Fujifilm finepix E550

When Fujifilm introduced the E-Series digital cameras in July of 2004, it described and positioned the new line as offerings for consumers who are interested in growing their photography skills. In other words, the E-Series was meant to offer basic point & shoot functionality in a nice, compact body, but also pack some more advanced features to whet the appetite of those who were ready to take the next step in digital photography. Like playing with white balance and ISO settings and even becoming acquainted with the world of shutter and aperture priority and fully manual modes.

The E-Series consists of three cameras that look virtually identical÷the FinePix E500, E510 and E550. They pack 4.1, 5.2 and 6.3 megapixels, respectively, and list for $299, $349 and $499. The $150 price gap between the E510 and E550 alone should alert you that the E550 probably offers a few thing its lesser brethren donāt, and thatās definitely true. Weāll get to that in a moment.

In the last issue of Digital Camera we took a look at the FinePix 510 and lauded it as a nicely designed midrange camera at a low-end price. We found the camera to be small and handy, and loved its ergonomics, both in the design of the camera itself and in the clearly structured onscreen menus. We noted its somewhat unusual 28-91mm zoom lens and liked it. The auto focus worked flawlessly, there was none of the dreaded purple fringing, and picture quality was very good. About the only thing we didnāt like was that the E510 was powered by just two AAs, and there was no clip or retainer to keep them in place.

But now to the big question: what, other than the jump from 5.2 to 6.3 megapixel, justifies the big price premium the E550 carries over the E510?

The first clue comes when you take a closer look at the seemingly identical cameras. They are not. The E550 is actually a little bit bigger in every dimension. It also weighs an ounce more, and upon closer examination you find a whole bunch of details that are different. Itās like looking at what seemed identical twins, just to find that they really arenāt.

One reason for the larger size is a bigger lens. It is a full 4X optical Fujinon zoom lens thatās a 32.5-130mm 35mm equivalent. Thatās complemented by a 6.3X digital zoom for a maximum combined zoom of 25.3X compared to just half that in the two lesser models.

The second difference is that the E550 uses Fujiās proprietary Super CCD High Resolution sensor system. Super CCD uses octagonal pixels instead of square pixels. Those can be placed closer to one another in sort of a honeycomb layout (much like the sensors in the human eye), which means that a larger percentage of the real estate on a CCD can be taken up by actual pixels. According to Fuji, Super CCD also allows digital zooming without image quality deterioration, higher quality full motion video, and creating images of higher resolution and quality than what youād get from a standard CCD with the same number of pixels, or even one with a higher resolution. The other interesting thing is that the E550ās fourth generation 6.3 megapixel Super CCD HR can produce 12.3 million ćrecordedä pixels via a special processor. While this sounds like simple interpolation, zooming into 6 and 12 megapixel images of the same subject show much more detail in the larger picture, so while weād still consider the F550 a 6-megapixel camera, it definitely has an ćoverdriveä that can help you zoom in closer, or run significantly larger prints from a 12 megapixel 4048 x 3040 pixel image. In general, we dismiss ćinterpolatedä resolution, but in this case whatever Fujifilm did with its Super CCD HR system really works. The same can be said about the E550ās ability to record 640 x 480 movies at a high frame rate and with sound. VGA is still small, but a whole lot better than the 320 x 240 ćmoviesä you get with many digital cameras. The image processor, by the way, also results in much quicker operation. There is virtually no shutter lag. Finally, the E550 has a RAW mode.

Model-Fujifilm FinePix E550
List price-US$499
Sensor res-6.3 megapixels (12.3 recorded)
Image dimensions-2848x2136 (4048x3040 recorded)
ISO-auto, 80/100/200/400/800
Lens-F:2.6-8.0 Fujinon
Lens focal length-7.2-28.8 mm (32.5-130mm equiv.)
Shutter-1/2000 to 3 seconds
Exposure compensation-+/- 2.0 EV in 1/3 EV steps
Storage- xD-Picture Card (16MB incl.)
AutoFocus-Contrast area/multi/center
LCD screen-2.0 inch (154k)
Flash modes-6 modes
Viewfinder-real image optical
Battery-2 AA or rechargeables
Weight-7.1 ounces w/o batteries
Dimensions-4.1 x 2.5 x 1.3 inches
Included-Finepix software, cables, strap

In most other respects, the E550, despite its slightly larger size, is no different from the two lesser models. There is a gratifyingly large 2-inch 154k pixel fixed LCD display. I am not sure what technology it uses, but it doesnāt wash out outdoors. It is not as readable in direct sunlight as a reflective or transflective display, but it does remain readable. If you have a collection of Compact Flash or SD cards you have to start over with the E550 as it uses the xD-Picture card format. Controls are all very simple and logical, and that includes the on-screen menus. We appreciate the use of standard AA batteries because you can find them anywhere, but would have preferred four in a camera this powerful. Also, there is no retainer for the batteries. They fall out when you open the door to insert or remove a storage card.

Overall, the FinePix E550 is a very desirable camera that offers a perfect blend of ease of use and advanced features. Controls and menus are simple without talking down to the user. Ergonomic are first rate and every button and lever is exactly where youād expect it to be. Form follows function in this camera. And in this case, at least, we have a buzzword that really adds value: the Super CCD HR technology makes for excellent quality prints, very fast operation, and the flexibility to use that ultra-high recorded pixel mode. For that and the larger zoom you pay $150 extra over the also very nice 5.2 megapixel FinePix E510. If you like this style of camera, we think the E550 is worth the higher cost.

öConrad H. Blickenstorfer



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