Fujifilm FinePix A205 Zoom / Fujifilm FinePix A205s review
I recently purchased one of these for my ex-wife as a 'just takes pictures' camera, assuming that $100 would yield an extremely mediocre device, but adequate for snapshots of better quality than she would get from a disposable film camera. How wrong I was. In all honesty, this is a perfectly usable little camera. I only played around with it for an hour or so and can't comment on battery life or longevity, but I'm used to an EOS 10D so I'm a bit picky and I'm familiar with the field. My impressions are as follows:
Lens: Average speed, good sharpness across the frame, no obvious chromatic abberation (though I didn't play in bright daylight, so YMMV) and it focuses quickly and positively if you give it reasonable light (no built in AF assist light obviouly). Barrel extension takes a couple of seconds, and the zoom is a bit 'notchy' (no fine control) and actuated by buttons on the 4-way pad (which I dislike, feels unnatural to me)
Display: Low resolution, but still perfectly adequate for framing a shot. Keep in mind that this is a point & shoot, if you intend to use manual focus for anything much beyond setting it to infinity, buy a different camera. (I didn't even try it, but even if it has a magnifying reticle that comes on with manual focus, I don't think the LCD resolution would be adequate even then)
The primary irritation I had with the display was a noticable compromise made to fit menus and control data on screen, they are very heavily anit-aliased and look a little amateurish. I don't know if Fujifilm were unable to design their fonts and graphics around the particular display for any technical reason, but I wish they had. Like it's ilk, I don't imagine it's much good in bright sunlight either. The update speed of the display was perfectly adequate, and in line with much more expensive cameras of a year or two ago.
The viewfinder worked pretty much exactly as you'd expect. I doubt many folk who use the camera will bother with it. (The display is active by default) I didn't bother checking frame coverage etc, nor did I take any macro shots so I don't know how well the 'macro' box etched into it will work either.
The controls are minimalist, 4-way pad, power switch, 3 position function selector (around the shutter release), display button (to activate the LCD among other things), an 'OK' button and a 'Back' button are all I can remember. There is a degree of 'one button' control, but not as much as I'm used to However, the menu system is relatively easy to navigate (once you get a feel for how they like you to do it, slightly counter-intuative for me to begin with) and this really isn't a camera for people who want lots of manual control. The buttons feel plastic-y, mostly because that is exactly what they are. They do have a positive click and seem easy to press reliably. The camera does buffer a few button pushes so navigation isn't too much of an exercise in frustration.
The camera comes with it's own 'looks like a mini-USB cable but isn't' cable, and a composite out adapter so you can plug it directly into a TV (PAL & NTSC supported, which is nice)
It takes 2 AA batteries, which has got to be the lowest possible common denominator power source for such a beast. I didn't seem to beat them to death at anywhere near the rate my c1999 Fujifilm finepix did (and it took 4, not 2)
The photos taken seemed to have nice colour balance, were nicely exposed, sharp, held a nice amount of detail and needed minimal post-processing for consumer shots. Red-eye didn't seem to be nearly as much of an issue as I would have expected. The flash is adequate and nicely rationed (no blown out highlights in any of the shots I took, despite some very close up ones of shiny faces)
The PC side seemed fine, I didn't play with the software bunde much, but the camera supports both a native communication mode (allowing it to integrate neatly with it's own software) and USB Mass Storage Device mode allowing it to mount as just another disk. It did come with OS X versions of the application, which is a nice touch. USB 1.1 transfers are slow and tedious, but they get the job done.
The biggest complaints I would have with it are, in order of irritation value:
Slow processing. Both startup and shot to shot times are decidedly 2001. Not unreasonable, not unusable, but irritating. I found the time to save high quality images especially long, several seconds.
The camera did not fit well in my hand, it is deceptively thick (doesn't look it in the photos) and kind of angular and weird feeling. This may of course simply be me being used to DSLRs, and picky.
The protective slide over the lens (a good thing, always) does not turn the camera on when opened, or off when closed. Perhaps Olympus has a patent on that or something? Sliding it open with the camera off did nothing. Sliding it closed with the camera on caused the lens to retract and the display to say something like 'lens cover closed!!!' which seems like a waste of a switch to me. I recall them makeing a fuss of their battery saving magic, perhaps it is related to that as well, though I can't see how.
The plastic body of the camera definitely feels built down to a price, though it gave the impression that it was sturdy enough. The fit and finish didn't get much of the R&D budget it would appear.
The zoom control uses the up and down buttons on the 4-way pad, thereby saving a couple of buttons. I dislike that, though that is a matter of taste.
No flash hot-shoe (what a surprise)
The USB connection for the PC is NOT a MiniUSB (though the connector looks superficially like it is) so be extra careful with that cable. Also keep in mind that if you use a card reader, you'll need to open the battery compartment every time you take a card out.
The video capability is a joke. The quality is fine, but it sucks storage like a drowning man, and it doesn't record audio. If you want a video camera, buy a video camera. This isn't one. If you simply want to record very shot, silent clips, and storage isn't a problem, it works fine, but for anything else, it's a dead loss.
With all the above said, I loved it, I am actually very very very tempted to go out and buy myself one as a 'glove compartment' camera I'm not afraid to have stolen or drop. For the money, I can't imagine it being possible to beat it. Just not possible. Fantastic value for money. Of course, if you go second hand, you might do better (but don't bet on it), but this camera is squarely aimed at folk who do not WANT to go second hand, they want to walk in to BestBuy, and walk out with a green cardboard box with a camera in it, and to those folk I would say, go for it!
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