Wex Photographic reviews usually come about one of 2 ways:
- A review is required for a particular product. The product to be reviewed is handed to the reviewer and they are asked to review it.
- A product is required for a particular purpose. The reviewer asks to borrow said product on the premise that they will review it.
The majority of my reviews have fallen into the latter category and this one is no exception. I was going on holiday to Crete and wanted to take a camera I could use in the sea/pool/bar without any damage befalling it. Only able to afford the holiday or a new camera and not both, I gallantly offered to borrow a suitable item for reviewing purposes. I liked the look of the new Canon Powershot D10, but our expert underwater reviewer, the aptly named Rob Spray, had already produced an excellent review of this model along with a similarly informative run down of the Pentax W60 waterproof camera. With the Olympus Mju Tough already having been examined from several angles, this left the Fuji FinePix Z33WP compact digital camera to accompany me to Crete.
Fuji sent me the camera direct and as the FinePix Z33WP compact digital camera is available in a rainbow of colours, I wasn't sure which to expect. As luck would have it, it was the Daredevil Black I was sent which is both subtler and more masculine than some of the alternatives, although the Rockchick Pink version would have matched my Speedos beautifully... In addition to the camera I also liberated the dedicated Silicone Jacket and Floating Strap from our warehouse to see how useful these accessories would turn out to be.
The love affair with the Z33WP started almost as soon as I'd got it out of its box. It's an exceptionally compact and tactile little camera, its smooth finish and neat, rounded shape giving a similar feel in the hand to a newly unwrapped bar of soap. Unusually the lens has no solid opaque cover, just a clear glass element which lends the optics the appearance of an unblinking reptilian eye. I was slightly disconcerted by this discovery, but it was soon pushed to the back of my mind as I turned the Z33WP over in my hand.
The Fuji Z33WP has no optical viewfinder and the 2.7" screen occupies most of the rear of the camera. The limited controls are neatly organised into two columns of five buttons which are connected almost seamlessly, but easily distinguishable from one another thanks to the slightly raised, convex finish to each individual button. The minor deviation from this pattern is the wide/telephoto zoom button which is more like one large rocker switch than two separate buttons, although each side again has its own raised contour.
The top of the camera offers nothing more than the tiny on/off power button and the simple shutter button, while the underside features a rubber-sealed battery/memory compartment door and ¼" bush, should you wish to attach anything as brash and vulgar as a tripod to the sleek little Fuji.
The resulting minimalist design is pleasing to both the eye and the hand, and, unlike my pale and vaguely gelatinous physique, I had no qualms about getting it out on holiday.
With a maximum depth rating of 3m, the Fuji FinePix Z33WP is not meant as a diving camera, nor does it compete on this level with the Canon Powershot D10 or the Olympus Mju Tough cameras, both of which are rated down to 10m. However, 3m under the water is surprisingly deep when you're holding your breath and if you are using scuba equipment you're likely to be going below 10m anyway. As such I'm inclined to think that the 3m rating is more than enough for most users, making the Fuji Z33WP an ideal pool or beach camera.
The first aquatic outing for the Fuji was to the Villa's pool. After taking a few shots poolside, the Fuji Z33WP and I took the plunge and jumped in at the deep end. I was alone in the pool at this point, quite possibly because the sight of a man with a camera skulking about the pool was keeping the other guests away. However, I learned a couple of useful lessons during this initial trial period. Firstly I discovered that when wet the Z33WP becomes more difficult to hold on to, particularly when swimming with the camera in hand, and secondly that should the camera slip from your grasp, it will sink, slowly and gracefully, downwards. At under 3m retrieving the camera from the bottom of the pool was relatively straight forward, but had I been swimming off a boat in the Aegean Sea (as I soon would be) I would have spent a large part of my holiday attempting to concoct a suitably convincing explanation for the lack of camera and review to pedal upon my return. So, it was time to get the accessories out.
Fitting the Silicone Jacket to the Fuji Z33WP was easy and immediately provided more grip. As well as offering buoyancy, the Floating Strap also attached securely to my wrist and made it possible to swim without physically holding on to the camera. The camera can easily be removed from the strap via a quick-release clip, but as it was perfectly possible to use whilst still attached, I opted to keep it on the strap, lest my clumsiness get the better of me.
When the camera joined me for a day on the beach and in the sea, the ever-present sun and the crystal clarity of the Aegean water meant that visibility beneath the surface was excellent. Even on relatively shallow and busy beaches, fish could be seen congregating around rocks protruding sporadically from the sand. Unfortunately the strength of the sun had a drawback too. Even a metre or so below the surface it was exceptionally bright and, combined with the way the water diffracts the light, viewing the screen was almost impossible. I experimented with altering the brightness of the LCD screen but it made little difference. As I had no camera with me to compare the Fuji to I have no idea if this is a limitation of the Z33WP or simply a result of the conditions that would have affected any other camera in a similar manner, but I'm inclined to believe the latter. This lack of sight was improved if I used one hand to shade the LCD screen. However, as this also then prevented me from swimming I was limited to taking pictures of the static flora of the sea bed, rather than the moving fauna. Here, the Z33WP performed admirably.
Despite not always being able to tell exactly where I was pointing the camera, I spent some time chasing fish around the rocks, pointing the lens in their general direction and taking several photos, most of which turned out to be of sand and little else. However, upon reviewing the images in a shaded beach-side bar, it turned out that on the occasions I had been lucky enough to catch a fish in the frame, the Fuji Z33WP had done a darn good job.
It had been a good day with the Fuji Z33WP, but I'd found that it was not without its limitations. The main one for me was the lens. I've always been a fan of wide-angle photography and at 35mm the wide-angle end of the Fuji's 3x zoom lens just wasn't wide enough for my liking. This is entirely down to personal preference and had the screen visibility been better I may well have found myself using the 105mm end to zoom in on slightly more distant sea-life. In that event it's entirely possible I would have been grateful for the extra telephoto gained by sacrificing the wide end, as I doubt anything more than a 3x zoom could be squeezed into the Fuji Z33WP's svelte body. On dry land I played around again with the LCD screen, but visibility didn't recreate itself as a problem. This particular issue is only evident underwater and I doubt the Fuji itself is to blame.
My better half pointed out that if I hadn't been so vain as to wear tinted goggles, I might have been able to see the screen a little better. Fair point. So, before our boat trip to visit Spinalonga (look it up or read Victoria Hislop's "The Island"), I made an essential photographic investment; a diving mask and snorkel. These, I hoped, would not only give me a clearer view of the Z33WP's screen, but would also enable me to spend more time with my eyes in the water when we stopped for a barbecue and swimming on the way.
As it turned out, the non-tinted diving mask did little to improve the screen glare, the bright sunlight still making the screen difficult to use. However, it did make me look like a freakish extra-terrestrial and allowed me to make better use of the Z33WP's movie mode. I had experimented with short bursts of movie before, but the length of these had been limited by how long I could go without breathing. With the snorkel allowing me to keep my head in the water continuously I was able to record for significantly longer. The Fuji Z33WP offers 640x480 pixel movie recording at 30 frames per second with sound recording (although there's not much to hear underwater) and subsequent playback on a widescreen LCD television showed this to be of perfectly adequate quality for holiday filming. In addition, recording continuous moving images rather than stills meant that precision framing at the moment the shutter was pressed was less important.
The other great thing about the movie mode on the Fuji Z33WP is that you can start recording moving images with the press of a single button. There's no need to change modes via an on-screen menu or control dial; simply press the camcorder icon in the bottom right-hand corner on the rear of the camera to start recording movie and press it again to stop. It is not possible to operate the zoom once recording has commenced so you need to set the focal length before you push the start button, but this is common in compact digital cameras and not something the Fuji should be marked down for.
Of course, it is essential that the camera can perform out of the water too, and the Z33WP is a perfectly capable land camera. It has the added bonus of being more moisture resistant than most compacts, so even if you never intend to take it into the water with you, you can feel safe using it around water or for outdoor activities such as walking or cycling that, given the British climate, could still subject you to a degree of saturation.
The Fuji FinePix Z33WP offers a range of scene modes that you'd expect to see on most cameras of this type plus an Auto Scene Mode that detects what you're taking pictures of and selects the most appropriate scene mode. These include all the usual suspects; Portrait, Landscape, Night, Macro et al., plus a dedicated underwater mode. For the most part I used the Manual Auto mode, where the camera still makes most of the decisions, but the user can override certain functions such as flash and ISO if required. The Fuji Z33WP also has some clever self-timer features that utilises the face-detection technology to determine when to take the photograph, depending on how many faces are detected and how close together the faces are. Getting the camera out of the water also enabled me to make better use of the zoom lens, using the 105mm telephoto end to pick out a couple of tourists risking life and limb on some jet-skis.
The lens performed every bit as well as you would expect from a digital camera of this type. Perhaps it was the novelty of taking photos underwater, but it wasn't long before I was taking the Fuji Z33WP back into the sea and chasing fish about, this time having a little more luck as the position of the sun made seeing the camera's LCD less of a problem.
I'd often wondered how white balance worked underwater; when swimming around it always looked slightly blue, but the images you see on television are always so clear and punchy. Truth be told, in many cases the image straight out of the camera was often a little bland and, when viewing the images later on in the evening, left me a little disappointed. Mind you, whilst the Fuji Z33WP does not provide the option of recording in RAW format, there's nothing to stop you making adjustments to the jpeg images in Photoshop or similar software. What I found when doing this was that although the Fuji Z33WP did not always present the images particularly well, the information it recorded was excellent and allowed the most to be made of the images. Take these examples:
To be fair, the image straight from the camera is probably the most accurate. The sea did have a turquoise haze to it and the view under the surface was pretty much as it appears on the camera. However, by simply adjusting the levels in Photoshop, the image on the right was created. Whilst not actually as realistic, I prefer the punchy blues of the sea and the higher colour saturation in the swimmer's skin. And all I did was click on the Auto-adjust Levels tool in an old version of Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0! Ok, so it's not the image the Fuji produced, but I couldn't create this image if the Fuji Z33WP hadn't recorded the detail to start with.
I really got on with the Fuji FinePix Z33WP and I think it's only fair to say that I didn't necessarily expect to. I'm usually more at home with slightly more sophisticated cameras that borrow heavily from SLRs in terms of how they function, rather than the point and shoot type compacts. But the Z33WP was pure and simple fun and was a joy to use, particularly when taking it out of a compact digital camera's normal comfort zone.
The camera isn't perfect; I'd prefer a wider angle lens, a power LCD option might help underwater composition and the way the screen goes blank for about a second after taking a picture before displaying it is plain annoying. But the pros far outweigh the cons. The way the camera looks and feels may not be overly important, but the little Fuji really is lovely. The camera is simple to use but sophisticated enough to be able to pull off some quite clever auto-functions. The image quality is on par with most point and shoot cameras and the video is remarkable for a camera of this size.
Without a doubt the best thing about the camera is that it can swim. It's a simple thing really and maybe one of the reasons I enjoyed the Fuji so much was that it enabled me to take photos I've never taken before. That and the fact that, particularly with its Silicone Jacket on and Floating Strap attached to my wrist, it looks so damn cool!
If Fuji produce the Z33WP camera in a couple more colours you could have one for every day of the week! But to be honest, you wouldn't want to. You'd just want one. The Z33WP is not a tool to be lined up in a drawer with other, similar tools. It's a camera to develop a relationship with; to use, become familiar with and grow fond of.
Are there higher quality compacts available? Yes. Are there higher quality underwater cameras available? Probably. But is it possible to find another camera that is as fun to use, can go as many places, do as many things, and at such a friendly price as the Fuji FinePix Z33WP? I doubt it.
Frankly, I've more chance of claiming my snorkel on expenses.
8/10 Build quality
8/10 Image quality
10/10 Fun factor
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