Conclusion - Pros
- Class leading resolution
- Improved slimmer design and a few new features
- Superb results at low ISO settings
- Natural but vivid colors
- Although not as good as the F31fd, ISO 400 and 800 still far better than most
- ISO 1600 usable for small prints
- Low shutter lag and good overall responsiveness
- Good build quality and handling
- Fast reliable focus
- Reliable exposure / metering
- Aperture and Shutter Priority Modes
- Good flash performance
- Large clear screen
- Large variety of scene modes
- Usable results at ISO 1600
- Efficient red eye removal
Conclusion - Cons
- Some noise reduction artefacts visible at 100% even at ISO 100
- Strong chroma noise at ISO 800+ and shadow noise visible at ISO 400 in low light
- Some corner softness
- Few external controls
- User interface feels outdated and 'fiddly'
- Noisy focus, macro focus can be very slow (low light focus also slower)
- Long flash recycling times
- Occasional highlight clipping (not worse than the competition though)
- Burst mode limited to 3 shots
- Movie mode nothing special
- Auto mode with flash defaults to ISO 800 - even when it doesn't need to
- Image stabilization not as efficient as other manufacturers' systems
- No optical viewfinder
- Reduced battery life (not even 50 percent of F31fd)
- A wider lens range would be nice
Like any sequel the F50fd was always going to suffer by comparison to its illustrious predecessor, so is Fujifilm's new flagship compact a Godfather II or a Matrix Reloaded? The answer, unsurprisingly, is that it's neither one or the other, but something somewhere in between.
Although the F31fd (and the F30 before it) was a fairly bland compact camera, it was blessed with an outstanding imaging sensor and set the benchmark in terms of image quality, most specifically low light performance. Fujifilm achieved this through some very clever technology in its Super--CCD sensor and Real Photo imaging processor but also, and most importantly, through the bold decision to not jump onto the megapixel bandwagon. Instead, it put a flagship compact camera with a relatively large sensor sporting only six megapixels on the market at a time when most competitors already were heading towards double digit resolution figures.
Of course the pressure for Fuji to rejoin the megapixel race was intense (it's easier for a retailer to sell more megapixels than it is to sell 'better high ISO performance'); the annoucement that the much-anticipated replacement for the F50fd was going to sqeeze twice as many pixels onto a sensor only fractionally larger was grimly inevitable. The news was met with a resigned shrug by even the most avid Fujifilm fanatic: "Oh well, it was great while it lasted".
And so it would be fair to say that we started testing the F50fd with some trepidation. Of course technology doesn't stand still, and Fujifilm will have been loathe to throw away its high ISO advantage, so we still harboured a vague hope that they'd managed to pull some more of that Super CCD magic out of the hat...
The good news is that - forgetting the F31fd for a moment - the F50fd is an excellent point and shoot camera that deserves a place near the top of its class. Sure, Fujifilm listened to its marketing department and installed a 12MP sensor, but the F50fd's high ISO performance is still surprisingly good. On a per-pixel basis it is certainly not on a par with its predecessor but on an output level, i.e. on a print of the same size or a computer monitor the difference isn't huge. Of course it would have been a lot better with 8 million larger pixels, but I'm afraid even Fujifilm isn't brave enough to launch a premium compact camera so 'under powered' in today's market.
Anyway, the sensor/processing unit of the F50fd is quite an achievement. From ISO 200-800 it puts most of the competition to shame, and even ISO 1600 can produce usable output within limits. Images show natural colors and good detail, there's no need to spend hours with your imaging software to get pictures ready for print, they are perfect straight out of the box. It might not look great at a pixel level, but you can say that about most current cameras, and with 12 megapixels who's going to be looking that close? (if you are, I'm afraid you need an SLR).
In general the F50fd is an enjoyable camera to use, the buttons are in the right places and the materials feel good in your hand. Even the plastic used on the back has a 'premium' feel to it. The latest generation of the Real Photo processor is a great performer, not only image quality wise but also in terms of speed of operation. Apart from the fairly long file writing times (especially in burst mode) the camera always feels snappy and responsive. Like most compact cameras the F50fd was not designed for action photography but it never lets you down when you need to take a quick shot.
The camera's feature set is nothing to write home about, but it is a cut above the average 'point and shoot' model. From a photography enthusiast's point of view the Aperture and Shutter Speed priority modes are probably the most interesting features, though operation of these semi-manual modes can be slightly fiddly. If you're after a comprehensive range of manual photographic controls you should probably not be looking at this camera anyway. Face detection 2.0 works, although not as well as Fujifilm claims in its brochures (the red-eye removal is, however, remarkably effective). If a face is viewed from an angle the detection rate is still very low but higher than on previous models. Whether face detection is a useful function you'll have to decide for yourself but it certainly does its job as a party trick.
On the downside we should probably mention the slow focus in macro mode. In itself that's not much of a problem but it can get fairly annoying if you have to use macro mode to photograph someone across a dinner table because of the camera's long minimum focus distance. Battery life is fairly average but still disappointing since the F31fd was the class leader in this respect, with more than double the F50fd's capacity. This is a consequence of the new camera's slim design, which is not compatible with a larger battery.
In spite of the minor flaws and the slightly pedestrian feature set, despite the fact that Fujifilm has actively narrowed the gap between its Super CCD sensor and conventional CCD compacts by squeezing too many pixels in - and despite the fact that there is little if any real benefit to the resolution hike, the F50fd is still one of the better pocket cameras on the market. At ISO 400 it's basically in a class of its own (something you're more likely to see in larger prints, admittedly), but once you get over ISO 800 the Super CCD advantage brings diminishing returns on this sensor.
And so to the rating. There was quite a lot of discussion here as to whether the F50fd should be marked down for being such a disappointing step backwards from the F31fd - no matter how unsurprising that was. The replacement of the F31fd means the end of the line for a sensor that over four generations of Fujifilm compact cameras has shown that there is an alternative to pointless megapixel increases and noisy results at anything over base ISO. Whilst the F50fd still has a lead over its conventional CCD competitors that advantage has been cut down to little more than a whisker, and this is a regrettable and slightly depressing indication of where the compact camera manufacturers' priorities lie.
Ultimately though, the F50fd must be judged on its own merits and in the context of the market as it is today, and on those grounds it just scrapes our highest award. But if anyone from Fujifilm is listening, please, please don't give up on the pursuit of usable high ISO image quality in compact cameras - you were our last hope, and on the evidence here you've thrown in the towel.
|Detail||Rating (out of 10)|
|Ergonomics & handling||7.5|
Highly Recommended (just)