There is a large segment of the photo market that desires the a camera that travels easily, sits inconspicuously on a counter for availability on a moments notice, and takes memorable pictures of vacation spots, friends, and the family pooch. The Fujifilm FinePix A345 represents the entry-level model of the point-and-shoot category for FujiFilm. With a $199 list and a street price dipping below it represents the entry level digital camera.
It sports a 4 megapixel CCD and a 3X optical zoom. It utilizes the ultra-small xD-picture card format for storing images. Almost everything on this camera is automatic. Scene modes are far and few between, which favor simplicity. However, soft image quality may mar the experience of first-time digital camera users since this is to whom the camera is targeted.
4 Megapixel x/x.x CCD
3x Optical, 3.6x Digital zoom
LCD: 115,000 pixel 1.7" diagonal
ISO: 64 -- 400 (automatically set)
AutoFocus: TTL center point fixed
Shutter: 2 -- 1/2000 sec
Movies: Up 320 x 240 @ 15fps, 65-second maximum length
Media: xD-Picture Card (16 MB card included)
The main feature of this camera is that it lacks the multitude of manual options that cramp many other cameras. FujiFilm has focused on a camera experience that mimics the simplest of 35mm point-and-shoots. The average person who may be intimidated by a digital camera could pick this up, take a shot, and not know they just entered the 21st century.
There are six scene modes for the camera, but they're buried in the on-screen menu system. The average purchaser of this camera is unlikely to dabble long enough to learn how to change modes especially when it can take four to six button presses to switch. Modes include Night, Sport, Landscape, Portrait, Auto, and Manual. On the manual side, White Balance and EV controls are available. Missing is any sort of aperture or shutter control.
Movie mode is anemic in comparison to other cameras, but at $200 you are receiving what you're paying for. Video requires CPU horsepower and a top performer is simply not going to be in the cards at this price point. At 320 x 240, users will have some fun creating short video.
The menu structure of the A345 is simple enough. There are five basic items: Resolution of shot, Self-timer, Scene Mode selection, Continuous shooting mode, and Setup LCD. Other options are buried a bit deeper, but the cleanness of the structure is an asset to the design goal of the camera.
Fit and finish of the camera is quite good. However, the feel of the camera suffers. $200 may not be much money for a digital camera, but it is two-hundred dollars. For that dinero I think you should expect zoom button that operate smoothly without creaking and buttons that don't cause the camera's body to echo when pressed. Ultimately, it's a minor quibble, but did I mention this camera costs $200?
The A345 is a miser when it comes to battery life. The camera produced a solid 160 image captures before the battery went kaput. This number included 50 images with the flash and a single 30-second movie. That's quite impressive given that this FinePix runs on 2-AA batteries. While on the subject of the flash it is also worth noting that the A345 does not sport an autofocus assist lamp making pictures in darker situation difficult for the camera.
Weight is also a winning category for the A345. With batteries the camera weighs in at a hair over 5 ounces. This camera can easily be tucked into a shirt pocket and forgotten. Consumers looking for a simple and inexpensive digital camera will favor the slimness of this design.
This FinePix has 1.7" LCD, which sits on the side of the fence with other cameras having small LCDs. Given the price point of the camera and the relative cost of an LCD as a component, it makes sense. However, plan on using the built-in viewfinder as the LCD is completely washed out on a sunny day.
The biggest complaint of the A345 is image quality. I find it soft vs. other cameras I've used. Images appear a bit unfocused when looking at details closely -- when compared to a Canon Powershot A95, for example. Shadows in some situations are underexposed and seem to lack definition. Textured objects are missing defined edges. In fact, many of the images taken were shot at 3 megapixels on the A95 and 4 megapixels with the A345. Images at 3 MP simply look better with more definition. Looking at the foreground you can see the individual grass blades pop. The A345 is soft and the blades blend like a green blob.
Original from the A345
Original from Canon A95
200% zoom of bottom left corner A345 on the left, A95 on the right
In the next two photos, the caterpillar's tag underneath its chin is more readable on the A95 at 3 megapixel than the A345 at 4 megapixel. Further, while both cameras opted to add a flash because of shadow/light effect occurring, the A345 overcompensated and the result was an image that was overexposed.
Original from A345
200% zoom of tag detail: A345 on the left, A95 on the right
Many times these types of quality problems can be repaired with an image-editing program. Not so in this case. Under the assumption that the same newbie who purchases this camera wants to sharpen a soft image, he or she may have some trouble. Using both Ulead PhotoImpact and Google's Picasa and applying a basic sharpening algorithm resulted in an image that presented grain that looked a bit like the Sunday comics under a magnifying glass. However, I do not want to dissuade to much. Images are good in most cases and very good in others. For $200, you're, again, probably getting your money's worth. Looking at the bigger picture, if you simply want to snap some pictures and print them at 4" x 6" you'll likely be satisfied with the results.
On the plus side, images have a warm, natural tone and did not display any noticeable purple fringing present in some digital cameras. The A345 starts up quickly. Pressing the On button to shooting your first image is under 3 seconds. The time it took the camera to autofocus and release the shutter was also reasonably fast given the price of the camera. Certainly the overall experience of using the A345 vs. a 35mm film camera will be a positive one.
Other Sample Images
Extended Specifications (From FujiFilm.com)
Type: 4.0 M pixel, Square Pixel Charge Coupled Device (CCD)
Recorded Pixels: 4.23 Million
File Format: JPEG, AVI, Motion JPEG
Storage: Up to 1 GB xD-Picture Card
Optical Zoom: 3.0x
Digital Zoom: 3.6x
Autofocus System: Auto TTL Center Point Fixed
Focusing Range: Normal AF: 2 ft -- Infinity; Macro: 2.4 in -- 2.6 ft
Viewfinder: 75% coverage
Sensitivity: Auto: Equivalent to ISO 64 - 400, depending on conditions
Shutter Speed: 2 sec. - 1/2000 sec.
White Balance Control: Automatic, Manual (Good Weather, Shade, Fluorescent light (Daylight), Fluorescent light (Warm White), Fluorescent light (Cool White), Incandescent light
Flash: Auto flash
* Wide-angle: approx 60 cm-3.5 m (2.0 ft-11.5 ft)
* Telephoto: approx. 60 cm-3m (2.0 ft-9.8 ft)
* Macro: approx. 30 cm-80 cm (1.0 ft-2.6 ft)
Flash modes: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced Flash, Suppressed Flash, Slow Synchro, Red-Eye Reduction + Slow Synchro
LCD Monitor: 1.7 inches, Aspect ratio: 4:3; 115,000 pixels Amorphous silicon TFT, Approx. 90% coverage
Dimensions: 3.5(W) x 2.4(H) x 1.2(D) inch
Weight: 4.7 oz. (excluding battery and media)
Shooting Modes: Auto, manual, scene position (portrait, landscape, sports, night scene), (max 1.5 frames/sec; 3-18 frames depending on mode), movie with sound, macro
Movie Modes: 320 x 240 pixels up to 65 sec. / 160 x 120 pixels up to 260sec on 16MB xD card: 15fps, AVI (Motion JPEG) with sound
Lens Focal Length: 38-114mm, f/2.8 (W) - 4.9(T)
When the first generation of digital cameras arrived in the market many years ago they were heavy and chunky. The A345 shows how far we've come with a slim design and a weight almost as light as a helium balloon. It's a camera for novice photographers. In many cases it will be the owner's first digital camera. The $199 price point will intrigue a great many consumers. I personally found the image quality too soft for my taste. I would encourage anyone looking at this camera, but desiring the sharpest of images to look at other cameras, compare, and decide for yourself. If you can deal with a camera that possesses a slightly more complex control set, it might be worthwhile to compare the A345 to a previous year's Sony or Canon model.
On the plus side, the A345 is easy to use with simple menus and some basic scene and movie modes. Startup and shooting times are quick. Battery life is excellent given the camera's light weight. Overall, it's a good introduction to digital photography that even a Luddite would appreciate.
Easy to Use
Very good battery life
Uninspired image quality
Case and controls lack a solid feel
People new to digital photography who favor simplicity, low-cost, and a 35-mm point-and-shoot experience.
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