Fuji Photo Film expands digicam line

SAN FRANCISCO (02/06/2004) - Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd. has announced new digital cameras for both ends of the user spectrum: Two entry-level models and two for professional photographers. None will be available before March, however, and one is barely off the drawing board.

The entry-level cameras are the FinePix A330 and A340. Each sports a 3X optical zoom and a macro setting for close-up photography, plus better battery life and easier usability than earlier Fujifilm models. The company expects the 3.2-megapixel FinePix A330 to be in stores in March with a US$200 list price, while the 4-megapixel FinePix A340 won't be out until May and will list for $250.

In the professional realm, the 6.2-megapixel FinePix S20 Pro is also expected to ship in March, with a list price of $1000. The mystery camera of the set is the 12.3-megapixel FinePix S3 Pro. Fujifilm expects to announce pricing closer to its release, scheduled for the second half of the year. Both of these high-end cameras will come with Fujifilm's image-improving Super CCD SR sensor technology.

Starter set

The A330 and A340 are basically the same camera with different resolutions. According to Fujifilm, they're faster and more efficient than previous low-end cameras, with a 3.3-second start-up time and only a 1.7-second wait between shots. Company representatives say battery life is improved -- the A330, they say, takes 250 photos with two alkaline AA batteries and 540 pictures with a pair of rechargeable NiMH batteries.

The cameras also should be easier to use. Previous A-series cameras had a clumsy dial that was easy to turn accidentally. The new models have four buttons you're not likely to press unintentionally. And you don't need to turn them on just to view the images they contain. To help you get the best picture, they come with four scene modes: portrait, night, sports, and landscape. The macro setting can focus on an object only 4 inches from the lens.

These cameras will ship with FinePix software, a 16MB XD Picture Card, USB and video cables, a wrist strap, and an adapter for the separately sold Fujifilm Picture Cradle. The cameras will measure 4.1 by 2.4 by 1.2 inches and weigh 5.1 ounces without the battery.

A filmlike look

The new Fujifilm professional cameras promise to tackle one of the remaining advantages of traditional photography over digital: film's vastly superior contrast ratio (also known as dynamic range). If you take a picture that is partially in bright sunlight and partially in deep shade, you're much more likely to see fine details throughout with film.

Both the S20 and the S3 try to improve digital's contrast ratio through Fujifilm's new Super CCD SR sensor technology. A Super CCD SR sensor chip uses one half of its pixels to record the image's sensitivity, and the other half to record its resolution.

Does this actually produce a filmlike dynamic range? "We're close, but we're not there, yet," says Andrew LaGuardia, a Fujifilm representative.

Fujifilm introduced its first Super CCD SR camera, the consumer-oriented FinePix F700, last year. A PC World review did find improved dynamic range, but concluded that this did not result in exceptional photos.

The S20 measures 4.8 by 3.2 by 3.8 inches, and weighs 17.6 ounces without the batteries. It will come with a 6X optical zoom lens and support both USB and FireWire connections.

Fujifilm is releasing little information on the S3. "It's your standard SLR camera...It might actually be a little bit smaller," LaGuardia says of its dimensions. The camera will come with an F-mount fitting for Nikon lenses.

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