Operation and controls

Although there are some more advanced controls hidden away in the menus, at heart the FinePix F31fd is still a straightforward 'point and shoot' camera that isn't designed for extensive tweaking of settings and parameters. That said, the F30 is a more sophisticated camera, and has some important extras; aperture and shutter priority being the most important, though there are new scene modes too; some of them designed specifically to take advantage of the unusually high ISO options.

Like the F10, the F30 has external controls for flash mode, macro mode and self-timer, plus a new button for AE compensation. The standard 'F mode' button brings up a small menu containing ISO, quality & size and color settings, but if you want to change anything else; metering mode, white balance, AF mode, burst mode etc; you'll have to venture into the menu system.

Rear of camera

The rear of the F31fd is dominated by the large 2.5-inch LCD, with all the main controls ranged to the right. From the top we have the zoom rocker, and, below the rubber 'dots' that act as a thumb grip, play mode button and 'F' button (for fast access to file size/quality, ISO and color effects). Below these are the standard four-way controller keys and a central MENU/OK button. The arrow keys are used to navigate menus, and each has a secondary function when there's no menu displayed: in record mode they give direct control over flash mode, self-timer, macro mode and LCD brightening, with the up arrow also used for single frame deletion in playback mode. Finally, the bottom button is used to cycle through the various recording mode screen display options (and as a 'Back' or cancel button when using menus) and the '+/-' button is used for AE compensation (and for adjusting settings in A/P mode). Of course the big change here is that this button also now toggles on and off the Face Detection mode, though only in the fully automatic and scene modes. This button sharing means you can't use Face Detection in the modes that offer AE-compensation and vice versa. My only other complaint is that it would be nice to have white balance in the 'F' FinePix Photo Mode menu.

Top of camera

The top view of the F31fd shows its simple, fuss-free lines perfectly. The mode dial and shutter release are joined by the main power (on/off) switch on the top plate.

Display and menus

The F30 featured a new user interface and menu system that - though still a little inelegant - represented a huge improvement over the F10/F11. The F31fd's user interface is identical (except for the Face Detection icon) to the F30, and as with that camera, it very much favors 'point and shoot' operation rather than a more manual 'hands-on' approach.

The basic record screen in auto mode, showing pretty comprehensive shooting information across the top of the frame - you can also choose an information-free preview image and 'rule of thirds' grid overlay if you struggle with straight horizons. Interestingly the F30's Post Shot option (which shows up to three of the last shots taken in a column up the left side of the screen) has disappeared. Half press the shutter and the camera will set the focus and exposure, indicating the focus point chosen (in multi-AF mode). The shutter speed and aperture chosen are displayed at the bottom of the screen, and warnings indicate if there is a focus problem or danger of camera shake.
In rec-manual mode (where you get more control over parameters) the display also shows metering, white balance and ISO settings. AE compensation is also available in M mode - press the +/- button and use the up and down arrow keys to change the setting. The shooting menu contains an option for the A/S position on the mode dial; you have to choose whether it will be aperture priority or shutter priority.
Using A/S mode (in this case we're using aperture priority) is fairly straightforward - press the '+/-' button and use the left/right arrow keys to choose an aperture (or shutter speed in S mode). The up and down keys still operate the AE compensation. The 15 scene modes are accessed by turning the mode dial to 'SP' and using the menu. As with the basic rec-auto mode you don't get much manual control when using the scene modes.
Of course the big new feature is Face Detection AF/AE - an option in all the fully automatic modes. This works pretty well, picking up several faces in the frame and tracking their motion, and it is very fast, but like all such systems it is far from 100% reliable. It doesn't, for example, work if the face is in profile or wearing glasses, but - as a party trick to show your friends if nothing else - it's impressive. Pressing the 'F' button brings up a menu with options for image quality/size - from 6MP down to 0.3MP, ISO (100-3200, plus two auto settings; one tops out at ISO 400, the other at 1600) and color settings (B&W, standard, chrome). Annoyingly whilst there are two JPEG options (fine and normal) for 6MP pictures, there's none for any other size.
Less frequently accessed controls are found in the newly designed main record mode menu (activated using the menu button). Here you'll find options for everything from white balance to focus, burst mode and metering options and the 'High Speed' shooting mode. Incidentally, in full auto mode you only have access to a couple of these options. Pressing the right arrow when an item is selected brings up a list of options. It's still a fairly long-winded affair if you change white balance often, and we'd like to see it moved to the rather underused F-mode menu.
In playback mode you have the option of an information overlay, though unfortunately there's still no histogram. The right (tele) zoom button lets you enlarge images up to 4.5x (the actual amount depends on the size of the image). You can scroll around enlarged images using the four-way controller.
Pressing the DISP button cycles through the various playback modes, including 3x3 thumbnails, as shown here. You can also view the images on the card in a 'calendar' format (sorted by the date they were taken).
The playback menu has the usual options for deleting images, protecting (locking) them and producing on-screen slideshows. There are also options for rotating pictures, adding voice memos and trimming (cropping) photos. The three-page setup menu (accessible from both playback and record modes) is where you find camera-related settings. There's a lot here, but to be honest you're unlikely to be changing anything very often once you've done your initial setup.