Announced with several other new Fujifilm cameras using the new 3rd generation Super CCD, was the diminutive Fujifilm FinePix F601 Zoom. Fuji haven't just popped in a new CCD though, they've enhanced various aspects of the cameras performance when compared to its predecessors. We were one of the first to get this camera, but it was a Japanese model so many of the menus and camera inscriptions were unreadable. Luckily with the help of some translations we were able to work things out. We are assured that this is a final production model.
- 36-108mm (35mm equivalent) 3x optical zoom lens f/2.8 / 4 / 5.6 / 8
- High-quality VGA (640 x 480 pixel) movie capture with sound
- Multiple exposure modes including aperture and shutter-priority auto and full manual
- High-speed shooting at up to 5 frames per second
- Four programmed exposure modes: Auto, Portrait, Scene and Night scene
- Ultra-high sensitivity: ISO160-1600* allows photography in a wide range of situations, including very low light shots without flash
- Multi, spot and average metering options
- AF Area focus and manual focus
- Pop up flash with 15ft effective range
- Stylish alloy casing
- PictureCradle for quick charging/downloading
- 220g weight
- List price of 600
*ISO800 and 1600 at 1280x960 pixels
Although very subjective I'd imagine most people will like the alloy body of this camera. It feels solid and tough, whilst retaining the light weight factor so important for portability. There are plastic parts on the camera, but the majority of the body is alloy.
Holding a camera will again be a very personal and subjective matter. I found, not having used this shape of camera before, that it works quite well. Shooting in portrait mode was comfortable and I found that despite the small size it wasn't cramping my hands. A problem that plagues many digital cameras, this one included, is not being able to see the fixed LCD when used at awkward angles. I had the choice of either lying on the ground, or trial and error to get some low-down macro shots. That's also a problem in bright sunlight, as you can't twist the LCD out of the way to get a better view.
Ultimately this is still one of the nicest handling compact cameras I've had the pleasure to use, only slightly let down by the LCD.
Fujifilm have created one of the slickest menu systems we've seen yet on a digital camera. Through the use of animations the menu icons are quite fun to use, at least about as fun as a digital camera menu can be anyway. On a more serious note we found the camera to be very quick operationally, with very little pausing between changes. Fujifilm have obviously concentrated hard on providing that little extra finesse to this camera and it's worked well.
Using the dial on the top of the camera shown to the left allows you to quickly change between the various modes. We particularly like the amount of control available through the manual mode, providing useful shutter/aperture-priority as well as full manual modes. The auto mode means you can't configure some of the useful settings such as ISO and have to leave most things up to the camera, great for beginners. The movie mode is advanced over previous incarnations thanks to the third generation Super CCD. The frame rate is a little low at 15ps, but the 640x480 resolution of the movies makes up for this. Click here if you want to see a still frame from a captured video. The length of the movies are up to approximately 233 seconds with a 128Mb SmartMedia card.
An optional continuous shooting mode allows you to fire off around four frames of the three megapixel images in less than a second. The camera then takes a further five or so seconds to write these to the SmartMedia card.
Viewfinder and LCD screen
This is the area of the camera that lets it down a little. On a sunny day I had great difficulty checking focus on the LCD screen, even when shielding it with my hand. In normal English weather (overcast and dull), or indoors the screen is a lot easier to see. A good feature is the ability to use a 3x3 grid overlay on the LCD which makes it easy to check your photo will align with the horizon and also helps composition in other ways.
The optical viewfinder is very small and not that easy to get a clear view through. It has the usual adjacent green light to indicate whether the correct focus has been achieved.
Again Fujfilm provide a subtle twist, this time to the usual tedious connection options we see on digital cameras. Provided with our loan camera was a PictureCradle (CP-FX601). This simple device allows you to drop your camera in for battery charging or image downloading, making the process far easier. There's no fiddling with taking out your memory card and putting it into a reader or looking for the USB cable then having to find the socket. The downside to the cradle is that it is the only means of providing a video out. So if you want to connect your camera up to a friend's TV set you'll have to carry the cradle along with you.
As the cradle charges the camera it is more likely to be in a fully charged state and ready for use. We found performance to be better than average for a compact camera of this type.
Fujifilm have made a real song and dance about their 'Super CCD' technology and this time with quite good reason. We did find that the interpolation mode on the camera yielding a 6 megapixel image doesn't offer any obvious quality difference to interpolation carried out in digital imaging software on your computer. However according to Fujifilm this newly developed CCD offers other benefits such as 'higher sensitivity, better colour and lower noise'.
Regarding the sensitivity, we found the ISO160, 200, 400 very usable. ISO160 seems very smooth and any noise is hard to find. ISO settings 800 and 1600 require you to use the lower resolution of 1280x960 which is changed automatically. These higher ISOs do exhibit noise but still at much lower levels than comparable cameras. Fujifilm have done a great job of reducing one of the major problems to plague digital cameras of this price bracket as well as offering the benefit of high ISO capabilities. Below is an example of 100% crops from ISO160 and 400 samples. Can you tell which is which?
Well it's not that hard to tell really, the top image is ISO400.
Another strong point of this camera is its great colour, a well known strength of Fujifilm's traditional film emulsions. On a hot and sunny day I was very pleased with most of the results from a flower shooting session. The camera is slightly let down by not having a manual white balance setting, but the automatic one didn't cause us any major problems.
Fujifilm's metering and colour technology seems to be at quite a high level, especially when you compare the F601 to some it's competitors.
The lens isn't as sharp as we'd like and it will certainly be interesting to see how the superior (and more expensive) Fujifilm F602 compares to the F601. Through some careful sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop you can still produce good prints.
The top part of this image is a crop of the original photo. The macro capability isn't great with a close focus capability of 20cm, also a problem is the difficulty of checking for accurate focus. Again we can see the image appears a little soft, but thanks in part to the lack of noise a little tweaking can produce big improvements.
The manual controls options can't be undervalued, here using a large aperture we achieved a blurred background. The exposure system didn't really let us down much and you can select between various metering modes when required.
This camera certainly exceeded my expectations. Not only compact, it exudes a combination of style, features and performance not often seen.
Being so portable you'll find you can take it places you wouldn't take an SLR and can increase your photo-taking opportunities accordingly. We feel most people will not be disappointed with the image quality and the camera certainly handles very well.
Available from some Internet retailers for as low as 500 this camera should certainly be high on your list if you're looking to buy around this price.
Click for: Full specs, Brochure PDF
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