'Waterproof' Camera Group Test (Q2 2009)
FujiFilm FinePix Z33WP
10.0MP | 35-102mm (3.0X) ZOOM | Waterproof 3m/10ft | $185/£150
The FujiFilm Z33 WP is one of the lightest and most compact cameras in the group tested, and with its rounded edges is also one of the most attractive, especially in the matt blue of our sample. It comes in a variety of colors, which Fuji is (in the UK at least) calling 'Liquid Gold', 'Rock Chick Pink', 'Hawaiian Blue', 'Kiwi Green' and 'Daredevil Black'. Featuring a fairly pedestrian 3x zoom range starting at 35mm and packing a 10 MP sensor, the Z33 isn't the most feature-rich camera here, but it's still got plenty of gadgetry to play with. While it is waterproof up to 3 meters, it is neither dust or shockproof like some of the other cameras in this group. Video recording is available, but only at VGA resolution at 30fps. There is no built in image stabilization in the Z33, you will instead have to rely on bumping up the ISO to keep images sharp in low light situations.
Most of the construction materials are plastics, with rubberized sealed buttons on the back, plus metal on/off and shutter buttons. The Z33 zoom lens is fully internal - not extending even at the most telephoto of the zoom settings. The interface is fairly clearly laid out, and should be easy to see in and out of the water.
- 10.0 effective Megapixels
- 35-105mm equiv lens with 3.0x optical zoom and up to 5.7x Digital Zoom
- Waterproof to 3m / 10ft for up to 2 hours.
- VGA video, AVI format M-JPEG compression
- 2.7-inch LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
- ISO sensitivity range from 64 to 1600
- 17 Scene modes
- In-camera Image Retouching (such as cropping and red eye removal)
- Battery life 200 shots (CIPA standard)
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The Z33 is the thinnest, lightest and overall one of the smallest cameras in this group, as well as being the cheapest (at the time of writing). Despite its compact size and the low price, the Z33 packs in almost as many features as the other cameras in this group apart from the Pentax W60. The blue color we tested was quite attractive, and the matt paint made the camera quite secure in hand, more so than the cameras in this group with metal exteriors. The one question mark over the matt finish was its durability, and during the time we tested the Z33 some of the paint started to wear off.
Lens zooming is all internal, and extends from 35mm on the wide end to 102mm on the telephoto end (3x), with no built in image stabilization. The Z33 contains a 10 MP sensor which has a sensitivity range that extends from ISO 64 to 1600 and offers video recording at VGA (640x480) resolution at 30 fps. Rated to only 3m /10ft, the Z33 is one of the least waterproof models in the group, despite the buttons on the back being rubberized to create the illusion of a camera that belongs in the water. The Z33 is the only camera in the test group not to feature a custom white balance mode.
Ergonomically the Z33 is fairly easy to use. It features a number of scene modes that can be selected by the camera via an auto mode, and a Manual (M) mode, which is really more of a Program (P) mode since you can't adjust shutter speed or aperture, although does offer a greater degree of manual control. The menu system is a little reminiscent of Canon PowerShots, with a vertical scrolling strip of options in a large easy to read font (though there's no equivalent of the function menu system). The buttons on the back are easy to see and press, but the layout of the four way controller (or more precisely the hidden four way controller) makes the interface a little more difficult to get used to than other cameras in this group. The major ergonomic flaw with the Z33 is that the on/off button and shutter button are quite difficult to operate, especially one handed, and while it is nice that the Z33 is a shooting priority camera, it might have been good to spend more time making the shutter button easier to operate.
Overall, with its attractive price, good looks and profitability, the Z33 should attract a few second glances at your local camera store.
Image quality and performance
The performance of the Z33 was a bit of a mixed bag. While it was equal fastest to acquire focus (along with the Canon D10) at 0.9 seconds, it took the longest to zoom from wide to telephoto at 1.9 seconds despite having the equal smallest zoom range (again with the D10). The 1.9 seconds it took to turn on was middle of the pack and the 2.2 seconds it took to store an image was the slowest of all the SD storage cameras. The Z33 was also the most annoying camera to use for shooting video despite it having a dedicated video mode. It took a few seconds to start recording in normal conditions, and it took up to 4 seconds to start recording underwater. If you were to use the Z33 in isolation you might think it was no worse in performance than other compacts, but used next to cameras like the D10 and W60, you can clearly see that it is a little sluggish.
Looking at the output of the Z33 closer, sharpness and detail are towards the bottom of the pile in terms of sharpness and detail resolved at lower ISO settings. There is noticeable noise in the shadows even at base ISO, and comparing 100% crops from the Z33 against the D10 shows just how much difference there is between the top of the group and the bottom. The one bright spot here is that the exposure is quite good and there are not that many blown highlights in images (compared to other compact cameras).
The white balance on the Z33 tends towards blue, much more so than any other camera in this group. This results in colors that are not as accurate as they could be. The Z33 is the only camera without a custom white balance function in this group test. Auto focus is quite slow too, but the hit rate is good with not too many images out of focus.
The flash performance, however, is fairly average with the camera tending towards more flash than ambient light. The camera wants to do auto processing every time it detects faces in auto modes with flash, and while this is effective in removing red eye, it makes the camera quite frustrating to use in these situations. High ISO performance is quite poor, with the noise reduction destroying a lot of detail, but still leaving noise reduction artifacts and quite an amount of visible noise in the end result. ISO 400 on the Z33 is comparable to ISO 800 on the better performing cameras in this group, and as the ISO settings climb the gap remains.
The Z33's performance is also unimpressive underwater, meaning that it is towards the bottom of the pack. Considering that underwater light levels are usually quite low, the poor high ISO performance and lack of built in image stabilization of the Z33 is especially a problem. The delay for video recording to start on dry land becomes even worse underwater, with the camera taking at times 4 seconds before starting recording.
The Z33's big pluses are its compact size (being the smallest camera in the group) and its low price, both of which will attract many potential buyers to take a good look. But with image quality that is among the worst in this group (and white balance problems that cause color issues which simply can't be fixed), the only real reason to consider this camera is price. For a truly compact waterproof camera you can trust above and below the water you should look at the Pentax W60 or Olympus Tough 6000.
- We like: Compact design, attractive colors and finish, good user interface.
- We don't like: Poor image quality, high noise even at low ISO settings, video recording takes a few seconds to start, small battery.
Jul 22, 2009
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