Fuji FinePix A101 Digital Camera
Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. has one of the broadest lines of digicams in the industry, with models reaching from entry level models to a high-end professional SLR. At the low end of their line, Fuji delivers excellent value and good image quality from simple, stylish cameras. One of their latest (late fall, 2001) is the 1.3 megapixel FinePix A101. A lower-resolution twin to the two megapixel A201 model, the A101 occupies the first rung of the quality digicam ladder, representing about the minimum investment you can make in a digicam and still expect to get good picture quality. (The introductory price of the A101 as this is being written in fall 2001 is $179.) At the moment, I don’t know of a lower-priced camera that delivers anything I’d consider to be acceptable image quality. The A101 does just fine though, with accurate, bright color, despite its simple operation and low cost. Read on for the details, but this camera will make a good choice for people wanting a basic digicam that snaps pictures suitable for making good-quality prints up to 4×6 inches in size, or lower-resolution photos for emailing.
The FinePix A101 is a palm-size, point-and-shoot digital camera that is small enough to travel comfortably just about anywhere you want to go. The durable plastic casing is lightweight, scratch-resistant, and features a sliding lens cover that makes it ideal for stashing in a shirt pocket or small purse and toting inconspicuously on vacation, to family outings, or to social events. The focus-free (fixed-focus) lens provides a wide-angle view that is perfect for small group snapshots, local scenery, landscapes, and (well-lit) indoor activities where space is at a premium, and the 1.31-megapixel resolution is more than adequate for making sharp 4 x 6-inch prints, or acceptable 5 x 7 prints if desired.
The A101 has a fixed-focal-length lens, equivalent to a 36mm lens on a 35mm film camera. (Moderate wide angle coverage.) Focus is also fixed, covering a range of approximately 2.6 feet (80cm) to infinity in normal shooting mode. (A Macro switch next to the lens allows you to focus on subjects as close as 3 inches / 80mm.) The fixed focal length lens is somewhat limiting in people photography, since its wide-angle view causes distortion in close-up face shots (an effect you can see in our “Close-Up Portrait” , and it also prevents you from zooming in on faraway subjects, like individual players on a large soccer field. The A101 does provide a “digital zoom,” which digitally enlarges the center pixels of the image by as much as 2x (depending on image resolution), but it doesn’t provide the quality magnification of a true “optical zoom” lens. (So-called “digital zooms” simply stretch the image captured by the sensor, reducing the resolution in the process. By contrast, an “optical zoom” enlarges the image the sensor sees, so there’s no loss of quality.)
An On / Off switch on top of the camera opens the lens cover in both capture and review modes whenever the camera is turned on, while the Mode dial next to the switch allows you to choose between Still Record, Playback, and Movie modes. The fixed-focus lens makes it very quick on the draw, with virtually no shutter lag from the time you press down on the Shutter button to the time the shutter actually fires. The result is a camera that’s much more responsive to the shutter button than many more expensive models. Aperture and shutter speed are automatically determined, but the user can choose from two file sizes (1M = 1,280 x 960 pixels and VGA = 640 x 480 pixels) and three file compression settings (Fine, Normal, and Basic). As we’ll describe below, the user can also make minor exposure adjustments, to compensate for unusual lighting conditions. The A101’s built-in flash is effective to approximately 2.6 feet (0.8 meters) from the camera and includes a forced flash, suppressed flash, slow synchro, and red-eye reduction setting that helps eliminate the occurrence of redeye in portraits.
The A101’s exposure system is very straightforward, with an Auto Program mode that makes all of the shooting decisions and a Manual mode with three image adjustment options that are controlled through the on-screen menu: Flash (also available in Auto mode), Exposure Compensation (to lighten or darken an image) and White Balance (to adjust the color balance). There’s also an Option Set menu that allows you to adjust the LCD brightness, select image quality, and choose between Auto and Manual exposure modes. A Set-Up submenu allows you to set specific camera functions such as language, date and time, and USB mode. Contained within the Option Set menu, the Setup submenu requires the greatest amount of user navigation.
Along with simplicity and portability, the A101 also offers some creative options. For example, you can record short QuickTime movies (approximately 20 seconds, without sound) of people, pets, or possessions (a great way to document items for insurance records). In Auto mode, you can use the camera’s Self-Timer mode to trigger a 10-second delayed exposure, enabling you to press the shutter button and then move into position for a self portrait or to join in a group photo before the shutter is released. (Obviously, the camera must be mounted on a tripod or other stable surface for this.) Finally, the A101 can be used as a PC video-cam for videoconferencing over the Internet.
The A101 stores images on 3.3v SmartMedia cards and an 8MB card is supplied with the camera. We suggest buying a 16MB card (or larger – memory cards are awfully cheap these days) if you plan to travel a lot and won’t have immediate access to a computer hard drive for downloading images. The camera comes with two AA alkaline batteries, but can also use NiMH, lithium, or NiCd batteries, as well as a CR-V3 rechargeable battery pack (sold as an accessory). The optional AC adapter is recommended for time-consuming tasks such downloading images to a computer.
- 1.31-megapixel CCD.
- Optical viewfinder.
- 1.6-inch color LCD display.
- Fixed-focal-length lens (equivalent to a 36mm lens).
- 2x Digital zoom.
- Program AE exposure control.
- Built-in flash with four settings.
- SmartMedia Card Storage (8MB card included).
- Power supplied by two AA or one CR-V3 batteries, or optional AC adapter.
- Fujifilm FinePix Viewer, Exif Launcher, ArcSoft VideoImpression software
- QuickTime movies without sound.
- Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
- Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
- White Balance (color) adjustment.
- Exposure Compensation.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
- USB AutoConnect (no driver software needed).
- PC video-cam videoconferencing over the Internet.
The A101 is a very basic point-and-shoot digicam with just enough user options to handle most average shooting conditions. Its compact size and light weight make it a great option for on-the-go family photography, with limited external controls and a simple LCD menu system that should keep the learning curve to a minimum. Image quality was very good when shooting outdoors or when using flash photography, but we had below average results with low-light scenes or indoor (incandescent) lighting. Resolution is high enough to make ink-jet prints up to 5 x 7 inches, or to send e-mail attachments over the Internet. Overall, the A101 is a good starter digicam for consumers who want to get into digital photography with minimal investment.
The FinePix A101 is a palm-size digital camera measuring just 3.9 x 2.5 x 1.6 inches (98.5 x 64.5 x 40.5mm) and weighing only 7 ounces (200 grams) with the SmartMedia card and batteries installed. Its molded plastic body is sturdy and well proportioned, with an attractive silver finish and “circular” detailing that reflects current design trends in high-tech consumer digicams. Its compact size and protective sliding lens cover make it perfect for carrying in a small pocket or purse, and the braided nylon wrist strap provides a secure hold when you pull it out to shoot. (We suggest buying a soft case to protect the LCD monitor though, if you carry it frequently.)
The front of the camera houses a very small, fixed-focal-length lens, equivalent to a 36mm lens on a 35mm film camera. Above it is the optical viewfinder window, which provides a fairly accurate (though tight) view of the image framing. A built-in flash is located in the upper left corner, with a small metering window below it and a tiny Self-Timer lamp that counts down the 10-second shutter delay activated through the LCD menu. Below the lens is a sliding Macro switch that positions a close-up lens over the normal lens (internally) to aid in focusing at shorter distances. A dome-shaped area in the middle of the front panel provides a raised ridge for gripping the camera when you hold it in your right hand.
The camera’s right side has only a single plastic knob with an eyelet for attaching the wrist strap.
The left side of the camera houses the DC In and USB jacks, both of which were uncovered on our review model. (We generally like to see some sort of covering over these jacks, to help prevent dust or liquids from getting into the camera’s body.)
The top of the A101 holds the On / Off switch and a large silver Shutter button surrounded by the Mode dial.
The remainder of the external controls are located on the camera’s rear panel, along with the optical viewfinder eyepiece and 1.6-inch LCD monitor. Adjacent to the viewfinder eyepiece, on the right side, is a single LED lamp that reports camera status (battery charging, writing files to the SmartMedia card, etc.). A Four-Way Arrow pad is located in the upper right corner, with a Display button, Menu / OK button, and Back button lined up below it. The Up and Down Arrows function as Digital Zoom buttons.
The bottom panel holds the battery / memory compartment door on the right side, and a plastic threaded tripod mount directly adjacent to the door hinge. The tripod mount is too close to the battery compartment door to allow for quick battery changes while mounted on a tripod, but the sliding plastic door is very easy to open and close.
Because the A101 has very limited exposure control and a small number of external buttons, the camera’s user interface is pretty straightforward and easy to navigate. Sliding the power switch to the On position opens the lens cover and activates one of three operating modes: Record, Playback, and Movie. To activate the LCD monitor in Record mode, you have to press the Display or Menu buttons on the back panel. (The screen is automatically activated in Playback and Movie modes.) A four-way Arrow pad on the back panel serves several functions, including Digital Zoom control, navigating through on-screen menus, and scrolling through captured images. The Menu / OK button activates menus and confirms menu selections, while pressing the Display button cycles through various monitor displays. The Back button allows you to back out of the menu without making a selection.
The majority of the camera’s exposure options are controlled through the LCD menu system, which features one or more submenus, depending on the mode, and one page of Setup options in each mode. These are fairly easy to navigate, but they can also be somewhat time-consuming when changing flash modes, self-timer, and image quality (functions we usually like to handle with external control buttons). Otherwise, we found the A101 very uncomplicated and quick to learn — for a novice user, you’ll need about 30 minutes to become familiar with its operation.
Shutter Button: Surrounded by the Mode dial on the camera’s top panel,, the Shutter button triggers the shutter when depressed in normal shooting mode and activates the 10-second countdown when depressed in Self-Timer mode.
Four-Way Arrow Pad: Situated in the upper right corner of the back panel, each of the four arrows points in a different direction (up, down, left, right). In any mode, the arrow keys navigate through menu options.
In Record mode, the up and down arrows control the Digital Zoom.
In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images. The up and down arrows control “Display Panning” or playback zoom, enlarging captured images on screen. When images are displayed in Index mode, all four arrows scroll between images.
Display Button: Just below the Four-Way Arrow pad, this button controls the LCD monitor in Record mode, turning it on 1) with settings displayed, 2) with settings and a framing grid displayed, or 3) turning the monitor off.
In Playback mode it switches between 1) an image display with camera settings, 2) an image display without settings, and 3) Index mode.