Fujifilm FinePix A500 Review

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Steve's Conclusion

The FinePix A500 is Fujifilm's entry-level 5-megapixel digicam for 2006. It features a 1.8-inch LCD and a 35mm-equivalent 38-114mm zoom lens. This simple point-n-shoot model allows the beginner to snap photos without fuss when using its "Auto" mode, while offering a "Manual" mode with adjustable White balance settings and Exposure Compensation. There are also four pre-programmed scene modes to choose from (Portrait, Landscape, Sport and Night) and a movie mode without sound at 320x240 resolution.

Ergonomics were good with the exception of the zoom control. Although it's located in the "normal" position on the back, its 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. The menu system was easy to navigate and allows you to quickly change settings.

The 1.8-inch LCD seemed small by today's standards, but it worked effectively. Outdoors, the combination of anti-reflective coating and brightness control made the LCD useful as a viewfinder in even the brightest conditions. Indoors, the LCD gains-up the live image a bit in dim lighting, helping you to compose the shot. The A500 also includes a small optical viewfinder that, while showing only 75% of the frame, is useful both to conserve battery power and in those rare conditions that the LCD is not effective.

The 38-114mm equivalent focal length range of the Fujinon optical zoom lens is typical for a camera in this class, its wide angle end having enough field of view for landscapes and average interior shots, and its telephoto magnification able to bring your distant subjects closer. The lens produces adequately sharp results throughout its range, with some noticeable 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; it moves through its zoom range in 10 distinct steps, adequate for most shot composition needs.

The A500 is not what I would call a responsive shooter. While its pre-focused shutter lag was less than 1/10 second, lag including autofocus was a leisurely 6/10 for a high contrast subject; add 1/10 second to those times when using the LCD viewfinder. Shutter lag using the red eye reduction flash mode was 1 second, during which the LCD viewfinder goes blank; I preferred to use the optical viewfinder in this mode. Rapid shooting without flash yielded shots at 3 second intervals; flash shots could be captured at intervals of between 5 and 9 seconds, depending on subject distance. Power-up to first image captured measured about 3 seconds. The A500 has no continuous capture mode. Our tests were done using a Olympus 512MB xD-Picture card, 5M/Fine size/quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

Outdoors, I found the overall image quality was good when using the 5M Fine mode. Most of our sample images were sharp with good color balance. The exposure system also did well and I especially liked how it captured sky detail. Image noise was not an issue at ISO settings of 100 and 200; there was noticeable noise at ISO 400, but those images were usable.

The limited field of view of the lens 38mm maximum wide angle and the maximum flash range of about 10 feet combine to limit your indoor shooting to small rooms and portraits of small groups. Red eye reduction flash mode was only marginally effective. The AF system struggles in dim lighting, due in part to the absence of a focus-assist lamp.

While A500's still image results belie its entry-level market position, its movie mode does not. Resolution is limited to 320x240 and frame rate to 10fps. Despite not recording sound with the moving image, the A500 does not allow use of the optical zoom during recording. That said, the A500's movies are memory efficient, consuming less that 200k bytes per second of recording at 320x240.

Battery life was average. Using a single pair of AA NiMH 2500mAh rechargeable batteries, I was able to capture less than 75 shots, including extensive use of the LCD and flash, before a low battery warning occurred. We always recommend using NiMH batteries, they last longer and save you money. Be sure to carry at least one extra (freshly-charged) set with you into the field.

Bottom line - the Fujifilm FinePix A500 was a mixed bag. It produced good quality indoor and outdoor images, but its versatility is limited by its relatively weak flash and poor autofocus performance in dim lighting. But at a street price in the $150 range, cost-conscious consumers might overlook its shortcomings and consider it a good value, especially considering its 5-megapixel resolution. Those for whom price is the greatest consideration should also look at the Fujifilm A400; with the identical features except for its 4-megapixel imager, it is available for about $30 less. Please examine our sample pictures to see if this bargain-priced 5-megapixel digicam will satisfy your needs.

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