White Balance

The F30 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 wasn't perfect). Our studio tests revealed the auto white balance to be capable, but by no means fool-proof.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 9.6%, Blue -9.9%
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red 7.7%, Blue -7.1%
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red 3.4%, Blue -12.4%
Fluorescent - Fluorescent preset WB
Red 7.5%, Blue -6.9%

Flash Performance

The F30'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 4.0m (2.0 - 13.1ft) 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 F30 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
Excellent color, slight underexposure

Intelligent flash modes

The F30 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 F30 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 slightly better macro capabilities than the F10 - 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 just under 9cm across. In both cases distortion is impressively low, though there is some corner softness at the long end. Our biggest complaint about the F30's macro mode is that the focusing is slow - sometimes painfully so, something it shares with the F10. 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
56 px/mm (1433 px/in)
Distortion: Low
Corner softness: Low
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
Tele close focus - 89 x 67 mm coverage
32 px/mm (808 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

First the good news; the F30 is, as noted elsewhere, by far the most capable compact camera on the market when it comes to shooting at higher ISO's - in low light. It also offers one of the highest resolutions on the market, meaning sharp, detailed images (and at lower ISO settings even low contrast detail such as hair and foliage is captured well, without the usual blurring effect of heavy noise reduction). The images are a little less saturated than many consumer cameras, but that's easily fixed - if you want to - by switching to 'chrome' mode or simply tweaking in an application such as Photoshop. Focus is very reliable, white balance excellent in 'normal' situations and color natural and accurate.

On the downside there is a tendency to overexposure and burnt out highlights, and the default contrast is way too high (in as much as there is clipping of both shadows and highlights) - something you can't change, though some users have reported getting better results by sticking the camera in Portrait mode, even when shooting landscapes. There is also some purple fringing.

That all said, if you're prepared to do a little work - both in camera (mainly AE compensation and manual white balance) and in post processing (to lift the shadows), the results you can get from the F30 are almost in a class of their own - particularly in low light. It's worth noting that virtually all the problems below are applicable only when shooting in bright, contrasty situations.

Color fringing

Like the F10 before it, the F310 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
100% crop 32.5 mm equiv., F2.8

Highlight clipping & overexposure

The F30 may be a class-leading performer in low light, but in very bright conditions getting the shot you want can be a little hit and miss. Left on the default settings (pattern metering, area focus), the F30 consistently overexposes bright scenery; unfortunate considering that the steep tone curve (see below) is particularly unforgiving, with even the mildest overexposure causing serious highlight clipping. The lack of a histogram in record mode is made worse by the fact that the LCD cannot be relied upon as an indicator of exposure - all the overexposed shots here looked fine in the instant review. The answer - though in a camera like this it's hardly an ideal one - is to use at least -0.67 EV exposure compensation when shooting in bright conditions, and to avoid re framing after half-pressing the shutter (this locks the AE as well as the focus, and can lead to exposure problems when using area autofocus).

100% crop 36 mm equiv., F2.8
82 mm equiv., F4 36 mm equiv., F4

Contrast / tone curve

The F30's seems to apply a steep tone curve during the processing of JPEGs, with very harsh cut off of both shadows and highlights, yet fairly flat mid-tones. The result is images that - especially on very bright days - can look quite flat, but where the brightest and darkest tones look clipped. I suspect the sharp drop off at the shadow end is probably designed to disguise noise at higher ISO settings, whereas the clipped highlights are simply because of the tendency towards overexposure (see above). If you know what you're doing in Photoshop the best approach is to reduce exposure and use the Highlight / Shadow feature to lift the shadows and bring down the highlights a little, which - along with a little saturation boost - reveals a much better picture (the F30 is actually hiding a lot of shadow detail just to ensure you see no noise).

32.5 mm equiv., F2.8
click here for Photoshop corrected version (over-processed to show just how much more there is in the file)

32.5 mm equiv., F2.8

Exposure inconsistency

After spending a lot more time with the F30 looking at exposure we discovered that the pattern metering system is prone to errors, particularly in scenes of moderately high contrast. In part the problem appears to be that the exposure is weighted heavily towards the area of the frame focused on. When using Multi AF (the camera choosing the focus point itself) this causes problems in shots such as those shown below, where a very small re-framing has caused a significant change in exposure. The problem can be avoided by use of center focus (using AF/AE lock) and/or average metering, but frankly this - and the other problems mentioned above - is something Fuji needs to fix if the F30 is to operate as a truly reliable 'point and shoot' camera.

100% crop 32.5 mm equiv., F2.8