DSLRs are the fair-haired children of the camera business, and yet aim-and-forget models still make up 90% of all actual sales. Sure, DSLRs have humungous sensors and take high-def videos, but they’re relatively affordable, an important consideration in this lovely economy. Nonetheless, point-and-shoot cameras like the F200EXR remain cheaper and have some pretty cool features including the ability to shoot at 12,800 ISO. This particular model also has new sensor technology not found on any camera. Mind you, there are a few caveats that go along with these highlights, but let’s see if this new FinePix model should find a way into your pocket.
Features and Design
Just as all DSLRs practically look alike, compact digicams have a gestalt of their own—the proverbial Altoids tin design motif. Actually, the FinePix F200EXR is slightly thicker than the ol’ candy container, measuring 3.8 inches wide, 2.3 high and 0.9 deep. (And tips the scales at 6.8 ounces with the battery, but we digress.) Regardless, you can easily pop this one in your pocket so it’s at your beck and call, unlike much larger DSLRs. The camera further has a good, sturdy feel. That’s not to say it can take same beating of a Stylus Tough, but it still retains a rugged sensibility nonetheless. The case has a dark charcoal color. Overall, it’s not nearly as stylish as a Sony T series, but the unit doesn’t look unsightly by any means.
The front is dominated by a 5x Fujinon zoom that’s set off by a silver metallic ring. In keeping with an ongoing digicam trend is the fact that it’s a wide-angle with a range of 28-140mm. We’re big fans of wider-angle lenses which let you capture larger group shots as well as much more interesting landscapes and architectural images. You’ll also find the built-in flash, AF Assist lamp, a pinhole mic and assorted logos and icons. They’re subtle like the general sensibilities of the camera itself.
The rear is dominated by a 3-inch LCD rated a decent 230K pixels. Given the size, all of the buttons and controllers are pushed to the far right. The mode dial has settings for Auto, EXR, Program, Manual, Movie (VGA, not HD), Scene (17 options), Natural for shooting without a flash as well as Natural & Flash which takes two shots simultaneously. (We’ll get deeper into these in the Performance section.) Below the mode dial is the classic four-way controller with center Menu/OK button. The four points of the compass give access to flash controls, self-timer, macro and exposure compensation. Four additional keys surround the dial including Playback, F-Mode Menu, Face Detection/Red-Eye and Display/Back. F-Mode lets you adjust ISO (up to a ridiculous 12,800), image size/quality and film simulation. This last feature is especially neat since it allows you to adjust your photos’ tone to Fujifilm’s Provia, Velvia, Astia films along with affording the ability to take B&W and sepia images.
The top of the camera has the shutter button surrounded by the zoom ring. On the right side is a compartment for a proprietary A/V-HD out cable (supplied). Why Fujifilm dubs it an HD Out when the camera only takes VGA 640×480 pixel clips is a mystery. Yes, the stills are “high definition 1920×1080,” but this is a bit of marketing hooey. The bottom of the Made In China camera is a compartment for the battery and SDHC/xD Picture card slot along with a tripod mount.
What’s In The Box
The FinePix F200EXR package includes a decent bundle of items. You’ll get the camera; battery/plug-in charger; a strap; combo USB-A/V cable; a 44-page basic manual; and two CD-ROMs. One has the complete owner’s manual while the other contains FinePix Viewer ver.5.4f for PC and Mac to handle basic editing and picture management chores. What was a little different was a small plastic pouch the company suggests you use for carrying the battery when it’s out of the camera to prevent short circuits. Who knew this was a problem until now?
Performance and Use
The FinePix F200EXR is the first camera with a 12MP Super CCD EXR imaging device. Unlike other chips, it adjusts to ambient light or your direction in different ways. In bright light, it’ll simply act like a traditional 12-megapixel device in the High Resolution Fine Capture Mode. In other instances it’ll use Pixel Fusion Mode which “caps two adjacent pixels to produce 6 million diodes” so shots taken using high ISOs will have less noise. The Dual Capture Wide Dynamic Range Mode captures two sets of 6 megapixel images for enhanced detail in high-contrast scenes. When the camera is set in the EXR mode, it’ll make these adjustments automatically as the camera guesses what’s in front of it, switches to the likely scene mode and fires away. There are six scenes which handle most situations (portrait, landscape, macro and so on) or you can go into the menu and pick one of three options directly (Resolution Priority, High ISO/Low Noise, D-Range Priority). We initially kept the camera in EXR Auto then moved to the other EXR choices. We also used Auto as well as the other mode dial options. Film mode was set to Provia/Standard and Dual IS engaged (sensor shift/high ISO).
Since the F200EXR is a 12MP digicam, it records 4000×3000 pixel JPEGs. And since it’s a point-and-shoot, it has a pokey 1.4 frames per second burst rate. Having tested a variety of DSLRs lately, the camera felt like its innards were coated in molasses. Then again it costs $399, not the $600-plus for digital single lens reflex camera. Alas, there are tradeoffs in this world. Like the Nikon S710 and Canon G10, this is a camera for someone not concerned with capturing fast action. If that’s your situation, pass this baby by. And although there’s a manual setting, your aperture options are very limited, but shutter speeds range from 8 seconds to 1/1000th. Any DSLR offers more.
Even with these concerns on the table, the camera does perform some functions quickly. Focusing is fast and accurate, thanks to the AF Assist lamp, with little “searching” as it locks in onto your subject. There definitely is some lag as files are saved but again this is a digicam not a DSLR. The F200EXR feels comfortable and solid: The menu system is decent with on-screen explanations that help you navigate through the various options, scene modes and so on. Newbies and experienced users will make the most of this camera in short order.
We took tons of shots of people, places and things. (That’s the beauty of an aim-and-forget camera, since you can carry them anywhere.) The F200EXR has Fujifilm’s newest Face Detection system (version 3.0), and it does a fine job with faces. After you take a shot, it replays it with the faces enlarged so you can see if the results are OK. The 3-inch LCD came in really handy for this and overall quality of the display was quite good with little trouble in dim or brightly lit areas. The camera may not have smile shutter or blink control, but the results are quite positive—just ask your friends to smile when you press the shutter.
Once the 4GB SDHC card was nearly filled, it was time to download, review the shots and make full-bleed prints.
Before we get into the positives, let’s state it upfront—12,800 ISO on a point-and-shoot is a fool’s errand. Granted you could make out the image, but the 3MP file was filled with digital noise. You have to give Fujifilm credit because most wouldn’t even attempt this stratospheric spec. It’s just not very useful. Moving down several notches to ISO 800 noise nets better results, and while creating an 8×10 was stretching it, producing 5x7s is acceptable enough. We tried EXR Auto, Pixel Fusion Mode and straight Auto with the flash off at ISO 100-12,800.
Results were sparkling using the camera in bright sunshine with a stroll through a huge garden center offering a gamut of colors, which the F200EXR captures beautifully. A revelation was a close-up of a basket of strawberries. The camera switched into Macro and the Super Intelligent flash lowered the light output so the photos were really outstanding. We weren’t particularly impressed with EXR’s handling of a room filled with mixed light—straight Auto was the better choice. We also weren’t impressed with the constant noise the camera made in EXR mode as it seemed to tick as it adjusted.
As noted, the videos at 640×480 are not HD and a camera of this price and level should have 720p capability. Fujifilm missed the boat big time on that one.
Is the Super CCD EXR sensor heaven’s gift to photographers? Not really, but it is a nice step forward. The camera works well as a point-and-shoot, and adventurous shutterbugs will enjoy playing with the EXR’s individual options just to see what they can do. At around $350 or less, this is a solid digicam—just don’t expect any miracles from it.
- Rich, accurate colors
- Noise under control up to ISO 800
- Nice wide-angle lens (28-140mm)
- Capable Super Intelligent Flash
- Sturdy “feel”
- Accepts SDHC and xD cards
- EXR technology not God’s gift
- Slow 1.4 fps
- Limited aperture adjustments
- Noise galore at ISO 1600 and above
- Not HD video