understandably so. He went out and came home with a digital camera from the store, but an hour later he took it back because it was far too complicated and he knew he couldn't handle it.

So, any suggestions for an easy to use, not too expensive, digital that takes better quality, higher resolution pics than the cheapie postage stamp size keychain digital cameras at the dollar store?

Rick Lee said...

Phillip... around the first week of July. My birthday is near the end of June which coincided with the release of the camera.

Rick Lee said...

Tim... I have been known to email a larger photo to folks who wanted a wallpaper shot. You are correct that I don't want to make this "Rick's free stock photography site".

Rick Lee said...

Butterfly... I don't keep up on all the myriad cameras out there. Mostly the ones I use and know about are pretty expensive. Just about any "brand-name" digital (Canon, Nikon, Olympus, etc) will do a real decent job.

juergen.nickelsen said...

For a while I have been considering the F30 seriously, so I would be really interested in your opinion and experience -- I have read Phil Askey's review, of course.

(My current camera, the Olympus C-8080, is really good in most respects, but I have learned that I find making fotos in low light much more important than I thought before.)

Great pictures, by the way.

Rick Lee said...

My feelings about the F30 are complicated. First off... I have been doing some amazing work with this camera. Absolutely stunning images. Very sharp... low noise... I shot a professional job with it last week and the client was very happy. Why use it for a pro job? The job involved a lot of available light macro work where the image was going to be cropped to a very wide horizontal. I put black tape on the view screen of the F30 to match the needed crop. The macro lens is incredibly sharp and the noise level at 800 is as good or better than some of my pro cameras.

Now... the down side is that I would hardly ever shoot with this camera set on "P". The built-in auto modes give results I couldn't live with. I think it's prone to over expose and it sets the ISO speed too high when it doesn't need to. I get the results I get by using my knowledge and experience and setting the camera mostly on the "manual" mode. (it's not really manual) I like to choose the ISO, the WB, and I usually set the exposure compensation on -2/3 or -1 to prevent over exposure. I process everything in Photoshop afterwards to get everything just right.

Another thing I'll mention is that the flash system is greatly improved. I practically never shoot flash, but when needed it doesn't overexpose even when very close the subject. Fuji cameras used to be really bad about that but they seem to have fixed it quite well.

The camera has myriad features which might or might not suit the casual user. I dunno. You can get lost in the manual reading all of the wild features. But I've settled into using it on the "manual" setting and I know how to get the results I want and the results are very, very good.

juergen.nickelsen said...

Rick, thank you very much for your statements about the F30. They match what everyone says -- that you have to work a little to get it to deliver at its best, but then it is really great.

In general, I like to do that; I do not stand above playing with technical toys, not at all. Cheers to lots of options! But above all, I hope to get some pictures of faces, and this means very often low light.

Let's see... I think I'll buy it.