Price When Reviewed: £799
This compact digital camera is Fuji's attempt to interest keen photo enthusiasts, with a comprehensive control set and a sophisticated 6x optical zoom lens. It's outdone only by the £2,500 FinePix S1 Pro, which is based on a Nikon film camera and accepts interchangeable lenses.
This camera outputs the same 4.32 megapixels (2,400-x-1,800) as the pocket-sized FinePix 4700, although the 4900's controls and lens are far superior. Both use the same Fuji Super-CCD sensor, which captures a true 2.4 megapixel. Other capture options are 1,600-x-1,200, 1,280-x-960 and 640-x-480 pixels. An uncompressed, high-quality TIFF recording mode can be chosen instead of JPEG.
At first sight, the FinePix 4900 looks like a true SLR camera (which has an optical viewfinder that looks through the main lens). However, the eye level viewfinder isn't optical, it's a tiny 14mm LCD, with a lower resolution than the main monitor on the back panel. With its rubber eyeshade it's useful for when the glare from sunlight makes the main LCD on the back unusable. Some photographers prefer to hold a camera to their eye rather than in front of their face.
Having no optical viewfinder means that batteries are drained faster. Fortunately the battery supplied, a single lithium-ion rechargeable, has a decent capacity. Fuji includes a useful mains adapter which plugs straight into the camera and charges the battery in situ.
This camera fits in with the recent trend for offering dedicated buttons and dials for the most important settings, which are much quicker to use than scrolling through on-screen lists. There are 16 buttons, plus a shutter, zoom and four-way selector controls. In addition there's a main function selector dial on the top panel and underneath that there's a useful thumbwheel for changing exposure settings. The camera's shape, with a big right-hand grip as well as the lens ring, help you hold it steady.
The big barrel-shaped lens has a zoom ratio equivalent to 35-210 mm on a 35mm camera, twice the range of most digitals, with macro focus down to 10 cm. It's very light for such a long-range zoom - the whole camera only weighs 450g. Zoom buttons are fitted to both the back panel and the lens side, which helps when you hold the camera to your eye. You can switch to manual focus, controlled by twisting the knurled silver ring at the front of the lens barrel. It's always hard to judge focus on an LCD, so Fuji helpfully provides a button to display an enlarged centre section of the image, which aids fine detail focusing.
There's a choice of three metering patterns (including spot) for exposure. Apertures range from f/2.8 to f/11 in 1/3 stop increments, while shutter speeds range from 1/1000 to 3 seconds. You can vary the light sensitivity between ISO 125, 200, 400 and 800. Aperture, shutter-priority and manual exposure settings are available. Five pre-set 'scene' modes are provided, for portraits, landscape, sport and night scenes.
There's a multi-shot option that captures five images in about a second, then writes them to the card. A movie setting captures 10fps at a resolution of 320-x-240 pixels (plus sound). The clip length is about 5.6 seconds per MB of memory free. Unusually, you can play the movies back in the camera.
Sitting on top is a pop-up flash, but this isn't very powerful. A hot shoe accepts an external flashgun triggered by the shutter, though there's no interface to the camera's exposure system.
The camera takes a SmartMedia cards, with a 16MB card provided. A USB cable is provided for digital downloads, plus a video cable for TV viewing. Software provided includes Fuji's EXIF viewer for previewing and downloading images on MacOS or Windows, plus Adobe PhotoDeluxe HE4.0 for Windows.
Image quality is pretty good, though with the same reservations of slight softness and multicoloured noise in neutral greys that we found with the FinePix 4700.
In summary the FinePix 4900 is a very good camera for the keen photographer who wants to take full control of settings, or who specializes in sports and wildlife shots that require a medium telephoto lens.