The new Fujifilm FinePix V10 is an ultra compact 5 megapixel point & shoot digital camera with a 3.4X optical zoom (38mm-130mm in 35mm equivalent) and a large 3.0 inch hi-res (230,000 pixels) LCD screen. Fuji claims the stylishly square little V10 substantially reduces image noise via its high efficiency 5th generation Super CCD HR sensor and Fuji's proprietary Real Photo Technology (which automatically subtracts noise from captured images).
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The folks who write digital camera reviews are always talking about image noise, but they rarely explain just what noise is and why it's important. Noise is comparable to the static (or snow) seen in weak broadcast TV signals. Noise degrades image quality by reducing sharpness and lowering contrast, especially in pictures shot at higher (ISO) sensitivities or in low/dim/indoor lighting.
For digital camera manufacturers the holy-grail in the digital camera wars is a camera capable of capturing high resolution noise free images, even at higher ISO settings. The ongoing search for better ways to surpress/remove/manage noise is almost as important in digital camera product development/marketing as the continuing push for higher resolution (more megapixels). Consumers benefit from all this R&D because cameras that consistently produce lower noise can capture more detail at higher ISO sensitivities. Shooting at higher sensitivities (combined with faster shutter speeds) allows users to avoid the blurry images that result from camera shake/subject movement and the low contrast, fuzzy, un-natural look of images shot in dim/low/indoor light. Does Fuji's Real Photo Technology work?
(view medium image) (view large image) This image was shot in a very dimly lit old Bardstown Road storefront during an African bead and mask show. I disabled the flash (with the camera in Auto ISO mode) and handheld the camera to test Fuji's claims that the V10 substantially reduces noise in low light/high ISO shots. View this image full size and you'll see that (1) it is not sharply focused (due to camera shake during the long exposure) (2) colors are surprisingly bright and vibrant for a high sensitivity ISO shot, and (3) while Real Photo Technology does apparently remove noise, the overall impressionistic soft focus "look" (due to lost detail) is a bit disconcerting.
NUTS & BOLTS
The V10's huge LCD screen completely dominates the camera's rear deck. There is no optical viewfinder, so users will have to rely on the V10's 3.0 inch LCD screen for all framing and composition chores. The LCD screen is bright, sharp, hue accurate, fluid, and shows almost 100% of the image frame. The V10's LCD screen is bright enough to be useable in bright outdoor lighting (an anti reflective coating would have enhanced usefulness even further) and it automatically gains up (brightens) in low/dim lighting - users can also manually boost LCD screen brightness.
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The V10's Post Shot Assist option is a very nice feature, allowing users to view thumbnails of the last 3 saved shots beside a live viewfinder image (to compare different ISO sensitivities or the results of up or down exposure compensation). The V10's Natural Light & With Flash feature captures two images (one with flash and one without) with a single press of the shutter button and briefly displays the two images on the LCD screen (side by side) for comparison.
The V10's 3.4X Fujinon f2.8-f5.5/6.3mm-21.6mm (38-130mm 35mm equivalent) optical zoom lens offers just a bit more reach than the standard 3X zoom. When the V10 is powered up the zoom telescopes out of the camera body. When the camera is powered down the zoom is automatically retracted into the camera body and a shutter style lens cover is deployed to protect the front element.
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The V10's zoom is consistently sharp (although corners are typically a bit soft) throughout its range. Captured images are contrasty and hue accurate, but fairly neutral (unless the Chrome color option is enabled). The lens shows very slight barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center of the frame) at the wide-angle end of the zoom range, but no pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center) at the telephoto end of the range. I didn't notice any Vignetting (dark corners) and Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is remarkably well controlled - evident only as a very faint violet fringe in some high contrast color transition areas. Minimum focusing distance (in macro mode) is 3.5 inches -- close enough for e-bay, but not close enough for dramatic bugs and flowers.
(view medium image) (view large image) This image of an African Mask was shot inside, but with with some decent window light -- view this image full size and note the impressive detail in the coarse texture of the cloth and the sharply defined edges of the tiny individual beads.
Auto Focus (AF)
The V10 has a fairly standard center/multi contrast detection auto focus system. I suspect the V10's target audience will leave the camera in the (default) Center AF mode because center focus makes it very easy to lock on the most important single element in a composition (like the eyes in an informal portrait) and then re-compose. The V10's AF system delivers consistently sharp images in good lighting, but it does hunt a bit in dim/low light. AF performance is accurate and consistently quicker than average.
Manual Focus (MF)
The V10 provides no manual focus capability
The V10's tiny built-in multi mode flash provides settings for TTL Auto, Red-eye Reduction, Fill Flash, Slow Synch, Red-eye Reduction + Slow Synch, and Flash Off. Maximum flash range is (according to Fuji) is about 14 feet - a wildly optimistic claim. Effective (real world) maximum flash range (under optimum conditions) is about 8-10 feet. All ultra compact digital cameras suffer (to some extent) from red-eye problems, and the V10 is no exception.
The V10 saves images to xD-Picture Cards. Fuji includes a 16MB xD starter card.
Image File Format(s)
USB 2.0 (HS) out, and A/V out
The V10 draws its juice from a small Fuji NP-40 3.6V 750mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery. Fuji claims a fully charged NP-40 is good for 170 exposures. Based on my experiences with the V10 and my shooting style (frame, shoot, review, delete, re-shoot, and repeat) I was able to get a fairly consistent 90-110 exposures per charge. The battery is charged in-camera and the included charger needs about two hours to top off an exhausted NP-40. A back up battery (about $40.00) will be a virtual requirement for users who plan to take the V10 on short trips or use the camera for all day shooting sessions.
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The V10's Auto (program) mode controls exposure at all times with only limited user input into the process. The V10 also provides a modest selection of Scene modes (Natural Light, Natural Light with flash, Portrait, Landscape, Sport/action, and Night shot) with all exposure parameters adjusted automatically for the specific scene type selected. The V10 is not the camera for control freaks or shooters who like lots of creative options. The V10 is for people who want to line up their shot, push the shutter button, and leave the rest of it up to the camera.
The V10 can record video clips at 640x480 (VGA resolution) @ 30 fps (with sound) with duration limited only by xD card capacity.
The V10's TTL (256 zone) Evaluative light metering system is accurate and dependable in virtually all outdoor lighting, which isn't too surprising. What is surprising is how accurate and dependable the V10's light metering is in dim/low light and indoors.
White Balance (WB)
The V10 provides an adequate selection of WB options, including: TTL Auto, sunlight, shade, daylight fluorescent, warm white fluorescent, cool white fluorescent, and incandescent. Some shooters will complain that the V10 doesn't have a custom (manual) WB mode, but it's unlikely the V10's target audience will care.
Here's where Fuji meant for the V10 to really shine. Most ultra compact auto exposure digital cameras provide only a limited sensitivity range (typically ISO 100, 200, & 400). The V10 provides an excellent range of sensitivity/speed settings including -- TTL Auto, and settings for ISO 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600. This expanded sensitivity range provides V10 users with the flexibility to shoot indoors without flash, shoot at faster shutter speeds (to freeze action) outdoors, and to more easily capture images in low/dim lighting.
In-Camera Image Adjustment
In-camera image adjustments provide shooters a selection of simple and direct ways to overcome minor exposure problems, but casual photographers rarely use in-camera image adjustment tools. V10 users can select the Chrome color option which mimics color slide film saturation and contrast or exposure compensation.
Very light or very dark subjects can trick light metering systems into underexposing or overexposing images -- V10 users can enable the Exposure Compensation function to marginally alter exposure over a 4EV range (+/-2 EV in 1/3 EV increments) to compensate for difficult lighting and other environmental exposure variables, allowing users to quickly and easily lighten or darken pictures.
CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS
The Fujifilm Finepix V10 digital camera (available in gray, orange, or silver) is a compact, stylish camera that does almost everything very well. Usability is generally good, even though some users will question why the V10 eschews the ubiquitous compass switch (four way controller) in favor of a slightly different operational system, but most will quickly adapt to the V10's modus operandi. Press the "F" button for easy access to Image quality settings, ISO sensitivity settings, and standard or chrome color options. Menus are simple and direct and all controls are logically placed and easily accessed. The V10's metal alloy body seems fairly robust and should be tough enough to go just about anywhere. Finally, the V10 is the only currently available digital camera that provides users with a selection of LCD games (Number Puzzle, Break Out, Shooting Game, and Maze) to pass the time on a long trip with no photo ops or while waiting for the light to improve.
What's wrong with the V10? Ergonomically the camera is like a small slick thin brick - there's no grip - so using the included neck strap full time is advised (to avoid dropping the camera). There's no place to put your thumb (except on the top right corner of the big LCD) so there isn't any way to avoid smudging the LCD screen.
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16MB xD picture card, 1 Fuji NP-40 3.6V 750mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery and charger, neck strap, USB/AV cables, software CD-ROM, printed users manual
Fuji BC-65 High Speed charger and Fuji soft case
In terms of image quality, the V10 delivers. The V10's color is hue accurate, but (like many digital cameras) red and blue are slightly punched up. White balance seems fairly precise, although I did notice a very slight but consistent warmish cast. Images shot at ISO 64 and 100 had extremely low noise levels with balanced contrast and very good to excellent shadow and highlight detail and accurate skin tones. Noise levels start to pick up at ISO 200, but not objectionably so. ISO 400 shots show some noise and the accompanying loss of detail, but they are slightly better than average. ISO 800 and ISO 1600 images are way too noisy, but they should be fine for e-mail or 3x5 prints.
(view medium image) (view large image) The V10 did a fine job of accurately capturing the intense color and sharp detail of these rain sprinkled azaleas.
This is one very quick digital camera, equal to or better than most other cameras in its class. The V10 moves its 3.4X zoom from the wide-angle position the telephoto position in just over a second. Shutter lag and AF lag (with pre-focus) are essentially real time. From scratch AF lag is less than a second and shutter lag is (according to Fuji) is 1/10th of a second. Shot to shot times are between 1 and 2 seconds.
(view medium image) (view large image) The V10 is fast enough to freeze high-speed action, so it is also fast enough to keep up with toddler's first steps, family events, and intramural sports.
A Few Concerns
The V10 needs some sort of a hand-grip (or at least somewhere to put your thumb).
Who is this Camera best suited for?
The Fujifilm FinePix V10 is best suited for beginners, casual photographers, and amateur shutterbugs who will be doing most of their picture taking outdoors in good light.
The Fujifilm FinePix V10 is a 21st century version of George Eastman's 19th Century Kodak box camera, the world's very first point & shoot. Like Eastman's camera, the V10 was designed to be easy to use (just line up the image in the viewfinder and push the shutter button), capable of consistently capturing very good pictures in a variety of outdoor settings, and not too expensive. Like Eastman's camera, the V10 makes it easy to capture those moments, people, and places that illustrate our life stories.
(view medium image) (view large image) This grab shot of an American cultural icon perfectly illustrates the V10's strong suits -- ease of use, quick reaction time, and excellent image quality (cropped slightly to enhance perspective).
Pros: Very good photo quality, compact and stylish, 3" high resolution LCD screen, Snappy performance, Nice movie mode, games, USB 2.0 High Speed support
Cons: Mediocre battery life, no optical viewfinder, and no built-in thumb rest.