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When Mrs GUMMO says that she doesn't want anything for Christmas it can mean only one thing; namely that what she wants is quite expensive, and that she daren't ask in case I say 'NO'. This is exactly what happened at about this time last year, when I plucked up the courage to ask 'SHE who must be obeyed' about what she wanted. There then ensued a couple of weeks of dodging and manoeuvring by SHE, before she managed to catch me in the right disposition to drop the bombshell request.
"A New Camera".
Apparently, despite having had a 5MP digital camera bought for her not a full year previously, it wasn't 'camera-like enough'. This struck me as a very strange explanation, and it took me some time to ascertain that what SHE had meant was that she wanted an SLR-type system. So, the hunt was on, with a few stipulations to throw the search into a wide degree of chaos. These were:
It had to look like a proper (SLR-Type) camera. It had to take more pixels than her current camera. It had to be able to be modified with different lenses/filters etc.
After much trawling through the assorted mail-order catalogues, and multitudinous trips around the local photographic supply shops in Doncaster, SHE finally announced that she had decided upon the Fujifilm Finepix S7000 Zoom.
It soon became obvious that a major reason for SHE's choice was the complete lack of stock in any of the normal haunts around the area. It is an inescapable law of shopping with my wife that, should she ever make a decision, the item in question will either be out of stock, discontinued or 'the last one in the shop' with 'only a little scratch'.
Finally, having travelled over two hundred miles in search of one of these particular cameras, I managed to pick up what was, at that time, seemingly the only one in the UK, somewhere near Nottingham. Admittedly, I could have probably bought a dozen online, but despite the terrifying ability of Mrs GUMMO to strike fear into the hearts of statues, SHE has quite small hands, and SLR-Type cameras tend to be a bit bulkier than the standard digital snapshot type. When I'm spending around £400 on a camera for SHE's use, I want to be certain that her dainty little talons can actually wrap themselves around the device properly, which means being able to handle the camera at some length, thus needing an offline store.
Assured that SHE could handle the machine, I bought it for her, and almost managed to get it out of the shop before SHE started to pester me to take her somewhere to try it out. Somewhat patiently, I thought, I suggested that we head home, and take the time to read the instructions, before we plunged headlong into breaking the machine. Reluctantly, SHE agreed.
And so, my journey into the world of F-stops and ISOs began.
THE KIT. Inside the box, there are various bits of kit. My suggestion to anyone buying this camera is to sort through these bits, identify them against the picture in the instruction book, and put aside the various parts for the shoulder strap (which is tricky to fit). I would also suggest that you attach the lens cap cover immediately, to avoid greasy finger prints or scratches on the lens.
If you have done as I suggested, you should be left with: 16 MB xD Picture card - enough to take 33 pictures at 1MP or 3 pictures at 12MP. 4 AA-size alkaline batteries - these go in the bottom of the camera, but I would advise the purchase of Ni-MH rechargeable batteries. A/V cable - for direct connection to the TV USB cable - for connection to a computer CD-ROM - software for picture transfer. Instruction manual - self explanatory Camera.
Just to clear up the peripheral items quickly. I have only used the A/V cable once. In short, you plug one end into the camera, and the other end (or two ends) into the TV, change the channel on the TV and look at your pictures or video. The quality of the picture naturally depends upon the resolution of the photo, the quality of the TV and the size of the screen. (Don't expect a masterpiece if the photo was shot at 1MP and you are trying to play it back on a ten-year-old 50 inch CRT screen). The USB cable and CD-ROM, which are for use with a computer, are relatively obsolete nowadays, with the increasing number of desktop computers that have built-in card readers, and the easily accessible card reading devices for the normal laptop. I have never had cause to use these bits of kit, although I can see there value for someone out and about who does not have card slots (or adapters) on their laptop.
So, on to the camera itself.
The camera has an old-school look to it, setting it apart from the more usual silver rectangle of today's snapshot digital cameras. This means that it has a somewhat cumbersome and unwieldy appearance to it, which belies the truth of its handling comfort. It also means that it is heavier than its silver-slab rivals, although the extra weight is well distributed over the entire camera, giving a good balance in the hand.
The first thing you will notice about the camera itself is the lens (or sticky-out bit at the front), which moves in and out when the zoom button is pressed. Zoom is an important factor on a camera for most amateur photographers, and the S7000 has a 6x optical zoom with a further 3.2x digital zoom. For more professional photographers, there is the option with this camera to disable the built-in zoom facility and attach separate 55mm lenses, via an adapter ring (sold separately at about £25).
Above the lens housing, you will find the pop-up integral flash. Again, this will probably be sufficient for the average amateur, but the S7000 also has a 'hot-shoe' attachment built in, should the need for an external flash arise.
The next, obvious aspect about the camera is the LCD view-screen at the back. At 1.8 inches, there are cameras on the market with larger screens, but I have found that this size is perfectly adequate. Should you wish to go down an old-fashioned route for viewing your vista, there is also a rather good viewfinder, situated just above the screen which you can use.
So, you've identified the large parts of the camera, but just what are the buttons and dials.
Whereas it is true that the S7000 has more buttons than the Cadbury factory, the amateur photographer will probably only use a couple of them. My advice is to familiarise yourself with all the buttons, even if the intention is to not touch them.
The truth is, that with so many buttons, dials, knobs and switches, I could spend the rest of my life writing in great depth about their uses and relative merits. The fact of the matter is that, any amateur would be bored to death by the technical jargon, and the more experienced pros would be more interested in the specifications (which I am including at the end of the review). In short, I am not going to go into any great detail about these buttons. Except the MODE dial.
The S7000 is a truly adaptable, flexible camera which allows the user to vary just about everything. Thankfully, however, there is also the option to allow the camera itself (or its software) to do everything for you. This is taken care of by the MODE dial, on top of the camera. The M setting is for manual control ie the user doing everything. The A setting allows the user to vary the aperture, whilst the camera controls the rest. Likewise, the S setting is for varying the shutter, leaving the rest of the parameters on automatic. P, is the setting which allows you to select different, preset combinations of aperture and shutter speed. Auto, is pretty much self-explanatory. SP is for selecting the programmed settings for various conditions and types of photo, such as portraits of night scenes. And finally, the movie option (designated by a picture of a little movie camera), which allows the user to record short bursts of video.
The only other setting on the MODE dial is the SET position, which allows access to the on-screen menu of the camera for setting things such as date and time etc.
For the normal, family photo-taker, the standard setting will always be AUTO, whereby all you need to do is point the camera and press the button. Simple.
Storage media. The S7000 will accept both xD and Compact Flash II/Microdrive cards. The supplied 16Mb xD card will hold 33 pictures at 1MP or 3 pictures at 12MP. I would recommend buying a 1Gb (or larger) Compact Flash II card, which holds 2190 pictures at 1MP or 217 pictures at 12MP. This should be all the storage you need for a long time to come.
One word of caution, however. When I purchase a SanDisk 1GB CF II card for SHE, I found that the batteries wore down extremely quickly. This turned out to be a hardware fault with the particular batch of cameras that SHE's belonged to and was rectified, by Fuji, free of charge and very speedily.
Resolution. This is a very confusing subject that very few amateur photographers seem to understand. The Fuji S7000 camera takes up to 12 million pixels, but compresses them into 6.3 million 'effective' pixels via software. This allows for larger pictures to be printed from the images stored on the camera. It does not mean that smaller images are going to have any better resolution.
Recently, my brother-in-law purchased an 8MP camera, and insists that it is better than the S7000. However much I tried to explain to him that a sheet of A4 paper will only take about 5MP print, he wouldn't listen.
Of course, if you only intend to print out 6x4 snapshots, then the lower settings will be perfectly adequate. In fact, you may even consider buying a cheaper, less professional camera.
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS (amateurs look away now) Effective Pixels 1/1.7-inch Super CCD HR File Format DCF-compliant Compressed: Exif Ver.2.2 JPEG Uncompressed: CCD-RAW Lens Super EBC Fujinon 6x Zoom, F2.8-F3.1 Focal Length 7.8mm-46.8mm Focal Range Normal: 50cm to infinity Macro: Approx 10cm to 80cm Super Macro: Approx 1cm to 20cm Shutter Speed 3 sec to 1/1000 sec Aperture F2.8 to F8 Exposure Compensation -2 EV to +2 EV (13 steps)
THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL. This booklet is, if you do decide to purchase the S7000, going to become your busom buddy. At 118 pages long, it is 'WAR and Peace' compared to other instruction books, but despite its length, it is easy to navigate your way through. Inside, it holds the secrets to many different tricks and techniques for great photograph taking, all written in simple, understandable English. Truthfully, I would recommend that, before even picking up the camera itself, any new purchaser of the S7000 should spend at least a couple of hours reading, and trying to digest, the contents of this manual. It will be worth it.
And Finally………. This is an opinion, and therefore it demands a conclusion.
Writing a review of a camera is always tricky, because people, on the whole, want to know whether it will take great photographs. The answer to that question, with regard to the S7000 is a resounding YES. However, in photography, the camera is only one quarter of the whole process. Without a good photographer and scene, the shot can easily be ruined, and without a good printer, no matter how good the other three-quarters of the process are, you will never produce a great picture.
This camera has the flexibility and functionality to allow truly great photographs to be taken with it. However, in order to use all the available power of the S7000, the user has to be either a very experienced amateur or a semi-professional. To these people, I whole heartedly recommend the Fuji S7000. For the amateur snapshotter, whose sole need for a camera is to take quick pics of 'the kids', the S7000 is very advanced and could be intimidating. There is, of course, the AUTO setting which can be used, but at over £300, this camera is a waste of money unless you intend to utilise the features it offers.