Pros: Waterproof, Small, Lightweight, Easy to use, Simple navigation, Quick access to video
Cons: Mediocre image quality, Proprietary battery
After several years of good service, it was time to replace my old FujiFilm FinePix A500 digital camera. It wasn't a perfect camera, but it lasted for quite a while and produced decent shots. That's why when I started looking for a replacement, I was drawn to the newer line of FujiFilm cameras.
At first I was interested in the Tough line of digital cameras from Olympus, but their very large price markup and lackluster reviews led me back to the FujiFilm cameras and eventually to the FinePix Z33WP 10-megapixel Digital Camera. This camera had many of the features of the Olympus Tough line (such as being waterproof and weather resistant) at a much lower price than the Olympus cameras. Plus having had a FujiFilm camera, I figured I knew what to expect - something that wouldn't blow you away, but that would be easy to use and would produce decent pictures that are fine for what I would expect in a simple point-and-shoot camera that I would be using as my knock-around camera.
The Z33WP in brief...
Like I said before with the A500, you really do get what you pay for, so no one should be expecting an amazing digital camera with the Z33WP. This 10-megapixel waterproof camera will produce reasonably clear, sharp and detailed photographs, but there is often a bit of blur or an out-of-focus quality to pictures. This is the same thing that happened with my A500, but at only around $150 I can live with this. Besides the somewhat lackluster picture quality, I really can only think of pluses with this camera. The basic setup is simple and the operation of the camera really is point and click. The menus are easy to navigate and the modes are easy enough to change. The camera offers face recognition capabilities so it's easy to make sure you're focused on faces in the photo and the automatic settings do a decent job at capturing good photographs.
Sure I won't be blowing up my photos from the Z33WP into poster size prints, but for basic photos that I'll be showing in slide shows, in emails or on the web, the pictures are more than adequate, especially when you consider you can use this camera underwater, take it into storms without worry and be able to knock it around quite a bit.
The Z33WP is a small camera and when I first unpacked it, I was actually surprised at how much smaller than the A500 it is. It's only just over two inches in height, about three inches in width and just over an inch thick. It is not quite as small as a credit card, but it is small and it is very easy to put into a shirt or pants pocket. In addition to its small size, it only weighs a few ounces, even with the battery inside.
Megapixels and Resolution
The Z33WP is a 10-megapixel camera, which is a lot of megapixels. That does translate into generally sharper and clearer images than cameras with fewer megapixels, but the photo sharpness with the Z33WP isn't perfect. I'm not sure if it has to do with the way Fuji makes their cameras, but generally speaking, they seem to lack some of the very detailed sharpness that you'll find on other (more expensive) cameras. There are several different resolution settings available on the camera that include the full 10-megapixel resolution of 3,648x2,736 pixels all the way down to a small 640x480 pixel resolution. At the highest setting you can choose between a fine and a normal setting. I can't really tell much difference between the two settings, except that the fine mode creates photos about twice the size of the standard format. There's a number of resolutions in between and additionally, there is a 3:2 format available. The camera also takes video, which can be recorded in two different resolutions. There's a 640x480 format and a 320x240 format.
There's a 3x zoom lens on the camera, which is equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera. The lens itself is actually housed in the camera and is protected by a solid, flat, clear piece of plastic. This seals the lens in the camera and keeps it waterproof. The only problem I've found with this setup is that it is very easy to get fingerprints or otherwise smudge the protective material and then you end up taking photos that aren't quite as clear because of the smudges. I also discovered in hot and humid conditions, especially if you're carrying the camera close to you, the protective material will start to fog over and most of your photos will look very hazy.
The Z33WP uses the SD Memory Card which is available in a number of different sizes. I have 4-gigabyte, which provides enough space for about 800 photographs in the 10-megapixel fine mode. At the standard 10-megabyte setting, you can get just about 1600 photographs on a 4-gigabyte memory card.
Exposure, ISO, Shutter Settings, Flash and White Balance
Since pretty much on th Z33WP is automatic, there isn't much you can do to adjust these settings unless you are in the manual mode. Either way, the camera has ISO settings available from 64 to 1600. The majority of the photos shot in auto mode are either at an ISO of 100 or 200 I've found. In the manual mode, you can control the ISO settings to fine tune your photographs.
Exposure is also pretty much automatic, though you can go through several different exposure settings that change the way the camera exposes the photographs and how it sets its various settings. The modes include the full auto mode, a natural light mode, a natural light with flash mode, an anti-blur mode and a manual mode. There are also a series of pre-set shooting modes that set the camera up to take photographs in certain situations. They include underwater, auction, portrait, landscape, sport, night, sunset, snow, beach, museum, party, flowers and text. I find most of these modes to be pretty non-useful, but the underwater setting is a must if you're taking photos under water and the night setting can come in handy when you're taking photos in low-light situations.
Shutter speed is automatic in all of the photographs unless you are shooting in the manual mode.
The flash is nothing fancy. It does a decent job at providing some light fill in brighter pictures where a subject may be in shadow and for night photos, unless you're within about six feet of the camera, the flash doesn't do too much. There are three modes for the flash; automatic, forced and off. I tend to use the automatic setting the most, unless I know I want a subject that would otherwise be in shadow lit up.
White Balance is also automatic for most picture taking with the camera automatically selecting the scene type. In the manual mode, you can set the camera up for several different types of light to balance out the white correctly.
One thing I liked about the A500 was that it did not have a significant shutter delay when I took a picture. Sure there was a delay, but it was maybe a few seconds at most. With the Z33WP, the delay is even smaller. It's still noticeable, but it's quite easy to quickly be snapping photos and you won't have to worry about the delay.
The back side of the camera is almost all screen with the 2.7 inch LCD screen. Quality is quite good as is color and its very easy to see except in all but the most direct sunlight.
Navigation and General Usability
Fuji has definitely worked on making their cameras more user friendly from the time that I got the A500. On the Z33WP there 10 buttons to the right of the LCD screen that let you activate all of the functions on the camera. The best part is that there's very little internal menu structure to navigate, the buttons by themselves go through the vast majority of the camera's functionality. There's the zoom and wind-angle buttons on the top. Then there's the delete and the playback buttons. That's followed by the pre-set exposure mode button and the flash button. Then there's the self-timer button (which lets you set a 2 or 10 second delay) and the menu/okay button. The last two button include the button that turns the LCD display on or off and the video button, which lets you start recording video with a single button press.
The actual menu navigation is straightforward. The text is easy to read and most of its accompanied by simple graphics to illustrate what you are doing. I found it quite easy to get going with the camera without reading the manual, but in the end, I did figure out a few things with the manual, so it's probably worth reading, even if you don't need it to just take photographs.
The Z33WP uses a FujiFilm battery (the NP-45 Lithium Ion Battery) in place of the standard AA batteries my old A500 used. This means it has some great battery life, but you are tethered to that battery and having to make sure it is charged to use the camera. No stopping and picking up some AA batteries if this one runs out of its charge. The camera does come with a charger and on a full charge, you can get around 200 photos or so out of the camera. I've found that it works well for a weekend trip or a couple of hikes over a few days. The more you fiddle with the camera between taking photos, the less battery life you'll get.
I've had the Z33WP for several months now and used it in various conditions. The majority of the time it's just been a camera that's in my pocket for capturing candid photos, but I have taken it on vacation with me as my only camera and it has been on several different hikes. In all of the situations it has taken decent photographs. Every once and a while there is a stunning one that is very clear and sharp, but the majority of them are acceptably sharp I would say and some it just seems that the focus doesn't catch and the photo is pretty much unusable. I would say about 85% of the photos are in that acceptably short category and probably about 10% are very sharp, while about 5% end up just being deleted after I download them.
I have liked the battery life on the camera. I can charge the battery overnight and then put it in the camera and be good for several weeks worth of taking photos (since I'm not using it very much on any one day). Then I can recharge the battery and be off again. The only thing I don't like about the proprietary battery is that should I run out of a charge somewhere, I need to charge the battery, I can't just buy some AA batteries and put them in.
I really like how quickly the camera starts up. It only takes a few seconds at the most from the time you press the on/off button to the time that the camera is ready to take a photograph. This makes it a lot easier to try to capture moments since you are not waiting for the camera to boot up like older cameras I have had.
The waterproof side of this camera is nice. I've tried taking a few photographs underwater just to see how it works and it seems to be fine, but what I like it more for is that I can take it hiking and camping with me and not always be worrying about weather the camera is going to get damp or get wet. I can pretty much just carry it with me and it will be ready to go whenever I am ready to go.
I like how small and light the camera is too. It is very easy to carry in the camera pocket I have on my backpack waist strap, or if I am not hiking, I can put it in my pants pocket and almost forget that it is there.
The LCD screen does scratch easily though, after a few hikes, I noticed quite a few scratches across the back screen. It does not really change the camera's functionality, but the camera will start to look beat up after some pretty regular use.
The one thing that worries me about the camera is the plastic protective lens over the camera lens. I have not seen it happen yet ,but if that were to get scratched, then all of the photos would have a blur in them where the scratch was interfering with the optics of the regular lens below. I have just been very careful not to scratch it, but since it is at the same level as the surface of the front of the camera, it worries me.
One thing that's a pain is that the same protective lens cover can get fingerprints or other smudges on it and that effects the quality of your photographs. It can also fog over when you're in humid conditions or you're holding it when you're really hot and sweaty (like when you're hiking). It's just something to be aware of and I've started carrying a couple of napkins with me so I can wipe the cover from time to time.
Overall for a camera that cost about $150, I am very happy with the Z33WP from FujiFilm. The camera is waterproof, takes 10-megapixel photographs, is easy to use, has a short shutter lag and has decent battery life. It's already survived a busy summer of hiking, traveling and just being toted around just about everywhere. Besides a few scratches on the LCD screen, I have not had any problems.
If I had paid more for the camera, I probably would be disappointed by the overall image quality, but I knew what I was getting into and in general, the vast majority of the photographs are fine for what I am going to be using them for.
In the end if you can live with middle of the road image quality and want an inexpensive high-resolution digital camera that is waterproof and can take a bit of being knocked around. I would recommend the FujiFilm Z33WP.