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Fujfiilm FinePix JZ500
14.1MP | 28-280mm (10X) ZOOM | $199/£168

Fujifilm's FinePix JZ500 slugs it out with the Kodak EasyShare Z950 at the budget end of the cameras in this group test. The headline features of the JZ500 include a 10x optical zoom, spanning 28-280mm (equivalent) and 720p HD video, but it also features the same face and pet detection modes that appear in its more expensive cousin, the F80EXR. It doesn't share the same EXR sensor though, and instead, boasts a higher resolution, but more conventional, 14.1 million pixel CCD - the joint highest resolution of any camera in this test. Currently, the JZ500 can be picked up for under $250, which makes its advanced specification seem like a real bargain.

  • 14.1Mp CCD sensor
  • Fujinon 10x optical zoom (28mm - 280mm)
  • 2.7 inch, 230k dot LCD Monitor
  • HD Movie Mode (720p Motion JPEG)
  • Face Recognition and Image search features
  • Tracking autofocus
  • Dual CCD and ISO image stabilization
  • Pet detection - recognizes up to 10 dog or cat faces per photo
  • SD/SDHC compatible
  • 230 shot battery life (with included NP-45A Li-ion battery)

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Overview

Like the FinePix F80EXR, the JZ500 packs its various features into a very compact metal body shell, which makes the camera look and feel like a model that costs a lot more than it does. This, coupled with a high standard of construction, means that the JZ500 feels lovely in the hand.

Ergonomically, the JZ500 betrays a distinct family resemblance to the F80EXR. The exposure mode dial sits on the rear of the body, on the top right, and effectively comprises a thumbrest. We're pleased to see that unlike the F80EXR, this dial is stiff enough that it isn't quite so easily knocked out of position, and it is also indented, to give a better grip. However, although it has been improved, it still isn't perfect, and we would still prefer to see a lock on this dial to prevent accidental rotation.

The LCD screen on the rear of the JZ500 dominates its diminutive frame, and whilst it is one of the smallest of the cameras in this test at 2.7in, resolution is relatively high for its size, at 230,000 dots. Although detail is rendered with nowhere near the sharpness as it is on the 920,000 dot screen of the Nikon Coolpix S8000, for example, the JZ500 boasts a better screen experience than the Kodak EasyShare Z950, which has the same number of dots.

The low cost of the JZ500 might not be betrayed in its feature set, but it does show through in other ways - most notably rather slow operation. Although focusing and taking a picture is quick enough, and there is almost no discernable shutter lag, it takes a good couple of seconds for the JZ500 to process a JPEG file after it has been captured. This really isn't a problem for normal use, but it quickly becomes frustrating if you're trying to keep up with a quickly-changing subject, like a child, or pet for example. A 'best shot' continuous shooting mode is on hand, however, which captures a maximum of 3 images at a fast-ish frame rate of 0.9fps. These images take a correspondingly longer time to process, but at least you have the choice of three files, captured in relatively fast succession.

Key Features

The Lilliputian JZ500 is another camera without a conventional handgrip (or indeed any kind of grip at all) but it is so small that this isn't a problem. It is only fractionally larger than the smallest camera in this test, the Olympus Mju 9010, and with a battery and memory card installed, only a couple of grams heavier.
The JZ500 gets larger when it is turned on, and the lens extended to its telephoto setting, but the light weight of the whole package means that at no point does it feel 'large' or unbalanced.
We're relieved to see that the JZ500's flash is positioned sensibly - on the front right of the camera, away from a right-handed photographer's grip. This makes it far less likely to be obscured (unless you're left-handed, of course!)

The main dial provides access to exposure modes, including 'SP1' and 'SP2' which can be registered to one of the many scene modes.

 

 

A four-way rocker switch on the rear of the JZ500 provides access to AF (macro on/off), flash and self-timer modes, as well as a delete option in playback, which doubles as exposure compensation. 'Menu/OK' brings up a complete selection of options.
There is very little to see on the top plate of the JZ500, and the only controls that make an appearance here are the shutter release, zoom control, and on/off button.
Although the Fuji's zoom lens isn't the most wide-ranging in this group test, it covers a useful span, and the lens aperture doesn't get too slow at the long end.
Pressing 'Menu/Ok' brings up the main shooting menu, where you can find all of the key shooting settings.
Amongst many other options, the FinePix JZ500 offers a 'best framing' display which is essentially just a rule of thirds grid line, that divides the screen into nine sectors. This can't replace a true spirit level, but it does help to keep horizons straight by providing a reference.

Image quality and performance

Despite its bargain cost, the JZ500 is a very good performer in a lot of key areas. In terms of its overall speed and responsiveness, it offers a similar performance as the considerably more expensive F80EXR. Exposures are impressively accurate, and we like the JZ500's color response, which - by default - is natural and neutral, but can quickly be made a little punchier by selecting 'F-chrome' from the FinePix Color option in the shooting menu.

The JZ500's AF mode is very capable as well, and in face detection mode it is quick to acquire focus, but its lack of an AF assist lamp means that it can fall down badly in dimly lit conditions. The lighting has to be pretty low for the camera to give up completely, but when it does, there's nothing you can do. As you can see from our low light flash tests, the JZ500's metering also struggles in poor light, and is unusually susceptible to underexposure due to background lighting. We found that the JZ500's metering really struggles when it has to balance low background light with its own flash output, which could be a real problem in the sort of conditions you might encounter in a dimly lit bar or restaurant.

The JZ500 is a pretty responsive camera when out shooting, but it isn't the fastest here. Startup time is a relatively sluggish 3 seconds (approx) and it takes around 3 seconds after taking an image before the camera is ready to capture another one. Importantly though, image review is fast and there is very little lag when zooming in/out of captured images.

As far as image quality is concerned, the JZ500 is fairly typical of the 14Mp cameras in this group test. When viewed at 100% on a computer screen, images lack a certain cortical sharpness, and higher up the ISO scale it is clear that noise-reduction is taking a pretty sizeable bite out of the resolving power of the sensor, but these problems are all but invisible in small prints. The JZ500 doesn't give the best image quality in this group, but considering its bargain price, it isn't at all bad.

The JZ500's 28-280mm range is useful, and in decent light, the Fuji is capable of great results in a range of different situations. Metering is impressively accurate in daylight too, and AF is very responsive.

Summary

First things first - the JZ500 is a heck of a lot of camera for the price. And it is important to consider it's performance in these terms. It has weaknesses, of course, but like the Olympus Stylus 9010, it's advantages, of low size and weight, shouldn't be dismissed lightly. Cameras of this type are designed as vacation and social accessories, and the JZ500 would be a capable and agreeable traveling companion at any price.

The JZ500's key systems perform well, and apart from its tendency to get things wrong in very low light, we're perfectly happy with its overall performance. Image quality compares well with the output of much more expensive cameras in this group, and is certainly good enough for a 5x7 or letter sized print.

  • We like: Generally fast operation, uncomplicated (without being 'dumb') interface, good image quality, bargain price

  • We don't like: Unreliable flash/ambient metering in poor light, LCD screen can be very hard to see in bright light.
FujiFilm FinePix JZ500 (FinePix JZ505)
Category: Travel Zoom Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Optics
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Point and shooters looking for a lightweight, high-quality compact at a good price
Not so good for
More demanding photographers, who want more control. And anyone that does a lot of low-light photography.
Overall score
68%
The Fujifilm Finepix JZ500 is one of the cheapest cameras in this group test, but Fuji has packed a lot into its tiny frame. Despite its small size, light weight and low price, the JZ500 is capable of holding its own against the competition, and in terms of its core feature set, it offers a very attractive package. Although it's pretty weak in low light, we like the JZ500 for its combination of point-and-shoot simplicity, good image quality and decent build.
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