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Fujifilm FinePix Z20fd
10.0MP | 35-105mm (3X) ZOOM | $130 US, £92 UK

The FinePix Z20fd is an upgrade to the popular Z10fd that ups the resolution to a rather pointless 10 megapixels and throws in MPEG4 movie capture (still a rarity on compact digital cameras). Judging by the rather eye-watering range of colors and blogging modes the Z20fd is obviously aimed at the young, casual snapshot user rather than the serious photographer, and this is reflected in both the funky styling and the feature set, which eschews manual controls in favor of a wide selection of scene/subject modes. Although Fujifilm is gradually introducing sensor-shift stabilization to its FinePix range, the Z20fd doesn't have it, nor does it have Fujifilm's proprietary Super CCD sensor (which has been acclaimed for its superior low light results).

  • 10 effective Megapixels
  • 35-105mm equiv lens with 3x Optical zoom and upto 5.7x Digital Zoom
  • 2.5 inch LCD with 150,000 dots resolution
  • ISO sensitivity upto 1600
  • Face detection
  • 6 shooting modes, 14 Scene modes including Picture Stabilisation (high ISO)
  • In-Camera effects and resizing/trimming
  • Movies: 640 x 480 pixels @ 30 fps MPEG4
  • 45MB internal memory
  • IRSimple infrared transfers between cameras
  • Available in White, Pink, Blue, Black, Green and Red

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Overview

The Z20fd could almost slot into our forthcoming 'Slim camera' roundup, with its Size Zero looks. As with many of these card cameras, the Z20fd features a periscopic lens design, with the sensor sitting down inside the body, looking upwards at a mirror. The result is a pleasantly slim camera with no need for the lens to protrude. The design, particuarly in this Fuchsia hue, suggests that it's being targetted at a market which is more concerned about getting pictures than having a device that looks like a 'proper camera.' This isn't a problem, though its un-camera-like nature sometimes makes it a bit tricky to do some of the things that you'd sometimes want to do with a camera - such as holding it steady, while pressing the shutter button and preventing your finger creeping in front of the lens.

The user-interface extends the Z20fd's unthreatening appeal - options are well split between external buttons, a 7-option shooting menu and the setup menu, depending on how often you are likely to change them. It's a pretty easy camera to pick up and use, without ever having to trouble the manual.

The Z20fd doesn't have a lot in the way of manual controls (annoyingly you have to go into a menu simply to set exposure compensation) but it does have a selection of 'fun' options including a blog mode (which resizes images to a bandwidth-friendly 640x480 or 320x240 pixels - hardly unheard of on a digital camera, but here given a zeitgeisty buzzword to make it seem sexier) and some features lifted from mobile phones (image 'stamps' such as speech bubbles and rabbit ears, and a handful of special effects).

Key Features

The Z20 is small, even by 'card camera' standards. And my, isn't it a lovely shade of pink? (for more conservative buyers it is available in other colors.) Placing the shutter button at the far right corner of the body can make the Z20 a little tricky to hold at times, though there is a good bump to press your thumb against.
The Z20fd takes the unusual step of having two four-way controllers, the second of which has a central Menu/Ok button. It works well, as well as looking good, putting all key features in easy reach.
On top of the camera is a button that gives direct access to video shooting. In this case, they're 640x480 30fps movies recorded in the MPEG4 format. The movies are actually very good, though at around 3MB/s they're pretty big too (it would be nice to have a couple of compression options).
The cut-out in the sliding front-plate is a little odd in that it doesn't completely cover the flash, when in the closed position. It's a peculiar design decision that spoils the clean look of the camera, in our opinion.
All the Z20fd's menus are color-coded (so it's worth tracking down your first-choice color). The shooting menu gives quick access to most key features. The screen itself is of the less sophisticated, 115,000k dot, 2.5" variety. Though it looks pretty sharp and bright and has a high refresh rate, it can be very difficult to see in bright conditions.

Image quality and performance

I think it's fair to say that the FinePix Z20fd isn't a camera designed - or purchased - first and foremost for absolute image quality, and this is reflected in its rather pedestrian performance in our photo tests. That the output is a little soft and rather over-processed when viewed up close doesn't really matter; unless you're producing poster prints you're not going to find cause for complaint, and the high ISO results are actually not bad at all. The lens isn't great, but to be honest we'd have been surprised if it had been; folded optics always involve some compromise, and on budget cameras they are rarely impressive.

The biggest issue for us is that the Z20fd is slightly unreliable when it comes to exposure, white balance, flash and focus - more so than most of the other cameras in the group, and these are problems that will impact on photos even at the smallest print size. There's no doubt it can produce bright, colorful results in ideal conditions, but we weren't convinced it offered the same 'point and shoot' reliability we'd expect from a camera so obviously aimed at the non-photographer. The face detection system is incredibly fast though we found that in low light it sometimes failed completely. Disappointingly in our tests the red-eye removal wasn't completely effective (though it did at least have a stab at it).

The camera itself is pretty fast with a responsive menu system and generally snappy performance; focus in good light is very quick, there's little shutter lag and image browsing in playback mode doesn't keep you waiting. On the downside startup is a little slow, as is zooming (and, incidentally, magnifying images in playback) and the camera takes longer than most to write saved images to card.

Resolution is actually pretty good, and the contrasty, saturated results are ideally suited to the target market. But whilst the Z20fd is capable of sharp, colorful results in good conditions we found the metering, white balance, focus and flash exposure systems to be a little less reliable than most of the other cameras in this group. The corners are a bit soft at the wide end of the zoom but you'll never notice in a standard print.

Summary

For the money the Z20fd is one of the most stylish cameras on the market, with a slimline metal casing and sliding lens cover and a range of colors from teenybopper pink to stylish black (and even a limited edition white version). What it lacks in photographic prowess it more than makes up for with fun features carefully designed to appeal to the young, free and single market it is obviously aimed at, and I'm sure it would make any teenager very happy if they found one under the tree this Christmas.

From a photographic point of view we were slightly disappointed that the automatic exposure, focus and white balance systems weren't as reliable as many of the other cameras in this group, and that (given the Z20fd's intended audience) it produced some of the least impressive flash photographs in the entire test. For the most part our problems with image quality (which in purely technical terms, when the camera gets it right, is actually very good) are niggles and nitpicking, but the flash exposure problems are something we'd not expect on a camera like this.

  • We like: Design, build quality, responsiveness, high quality MPEG4 movie mode
  • We don't like: Handling a bit awkward, flash performance, occasional metering/WB issues
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