The Fuji FinePix Z33 is one of the many waterproof digital cameras released this year, alongside the Panasonic TS1, Canon D10, and Olympus TOUGH 8000. Though the Z33 shares a common trait with those other cameras, it is not much like them otherwise. All three of the other cameras are not only waterproof, but shockproof, and have tough, reinforced bodies to resist damage from drops and other traumatic impacts. They range from reasonably slim (the TS1 and TOUGH 8000) to thick and bulbous (the D10). The Z33 makes no attempt to resist shocks, and as such, is freed from the need for a sturdy outer housing. That allows it to be very thin, very lightweight, and highly portable.
The Fuji Z33 has a familiar set of specifications. It contains a 10-megapixel CCD sensor, a 3x optical zoom lens, and a 2.7-inch LCD display. Apart from its waterproof seals and its ultracompact profile, there's not much remarkable about the Z33. It's a fun, flashy looking camera that's clearly targeted at novice users, particularly those who are in the market for an easy-to-carry vacation camera. Kids would also be a good audience for the Z33, as it's pretty simple and uncomplicated.
Ultimately, however, the Z33 fails its most important challenge. It does not take very good photos.
Design: Slim and Funky
The most impressive thing about the Z33 is its weight. It's feather light and easy to forget about once it disappears into a pocket or bag. The extraordinarily thin body is made of plastic and its slimness is very attractive. It's about as small as the Panasonic FS15. The FS15 is heavier, however, though not by much. The FS15 also takes excellent photos, which, as you'll see in our samples, the Z33 does not.
The rear of the camera is uncluttered. The 2.7-inch LCD display dominates most of the back, and to the right side there are two rows of five buttons each. The buttons are rubberized, to prevent seepage of water when submerged. Some of the buttons serve dual purposes. For example, the flash, macro, timer, and delete buttons also serve as the directional pad, which can create some confusion. Navigating menus is particularly tricky when trying to get used to the directional layout, where the left arrow is between the up and down arrows and the right arrow is next to the left arrow, by itself on the right hand side.
Performance: Soft Images
The thinness, the lightness, and the waterproof abilities all conspire to make one want to like the Z33, but the poor quality of the images cannot be ignored. In ideal conditions, the photos (full resolution images may be found by clicking on the assorted thumbnails), the Z33 failed to provide crisp, blur-free photographs. Our sample shots were all marred by a softness that sucked the life out of our subjects. It was very disappointing, but not entirely surprising, considering the bargain price of the Z33. The only thing that's clear about the Z33 is that it's a cheaply made digital camera. While consumers may like the savings that come along with the Z33, they won't like the photos that come from it, and in the end, will feel as if they wasted more than they saved.
Conclusion: Cheap, and It Shows
The Z33 is not recommended for shoppers looking for a good, ultracompact, waterproof camera. The best waterproof cameras are the Panasonic TS1 or the Canon D10, and consumers should consider them seriously. The former is a stylish, more expensive ultracompact with HD video, and the latter is more in the Z33's funky, fun, family type, albeit with superior image quality. If you don't care too much about the waterproofing, then the Panasonic FS15, which is very small and takes great photos (but NOT WATERPROOF), is worth a look.