Fuji Finepix F550 EXR Review
Usability - How easy is it to use?
This travel-zoom allows for a secure grip thanks to a small rubberized grip at the front and a protrusion below the mode-dial to prevent the thumb from slipping off. This is a very good design and certainly one of the best ones among such small cameras. There are also 6 rubber dots below the thumb to help with traction. Added security is provided by a sturdy wrist-strap. Unlike previous models, the new strap has no tightening element.
The shutter-release and surrounding zoom controller are easy to use and very responsive. The two-stage shutter-release has a distinct half-way point with short-travel to the full-press. Photographs are taken nearly instantly and the lens zooms rapidly from one end of the zoom-range to the other. Also, all other buttons provide instant feedback, unless the camera is writing an image to memory which is indicated by an orange light. The power button is located on top near the zoom controller.
The mode-dial is mounted at a 45° angle so that it is easily accessible from the top or back of the camera. It contains 8 positions. Half the positions are occupied the standard PASM modes which are found on most cameras with manual-controls. There is a completely automatic mode, labeled with an icon of a camera. The other three positions group several modes together. Selecting a specific mode therefore involves rotating the mode dial and then selecting a specific mode from the menu system. The headline EXR mode, for example, has 4 specific modes: Auto, HR, SN and DR. Auto selects both a scene-mode and a EXR-mode for each picture. The chosen mode is displayed on the LCD when the shutter is pressed halfway. The mode-dial is easy to use and turn when holding the camera. The one downside of its location is that it sometimes turns accidentally as its click-stops are a bit too soft.
The remaining camera controls are located on the rear of the Fuji F300 EXR. Most of them are straight forwards:
- Play enters Playback mode
- Video Record starts and stops video recording
- Disp cycles over display modes
- F enters the Finepix menu
Video recording is triggered by the dedicated button alone. There is no mode to set. Up to now this has been poorly implemented but Fuji almost succeeded here. Video recording starts with a 1 second delay and framing is possible by enabling HD guides using the display button. This is extremely important because HD video has a 16:9 aspect-ratio while images are usually captured with a 4:3 aspect. Since the camera has no video-mode, it cannot know in advance when video will be shot, so it shows the image preview. To frame for recording video, the user has to make sure that the subject falls between the green HD guides. Without those guides or a dedicated video mode, setting up framing correctly is nearly impossible.
There is also a 4-way controller which is surrounded by a skinny dial. All directions on the 4-way controller are assigned a function: up activates exposure-compensation, right cycles through flash-modes, down cycles between self-timer (Off, 2s, 10s, Face-Detect) and left toggles macro mode. The central button is used to activate the menu system and to confirm menu-selection. The dial is used to set exposure parameters, cycle through options and move between images in playback mode.
The Finepix menu now has 6 options: ISO, Image Size, Continuous, Location Search, Advanced Anti Blur and Film Simulation. Too bad white-balance and dynamic-range are not there as they were in the F200 EXR.
- ISO selects between a large number of options which frequently changes between exposure modes. When permitted, manual selection of ISO goes from 100 to 12800. Automatic ISO selection, when permitted, allows a maximum ISO between 400 and 3200. When changing the ISO to 6400 or 12800, the camera indicates when a change in image size occurs. Since not all ISO settings are always available, changing modes often causes the ISO setting to change too. This is something that constantly needs to be looked after.
- Image Size selects between combinations of resolutions and aspect ratio. There are 3 supported resolutions: 16, 8 and 4 megapixels and 3 aspect ratios: 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9. In EXR modes other than Resolution Priority, the 16 megapixels options are not available. In Auto EXR mode, the 16 MP option is replaced by an Auto option for each aspect ratio. This lets the Auto-EXR mode select 16 megapixels when possible and 8 megapixels otherwise.
- Continuous provides access to a number of new functions in addition to the usual single-shot (Off) and continuous (TOP) modes. There are 3-frame Exposure, Film Simulation, Dynamic Range brackets. There is also a Best Frame Capture mode which grabs a short burst and saves the sharpest image.
- Location Search choose between a GPS mode: Off, Permanently On, When Switched On.
- Advanced Anti Blur is greyed out except in Auto EXR mode. There it toggles multi-frame anti-blur which takes a burst of images and automatically blends them into a sharp one.
- Film Simulation selects between Provia, Velvia, Astia, B&W and Sepia. Provia is what the natural default setting. Velvia produces high-contrast images with vivid colors. Astia produces lower contrast images with subdued colors.
The Fuji F550 EXR's capabilities are spread across various modes. This is where things get rather twisted, particularly in EXR mode. In non-EXR modes, the F300 normally uses its sensor's HR mode, meaning that all photosites are read simultaneously and each one is turned into a pixel. In these modes, this Fuji can be set to output images at 16, 8 or 4 MP. The camera does not indicate which EXR mode is used when shooting below 16 megapixels. It does give a hint by enabling a different set of dynamic-range options when the flash is off. It would be preferable if things were clearly shown.
P mode is automatic. ISO can be set from 100 to 3200 at full-resolution and up to 12800 at lower-resolutions. Since the Fuji F550 EXR does not actually have a physical aperture, it simulates the reduction of light by sliding one of two neutral-density filters. This implies that changing aperture does not affect the depth-of-field and that, at any point, only three aperture options exist. This is why Shutter-Priority mode does not allow ISO to be fixed: There are too few aperture settings to allow selection of ISO and shutter-speed and still be able to expose the image correctly. Because the Fuji Finepix F550 EXR exposes for the brightest image area, all dynamic-range options are not always available. At ISO 100, only 100% dynamic-range can be used, at ISO 200 options for dynamic-range expand to 200%. Between ISO 400 and 3200, up to 400% dynamic range can be chosen. At ISO 6400 and 12800, only 100% dynamic range is supported.
M mode is fully manual. This mode lets the photographer set aperture, shutter-speed and ISO independently, although the 3 aperture settings do not affect depth-of-field due to the lack of a physical aperture. Still, the Fuji F550 EXR has an excellent exposure latitude considering ISO goes up to 12800 and shutter-speed down to 8s. The thin dial around the 4-way controller is used to change shutter-speed or aperture, depending on which one is highlighted. To change between the two, simply press the Up direction.
Auto is the fully-automatic mode. It does not allow ISO, DR, WB or EC to be selected. It does allow the ISO limit to be set between 400 and 3200. There are 18 scene-modes available, all of them automatic but several now allow EC to be set, surely a very welcome improvement for those who use these modes.
The EXR mode has 4 sub-modes: Auto, HR (Resolution Priority), SN (High-ISO and Low Noise) and DR (Dynamic Range). Auto-EXR mode is as close to magic as any camera technology ever was. It takes full-control of the camera, including activating continuous-autofocus, scene-mode recognition, auto image size selection, face-detection and disabling EC, WB and ISO settings. Auto-EXR drains the battery at super-speed though. Still, image aspect ratio, image quality, self-timer and flash-mode can all be set.
HR mode is nearly identical to automatic P mode, the notable difference being that ISO is limited to 800 max. Resolution can be set to either 16, 8 or 4 megapixels with 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratio. It is not clear why 8 MP HR mode would be any different than 8 MP SN mode. SN mode limits resolution to 8 megapixels and the manually selectable ISO to 1600 while Auto-ISO up to 3200 is permitted. This time it is not clear why SN mode cannot use ISO 6400 and 12800, nor can dynamic-range be changed in HR and SN modes, it remains fixed at 100%.
DR mode allows the selection of dynamic-range from 100% to 1600%, which represents 4 extra stops beyond the F550 EXR's base dynamic-range. Resolution is limited to 8 megapixels and only automatic ISO settings (400 to 3200 max) can be selected. White-balance, exposure-compensation, macro mode and self-timers can be set as well. The Flash-mode is fixed to off though. Now, it is expected that expanded dynamic-range not be available at high-ISO due to high noise-levels, however it is too bad that DR mode is mutually exclusive with manual controls and that shutter-speeds slower than 1/4s are not achievable in this mode.
The flash automatically pops up when this digital camera is powered on. A slight and welcome change from the F300 EXR is that the flash now stays down if pushed down. It pops back up on certain mode changes and when waking the camera from sleep mode.
The full menu of the Fuji Finepix F550 EXR is organized in two tabs, one for the camera menu and the other for the setup menu. The 3" LCD screen is excellent with a new slim design that increases contrast and dynamic-range. The anti-reflective coating really does its job well. With a resolution of 460K pixels, images on the screen are sharp and motion is fluid. The preview is always bright and does not simulate exposure changes except when using EC.
This camera is well constructed with a sturdy plastic body. Both battery and memory are found behind the compartment door. The battery is held in place with a latch so that it does not fall out while changing memory cards. Another nice touch is that the latch is colored yellow, as is one side of the battery to know which way to insert it. The Fuji Finepix F550 EXR comes with a charger for its battery. This is better than in-camera charging which locks down the camera while a battery is being charged. This camera support SD, SDHC and SD-XC memory cards. There is a metal tripod-mount which is neither inline with the lens nor with the center of the camera.
Speaking of panoramas, the Motion Panorama 360 mode is quite cool. It works by capturing image-slices and forming a panorama that spans 360, 240 or 120 degrees in any direction. The camera reduces the field-of-view in this mode to account for imperfect sweeping motion. It then produces a low-resolution panorama right in the camera. While the previous motion panorama was extremely difficult to capture, this one is a breeze. A guide and horizon line appears on the screen to guide the sweeping motion. When a sufficiently large arc is traced, the camera automatically starts assembling the whole thing. It takes a few seconds to do so. The results are not perfect but show an impressively wide view from a distance. Due to the reduced angle-of-view, these long panoramas are best suited for subjects that are relatively flat. Also, it is naturally difficult for any 360 panorama to be perfectly exposed all around. Using a computer one can assemble much higher-resolution panoramas but it often takes several minutes or even hours for a similar panorama.
Fuji F550 EXR Facts
|16 Megapixels Travel Zoom||ISO 100-3200|
|15X Ultra-Wide Optical Zoom||Shutter 1/2000-8s|
|Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls|
|8 FPS Drive, 8 Images||Custom white-balance|
|1920x1080 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Spot-Metering|
|3" LCD 460K Pixels||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
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