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The rest of the F30's features are pretty humdrum. For example, it includes a 6-megapixel CCD sensor, a 3X optical zoom lens, and a 2.5-inch LCD screen. Nonauto shooters will be pleased to see the camera's shutter and aperture priority modes, while fans of the automatic will gravitate toward its moderate selection of scene presets or just use its full auto mode.
If you're looking for a solid all-around camera that's good for low light, the Fujifilm FinePix F30 won't disappoint. Sure, it doesn't include optical image stabilization, but if you're shooting pictures--even of a slowly moving subject, such as a group of friends standing around talking--optical image stabilization won't be as useful as the low-noise high-ISO settings included in this camera. No one would call the Fujifilm FinePix F30 sexy, but behind its somewhat bland look lies a functional, smooth style that lends an air of class. At 3.6 by 2.2 by 1.1 inches and 6.9 ounces including battery and xD Picture card, this camera isn't quite as compact as most of its competition, but its rounded edges are comfortable, and a curved nub on front along with a patch of rubber beads on the back make it easy to hold with one hand. Of course, it's still a good idea to use two hands for steadier shooting.
The button layout follows the usual pattern, with most of the controls grouped to the right of the 2.5-inch, 230,000-pixel LCD on the camera's back. The only exceptions are the nonilluminated power button, mode dial, and shutter release on the camera top. Unlike that of its predecessor, the FinePix F10, the zoom is controlled by a left/right rocker on the top right of the back, above the aforementioned rubber grips. Just below them are the remaining controls, comprising four buttons that surround a four-way rocker with a menu-enter button in its center.
With the exception of ISO, image size, and color mode, which are grouped under the F button, Fuji organizes most other non-hard-button controls in its intuitive menu system. The only confusing element of the menu system is Fuji's use of the word photometry in place of the more typical metering. Other than that, everything makes sense.
If you like to shoot in low light, you'll appreciate the wide maximum aperture of the 3X optical, 36mm-to-108mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8-to-f/5 zoom lens, which extends a little more than an inch from the front of the camera when in use. We would've liked to see at least a 4X optical zoom on this camera. After all, if this camera is meant to excel indoors in low light, chances are you'll also be in tighter quarters, such as a party, where wider angles keep you from backing into some of your friends to get pictures of others. As it stands, this lens's coverage is average.
Our other small gripes include the plastic--rather than metal--tripod socket, which isn't even close to centered under the lens, and the xD slot hidden on the bottom, inside the battery compartment. Sure, it helps that the battery is held in place and doesn't pop out whenever you change the card, but given its size, Fuji could have found a spot for a dedicated card slot, which would make changing cards easier, when the camera is on a tripod. As it did with the FinePix F10, Fuji is trumpeting FinePix F30's high sensitivity, which reaches a maximum of ISO 3,200, making it the first compact digital camera to reach that far. The company touts this as a substitute for optical image stabilization, which is not present in this camera, though it is really entirely different. Image-stabilized lenses keep images steady by moving one or more glass elements within a lens to compensate for camera shake. This lets you shoot at slower shutter speeds without blur due to your own hand and body movements. However, it doesn't stop blur due to your subject moving. So your friend's waving hand will still become a blurred mess. Raising the ISO lets you shoot at faster shutter speeds, so you can nullify camera shake and stop your subjects' motion at the same time. Unfortunately, with higher ISOs also comes higher noise, though if you've ever seen ISO 3,200 film, you'll know that this has always been the case. Most manufacturers have been opting for either optical stabilization or higher sensitivity, but the combination of the two is really the holy grail that photographers need.
The Fujifilm FinePix F30's exposure controls don't include full manual but come close enough with both aperture and shutter priority, as well as exposure compensation of up to plus or minus two stops in 1/3-stop increments. Strangely, the mode dial has a position marked Manual, though this would be closer to Program in most cameras, in which exposure is calculated automatically; you can manually select options, including one of seven white-balance settings, three metering choices, and three autofocus alternatives. Noticeably absent from this camera is manual focus, though this is admittedly a rarely used feature on most compacts.
Sports shooters should enjoy the F30's continuous-shooting modes. In addition to the normal burst mode, which can shoot as many as 40 shots in one long burst, you can also opt for the Top 3 continuous mode for just the first 3 shots, or the Final 3 mode, which will shoot as many as 40 shots in a row but keep only the last 3. This last mode is very useful for times when you can't predict precisely when the action will happen, such as trying to capture a soccer player kicking the ball.
The camera's movie mode captures Motion JPEG video with mono sound at as high as 640x480 pixels and 30fps. Like many still cameras, the F30 doesn't let you zoom while shooting video.
According to Fuji, the included 1,800mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery should last long enough for you to capture about 580 shots. With a short shutter lag, average wake-up and shot-to-shot times, and a disappointing standard burst mode, the Fujifilm FinePix F30's performance lands on the better side of average when measured against its competitors. The camera took 2 seconds to start up and capture its first image, 2.5 seconds between images thereafter without flash, and slowed only slightly to 2.7 seconds with flash. Shutter lag measured an extremely fast 0.4 second in high-contrast situations and slowed only a little to 0.9 second in low-contrast lighting.
Continuous shooting was another matter. In the standard continuous-shooting mode, the F30 captured 0.59fps for as many as 40 frames, refocusing and metering between each shot. Compared to some other cameras, this doesn't look very fast, but when you switch to one of the F30's other burst modes, it speeds up considerably. Not only does the camera not refocus or meter between each shot in these modes, it also doesn't have to slow down to write the images to the memory card. For the Top 3 burst mode, the constant focus shouldn't pose a problem, since your subject isn't likely to move very far in the span of the burst. For the Final 3 burst mode, this could be a problem, especially if you're trying to follow a sports player across a field and the player moves out of focus before you take your finger off the shutter to stop the burst. In this last case, your 3 images will most likely be blurry. Fuji built in a potential fix for this with its high-speed shooting mode, which fixes the focus to infinity, so that any object beyond about 3.5 feet is in focus. But you have to remember to engage that mode, or to use the sports mode, which automatically engages it. So, the F30's continuous-shooting modes provide plenty of options, but simple shooters might not be adept enough to figure out the best way to use them, especially when they are flustered and in the middle of shooting.
The Fujifilm FinePix F30's LCD performed well. It held up nicely in bright light and showed very little ghosting when set to its high 60fps refresh rate. Even better than that, it did a great job of gaining up in low light so that framing images in the darkness this camera was made for is a breeze. Many more expensive cameras have been moving up to 3-inch LCDs, but for a camera in this price range, and with its set of features, 2.5 inches is plenty of screen. Of course, purists might complain that there is no optical viewfinder, but again, this is becoming something of a rarity these days. Images from the Fujifilm FinePix F30 were pleasing overall, with well-saturated and accurate colors. Our test images were sharp, though the automatic white balance turned in noticeably warm images under our lab's tungsten lights. The Tungsten setting did much better, with an almost negligible warm cast, while the manual white balance was the most neutral of the bunch. In natural daylight, auto white balance did a great job of keeping colors neutral.
Exposures were generally on the mark, and Fuji's SuperCCD captured plenty of detail from bright highlights to dark shadows. Unfortunately, there was a large amount of purple fringing in high-contrast photos, especially along the edges of the lens.
Of course, low noise is supposed to be this camera's claim to fame, and indeed, it performed very well in our tests. At ISO 100 and ISO 200, the F30 had very low noise with only a few speckles showing up in very dark colors. At ISO 400, noise jumps a bit, becoming noticeable but not distracting. At ISO 800 and above, there is a just noticeable loss of sharpness. This could be an effect of the noise, though it seems like a side effect of Fuji's noise-reduction image processing. That means that at ISO 800, noise is only slightly more prevalent than at ISO 400 and remains well under control. By ISO 1,600, noise becomes obvious, but 8.5x11-inch prints we made were definitely usable. By ISO 3,200, noise obscured significant amounts of image detail and yielded prints that were generally unacceptable but might be OK in extreme circumstances. For example, while I'd prefer not to use ISO 3,200 with this camera, if I had to choose between capturing a shot of Britney Spears dropping her baby again or missing the moment, I'd use the F30's ISO 3,200 and probably still be able to get the National Enquirer to buy the image.
As highly sensitive compact digital cameras go, the Fujifilm FinePix F30 definitely reaches new heights in usability in low-light situations. After all, many compacts still can't provide usable photos at ISO 400, let alone ISO 800 or ISO 1,600. While the rest of the camera's design and features might not be cutting edge, they're certainly adequate, and the versatility added by usable higher ISOs makes this camera a great choice for low-light shooters who don't want an SLR.