E550 talk

Started Aug 13, 2004 | Discussions thread
Mark McCormick Senior Member • Posts: 1,149
E550- first impressions

Just purchased an E550 a few days ago. This is my very first post to dpreview forums. Forgive me if too long, etc.

I believe there are two basic types of cameras in this world. Those that I can put in my pocket, and those that I can't. Happy to say the E550 passes my pocket test. Note: I do use a ziploc or sandwich bag when I do this to cameras. My Experience has shown me the hard way that static electricity will help dust get into most consumer cameras when constantly "wearing" them in a pants pocket.

E550 is a 6mp camera that obviously cannot go pixel for pixel up against DSLR 6mp image quality due to sensor size, etc., but I'm pleased to say that it is a significant jump in quality compared to my most recent pocket camera, the Canon S400 (which I like very much). For many of the new 5 and 6mp cameras I'm finding that image quality is a frustrating step backwards. E550 is a pleasant exception to this situation.

Normal sharpening is not overly aggressive in my opinion (a common complaint I have with most consumer digital cameras). Low setting leaves slightly soft images that joyfully accept lots of additional sharpening in PS without introducing too much unwanted noise or artifacts. Very easy to sharpen to personal taste.

Some minor chromatic aberations observed in some pictures I've taken, but significantly less than I've been used to with the S400. Not bad.

Lack of a focus assist light will no doubt be pointed out as one of the E550 drawbacks. The autofocus is very fast and functions well down into dim light, but there will be very dimly lit rooms where I will pop up the flash and autofocusing won't work. I have quickly mastered three workarounds. First, I practiced manual focusing and quickly got proficient despite a serious lack of feedback by the camera in manual focus mode. Second, I can usually find a brighter object somewhere nearby, perhaps even a lamp, and use it as a surrogate point of autofocus. Last method I tried was to use a penlight that takes a couple of AA batteries. Poor man's focus assist lamp! I hold it in my left hand with camera in my right hand, then, point, focus and shoot. It sounds a bit silly, but like Wagnerian operas, it's not as bad as it sounds. It gets the camera to easily autofocus in otherwise total darkness. And unlike most built-in assists, I can choose to keep it off when I want.

Another interesting quirk of the camera is the macro mode. Zooming is locked out as others have already noted. For me, this macro is good enough. Moreover, I hate to admit it but more often than not I will take a macro shot and then forget to reset to normal mode. Twice now, I have picked up the E550, started to take pictures and quickly realized the zoom lever wasn't working. You guessed it. I had left it in macro mode, and the E550's macro limiting "feature" saved me from taking a group of poorly focused pictures. A blessing in disquise from my perspective.

Power up time is very fast. Shot-to-shot time is less important to me than shutter lag. I'm unhappy with any camera that needs to "think" for a while longer after I press the button. This camera doesn't hesitate. Great. Subsequent time to recover for next shot is very good, except RAW format has no buffer so keep in mind if you are seriously into RAW shooting mode. Write time for RAW file is about 6 to seven seconds though I haven't clocked it precisely.

Photoshop CS won't read an E550 RAW file (at least not yet until next plug-in upgrade we can only hope). And Fuji's supplied EX lite for the camera doesn't do anything more than give you an 8bit tiff file with conversion using "standard" settings according to the manual. Looks as if even Fuji has nothing more sophisticated available for this camera right now, so I'd have to say the RAW feature is pretty limited at the moment.

Compression and resolution settings are lumped into the same selection on this camera so you have to pick a resolution setting that also has included your notion of how much compression is OK. My singular choice has thus become the 12MP fine mode. Many will no doubt find the 6Mp or 12Mp N setting to be their preferred choice.

A three second longest shutter speed is available on the S, M, and night mode settings. P and A, and auto mode bottom out at 1/4 second.

The real time displayed image you can freeze with half-button pressing doesn't always match the final exposure, and can be disconcerting. Actually, I seem to experience this on many digital cameras. Trust that the captured shot will be considerably better. It has been for me. Or use Fuji's wonderful Preview mode if you like, that holds the last shot on display for you to accept or cancel at will rather than having to switch to viewing mode. The Preview mode image does match up very well with the actual saved image exposure. Zooming into the picture is also available in this mode. Nice. As for switching from camera mode to viewing mode and back, I find suprisingly fast. However, cycling through numerous saved 12mp pictures is somewhat slow.

The E550's 640 x 480 30fps movie files are obviously not up to broadcast quality, but I'm still very impressed. They are significantly better than the feeble clips my S400 is able to make.

Overall impression: Fuji has a winner with the E550! A prosumer camera at a consumer level price and pocketable as well. Very nice image quality, noise well under control, very responsive. Easy for a photographically challenged friend or relative to use, but unlike other small cameras, this camera puts the thinking photographer first. The photographer's controls are easy to get to, with good display feedback on shutter and f stop values. The last time I felt this good about a digital camera purchase was my MX2700, another great Fuji digital camera which unfortunately succumbed to one of my children dropping it into a stream.

Sorry about the long post. I hope it gives some insight into this amazing little camera.

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Mark McCormick

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