Fujifilm set the bar high for compact digital cameras with the Fujifilm F31 and the F40fd. As such, there are high expectations for the FinePix F50fd, the latest in the F series. It looks good on paper, with a 12-megapixel sensor, mechanical image stabilisation and a decent-sized screen, but is it worth the £170 price tag?
The F50fd's all-silver styling is fairly anonymous, with the biggest styling cue being a curve to the right shoulder of the camera, and a slightly raised ridge for holding the camera at the front. The black back of the F50fd is good for viewing photos against on the large 69mm (2.7-inch), high-resolution LCD screen.
The F50fd is solidly built, and quite heavy, although there is some flex in the body when you press the power button. Buttons are a good size and well laid-out. We're not keen on high-ISO buttons placed temptingly next to the shutter button, but if the ISO performance of the F50fd is anywhere near as good as the F40fd we'll let Fuji off. The only real complaint about the design is that the mode selection wheel is too flat and difficult to turn.
One of our only quibbles with the F40fd was the lack of mechanical image stabilisation. The F50fd incorporates this, shifting the sensor to compensate for the imperceptible vibrations of the hands that could lead to blurry photos.
Up to ten faces can be focused on and exposed for by Fujifilm's 'Face Detection 2.0'. This is a step above other manufacturers' face-detection systems, which cannot cope with profiles and are often confused by spectacles. The F50fd has one of the fastest face-detection features we've used, snapping to faces instantly and spotting profiles quickly in most conditions.
The choice of modes is excellent. Natural and flash mode allows you to take two pictures together, with and without flash, which is useful in the low-light situations the F50fd aims to excel in. Aperture and shutter priority are both available, allowing you to select a wide range of apertures and shutter speeds, rather than the limited options on many compacts paying lip service to these features. A full and flexible manual mode is also available, as is a capable and simple automatic setting.
Any options changed can be saved to one of two custom modes, giving you quick access to your customised settings should you need to switch between modes, for example when moving between indoors and outdoors. This is an extremely useful feature that we got a great deal of use from during our testing.
Fuji's F series have in the past excelled in low light. The F50fd is certainly strong in darker conditions, but there was a disappointing amount of noise at higher ISOs. Noise is dealt with more efficiently at higher ISO levels than most similarly-sized compacts can manage, but images taken at ISO 3,200 and 6,400 still show enough noise to confine these settings to snapshots and small prints. We found that dropping the resolution to six megapixels in darker conditions helped cut down on noisy pictures.
Picture quality is excellent. There's no trace of barrel distortion in the lens. We had to try pretty hard to manufacture purple fringing in our high-contrast lab tests and we didn't detect any in our general test shots. Colour reproduction is a particularly strong point, with vibrant skin tones and good dynamic range.
We generally give face-detection systems the benefit of the doubt -- the technology still has some way to go -- but this is one of the best implementations of the idea we've seen.
Our only concern is that the F50fd is a little slow. It could take more than 2 seconds between shots, and up to 3.5 with the flash enabled. Continuous shooting is much better though, consistently managing 3 frames per second.
The Fujifilm FinePix F50fd's 12-megapixel resolution may be a marketing ploy to beguile megapixel junkies, with a corresponding premium price, but this is still one of the best compact cameras on the market. Our expectations for the F50fd's low-light performance may have been too high, but it still deals with noise better than most and produces great pictures in nearly all conditions.
Low-light quality gives it the edge over the similarly excellent 12-megapixel Casio Exilim EX-Z1200, but as 12 megapixels are rather excessive, the 8-megapixel Fujifilm F40fd would still be a perfectly acceptable alternative and save you £50 or so.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide