You needn't look far for a keenly priced compact these days, but few offer as many features as the Fujifilm FinePix T400 for so little cash.
The T400 leaves plenty of change from £100, yet the long zoom and high resolution would look far from mean on something that cost twice as much. But is it the bargain it first seems and does photo quality stack up?
Lens and zoom
Fujifilm calls it a long-zoom compact, and on that front it certainly scores a hit. It's a very slim camera, with the bare minimum of physical controls, yet it still manages to pack a 10x zoom equivalent to 28-280mm on a 35mm camera. There's a 7.2x digital zoom on top of this if you want to get even closer.
The widest aperture setting is f/3.4 when zoomed out and f/5.6 at full telephoto. Each of these is pretty much par for the course in a consumer compact. Sadly though, you can't select the aperture yourself, as manual controls are few and far between, so the T400 decides the appropriate settings.
Minimum focusing distance in regular use is 45cm at wide angle and 2m at maximum zoom, but switching to macro mode gets you much closer -- to 3cm at wide angle and 90cm at full telephoto. This results in a shallow depth of field and your subject being cleanly picked out from its surroundings.
In bright light it consistently found focus in less than a second when recomposing at the same zoom level. However, in darker surroundings, such as when using ambient light indoors, it was sometimes unable to fix its focus at all after a significant shift in the lens position.
The T400 has a 16-megapixel sensor, delivering images up to 4,608x3,440 pixels. There are two quality settings and three image size options, with 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9 aspect ratios at the largest and a choice of 4:3 or 16:9 at medium and low resolutions.
Throughout these tests, I set the T400 to shoot the largest possible files at the finest quality setting.
Sensitivity runs through a healthy range from ISO 100 to ISO 3,200, but once you step beyond ISO 1,600, it trims the resolution to a maximum of 2,304x1,728 pixels, which is a little under 4 megapixels. Compensation offers tweaks of +/-2.0EV in 0.3-stop increments.
Even in the forest where I performed many of my tests, it didn't ever stray above ISO 250, thus keeping sensor noise to a minimum. When I forced it to shoot at higher sensitivities by restricting the level of light back at the studio, however, it turned in a less impressive result, with high levels of grain in frames shot at ISO 800.
In auto mode, the longest shutter speed is just a quarter of a second. In all other modes, it's 8 seconds, which when used with a tripod should be sufficient to capture streaking headlights in a night-time shot. Regardless of mode, the shortest possible exposure is a respectable 1/2,000 second. Meanwhile, all composition is done on the 3-inch rear LCD.
The T400 is very strong on colour reproduction. I conducted some of my tests in woodland at a time when the trees were starting to turn for autumn and exhibiting a very wide gamut in each tone. It did an excellent job of reproducing those colours, with clear differentiation between similar tones, accurately capturing the trees' appearance.
Focus was good across the central part of the frame, although there was slight fall-off evident towards the corners and edges, where the lens had to work hardest to keep everything sharp. That's because it's bending incoming light to the most extreme degree in the corners, whereas it's passing right through the lens in a straight line at the centre.
Scene detection sometimes got a little confused too. The shot of the garden doorway below, for example, caused the T400 to switch to its portrait settings, and once the image had been shot it warned me that it had detected a blink.
Despite this, the result was accurately exposed and there's plenty of detail in the grain of the wood. However, it does exhibit some colour fringing, in particular at the top of the fan above the door, where a purple haze lines the underside of the arch.
Despite having selected the finest image quality setting, there was some evidence of slightly heavy-handed JPEG compression. This led to the loss of fine details within my shots, in particular in areas of very slight tonal variation, such as the grass and fallen branch in the image below.
Back in the studio, the T400 did a good job under studio lighting when tasked with shooting a collection of everyday objects with different textures and colours. Those hues remained accurate and contrasts were very sharp at the centre of the frame, although as you move your attention towards the edges, things become less clear, with a halo effect on black writing against a white background.
When relying solely on ambient light, it was forced to increase its sensitivity from ISO 100 to ISO 800 which, as seen above, increased the amount of noise in the image. There was considerable degradation of fine detail and some false colours in the resulting frame.
With the aid of the flash, it was able to dial back the sensitivity to ISO 100 again and thus eliminate the digital noise. But in these circumstances many of the colours became too dark and so detail was lost on black and deep red objects. The flash also cast a fairly strong shadow behind solid objects.
Maximum movie resolution is 1,280x720 pixels, which is HD but one step down from the best possible resolution you'd find on a compact. You can also shoot smaller movies at 640x480 and 320x240 pixels, but there's no option to use these lower resolutions to shoot at higher frame rates to produce smooth slow-motion clips in regular playback. In all instances, the T400 maintains a steady rate of 30 frames per second.
You can use the optical zoom when filming but it mutes the soundtrack to avoid recording the motor noise. That would be fine if it was a user-selectable option but it isn't. So if you don't like it you're stuck with using the digital zoom. It moves in a series of steps too, rather than smoothly enlarging the central portion. The best advice, then, is to set your zoom position before you start filming and leave it there.
There's no wind noise cut option, which is a shame as even the slight breeze that was blowing during testing was enough to seriously compromise the soundtrack.
It did a good job of distinguishing subjects with very slight variations in the level of light, colour and contrast, such as grey fish swimming in a dark lake. It did equally well in more colourful surroundings, with results that were true to the original scene.
However, the overall quality of the movie footage left a little to be desired, as details were not as finely rendered as I would have expected and there was some visual movement in largely static shots.
The T400 isn't perfect but it is extremely cheap, giving you enough change from £100 to buy a couple of decent memory cards. In that respect, it's easy to excuse many of its shortcomings. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the video mode, but if you rarely -- or never -- use it, it's not a problem.
With stills, the T400 does much better, so long as you don't need to use higher sensitivities. Colours are accurately reproduced and foreground detail is good, although finer details away from the point of focus demonstrate the effects of some JPEG compression.
As a fun, easy-to-use compact -- one you won't worry about if it gets the odd dent or scuff -- the T400 is a bargain. The options for manual control are limited, but for the less experienced user, this will appeal, rather than being a drawback. If you can stretch to an extra £35 though, the excellent Samsung ST200F is a giveaway for around £115.