It’s easy to feel like there’s a price ceiling when it comes to point-and-shoots: If you spend too little, you’ll be replacing the thing every six months. Spend too much and you’ll end up feeling like you may as well have sprung for a DSLR. So before you write off the Finepix F550 EXR and its hefty $349.95 price tag, there are a few things to consider. The camera comes packed with Fujifilm’s latest sensor technology, which truly improves on the typical pocket cam experience. It’s also outfitted with enough scene presets for any shooting situation you’ll come across, as well as one of the most intuitive manual operation UIs of any point-and-shoot camera on the market today.
Features and design
The first thing we noticed about the F550 EXR is how different it looks from many competitor point-and-shoots. Many high-end models are indistinguishable at first glance, but Fujifilm makes no qualms about standing out from the pack. It’s a little thicker than rival pocket cams, and perhaps a little heavier than some might like. Personally, we think a little heft gives a camera a high-quality feel, and the F550 EXR definitely isn’t oversized. The camera measures 103.5×62.5×32.6mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at roughly 7.6 ounces, battery and memory card included.
The closed lens slightly protrudes from the face of the camera’s chassis, and it features a grip panel. This further helps to give it a more professional feel, although the camera is small enough to do without it, so it ends up looking a little like it’s just there for show. Around back, the F550 EXR features a mode dial that sits at an angle, straddling the top and back face of the camera. This is yet another unusual element of the device’s design, and while aesthetically it doesn’t distract–and actually frees up room around the shutter button, zoom toggle, and power button–the mode dial’s positioning proves a little difficult to maneuver. It’s a small concession to make, but it is easier to turn the dial with our thumb alone at the base of the dial, otherwise it becomes difficult to properly grip. Again – small concession.
The rest of the back of the camera is much more recognizable and the control dial, playback button, and additional mode button for extended manual use complete the interface. This makes for intuitive use, and it helps users navigate inside what may at first appear to be an unfamiliar scene. Familiarity is all well and good, but the F550 EXR’s 3-inch, 460k dot resolution LCD display steals your attention. Just to offer a comparison, the Canon Powershot S95 (which retails for $400) features a 3-inch, 461k display that beats most, if not all, competitor point and shoot LCD screens out there – and the 550EXR has no problems rivaling it in this department. It’s incredibly bright with impressive, natural contrast.
As for the insides, Fujifilm packed the F550 EXR with some impressive and surprising technology. The most obvious of these features being the camera’s EXR CMOS sensor. The F550 EXR marks its debut, and the idea is that EXR and CMOS capabilities are combined to offer improved resolution and speed. The camera’s 16-megapixel resolution is mildly impressive for its size and price, and its BSI (back side illuminated) sensor improves its ability to shoot in low light and cut down on noise at high ISOs. Of course, its 15x optical zoom and 24-360mm range doesn’t hurt either. The camera’s pop-up flash is also easy to control, and it’s discreet.
In a somewhat surprising move, Fujifilm doesn’t include as many art filters as other point-and-shoots. Honestly, we’re willing to sacrifice these for higher quality presets, which the F550 EXR delivers. The camera includes settings for its EXR mode (to prevent washout, shoot detail, or for high IOS/low noise situations), auto, dogs and cats, panorama, high speed movie, and various other options, like beach/snow, party, and landscape. We actually didn’t miss the built-in fisheye mode we’ve become so accustomed to in pocket cams.
What’s in the box
In addition to the F550 EXR, Fujifilm includes a rechargeable NP-50 battery and its charger, hand/wrist strap, USB cable, AV Cable, owner’s manual, and instruction CD.