Welcome to the fourth in my series of quick compact 35mm camera reviews. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing a total of 12 of these articles as part of an upcoming 35mm compact camera mega test spanning cameras made from 1990 to 2003 – arguably the golden age of these pocketable beasts. You can find the full list of cameras being tested here.
I’ll be comparing image quality, durability, speed and overall performance for cameras ranging from the very high end of the 35mm compact camera world to the very low – or close to it. The final mega test will cover my criteria and scoring in full. at over 12,000 words in total, this approach seems a little saner than trying to cram everything onto a single page!
Fujifilm made some nice mid-range compacts, but inexplicably, they are priced like premium compacts. I couldn’t bring myself to pay the prices being demanded for a Natura Classica or a Klasse. However, when a Fujifilm DL Super Mini came up for a reasonable price, I decided to include it in this test. (I wonder what the ‘DL’ stands for? Dinky Little Super Mini?) The Fujifilm DL Super Mini is not in the class of a Klasse, but it’s an exceptionally nice mid-range camera.
The DL Super Mini is a bit like an upmarket MJU II: it tells you nothing, it is a simple point-and-shoot. It is one of the smallest compact cameras. It has a 28mm f3.5 lens. It almost has a premium feel to it. I believe the casing is aluminium painted to look like titanium. It dents easily, so you have to treat it with respect. I like the sliding lens door. I like the way the camera operates. It is quick to use – as fast as the premium compacts. I found it quite hard to hold, being small and slippery (the camera, not me!) The film loading is a bit odd: you have to drop in the film and hope for the best (ah, now I get it! – the DL stands for ‘Drop-in Loading’). It seems like an unnecessary innovation, but it works well. Similar to the Ricoh GR1s, the film is shot backwards. I dislike the ass-backwards counter, but no doubt I could get used it.
If the Fuji’s lens was no better than a MJU II, I would suggest you should save yourself some money and get a MJU II. However, the minute I saw the Fuji’s photos, I knew I had an impressive little camera here. The Fuji’s photos are sharper than those produced by the MJU II. Perhaps not quite as good as the premium compacts, but awfully close.
Those Fujifilm boffins are really very good at making lenses. This one has only four elements, but two of them are aspherical (a surprisingly advanced design for an inexpensive compact camera). The focus hit rate is high, too – I suspect the Fuji has a more sophisticated autofocus than the MJU II does.
In short, the Fujifilm DL Super Mini is a serious contender. It is an excellent mid-range camera, sitting nicely between the cheaper compacts and the premium compacts. Dare I call it a budget alternative to a Contax T3? It is the same size as a T3, it operates slightly like a T3, and the lens is impressive; so yes, I think it justifies that accolade. It delivers perhaps 80% of the T3 experience for about 20% of the cost – impressive!
Pricing seems to be all over the place with this camera, I guess because most people have never heard of it. It can be cheaper when labelled a Tiara or Cardia Mini Tiara (after all, what red-blooded male wants to be seen sporting a tiara?) If you find one of these cameras at less than twice the price of a MJU II, or less than half the price of a Contax – I suggest you grab it!
By the way, there is also a later model called a Tiara Zoom, but I have not tried it. Next up, the Konica Big Mini. Stay tuned!
Fujifilm DL Super Mini / Fujifilm Tiara technical specifications
|Camera name||Fujifilm DL Super Mini / Cardia Mini Tiara|
|Camera type||Point and shoot|
|Image size||24 x 36mm + panoramic mode (mask) 13x36mm)|
|Lens||28mm f/3.5 Super EBC Fujinon lens
(4 elements in 4 groups)
|Viewfinder||0.5x magnification, focus lock light|
|Shutter||Between-the-lens shutter, electromagnetic control
1/2 sec -1/800 sec
|Focusing||Autofocus with focus lock, min. focus 0.35m. 17-step manual focus system
Snap focus mode, "AF infinity mode with manual focus"
|Metering||Aperture priority (EV 5 - 17) + 2 EV backlight compensation
DX-coded films, auto ISO (50 - 1600)
Non-DX defaults to ISO 100
|Flash||Built-in flash (auto set as default) with "night portrait" mode
0.4-5 second flash recycle
|Loading||Fuji "Drop-In" loading system (winds to first frame)|
|Power||1 x 3V CR2 or equivalent|
|Weight||153g (without battery)|
|99.8 x 31.5 x 60mm (WxDxH)|
|Accessories||Soft case, strap|
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