Bands I'll be watching in 2007, and some releases I might revisit

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2007-01-18My review: Fuji Finepix A120 digital stills camera

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I specifically wanted a spare camera that has no motorised enclosure around the lens, as there's less to go wrong with them. You sacrifice zoom functionality (digital zoom is a con, no different to what you can do with software once the photos are on your computer) but that's no problem when taking point-and-click snapshots. Canon never did many (in the Powershot range, for example, there's the A5, A100, A200, A300 and A310, two of which are under 2mpx and none of which are current models.) So I thought I'd check out Fuji offerings, since I'd seen one of theirs get an editor's pick for image quality recently.

This led me to the Finepix A120, a 3mpx entry-level camera released in 2005 at a bit over £80. I got for a bid of £3.20 + £5 p&p, minus card or anything else, from a company that sells a lot of broken returns — when a retailer such as Argos gets items back it isn't usually worth the time to check stuff thoroughly, so they flog them for token sums to businesses that will. In the case of cameras many will turn out to be genuinely broken, and get sold on as being useful for parts, but some check out fine apart from cosmetic damage. This one (sold as being tested) has obviously been outside and been dropped or carried in a bag without a case, as it came in need of a clean, the screen has pressure damage and the body a few very minor scuff marks, any of which would have prevented it being put back on sale at a highstreet store.

There isn't a huge amount of information about the A120 available, with reviewers seemingly unwilling to take one for a trial or perhaps Fuji not sending out test models because it wants its more expensive cameras to be promoted by photography sites. And you can't trust a lot of consumer reviews because they're usually not written by people with enough experience to compare and assess quality.

Not that I'm a professional or anything, but image quality passed my acid test of a clear non-macro shot in this room. Which isn't quite as trivial as it might sound, being fairly dimly lit with yellow cast bulbs, and my usual test shot is a non-macro one of books and pictures at a distance of less than a metre. Cheap cameras usually struggle with indoor shots, particularly when they can't get enough light, and particularly with focus in the 1-2 metre range. The A120 produced a good colour balance, with XNView not wanting to make any noticeable corrections with its "Automatic levels" or normalisation options. Book titles were clearly readable, with or without the Fine quality option at 3mpx.

Although the marketing blurb says "The FinePix A120 is designed with the no-fuss photographer in mind. This camera will suit anyone who wants to capture high quality pictures at the touch of a button" the camera has manual modes. You can adjust exposure, select from a list of white balances, set the screen off to preserve batteries, choose a slow shutter flash mode, use a self-timer, etc. It's equally suitable for a beginner or someone getting to grips with a few manual settings, though the camera retains control of the ISO (range 125-200) and that could be an issue if you want to take low-light shots without flash.

There are other things that make this a little less desirable than an entry-level Canon, ignoring them usually having an edge in terms of lens quality... macro mode is manually activated by a switch on the side of the camera, and the device seems to lose time settings as soon as you take the batteries out; I can't find any opening for a backup battery. A plus is that you don't necessarily need to get a card reader that can handle xD cards, as the camera plugs into a USB slot with a standard mini-USB cable and will register on most operating systems as a removeable storage device. (Win2K certainly, and I'd assume WinMe and WinXP from that.) However, it does require batteries to be in the camera, which makes me guess it's draining those rather than drawing USB power.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this way of picking up electronics to everyone, since you're rolling dice with the condition of items and need to know what accessories will be needed to get things up and running, but you can find some bargains. It's better to buy secondhand than it is to buy kit that's new but cheap and shoddy. If you're considering one, there's an example on eBay now new with a 256Mb card for £70 + $10 p&p, though looking at completed auctions they more normally go for between £30 and £45 + p&p, with a few very low finishing prices as well.


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