Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Point, Shoot, Hope (Or Check), The FinePix A200 Digital Camera Is Good For Beginners

The Good: Makes decent videos, Generally good photographs, Light, Convenient screen allows photographer to see pictures instantly
The Bad: Goes through batteries rapidly, Non-flash photos are almost universally blurry, Recharge time, Not professional-quality.
The Basics: The FinePix A200 is an affordable, durable, efficient and easy-to-use digital camera for those who are trying to capture memories, not make expert photographs.

It's always amazing to me when I discover a product I've owned for quite a while that I haven't reviewed. Then again, digital cameras seem to be one of those products that continually change and evolve, so if you don't review it when they first come out, I suppose most people figure that it's not worth reviewing. That may be true for: 1. People living in the past (when things essentially disappeared from the market the moment they left the store - i.e. before the strong secondary market of the Internet), 2. Professionals who are constantly upgrading, and/or 3. those intimidated by initial prices or hope to cash in quick on making reviews that get big fast. I decided it was time to sit down with my FinePix A200 and write a digital camera review for those who are not technically oriented and are looking for a good camera.

There is a man in this life who I envy quite a bit and that takes a lot. I've met virtually everyone I've ever wanted to as far as celebrities go, but there's one obscure writer who impresses me for two reasons. First, Thomas Pynchon is an amazing novelist. His book V remains one of the classics of American literature that is both brilliantly written and difficult to discuss without devolving into "You just have to read it, I can't describe it" type arguments. Second, Thomas Pynchon has not been photographed since he had his military pictures taken back in the 50s. There you go kids, now you get another joke from The Simpsons (Pynchon appeared on The Simpsons animated as a character in a suit with a bag over his head with a big question mark for the face). I loathe having my picture taken and were it not for my recent political outings, I think I might have successfully followed Pynchon's mold (if only my novels sold so well!). So, I understand the desire some people have to not have their pictures taken. In fact, I generally don't like taking pictures either.

At least, I didn't like taking pictures until I was given the FinePix A200 digital camera. Now, I'm about as annoying as anyone with a digital camera. You know, taking pictures all of the time. I have a lot of fun taking pictures with this because it's relatively easy, the controls are intuitive, and the camera has a screen on the back that allows the user to see exactly what they have photographed.

First, the technical garbage for those who need all that hard information. The FinePix A200 is a 4" wide, 1 1/2" thick, 2 1/2" tall silver-gray digital camera that can't weigh more than a pound even with batteries in it (sorry, I don't have a postal scale anymore). The LCD screen on the back is a little over an inch wide by less than an inch tall, but it provides bright, clear images that reflect the exact photographs that will be taken with the camera. The top of the camera has the button that shoots the pictures, simply by depressing it and that is circled by a knob that changes the camera between the three modes: picture, viewing, and movie. The camera turns on and off with a slide power button on the top. It's very difficult to accidentally turn this camera off, which is nice for those taking active photographs.

The back has a button that allows the photographer to engage the digital zoom and the two buttons that come into play when manipulating the menus on the camera screen. The nice thing about this camera is the controls are intuitive. One of my engineer friends often tells me that a device is well-made when the operation of the device is self-evident. For the FinePix A200, that is largely the case.

For example, when in the picture mode, the menu options allow the photographer to easily change the picture quality between 2M, 1M and .3M photographs with a counter of how many pictures the camera has left at each quality level. As a layperson, I've found little functional difference between the 2 and 1M pictures, though the 16 MB card that comes with the camera goes a long way with the .3M photos. The .3M photos are more grainy when developed, so there is a significant quality difference between the .3M photos and the 1M ones. At this point, you might be asking what the "M" stands for. No doubt some technical wizard will come and correct me, but I'm guessing and saying it's the megapixel resolution (this is a layperson's review, intended to educate common people on how this camera functions - not necessarily professionals!) because the front of the camera says 2.0 Megapixel. And because it is the resolution and file size that differs drastically between the different photo types.

The on-screen menu also allows the user to change the flash settings on this camera. Without reading the manual, I was able to deduce what the flash settings were between: automatic, no flash, and red eye flash. The no flash setting has come in handy when I've wanted to discreetly take pictures in natural light when I was not supposed to. As for the red eye reduction, this sends a flash before the flash with the photograph in order to reduce the chance that the picture will have red pupils for the subject. I've found this function works about half the time. The first flash always goes off, but actually reducing red eye happens only about half the time.

This is a pretty wonderful point and shoot digital camera. It takes pictures and when the batteries are brand new, the recharge time is fairly fast (about three seconds). As the batteries get lower, the recharge time drops significantly and I've had to wait more than ten seconds for the camera to allow me to take a second picture before. The nice thing is right above the viewscreen - which shows exactly what will be photographed - there is an LCD that changes from orange to green when the camera is on and ready to photograph.

As well, on the screen, there is a little shaky hand that tells the photographer when the camera is not stable enough to take pictures that will not be anything but blurry. That's convenient. The camera is convenient in that it will allow one to take blurry pictures (if that's what you want), but it lets you know in advance that it will turn out poorly.

Turning the dial around the shoot button allows the camera to switch between photograph and view (what's on the camera) mode and movie mode. In the view mode, photographers may see exactly how their picture turned out and the low-res photo on the viewscreen is convenient for reference purposes and offers a rather true image that allows the photographer to decide whether or not to reshoot their picture. As well, activating the menu here allows the photographer to easily delete individual photographs or the whole chip's worth in order to free up space for more pictures. That's convenient and easy to do; in fact, the on-screen directions walk the user through the process.

The camera must also be in this mode when uploading photographs to a computer. The FinePix A200 comes with a disc with software to make it easy to upload your photos from this camera to your p.c. The software is for the Windows (98 and up) platforms and it also comes with the USB cable to connect the camera to your computer. The directions and software are easy to understand and install. After the first use of the software that comes with the camera, I was able to upload my pictures consistently. As well, in a crunch, there are devices that allow the chip from the camera to be plugged almost directly into the computer and read (not included in this product!).

The pictures upload easily into whatever folder you want them in and from there you may save them on your hard drive or make photographic prints. I've found that the 1M setting yields wonderful 5X7 photographs. Only the 2M setting has yielded truly lifelike 8X10s for me.

This is a very durable little camera. I've had mine for over four years now and taken it (literally) thousands of miles and there is not a scratch on it. It's been dropped, tossed, stuck in bags, etc. and it has held up amazingly well.

The last function is the one I've used least: this camera allows the user to take 30 second movies. When the dial is on the movie move, simply depressing the "shoot" button will start the camera capturing everything that is happening at 10 frames per second. The camera conveniently offers the user a countdown to let them know when the movie has expired. This has been especially convenient for me in some of my endeavors. For example, when I saw James Doohan at one of his last signings, I was able to get a film of him signing a uniquely numbered plate, in essence creating a flawless certificate of authenticity. In that case, the FinePix A200 proved its worth by recharging fast enough from making the first 30 second movie to allow me to shoot a second movie to finish the process (Doohan signed exceptionally slowly before his demise). The camera was discreet enough and functional enough to allow me to do my thing.

In fact, the only function I find truly bothersome on this camera is the digital zoom. When objects are at a distance, the digital zoom does almost nothing to bring them into better view. So, for example, when in Colorado for the first time in 2006, I was thrilled to see prairie dogs (don't laugh, I'm from New York State and prairie dogs are cute!). Trying to use the digital zoom was useless and I could not get close enough to them to get a good picture without scaring them off.

Outside that, the FinePix A200 is a great camera for an amateur. I'm rating this as an "average" camera because I know the difference between this and the big boys. This is not something that allows the user to change lenses, experiment with shutter speeds or be terribly creative. It's a point and shoot camera. I can say it takes pictures that look great whenever I view them on my monitor (click here for that review!) and even when I put them on a video disc and browse through them on my HD-TV.

If only it didn't burn through batteries so quickly . . .

In all seriousness, if you remove the batteries from the camera whenever you are not using the camera, the batteries do not drain very fast at all (I can fill the card about four times at 1M resolution on a pair of batteries if I do this). However, removing the batteries brings up an annoying opening menu that requests the user set the date and time each time the batteries are removed. This menu is easily disregarded by simply hitting one of the buttons on the back of the camera, but it can be a nuisance in situations when speed is important.

Because of the strong aftermarket for products like this, it ought to be fairly easy to find a FinePix A200 easily and relatively inexpensively. If my experience is anything, even used, this camera will provide years of use for amateurs. It's great for getting people into photography and capturing memories.

For other layperson reviews of similar electronic devices, please check out my reviews of:
iPod Touch
Kyocera TNT! cell phone
Acer Aspire 5532 laptop computer


For other electronics reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here for a concise listing!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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