Without a doubt, the Fujifilm FinePix A900 is one of the weirdest little cameras I've ever reviewed. On the surface it seems like an ordinary budget point-and-shoot camera, but underneath it packs a strange mish-mash of features and design quirks. Nearly everything about it, from its 9-megapixel resolution to its bizarre jog dial, simply feels...off.
Fujifilm distinguishes itself as the only major camera manufacturer to offer 9-megapixel cameras, thanks to the company's Super CCD sensor; every other big camera company skips directly from 8 megapixels to 10, so the A900 appears atypical from the very start. Of course, the higher-than-usual resolution is a pleasant surprise for a $200 camera. Its 39mm-to-156mm-equivalent Fujinon lens also perks up the A900, giving it a 4x zoom factor compared to most budget models' 3x lenses.
While the A900 uses a sensor-lens combination normally found on higher-end models, it neglects or ignores features that all but the most barebones budget cameras have. It completely lacks a burst shot mode, denying a useful option for shooting sporting events. The camera can shoot video, but only at QVGA (320x240) resolution compared to the VGA (640x480) movie modes most point-and-shoot cameras sport.
The A900's blocky plastic body won't win many points for style, but its clean, simple design more than makes up for its lack of aesthetics. At 1.3 inches thick and weighing 7.2 ounces with battery and memory card, the camera just barely slips into a shirt pocket. That thick frame leaves enough room for the two AA batteries that power the camera, plus a dual-format memory card slot that can take both xD and SD cards. The dual-card support presents a major upgrade over older FinePix cameras, which could only use the less popular xD cards. The side of the camera contains the camera's various connectors, including standard miniUSB, AV out, and power adapter ports. An infrared sensor sits just above the miniUSB jack, letting the camera beam photos to other infrared-enabled devices with an IrSimple interface. This IR connection works only with special IR-enabled devices such as certain cell phones and photo kiosks, so unless you're desperate to eschew cables, you probably won't use it very often. USB cables and memory card readers work much more reliably, and far more products support them.
Like the camera itself, the mode dial on the upper-right corner of its back panel looks fairly ordinary. It offers quick access to commonly used modes like automatic, scene preset, portrait, and movie. However, it also holds a few unusually specialized settings, while burying a much more common mode in the camera's menu system. You can only change the A900's white balance and exposure compensation settings in Manual mode, which is mysteriously hidden among Landscape, Night, and Sports modes under scene presets. Meanwhile, the much more dubious Baby mode sits on the dial itself. Red-eye reduction, electronic stabilization, and even digital zoom also get their own slots on the mode dial, forcing you to choose among those features instead of individually enabling or disabling them.
In our lab tests, the A900's performance was consistently poor. After a 2.8-second wait from powering on to first shot, we could take a picture only once every 3.1 seconds with the onboard flash turned off. With the flash enabled, that wait ballooned to 4.9 seconds. The shutter also felt very sluggish, lagging 0.8 second with our high-contrast target and 1.7 seconds with our low-contrast target.
Besides a few minor complaints, the A900 produces some very nice photos. The camera's Fujinon lens produces little to no distortion and minimal fringing along high-contrast edges. Noise stays under control in most situations, noticeably cropping up only at ISO 800, where it manifests as a relatively gentle grain.
Unfortunately, the camera doesn't have the best dynamic range, and shadows tend to consume fine details. You'll probably want to use the flash if your subject is badly lit or even just a dark color. The camera's automatic white balance works poorly under incandescent light, horribly yellowing what would otherwise be white pictures. You can solve this problem easily enough by switching to the camera's incandescent white balance.
The white balance setting is hidden in manual mode under scene presets, making it a far less convenient solution than it could have been. Despite these issues, if you don't print your photos very large and remember to set the proper white balance or scene preset before shooting, your pictures will look good.
The Fujifilm FinePix A900 is a conundrum, torn between the worlds of high-end, high-resolution cameras and budget point and shoots. Its sensor and lens, the hearts of any camera, work well. However, its slow performance, bizarrely uneven feature set, and confusing control layout seriously hold it back. If you can put up with these quirks and don't mind going without a burst mode, the A900 makes a solid, affordable choice for a higher-resolution camera. If you don't want to deal with these hassles, a similarly priced 7- or 8-megapixel camera such as the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 or the Canon PowerShot A630 would be a better choice. That extra megapixel or two won't matter much against these lower-resolution cameras' better speed and convenience.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Time to first shot||Shutter lag (typical)|