Early Digital Camera - The Fuji FinePix 1300

Bob Leggitt | Monday, 31 December 2012 |

I used to sell these when they first hit the shops, back in the year 2000. With an original UK list price of £249.00, complete with an 8 MB Smartmedia card, the Fuji FinePix 1300 was basically a non-zoom version of the £349.00 FinePix 1400 (and a very similar replacement for the MX-1200 of the late '90s). Despite its shockingly cheap appearance, low resolution, woeful lens, and frankly pathetic feature set, the Fuji 1300 sold very well, and in fact proved to be one of the hot products in the run-up to Christmas Y2K.


The Fuji FinePix 1300 digital camera (circa 2000), sitting atop a Jessops photographic catalogue from early 2001. After the Christmas 2000 period, the 1300 was reduced in price from £249 to £199, and it's at the latter price that the device is depicted here in the catalogue.

Why such a hot product?… Well, because in the early days of digital cameras, there was very little choice within the kind of price range the average consumer was used to spending on a film camera, and Fuji was a reputable name-brand in the world of photography. People were so desperate to get the advantages of digital image capture at a price they could afford, that they suspended their objections to the device’s truly cringeworthy look, and took the plunge.

Digital camera technology was still phenomenally expensive at the beginning of the noughties. Decent digital compacts boasting the period’s top resolutions of 3.3 megapixels or thereabouts, would weigh in at around the £700 or £800 mark – sometimes more. And digital SLRs cost £thousands. In order to achieve price points of £250 or less, the manufacturers would have to pare down the product spec so the consumer was getting virtually nothing but the digital capture chip and circuitry. Inevitably, that would leave the camera itself in ‘throwaway’ territory as far as quality was concerned. Exceptionally cheap, plastic construction, ‘Christmas cracker’ optics, and very basic shooting parameters.

THE SPEC IN USE

With a 1.3 megapixel output resolution, the FinePix 1300 produced a maximum image size of just 1280 x 960 pixels – in JPEG format only. The level of JPEG compression was variable, and it was possible to store the files at reasonably ‘high quality’ (or 'Fine' as Fuji termed it). However, the ‘high quality’ term only applied to the JPEG in the technical sense of its file size, versus the output resolution. Because the lens was dreadful and the CCD chip was poor, the results from this camera could never be considered high quality or 'Fine', whatever the settings.

Once you’d selected either the Landscape or Macro (close-up) mode, via a toggle switch on the side of the device, the camera would decide on the settings for each shot, so it was beyond your control. The ISO rating was fixed at 125, which is relatively low, and in Landscape mode the camera tended to default to an F/11 depth of field in bright sunlight. Coupled with the low ISO this would force down the shutter speed to somewhere between 1/200th and 1/250th of a second, and that wasn’t fast enough for action shots. So, try to photograph a moving target on a sunny day , and you’d get motion blur pretty much every time. I should stress, in contrast, that the macro mode on the 1300 was impressive for its day. Close-ups, taken with the subject only around 5 or 6 inches away, do look good - even at the full 1280 x 960 resolution.

The FinePix 1300 did have exposure compensation and white balance parameters. Fair enough, but both of these parameters were far less necessary than a basic and reliable ability to capture moving objects without blurring. Plus, the battery life on this camera was so bad that there simply wasn’t time for the user to be tinkering with white balance and exposure compensation settings. Switch the device on, take the shot, switch it straight off again. In my experience that was the only way it would be possible to fill a capture card with images in one session.

For anyone who doesn’t remember the days of these early digital cameras, the Smartmedia card I mentioned at the beginning of the post was where the images were stored. The two main types of capture card in the 1990s and the early noughties were Smartmedia and Compact Flash. There was no such thing as an SD card. Smartmedia cards were comparatively large, very thin, and very flimsy. If you weren’t careful with them they’d bend, and that made them prone to damage. Compact Flash cards were a bit smaller and more sturdy.

The FinePix 1300’s LCD screen was extremely small at just 1.6 inches, and by accepted standards today it was also very dim and difficult to see in bright conditions. You could adjust the LCD brightness, but even up full it wasn’t very clear. It was, in some ways, easier to use the conventional viewfinder, but the build of the camera was so poor that the viewfinder gave an inaccurate representation of the frame.

There was a mains connector for indoor use, but if you were out and about you’d be forced to use the standard power source of four AA batteries. As I mentioned earlier, battery life was atrociously short – even with a good set of fully-pumped rechargeables you’d be looking at mere minutes of use with the LCD screen active.


I took this 'still life' photo with the Fuji FinePix 1300 mounted on a tripod, and it's by far the best shot I've ever managed to produce with the camera. It has, however, had some colour and contrast enhancement in the Paint Shop Pro editor, as well as some sharpening. I originally published the shot on one of my other blogs in this article about the early days of digital cameras.

THE BIG PICTURE

In truth, the 1300 was 1990s digicam technology, on its way out by the start of the noughties, but packaged into a very cheap device to exploit a lucrative section of the market – the first time buyer with a relatively limited budget. Particularly on the approach to Christmas Y2K, the 1300 was a product at the right price, from the right manufacturer, at the right time. Sadly though, it served only to highlight what a poor deal the public were getting in these early years of the digital camera. A similarly priced traditional 35mm SLR would have been in a different universe from the £249 FinePix, offering the photographer substantial and durable build quality, and full control over each shot, and feasibly putting professional quality images onto a decent roll of film.

But ALL early digital cameras in this kind of price territory at the turn of the century were grim, producing disappointing photographs, and eating batteries in a single gulp. Had it not been for the public’s deep desire to see their images immediately after capture, and of course to shoot and print their naughty ‘husband and wife specials’ without having to go through the processing lab, I’m sure it would have taken a lot longer for digital cameras to really start selling to the masses in volume.

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