You may remember my review of Fuji DL Super Mini from a while back, that was something like a crown jewel at the top of the DL line. Now, let’s delve into not-so-top (but also not-so-bottom) of the Fuji’s DL line, the Fuji DL-500
Fuji DL-500 Wide Date, also known as Cardia Travel Mini Dual-P
Let’s start with the name, shall we? This Camerapedia page lists quite a long list of various eponyms for basically the same camera that might differ in some negligible way. The most obvious differentiation is probably the UV filter instead of the lens cover. I will stay with this for a while as I find this a brilliant piece of engineering. Right after Mju kinda slide lens cover/on-off switch which is probably the best this gotta be my second favorite solution. Mechanical covers are quite delicate piece of metal or plastic that easily bend or break and sometimes can even render otherwise functioning camera useless. Of course, the glass can be scratched but on this camera it is below the surface and there are no extreme scratches on it (and remember this camera is now turning 24 years old). Also, those scratches would have to be pretty bad to show up on the photos as they are so close to the lens.
Other features differentiating various models are color (either black or silver with black being most common), date back (all have date back except one model), panorama mode (mine does not have this bullshit mode) or red eye reduction flash mode (I don’t really care about this one). So I was pretty lucky to score this neat version. Yay me!
Turning the camera on
Why would I start with this paragraph? There is an on-off button on the top. Big deal. Well you bought a new CR123 battery, popped it in, pressed the on-off switch but nothing happens – sort of. The camera will rewind your film back to the cartridge. Weird, right? Key to this weird behavior is second battery. Held by couple of screws there is another CR2023 button type batter located in the film door. With this battery drained the camera cannot do anything. The main CR123 is there for film advance, focusing and flash. Because to change the battery in the door one have to open it rewinding the film to cartridge seem little bit more logical. This reminds me of Canon BF-80. It also has a separate battery for the date function but unlike the Fuji, you won’t need a screwdriver to change the battery. Canon will also happily shoot away without the battery in the door. Why engineers in Fuji opted for this weird double battery design is a mystery. Tiara only uses one battery for everything, date imprint, focusing, flash…
There might be a plus side to this. Some people might consider the camera broken as replacing the main battery won’t do the trick so you can score this one for next to nothing.
Previous paragraph might seem that this review won’t be that positive but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Nice touch is the infinity focus. This button with pictogram of mountains will fix your focus to infinity and disables flash. On my Tiara this is the most used button and on DL-500 it is the same. It won’t get fooled by a window, wire fence or anything. Great feature. All autofocus cameras should have it.
Another cool feature that I learnt to love is film pre-wind. They try to sell it under the notion of saving your precious shots if the camera back gets opened (which hardly ever does). This is well and true but for me the main kicker lies in the fact that you know exactly how many pictures you have. Exactly. I can squeeze 38 pictures from my Olympus OM-1 SLR when I load it carefully with every film. But sometimes I leave more slack in the film and can squeeze only 37. When using Fomapans I can squeeze 39 from OM-1 easily as they are longer. These Fujis will pre-wind the film and tell you how much you have. On Mju, once the counter hits 36 it’s done and rewinds no matter how much film there is left. This is also useful with home spooled film.
But let us continue. We can leave the date imprint, self-timer and flash (no, it does not remember flash settings) aside for that is standard stuff and focus on why this camera has word “Dual” in some incarnations of the name. It is because it has dual focal length. That’s right, just a press of a button and the lens will transform from 3 element in 3 group 28/3.5 to 5 element in 5 groups 45/5.6. Not only that, but your viewfinder will change as well! What it does on the inside is that it extends the lens barrel and swings an optical group behind the extended lens.
Lens and image quality
If the swinging a lens group inside the camera sounds flimsy it’s because it is. From all photos I took with the longer focal length only two were sharp. Usually there is an area of soft blurriness in the center and it is getting better as you go toward the borders. Have it been the other way around, it would be more fun. I cannot say if it’s just my model or if it something that plagues these cameras.
Does the review still sound to negative? That’s because I wanted to clear out the bad stuff before I focus on the good stuff. The longer focal length might be crummy but the wide end is completely different story. Three elements in three groups do sound crummy as well but this lens can deliver. I was wowed by the quality.
While on topic of lenses, I can mention focus as well. The infinity focus works like a charm but how about autofocus? Mirror test (taking selfie in the mirror) revealed that camera focused properly on the mirror surface but otherwise it is reasonably accurate. This is a common problem with many autofocus cameras that use infrared beam. The infrared beam allows for focus in complete darkness but it has its limits. For proper selfie shots, you should opt for something with manual step focus (Like Tiara, Minolta TC-1 or like).
When the shutter is half-pressed it extends the lens barrel a little bit to prefocus but the final focusing is done inside. It somewhat reduces the shutter lag. What can on the other hand slow you down is flash. It can take forever to charge it but when it is charged, it works very well even on longer distances. I am very pleased with how photos with flash are turning out.
Exposure wise I don’t have a slightest problem. It does not, like Tiara, shoot very long exposures and stop at around 1/2 of a second. It takes DX coded film from 25 to 1600 ISO. This is standard on more advanced compacts. There is a backlight compensation of +2EV which comes in handy but the camera can handle exposing very well whether in daylight or with flash. Maybe it’s me, knowing the limitations of the camera but I don’t have much if any badly exposed photos. This could have been a one hell of a camera to have back then some quarter century ago. To turn of the flash you need to either fix the infinity or press the flash/exposure comp. button twice. Again, hardware switch for flash and this could have been a cult camera.
Ergonomics and usage
The camera is nice size. Bit larger than the miniscule Tiara and larger still than Mju for example but it fits neatly into the hand and does not bother me by its size or weight It has a nice flat profile. Weight is just right it does not feel cheap and it’s not unreasonably heavy. It is a pocketable camera for your normal not so skinny pants back pocket but not for your shirt pocket.
What kind of threw me of was the shutter button. It is rubbery like all buttons on the camera and there is no real half press click. The only way how to know, that you’ve half pressed the shutter is by sound from lens being extended. It does not have this satisfying “click” when you press it completely. It takes a bit of getting used to. Some buttons are a bit hard to press as well especially the infinity focus. It sits next to the exposure comp./flash button (which itself is pressed easily) and is little bit more flush with the surface of the back and takes bit more pressure to activate it. I was thinking about applying a tiny dab of epoxy or Sugru to make a little bump on it but I don’t want to glue the button shut. Maybe I’ll just put a self-adhesive faux Swarowski on it.
Let me just quickly mention the viewfinder. It’s so so, almost okay. The contrast is low, it is prone to flaring and have a blueish cast. The size is okay and we have to give it a credit for changing the FOV when the lens is extended to the longer focal length. What I like about it is; that it does not show much around the frame lines. With some compacts you never really know what will be in the final picture (and it can add to the charm of some of them). There is a LED next to the viewfinder. I took a black marker and painted over it, rendering it much less bright but still visible. It blinks one way when the flash is charging and different way when focus cannot be achieved.
So what do you think? The 45mm focal length is useless (on my piece), it needs two batteries, it has rubbery shutter release, some hard to press buttons, flash takes a while and it does not remember its flash settings (well nobody does except maybe Contax, Minolta TC-1 and some hi end Ricohs and few oddballs here and there). But still, I like it. I like it very much. The infinity focus button is tricky to press but you can get it. I don’t need to shoot many pictures in rapid succession with flash. On the other hand, the picture quality it gives me is outstanding for such camera and is quite responsive as well. It exposes excellently whether with or without flash. Plus the date is rendered in sweet seven segment digits which is much nicer than pixelated digits from Tiara.
I am keeping this camera as a second shooter to the Tiara having one loaded with print and the other with black and white. It does not feel so expensive and delicate like the Tiara does while still feeling solid. The fact that all those plastic moving parts still works after 24 years is probably a proof of Japan engineering.
A few more images – some not safe for work