Premium Camera Group Test (Q4 2008)
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd
12.0MP | 28-140mm (5X) ZOOM | $290 US / £160 UK
The FinePix F100fd is the latest flagship of Fujifilm's F-series (above the FinePix F60fd) and a direct descendant of the F30/F31fd, which was the last in a line of boxy cameras acclaimed for their outstanding low light capabilities and one of the few digital compacts in recent years to attain anything approaching 'classic' status. The secret to the 'F' series' success was 100% down to image quality at higher ISO settings, thanks to the technical superiority of Fujifilm's proprietary Super CCD sensor, some clever noise reduction and a refusal to jump on the megapixel bandwagon (from the F10 to the F31fd the sensor remained stubbornly fixed at 6MP). The sad truth is that you can't sell a premium 6MP compact in 2008, and Fujifilm eventually bowed to commercial pressure; the F100fd (along with the F60fd) sports a 12 megapixel Super CCD sensor.
The camera's design is fairly nondescript but the specs and feature list - including a 5x wideangle zoom and Fujifilm's unique dynamic range expansion options - indicate that the F100d is targeted at the more ambitious compact camera user. The specification highlights are:
- 12 effective Megapixels
- 28-140mm equiv lens with 5x optical zoom and 8.2x digital zoom
- 2.7 inch LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
- ISO sensitivity up to 12800
- Dual Image Stabilizer
- 6 shooting modes, 14 Scene Modes including Dual Shot Mode.
- Enhanced Face Detection 3.0 and Dynamic Range
- In-camera Retouching
- 57MB internal memory
- Available in Black and Silver
- Optional accessories available, including Underwater Housing
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Purely by its looks the F100fd is barely distinguishable from any of the other silver boxes you see on the shelves of your local electronics retailer, and lacks the sleek styling of some of its direct competitors. Having said that there are a few cleverly placed curves, and even a mini thumb rest which lets you hold and shoot the camera quite comfortably. The camera also sports a good number of external buttons which are laid out in a sensible way; sadly exposure compensation no longer features amongst them (as it used to on the older models).
Unfortunately the design of the menu system can't quite keep up with the ergonomics of the hardware. Fujifilm's menu systems have never been the best, and recent versions are little better (despite a nifty new scrolling dial on the back of the camera) and overall they take some getting used to. The menus themselves (a five-option shooting menu plus setup menu) are fairly straightforward, but to reach them you have to press the Menu button, turn the dial and then press the button again, or hold the menu button down for what feels like an eternity (but is probably half a second). There is also the F -Mode menu, with its dedicated button, for access to the most essential shooting settings. Unfortunately exposure compensation was not deemed an important enough setting and therefore ended up in the shooting menu.
There is no manual control of aperture and shutter speed on the F100fd, but it does offer a Wide Dynamic Range setting (100%, 200%, 400%), CCD-shift image stabilization, Face Detection and, very unusually for a compact, sensitivities up to a staggering ISO 12800. Add the 5x zoom lens (28-140mm equiv.) to the mix and you get a fairly well equipped all-round compact camera.
Image quality and performance
The F100fd is not the fastest camera in its class but performs solidly in all areas. Focus speed is pretty much in line with its peers; the AF, as usual, gets slower at the tele end of the zoom and in lower light, but in contrast to some other models still works fairly reliably at low light levels. The shutter lag is hardly noticeable and the zoom moves quickly too. The performance in review mode does not disappoint either, image browsing and magnification works smoothly and in a speedy manner.
From an image quality point of view it's hard to fault the F100fd; the results are vivid without being unnatural, incredibly sharp and detailed and exposure and focus are almost totally reliable (almost; in very low light we had a few focus failures). The high ISO performance isn't up to F30/F31fd standards, but with twice as many pixels this is hardly surprising, and means that - in prints at reasonable size (8x10 or lower) - the output at anything over ISO 400 is very close to that produced by its acclaimed predecessors, and at base ISO the color, exposure, contrast and resolution are way ahead. Although the gap between the best conventional CCD cameras and Fujifilm's Super CCD has narrowed considerably recently, there's no doubt that the F100fd (and one presumes, the F60fd) are still the class leaders at ISO 800 (ISO 3200 and above are still 'emergency use only').
Unlike some of the cheaper Fujifilm cameras in our other group tests the F100fd did very well in our flash test, though it has a tendency to default unnecessarily to ISO 800 (we'd advise locking it on ISO 200 or 400 for standard 'across the table' flash shots).
One unusual feature of the F100fd is the option to increase dynamic range by a claimed 400% (2 stops) - also seen on the flagship S100FS (and examined in more detail in the review of that camera). In truth the difference is minimal in 99% of shots, and we'd question whether it's worth the trade off in quality required (the 400% DR option only works at ISO 400). You can use it to avoid highlight clipping in very contrasty situations but the average shot doesn't benefit a great deal.
|D-range 100%, ISO 100||D-range 400%, ISO 400|
On the downside there's the usual noise reduction smearing of low resolution detail when viewed at a pixel level, and the strong chroma noise reduction at high ISO settings (especially 800 and above) means that the output looks rather weak and desaturated next to base ISO photos. We spotted a touch of fringing, but it's far better in this respect than the F30/F31fd.
When Fujifilm finally retired the 6 megapixel sensor that had served its F series for several generations and replaced it with a similarly sized chip packing twice as many pixels, the common view was that it had thrown away the baby and kept the bathwater. Because whilst these weren't cameras that looked particularly smart, and which had limited features and were far from cheap, they simply offered far and away the best low light performance of any compact camera at any price.
The F100fd shows that those fears were at the very least exaggerated; this is a better specified camera with a far more useful zoom range (28-140mm equiv; the widest here) and better handling, and it still puts 99% of competitors to shame at ISO 800+. Sure, at 100% pixel level it's not as impressive as the F31fd at higher ISOs, but with double the pixel count it looks pretty impressive at normal viewing magnifications (in print, on screen).
Basically if you want to shoot in low light using anything over ISO 400, this is as good as it gets with today's technology in a compact camera (which is perhaps faint praise). The fact that the overall picture quality (color, exposure, contrast etc) is also pretty good and that is has the best lens range and the lowest price in this group means you've got a strong contender for the top spot. It's not the prettiest camera in the world and it has an infuriating user interface, but it's responsive and can be relied on to take a decent picture without fuss - even when the light levels drop.
- We like: Great image quality at low IS0 - better than most at high ISO, versatile lens range, decent range of features, responsive, great screen, dynamic range options, fast and effective face detection and red-eye removal
- We don't like: Poor user interface / menu system, slow flash recycling, Auto ISO mode uses ISO 800 for flash when it doesn't need to