- By Jeff Field -
Scanners now are relegated to scanning documents and archiving older photographs, while digital cameras are used more and more to take photographs that can be stored on a computer, sent over the Internet, and even printed like normal photographs. Today, I review the Fujifilm FinePix 2300 USB digital camera, and how it functions under Linux.
The Fujifilm FinePix 2300 is Fujifilm's entry-level digital camera, replacing the older 1300. The FinePix 2300 is a 2.1 megapixel digital camera, allowing pictures to be in resolutions up to 1600 by 1200 at varying levels of detail. It stores pictures on SmartMedia cards and connects to your PC with a USB port, and it is fully supported under Linux.
The FinePix 2300 is not a camera for the professional photographer. It is a sort of a digital combination of a Polaroid camera and your average consumer-level camera, able to take decent pictures and display them instantly. It does just fine taking your average picture, but someone who needs advanced features such as optical zoom should look somewhere further up the line.
Keeping its purpose in mind, I decided to use the FinePix 2300 for my everyday needs -- taking pictures of friends and family (of which I will spare you), taking pictures of my home, and the one that excites me the most, taking pictures of the equipment I am testing while it is in use, not just press photos provided by the companies. I am not a photographer, so I can only tell you about the technical aspect of the camera, ease of use, compatibility, and what I think looks good enough for me. You may have a keener eye than I do, and later in this review is a link to images at Fujifilm's Web site.
For storage, the camera uses the less-advanced SmartMedia flavor of flash media. What makes the SmartMedia less advanced is that, unlike some newer varieties of media, SmartMedia does not contain its own controller, but rather relies on the controller in the device using it. On newer, more advanced types of flash media, the card itself contains the controller, meaning that you do not have to worry about whether the device will work with the card. With SmartMedia, on the other hand, some older devices may not function properly with larger or newer cards, because it depends on the electronics of the device. This is not a problem with a newer SmartMedia device such as the FinePix 2300, which can accept SmartMedia cards up to and including 128mb cards. The FinePix 2300 ships with an eight-megabyte card, which is enough for between four and 44 images, depending on the resolution you use.
I chose to purchase a 128-megabyte SmartMedia card from NewEgg.com, where the generic SmartMedia card I bought listed for $46. Fujifilm tries to discourage you by saying it will only "guarantee operation" if you use Fuji SmartMedia, but I had no problems with my generic Mr. Flash SmartMedia, and I doubt you will either. Once I installed the 128MB card, I could hold between 166 (1600 by 1200 "fine" quality resolution) and 1300 (640 by 480) images on the camera at once. I opt to take my pictures at 1600 by 1200 because 166 pictures is still more than I think I'd ever need, unless I had to go a long time without access to a PC.
Connecting to a PC
Connecting the camera to a PC running Linux is easy, assuming you already have USB support compiled for your kernel, either through a module or built-in support. In my case, I had USB support and USB mass storage support compiled as modules. What you need to do in this case is to load usb-storage, by doing "modprobe usb-storage." Once this is done and the camera is connected and turned on, you need to mount it. The camera's filesystem is DOS VFAT, so you mount it with a command such as "mount -tvfat /dev/sda1 /mnt/camera," where /dev/sda1 is the SCSI device USB-storage uses to emulate SCSI access for USB devices and /mnt/camera is where you want the camera to be mounted. Once this is done, you access the camera's filesystem like any other disk. Images are stored in /dcim/100_fuji on the camera, a naming scheme that is DCF (Design Rule for Camera Filesystems) compliant.
Once you mount the camera, you can copy files to and from it like any other drive; you can even see how much free space there is on it. The only downside to this is that you must remember the camera is not powered by the USB bus, and so it uses the battery power even when connected to a PC. If, like me, you are near an outlet most times you are using the camera, you may consider picking up a 5V AC adapter to work with the camera so you do not waste batteries. Interestingly, because the camera acts as any other drive, you can use it as a portable storage device between PCs that support USB mass storage devices, an interesting benefit.
According to the manual, with 50% flash use and standard alkaline batteries, you can take approximately 240 shots with the LCD on, and 730 with the LCD off. My problem is that I have a tendency to leave the camera on when I am not taking pictures, which drains the battery, but if you are careful with this, then it should be less of a problem. Still, the camera seems to go through batteries relatively quickly, and I would recommend picking up an AC adapter and some rechargeable batteries when you purchase the camera.
Ease of use and documentation
I found the camera itself to be very easy to use. The setup function was simple, allowing you to set things such as the date and the resolution images will be taken and stored in. Taking pictures is as easy as with any camera as long as you have it in camera mode, and not preview, which is easy to accidentally select. The menus you can use to change the flash and other settings while taking a picture can be somewhat confusing due to their use of symbols instead of text, but once you read the manual and figure out what everything means, it becomes clear.
The manual included with the camera covers all aspects of the camera's use, which is useful to me because I am a novice photographer. The manual is well written and easy to understand. I found it was necessary to read the manual in order to discover such features as red-eye elimination, and the various other flash settings, as well as how to use the digital zoom, so I suggest you take a few minutes to read the manual before using the camera.
The image quality on the camera, to me at least, seemed very good. Taking pictures in most environments proved no problem, although I tend to take pictures of computer equipment and not people. Fuji, however, has some sample images available on its product page for the 2300, and those images were consistent to the level of quality I encountered when photographing equipment. Overall, I found little difference between "fine" and "basic" compression settings (these translate into 1/5 and 1/20 compression ratios at 1600 by 1200) and so most of my shots are taken in basic, although your tastes may differ. The lower the setting, the lower the file size, and though I have plenty of storage on the camera, it takes much less time to copy and work with the smaller files.
While discussing image quality, I will also touch on the digital zooming available on the camera. The digital zoom on the FinePix 2300 is the only type of zoom available, and it adds noticeable pixels to the pictures. If you think you will need zoom, I would suggest looking at a higher model with optical zoom, which uses the lens instead of just digitally enlarging the image.
The Fujifilm FinePix 2300 is an excellent entry-level digital camera for Linux users, an excellent first step into digital photography. The only feature I missed was optical zoom, not that I found it terribly important. Overall, the FinePix 2300 did everything I needed from a digital camera, allowing me to take pictures to send to friends and family easily. As I'm home over the holidays I will be using this camera to take pictures of friends and family, and in conjunction with my laptop running Mandrake can show them the pictures as they are taken. I was able to find the FinePix 2300 online for about $220 before shipping at Pricewatch and MySimon, and I have seen it at local retailers for a slightly higher price.