Fujifilm FinePix Z1 Review
Aiming to combine equal measures of form and function, the Fuji FinePix Z1 is as much a fashion statement as it is a photographic instrument. It combines a 5.1-megapixel fifth generation Super CCD HR image sensor, a new Real Photo processor and 3x optical zoom lens into a sleek, stylish package that will look equally at home in your jeans pocket or Louis Vitton bag. Novice and intermediate photographers will find the Z1's automatic and scene modes easy to use, but the camera lacks the manual, shutter-priority and aperture-priority exposure modes demanded by advanced users.
The Z1's body design favors style over ergonomics. The camera's small size combined with its large 2 1/2-inch LCD leaves little room for its controls; their placement and the absence of a depression for your thumb exposes the buttons to occasional accidental activation. The lens placement is also an issue; you must be very careful that your left forefinger does not become part of the photo or leave a blur-causing smudge on the lens surface. The Z1 also lacks a tripod mount, but its bottom is flat so it can be placed on any level surface to take long exposures with the self-timer.
The 2.5-inch LCD display was pleasant to use, bright enough to be usable in most outdoor conditions and providing enough "gain-up" to be usable in dim lighting. When using exposure compensation, the LCD viewfinder previews the result, darkening or brightening the live image in response to the degree of under/over exposure you've set. You will be relying solely on the LCD as a viewfinder; because it occupies so much space on the rear of the body, no optical viewfinder is provided.
The Z1's lens has a 3x zoom range typical for this class of cameras. At its 36mm wide angle extreme, it provides a field of view useful for interior and landscape shots, while it's 108mm maximum telephoto focal length is effective both for portraits and to bring your distant subjects a bit closer. The lens exhibited a small amount of chromatic aberration (purple fringing in highlight areas), and noticeable amounts of barrel distortion at wide angle and pin cushioning at the telephoto end of the zoom range. The lens produced sharp results throughout its zoom range, although it exhibited softness at the corners.
Single image shooting performance was quite responsive with power up to first image captured measuring just 1.3 seconds. Shutter lag measured 1/10 of a second when pre-focused, including the delay in the LCD viewfinder. Autofocus shutter lag measured 5/10 second, but can be improved to 3/10 second by activating High Speed Shooting in the Z1's menu system; close-focusing distance is limited to 1 meter in High Speed mode to improve AF performance. Rapid shooting in single shot mode captured images at 1.2 second intervals without flash. The capture rate slowed to intervals of from 3.5 to 6 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance. The Z1 lacks a continuous shooting mode. All test were done using an Olympus 512MB xD memory card, using 5MP Fine image size/quality. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
I was generally happy with the Z1's image quality. Outdoor shots were nicely saturated although a bit underexposed, while the auto white balance reproduced colors accurately. I had been critical of the image quality produced by previous versions of Fuji's Super CCD that used in-camera interpolation to increase resolution; those images contained artifacts of the interpolation process. I'm happy that the Z1's fifth generation Super CCD does not rely on interpolation to achieve its 5-megapixel resolution; its image quality is much improved over its predecessors.
The Z1 relies on its high sensitivity, up to ISO 800, to help you capture images in lighting conditions that other consumer camera's may find difficult. Natural Light scene mode can push ISO to 800 to capture candle-lit scenes, while the Z1's Anti-blur feature can adjust sensitivity to obtain a good exposure while maintaining a shutter speed of 1/60 at wide angle or 1/120 second at telephoto. The Z1's image noise at a sensitivity setting of ISO 800 is quite low for a camera in this class thanks to in-camera noise reduction processing, but image detail suffers as a result. At ISO settings of 64 and 100 noise is essentially absent, while noise can be detected in shadows at ISO 200 and in highlight areas at ISO 400. For best results, manually set ISO to 64 or 100 when lighting permits, and switch to Auto ISO in low ambient lighting conditions and to extend the flash range when necessary.
Indoors, the relatively weak flash will limit your shooting to small rooms and portraits of small groups. The camera's red eye reduction flash mode was effective, but the LCD viewfinder goes blank between the preflash and exposure flash, a period of about 1/2 second. The Z1's AF system worked well in low ambient light despite the lack of a focus assist lamp. The Z1 controls its flash well at close range and its optical zoom can be used in macro mode, making it a good choice for producing images of small objects for online auction listings.
The Z1 captures good quality 640x480 or 320x240 movies at 30 fps with sound. Its optical zoom lens can be used to compose before, but not during recording. 640x480 clips consume more than 1-megabyte per second of recording, so be sure to get a high-capacity xD memory card if you intend to exploit the movie feature.
Battery life was very good, capturing 260 images before its capacity was exhausted. The NP-40 lithium ion battery is a proprietary design with no "off the shelf" retail replacement, so I suggest that you obtain a second and keep it fully charged to avoid those disappointing missed photo ops. The NP-40 is charged in-camera in the supplied cradle, not in a stand-alone charger.
Is the FinePix Z1 a fashion accessory that can take photographs, or a camera that doubles as a fashion accessory? Fuji has done a good job of combining form and function, balancing those often contradictory design goals. The Z1 produces good image quality and performs well while allowing you to make a fashion statement. If you're concerned equally with form and function, and can live with the limited flash range and keep your finger off the lens, the Fujifilm Z1 may be the right camera for you. Have a look at our Sample Photos and see for yourself what it is capable of.
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