Do NOT buy this camera. See this update.
Notices the gorgeous photo above. The colors, the sharpness, the detail. It is splendid – no? Well, no, it isn’t to be seen. My camera is broken. After many repairs it gave up the ghost for good. My Nikon CoolPix 990 has been dying for over a year and finally bit the dust for good last month so I have been looking for a new digital camera. I’m not super pleased with the available cameras so I decided to get a compact one that could tied me over until the new stuff that is in the labs comes to the mainstream. In the long run this camera will act as my pocket camera that I can always have with me out in the field or woods where I can’t be lugging around something better.
For the past month or so I’ve been making do with my son’s point and shoot (P&S;) Casio QV-2300UX. With a lot of work I get some decent photos but it is frustrating to use. I feel like I have mittens and a blind fold on. If I can get photos with that I can get photos with almost anything. It has been a real trial by fire for me – a test of my patience and creativity. The experience will make almost any camera I get seem wonderful. An interesting lesson… Get something really bad so that the next one feels really good.
Good camera stores are not something that is locally readily available to me out here in the sticks so I have to do all my research on the web. Unfortunately that means I can’t handle the camera before buying, something I would pay extra for since there are subtle things you don’t get from reviews and spec sheets. I did get to handle a few of the cameras at in Burlington and almost bought the Canon SD550. I played with the Nikon CoolPix S4 there but was severely disappointed. The controls on the S4 felt horrible. The little joystick they introduced with that camera is very hard to use. The fact that it truly lacks manual control over essential things like shutter speed and aperture knocked it out of the race. I wish Nikon made and S5 with full manual control and a better button set.
The following cameras have been my top contenders:
Nikon S3 – lack of manual controls and prop. battery
Nikon S4 – horrid interface and lack of manual controls
Ricoh GR – lack of availability and high price
Canon SD550 – good but bulky feeling, ugly screen, prop batt
Canon A620 – poor power usage, low ISO
Canon S80 – Odd size, prop battery, low ISO
Olympus SP-500 UZ – bigger, low movie format, low ISO
Fuji F10 – good camera but no manual controls
Fuji F11 – prop battery but hot camera – not available in USA
Fuji F700 – good but older camera
Fuji E900 – hmm… this one looks tasty…
After much dithering I went with the Fuji FinePix E900. It is on order now. The biggest factors were decent photo quality, small size (4″ x 2.5″ x 1.3″), fast (1 second) startup time and zero shutter lag (0.01 sec on spec sheet). The Casio, and even my Nikon, had serious startup time and shutter lag issues. I look forward to having photos happen when I click the shutter button and not two seconds later. Even with full manual settings including focus, white balance, etc the Nikon never was that fast by far. This resulted in many missed shots.
The 9 Mega pixel sensor isn’t really what I’m after although that will be nice for cropping which gives more effective zoom range than the built in optical zoom of 4x (32-128mm 35mm equiv.). I expect to normally shoot in 3MP or 6MP ranges to save space. There is some indication that shooting at a lower resolution increases image quality from early reports. The fact that the imaging chip is the newer octagonal double (suppressed HR 5th Gen.) imaging chip is a plus – something I had wanted to get. The chip uses two photo sensors (one big & one little) in each pixel position. This is supposed to give better dynamic range and sensitivity. I like the higher ISO 800 for low light shooting – the ISO range is 80 to 800. A lower ISO setting of 25 would be even nicer for sunny snow days.
The Fuji FinePix E900 has an optical viewfinder which is great for bright light situations like outdoors – rare in P&S; cameras these days. The LCD is 2.0″ 115,000 pixels which is bigger than I had before. It is not a moveable LCD like with the Nikon 990 and I’ll miss that twist. There are some cameras with 2.5″ and 3.0″ LCDs as well as higher resolution on the LCD – sounds great but I would not want the higher battery drain.
The E900 uses a new and slightly more expensive memory card format (xD Picture Card) – that is a bother but not significant. I would have liked to have been able to continue using my existing Compact-Flash cards and adapters. SD would have been nice if not CF. The upside is the xD format is faster than what I’ve used before so the camera can shoot continuous video, transfer photos faster, etc.
A minor annoyance is there is no lens thread. I’m not surprised given that this is a compact P&S; camera but it would have been nice. My 990 had a threaded lens so I could put on a UV filter to protect the real lens and get UV filtering plus I had grey filters I used for high intensity situations like photos on snow and at sea. There is a tripod thread but it is not clear if it is metal or plastic. Metal would be preferable.
Two thing things it is missing that I had hoped for are Panorama mode (Stitch Assist) and Time Lapse Photography. The former is something my son’s camera has and works remarkably well. I have done a lot of pans with my camera – I stitch them by hand in Photoshop. That is a minor lacking. More importantly is I was hoping for the time lapse as I wanted to be able to take photos in sequence over long periods. It would have been a fun feature to have and was available on a few of the cameras I looked at.
An important thing in this camera is that it is one few I have been able to find that is both small in size yet it uses AA batteries. I really do not like the idea of using special expensive battery packs. I much prefer using readily available and inexpensive AA NiMH rechargeable batteries to expensive proprietary lithium batteries. I have high capacity NiMH AA and AAA’s for many other devices. I’ve got the chargers. Batteries eventually die after three to five years. It is cheap to get more AA and AAA’s – proprietary batteries are very expensive to replace. In a pinch one can buy Alkaline batteries at the store if you get caught out with none charged on a trip. I wish the PowerBooks and iBooks could take AA and AAA packs for these same reasons.
Image quality looks very good over all aside from the small amount of chromatic aberrations (CA). I’ve seen some sample E900 photos on FujiFilm’s web sites and from early users of the camera (see dpreview.com forums for some samples and discussion). The one bad thing is the lens elements are not quite as good as I would like. The Canon lenses look better to me in this respect. I saw some chromatic aberrations in some E900 super high contrast images (e.g., a bright white sky behind a tree or overhead power wires) which causes the infamous purple fringing along the edges of thin dark lines. But I only saw this in poorly shot images. Without trying the camera for myself it is hard to know how much of an issue this really is. I do not expect a point and shoot camera to have the absolute best optics – it’s not going to be as good as my Canon A-1 SLR or a DSLR. Hopefully the E900 will make for a good in the pocket, always available transition camera.
Any camera is a trade off – there are pros and cons. The Fuji FinePix E900 looks like it is a balance of trade in my favor. I can live with the few small issues. It will definitely be a step up from the Casio I’m borrowing and I hope even better than my old Nikon.
The camera lists for $499. That is amazingly less expensive than when I bought my old Ni
kon CoolPix 990. The best street price I have found is $399 BUT the seller doesn’t actually have the camera in stock and offers a two week wait on back order – no deal. In fact, no vendors with a price below $414 (PageComputers.com) seems to actually have the Fuji FinePix E900 in stock. I called to verify availability.
This is Fuji’s web site: (a bit flakey, set Safari to Mozilla)
Here are some reviews and user comments:
Forum with some photos. Search on e900:
The final telling will come next week after I’ve used it a bit. It is scheduled to arrive Friday, the end of this week. Realize this here is a preview, not a review. I’m explaining what I just ordered today and why. Next week I can comment on actual performance.
The final telling will come next week after I’ve used it a bit. It is scheduled to arrive Friday, the end of this week. Realize this here is a preview, not a review. I wish that Steve’s review were finished but I decided to go for it as the samples I’ve seen elsewhere looked good enough. I’m explaining what I just ordered today and why. Next week I can comment on actual performance. Maybe by then Steve will have finished his review too.
“Up a mountain without a camera…”
Low 38째F, High 62째F, Sunny
Also see: E900 Part II – after One Week