DigitalCameraReview.com
Fujifilm Finepix Z1 Digital Camera Review
by ssbihli -  9/5/2005
Introduction

There comes a time in every review author's life that the word sexy' is used to convey the feeling you get by touching, holding, or simply looking at a particular product. I've seen it used with sports cars, audio speakers, and televisions. I've refrained from using it to date and I simply can't waste my one opportunity on a camera. But dare I say, this thing is damn fine looking.

fujifilm finepix z1

The FinePix Z1 is latest ultracompact digital camera from FujiFilm. With a 5 megapixel CCD, a 3x optical zoom, slippery fast shutter release times, and a super-sized 2.5" LCD, the Z1 comes to the party looking like it visited a world-class plastic surgeon. The images it snaps gives this good looking camera some substance...some of the time; other times it's a big, blonde bimbo.

Specification Highlights
5.1 MP
3x Optical, 5.7x Digital zoom
LCD: 2.5" diagonal, Reinforced
ISO: 64 -- 800 (automatically set)
AutoFocus: Auto, No Assist Lamp
Shutter: 4 -- 1/1000 sec
Movies: Up 640 x 480 @ 30fps w/sound
Media: xD-Picture Card (16 MB card included)

Features

The FujiFilm Z1 is an Ultracompact meant for traveling and quick snapshots. From the manual control perspective there are few, which we'll cover later. The news about the Z1 is that FujiFilm took seriously some of the most common problems with low-cost and mid-range priced digital cameras. The scourge of these cameras are small LCDs to reduce cost, slow start-up times, and shutter release delays that are measured in hours.

The Z1 takes no prisoners here. It has a Herculean 2.5" LCD on the back. In fact, given the cameras diminutive size, the LCD spans a solid 80% of the surface area of the back of the case. Startup time is rated at .6 seconds and from using it, I'd agree that it is no exaggeration. Shutter release (or lag) is a startling .01 seconds. My thumb isn't fast enough to measure this with a stopwatch, but I would be telling you the truth when I write that this is the fastest sub-$1000 digital camera that I've used. It's fantastic.

fujifilm finepix z1

Another distinguishing feature of the Z1 is its movie mode. Movie modes in low-priced cameras are either anemic (read: a postage stamp size video running at 10-15 fps) or non-existent. The Z1 zips along at 640 x 480 @ 30 fps. It's no substitute for a digital video camera, the Z1's movie mode is a please surprise in a long list of surprises.

Camera Design

I opened this review salivating over the good looks of this camera. Let me reiterate: the Z1 is a great-looking and feeling camera. It weighs slightly less than 5 oz and can easily be forgotten in a pants pocket or purse. The case is both brushed aluminum and black. It's barely half an inch thick and still suffers from zero creaks and no body flex. This is a well-built digital camera.

Controls are few and decipherable. To turn the camera on, slide the front of the case to expose the lens. One button on top for shooting either photos or movies ensures nary a mistake. Rear controls are similarly easy to figure out with a four way circular controls and center button controlling most of the action.

The Z1 has controls to offer a fair degree of creative controls, but this is by no means a substitute for a mid-range enthusiast camera or digital SLR. This camera is meant for convenience. Controls include:
Five scene modes (Natural, Portrait, Landscape, Sport, and Night) in addition to Auto and Manual
Exposure Compensation
White balance
Auto-focus mode options (no manual controls here)
ISO (Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400, and 800)

The menu system is easy to use and well laid out. The circular directional control with the button in the middle makes navigating menus intuitive. Pressing OK' gives the user definite confirmation that a particular option was selected.

The Z1 connects to a PC via a cradle instead of a direct USB cable. This is the first camera I've used with a dock and it's a godsend. Connecting the camera to a PC is effortless. And with the power cord plugged in to the cradle as well, the Z1 will always be ready for photo action. According to FujiFilm the battery in question will take about 200 pictures on a charge. Over the past 18 months these digital battery suckers have slowed their slurping and 200 pictures is easily obtainable. Other cameras I've tested recently passed the test. I see no reason why the Z1 wouldn't either.

Image Quality

Image quality is a decidedly mixed bag. As I've said in other reviews, if you simply desire to print 4x6 or 5x7 prints, the Z1 will do the job. However, in many shaded outdoor photos or indoor photos the images are noisy. In others, the photos appear as if a slight mosaic filter was applied to the image. Lines in images lack definition and patches of solid color appear mottled. This is true of many of the test photos I took. In the photo below of the crowd, the image at a macro level looks great. However, if you zoom in on the gentleman's silver hair sitting behind the red wagon in the foreground, you instantly notice that his hair has no definition or strands. You can continue to see this and general image noise as you zoom in on various parts of the photo

fujifilm finepix z1
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fujifilm finepix z1
400% zoom

In a second example, the brick arch, the wood chips in the lower-left look like melted crayons, and the red bricks in the upper-left exhibit a great deal of noise.

fujiffilm finepix z1
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fujiffilm finepix z1

I did say a mixed bag', correct? This final comparative image of a hotel stands in sharp contrast (no pun intended) to the examples above. The image taken during sunset has saturated color, crisp lines, and wonderful detail. Zoomed in, the picture stood its ground exhibiting similar clarity as the image taken from a Canon Powershot A95.

fujifilm finepix z1
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Same shot taken with Canon Powershot A95 [larger] [fullsize]


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Wide Angle [larger] [fullsize]


3x Optical Zoom [larger] [fullsize]


Full Optical and Digital Zoom [larger] [fullsize]

Extended Specifications (From FujiFilm.com)

Conclusion

The FujiFilm Z1 is a fine attempt at a differentiated ultracompact camera. It's stats are impressive. The large 2.5" LCD, ultra-fast shutter release times, solid case design, drop-dead good looks, superior movie mode, and cradle make this FinePix the current fashionable, It camera. Like Achilles with his heel, image quality brings this camera back down to size. It can and will take a great picture some of the time. In challenging lighting conditions image can fall short with some noise and image softness.

Overall, I have to recommend this camera because its many good attributes simply outweigh the few bad. For the market this camera is targeted to, the users will simply be delighted with its simple design, ease-of-use, and ability to take pictures quickly. With pictures printed at 4x6 for sharing with family and friends, they'll never notice the small and sometimes minute image problems. If you're looking for a camera with spot-on image quality for use on 14 x 17 portraits, look elsewhere

Pros
Goooooood looking...mmm, mmm
Huge 2.5" LCD
FAASSSTT shutter release
Quality pictures some of the time
Docking station
VGA quality 30 fps movie mode

Cons
Noisy, soft pictures some of the time
No manual focus

Recommended For
Families wanting a point-and-shoot camera
Point-and-shoot purchasers disappointed by the performance of other low-priced cameras
People who desperately need a sexy (you caught me...I wrote it) camera to accessorize their BMW, Lexus or Porsche