Whereas the F30 was a complete redesign of the F10, the F31fd is externally almost identical to the F30 (the only differences are a slight change in the color of the metal body and a larger, marginally more useful grip). As mentioned previously the build and finish are excellent, giving the F31fd a real 'quality' feel. Again it's not the slimmest or prettiest camera in its class (the depth is in part down to the decision to use such a large battery), and external controls are fairly minimal meaning you're going to be using the menu system a lot if you like to tweak settings. To be honest having used both the F30 and the F31fd fairly regularly over the last year or so I can honestly say I've rarely ventured into the Aperture and Shutter Priority modes outside our lab tests; the camera performs admirably as a 'point and shoot' model in full auto mode; manual control is fiddly and - beyond ISO and AE-comp changes (both easily accessed) - not really necessary.
In your hand
The FinePix F31fd is by no means ultra-compact, but the protrusion-free design means it slips fairly easily into a jacket pocket. At around 200g it's weighty enough to feel reassuringly stable in use, without being too heavy to carry with you at all times. The only complaint - common to all small cameras with large screens - is that it is a little too easy to accidentally press one of the buttons (the 'F' button being the worst offender) when shooting with one hand. In fact I found the F31fd very difficult to use single-handed; it just feels a lot safer - and the controls are a lot easier to use - if you hold it in both your mitts.
The battery and card slots share a single compartment under a well-constructed hinged door. The large NP-70 Li-Ion battery is good for approx 580 shots per charge (CIPA standard test conditions), which still pretty much sets the standard for this type of camera. The battery is charged in-camera using the supplied adaptor, and has a retaining clip to stop it falling out when you change cards.
The F31fd is part of the last generation of Fuji cameras to offer a single xD-Picture card slot (recently announced models have a dual xD/SD slot). Although the gap is closing xD is still an expensive format and we've yet to see an xD camera that doesn't suffer from slow write speeds. Basically if you want the F30 / F31fd's unique capabilities then you are going to have to put up with this increasingly marginalized card format. There is also 26MB of internal memory to get you started.
The F31fd's 2.5-inch /230,000 pixel screen is very clear and sharp, there is no visible lag, and it has a fairly effective anti-glare coating. Unfortunately it's not really bright or contrasty enough to use in direct sunlight, where the lack of an optical finder means you may as well be shooting blindfolded. Like the F30, the frame rate doubles (to 60fps) when you half-press the shutter (which makes the display a lot smoother)
Thankfully Fuji listened to its critics and got rid of the 'terminal adaptor' (also known as 'the vital bit you lose') for the F30, and the F31fd has a full complement of I/O ports on-camera. Hidden under a rubberized flap are a combined USB / video out socket and a DC port for the (supplied) mains adaptor.
The small built-in flash has an effective range of around 0.6 to 6.5 m (2.0 - 21 ft) at wideangle, dropping to 3.5 m (11.5 ft) at the tele end of the zoom (using auto ISO). If you're thinking this is a long way for such a small flash to reach you're not wrong - that's one of the advantages of an auto ISO mode that goes up to 800... The flash is fairly close to the lens, so red-eye is a problem in many shots, but it's no worse than 99% of the competition.
The 3x zoom lens retracts fully into the body when not in use and has a built-in lens cap. The range covered is equivalent to 36-108mm on a 35mm camera, and the maximum aperture goes from a respectable F2.8 at the wide end to a less impressive F5.0 at the long end. As with all cameras of this type I'd rather the short end of the zoom was a little wider, but you can't have everything!
The F31fd has a small mode dial on top (next to the main power button). There are six positions; Movie, A/S (aperture and shutter priority), Rec-Manual, Rec-Auto, Scene and 'anti blur'.
The rear controls are all clustered to the right of the LCD screen. The 4-way controller is used to navigate menus, and each 'arrow' has a secondary function in record mode (flash, macro, self-timer and LCD brighten). The up arrow is also used for deleting images in playback mode. Above are buttons for playback mode and Fuji's standard 'F' button (used to quickly change ISO, image size and quality). F30 users will notice that the +/- button now doubles as a Face Detection mode button.