Operation and controls

You cannot help but be impressed by the design and layout of the controls on the FinePix F810. In fully automatic 'point and shoot' mode it is as easy to use as the most simple snapshot camera, whilst getting your hands onto the more advanced controls is intuitive, fast and simple. It's rare that the word 'elegant' comes to mind when talking about the human interface of a digital camera, but the F810 is a real thoroughbred, offering almost SLR-like control with none of the complexity so often introduced when designers try to squeeze too much into a very small body. You hear the phrase 'a real photographer's camera' so often it's easy to take such statements with a pinch of salt, but in this case I think it describes it perfectly. Much kudos to Fujifilm for avoiding menu-driven control wherever possible, and for designing a camera you can just pick up and use to its fullest capabilities without even opening the manual.

Rear of camera

The rear of the F810 is dominated by the large 2.1-inch widescreen LCD, with a comprehensive range of external controls either side and above. On the right are two small buttons giving direct access to drive modes (and bracketing) and AE compensation. Directly above the LCD is a prominent 'STD/WIDE' switch. This not only changes the preview image from 4:3 to 16:9 and back, it also changes the shooting mode from normal to widescreen (at the highest image size moving to widescreen reduces the output from 12MP to 8MP, as the image is effectively cropped). Next along is the 'F' button mentioned on the previous page, then the wide and tele zoom buttons, perfectly positioned for operation by your thumb - even when shooting single-handedly.

To the right of the LCD are the command dial, display button (which changes the amount of information shown on-screen and turns the LCD off if required, and also doubles as a 'back/cancel' button when using the menus), and the multi-function four-way controller. As well as being used to navigate on-screen menus, three of the 'directional;' keys have a second function when in record mode, allowing instant access to macro mode, flash mode and metering mode. In the middle sits a MENU/OK button (for activating menus and confirming changes). One final button, to the left of the viewfinder, activates the pop-up flash. Although the F810 has a motor to close the flash if you turn the camera off (or spend too long in playback mode), if you want to close it yourself you have to push it back down (i.e. you can't use the button to close the flash).

Top of camera

The top of the F810 shows just how close Fujifilm has kept to traditional film camera styling. The only controls found here are the main mode dial, main power switch and the shutter release. I should mention there is one further external control, a circular button on the front of the camera marked 'C-AF', used to quickly change focus modes.

Display and menus

The F810 shares the same basic menu system with the rest of the FinePix range. It's colorful (some might even say gaudy), but is fast, easy to use and easy to see. Some of the visual effects are a little unnecessary (menus that fade in, checkerboard effects when deleting images), and may actually slow down operation fractionally, but to be fair to Fujifilm this is more a matter of personal taste than anything. Compared to much of the competition the interface is mature, attractive and - most important of all - effective.
Apologies for the low quality of some of these screenshots, the F810 does not support video out in record mode, so the screen was photographed directly.

You can choose how much information is displayed on-screen in record mode, from nothing at all to full information (as shown here) - you can also choose a 'rule of thirds' grid overlay if you struggle with straight horizons. Note that the calculated exposure is shown at all times, not just when you half-press the shutter... nice. Even in the most basic display mode, half-pressing the shutter will display the focus point selected and fix the auto exposure. Warnings are given for focus errors or out-of-range exposures.
Most of the screenshots on this page are taken in widescreen mode. Using the conventional 4:3 mode puts black bars either side of the preview (though the information overlay still uses the full width of the screen). Here I'm in manual mode, which uses a +/- scale to indicate how far you are from the correct exposure. Note that the information display is easier to see than these screenshots might imply! Here we're shooting in Shutter Priority mode. Turning the command dial with your thumb selects shutter speeds (from 3 to 1/1000th sec), and again, the corresponding aperture is displayed immediately, not just when you half-press the shutter. The figures turn red if the shutter speed chosen is too high or too low for it to be able to select an aperture to give the correct exposure.
One very nice - and sadly rare - feature is Program Shift in P mode. Simply turn the command dial to change the aperture/shutter speed combination without altering the actual exposure value. With this option it is possible to stay in P mode for virtually all your shooting. Pressing the 'F' button brings up a menu with options for image quality/size - from 12MP down to 0.3MP, ISO (80-800) and color settings (B&W, normal, chrome). Annoyingly whilst there are two JPEG options (fine and normal) for 12MP pictures, there's none for any other size. Another niggle is that you cannot select RAW mode from here - that's hidden in another menu.
Pressing the +/- button brings up the AE compensation slider, again operated by the command dial. The drive button allows you to activate the burst mode, AE bracketing and long-time continuous shooting (2MP or below only).
Less frequently accessed controls are found in the main record mode menu (activated using the menu button). Here you'll find options for stuff like white balance, focus mode, sharpness, flash output level and the self timer (2 or 10 seconds). The last option in the record menu gives you access to the setup screens (see below) and controls over screen brightness.
As in record mode, pressing the display button in playback mode changes the amount of information overlaid onto the image, from nothing at all to full details - shown here - and a rather crude looking histogram for checking exposure. The right (tele) zoom button lets you enlarge images up to 30x (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 4x3 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 (activated by pressing the MENU button) has the usual options for deleting images, protecting (locking) them and producing on-screen slideshows. There are also options for adding voice memos and trimming (cropping) photos. The four-page setup menu (accessible from both playback and record modes) is where you find camera-related settings. It is also home to the card formatting option and the rather well-hidden RAW mode.