Fujifilm MX-700 review
Designing a digital camera to look like a conventional camera has more to do with marketing than practicality.
With the MX-700, Fujifilm has taken the Sony route to compact camera design, putting more emphasis on digital functions than visual familiarity. The case is uniquely compact and feels as comfortable in a pocket as dangling on your wrist. Not least, the MX-700 is one of the lightest XGA-resolution digital cameras around: 245g is not bad for a 1.5 million pixel camera.
A base 640 x 480 resolution is supported for everyday pictures, but most interest will be shown in its 1280 x 1024 capability. This is an extraordinary resolution for a camera of this size and price, especially since it's not achieved through software interpolation. Both resolution levels can be captured at three JPEG compression settings: basic, normal and fine.
Squarer and flatter than most compact cameras, including Fujifilm's other models, the MX-700 is built into an aluminium alloy case which ought to protect it from the occasional knock as well as just looking classy. Unfortunately, there's no lens cover of any kind, and nor does Fujifilm bundle a soft case in the box, so the most fragile component of all appears to be totally unprotected. This is a shame considering it's a high-quality Fujinon autofocusing lens - well above average in the point-and-shoot digital camera market.
The rear design is much cleverer, dominated by a 4.9mm colour LCD screen and a circular control selector. The LCD screen is clear with a good realtime update when previewing, and can be dimmed or brightened using a small thumbwheel at the bottom of the camera. The circular control device is excellent: you move to any mode (record, play, erase, download and so on) by turning the wheel with your thumb. Better still, the centre of the wheel can be pressed at its edges to go up/down and left/right when browsing options and images. The flashing LED action inside the wheel can't fail to delight.
The only drawback of the layout is that if you pick up the camera casually, you risk leaving fingerprints on the lens or LCD screen. There is really only one comfortable way of handling the MX-700, and that's with your right hand only. That said, with a little practice you could learn how to hold the camera and rotate the circular control selector with that one hand.
You have the choice of saving batteries by not using the LCD screen for previewing shots and using the built-in optical viewfinder instead. But because battery life is quite good in this camera, you may only resort to the viewfinder for speed. The LCD screen's one limitation is that it's painfully slow at displaying images at the higher resolution.
On the other hand, the camera is quite fast in terms of actual image processing, with even 1280 x 1024 pixel or base-compressed images never taking more than four or five seconds to process before releasing the camera for the next shot. There's also a shorter-than-average split-second delay between pressing the shutter button and the image being captured, even with the flash switched on and the auto-focus unprepared. Pressing the shutter button down halfway will fix the auto-focus, as with a conventional electronic camera.
One of the major benefits of fast capture is that macro pictures, which are usually vulnerable to motion blur, come out wonderfully. Although you can't preview the focus of a macro shot using the LCD monitor, the results of our close-up tests suggest that this would be a fine camera for capturing design textures from small objects such as speaker grilles, felt, wood grain and so on. The macro mode also produced some interesting depth-of-field effects when the camera was aimed across, rather than directly at, an object.