Looking for a digital camera?  Join the crowd!  Here’s one in the mid-range of price and performance with a solid mix of features and performance that I really like.

The FinePix 2800 Zoom from Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. may be the end of your search. Many of the features found on their high-end consumer cameras are also on this user-friendly 2800 model.

Equipped with a 2.1 megapixel CCD, the FinePix 2800 delivers images capable of prints at 4×6, 5×7 and even 8×10.  It shines with its 6x optical zoom, the same zoom range as Fuji’s acclaimed FinePix 6900 Zoom digital camera.  The 2800 is truly a PHD (Push Here Dummy) camera, just the way I like it!  However, for the more knowledgeable user, unlike Mr. Gadget®, manual controls are available, including 64 zone TTL metering, Programmed AE (Exposure Compensation in Manual mode).

USB connectivity makes camera-to-computer transfers simple for both Macs and PCs.  The supplied FinePixViewer software automatically launches the moment pictures are downloaded to a computer.  For those fortunate to be Mac users on the new Mac OS X, plugging in the camera and turning it on automatically launches Apple’s fine and FREE iPhoto software making it a snap to bring in the photos, organize them and then actually use them.

I’ve had fun attaching voice notes (up to 30 seconds) to pictures and also recording video with sound (up to 60 seconds at 10 frames per second).  The 2800 can even operate as a PC-cam for computer-to-computer video teleconferencing.

In addition to the 6x optical zoom there is a 2.5x digital zoom, only capable of being used in the low-resolution 640×480 mode.

Shutter speeds are from 1/2 to 1/1,500 second.

Power comes from four “AA” size batteries.  A set of disposables ships with the camera.  Surprisingly, that original set lasted through quite a lot of use.  Now, bear in mind that I kept the big LCD off most of the time, so that contributed to the long life from the original batteries.

I recommend serious shooters invest in at least a couple of sets of rechargeable NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries.  I like the Powerex brand from Maha Energy, and their new 1800MaH cells are super!  I just found them at Thomas Distributing for as low as $13.97 for a 4-pack.  You’ll also need a charger.

This camera uses readily available SmartMedia to store the photos and ships with a 16MB card.  Most users will immediately opt for a larger one to get lots of photos before having to off-load them to a computer.  I recommend 64MB or even 128MB.  I checked on pricegrabber.com and found a 128MB card for $49.  You can’t have too much digital “film” when traveling.

There are multi-programmable flash modes with red-eye reduction.  This feature, as on most other cameras, is an inexact proposition.  Sometimes it works well, and sometimes your subjects have red eyes.  It is a function of many factors, not the least of which is the relative proximity of the flash itself to the lens as well as the distance from the subject.  The further away one is from the other, the more accurate is the red-eye reduction.  On a consumer camera, it is virtually impossible to separate the two enough to make a big difference.  I fix red-eye after the fact with software, such as Adobe’s Photo-Deluxe, PhotoShop, and PhotoElements and using the Macintosh’s free iPhoto software.

The built-in viewfinder is electronic, like a little TV screen, and, of course, there is also a power-sucking 1.8-inch LCD monitor, which I use sparingly.  Normally, though, I like to see what I’ve done and share with others on the 1.8-inch screen where I can also zoom in on my photos to enlarge and move about to see any section of the photos enlarged on the screen.  That’s one reason I carry extra sets of rechargeable batteries!

Even with its impressive 6x optical zoom lens, the FinePix 2800 Zoom still measures a compact 3.7” W x 3.0” H x 2.8” D and weighs only 9.5 ounces, without batteries.  The plastic body contributes to the low weight.  Bundled accessories include a 16MB SmartMedia™ storage card, four AA Alkaline batteries, shoulder strap and USB and video cables (for display directly on a TV screen).  In addition to Fujifilm’s FinePixViewer (for Macs and PCs), other bundled software for PCs-only includes Fujifilm’s DP Editor and AdobeÒ PhotoDeluxeÒ 4.0.

One of the simplest ways to enjoy digital photography and get prints from your efforts is to take the memory card in to your local photofinisher that already has the facilities to make photographic prints from the digital images.  It’s better and longer lasting than the photos you can print yourself on an inkjet printer.  Check availability of service and prices locally.  You can also do what I do, and that is to sign up with an online photo sharing Website, such as through Apple’s iPhoto software (exclusively and free for Mac OS X users), ofoto.com. shutterfly.com, imagestation.com and many others.  Store your photos FREE and share via the Internet with anyone, anywhere.

Most sites provide photofinishing starting at about 50 cents per 4×6 print.  Most provide excellent results.  Either way, taking the memory card into a photofinisher or uploading digital photos and then ordering prints over the Internet, the results are worth investigating as a worthwhile alternative to doing it yourself.

I also recommend purchasing a case for the camera.  Mine come from the popular Targus brand, found HERE.

The FinePix 2800 Zoom carries a suggested retail price of $399.  Shop online for better prices, though.  I just checked on pricegrabber.com and found it for $275!  You’ll find it at most camera retailers where digital cameras are sold.

All things considered, it’s a lot of camera for the money and will make a wonderful gift!

More info is at www.fujifilm.com or by phone at 1-800-800 FUJI.  The direct link to a camera-specific page is HERE.

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