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Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent resolution
  • Class-leading high ISO performance; superb results up to ISO 400
  • Surprisingly good ISO 800 performance
  • Very low shutter lag
  • Class-leading battery life
  • Clean, sharp results
  • Superb build and handling
  • Good flash performance
  • Decent movie mode
  • Fast, reliable focus
  • AF illuminator
  • Large clear screen
  • More manual control and additional scene modes make it a more versatile tool than the F10

Conclusion - Cons

  • High contrast tone curve loses highlight & shadow detail - cannot be changed in-camera
  • Exposure inconsistencies (generally overexposure) using default settings
  • Purple fringing
  • 3-shot limit in continuous mode
  • Screen can be hard to see in very bright light
  • Limited manual controls
  • Auto mode defaults to ISO 800 when using flash when it doesn't need to
  • Images in good light need post-processing to really shine
  • No optical viewfinder

Overall conclusion

The FinePix F30 offers a tantalizing glimpse of how very different compact cameras would be if all manufacturers put as much effort into developing sensor and processing technology as they do into designing and marketing pretty cameras with features no one ever asked for. Our tests show that the F30's sensor gives you at least a two-stop advantage over the best that conventional CCD technology can offer, and in many cases a three-stop advantage, with ISO 800 output that can rival some cameras at ISO 200.

Given that most 'average' casual snapshooters are likely to use their camera at (dimly lit) social occasions more than at any other time, this is a real, significant advantage; allowing flash-free photography without blur. More serious photographers will welcome a camera that brings the low light capabilities of a compact a step or two closer to those of most digital SLRs. It's also, surprisingly, significantly better than the F10, something I must admit I doubted would be true when I started this test.

Of course the Super CCD chip isn't magic; it's a bit bigger than the average CCD, and the pixel arrangement is such that more of the surface area is used to gather light - so it is more sensitive, but there's a limit to what you can do with a chip this small. At ISO 800 you're beginning to lose fine detail to noise reduction, and ISO 1600 / 3200 - though better than any CCD camera by a long stretch - are hardly what a serious user would call 'photo quality'. These settings are fine for snapping your friends in the pub, where fine detail isn't too important, or for producing small prints, but they are really pushing the capabilities of the sensor a little too far. But let's not lose sight of the fact that the F30 blows away all its competitors at anything over ISO 200, which is no mean feat.

The F30 is also fast and a lot easier to use than the F10, with more features to boot. The battery life is superb, though this has in part been achieved by setting the default screen brightness too low for use in bright light (turning on the high speed focus mode also reduces the headline 580 shot per charge life).

On the downside the F30 is not as impressive on bright sunny days as it is indoors or at night; sure, the sharpness and low noise are still there, but the tone curve often produces images that lack highlight or shadow detail, yet can look a bit flat. You'll get some amazing results if you know your way around Photoshop (or similar), but I often (though by no means always) found the 'out of camera' results slightly disappointing. Add to this the tendency to over expose and you've got a camera that really needs to be used by someone who knows what they're doing to get the most out of it.

So, whilst it would be unfair to label the F30 a 'one trick pony' (no matter how good that trick is), it is fair to say that it really shines in low light, whereas in daylight - especially bright daylight - it is merely competent. If I'm being brutally honest this sensor deserves a better camera - or at least one with some control over things like contrast, sharpness and saturation. The good news is that the recent announcement of the S6500fd certainly suggests that Fuji isn't going to abandon this sensor for a while yet.

To sum up, the F30 is far and away the best low light compact camera on the market today, bar none. It's the perfect 'social' camera for the DSLR owner who doesn't want to lug all his or her gear to parties, and it is - in expert hands - capable of superb results in any light. I would even go as far as to suggest - funds permitting - getting one for low light work even if you already own a camera you use for daylight shooting... So then, Highly Recommended unless you rarely shoot indoors or at night.

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 9.0
Ergonomics & handling 7.5
Features 7.0
Image quality 8.5
Optics 8.0
Performance (speed) 8.5
Value 7.5

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