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Fuji Finepix F11 review

The new Fujifilm Finepix F11 builds on the success of the Finepix F10, which was voted European Pocket camera of the Year in 2005. Although the F10, which is available alongside the F11, has a class-leading ISO range of 80 to 1600, it is still a completely point and shoot camera with no manual controls. This could make it less appealing to photographers who like to exert some more control over their image taking, and this is where the F11 comes in.

front of Finepix F11 back of Finepix F11

All the good things, such as the highly effective Super CCD, large 2.5-inch LCD screen and 3x optical zoom lens are still there, but the camera's specifications have been enhanced by offering more manual control in the form of shutter and aperture priority modes. Other characteristics of the 6-megapixel model include a Natural/Chrome colour mode, optional 3:2 image format and Macro up to 5cm.

Using the camera

The all-metal Finepix F11 has a brushed steel outer covering which is smooth but still provides enough grip to hold the camera comfortably. The protruding handgrip on the front certainly helps here. Your thumb naturally comes to rest on the indented area below the zoom switch, leaving your forefinger free to operate the shutter release on the top plate. Taking pictures with one hand is no problem, as the camera is light enough and easy to hold with all main controls where you would expect them to be.

There are relatively few external controls and the majority of them are situated on the back next to the large 2.5" LCD screen. Apart from the four-way switch with direct access to macro and flash, and shutter and aperture settings, we find two buttons for setting image playback options and colour modes. A tiny button just below the 4-way dial controls the display settings of the 153.000-pixel LCD screen.

Start-up time is super quick. Within a second the F11 is ready for you. A bright green Focus Assist light will help when focusing in dark conditions. There is no optical viewfinder so image composition has to be done on the LCD screen, which is clearly viewable in all but the brightest sunlight. Shutter lag is absent and all controls are very responsive with a nice positive action and a durable feel to them. Around the shutter button we find a chunky program dial to select one of five scene modes - including Natural light, Auto, A/S/M and movie modes.

A few things to note about the Program functions. In Natural Light mode flash is disabled and ISO and WB are set automatically, making it especially suited for those conditions where flash is forbidden or not required, such as museums, churches or theatre performances. The ISO setting selected by the camera is dependant on the amount of available light and can go up to ISO 1600.

Manual mode (M) offers no direct control over aperture or shutter speeds as one would expect. Instead the only control you have here is over white balance, exposure compensation and focusing. If you want to set shutter speeds or aperture, you should switch to A or S mode. Aperture or shutter speeds are then set by pressing down the four-way switch and selecting the correct parameter by using the left and right arrows.

MACRO

The five pre-programmed scene modes include portrait, landscape, sports and night shot. The latter lets you set shutter speeds between one and 15 seconds for recording fireworks or other night scenes. A tripod is advised to avoid camera shake. No fancy theme subjects such as candlelight-dinner-shot or birthday-party-modes here, which shows that the F11 is not so much aimed at the family man as to the serious enthusiast.

Three metering options, multi, spot and average, take care of exposure and this coupled to exposure compensation over two stops in 1/3EV increments should ensure well balanced images. There are six white balance settings, including custom and three fluorescent settings, which work as they should. We did not feel the need to use anything but the Auto setting in most situations and only in the icy conditions, as seen in some of the sample images, the Shade setting will produce slightly warmer images. Its all down to personal preference though.

The same is true for the three colour modes on the Finepix F11. The F-Standard setting ensures natural colours in day to day situations, whereas the F-chrome setting will enhance colours for more lively images with subjects such as landscapes or flowers. F-B&W can be used for monochrome images.

The flash on the Finepix F11 is quite powerful. With a range of 30cm to 6.5m at wide angle it is more powerful than most built-in flashes on compacts. Red eye is prominent in most people pictures even with red-eye reduction applied. This is inherent to the flash position on cameras of this kind. The only real effective remedy would be to let the subject look at a strong light source just before taking the image or to manually remove red-eye in your imaging software later. We found most flash pictures to be well exposed when using Auto or fill-in flash, although the option to reduce flash intensity or to apply flash compensation is lacking. There is no hot shoe or cable contact to connect external flash lights.

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All images are recorded in JPEG format. There is no RAW or TIFF option, but quality of the Fine setting on the 6-megapixel images is easily good enough for prints up to A3 size. The usual 4:3 image format produces images of 2848x2136 pixels, but for conventional print formats such as A4 or postcard size a 3:2 setting is available at 3024x2016 pixels, effectively cropping the top and bottom parts of an image.

In the box

Apart from the usual parts like USB and video cables you get an elaborate printed manual of 130 pages, which clearly explains all the finer points of the Finepix F11. As well as the user's manual, a printed Quickstart Guide is included for those who can't wait to go out and use the camera straight away. Software comprises Fuji's own Finepix Viewer for MAC and Windows, a RAW file converter- which incidentally is of no use to F11 owners as the camera only records JPEG images - and Image Mixer VCD2 LE for those video clips you have recorded.

standard colours chrome colour mode WB auto WB shade

Power is supplied by a powerful NP120 3.6V 1950mAh lithium ion battery, which should be good for about 500 images (CIPA standards) before a recharge is necessary. Recharging the battery will take about 4 hours. To charge the battery, the camera should be connected to the AC power adapter through a separate terminal adapter. The latter also serves as the main link between your camera and computer USB port or printer, or when connecting to a TV. The whole array of cables looks rather untidy, but its main aim is to supply power to the camera when performing tasks such as direct printing or image transfer. We have to admit that other manufacturers have found a more elegant solution for this.

standard colours chrome colour mode chrome colour mode standard colours

The Fujifilm Finepix F11 uses Xd-Picture Cards to store images. Although their tiny size ensures that cameras can be extremely compact, they are not as widely used as SD or CF cards. Consequently they may be more expensive than their larger cousins as there are fewer third party manufacturers who are interested in producing them. As always we would advise you to buy the largest card you can afford, and with memory getting cheaper all the time a 1Gb card would not be a bad choice. Another thing to note is that not all card readers or laptop computers provide slots for Xd-cards which would necessitate connecting the camera itself to the computer to transfer your images. Not a problem if you have access to your own computer at home, but less convenient if you want to transfer your images elsewhere. As an aftermarket accessory a CF-card adapter (DPC-CF) or USB-drive (DPC-UD1) that holds Xd-cards are available from Fuji to make life a little easier. Fuji include a 16Mb card with the F11, although for some markets a 128Mb card will be included making the camera even better value.

Image quality

The Fujifilm Finepix F11 is equipped with a Fujinon f/2.8-5.0 8-24mm 3x zoom lens with a range of 36 to 108mm (35mm eq.). The results of this lens are excellent. There is almost zero distortion at the wide or tele end of the lens. Vignetting is completely absent in the extreme corners, although a fair amount of purple fringing may be evident in extreme contrast situations.

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Colour rendition is excellent with clean natural looking colours which can be beefed up a bit by using the Chrome setting in the Fujifilm Finephoto mode. Exposure was generally OK although sometimes the camera would expose a bit too much for the shadow areas leading to some overexposure of the highlights. This is easily corrected though by applying some permanent exposure compensation of -1/3EV in the menu. Trying to assess correct exposure on the LCD monitor may prove misleading, as an image may seem lighter or darker than it actually is, depending on the angle at which you view the screen. As there is no histogram function, the only way to really find out if the image is correctly exposed will be when viewing the picture on your (calibrated) PC screen. It would be nice if Fuji could introduce this function in a follow up to the F11 next year . . .

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Automatic white balance worked perfectly in most situations, and should you find yourself in difficult lighting, you can use the Custom setting in combination with a grey card for correct colour balance. Unique to a camera of this kind is the ISO1600 setting which makes it possible to take pictures in available light without using flash. We tried it out several times and the results were excellent. Exposure is set automatically with a bias to fast shutter speeds, cranking up the ISO setting to 800 or 1600 as required. Even images taken at ISO1600 showed good colour and enough detail to be printed at reasonable sizes. Naturally noise is evident in shadow areas but mid tones and highlight areas are sufficiently clean to deliver nice prints. Lower ISO settings from 80 to 200 are virtually noise free and it is only above ISO400 that some noise is starting to present itself. The shutter speed range of 1/2000 to 15 seconds, coupled to the extensive and very usable ISO range, would make this an ideal camera for low-light photography without flash, which in turn will produce more natural results. In all a remarkable performance for such a tiny camera.

Conclusion

The Finepix F11 is a fairly compact and durable camera. With the exception of the plastic battery door and tripod mount it is entirely made of metal. Usability is excellent with nice positive controls that are easy to operate. While the camera can be used by the whole family as an easy to use point and shoot, the true enthusiast will still find enough advanced features to satisfy his or her creativity.

Image quality is very good with nice accurate colours and excellent white balance. The extensive ISO range is obviously the camera's main asset, but even if you don't need this feature, its photo quality is good enough to put this camera high on your list if you are looking for a quality compact. As an ideal go-anywhere camera the F11 may even tempt you to leave that heavy DSLR at home sometimes, knowing that perfect images can be captured without lugging tons of gear around.


Additional information: Fuji Finepix F11 product details and other reviews
February 18, 2006

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