Fujifilm's FinePix F100fd sits atop the company's F-Series, a high-end point-and-shoot line into which DSLRs' finer features are the first to trickle down. While you don't need to be Annie Leibovitz to appreciate the 12-megapixel resolution, 12800 ISO, and new wide dynamic range and face-detection technologies, this also isn't a camera for novices. The F100fd is a strong choice for amateurs who are fed up with their entry-level digicam's crappy image quality and are ready to plunk down money for something more sophisticated.
Good Looking But Hefty
It's impossible not to notice the F100fd's large 28-140mm equivalent lens, which takes up half the 3.8-inch-wide chassis. At 6.4 ounces, the F100fd is not outrageously heavy, but in a high-end camera with a modest zoom factor we would hope for a slimmer, sexier shape. The body itself is pinched at the top, and balloons slightly at the side, creating a subtle pillow shape. On top, the small power button sits too close to the shutter, which has a rotating nub to control the zoom. The flash sits just beneath the shutter, making it easy to botch shots by putting your finger in the way.
The back side has few buttons: A rocker controlling manual functions and face detection, another for playback and backward navigation, and a click wheel with a select button in the center. The scroll wheel functions as image stabilization, Macro, flash, and self-timer controls. The 2.7-inch LCD is average in size, and we had no problem using it in sunlight.
Like theNikon Coolpix S600, the F100fd uses a scroll wheel to navigate on-screen menus. But where Nikon's corresponds to a circular onscreen menu that takes up a single screen, Fujifilm's corresponds to linear menus, written in a large courier font. The scene menu, for example, takes up half the screen, showing one sample shot and explanation along with four additional scene icons. Scrolling through 20 icons, including 16 scene modes, can be a pain. We also don't like that you have to press the shutter--not the playback--button to exit playback mode.
Coming out of the Shadows
One of the F100fd's biggest selling points is its wide dynamic range--the ability to capture highlights and shadow detail in backlit conditions. This feature is disabled in Auto Mode; to enable it, go to the Manual settings, where you'll be given a choice of 100, 200, and 400 percent ranges (the camera will decide which ranges are appropriate given the shooting conditions, and gray out those that aren't).
While a full-blown auto ISO is not available in Manual Mode, if you select, say, Auto ISO 400 or 1600, the camera will automatically choose an ISO setting at or below the designated level. So it helps to have a general idea of when a low or high ISO setting is appropriate, although all you really need to know is that low ISO settings are ideal for just about everything except low light and fast-action conditions.
Although Fujifilm's wide dynamic range technology won't completely correct harsh backlighting, it does what it promises: Improves pictures by brightening shadow areas. For instance, in the foreground of our backlit shot stood an umbrella with people sitting underneath; enabling wide dynamic range shooting helped us make out more detail in the umbrella's shadow. A quick pointer: Once you've enabled wide dynamic range, manually shift the focus to the darkest point in the picture so that the camera brings out shadow detail where it's needed most.
Smart Face Detection
The F100fd boasts Face Detection 3.0, which detects up to 10 faces in as little as 0.036 seconds and recognizes them at extreme angles, such as looking up or down. Although we were able to photograph someone in full profile at close range, the camera could only detect faces at three-quarter profiles when we stood farther away. Also, the F100fd wasn't able to detect our subject's face when we could see the underside of her chin, or when she bent it so far forward that we couldn't see her mouth or make eye contact.
Face Detection 3.0 automatically corrects red eye as well, but more than anything, we were impressed by the speed at which it recognized our subjects. And indeed, it found our subject's face, even as we shot her in profile. Although faces became clearer and brighter, the differences were subtle. It's best to disable face detection if there are, say, strangers in the shot on whom you'd rather not focus.
The camera also has Portrait Enhancer Mode, which minimizes fine lines and blemishes for more flattering photos. We were amazed by the dramatic results: Our coworker's ruddy face took on a dewy glow and looked brighter, too.
Good Image and Video Quality
The F100fd delivered accurate, sometimes brilliant, colors. Our scenery and Macro shots looked especially vibrant when we enabled the Flower scene mode. The camera has dual image stabilization (IS), which combines optical image stabilization and high ISO settings to create blur-free shots. We like that you can enable it across all scene modes, whereas some cameras, such as theOlympus Stylus 1030 SW, offer image stabilization only as a dedicated shooting mode.
When it comes to shooting fast-moving subjects, the F100fd succeeds where many other cameras fail: Our shots of moving traffic looked crisp, even when taken on Auto Mode. Our stationary Macro shots also looked sharp. The 5X zoom is powerful: We used it to read a banner on a building more than a block away.
We also liked the video quality offered by the F100fd, which captures VGA footage at 30 fps. In addition to fluid movement, we loved the sound: We could hear children laughing and birds chirping, all from several dozen feet away.
Low Light Performance
The F100fd goes up to ISO 3200 at full resolution, and offers ISO 6400 and 12800 settings when you shoot at 3 megapixels or less. In shooting a dim room with manual ISO, our pictures looked bright and clear all the way up to ISO 800. At ISO 1600, the picture took on a blurry cast, but didn't become unacceptable until we reached ISO 3200, a level that, frankly, most people won't need anyway. Even so, that's a higher threshold than we've see with many other cameras.
Limited Wireless Sharing
The F100fd has IrSimple, which allows users to wirelessly transfer photos to other wireless Fujifilm cameras. We weren't able to test this feature without a second IrSimple camera. It's a potentially neat feature, but in the year since Fujifilm unveiled this technology we've become more excited about cameras with built-in Wi-Fi and integration with popular photo-sharing sites.
Speed and Battery Life
The camera takes three seconds to start up and another three seconds to ready itself for a consecutive shot. That's respectable, but not as fast in either category as other cameras we've tested (theSony Cyber-shot DSC-T300, for example, takes a second to start up and half a second between shots). On the bright side, we observed only a second of shutter lag.
The camera also offers continuous shooting: 3-shot bursts at full resolution, and 12-shot bursts at three-megapixel resolution. At full resolution, we were able to take three shots in about two seconds; that's right on target with Fujifilm's claim of 1.5 shots per second at its fastest speed. As for endurance, the F100fd has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Ours showed three full bars after two days of intermittent shooting.
One thing's for sure: The Fujifilm FinePix F100fd takes good pictures. We love its rich, accurate colors, reliable image stabilization, face detection, and strong low-light performance. However, a few quirks, including a poorly located flash and cluttered menus, make it less than user-friendly. What's more, the technology that makes it special--wide dynamic range shooting--is only available in Manual Mode. TheKodak EasyShare Z1085 IS($249) also offers brilliant colors and lots of manual features, along with dead-simple on-screen menus. If you're at the intermediate level, though, and need less hand-holding, the F100fd delivers stronger pictures.