When a manufacturer refreshes a product line, the flagship model usually gets most of the attention. Yet that isn't always the best model to buy, especially when it comes to budget-oriented lines such as Fujifilm's FinePix A series. Unless getting the highest resolution available is a priority for you, that's the case with the Fujifilm FinePix A345. It's identical to the higher-priced A350, except that it has a 4.1-megapixel sensor rather than 5.2 megapixels. The common features include a 3X optical zoom, a 1.7-inch LCD screen, a macro mode, and a continuous-shooting mode. Like the A350, the A345 is an average camera with both admirable and disappointing qualities. It's worth a look if you're in the market for an inexpensive point-and-shoot model.
Compact but not shirt-pocket-size, the FinePix A345 weighs just 6.3 ounces with two AA batteries and an xD-Picture Card installed. It ships with a 16MB xD-Picture Card, which can hold seven best-quality 4-megapixel photos--you can't expect to have everything in an inexpensive camera. The most obvious design compromise the A345 makes concerns the back-mounted zoom lever. In addition to being small and fragile-feeling, it doesn't stick out enough to allow a proper grip. More of a knob than a button, it frequently caused our fingers to slide right over it. The zoom lever is operated with an up-and-down motion, rather than the more common sideways motion, which may also take some getting used to.
The LCD menus, where you'll find almost all of the settings on this camera, are brightly colored and, for the most part, easy to distinguish from each other. The setup menus are an exception since they use gray text that completely disappears when you tilt the camera down.
Don't look for much in the way of features on the FinePix A345. It offers four scene modes in addition to plain automatic shooting: Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night. An automatic multipoint metering system controls exposure. There's also a manual mode that's limited to providing exposure compensation and white-balance settings. Other features include flash and red-eye-reduction options, a self-timer, and a continuous-shooting mode that varies from bursts of 3 frames when you shoot the best-quality 4-megapixel photos to 18 frames when you shoot 0.3-megapixel photos. There's also a video-recording mode that's limited to a jerky 15fps with either 320x240 or 160x120 resolution.
For a camera of this class, the lens has relatively wide apertures of f/2.8 to f/4.7, which helps with low-light photography. Unfortunately, there's no AF-assist lamp to aid focus in low light or to help you see what you're trying to photograph. Equivalent to a 35mm-to-105mm lens on a 35mm camera, the 3X optical zoom gives you a slightly wider angle than many competing point-and-shoot cameras. You can also focus the A350 closer than some competitors. With the macro mode selected, the camera will focus down to 2.4 inches.
Like the FinePix A350, the A345 turned out to be a middling performer. Its 4-second wake-up-to-first-shot time is average for its class, while its shot-to-shot time of 3.3 seconds without the flash is slower than we've seen recently with many point-and-shoot cameras. The shot-to-shot time of 3.8 seconds with the flash is slightly faster than that of comparable models. The burst mode grabs three of the highest-quality photos in 2.3 seconds, though the camera has to pause for as long as 13 seconds before it can resume shooting.
If you like to carefully compose your shots, you may be disappointed. The LCD screen shows only 90 percent of your scene, which can make a real difference with tight compositions. Even worse, the optical viewfinder is just 75 percent accurate, which severely limits its usefulness. The optical viewfinder could still be handy for extending the battery life for an extra few shots when the batteries run low. You can easily turn off the LCD to save power by pressing the Display/Back button several times.
We didn't see a big difference between the A345's 4-megapixel photos and the A350's 5-megapixel shots. The best of our highest-resolution photos from the A345 were almost as sharp as the best highest-resolution photos from the A350; however, none of the photos were tack-sharp. Colors in our test photos from the A345 were highly saturated, though not quite to the point of appearing unnatural or unpleasant. Dynamic range was solid, with especially decent contrast in darker hues, which were well defined and tended to stand out more than usual. As with the A350, we experienced a significant drop in focus accuracy as light levels diminished, as well as a slight reddish tint in some of our photos.