A compact camera that aspires to appeal to veteran photographers. (May 13th, 2009)
Product Manufacturer: Fujifilm
- EXR helps dynamic range, less so noise.
- Large, good quality lens with 5X zoom.
- Presets skewed towards experienced users.
- Manual controls.
- Sturdy build quality.
- EXR aids aren't quite as good as marketed.
- Video mode underwhelming for the class.
- Expensive compared to most point-and-shoots.
- Proprietary data port.
For at least the past two years, point-and-shoot camera makers have been locked in a race to improve megapixel counts. While this was effective for awhile, they've quickly hit a wall as noise and other problems with image quality have prevented them from going much further. There are also few cameras that truly give experienced photographers the control they want without veering into large, semi-pro compacts or full-fledged digital SLRs. Fujifilm says its F200 EXR addresses both with a unique sensor, which reduces noise and improves dynamic range, as well as manual controls that are rarely seen in this class. We hope to find out whether this is more market posturing or a long overdue bridge between two different worlds.
design, controls and the interface
The first experience most will have of the F200 is its exceptionally reassuring build quality. While there are a lot of reliably built compact cameras in existence, Fujifilm's is special in that it seems to have been a top priority; there are no loose or hastily-tacked on parts that are likely to break. The most fragile is the cover over the AV/USB port, which is still better-built than some of the rubber flaps you see on other cameras.
On this front, it's worth noting that Fujifilm has adopted standards in most areas save for that port area in question. Rather than a typical mini USB connector, owners have to sync to a computer with a proprietary port that handles both data and video, with a combo USB and video output cable to match. It's a potential problem if you ever lose the supplied cable, and it also limits the choices for video quality; unlike some cameras at this price point, there's no HDMI option.
Dials and buttons are themselves sturdy and, for the most part, well laid out and familiar to anyone who has used a point-and-shoot in the past. Buttons are sufficiently large that they won't be hit by accident. Those transitioning from a different-brand camera may have to adjust to the "F" button specific to Fujifilm; this is where many of the immediate shooting settings, like ISO, image resolution and (for the F200) dynamic range are located. It's actually a very helpful system and, while not as quick as having dedicated mode dials on "prosumer" cameras like the Canon PowerShot G10 or on an SLR, it's a logical place to put these features versus other, less commonly accessed settings. We also appreciated that flash options were relatively complex: it's possible to choose a slow-synchro or red-eye reduction mode that's meant less to flood the scene with light (a potential problem in very dark rooms) and more to provide just enough detail for the intended shot.
Perhaps the most conspicuous differences in these controls are the options on primary mode dial: rather than focus on scene presets and other very novice-oriented modes, they skew towards choices an at least moderately experienced photographer would want to make. Besides full auto and video recording, most of the semi-automatic modes give a large amount of control back to the user and take advantage of the EXR sensor; the less experienced can use a portrait mode as well as two natural light modes that alternately force the flash off or else take two quick photos with and without. There's a programmable mode for those who know enough to always have familiar settings for most of their shots, and -- a true rarity for the category -- a full manual mode.
This last setting lets owners choose their own aperture and shutter speed and works fairly simply: pressing the +/- shortcut on the directional pad switches it over to controlling either lens feature using cardinal directions to change settings. It's enough to fine-tune the result, though the changes you can make are fairly coarse and may not be perfect for those who want very precise adjustments. Some photographers might also dislike the choices of near-total manual controls: there's no shutter priority mode, and aperture priority is only available by stepping out of manual mode and choosing it from the "shooting mode" menu when in programmable mode. As a result, those used to the depth of shooting modes on some truly advanced cameras may still feel slightly frustrated. They may also be disappointed by the absence of RAW, which isn't unusual in compacts but is something many pros would prefer to use.
Still, the breadth of controls and Fujifilm's near rebellion against "easy" camera modes is refreshing, and by itself may put the F200 on the short list for experienced shooters looking for a pocketable camera when a full-sized model isn't allowed or is just too large.