|Use the dial with the shutter release to turn the camera on and choose between record or playback mode (right); the second dial sets a recording mode (left).|
The FinePix 3800 comes with a traditional plastic cap that doesn't stay on the camera particularly well, especially if you've attached the included adapter ring, as the manual advises.
Zoom and scroll through this camera's menus using a typical four-way control button.
But we have few quibbles about this camera's simple, basic controls. The FinePix 3800 has two dials. To turn the camera on and choose record or playback mode, use the dial with the shutter release in the middle; use the dial next to it to select among the various recording modes: manual, scene position, auto, and movie. Like many cameras, the 3800 sports a four-way control button for zooming and scrolling through menus. Alongside the LCD panel, there's another set of buttons for accessing menus and choosing among the menu options displayed on the LCD--also typical. Yet another button lets you toggle between the LCD panel and the electronic viewfinder; as with similar designs, you can't use them simultaneously.
While the menu system is clear and easy to use, it's not as intuitive as those of many other cameras we've seen. The order of items in menus can be a little random, and it's not always clear which way you should scroll to make a selection. This camera's biggest attraction is undoubtedly the lens. It covers the 35mm-equivalent range of a moderately wide-angle 38mm to a competent 228mm telephoto. It's sharp and clear and, more importantly, offers true 6X optical zoom. There's also a 3.2X digital zoom, but we never needed to stoop that low. The lens is fixed to the camera body, but you can mount conversion lenses using the included lens adapter. The company offers a wide-angle lens that's equivalent to a 30mm lens on a 35mm SLR and a teleconversion lens that increases the telephoto range to the equivalent of 340mm.
The lens adapter makes it possible to use accessory lenses.
A macro mode lets you focus as close as 3.9 inches, but images tend to lose some of their definition when shot in this mode. And macro works only in a wide-angle view, so you can't fill the frame with a tiny object.
We're betting that most users won't bother with most of the menus, since the FinePix 3800 works so well in automatic mode. You get few options here: image-compression level and resolution (fine or normal at megapixels of 3, 2, 1, or 0.3), a self-timer, and LCD brightness adjustment. But you won't see the menus unless you've first hit the EVF/LCD button to switch to the LCD panel since the camera starts with the EVF active by default.
More advanced shooters will prefer the camera's manual mode, where you can adjust the white balance, choose exposure, set flash mode and brightness, determine image sharpness, and pick an aperture. For white balance, either choose automatic or pick one of the other six options. We especially like the three fluorescent light settings, daylight to warm white to cool white. Most digital cameras give you just one or two fluorescent options, which tend to simply shift the hue of the color cast. For exposure compensation, you get 13 steps of adjustment, from -2.1 to +1.5, in 0.3 EV increments.
You can pick from among four fixed aperture settings: auto, f/2.8, f/4.8, and f/8.2. There's no shutter-priority mode, so it automatically selects among shutter speeds ranging from 1/2 to 1/1,500 second. To help you get the right exposure, the 3800 displays the shutter speed in red on the LCD or in the viewfinder if you've over- or underexposed the shot. You then need to return to the aperture-priority menu to pick a more appropriate setting.
Fujifilm supplies a 16MB xD Picture Card.
You can also set the flash brightness in 0.3 EV increments from -0.6 to +0.6. Plus, you can choose among five flash options: auto, red-eye reduction, forced flash (which works great as fill flash), slow sync (for night shots), anti-red-eye with slow synchro, and suppressed flash.
Finally, the manual mode also lets you adjust image sharpness; the choices are the typical hard, normal, and soft. In our tests, the differences among the three were subtle.
The camera offers the usual array of scene modes, ranging from portrait to night. There's also a continuous mode, which grabs two shots and two shots per second. Still, these settings all work quite well.
FujiFilm estimates that you can shoot 300 frames using the LCD panel or 320 frames using the EVF before the four AA alkaline batteries give out.
Like most point-and-shoot cameras, the FinePix 3800 captures images only in JPEG format, in fine and normal modes at resolutions up to 2,048x1,536. Shooting at maximum image quality and maximum resolution, you can fit just 12 images on the included 16MB xD Picture Card. If you shoot movies, which this camera records with sound, you can save approximately 94 seconds at the highest 320x240 resolution. It saves these entertaining little clips in AVI format with. You can also record up to 30 seconds of voice memos to annotate still images.
Its 2.5-second power-up time is zippy enough, but this camera's shot-to-shot recycle time feels a bit poky; it takes just under five seconds to return to shooting-ready status after a shot, regardless of flash.
The pair of ports keeps it simple, but you can't connect to a TV to display slide shows.
The autofocus system runs a bit on the slow side, too. Once the shutter release is squeezed halfway for focus lock, the camera noticeably freezes. After capture, there's another delay while the camera writes the image, making this camera far from qualified for quick-grab action shooting. Still, the autofocus does a good job on all but macro focusing, and it holds up well in low-light situations.
While the autofocus competently captures images in low light, the LCD and EVF can make the process quite trying. Both appear bright enough in normal lighting, though the EVF is a bit low res, but they're hard to see in low light. Framing an image successfully, even with the LCD turned to full brightness, is a real shot in the dark. Just point the camera and hope for the best; the autofocus will do better than your eyes. Furthermore, though the EVF is brighter than the cheesy optical viewfinders offered in most digital point-and-shoots, it is nowhere near as clear as it should be.
Images are surprisingly noisy, though colors aren't oversaturated.
As long as you view or print images at relatively small sizes, images look crisp, clear, and reasonably saturated. We did notice some purple fringing where dark areas meet light. And compared up close and personal with some 3-megapixel competitors, the images look rather soft and noisy.
The automatic white balance holds up pretty well under tough lighting; our indoor shots showed a slight red cast, but the pictures remained usable. Flash images were uniformly illuminated, without harsh hot spots and had accurately exposed backlighting. The anti-red-eye feature also does its job well, as does the slow sync setting.
Images look slightly softer than those of many 3-megapixel competitors.
Though it lacks manual white-balance controls, the incandescent preset worked well enough for us.