By Micah Marty
Here's a first: a digital camera that has appreciated in value. That's right: if you had bought a truck full of new Fuji F30/31 cameras and just parked it in a warehouse for a year before selling them, you'd have no problem paying those holiday bills. Contrary to conventional wisdom ("Digital cameras always decrease in value when the successor model is introduced") those two discontinued Fujis have almost doubled in value since they were current.
This happened, of course, because a few months ago Fuji decided to forgo its primary edge over the competition ("Less noise") in favor of being more like the competition ("More megapixels!"). As a result, discontinued-but-new F30s that once could be bought new for $230–260 are now up as high as $400 on eBay, while the discontinued-but-new F31s that once could be bought new for $250–275 are now approaching the $500 mark on the same auction site. Those two cameras each have six megapixels; their shiny new successor (the F50), with twice as many megapixels but also more noise—and, by the way, a shorter-lived battery—currently is selling for $228 new at B&H.
I've been a fan of this line since the F10 started it all almost three years ago; like the Harry Potter books, each successive edition draws the consumer irresistibly into trying the next when it comes along.
Of the four shown here, the F30's high-ISO images look better to me by a very slight edge over the F31's. On the other hand, the F31 has a highly useful "Auto800" maximum ISO setting, while the F30 makes you choose between an automated max of 400 (not fast enough) and 1600 (pretty unuseable). And the F31 introduced Fuji's form of face-detection, which sounds completely gimmicky until you've seen how well it nails focus on a face in the corner of the frame. (Perfect for those artsy off-center portraits: HCB and Arnold Newman could make good use of it even if Martin Schoeller, Yosuf Karsh, and the Department of Motor Vehicles could not.)
In the high-ISO noise department, the F10 and F50 are both better than many brands but perhaps 1 or 1.5 stops noisier than either the F30 or the F31. Images from the F10 ($120 new on eBay, $70-90 used) look a bit more film-like and less smeary than the F50's do to my eye, although the latter is more pocketable and includes both face-detection and image-stabilization. The F50 also takes the ubiquitous SD cards, unlike its annoyingly xD-only predecessors.
With regard to a discontinued digital camera growing in value, there's an economics lesson in there somewhere, but I suspect it's more for corporations than for individual speculators. Not that the F50 won't do very well for Fuji, perhaps better than the F30/31: dpreview says the F50 is still less noisy than many competitors, and a nice plug by the Tech guy in the New York Times the other day won't hurt its Christmas sales figures either.
But maybe (à la Coke) Fuji might consider bringing out an F-"Classic" for those who want the 2006 vintage more than the 2007. There's no reason Fuji couldn't offer both old and new models and give consumers the choice. After all, it seems to be working for Leica....
Photographer Micah Marty is founder of trustimage.org.
Featured Comment by Studiohatyai: "I've owned 'em all and the more I look back at the files, the more I think that the F10 produces the best looking images of the bunch."
Featured Comment by Bruce McL: "This is very timely and validating article. Just yesterday I gave an early Christmas present to a friend, an ultra-compact Fuji Z5fd with the same 6MP Super CCD sensor found in the F30. [Note: Not quite the same, as several other people have mentioned in the comments. —Ed.] Of course we had to run outside and try the camera right away. It was just after sunset and the sky was darkening quickly. Both of us were amazed at how well the camera did in the low light. Prices are low for the Z5 cameras, low enough to buy one for a beginner or very casual camera user who wants the small size."