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Fuji FinePix S5700 Digital CameraFuji Finepix camera
Reviewed by someone who's actually got one

There's a lot more to choosing a digital camera than comparing the headline figure of how many megapixels it's got and the price on the ticket. There are practical considerations which are relevant to your own requirements, and matters of finesse which are not obvious in technical specifications. Your own situation may be different to mine, but I'll tell you what I considered about the Fuji Finepix S5700 digital camera, what I think is good and bad about it, and then you can see how this fits with your own requirements and make your own mind up.

Realising I wasn't going to be able to get the latest snazzy Canon digital camera to replace the EOS 350D, at least not before setting off to Panama, I decided to get a reasonably good mid-range digital camera which would be good enough but not too expensive. Avoiding the obvious mistake of assuming that digital camera megapixel sizes are directly comparable in the sort of way as a two gallon bucket being as big as another two gallon bucket, I looked at the actual quality. It's easy enough to get a digital camera that's got a huge megapixel number very cheaply and take pictures that really aren't very good. That's because you don't take a great high resolution photo with a lens only a few mm across! The optics has a lot to do with picture quality, and this matters more than the megapixels. With the FujiFilm Finepix S5700 the lens is big enough to justify the megapixels, so it's possible to take finer, better pictures even at 7.1 megapixels than with a 15 megapixel mobile phone with a pinhole lens.

The pictures shown here are 11% x 11% of their true size. The first shows a scene in 1:1, and the second is taken from the same spot with the 10x zoom fully zoomed-in on the trees.

Scene (in Boquete, Panama) on 1:1 normal viewThe Fuji Finepix camera LOOKS like an SLR, but isn't. SLR (single lens reflex) means you can see (optically) right through the lens. It's the professional approach, but expensive because the optics requires a mechanical mirror. Instead, the Fuji FinePix has an LCD display on the back, and another inside the viewfinder. So, you can look "through" it as if it's an SLR. This detail saves quite a lot on the cost. Inevitably comparing it with the Canon, another professional feature which has been saved on is having the lens actually permanently fixed to the camera body. The Canon eos350d lenses were detachable, as per professional camera style, whereas the Fuji has the lens fixed to the camera. That saves a lot. Yet, it's a moderately big lens, giving the camera an appearance that suggests it's of the SLR style, which itself is of the style of film cameras, you know, a box with a cylinder on the front, unlike the small flush box-shaped cameras with everything integral.

Well if you can't change the lens, the lens had better be a good one! The thing is, it's a 10X optical zoom, motorised. That means that it's like a "bionic eye" that can be zoomed in telescopically on distant objects. Zoom in, zoom out, take plenty of shots. This gives a flexibility which I don't remember seeing on the Canon EOS350D. In fact, it could zoom out to take a wide angle shot, but not further in than 1:1, and could not zoom in for a close-up. With the Canon, I found it was possible to cut pieces out of big images and get medium-res close-ups, but that's not the same as optical zoom.Same scene but with the lens zoomed in!

A word here about "digital zoom". Please try to avoid being fooled by specifications that claim "digital zoom". It's not real, and it is achieved by the camera cutting down the image internally. You'd be better off doing that yourself in your computer. Optical zoom is a different matter, it being real optics behaving like a telescope. See the difference between digital zoom and optical zoom

Another word to be shy of is "interpolated". Interpolation, mathematically, is intelligent guesswork, but in digital cameras, read the word "interpolated" as "DILUTED". Would you rather have half a pint of beer, or a pint of beer interpolated? A pint of beer interpolated is a half pint of beer in a pint glass filled up with water.

With no "interpolation" and no "digital zoom" nonsense, the Fuji was showing signs of being a properly done camera.

Now let's look at the compatibility. It's no good buying a device that has odd proprietary memory, special batteries, odd cables, and other things that are overpriced and unavailable. Poor old Sony missed out early on because of this type of thing. Even though the Sony camera was good, I wouldn't buy it because in my opinion they'd patented themselves into a corner. Looking at the Fuji, the batteries were standard AA cells, four of them. Photographic purists might grumble, but the fact is that 4 x AA cells are easy to get! Obviously you'd not use dry batteries as you might as well pay for film. Get two sets of rechargeables and a charger, and that's the battery problem solved! Similarly on the memory card, it was a standard SD. Available, no need for XD or special sticks. The Fuji S5700 takes up to 2Gb, enough for over a thousand pictures in high resolution (or fifteen thousand in low resolution if you are so inclined). So, I bought the biggest memory I could get. I didn't get it from Jessops, because although I respect them as a good camera shop, their memory packs were much more expensive than necessary, and I got the memory from Vivostar, my hosting company, for about a third the price.

Cables. The USB cable looked like a standard USB with the small end, but turned out to be a size smaller than that. I have heard it's possible to get adaptors.

Operating System. Good news on this is that the FujiFilm FinePix S5700 is Linux compatible using gphoto2,Linux Compatible so there is no problem offloading the images in Linux, and you don't have to sign your life away on any software agreement designed for Microsoft Windows and the Apple Mac. The mystery then is why don't Fuji make more fuss about the fact their camera is Linux-compatible? I would have thought it would be an extra selling point, putting a penguin logo on the box.

Now here's a thing that's mystifying about digital cameras. It's interesting to notice that some of the inexpensive cameras such as the Mustek DV5300 have lots of fancy features, yet professional cameras such as the Canon EOS350D don't have them. Why doesn't the Canon have the ability to take movies? The Fuji does! I wonder if the designers at Canon considered it was somehow almost beneath their dignity to make a professional camera do fancy tricks like that! Fuji decided otherwise and so the Fuji FinePix S5700 can take movies as well as stills, and can record sound samples on stills, and do various other gadget fascinated enthusiast type of things.

There is a self-timer, available as 10 seconds or 2 seconds. I'd have preferred it if the time range could be set to longer time delays as well, such as 30 seconds, 1 minute, 10 mins, etc, with a repeat function if possible. These things are not just for taking a picture of yourself, but have professional applications as I have shown. The results of some of these are yet to be published on the site!

Here's another curious feature of the Fuji Finepix camera: text mode. It's alongside such modes as landscape, sunset, fireworks, beach, snow, etc. You might wonder why someone would want to have a mode which is optimised to take pictures of text, but it is surprising how handy this is! I have a great many hand-written diaries and other documents which by their very nature have no backup copies. With Fuji text mode it is possible to capture the pages into a digital form. This type of thing is never efficient, but it is at least practicable now.

In terms of updates and later models, Canon were consistent in producing a later model that was better than the previous one. The EOS 400D was better than the EOS 350D, etc. I'm not so sure that this applies to Fuji, whose cameras and specifications vary quite a lot and don't necessarily follow a predictable sequence. However, you can look into which of the other Fuji FinePix cameras are like the S5700 and in which ways they differ.

Recommended places to get a Fuji FinePix S5700 ? Mine was from Jessops (UK), who as far as I know will beat anyone else's price. Also, as the Fuji isn't really an SLR, it's likely to qualify for the Jessops Discount at Zyra's site, isn't it?! Other camera shops are available, Jessops camera shopso it's up to you if you'd like to shop around. At the time I bought it, the cost was just under 130, so quite a lot cheaper than the Canon EOS which was over 800 when I bought it, Fujifilmand had dropped to 350 when I bought the Fuji. Note that you'll most likely be able to get these things cheaper than that now, via links on this site. You could follow them and find out.

Update on this: You can now get the FujiFilm FinePix camera from FujiFilm themselves if you are in the USA.

The new version is slightly higher spec, but for the same money. This is available from Amazon

One of the things about a digital camera that it has versus film, is that you are not paying for the film! Since I got this Fujifilm Finepix, I have taken pictures from 0001 to 9999 and then it "goes round the clock" back to 0001 again, and now, as of 2009/09, it has gone round the clock a second time, ie I have taken twenty thousand pictures. ... and now 2010/04 the camera has gone "round the clock" again, having taken over thirty thousand pictures. ... and by 2010/11, forty thousand pictures. ... 2012/06, fifty thousand.