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Fujifilm Finepix E900 Digital Camera Review
by Howard Creech -  2/27/2006

The FinePix E900 is Fujifilm's flagship "E"-series digital camera and features 9 megapixel resolution, a 4X optical zoom, a 2-inch LCD screen, and full manual controls. Fujifilm touts the FinePix E900 as the perfect weekend camera for professional shooters who want maximum creative control, but don't want to carry lots of bulky equipment. According to Fujifilm, the E900 is also ideal for families with multiple photographers of varying skill levels and serious amateur photographers seeking a camera that can grow with them as their photographic skills improve.

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NUTS & BOLTS

Viewfinder/LCD

The E900 features a 2.0" LCD screen that, in use, is a bit dim and somewhat coarse (115,000 pixels). The LCD screen is color accurate, fluid, and gains "up" (automatically brightens) in dim lighting, but only for a moment - some product development genius at Fuji decided the LCD screen was a good place to save battery power, so the brightness boost is re-dimmed very quickly. In addition, the LCD has no anti-reflective coating and in bright outdoor light that exacerbates its other problems. There is an LCD brightness adjustment option, but it doesn't help much. The LCD info display provides all the camera information most users are likely to need.

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The LCD screen (which shows 100 percent of the image frame) is more accurate for framing than the E900's very squinty optical viewfinder which only shows 77% of the image frame (industry average is about 85 percent). The E900's tunnel-style zooming optical viewfinder is fairly bright. The zoom and the optical viewfinder are on slightly different planes which means that up to about 6 or 8 feet the viewfinder sees a slightly different view than the lens (exacerbated by the pitiful 77% of the image frame seen through the optical viewfinder). There is no diopter adjustment for eyeglasses wearers.

Zoom Lens

The E900 is equipped with a Super EBC Fujinon f2.8-f5.6/7.2-28mm (32-128mm 35mm equivalent) all glass 4x optical zoom lens. When the camera is powered up, the lens automatically telescopes out of the camera body. When the camera is powered down the zoom is fully retracted into the camera body and a built-in cover slides into place to protect the lens. Much of the competition sports 3X zooms, so the E900's extra reach is a welcome bonus. Zoom operation is fast and quiet, but not as smooth as some of the competition, the zoom moves through its 4X range in 13 distinct steps. Minimum focusing distance (in Macro mode) is 3 inches, at the wide-angle setting.

Resolution (sharpness) is excellent throughout the zoom's range, but corners are consistently slightly soft. There is noticeable barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the wide-angle end of the zoom range and very minor pin cushioning (straight lines bow in toward the center) at the telephoto end of the range. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is above average and especially noticeable in high contrast color transition areas at maximum aperture at the wide-angle end of the zoom.


(view medium image) (view large image) Note distinct purple fringe along the edges of the dark branches and white blossoms where they are shown against the bright blue sky.

Auto Focus (AF)

The E900's (default) Multi AF Contrast Detection AF system quickly and accurately analyzes what's in front of the camera and locks focus on the nearest subject (closest focus priority). Users can also select Center AF mode which focuses (no pun intended) on the center of the image frame, this is good for landscapes and other infinity focus chores. The AF Area mode allows savvy shooters to manually move the AF point to any one of 49 positions around the image area (which means AF can be biased on the most important element in the image - like the face or eyes in a head and shoulders portrait). The E900 does not provide an AF assist beam (for quicker and more accurate focusing in dim/low light) which seems a strange economy measure in a top-tier 9 megapixel digital camera.

Manual Focus (MF)

The E900 permits users to manually adjust focus, but it doesn't provide an LCD distance scale or enlarge the center of the frame (to make precise focusing easier). The E900's MF mode works, but the coarse LCD screen, inability to enlarge the center of the frame, lack of a distance scale, and inexact stepped electronic focusing system combine to make manual focus far more cumbersome than is necessary.

Flash

The E900's on-board multi mode flash provides Auto, Red-eye Reduction, Forced flash, Suppressed flash (see Natural Light Mode note below), Slow Synch and Red-eye reduction with Slow Synch. The E900's flash has to be popped up manually, rather than popping up automatically when the camera's CPU determines it is needed. Maximum flash range (according to Fujifilm) is 12 feet, which seems a bit optimistic, based on my limited use - realistically anything beyond 6-8 feet is going to be fairly dark unless shot against light colored backgrounds with lots of ambient lighting. The flash is above (and on essentially the same plane) as the lens, so redeye is going to be an ongoing problem. The E900's flash intensity (output power) can be adjusted (+/-1/3EV or +/-2/3EV) to compensate for environmental/ambient lighting factors. The E900's nifty Natural Light mode automatically adjusts sensitivity and suppresses the flash, to match ambient light. This allows shooters to create more natural looking images without the harsh shadows and hot spots that are hallmarks of images shot with artificially lighting.

File Storage/Memory Media

The E900 saves images to xD Picture Card Memory Media (available in capacities up to 1GB). Fujifilm includes a 16MB xD Picture Card.

Image File Format(s)

JPEG & RAW. The RAW File Converter LE utility included in the E900's software CD doesn't permit any post exposure processing, but users can convert RAW image files to TIFF format.

Connectivity

High-Speed USB 2.0 out , A/V out, and DC in

Power

The E900 draws its power from a pair of AA batteries, battery life is very good (200-225 exposures). Unlike many digital camera reviewers, I like AA batteries. Rechargeable high capacity NiMH AA batteries cost much less than comparable proprietary batteries and shooters can always buy (universally available) Alkaline AAs in a pinch. Fujifilm includes a pair of 2500mAh NiMH AA batteries. I didn't keep track of exposures, but I used the E900 extensively and never got a low battery warning (I usually run out of image storage space before I run out of juice). The included (wall plug type) charger needs five hours to fully charge the batteries.

EXPOSURE

The E900 provides a full slate of exposure options including Auto, Programmed Auto, Scene (Natural Light, Macro, Portrait, Sports, Night), Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and full Manual modes. I shot somewhere between 400 and 500 exposures (ninety per cent in Program mode) during the three weeks I had the camera and based on my images, the E900's Auto, Program, and Scene modes are consistently and dependably accurate. Exposure accuracy in the camera's other exposure modes is dependent on the skill and experience of the photographer.

Movie Mode

The E900's Movie Mode (640x480 @ 30 fps up to the capacity of the xD picture card) is competent, but nothing to write home about -- VGA video is pretty much the standard these days, for Point & Shoot digital cameras.

Metering

The E900 provides 3 metering modes -- Multi -- (TTL 64 zone evaluative), Center-weighted averaging, and Spot. The (default) Multi mode is consistently accurate and dependable, even under difficult lighting. When Spot metering is enabled, users can bias exposure on the single most important element in the image -- like the face in a head and shoulders portrait. The Center-weighted averaging mode is super for shooting classic landscapes and traditional looking scenics.

White Balance (WB)

The E900 provides TTL Auto and seven pre-set white balance options including: Fine, Shade, Fluorescent light (Daylight), Fluorescent light (Warm White), Fluorescent light (Cool White), Incandescent light), and Custom/Manual. Advanced shooters can opt for the Custom White Balance mode (point the camera at a white wall or ceiling or a white card) for precise white balance, even in tricky lighting. I would have liked to see two manual settings so that users could save two different custom WB settings (to make switching between indoor and outdoor shooting environments simpler).

Sensitivity

The E900 offers a very useful sensitivity range including: Auto, and settings for 80, 100, 200, 400, and 800 ISO (equivalent). Manual sensitivity selection is available in Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, and Manual Exposure modes (the E900's nifty Natural Light mode is limited to the Auto ISO mode).

In-Camera Image Adjustment

The E900 is very tweakable, users can adjust Sharpness, Contrast, and Hue. Users can also select Standard color (neutral), Chrome color (super saturated), or B&W (monochrome) color modes The E900's Exposure Compensation function (+/-2EV in 1/3EV increments) is very easy to access - simple, direct, and logical -- requiring only one button push. The E900's auto exposure bracketing function captures three sequential shots, each with a slightly different exposure (+/-1/3EV, +/-2/3EV, or +/-1EV).

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, AND ERGONOMICS

The E900 is a stylish, relatively compact black/chrome digital cameras. It is a well-designed and solidly built, metal alloy-polycarbonate camera. The brick shaped E900 looks like a slimmed down twenty-first century version of the iconic old Argus C3. Controls are sensibly and logically placed and all shooting functions are easily accessed. I really liked the E900's small ergonomic grip, it made the camera feel more secure in my hand. Experienced photographers will have no problem using the camera right out of the box and beginners should be able to shoot consistently excellent images after only a quick scan of the user's manual.

Technical Specifications

Included

16MB xD Picture Card, 2 NiMH rechargeable AA batteries, Battery charger, Wrist strap, A/V and USB cables, Software CD-ROM and a printed users manual

Optional

AC Adapter, telephoto and wide-angle auxiliary lenses, lens adapter ring, and soft case.

PERFORMANCE

Image Quality

To paraphrase the old FoMoCo commercial, image quality is job one, and the E900 delivers consistently excellent image quality. The E900's strong suit is neutral color; as a long time photographer I am not enamored of the over saturated circus-chrome colors that are so popular with American digital camera buyers. Even in auto white balance mode this camera produces some of the most accurate color I've seen to date.


(view medium image) (view large image) In Auto Exposure Mode the E900's default Multi metering and Auto White Balance properly exposed this almost monochromatic low-light image (note heavy purple fringing)


(view medium image) (view large image) The E900 does pretty well in dim/low light -- the colors in this night shot are right on the money

Noise management is also excellent. ISO 80 and ISO 100 are essentially noise free. There is some minor noise visible in shadow areas at ISO 200. Noise levels rise moderately at ISO 400 (the E900's ISO 400 images look like ISO 200 images from comparable digital cameras). The ISO 800 setting is very noisy (loss of fine detail and visible noise throughout the image), about equal to the ISO 400 setting on most of the E900's competition. Noticeably above average Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is the E900's major image quality problem.

Timing/Shutter Lag

The E900 is a very fast camera, equal (in performance terms) to many more expensive digital cameras. Start-up time is less than two seconds, which is pretty quick for a digital camera that must extend its zoom. Shutter lag shouldn't be a problem for most shooters; shutter fire is essentially real time once focus is achieved. Shot-to-shot times are noticeably quicker than average for JPEGs, but RAW images are much slower. AF speed is typically less than one second, and almost "real time" with pre-focus, but when tracking rapidly unfolding action the E900's AF hesitates momentarily before it locks focus -- this problem drove me crazy trying to shoot skateboarders at Louisville's Extreme Park - I never managed to get a good action shot with the E900 because of this strange focus anomaly.


(view medium image) (view large image) The E900's AF lock was just about a 1/4 of a second late on this image, the skateboarder should have been caught at the mid-point in his turn (facing me) and centered in the frame.

A Few Concerns

AF lag in action shooting and above average Chromatic Aberration (purple fringing) may be deal breakers for some purchasers.

Conclusion

In my opinion, the E900's most serious competition is Canon's superb A620. The A620 is in virtually every area of consideration other than native resolution (the difference between 7 and 9 megapixels is much less obvious than the difference between 4 and 5 megapixels), a better imaging tool than the E900. So, unless you need the few extra millimeters of wide-angle coverage or plan to enlarge lots of your images to poster size, my recommendation is to buy the A620. You'll end up with a better camera and save yourself some money.

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