Overall Image Quality
Things definitely seem to have improved. If you read my 4900Z review you'll see I wasn't too enthusiastic about its image quality. Fujifilm have obviously worked on a few things we noticed last time and image quality is clearly better.
The difficulty when reviewing any of the Fujifilm digital cameras which use SuperCCD is what resolution to talk about. They all have the 'process resolution' which is almost always double the sensor resolution, below that they will normally have 'the next size down' which is typically much sharper as it is closer to the detail which was captured by the sensor.
The 6900Z's default resolution is 6 megapixels, lets make it clear that the camera has a 3.3 megapixel sensor. This means that WHATEVER the situation the sensor can only capture 3.3 million distinct pixels, from which it 'generates' a 6 megapixel image (I'd use the word interpolate, but Fujifilm steer strongly away from it). How it does so has still never been fully technically explained, why it does so has something to do with the honeycomb layout of the CCD's pixels (which is actually more of a diamond pattern layout, 45 degrees between each pixel).
The 6900Z's 6 megapixel images show as much detail (measureable resolution) as we've seen from the very best 3 megapixel consumer digital camera (Sony DSC-S75). Indeed, it's clear by looking at a 6900Z 6 megapixel image that Fujifilm's processing algorithms are very sophisticated, they produce better results than you'd get from simply resampling a 3.3 megapixel image using straight forward bicubic interpolation. And for certain types of scene (architecture for example) they do look very good.
At the 6900Z's 3 megapixel setting we measure only slighlty less absolute resolution. So why uses the 6 megapixel mode? Well, it gives you a bigger image size right out of the camera and guarantees you're getting all of the detail the sensor can possibly produce. It also leaves you with more options, a 6 megapixel image will produce large prints which to the average viewer would look very good.
Remember also that the 6900Z uses SmartMedia storage, a 6 megapixel FINE quality image weighs in at about 2.2 MB, you'll get approximately 53 images on a single 128 MB card (the biggest currently available).
The other option you have with the 6900Z's 6 megapixel images is reducting them outside the camera, you have the flexibility here to reduce to whatever size you prefer (4, 3, 2.5, 2 megapixels) using a decent photo package (such as Photoshop) and the resultant image will look sharp and detailed. Oddly, a 6900Z 6 megapixel image reduced to 3 megapixels in Photoshop looks better than a native 3 megapixel image (from the camera).
One thing which nagged about previous SuperCCD digital cameras was moiré apparent in diagonal details or high frequency patterns, this, it appears has been solved on the 6900Z.
Apart from resolution the 6900Z showed excellent performance in metering the scene, its Multi Area metering system nearly always prodcing the optimum balance between proper exposure and avoiding over exposure of certain parts of the image. And lastly I must talk about the 6900Z's excellent colour reproduction which is very much in line with what we've seen from other recent Fujifilm digital cameras, colours are vivid and accurate without being over-powering and over saturated.
The only competition the 6900Z has at this resolution (3 megapixels or better) with a 6x or better optical zoom is Minolta's DiMAGE 5 or 7 which both cost considerably more. (At the time of writing this review)
Purple Fringing (Chromatic Aberrations)
Just as with the 4900Z, the 6900Z's lens performs really very well for such a big zoom range. Chromatic aberrations in every day photos were few and far between and limited mostly to full zoom (6x) shots. Our chromatic aberration test shot below shows mostly problems associated with blooming rather than the purple fringing we normally see.
|Visible chromatic aberrations in an "every day shot" (very few and far between)|
|Our now standard chromatic aberration test shot|
Flat area noise
One trait which we've observed of other SuperCCD digital cameras is a tendancy to produce 'flat area noise' (normally in the chroma channel) in areas which should really just be flat / smooth gradient areas. These, at first, may be confused for JPEG artifacts but indeed occur in equal amounts in TIFF files. They seem to be either from the sensor itself or the processing algorithm. Although not terribly serious they may in certain scenes be visible in final prints or displayed images.
Barrel and Pincushion Distortion
One of the tradeoff's you make for that big 6x zoom is some barrel distortion at wide angle and a little pincushion distortion from about 3/4 zoom onwards.
|Barrel Distortion, 1.8% @ Wide Angle||Pincushion Distortion, 0.8% @ Full Tele|
The 6900Z has a very healthy set of white balance settings, no less than six pre-programmed settings (including three temperatures for fluorescent bulbs), fully automatic and two manual presets (which can be easily set using the one-touch button on the lens barrel). Overall the 6900Z's automatic white balance worked better in natural light, with the pre-programmed balances working well in just about all light conditions and manual preset for even the most extreme light (though reds seem to suffer from under saturation in incandescent light).
|Outdoors, Auto||Outdoors, Cloudy||Outdoors, Manual|
|Incandescent, Auto||Incandescent, Incandescent||Incandescent, Manual|
|Fluorescent, Auto||Fluorescent, FL3 (or FL1, FL2)||Fluorescent, Manual|
Dynamic range simply defines the range of light the camera is able to capture before it either loses detail in darkness (shadows for example) or blows out a highlight (edges of chromed metals are good examples of this). Most consumer digital cameras only have a 8-bit analog to digital converters, plus their CCD's are not built to have a particularly large dynamic range, Fujifilm have always touted the wide dynamic range of their SuperCCD, here's our chance to test that.
Using our new dynamic
range measurement method we measured the 6900Z's dynamic range as
(higher numbers are better except for noise):
* In-camera sharpening set to "Soft"
All of the above measurements were carried out with the camera set to its 6 megapixel, FINE mode. The 6900Z performs well at ISO 100, certainly as good as (even slightly better) than the best 3.3 megapixel prosumer digital cameras. However, dynamic range suffers at higher sensitivities, with a significant drop off in available dynamic range especially at ISO 400.