Fujifilm today announced three new compact cameras that I saw in a sneak-peek session at last month's Consumer Electronics Show. The FinePix A600 is a moderately priced 6.3-megapixel model with 3X zoom and 2.4-inch LCD expected to sell for $249 in June 2006.
The other two have some especially cool amenities.
The FinePix F650 (at left), is pocket-sized but with some big features, including a 3-inch LCD screen and an impressive 5X optical zoom lens (equivalent to 36-180mm on a 35mm camera). It will be out in June, listing for $349.
And the FinePix F30 (at left), sounds incredible. It shoots at a light-sensitivity of ISO 3200. This is unheard of for pocket cameras - which generally go to ISO 400, or maybe ISO 800. Just yesterday, I marveled at Sony's cameras that shoot at ISO 1000. Fuji's new camera dwarfs that.
High ISO is a big deal because it means you can capture scenes in low ambient light, without flash. Using flash is pretty much like saying "I surrender. This is too dark to capture with the real light, so I'm going to flood it with an ugly white headlight just so I can get something." (There are exceptions, of course. For example, pros with expensive, external flash units can bounce the flash off walls or other objects to diffuse the light and infuse it with more pleasant color. But that's near impossible with the built-in bulbs on point-and-shoot cameras.)
Fujifilm showed me some photos taken with the F30. And assuming they weren't doctored, the technology really works. ISO 3200 was kinda grainy -- probably good only for a small photo on Web site - however, that's probably where most photos end up now, anyway. And the lower ISOs were impressive. ISO 1600 would be tolerably for at least a 4x6 print (perhaps a bit larger), and ISO 800 was downright nice: Even a print of up to 8.5x11 probably wouldn't show too much grain.
There is no magic to this performance: Fujifilm has just been working hard on it for a long time. The company developed its own charge couple device (CCD) sensors with pixels that are aligned to absorb more light than those in a standard camera CCD. And Fujifilm's Real Photo processor does a good job of removing pixel noise. For example, it makes to passes on each photo.
In addition, the camera has something called i-Flash, which Fujifilm claims results in better pictures "because it can detect more accurately the subtle lighting differences within a scene, and then light the subject accordingly with a wider range of flash intensities. This is accomplished with an adjustment to the flash’s intensity based on a variety of factors including subject position in the frame, subject size, ambient light and backlight intensity."
I haven't tried this, so I have no idea if it works. But I welcome any effort to improve the generally lousy flashes on compact digicams.
Some other specs: The F30 has a 6.3-megapixel resolution, 2.5-inch LCD, and 3X optical zoom (equivalent to 36-128mm on a 35mm camera). It will be on sale in May 2006, listing for $399.