Fujifilm revamps digicams

Fujifilm has announced five new digital cameras aimed at the hobbyist market, people who aren't professional photographers but who want more from a camera than just an easy way to take snaps of their kids.

Two of the new cameras replace existing models in Fujifilm's FinePix S series; the other three introduce a new series, labeled E.

Estimated street prices for the new cameras range from US$300 to $500, and the first will ship in August.

Fujifilm is aiming the existing S series at the "advanced amateur," and as a result the cameras look like 35mm single-lens reflex models. The S series also includes more-expensive digital cameras for professionals.

As for the other existing Fujifilm lines, the simple point-and-shoot A series and the small, sleek, and versatile F series, no new cameras are being added currently.

E for Effort

The new FinePix E series falls between the S and F cameras in versatility and size, if not alphabetically. Like the F models, the E cameras offer both ease and fine control--you can adjust the aperture and shutter to get the image you want, or just point and shoot. Their primary practical advantage over the Fs is their ability to take telephoto and wide-angle adapters on the existing zoom lens.

But the big difference between the two series is style. The E cameras all look alike, with a distinctive hand grip on the side. They also sport a 2-inch LCD. All are scheduled to ship in August.

Priced at $500, the FinePix E550 is the Cadillac of the new lineup. This 6-megapixel camera sports a 4X zoom lens; and at 4.1 by 2.5 by 1.4 inches, it is slightly larger than the other E models.

According to Fujifilm, the E550 effectively supplies more than 6 megapixels: The camera uses Fujifilm's proprietary Super CCD HR technology to capture an image equivalent to 12 megapixels.

But not everyone agrees that Super CCD HR produces magical results. David Haueter, a Gartner analyst, says he finds that photos taken with Fujifilm Super CCD cameras "don't look any different than others ... look at one next to (a picture) from a similar Canon, they both look nice."

The other new E cameras, the E500 and E510, lack a sensor with a fancy name. They each have a 3.2X optical zoom and measure 4.0 by 2.4 by 1.3 inches, slightly smaller than the E550. The E500 photographs at 4.1 megapixels and will cost around US$300.

S is for SLR

The new FinePix S models may look like 35mm SLR cameras, but that's more a matter of style than functionality. Unlike a real SLR, for instance, you can't remove the lens. However, the lens each camera comes with sports a powerful zoom, and, like the E models, it can accept telephoto and wide-angle adapters.

In one important area, though, the S units are like SLRs: Since the viewfinders are electronic, what you see in them is what you get in the picture.

Each of the two S series cameras announced this week replaces an existing model. They boost the resolution from 3 megapixels up to 4, and improve the LCD screen and electronic viewfinder.

The S3100 replaces the S3000, introduced last summer. It has a 6X zoom, measures 3.9 by 3.0 by 2.7 inches, and will sell for about US$350 upon its release in August.

The US$500 S5100 replaces the S5000. Fujifilm expects to ship the S5100 in October. The camera will have a 10X zoom and measure 4.4 by 3.2 by 3.1 inches.

What's in a Name?

Will enough people buy the new cameras to make Fujifilm a market leader? IDC analyst Ron Glaz says he doubts it, even though he believes the vendor's cameras "stack up in price and features to anyone else's in the market." The problem is with name recognition.

"It's hard for them to penetrate the market and become one of the top five players," Glaz says.

Gartner's Haueter agrees, though he points out that there's "nothing spectacular making (Fujifilm) stand off from the competition." Once again, the main problem is image.

"I think it's hurting Fujifilm to have the name Fujifilm, because it associates them with film" instead of digital photography, Haueter adds.

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