We’re big DSLR boosters because of their fast response and enhanced picture quality. Yet we’re the first to admit that carrying around a hefty DSLR all day with several lenses is a pain. That’s why compact point-and-shoots remain so popular (lower prices certainly help as well). The new FinePix S200EXR tries to carve a path in between the two types of cameras. It offers rapid, aim-and-forget shooting, and its built-in 14.3x manual zoom has a focal range of 30.5-436mm – something that would cost a small fortune if you bought comparable interchangeable DSLR lenses. The 12-megapixel digicam also has loads of tweaks to satisfy shutterbugs at all levels. The camera will set you back around $535, a tidy sum when you have many quality mega-zooms and high-quality point-and-shoots available for less, let alone entry-level DSLRs. Value, as always, is in the eye of the reviewer, so let’s put the S200EXR through its paces.
Features and Design
A quick look at the S200EXR and you’d swear you’re looking at a DSLR. It has a large all-black body and large grip. You don’t see the large pentaprism box on the top, since there is no mirror assembly, and neither will you find a lens release button: The protruding lens is yours forever. That’s not such a bad thing, since it offers a fairly wide-angle, powerful, optically-stabilized zoom rated 30.5-436mm. There are many mega-zooms with 20x, even 26x lenses, as well as wider-angle settings (28mm), but this one is still fine for landscapes and group shots. Photographers will appreciate the fact this is a manual zoom (there’s no wide/tele switch) so they can more accurately fine-tune their framing without over- or under-shooting the subject. This is just one of the DSLR-like features of this model, and we’ll get into the others in the performance section.
The camera measures 5.3 inches wide, 3.7 tall and 5.7 deep. It weighs 31 ounces with battery, so it’s pretty substantial, but not the four-plus pounds of the recently reviewed Sony A850 with “only” an f/2.8 24-70mm lens.
The S200EXR has very subtle logos, as well as a small metallic EXR stamp on the grip. The 14.3x zoom lens clearly is front and center. Of note is its f/2.8 aperture in wide-angle mode for shooting in low light; many others are f/3.5. Along with the knurled ring for zooming, there’s another for manual focusing when you decide to go that route. Like other digicams, while in AF you press the shutter halfway to focus, then click away. Also upfront is an AF Assist lamp, while on the front angle of the pistol grip is the power switch surrounding the shutter button.
On the top is a hot shoe near the manually-operated flash. A button to the left pops it open. To the right are mode and command dials, along with ISO and exposure compensation buttons; ISO hits a truly ridiculous 12,800. With the command dial, you’ll make menu adjustments while the mode dial gives access to the key operating settings. There’s auto, program AE, aperture- and shutter-priority along with full manual. There are two custom settings, SP (for scene modes) and movie. Surprisingly, this camera does not have HD 720p video; 640 x 480 is a good as it gets. This is a real blooper for a $599 MSRP digicam. Ouch. There’s also FSB (Film Simulation Bracket) which takes a shot and saves in three modes—standard (Provia), Velvia film and Astia, three classic Fujifilm film stocks. The final option is EXR. Here you can either let the camera optimize the settings (EXR Auto) or choose which you’d like depending on the subject—High Resolution (HR), High ISO/Low Noise (SN) and D-Range Priority (DR). The camera’s onscreen guide explains each and even shows a small thumbnail of the type of subject appropriate for the setting.
With SP (scene position, 16 options total) you get the classics such portrait, landscape as well ones unique to Fujifilm digicams such as Natural Light and Natural Light + Flash which takes one ambient light shot and another with the flash. We always liked these options. New for the S200EXR is Pro Focus and Pro Low Light, which use Multi-Frame technology to overlap images taken simultaneously for specific scenes.
The back of the camera has a .2-inch EVF rated an OK 200K pixels, surrounded by a rubber eyecup. Below it is a 2.7-inch LCD rated 230K pixels, which doesn’t handle direct sunlight well. We found ourselves using the eyepiece much more because of this. And that wasn’t such a bad thing due to the form factor: The camera is very DSLR-like, and holding it your face with your left hand supporting the lens makes more sense for most shooting situations. To the right of the LCD is a button to switch between the EVF and LCD, another to enable face detection, and another to toggle the display. The AE Lock/delete button is surrounded by a dial for choosing metering options. There’s also a playback button and the classic four-way controller with a center OK button. The four points give access to the flash, self-timer, macro and enlargement.
On the right side is an SDHC card compartment, while the left compartment has DC-in, A/V and USB outs. Near this door are keys to adjust the burst mode, white balance and AF type (manual, single shot, continuous). On the bottom of the Made-In-China camera is a tripod mount and battery compartment. The battery is rated 370 shots per the CIPA standard, an OK amount but less than the typical DSLR.
What’s In The Box
Along with the S200EXR, you get a battery, charger, lens cap with string, strap, USB and A/V cables. You’ll also get a 44-page basic manual and CD-ROM with a full 144-page owner’s manual. Another disk has FinePix Viewer for Windows and Mac. The program develops RAW files and helps you manage and edit your photos.
Performance and Use
An early fall trip to Boston and the Massachusetts North Shore gave plenty of opportunities to put the S200EXR through its paces—and we took over 400 images for our tests. We started out in auto then quickly spun the mode dial to access the myriad options available.
The S200EXR has a 12-megapixel Super CCD EXR chip, and it grabs 4000 x 3000 pixel files at full resolution (JPEG or RAW). We first used this imager in the $399 MSRP F200EXR, a traditional compact digicam we enjoyed other than its pokey 1.4 fps speed. The S200EXR is a completely different animal, capturing full-res JPEGs at 5 frames per second (up to 24 frames). This speed drops dramatically to 1.6 fps (to a maximum of 6) if you shoot larger RAW files, so although the S200EXR doesn’t have true DSLR firepower, it’s far better than most other digicams. The same holds true for the shutter speed, which can be as fast a 1/4000th of a second in select modes, including manual. This is comparable to entry-level DSLRs, and much faster than other point-and-shoot digicams.
Before getting to the results, let’s state the S200EXR handles very well, with a menu system that’s extremely easy to use. Operationally, we didn’t have many issues other than one: The camera has an auto-power-off mode, which turns it off if you don’t use it for a specified time. Most other digicams have a sleep mode, and by touching a key, they pop back to life. Here you have to turn the power switch so the camera can restart. It wastes precious time grabbing a shot. Fujifilm engineers should rectify this muff, as well as incorporating HD video next year.
We did a lot of shooting indoors and out, including the opening of a hunt complete with bounding horses, hounds and men dressed in red jackets (yes, this world truly exists). Once done we examined the images close-up on a monitor and made many 8.5 x 11 full-bleed prints. Overall the results were quite good. For images with bright sunshine, you really couldn’t ask for better. Our letter-sized prints looked really good, with accurate colors and nice contrast. Bright reds of rider jackets looked vibrant, but not over-the-top. You’ll be happy with the results. We took many shots of the Boston harbor and skyline, and here too, the clouds were accurately rendered, as was the detail in the buildings. We shot in FSB (Film Simulation Bracket) mode and had a hard time seeing the difference between the three options. The camera noticeably slows as it saves three images.
The differences in the three EXR modes were more noticeable as we switched between high resolution and high ISO. Were they night and day? Not really, and we’d keep it in EXR Auto if this were our everyday camera. The Pro Low Light setting did a fine job merging three images to eliminate noise. However, this can only be used on a static shot, and you have to keep your hands very steady. Fortunately, the onboard OIS does a good job eliminating most of the blur. We tested ISO in Program AE using our standard subject. There was little noise up to 400, while at 800 there were some issues. ISO 1600 could be used as a small print, while anything above that was a mess. Keep the ISO limit set at 800 and you should be in good shape.
Videos were OK, nothing more, and the lack of high definition is a real oversight.
The FinePix S200EXR costs around $530 at legit online outlets, putting it in the range of DSLR kits such as the Nikon D60 and Sony alpha DSLR–A230. However, the supplied lenses of that pair are basically 3x zooms, a fraction of the 14.3x wide-angle Fujifilm digicam. It’s a huge difference, and a key selling point for the S200EXR. The FinePix also has many DSLR features, including fast response and many tweaks for those who’d like to make them. The Super CCD EXR chip is a good one, but isn’t nearly as large as the APS-C sized sensors found in DSLRs, which accounts for the noise issues. Now, if the S200EXR were around $100 cheaper, we’d be cheering. But it’s not, and that’s why it won’t get an Editor’s Choice designation. Still, this is solid digicam with a wide focal range that delivers good images in the proper light. It’s worth checking out, especially if you don’t want to drop a bundle on interchangeable lenses.
- Manually operated 14.3x zoom
- Extensive manual settings
- Rapid response
- Some cool scene modes
- Heavy, expensive
- LCD doesn’t handle direct sunlight well
- EVF should be higher quality
- No HD video
- Dumb auto power-off mode