One of Fujifilm's main aims for the F50fd was to build on the low-light performance for which its predecessors were renowned, while offering higher-res images.

This tricky task has been successfully accomplished by coupling a new seventh-generation 12MP Super CCD HR sensor with Fuji's latest Real Photo Processor II imaging engine, complete with two-stage noise reduction system. The camera's core technology is surrounded by a veritable wish-list of features, intended to deliver better quality photographs, more of the time.

The F50fd's Fujinon lens only offers a 3x optical zoom range but proved to have spectacular edge-to-edge sharpness in our tests. The downside is that it's ruthless for portraiture, revealing every imperfection.

However, there are two portrait Scene modes, the first of which makes for more appealing skin tones. An additional new Portrait Enhancer mode goes further still, giving a slightly soft-focus effect and removing most skin blemishes in the process.

Extra portrait-friendly features include a revamped face-detection focus system, which can seek out faces more effectively if they're turned away at severe angles, hidden behind oversized spectacles or even upside down - handy for bat photography.

The system works extremely well, not only in Shooting mode but also in the Playback menu, enabling you to automatically pick out faces sequentially, zoom in on them to check sharpness and expressions, and even crop individual faces from the overall image.

Many older F-series FinePix cameras had 'anti-shake' buttons but, instead of offering image-stabilisation, they merely bumped up the ISO. The F50fd retains this trick but also adds a CCD-shift stabiliser, offering a belt-and-braces defence, at least in fully automatic Shooting mode.

In other modes, you can take full control of the ISO rating and just use the image stabiliser on its own. CCD-shift tends to be a poor relation of lens-based optical stabilisation but we found the stabiliser usually gave an extra couple of stops, before camera shake reared its fuzzy head.

There's a good selection of Scene modes, any two of which can be assigned to the main mode dial for quick access. You also get Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes, offering exposure adjustments in one-third stop increments.

However, the Manual exposure mode is a misnomer - you can't change the aperture or the shutter speed. It's a fully automatic exposure mode that just lets you tweak settings like ISO and white balance.

Getting back to low-light performance, there's a handy Natural Light mode, which breathes life into dully lit or indoor scenes, making the most of ambient lighting.

For added versatility, a Natural plus Flash setting takes two consecutive exposures automatically, first without and then with flash, offering two entirely different types of shot. Images are squeaky clean at ISO ratings of 100 but noise starts to creep in at ISO 200 and is very noticeable at ISO 800. Things don't get really unpleasant until ISO 3200 and 6400 though, at which maximum resolution is limited to 6MP and 3MP respectively.

The F50fd is easy to love and to live with. Controls are quick and intuitive, and even the most cunning features work intuitively and effectively.

Image quality is excellent in almost any shooting conditions, combining high levels of sharpness with beautiful tone and colour, and a marked absence of aberrations. As well as Standard and B&W colour modes, there's also a more dramatic Chrome colour mode, especially good for creating vibrant landscapes.

The Chrome setting on some older FinePix cameras created oversaturated images but the F50fd strikes a much more natural balance. Overall, this is by far the best F-series Fujifilm camera to date.

Via PhotoRadar