A Sharp Advance In Digital Photos

Fujifilm's new camera delivers 50% clearer pictures-but it's a memory hog

I've never been a big fan of digital cameras. Compared with old-fashioned film-based cameras, they're still relatively pricey and don't produce comparably sharp and detailed pictures. But I'm using the Web more. And my friends and family are going online, too. So I've been shopping for a camera that produces images ready to be put onto a Web site or attached to an E-mail.

As I started looking around, size was an issue, since I plan to take many trips during the summer. But I also didn't want to give up quality for portability or convenience.

The digital camera that caught my eye is the $699 MX-2700 from Fujifilm (800-800-3854, or www.fujifilm.com). It weighs just slightly more than half a pound but is not much larger than a thick stack of playing cards. The camera, with a handsome brushed-aluminum body, easily slips into a shirt pocket.

BIG JUMP. The MX-2700 represents a significant advance in digital-camera technology--specifically, circuitry called a charge-coupled device, or CCD. The device converts what the camera sees through the lens into digital data. Compared with its predecessor model, the MX-2700 captures 50% more of the pixels, or dots, used to make up a digital image. What does that mean? Larger, more detailed pictures. People using their computers to view vacation pictures I send them by E-mail will notice that their clarity is exceptional.

This clarity comes at a price. Each picture takes up nearly a megabyte of memory at the camera's highest-quality setting. That means you can quickly fill up the camera's removable, two-inch square, wafer-thin 8MB SmartMedia flash memory cards, which function much like floppy disks. An additional 8MB card costs $54. Fuji offers higher-capacity cards, with 16MB for $90 and 32MB for $128.

The MX-2700 digital camera works like many point-and-shoot film-based cameras. If you want, the camera will do all the work, figuring out the correct focus, light levels, and so-called white balancing. This last feature is important for digital cameras, since various lighting sources, say, flourescent or incandescent bulbs, produce colors that don't register to your eye but can leave pictures with an odd tinge.

The MX-2700 also offers shutterbugs a flexible manual mode, allowing them to override the camera's decisions and settings. I found the manual setting quite handy, since I thought the camera fired its built-in flash way too often. Pictures wound up overexposed, especially in close-ups. Using manual settings, I was even able to add special effects. One is a sepia tone that produces a faded Old West-style picture. Another lets you add either silver-cross or rainbow star-like bursts to bright points in a picture, such as Christmas-tree lights.

A particularly useful feature is the two-inch liquid-crystal display screen built into the back of the camera. It lets you see your shots before snapping the shutter. The screen can also be used in place of the small optical viewfinder, but I would advise using it sparingly, since it's a power hog. According to the MX-2700's 96-page manual, using the LCD to frame pictures will reduce the rechargeable lithium-ion battery's life cycle from 250 pictures to a mere 80. Recharging the battery takes nearly eight hours, though an optional $70 fast charger takes just an hour.

JUICY FREEBIE. The camera comes with Adobe Photoshop software and cables to connect it a computer's serial port or to a TV video jack, allowing for impromptu video slide shows. But to get pictures into a PC without cumbersome cables, you might want to consider Fujifilm's optional floppy-disk adapter. The peripheral, which looks like a standard 3.5-inch floppy-disk drive, has a slot to accept the SmartMedia memory card. Using Windows Explorer, a few clicks transfer the digital photos to the PC from the memory card. The list price on the adapter is $99, but until August, Fuji offers a rebate that lets MX-2700 buyers get a floppy disk-adapter for free.

The free peripheral is a good thing, since the camera has a fairly high retail sticker price. Some online retailers and auction sites have been offering the MX-2700 for around $600, but that's still a bit north of the magical sub-$500 that seem to spark most digital purchases. At the current price tag, the MX-2700 hasn't bowled me over. But I'll concede it has made me less of a humbug when it comes to digital cameras.

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