You might think only a mug would pay £80 for a digital camera and expect it to be any good. But, from the moment you slide the Fujifilm FinePix J12 out of the box, you know you've got your money's worth -- and more.
This can't be right, surely? £80? For a sleek little compact finished in metallic blue (or pink) with such a straightforward, elegant air of quality about it? From the front, it looks like it should cost twice as much as that, and it's only from the back that you realise its aspirations are modest. The LCD's slightly smaller than usual, the manual controls more limited and the range of added gimmicks almost non-existent.
But who cares? You can shoot in full auto mode, 'manual' mode (Program AE but with control over ISO, white balance and EV compensation) and a range of different scene modes -- all navigated with a clear, concise menu system that's mercifully brief. The J12 is designed as a simple-to-use family camera and it does the job perfectly.
Worried about the fact that it only has 8 million pixels? Don't be. Its images are sharp and clear and easily a match for compacts with 10 million pixels or more. With 1/2.5-inch sensors (which the majority of compacts have these days), anything beyond 8 million pixels presents noise issues that drive the quality down, rather than up. The image quality's improved further by a lens that's sharp from edge to edge and has less purple fringing than most.
The 12MB internal memory won't get you very far, but Fujifilm has wisely dropped its dependence on the xD-Picture Card format and included a card slot compatible with both xD and SD cards, so cheap storage won't be a problem. You get a rechargeable lithium-ion battery too -- not cheapskate disposable cells.
If you're looking for state-of-the-art face detection, HD movies, manual control or a long-range lens, this is not the camera for you.
The J12's 3x zoom is equivalent to 38-113mm on a 35mm camera, so it's pretty conservative and not as useful as the 28mm wide-angle zooms that are now becoming common on its more expensive rivals. And, while it can match or beat rivals up to ISO 400, the quality does tend to nosedive after that, even compared to the pretty low standards of compact cameras in general. The autofocus isn't particularly fast in low light, and you don't even get a choice of metering modes.
The J12 does straightforward snapping, and that's it.
But what's wrong with that? The J12 is not trying to be clever and sophisticated, just straightforward. The two things that really do stand out -- finish and picture quality -- are nothing to do with technology. Both are far higher than you would ever expect from a camera at this price.
Edited by Charles Kloet