What are the most important qualities in a compact digital camera? If your answer is a high pixel count, a large LCD screen, and a lightning-fast response, the Fujifilm FinePix E550 is a good candidate for you. With its 6-megapixel sensor; big 51mm (2-inch) display; and 4x optical zoom, the E550 comes well equipped for both novices and intermediate users. Photo buffs will enjoy the relatively low-noise ISO 800 images and the generous assortment of manual settings. And just about everyone will be impressed by its fast performance. Best of all, the E550 serves up this unusual mix of features and capabilities for a competitive price.
The Fujifilm FinePix E550 has the kind of distinctive design elements you either love or hate. In addition to its use of AA batteries or the rechargeable equivalent, the silver-coloured case has a textured handgrip we like, though some may find it obtrusive. Similarly, the pop-up flash lets you know at a glance whether the flash is engaged or disengaged, but it can be tedious having to consciously open and close the mechanism.
At 261g, the combination metal-and-plastic case is sturdy yet surprisingly lightweight, given its size (104 by 63.5 by 36mm). While the buttons and dials feel strong enough to withstand abuse, the plastic port cover for the USB, A/V, and DC-power connections isn't tethered to the camera, making it much too easy to misplace.
The bright 51mm (2-inch) LCD is a big selling point for this camera. It provides a sharp and detailed preview of your photo that isn't possible with the usual 38 or 46mm screens on other compact models. With a display of this size, it's easy to distinguish between the different menu items. The selections are highly context-sensitive, so it may take a while to learn which features are associated with the various modes.
A dedicated button provides quick access to resolution, ISO, and global colour (colour, black-and-white, or chrome) settings. Another dedicated button handles exposure compensation, which is handy if you don't want to dig into the menus to turn on the three-exposure bracketing option.
Fujifilm positioned the controls intelligently in relation to the handgrip. You can use your index finger to press the shutter release while your thumb handles most of the other controls, including the five-way button array that navigates through the menus. The left and right buttons in this group also double as macro and flash toggle switches. Unfortunately, the button array is flat and shallow, making it hard to distinguish one key from another.Features
The Fujifilm FinePix E550 offers a variety of features and manual adjustments. The camera has four scene modes (Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night) that adjust the ISO setting, shutter speed, flash availability, and other variables. Advanced users will be drawn to the manual, programmed auto, shutter-priority, and aperture-priority modes for additional customised settings.The focus options are especially rich. You can choose centre-weighted spot focus, manual focus, or multiweighted focus, which looks for a strongly contrasting subject near the center. You can also shift the focus area on the LCD screen or have the camera continuously autofocus, which can be helpful when trying to follow a moving subject.
The 4x zoom lens covers a fairly typical range of 32.5mm to 130mm (35mm equivalent). The same goes for its maximum aperture range of f/2.8 to f/5.6.
You'll have plenty of choices for saving photos. The JPEG-compressed resolutions include an interpolated 12-megapixel setting (4,048x3,040) that might be useful for prints that are 400 by 500mm or larger. Otherwise, it would be best to stick with the noninterpolated resolutions that range from 2,848x2,136 down to 640x480. There's also an uncompressed raw mode that's locked into the 12-megapixel setting. Each raw image consumes 13MB of storage space, a whopping amount when you consider that xD-Picture Cards currently max out at 512MB.
The camera comes with a 16MB xD-Picture Card. Optional accessories include a wide-angle conversion lens that alters the built-in lens to the 35mm equivalent of a 24.5mm wide-angle lens and a telephoto conversion lens that alters the built-in lens to the 35mm equivalent of a 252mm telephoto lens. Both products require an adapter ring, which you can also use for mounting filters.Performance
If you hate waiting for your camera to catch up with you, you'll love the speed of the Fujifilm FinePix E550. The elapsed time from pressing the power button to capturing the first shot was a very fast 1.8 seconds on average. That's particularly impressive when you consider that this includes the time it takes for the camera to extend the lens.
Less spectacular, though still excellent, typical shot-to-shot time clocked in at 2 seconds. That same shot interval grew to 4 seconds when we engaged the flash, which is about average for the digital cameras we've run through our performance tests. When we switched to the raw mode, the interval increased to 6.5 seconds -- still much better than we usually see with consumer cameras. Shutter lag ranged from 0.3 to 0.4 second, depending on the brightness of the subject, which indicates a highly responsive camera. In addition, the 4- and 40-shot continuous modes clocked in at a brisk 3.1 and 0.9 frames per second, respectively.
The zoom lens' movement feels seamless when you leave your finger on the button, but when it stops, it rests at one of 12 points along the 4x path. As a result, you may have to physically move the camera toward or away from the subject in order to precisely compose the image. The zoom is a little noisy (slightly more so with the flash open), though that won't interfere with the filming mode because the zoom mechanism freezes at the current focal length as soon as you begin recording your video.