The Fujifilm Finepix A204 Digital Camera

Bob Leggitt | Thursday, 19 December 2013 |

Fuji Finepix A204 Digital Camera
The Fujifilm Finepix A204. Please note that JPEGJuice is Planet Botch's own Flickr account, and the administrator of this site is the photographer and copyright holder.

I still remember reading a review and test for this camera in the September 2003 issue of Photography Monthly’s pull-out Buying Guide. Priced at £210, the camera scored 8 out of 10, and came with a “Highly Recommended” badge of honour. What was perhaps most impressive was that in the review’s pros and cons, the only criticisms listed were the battery type (AA as opposed to lithium), the fairly low megapixel rating of 2.0, and the lack of any real manual user control. None of the above could really be considered faults or flaws. They were elements of the design, and would therefore be well understood by anyone buying the camera.

The Fuji Finepix A204 compact digital camera was really just a very minor update on the 2600Z model of 2001. The two cameras looked almost identical, but the A204 incorporated a slightly smaller LCD screen (part of the quest to increase battery life), and switched its capture card format from the old Smartmedia to the then new XD. In fact, the A204 was sold in America as the Finepix 2650, which brings up an interesting debate about model numbers. The ‘A’ series were considered by Fuji to be entry level cameras, so whilst on the European market this model was considered entry-level, in the US it was seemingly deemed above that territory.

I still like the A204 today, as I write in December 2013. It’s not a camera you’d use for important shots, because 2 megapixels won’t even fill a decent sized computer screen these days. But it is reliable, and whilst it looks very clunky, it’s actually pleasant to use. The shutter lag means you need to anticipate rather than pinpoint when taking action shots, but with still subjects you can pretty reliably get what you’re after, and the colours are eminently natural.

IN THE MARKET

In the context of 2001, the newly introduced 2600Z had been an attractive buy. UK retailer Jessops, indeed, described its performance as “hot”, and in its price range (realistically around the £250 mark), it was very good value for a digital camera. Even though the device didn’t carry a Super CCD, Fuji had improved noticeably on their standard sensor chips since those used in the previous generation of ‘budget’ models. The contrast was bolder and better, and the colour was as accurate as you could find at that time. The addition of a 3x optical zoom to the 2600Z’s feature set was another big step forward in the price ballpark.

However, things were developing fast in the world of digital cameras, and by the latter half of 2002, when the A204 replaced the 2600Z, competition was stiffer. That’s not to say the A204 wasn’t still a useful camera for its time, but higher megapixel ratings were plunging in price, and that left the A204, with its resolution of just two megapixels, in difficult territory. Whereas genuine 4 megapixel compacts cost £600 plus when the 2600Z hit the market in 2001 (and were therefore no threat), by the time the 2600Z was slightly revised to become the A204 the following year, it was possible to get a 4 megapixel device for £299. Even with a price reduction from the 2600Z’s £249 to the A204’s £199, that was a threat. It didn’t matter how good the A204’s colour accuracy and image aesthetics were; as a 2 megapixel camera it simply wouldn’t fight off competition from 4 megapixel alternatives. At a time when photographers were desperate for resolution, a very narrow price difference left the A204 with a very short lifespan.

CONCLUSION

In 2013 and going into 2014, the Finepix A204 represents a very cheap way to get into retro digital cameras. I've seen these on sale in secondhand chains for as little as £1 (although more typically £5 - £7), and that's more than a bargain for a perfectly usable piece of history from the early noughties. True, you won't look particularly trendy or cool dragging this bumper-sized plastic monster out of your pocket or bag at a party, and depending on who your friends are, you may indeed become a laughing stock. But if you just want a little trip back to the formative years of digicams, and you don't care who knows it, an A204 would be £5 very well spent. The resolution is low, and you will notice, but realistically, how many better uses for a fiver can you think of?

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