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White Balance

The F31fd offers six white balance presets (sunny, shade, fluorescent day, fluorescent warm white, fluorescent cool White and incandescent) as well as the usual auto white balance and a custom (manual) setting. In everyday shots the auto white balance gave few problems, though low incandescent lighting - as usual - produced a noticeable warm cast (and even under fluorescent light it was far from perfect). Our studio tests revealed the auto white balance to be capable, but by no means fool-proof.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 8.2%, Blue -7.4%
Average
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red 13.8%, Blue -16.7%
Poor
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red 8.1%, Blue -10.4%
Average
Fluorescent - Fluorescent preset WB
Red 3.7%, Blue -12.9%
Average

Flash Performance

The F31fd's small built-in flash has a range of around 0.3 to 6.5m (1.0 - 21.3ft) at the wide end of the zoom and around 0.6 to 3.5m (2.0 - 11.5ft) at the long end, which is a lot further than most competitors, thanks to the fact that auto ISO goes a lot higher. You can extend the flash range even further by switching to ISO 1600 or higher. I only have two small complaints about the flash; firstly that the F31fd is far too keen to push the sensitivity up to ISO 800 when shooting flash, even if it isn't needed, and secondly that red-eye is fairly strong even if you use the anti-red-eye mode. The former can be solved by switching to manual ISO; you'll just have to live with the latter.

Skin tone
Excellent color and exposure
Color chart
Slight warm tone, slight underexposure

Intelligent flash modes

The F31fd has a couple of flash tricks up its sleeve, thanks to the sensor's high ISO abilities. First is 'intelligent' flash, which basically increases the sensitivity and turns down the flash, resulting in a better balance between the foreground (lit by flash) and background. It also means slow synch flash mode can use a higher shutter speed, meaning there's less chance of the blurring you get in such situations if you don't use a tripod. Of course the intelligent flash has to change the ISO setting, and so only works in auto ISO mode. Secondly, the F31fd has a scene mode called 'Natural Light & Flash', which takes two shots in rapid succession, one with flash, and one without flash at a much higher ISO setting, so you can choose which you prefer. Both shots are shown (side by side) in the instant review.

Macro Focus

The F30 has perfectly decent macro capabilities - getting down to as close as 5cm at the wide end of the zoom, capturing an area around 5cm across. At the long end of the zoom the closest focus is a less impressive 30cm in macro mode, capturing an area around 9cm across. In both cases distortion is impressively low, though there is some corner softness at the long end. Our biggest complaint about the F31fd's macro mode is that the focusing is slow - sometimes painfully so, something it shares with the F30 and the F10 before it. I'd also like to see the standard (i.e. non macro) mode allow focusing a little closer; the 60cm (2 foot) limitation means you often have to switch to macro mode just to photograph someone across the table at dinner.

Wide macro - 50 x 37 mm coverage
57 px/mm (1440 px/in)
Distortion: Low
Corner softness: Low
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
Tele close focus - 91 x 68 mm coverage
31 px/mm (787 px/in)
Distortion: Very low
Corner softness: Higher than average
Equiv. focal length: 108 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

Nothing to complain about here, barrel distortion is pretty low at 0.5%. At the telephoto end of the zoom there is no measurable distortion at all. We also found no evidence of vignetting.

Barrel distortion - 0.5% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.0% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 108 mm

Specific image quality issues

Broadly speaking the F31fd - like the F30 before it - produces sharp, bright, clean output that puts most of its higher megapixel competitors to shame. It also goes without saying that in the ISO 400-800 range it is still absolutely unrivalled. Focus - though it may slow down a little when challenged - is very reliable indeed, and in decent light the auto white balance is faultless.

Some of the issues we encountered with the F30 have been addressed - the exposure seems more reliable and the tone curve no longer produces that strange 'flat midtones' effect. This makes the F31fd a much more beginner-friendly 'point and shoot' camera than its predecessor, though like most compacts the contrast is set too high and highlights can be clipped fairly easily. The bad news is that purple fringing is still a problem in contre-jour situations (and around specular highlights), there are still some situations where the metering gets things wrong (over exposing), though it does seem better.

Color fringing

Like the F10 and F30 before it, the F31 exhibits fairly strong purple fringing at high contrast boundaries and around specular highlights (especially at the wide end of the zoom), though it is limited to areas of quite severe overexposure.

100% crop 32.5 mm equiv., F2.8
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