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Picture quality zooms up
Digital cameras are no longer just second best

First published in Business in Vancouver, Issue #627, October 30- Nov 5, 2001: GearGuide column

by ALAN ZISMAN (c) 2001

Digital cameras are offering picture quality and price that are closer than ever to that of more traditional film cameras. Technology companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Sony have joined those with a longer history in the photo industry such as Kodak, Olympus and Canon in offering a range of digital cameras. In this month's column I'll review models from both the low-end and high-end from Japan's Fujifilm.

Life at the bottom

Last year's low-end was a 1.3-megapixel model. Now that's been replaced with the $455 (list) Finepix 2300, taking 2.1-megapixel shots. (As with other cameras, you can take lower-resolution pictures, allowing you to store more at a time.) If you want an easy-to-use, basic point-and-shoot model, this will do fine. There's no optical zoom, though it offers a 2.5x digital zoom. (I can't call digital zoom a scam, but it achieves its close-up effect by sacrificing clarity. You can do the same in any image editing program.) An 8-megabyte Smartmedia storage card is included.

On the other hand...

For about four times as much ($1,699 list), the Finepix 6900 Zoom offers all the features left out of low-end models. This 3.3-megapixel model has a true through-the-lens viewfinder, allowing more accurate framing of shots, just as with an SLR film camera. And like fancy SLR models, it offers a range of options. Experienced photographers can manually set f-stops and shutter speed or choose semi-automatic aperture or shutter priority. Or they can ignore all this and still get good photos in automatic mode.

A generous 6x optical zoom gives it the equivalent of 35-210 mm lens. (Of course there's also digital zoom.) Rechargeable batteries are included, along with an AC adapter.

I was surprised, though, that in order to use standard filters, users need to first buy a wide-angle or zoom adapter.

As well, Fuji advertises this camera as being able to take huge 6-megapixel pictures, even though it physically only has 3.3 megapixels. Like other trick photography, it's not quite real. Avoid this setting: it delivers huge file sizes for less-than-optimum picture quality.

It's a great 3.3-megapixel camera, but it's not a 6-megapixel camera. Sorry, Fuji.

In between

Fuji also offers a range of models in between. The Finepix 6800 and 4800 Zoom models are 3.3-megapixel ($1,459 list) and 2.4-megapixel ($1,119 list) models that share a common body that Fuji boasts is "designed by F.A. Porsche." Personally, I prefer the more compact black look of the Finepix 6900. They're a clear step down from the top of the line, lacking the more expensive model's through-the-lens viewfinder and manual controls. Both include a more modest 3x optical zoom.

Like the 6900, the 6800 promises 6-megapixel images and, like that model, it doesn't really deliver the picture quality that figure promises.

What would I buy?

Some restaurant patrons claim that when looking over a wine list, they pick a vintage near the bottom, but not at the bottom. That's a sound strategy with Fuji's digital camera lineup.

As far as I'm concerned, the best choice in Fuji's product line is their 2400-Z, a 2.1-megapixel camera, like the low-end 2300, but adding a 3x optical zoom, mimicking a 39-117 mm lens, while keeping the 2300's simple design philosophy. As far as I'm concerned, a real optical zoom is a must-have feature.

While Fuji lists it at $670, it's typically found for $599 or less, prior to a number of rebates. After rebates, the actual price is quite a bit lower. I loved having Fuji's high-end 6900 to play with for a month, but if it came to spending my own money, I know what I would get.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan