Ever since Fuji introduced the FinePix F10, the company's double-digit-named F-series has been all about low noise at higher ISOs. Over the years, though, Fuji has developed the line into the very compact, classy-looking FinePix F50fd under review here. The F50fd sports a 12-megapixel Super CCD imaging sensor, 3x optical 35-to-105mm f/2.8-5.1 zoom lens, and 2.7-inch 230,000-pixel LCD. Its sensitivity reaches up to ISO 1,600 at full resolution, though the camera offers ISO 3,200 at a reduced resolution of 6MP and ISO 6,400 at 3MP. Better than that, the F50fd includes manual exposure controls, including both aperture- and shutter-priority.
While the old F10 had a somewhat bland, blocky shape, the F50fd has a gentle curve along the top toward its right side and the back is black plastic, which is nicer when viewing the pictures you've shot than the brighter silver that some cameras have. The plastic parts of the body definitely help keep the camera from being too heavy, but the plastic on top bent inward a bit when I pressed the power button. I don't think it's a serious issue, but I was a little extra careful to keep the camera in a case when I wasn't using it. If you use a tripod with the F50fd, be sure not to overtighten it, since you may strip the plastic tripod socket.
Fuji separates its menus into the F-mode menu, which lets you adjust ISO, pixel count, and color modes, and the main menu, where you can get to metering (Fuji calls it "photometry"), white balance, AF mode, and drive mode, as well as the setup menu. It's also the place where you can choose between aperture and shutter priority when you set the mode dial to A/S. Strangely, the camera doesn't have a full manual mode, though Fuji does include exposure compensation if you want to tweak the camera's meter a little. While last year's F40fd didn't have serious image stabilization, Fuji has added mechanical, sensor-shift image stabilization to complement the camera's digital, ISO-boosting stabilization.
The camera also includes face detection, which can see a face in a scene and use it to set exposure and focus, so the camera won't get confused and focus on something in the background instead of your friends or family. Fuji has updated its face detection this year, and though most cameras need to find two eyes to detect a face, Fuji's new Face Detection 2.0 can find a face even when it's in full profile, just as advertised. Fuji's system is also quite responsive, noticing a face in the frame very quickly, as long as face detection is enabled.
In CNET Labs' performance tests, the FinePix F50fd took longer than we'd like between shots, but was otherwise good. The camera took 1.8 seconds to start up and capture its first JPEG. Subsequent JPEGs took 2.9 seconds between shots with the flash turned off and 3.1 seconds with the flash turned on. That's a long time, especially compared to cameras such as Canon's PowerShot SD1000 and Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-T20 checking in with shot-to-shot times of half that or less. The F50fd's shutter lag measured an impressive 0.5 second in our high-contrast test and 0.9 second in our low-contrast test, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively. In our continuous shooting test, which we conducted in the Top Three burst modes, we were able to capture an average of 3 frames per second regardless of image size.
While Fuji is able to keep noise very much under control up to ISO 400, with very little loss of detail, I saw some noise even at the camera's lowest sensitivity setting of ISO 100. At those lower ISOs, noise manifests as a minor dusting of off-color speckles and is greatly minimized when you make prints. At ISO 800 I saw a slight loss of both fine and shadow detail, but not much, and noise increases noticeably when viewed on a monitor. At ISO 1,600, noise increases greatly, taking away most fine and shadow detail, though you still should be able to get an acceptable print at small sizes. While we don't run our lab tests on ISO settings that reduce the camera's pixel count, in my field tests the ISO 3,200 and 6,400 modes did manage to keep the noise from getting significantly worse than it was at ISO 1,600 and even at 3MP you should be able to make a 4x6-inch print, so it could be a useful feature for low light snapshots. Still, I'd try to stay below ISO 1,600 whenever possible when using the F50fd.