Fujifilm MX-500 review
Fujifilm is turning up the heat in the consumer digital camera market.
So far, the approach has been to offer basic cameras at the lowest possible cost, but Fujifilm has come up with two products which hit significant price points without sacrificing valuable features.
The Fujifilm DX-8 and MX-500 look very similar and are only marginally different in size, but are aimed at very different buyers. Priced at under £200, the DX-8 rubs shoulders with the cheapest cameras around, but offers features found in products costing more than twice the price. Its features are almost identical to those of the more powerful MX-500 and it is operated in the same way, which is why it makes sense to review them together. That said, the MX-500 is intended as a price-conscious younger brother to Fujifilm's excellent MX-700, costing less than £450 in the shops.
The essential difference between these two cameras is image quality, as determined by the lens, CCD density and compression ratios built into each. For those who have so far been put off by the poor-quality images captured by low-end digital cameras, the MX-500 includes a genuine 1.5 megapixel CCD array behind a Fujinon 7.6mm lens, together capable of capturing a picture at a resolution of 1280 x 1024 pixels with almost ridiculous ease - you never have to wait more than five or six seconds for each shot to compress into flash memory and clear the camera for the next shot. The MX-500 lets you choose between three levels of automatic compression: Fine (1/4), Normal (1/8) and Basic (1/16). The compression format is Exif-JPEG, so the greater the compression ratio, the more 'lossy' the results and the less colour detail saved.
Compare this with the DX-8, which has a smaller Fujinon 4.0mm lens and can capture VGA resolution only: 640 x 480 pixels. Using the same JPEG compression techniques, you can choose between Fine (1/8) and Normal (1/11) ratios. The result is a camera which snaps far less detailed pictures, although in no way out of line with competitive entry-level offerings. Images captured on the MX-500 in its optional 640 x 480 mode at the highest level of compression were undoubtedly superior to those taken with the DX-8 even in Fine mode.
Otherwise, the physical design and features in each camera are closely aligned. Both are fitted with a 1.8in colour LCD screen on the back which can be used for lining up shots accurately before pressing the shutter button, as well as playing back pictures already taken. These LCD screens can be a serious drain on battery power, so the cameras include an optical viewfinder at the top corner, fractionally above the lens, letting you snap away with the LCD screen switched off until you need it. The viewfinder and lens are covered by an integral plastic slide-in cover, which is a simple but very welcome idea.
Both products run on four AA batteries at a time, which lasted much longer than the usual couple of hours we have come to expect. To save batteries while using the camera at your desk, such as when downloading images, you can power either camera from a 5V AC mains adaptor. Fujifilm recommends you use the company's own adaptor, but we had no problems using a multi-voltage universal adaptor.
Both cameras come with separate Mac and PC serial cables for downloading images. Setting up the serial connection is easy as long as you use your modem port; trying to get it to work with your printer port is a lot more hassle, but is possible just the same. On-screen image thumbnails are generated acceptably fast from both cameras, and the DX-8's smaller pictures are quick enough to download. However, high-resolution images captured at Fine compression on the MX-500 take a long time to download across the serial link; typically a minute or two per picture.