If were to believe the hyperbole, this technology will do for digital technology what the invention of the parachute did for skydiving.
The IT industry is littered with claims that a new piece of technology will sweep all before it, creating a revolution in its wake. But both history and testing tend to show that these claims often fall short of their ambitious mark. With all this in mind, it was with some well-earned cynicism that we approached Fujifilms new FinePix 4700 Zoom. The FinePixs centrepiece technology is its new Super CCD. If were to believe the hyperbole, this technology will do for digital technology what the invention of the parachute did for skydiving.
Heres the theory. More conventional charge coupled devices have their photodiodes arranged in a regular square pattern. Thanks to advances in technology, weve seen cameras like the Nikon CoolPix 990 (reviewed issue 33, p95) boast as many as 3.34 million pixels. The problem is that adding more photodiodes produces diminishing returns, particularly when youre dealing with super megapixel CCDs.
Fujifilm has adopted a different approach, arranging its octagonal photodiodes in a densely packed honeycomb pattern. This, it claims, increases the cameras sensitivity to colour and light, therefore producing better-quality digital images. Whats more, its claimed that the Super CCD is more efficient than its conventional counterpart. Fujifilm claims that a Super CCD with 1.3 million pixels will give picture quality which is on a par with a camera boasting two million. Indeed, with the comparatively lowly total of 2.47 million cells on its CCD, the FinePix 4700 Zoom can generate an output resolution of 4.3 million pixels (2,400 x 1,800). These are brave claims - so now for the reality.
Straight out of the box, the FinePix 4700 Zoom announces itself as a serious contender. It feels and looks like its benefited from a wealth of inspired design. Both ergonomically and in terms of functionality, the FinePix 4700 has many noteworthy features. To hold and operate the unit is naturally comfortable. It has both a digital and optical viewfinder - a combination thats always a welcome addition to any camera. Fingers fall easily around the controls, and equally important is that the design of the camera doesnt encourage you to plaster your fingers over the lens or viewfinder when youre taking a snap.
Switching on the FinePix 4700 Zoom invokes the silver disk covering the retracted lens to slip down allowing the cameras zoom optics to unfurl. Its great to watch such excellent engineering.
Round the back of the camera, youll find a 2in low-temperature polysilicon TFT LCD screen and a circular monochrome LCD panel, the latter being roughly the size of a penny. Setup is managed by a selector wheel that sits on top of the camera. Move it to your desired mode and the two displays will adapt accordingly. For example, move the mode selector to Standard Photography mode and the circular display with its four surrounding buttons becomes a means of controlling the digital zoom.
All these plus points and new technologies will be worth little or nothing if the FinePix 4700 Zoom were to produce poor images. As ever, we pushed it through PC Authoritys rigorous tests. Under simulated natural light, the FinePix 4700 Zooms colours did appear somewhat synthetic, particularly when compared with the highly naturalistic results generated by the Olympus Camedia C-3030 (reviewed issue 34, p90). Under the same conditions, we examined the FinePix 4700 Zooms ability to capture delicate detail. Again, the Olympus just beat it to the finishing post with results that were simply excellent. Close examination revealed that the FinePix 4700 Zoom, in fixed testing conditions, lacked the ability to resolve clearly the sharp thorns of a stem.
Next, we took the FinePix 4700 Zoom for a trip around town to test its ability to work in real working conditions. It worked reasonably well. Its CCD and image-encoding algorithms were able to generate reds, greens and blues that were true to those found in a sun-drenched Sydney logjam. Indeed, the FinePix 4700 Zooms results were almost on a par with images generated by the Camedia C-3030.
We particularly liked the FinePix 4700 Zooms Preview feature. When youre out snapping, the camera generates a collection of thumbnails as you shoot. By using the intuitive controls you can elect to store or discard shots, thus saving media space. This is certainly faster than the more traditional digital camera solution of storing a picture, reviewing it, then deleting it.
For those with a penchant for nocturnal photography, the FinePix 4700 Zoom has a Night mode - although digital cameras tend not to perform well in the dark. Testing did, however, reveal that the FinePix 4700 Zoom was capable of capturing surprising amounts of image data even in restricted lighting conditions.
So, is Super CCD technology an electronic revolution? In all honesty, well have to say no. The Fujifilm FinePix 4700 Zoom is an excellent camera and, thanks to its slick design, will keep the keen, well-healed amateur user happy. A more professionally-minded photographer would, however, be frustrated by the FinePix 4700 Zoom ultimate lack of quality and detail.
These lacks can be traced back to the cameras CCD. Even with a limited number of specially shaped photodiodes, theres no escaping the fact that the camera will have to interpolate the data its CCD captures in an effort to create large, high-resolution images. And even with the most sophisticated optics and algorithms, visual information gleaned from interpolation will never be as true as picture data captured through digitisation. So if youre a stickler for detail, wed have to recommend Olympus Camedia C-3030ZOOM.
This Review appeared in the January, 2001 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine