Fujifilm FinePix A700 Review
The FinePix A700 is FujiFilm's 2007 upgrade of their entry-level A500 from last year. Updated features include a 7.3-megapixel imager, a larger 2.4-inch LCD (compared to the A500's 1.8-inch display), and the addition of sound during movie recording. Designed specifically for the beginner, this point-n-shoot model offers fully automatic operation with the "Auto" and pre-programmed scene modes (Portrait, Landscape, Sport and Night.) There's also a "Manual" mode with adjustable White balance and Exposure Compensation settings.
Ergonomics were similar to its predecessor. The body is compact enough to be tucked away in a small handbag, yet the "thicker" handgrip on the right side affords a nice comfortable feel in your hands. There are very few controls on the back, and I found most of them were well placed and functional, with the exception of the zoom controls. Although they are located in the "normal" position on the back of the camera, the Up and Down motion is a bit awkward; I often found myself accidentally enabling Macro or changing flash modes. Usually these switches rock left and right, which is much more comfortable and intuitive. Because this is an entry-level model, there are very few options in the menu system, which made for very easy to navigate.
I was very disappointed with the 2.4-inch LCD on this model. While the size is up to par with other digicams, it only has about half the number of pixels of other similarly sized LCD displays, and the frame coverage is only 91% compared to close to 100% on most. Outdoors, the anti-reflective coating made the LCD useful, however the picture is very blurry and it's hard to tell whether your subject is in focus once the AF is locked. Indoors, the LCD gains-up the live image a bit in dim lighting, helping you to compose the shot. While the larger display seems more appealing, I was sad to see the optical viewfinder was sacrificed to accommodate this poor screen.
The A700 features a Fujinon 3x optical zoom, with a 36-108mm (35mm equivalent) focal length range. This is a typical range for a camera in this class, with the wide angle end having enough field of view for landscapes and average interior shots, while the telephoto magnification is good for close-up portraits or macro shots. The lens produces adequately sharp results throughout the entire focal range, with only moderate barrel distortion at extreme wide angle and slight pin cushioning at full telephoto. Chromatic aberrations are well controlled, with only slight purple-fringing in areas of very high contrast. The operation of the optical zoom is smooth and quiet, but not continuous; moving through the zoom range in 9 distinct steps, which is adequate for most shot composition needs.
The A700 is not what I would call a responsive shooter. Power up to first image captured measured about 3.3 seconds. Shutter lag was less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused, and only 3/10 of a second including autofocus time. The shot to shot delay was very sluggish at almost 4 seconds between frames with or without using the flash. When the flash is used, the LCD viewfinder goes blank while the flash recharges, to help conserve battery life. The A700 has no continuous capture mode. Our tests were done using an Olympus H (High- speed) 1GB xD-Picture card, 7M/Fine size/quality, image display off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The quality of the A700's 7M fine images is good for a consumer model. Outdoors, there was no problem capturing sharp images with pleasing color saturation. Image noise was not as low at Fuji claimed to be because of their "Fujifilm's Super CCD technology". At ISO 100, you can faintly see some "speckles" all over the image, however this will not show up in your typical 4x6 or 8x10-inch prints. However, ISO 200 and 400 show considerable amounts of noise. But again, this is very unlikely to be seen unless you are viewing an image at 100% or under very fine inspection of your prints.
When shooting portraits both indoors and out, the A700 produces pleasing results. Our indoor shots showed good flash exposure, as long as you are within the limits of the flash range (approx. 12.5 ft. at wide angle, ISO auto.) This range combined with the 36mm wide angle extreme of the lens, will provide sufficient coverage for small group portraits in mid sized rooms. However, do not expect this unit to illuminate large open rooms. Like the A500, the A700's AF system struggles in marginal lighting conditions, mainly due to the absence of an AF-assist lamp.
While Fuji added sound to the movie mode on this model, it is still not competition with similar entry-level consumer models with VGA (640x480 pixel) modes. Resolution is limited to 320x240 and frame rate to 10fps. You are also limited to 60 second clips with the 320 mode or 180 seconds with the 160 mode. Most all digicams out now allow you to continuously capture video until the memory card is full. Our movie samples were pretty bad, showing above average amounts of compression noise, and the slow frame rate makes them a bit "choppy". The only positive point I could find was that the A700's movies are memory efficient, our 9 second clip is only about 1.5MB is size.
The A700 is powered by standard AA type batteries, that can be found at almost any store. Fuji claims off the shelf alkalines will let you capture up to 100 pictures, while 2500mAh NiMH cells deliver as many as 300 pictures per charge. I found battery life was below average, using a single pair of AA NiMH 2500mAh rechargeable batteries, I was able to capture less than 50 samples and conclude some of our other tests, before a low battery warning occurred. We always recommend using NiMH batteries, they last longer and save you money.
Bottom line - Like the A500, I have mixed feelings about Fujifilm's FinePix A700. While it does produce nice photos, the sluggish shooting performance, poor LCD display, and disappointing movie mode makes it difficult for us to recommend this model. At US$199, I feel you could find a much better model for the same price or less, with greater performance and versatility. I suggest taking a look at various other entry level models, like Sony's 7-megapixel Cyber-Shot DSC-W35.
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