The FinePix 4900 Zoom is a very compact and lightweight camera. Somehow I got the idea
that it was about the size of the Canon Pro 70. I was pleasantly surprised to find
it not much bigger than the Nikon 880. Similar to the Sony DSC-F505, the Fuji 4900Z is a
camera that has been designed around a big lens, a 6x optical zoom lens to be exact.
Unlike the Sony though it does have an eyelevel viewfinder in addition to the color LCD,
both of which can be used for framing, review and menu operations because it's an
EVF (electronic viewfinder.) You get SLR camera functionality with true TTL viewing
plus the advantage of having camera and exposure data overlayed on the screen.
The EVF is a double-edged sword. It does give you TTL viewing and plenty of "heads up" data in the viewfinder but it's not the same quality that you get with a true SLR. The displayed image is not as colorful as the captured image due to the lower resolution of the EVF versus the larger color LCD. It can also get rather grainy when the lighting conditions deteriorate and sometimes the white balance will be off until you half-press the shutter to calculate the white balance and exposure. It also lacks a diopter adjustment which could be a problem for those who wear glasses.
The overall operation of the 4900 Zoom is very robust. Shooting in the 2400x1800 mode the camera processes and stores the images so fast I often wondered if it had actually captured the image or not. A flip of the Record/Play lever allows you to quickly switch modes and in less than 2 seconds a 2400 High image is displayed on either the EVF or LCD. You can enable the Preview function to "freeze" the image captured on the screen and wait for you to tap a button to store it or delete it. Shooting and storing the HI mode uncompressed TIFF images is also very fast as it is done in the background using the internal buffer memory. Playing back a HI mode image requires about ten seconds to process before it is displayed. All other size JPEG images are played back almost instantly.
The autofocus is quick and accurate with almost no "hunting." The manual focus is assisted with onscreen icons that indicate "too close," "too far," and "proper" focus and a Focus Check feature that magnifies the center portion of the screen. The manual focus ring is a "fly by wire" type of control with a fine range of adjustment and requires several turns to go from near to far. The zoom is fast and smooth although some may call it a little noisey, I'd call it a "positive" kind of mechanical sound. One of the unusual features of the camera is that there are two places to control the zoom lens from. There's a large rocker switch on the left side that is the primary control but you can also use the 4-way jog switch on the back. It's nice to have 6x of optical zoom as most cameras today are limited to 3x focal lengths. Many times it's difficult to get the proper distance from the subject for that perfectly composed shot so that extra 3x of focal length can really make a big difference.
Ergonomically I like the layout of the FinePix 4900 Zoom. The most often changed functions like macro, flash, selftimer and drive modes have their own dedicated buttons on the top so you don't need to call up a menu for those. The mode dial is familiar to 35mm film users with the common "P-A-M-S-Auto" settings as well as the Movie mode and the SP (Scene Position) mode. Changing parameters in any non-Auto mode is easily accomplished by rotating the Command Dial (located under the Mode Dial) with your thumb. You can do this without taking your eye out of the viewfinder thanks to the onscreen data display. A quick press of the INFO button brings up the pertinent camera settings when shooting in PAMS modes. These settings can be quickly changed by pressing the MENU button and moving right or left through the overlays, all while still looking through the EVF.
Battery life is good but as with all cameras using a proprietary type batteries it's always prudent to purchase and carry a spare. The camera will power itself down often to conserve battery power but is easily "awakened" by a tap on the shutter button. Even the low power EVF is turned off after only 8 seconds by default. At first I found this annoying but it's to your advantage to let the battery saving features do their job, it's no big deal to tap the shutter to wake it up. As with all digicams with color LCD displays, motorized zooms and autofocus systems, your battery runtime is dependant on your style of useage. I was able to fill two 64MB cards full of pictures during a several hour shoot and still had power left in spite of frequent previewing on the color LCD. Images can also be previewed on the EVF to further save power.
Besides controls, features and ergonomics the most important item to most will be the image quality. The 4900 Zoom uses the 2.45-megapixel Fuji SuperCCD to create a 4.3-megapixel (2400x1800 pixel) finished image. Ever since the introduction of the Fuji 4700 Zoom there have been debates about the SuperCCD and the way it interpolates the image data. It's important to note that all single imager digital cameras use interpolation, this is not new. Most of the reviewers noted that the 4700 Zoom would have been improved if it had a 1600x1200 mode and I'm happy to report that the 4900 Zoom does have a 1600x1200 image size as well as the larger 2400x1800 size. Although the 2400x1800 image yields excellent printed results it does appear a bit soft and grainy when viewed onscreen. The bottom line is that this image size should only be used for printing and if your final output target is the computer screen or web page then you'd be better served using as lower resolution size anyway.
The 4900 Zoom delivers a sharp and vibrant image. The white balance rarely needs to be "tweaked" and when it does the one-push manual adjustment is very easy to use. As with all digicams the 4900's pictures can always be given more punch by a little PhotoShop auto-leveling or other adjustment. There are three levels of image sharpening (soft, normal and hard) available, just remember that almost nothing can undo an over-sharpened image.
To make sure you get the best possible picture you can use the Continuous mode to capture up to 5 frames at 0.2 sec intervals or the AE Bracketing option to capture 3 sequential frames with the exposure compensation varied on each frame. When shooting flash pictures you can vary the flash exposure compensation value as well as AE exposure compensation. The metering system is user-selectable for Average, Spot or Multi-Pattern so all in all you have a lot of control over the entire capture process whenever you want to get creative. The 4900 Zoom works wonderfully in the fully Automatic mode for the novice or when you just want to grab a quick shot.
I see the FinePix 4900 Zoom as a very worthy competitor to other cameras in its price
and resolution class, it's loaded with features and performance and takes great pictures.
Which camera you buy is a matter of ergonomics and personal taste. If you want
more zoom take a look at the Olympus C-2100UZ with the 10x
DP Review Fuji 4900 Zoom review
Wayne Brooker's Fuji 4900 Zoom review
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