Casual photographers on a tight budget will appreciate Fujifilm's no-nonsense FinePix A500, a compact 5-megapixel snapshooter. Unfortunately, the camera's low price comes at a cost: a limited 3X zoom range, no manual controls, just four scene modes, and a tiny 1.8-inch LCD. It has no burst capabilities at all beyond a 320x240-pixel, 10-frame-per-second Silent Movie mode. Image quality is only average, and perks such as batteries and a decent memory card will cost you extra, but you can tuck this little camera in your pocket for less than $200. If you're really strapped for cash, the almost identically featured 4-megapixel FinePix A400 goes for about $50 less.
This solidly built, 6.5-ounce, 1.1-inch-thick camera's attractive finish looks good, though the company cut some corners. Some may be disappointed with design weaknesses such as the lack of a rubber cover for the A/V, USB, and DC ports. The A500 sports both an LCD and an optical viewfinder, the latter proving invaluable when the tiny, 77,000-pixel display becomes unreadable in direct sunlight. The optical viewfinder has a handy pair of notches near the top of the frame to mark the "safe" area when shooting at parallax-inducing closer distances.
The A500's sparse controls are simple and easy to learn. The top panel has only the shutter-release button and a tiny, recessed power switch. The back panel contains just three stand-alone buttons: picture review, menu/OK, and display/back. A pair of left/right buttons flanking an up/down zoom lever sit at the top-right edge of the back panel. Besides menu navigation, the left/right buttons can activate macro mode and adjust flash options, respectively.
The lack of choice makes this camera simple to operate. Besides auto, there are only four scene modes: Portrait, Landscape, Sport, and Night. The camera has no options for exposure or focus other than EV adjustments (plus or minus 2EV in 1/3EV steps) and normal/macro autofocus. A manual mode provides access to white balance (six presets and automatic), EV adjustments, and two flash options: red-eye correction and slow sync for balancing the flash with ambient illumination. Flash on/off, red-eye, and auto options are available in all shooting modes. Sensitivity settings include ISO 100, 200, or 400.