Fujifilm FinePix Z1 Review

by Photo-John

The Fuji FinePix Z1 is a super-compact, stylish, 5-megapixel digital point-and-shoot camera with a 3x optical zoom lens and big, 2.5-inch LCD display.

Price: Approximately $300 US

  • Very compact
  • Good image quality with great color
  • Great LCD display
  • Durable, reinforced metal case and LCD display
  • Excellent battery life
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Minimal and hard to access exposure controls
  • No histogram display
  • Easy to obstruct lens with fingers
  • Slow shot-to-shot time
  • No tripod threads
Fujifilm FinePix Z1 Studio Test Images
Fujifilm FinePix Z1 Studio SamplesISO 64 Sample >>
ISO 100 Sample >>
ISO 200 Sample >>
ISO 400 Sample >>
ISO 800 Sample >>

More Fujifilm FinePix Z1 Resources
All Fujifilm FinePix Z1 Photos >>
Owner-posted Fujifilm FinePix Z1 reviews >>
Write a Review >>
Shop for the Fujifilm FinePix Z1 >>
Fujifilm Web site >>

Fujifilm FinePix Z1 - front and back, opened and closed

The Fuji FinePix Z1 has serious chick appeal. I think the ladies are gonna love it. It's a sexy camera and everyone who sees it wants a closer look. It's also built for abuse. The attractive design also acts as excellent protection against drops and scratches.

The FinePix Z1 is pure point-and-shoot. It's an auto exposure camera with an emphasis on simplicity, compact size, and durability. I'm used to cameras with more controls and at first I didn't have much confidence in it. But it grew on me over the couple of months that I used it. And I'm very happy with some of the photos I took with it.

Fujifilm FinePix Z1 Features
The main feature of the Fujifilm FinePix Z1 isn't a control or component it's the camera's design. The Z1 is very compact, all metal, with a protective, sliding lens cover, non-telescoping lens, and an armored LCD display. The camera was designed to be compact, attractive, and durable.

As far as actual camera controls, the Z1 is a pretty basic point-and-shoot. There are seven exposure modes, including Auto, Manual, and five scene modes - Natural Light, Portrait, Landscape, Sport, and Night. The Manual mode offers exposure compensation but no aperture or shutter speed control. There is no spot meter option, either. The Z1 offers auto white balance and presets. There are no in-camera saturation, sharpness, or contrast controls.Fujifilm FinePix Z1 Fujinon 3x optical zoom lens

The most interesting feature of the Z1 might be the least obvious - the Non-extending Fujinon 3x zoom lens. Most compact digital cameras have a lens that telescopes out of the body when you turn them on. Pentax and Konica Minolta have been using non-telescoping lens designs on compact digital cameras for a couple of years. The Z1's 36-108mm (35mm equivalent) lens does all of its zooming and focusing internally, insuring the lens is protected at all times. The Fujinon lens is part of what Fujifilm calls "Real Photo Technology." The other two parts are the 5-megapixel Fujifilm Super CCD HR sensor and the RP Processor. They say it combines "high sensitivity, high definition, and high speed" for better quality images in all kinds of lighting conditions, for all kinds of subjects. Real Photo Technology is currently available in the FinePix Z1, and the Fujifilm FinePix F10.

Fujifilm FinePix Z1 recording display
Fujifilm FinePix Z1 recording display

Fujifilm FinePix Z1 playback display
Fujifilm FinePix Z1 playback display
Fujifilm FinePix Z1 main menu
Fujifilm FinePix Z1 main menu

Fujifilm FinePix Z1 Photo mode menu
Fujifilm FinePix Z1 Photo mode "f" menu

Fujifilm FinePix Z1 Design
The best thing about the Fujifilm FinePix Z1 is the thoughtful, durable, and compact design. Although the Z1 isn't the smallest compact digital camera we've tested, it appears smaller. And the design is very striking, drawing a lot of positive attention. But there's more to it than just sex appeal. The Z1 was designed to be very durable. When I first saw it, at the 2005 PMA tradeshow, I was told it was designed so it can be safely dropped into a purse or pocket. The thick aluminum case, non-telescoping lens, and armored LCD will protect the Z1 from being broken or scratched by keys, lipstick, mobile phone, or anything else you keep in your purse or pocket. I'm not saying it's indestructible. But it should handle normal, daily abuse, better than the average compact digital camera.

The Z1's main controls are placed within easy reach of the photographer's right thumb. However, the arrow and Menu/OK buttons are very small and it was too easy to press the wrong button or more than one at the same time. I had the same problem with the zoom control buttons. They're just a little awkward to use. Someone with smaller hands might find it a better fit.

Camera Performance
I started out not trusting the Z1's exposure and image quality. However, my photos almost always turned out to be better than I expected. I've experienced this with other cameras and after a while you just learn to trust it. I used the Z1 for a couple of months and by the time I started to write this review I felt confident in the autofocus, the exposure, and the image quality.

The Z1 is a relatively quick camera in most functions. Shutter-lag, startup, and autofocus are excellent. However, shot-to-shot time is very poor. There is also a significant pause when you make changes to the flash mode. There's a High-Speed Shooting option that limits the auto focus and supposedly speeds up the camera response. I left it on although I couldn't sense any speed difference with the High Speed Shooting on or off.

The FinePix Z1 has two auto focus options - Multi Focus, which evaluates a scene and focuses on the most likely subject - and center focus, which focuses on whatever is in the center of the scene. The Multi Focus works pretty well. But it won't always focus where you expect it to. Center focus requires that you prefocus and recompose. But it's a sure thing. I use center focus with all auto focus cameras because I like to have complete control of what the camera focuses on. Although intelligent auto focus options like the Z1's Multi Focus work surprisingly well, they will occasionally let you down. For pure point-and-shoot photographers, the Multi Focus will keep things simple and do a good job. But for anyone with a bit of photography experience, I would recommend sticking with center focus.

Exposure control on the Fujifilm FinePix Z1 is very limited. It has exposure compensation and a few scene modes, with no histogram display. The camera doesn't offer any direct control over aperture or shutter speed. The Z1's exposure programming appears to be biased towards smaller apertures for more depth-of-field. In low light situations I'd find my shutter speeds would be very slow and I'd the camera shake warning icon would be displayed on the LCD. I've come to expect a histogram display option when reviewing images and I think it was a mistake for Fujifilm to not include one. They must have assumed that the people who buy the Z1 won't care about a histogram display. However, the histogram is the best way to find out if you have a good exposure. Without one the photographer is left to rely on the camera's exposure metering and LCD display. Even with the best exposure programming you can never be sure. And anyone who's taken pictures with a digital camera knows how poorly the LCD display reflects the actual image quality. The missing histogram is a big part of the reason I had a hard time trusting the Z1.

Lens position was a bit of a problem. The lens is in the upper left-hand corner of the camera and it's pretty easy to get a finger in the picture. I would usually notice when this happened. But it's definitely something the FinePix Z1 owner needs to learn to watch for. It can also slow down picture taking and definitely has the potential to spoil important photos. Having the lens a few millimeters to the right would probably have eliminated this problem.

Image Quality
The Z1 image quality is pretty good. There is little to no noticeable noise at the lowest sensitivity settings of ISO 64 and 100. The images are a bit soft and I believe the softness hides some noise. Using Photoshop's Unsharp Mask filter on our ISO 100 studio sample sharpens it right up. After sharpening there is still little noticeable noise, except in the grapes. Well-exposed, low-ISO, FinePix Z1 images should look very, very good.

A camera's lens is critical part of the image quality equation. Since the Z1 has a special, non-telescoping lens, I thought I'd take a closer look at it. I took some test photos (see lens test photo) to look for distortion and other optical flaws. At the wide end of the 6.1-18.3mm zoom, there is some distortion toward the outside of the lens. If you take pictures of anything with straight lines, like architectural subjects, you can expect to have curved instead of straight lines toward the outside of the frame. There is also some softness in the corners at both the wide and the telephoto ends of the zoom range. Even though there are some issues with the lens, for most people and most subjects, they won't be noticeable. Most of my photos with this camera were of people and outdoor subjects where the distortion and soft corners aren't visible at all. Point-and-shoot photographers who buy this camera will likely never notice these problems. And if they do, they probably won't care.

Fujifilm FinePix Z1 midday, outdoor sampleFujifilm FinePix Z1 mountain bike action sampleFujifilm FinePix Z1 party snapshot
Click on thumbnails to view sample photos.

The other elements of images quality, color, white balance, and exposure, were fine on the Z1. The color is actually excellent. It's very accurate and neither too saturated nor too flat. Although exposure controls are limited, the Z1's auto exposure metering is excellent. I used the camera's "Manual" mode with exposure compensation set to -1/3 most of the time, in order to preserve highlight detail. Most Z1 users will probably use auto or scene modes and be very happy with the camera's exposure decisions. White balance options are limited to auto white balance and six presets. Since it's a point-and-shoot camera, it's not likely that people who buy the Z1 will be concerned with manual white balance. For the most part, the Z1's processor can be counted on to deliver very nice images, with little input from the photographer.

Fujifilm FinePix Z1 pet snapshotFujifilm FinePix Z1 - 49er cemeteryFujifilm FinePix Z1 - mountain lake
Click on thumbnails to view sample photos.

The camera has none of the standard in-camera adjustments for sharpness, saturation, or contrast that most digital cameras have. Instead, it has "Standard" and "Chrome" settings, accessed via the "f" Photo mode button. This is an interesting and intuitive approach to image quality control. The tradeoff is that it doesn't offer any adjustability. You only have two options for controlling the look of your color photos. Although I only used the camera in the standard mode, I did do a comparison and the "Chrome" setting is much more pleasing to my eye. On the other hand, I can get the same results with post-processing. The average user will probably prefer the Chrome setting to "Standard." There's also a black and white setting in the "f" Photo mode menu. 
Fujifilm FinePix Z1 Photo mode color samples
Click for samples of the FinePix Chrome and Standard color settings

The Fujifilm FinePix Z1 slowly won me over. At first, aside from the looks, I wasn't very excited about it. But after using it for a couple of months, and looking hard at the images I made with it, I feel pretty good about it. Image quality is good, although I think using the Photoshop Unsharp Mask filter is a necessity if you want your images to look their best. My only real complaints are the lack of a histogram display and the 4-5 button clicks it takes to access the exposure compensation. That could take just enough time for the photographer to miss an important shot. Personally, I would like more exposure controls, but that would make it a different camera. It's a real point-and-shoot. And that's a good thing for lots of casual photographers. Fewer controls mean less distraction and more attention to what's actually in the picture.

Who Should Buy The Fujifilm FinePix Z1
I believe Fujifilm designed the Z1 for women to carry in their purse. Women who want a camera that looks good and can stand up to being banged around with keys, lipstick, cellphone, etc., will like the Z1. It's got sex appeal and the black model will look good at parties and nightclubs.

I'm not suggesting that only women will like the Z1, though. Anyone who wants a well-built, simple, medium resolution digital point-and-shoot will likely enjoy the Z1. The camera is non-threatening, easy to use, and the image quality and exposure are good enough that most consumers should have no complaints.


Fujifilm FinePix Z1 box contents
  Contents of the Fujifilm FinePix Z1 box.

  • Fujifilm FinePix Z1 Digital Camera
  • NP-40 rechargeable battery
  • 16 MB xD-Picture Card
  • USB PictureCradle
  • FinePix CX software CD ROM
  • USB cable
  • AV cable
  • AC power adapter
  • Strap
  • Owner's manual, warranty card, etc.
Other Resources:
Fujifilm FinePix Z1 User Reviews >>
Write a Fujifilm FinePix Z1 Review >>
Fujifilm FinePix Z1 Sample Gallery >>
Fujifilm Web site >>