Fuji's latest model has a shape that is becoming popular at the top end of the enthusiast digital arena. The shape, made popular in the 80s by Olympus and now also used by Minolta and Canon, is a hybrid style falling midway between a compact and SLR. The idea is you gain all the point & shoot benefits of a compact and the through-the-lens viewing of an SLR.
Although the Finepix 6900 is reasonable small you don't get quite the pocketable size of a compact or the interchangeable lens flexibility of a true SLR. The camera does handle really well though.
The viewfinder has an electronic display rather than optical so when you peer through you see a small LCD. The benefit here is it's easier to see in really low light and the magnified eyepiece ensures there's lots of info included around the frame. It also means you can preview images on this finder too, making it perfect for use in bright conditions.
For those who prefer to look from a distance there's also a rear 2in LCD that can be viewed in most conditions without problem. You switch between the two finders using a button by the viewfinder.
The LCD shows exposure information around the edges so you can keep track on what you're doing. This can be switched off if your prefer a clean screen
The camera is powered by a Fuji NP-80 lithium-ion rechargeable battery and a charger is provided. One major disadvantage is the battery has to be charged in the camera, so you can't go off shooting while a spare battery is being charged back home.
The camera grip makes it easy to hold and control the various mode buttons positioned around the body with your thumb or finger. The trouble is there are too many buttons and setting modes can be confusing at first.
The Finepix 6900 has a 7.8-46.8mm 6x optical zoom lens that gives the 35mm equivalent of 35-210mm This is supported with a 1.4x digital zoom at the 3 million pixel setting which rises to 4.4x at VGA resolution. This zoom is controlled by a rocker on the back plate or from a second one on the side of the lens. Having two controls is good if you have a preference for handling, but it does add to the overall confusing layout.
Like most digital cameras the mode dial is top right with a selection of shooting options. Fuji make the SLR camera user more at home by including shutter-priority, aperture-priority, program and manual on this control. If you prefer auto there's an SP program mode that has several subject-based settings for Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Scene and Black & White. A small wheel under the mode wheel is used to jog through these modes and also when a priority mode is used to set the shutter speeds or apertures. There values appear at the bottom left of the LCD. This wheel is also used to select exposure compensation, which adjusts in third stops with a range of plus or minus two stops. A quick fix is to use the AE-L button to lock the exposure on part of the scene. Many cameras have this feature but it's usually also connected to the focus lock. This method gives you more scope. You can also set the camera up to do auto bracketing for a quick fix.
The metering system is a 64 segment multi pattern sensor with the option of Spot and average overrides. In most situations there was no need to switch off multi-pattern as it delivered great results time after time. The fact you can also check the exposure as soon as you've taken a shot helps.
There's a 'set' button that gives you access to the many functions that you may wish to preset before taking a photo. These include the all important resolution setting that has several options.
You can take advantage of Fuji's Super CCD technology to generate 6 million pixel images using a form of interpolation (more on this later). The options also include three million pixel mode, one million and VGA. You can also select fine or normal compression here.
The set-up function also lets you adjust the power off time, the image preview display the date and time display mode, frame number, whether a beep is used or not and language (English or French on the review model).
Images are stored on the supplied 16Mb SmartMedia card and cards up to 128Mb can be used. You can store up to six pictures in the fine six million pixel mode or 12 in the fine three million pixel mode which sort of negates buying a bigger card if you're out shooting for any length. There's also a raw TIFF file mode but a 16Mb card is not big enough to store even one image! I found the 3m pixel mode was the best option to use and increase the files in Photoshop later if you need more size. It's hard to spot any difference.
The Finepix 6900 also has a movie mode that records 320x240 pixel resolution at 10 frames per second. You can record about 94secs using the 16Mb card.
Flash is a pop up type that takes the tube about two inches away from the centre of the lens. This helps reduce red-eye and gives slight modelling to the lighting, but it's still not far enough away to give natural looking light. A hand symbol appears when the shutter speed falls below the safe 1/60sec indicating that flash should be used. It's switched on manually by raising it up from the body and you can enter the menus to adjust the flash power, reducing or increasing this depending on the subject and ambient lighting. You can also set the flash to red-eye reduction, slow sync and forced.
The flash sync is up to 1/1000sec making it great for daylight fill-in. Keeping flash off allows full control of the shutter speed range which covers from three seconds to 1/2000sec. There's also a white balance with overrides so you could shoot interiors at long speeds and avoid the colour cast you would produce using film in such conditions. Alternatively you may want the orange colour it gives and override the auto white balance setting.
Indoor photographers who prefer more power can buy a more powerful gun and slide it onto the hot-shoe.
The close focusing of the lens is 10cm, which is good enough for flower heads, larger jewellery and other similar sized objects, but it's not as close as Nikon or Ricoh models.
This is one of the few cameras with a real manual focusing ring which makes the camera handle even more like a traditional film based machine. An indicator appears in the viewfinder telling you which way to turn the ring, but to improve your chances of getting a razor sharp image there's an image magnifier that pulls up the centre portion. This introduces a box in the centre of the LCD with a magnified view and leaves the original view around the edge so you can focus with ease.
I had to switch to manual on a number of occasions when focusing on insects to speed up the focusing, because it was struggling in auto at close range.
Another useful feature is the framing guideline function that divides the picture up into thirds. Having this can improve your compositions using the rule of thirds.
Playing back images is straightforward with a couple of neat tricks. One holding down the forward/back shuttle button for about a second brings up three images, which you can then whiz through. And pressing the tele/wide magnifies the image by up to 18x so you can home in and check fine detail. The magnified image can also be scrolled, although at 18x it takes ages to work your way around the entire image. Images can also be viewed in multi frame with nine on the screen at once. You can also skip through the pictures and delete single images as you go. This is fast, but I would also like an option to delete an image as you take it without having to change from shoot to preview mode.
You can download to computer using USB or watch on PAL or NTSC TV using the supplied video lead.
This camera is light and comfortable to hold. It has a versatile zoom range a competent exposure system and sharp lens. The focusing, like many digital cameras could be better. I found it hunted lots in close up mode and when the subject is moving, but was fine for landscapes. There are also too many controls in small areas making it confusing to handle at first, but you do become familiar with these with use. I would have liked an instant delete and (having used the Nikon 995) a closer focusing range, but overall it's a very capable model that's well worth the money.
The structure of this distant wheel highlights the CCD's ability to resolve detail.