Fuji FinePix E550 Digital Camera
|Novice to experienced amateur|
|Family / Travel / Special Events|
|Point and Shoot, Full Manual Control|
|High, 6.3-megapixel Super CCD HR|
|Very good, 11×17, or 8×10 with heavy cropping|
Suggested Retail Price
The Fuji FinePix E550 is one of the latest digital cameras made by Fujifilm, and arguably one of their best to date. Based on a fourth-generation Super CCD HR chip design, the Fuji E550 offers great resolution for an attractively-priced consumer digital camera, with a 6.3 megapixel image sensor, whose output is interpolated into a 12.3 million megapixel image. With a sharp 4x zoom lens, compact size, and straightforward user interface, the Fuji E550 is an excellent all-around point & shoot model that should appeal to novice users and more experienced shooters alike. Read on for all the details.
While the handgrip makes the camera’s dimensions a little tight for most shirt pockets, this camera is still quite compact at 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.4 inches (105 x 63 x 34.4 millimeters). The hybrid metal/plastic body is surprisingly light at 10.1 ounces (285 grams), with the batteries and memory card loaded. The 4x telescoping lens and built-in lens cover keep the E550’s front panel fairly smooth when not in use, allowing the camera to slip into a pocket or purse without a hang-up.More than just a basic “point & shoot” camera, the Fuji FinePix E550 offers the best of both worlds in terms of exposure control. Automatic and “Scene” modes simplify operation for point-and-shoot users, while a range of exposure options including a full manual exposure mode provide enough control to satisfy even experienced photo enthusiasts. Small, compact, and light weight, the E550 offers Fuji’s fourth generation 6.3-megapixel Super CCD HR, which produces file sizes as large as 4048 x 3040 pixels. Because of Fuji’s unique “SuperCCD” pixel layout, the natural translation of the sensor’s diagonally-arranged honeycomb-shaped pixels into normal square ones in the final JPEG image files means that the 6.3 million sensor pixels turn into 12.3 million pixels in the finished files. Despite the increased file size, resolution in the final file is roughly equivalent to that of a 6.3 million pixel image from an ordinary CCD, although I can personally attest to the fact that SuperCCD images do seem to capture at least slightly more subject detail than conventional sensor designs with the same pixel counts. While it delivers slightly more subject detail, the downside of this unusual interpolation scheme is that the E550’s image files are a good bit larger than those from competing 6-megapixel cameras, which means that fewer images will fit on memory cards or computer disks. Fortunately, camera and computer storage is cheaper than ever, and getting even cheaper all the time, so this is much less of a consideration than it would have been at one time.
The Fuji E550 features a 4x Fujinon lens, equivalent to a 32.5-130mm lens on a 35mm camera, a range from a reasonable wide-angle–one that is better than most–to a useful telephoto. Aperture can be automatically or manually adjusted from f/2.8 to f/8, with the maximum aperture gradually reduced to f/5.6 as it zooms to the full telephoto zoom setting. Focus can also be manually or automatically adjusted, and ranges from 2.0 feet (60 centimeters) to infinity in normal mode, or from 3.0 inches to 2.6 feet (7.5 to 80 centimeters) using the camera’s Macro setting. The E550 employs a TTL contrast-detection autofocus mechanism, and offers an adjustable AF area.You can assign the AF area to the center of the image area, or move it to one of several points around the frame.The E550 also features a continuous autofocus mode, accessed through the menu. The FinePix E550’s autofocus system works very well in daylight or bright indoor lighting, but does poorly after dark, just barely managing to focus at light levels equivalent to typical city street lighting. A manual focus option lets you adjust the focus yourself, but the E550 provides no numeric distance scale, so the only way you can determine focus is by watching the LCD screen. (A marginal process in daylight, and little help at all in dark conditions.)
In addition to the 4x optical zoom, the E550 offers as much as 6.3x digital zoom, depending on the image Quality setting, but keep in mind that digital zoom decreases the overall image quality, since it just crops out the center pixels of the CCD’s image. For framing shots, the E550 offers both a real-image optical viewfinder and a 2.0-inch color LCD monitor. The optical viewfinder is a little “tighter” than most, showing only about 78-84% of the final frame area, depending on the lens’ zoom setting. The LCD viewfinder is much more accurate, showing 100% of the final image area. The optical viewfinder has a rather low eyepoint, which means that eyeglass wearers can just barely see the entire viewfinder image, even with their lenses pressed against the viewfinder bezel. There’s also no dioptric adjustment on the viewfinder eyepiece to compensate for less than perfect vision. An information overlay reports camera settings (including aperture and shutter speed) on the LCD monitor, and a framing guideline option displays an alignment grid. The grid divides the image area into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, making it easier to line up tricky subjects.
The E550 offers a full range of exposure control, with Auto, Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual exposure modes available via the Mode dial, along with Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night Scene options. In straight Auto mode, the camera controls everything about the exposure, except for options like zoom, macro, and some flash settings. (There is no “forced off” flash mode, but if you don’t want to use the flash, just don’t pop it open.) Program AE mode keeps the camera in charge of aperture and shutter speed, while the user retains control over all other variables, including exposure compensation. Within Program AE mode, you can select from a range of equivalent exposure settings, simply by pressing the up and down arrow keys. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes provide user control over one exposure variable, while the camera maintains control over the other. Finally, Manual exposure mode lets you control both aperture and shutter speed independently. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to three seconds, depending on exposure mode. Metering options on the E550 include the default 64-zone Multi mode, which bases exposure on contrast and brightness values read from the entire scene, as well as Spot and Average options. The camera’s Exposure Compensation setting lets you increase or decrease the automatically-determined exposure from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments. White balance options include an Auto setting, as well as Outdoors, Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, Incandescent, and Custom settings. (The latter lets you set the color balance based on a white card held in front of the lens.) The E550 also features an adjustable light sensitivity setting, with Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 ISO values available. The Auto option actually ranges from 80 to 640 equivalents. To reach up to ISO 800, the camera brings the resolution down to 3 megapixels, which significantly reduces the image noise in the resulting pictures. The settings menu also offers adjustments for color and image sharpness, as well as an Auto Exposure Bracketing mode for automatically snapping several shots at slightly different exposure settings. Continuous shooting modes allow the capturing of four images, or the last four of up to forty exposures.
The E550’s built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, Suppressed, Slow-Synchro, and Slow-Synchro with Red-Eye Reduction modes. The Red-Eye Reduction mode fires a pre-flash a fraction of a second before the exposure itself, to make the irises of your subjects’ eyes contract, avoiding the red-eye effect. Slow-Synchro combines the flash with slower shutter speeds, to allow more of the ambient lighting into your exposure. (Slow-Synchro is handy for getting more natural-looking flash photos at night, with more of the background visible.) An intensity adjustment lets you adjust the strength of the flash output, from -2/3 to +2/3 EV, in one-third-step increments. The flash doesn’t pop up and fire automatically, even in Auto mode, but the LCD screen shows an Open Flash/”shake” warning when the indicated shutter speed falls below 1/60 second, giving the user the option of opening the flash or firing away without it. A Self-Timer mode provides either a two- or 10-second delay between a full press of the Shutter button and the time that the shutter actually opens, helpful in self-portraits or group photos. (The shorter delay is handy for times when you want to use a tripod or prop the camera on something when shooting under dim conditions, to avoid blurred photos caused by camera shake.) The E550 also features a Movie mode, which captures movies with sound at either 640 x 480- or 320 x 240-pixel resolutions, both at 30 frames per second. Maximum recording times vary, depending on the resolution and amount of available memory space. A Voice option in Playback mode lets you record short audio clips to accompany captured images.
The E550 stores image files on xD-Picture Cards, and comes with a 16MB starter card. I have to say, I would much prefer for FujiFilm to reduce the cost of the camera by $10 and include no card at all rather than cripple the user with such a tiny card. At the full interpolated 12 megapixel file size of this camera, you can get a grand total of 2 images on this card; the manual claims 3, but that depends on how easily compressed the image is; I only saw 2 fit in the shots I took. So it goes without saying that before you leave the camera store or click on the checkout button, you’ll want to add at least a 256MB xD card to the mix. For enthusiast-class users, the camera’s CCD RAW file format fills up enough of the included card that you can only get one shot per 16MB card. For power, the E550 uses a pair of high-capacity NiMH batteries, a set of which are included with the camera, along with a charger. Battery life was a very pleasant surprise, with a worst-case run time (capture mode with the LCD turned on) of three hours with the included batteries. Very impressive, but I do still recommend that you purchase a second set of high-capacity NiMH cells as spares. (See my for battery capacity ratings.) Also included with the camera is a USB cable for direct connection to a PC or Macintosh computer, and a software CD loaded with Fuji’s FinePix software. Installation of software is not required on most Macs or PCs, however, because the camera supports PTP mode, which allows the camera to appear on the computer as a hard drive. An A/V cable connects the camera to a television set for reviewing images in Playback mode.
- 6.3-megapixel Super CCD HR delivering image resolutions as high as 4048 x 3040 pixels (Slightly (but not dramatically) more detail than from a conventional 6.3 megapixel chip).
- Real-image optical viewfinder.
- 2.0-inch color, low temperature polysilicon TFT LCD monitor.
- 4x Fujinon 32.5-130mm zoom lens, with f/2.8 maximum aperture.
- Auto and Manual focus options, plus an adjustable AF area.
- Digital zoom of up to 6.3x, depending on quality setting.
- Program AE, Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Movie, and four Scene Program exposure modes.
- Adjustable white balance with eight settings, including a manual option.
- Adjustable ISO setting with Auto (80 to 640), 80, 100, 200, 400, and 800 equivalents.
- Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to three seconds.
- Multi, Spot, and Average metering modes.
- Built-in flash with six modes.
- xD-Picture Card storage (16MB card included).
- JPEG and CCD RAW image formats.
- Power supplied by two rechargeable NiMH batteries.
- Interface software and USB drivers included for Windows and Macintosh computers.
- Picture Cradle adapter included for optional cradle for connecting to a computer and for in-camera battery charging.
- Movie (with sound) and Voice recording modes.
- Top 4 Frame, and Final 4 Frame continuous shooting modes.
- Auto Exposure Bracketing mode.
- 10- and two-second Self-Timer modes for delayed shutter release.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
- USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).
- Video cable for image playback on a television set.
Light weight, portable, and easy to use, the Fuji’s FinePix E550 is an excellent point-and-shoot digicam for novices just getting their feet wet in digital photography, as well as a capable tool for more experienced users looking for more manual control. With exposure modes ranging from full Auto to full Manual, the E550 is easy to use, yet offers room to grow as their photography skills mature. Four preset Scene modes simplify common shooting situations, and a handful of image adjustment options provide some creativity. The camera’s simple, straightforward user interface means little or no downtime for learning, and makes the E550 good for shooting on the fly. Priced very aggressively for a quality 6.3 megapixel digicam, the Fuji E550 offers excellent value in an “all around” digital camera.
Measuring 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.4 inches (105 x 63 x 34.4 millimeters), the E550’s body is small enough for most coat pockets and should fit easily into most purses. The smooth camera front and rounded hand grip make pocket retrieval hassle-free, and the sleek, silver metal and plastic body is attractive, fashionable, and rugged. Though compact, the E550 fits the hand well, and the plastic handgrip on the right side provides some grip. The included wrist strap provides some extra security. The Fuji E550 weighs in at 10.1 ounces (285 grams), with the batteries and memory card loaded.
The E550’s metal front panel is nearly flat with the lens retracted, except for the rounded handgrip, which extends about half an inch. Turning the camera on extends the lens about an inch and a quarter from the camera body. A shutter-like lens cover protects the front of the lens when closed, and quickly retracts when the camera is powered on. Near the top of the front panel are the viewfinder window, the flash control sensor and a microphone. Below the lens on the left is a release button for the adapter ring. Removing it allows attachment of an adapter for filters or accessory wide or telephoto lenses. A self-timer lamp is embedded in the plastic handgrip, and the popup flash is visible near the center when opened.
The right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) holds only the eyelet for the wrist strap.
The opposite side of the camera features a speaker and three ports: an AV out socket, a USB connection, and a DC In connector. The three connectors can be protected by a single plastic cover, which is not attached to the camera. Fuji provides a second cover with the camera, apparently on the safe assumption that the small, flexible cover is bound to be lost. (As is the second cover, for that matter. Note to Fuji: Protective flaps of this sort really need to be attached to the camera body!)
On the E550’s top panel are the Shutter button, Mode dial, Power button and popup flash. The flash is released by a button that can be seen from both the top and back.
The remaining camera controls are on the rear panel, sharing space with the LCD monitor and optical viewfinder eyepiece with viewfinder lamp. The exposure compensation button is to the left of the LCD monitor, and the Flash open button is above it, to the right of the eyepiece. The zoom rocker is just below the mode dial on the right. Down the right side is a raised lip that provides a secure thumb rest to counter the front handgrip. The mode switch (record/playback) is below the zoom control. A Five-way arrow pad next to the lower right corner controls macro and flash modes, and provides navigation controls for the LCD menu system, with a Menu/OK button at its center. In record mode, the left arrow doubles as a Macro button, and the right arrow cycles through Flash settings. Adjacent to the Arrow pad are a Function button and a Back/Display button, for backing out of menu screens in playback mode, or displaying an alignment grid/turning off the LCD display in record mode.
The E550’s bottom panel is flat, with the threaded plastic tripod socket roughly centered, but slightly out of line with the lens. The shared xD-Picture Card and battery compartment is adjacent, with a hinged door that slides out before opening. The distance between the battery compartment and tripod mount is too short to allow quick battery or card changes while shooting with a tripod. A supplied Cradle Adapter can be used with an optional Picture Cradle to provide instant connection to a computer, as well as in-camera battery charging. A connector terminal inside the dock connects to the camera’s USB/AV Out terminal, so the camera sits on-end in the cradle.