Fujifilm FinePix F401 Zoom Review
The FinePix F401 uses Fujifilm's third-generation Super CCD to capture still images at resolutions up to 2304 x 1728 (4.0 million recorded pixels) by way of its native 1600 x 1200 2.1 million pixel imager. It can also record 1 megapixel and VGA resolution when large prints aren't required. The F401 is in the sub-compacts of digicams yet produces some of the truer colors we've seen from consumer digicams. The folks at Fujifilm have been working very hard to make sure that their cameras capture a wide dynamic range with less "noise" and this camera proves that they have succeeded in that endeavor.
Fuji broke new ground for point-n-shoot digicams when the FinePix F601 Zoom (and F401 followed) with the addition of the one megapixel modes for ISO 800 and ISO 1600. In these modes they produce images only at 1280 x 960 (one MP) with relatively low "noise" in the photos.
Like the FinePix F601 Zoom, the FinePix F401 is housed in an all-metal body with a built in lens protector, the overall build quality of the camera is excellent. The minimal control buttons are well laid out and clearly marked as to their functions. The zoom control has a finger 'tab' built onto it and also functions as part of the 4 way navigation control. It takes considerably less manual dexterity then the tiny design of the F601's 4-way control. The only confounding control is the ON/OFF switch that is hidden into the finger grip. Once you realize the grip slides out a little to turn the camera on it is a very convenient location. The rest of the controls are very logical and ergonomic.
The FinePix F401 has no creative exposure modes like shutter-speed priority and aperture priority AE, but does have a "M"anual record mode. The "M" Record is accessed through menu selection and allows you to control ISO, Exposure Value (EV) compensation, and seven choices of preset white balances. The Movie mode captures motion video with sound at 10fps in the larger 320 x 240 size for unlimited lengths (until you run out of storage space.) The audio caption recording mode lets you attach a voice memo to a previously captured still image. The overall performance of the F401 is very impressive for a camera this compact and limited in higher-end features.
The auto focus speed is above average at less than a second unless the light conditions get too dim and then it often fails altogether as there is no low light level focus assist illumination of any type. In todays market of digicams there are more and more manufacturers putting focus assist lamps on there more basic models. Fuji doesn't offer it on any level of point-N-stoot. Mr. Fuji - time to get with it. Indoor flash shots are very well color balanced on the Caucasian skin tone, a nice improvement over the F601. One thing that I did notice was almost a total lack of any serious chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) which has been common in a lot of other digicams.
The F401's lens is impressive, yet it has no more than the standard wide angle distortion. It's processor is quite robust for its class of mini- digicam. At power up the lens extends and the camera is ready to snap the first picture in about three seconds. The shot to shot time about one and a half seconds even at the largest image size and highest quality. Add about another second if using the flash. The time it takes to write to the media is not an issue as there no need to wait for it to finish before taking the next image as it streams the data to the card. I shot about twenty frames one after the other without any processing delay noticed. To capture fast action sequences there's the Top 4 mode that can capture up to 4 full size, 2-megapixel images in about two seconds. When powered down, the lens retracts fully into the body and is protected by an automatic metal cover - no more lost or dangling lens caps.
Fuji has long been a sole user of the Smart Media memory cards in their cameras. A recent news release reported Fuji is starting development on cameras that take the new XD card that is smaller than a postage stamp and will start out in production up to 512mb. Smart Media is presently and appears destined to stay limited in capacity to 128mb. I do not believe that should effect this camera's product life or serviceability to the consumer. It mainly means that future cameras can get smaller with higher quality imagers since there is a smaller storage medium. I for one can't wait to get even smaller cameras that I can't hold, aim or control. The future is always changing with digital photography and that will continue for some time.
Tiny camera means tiny battery. The F401 is powered by a small proprietary lithium rechargeable battery. This battery pack performed well in our use and if the color LCD is used sparingly, I see no problem with the battery delivering enough power for a conservative day's use. As with any camera that uses a proprietary battery pack, it is always a good idea to purchase and carry a charged spare at all times. The included power supply / charger is an auto switch type and operates on 100-240V AC which is convenient when traveling. It charges the battery in 3 hours (or less) while in the camera and also functions as an AC power supply for extended use at home.
As with all digital cameras, the bottom line is image quality and price. The Fuji FinePix F401 delivers beautifully saturated color images that are very true to the original colors. There is a little confusion with the maximum image size because of the SuperCCD imager. The Fuji F401 uses a 2-megapixel imager but can deliver a 4-megapixel image in its highest resolution setting. These 4-megapixel size images are optimized for making larger prints. The 2-megapixel images equal those from any of the other 2-megapixel cameras and better than some of them. The F401 is priced rather high for a true 2.1 MP camera ($499 MSRP as of 09/2002) yet it is a very sturdy and well designed camera that will serve you well, especially if what you want is an easy to use small camera that delivers excellent images.
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