Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
Fujifilm is hardly mentioned in the conversation involving the best semi-pro point and shoot cameras, but it should be. We hear a lot about the stellar and compact Canon S90/S95, the Nikon P7000, the Panasonic Lumix LX5 and the Olympus XZ-1 as the all-around compact cameras to consider. We review the Fujifilm F550EXR, one of the most feature packed and impressive compact cameras we've tested this year.
By blending the best features of a super zoom and a compact point-and-shoot, Fujifilm has done something remarkable with the F550EXR in hoping to give users the perfect travel camera that can take photos in a variety of conditions, shoot decent video when needed while being one of the few compact cameras with GPS geotagging capability. The F550EXR also has some valued semi-pro features like manual controls and the ability to shoot RAW image format photos, a sweep panorama mode for capturing larger landscapes and ISO sensitivity of 12800.
Style and Operation
Compact cameras today are quite versatile but they lack prosumer features such as manual controls, the ability to shoot RAW and the long zoom capability that one gets with specific super-zoom models. For travelers or enthusiasts who want a dynamic yet compact camera that will deliver the best photo quality in a small package, the picking are slim and expensive.
Until now, the only cameras in this range we would consider were Canon's stellar S90/S95, Nikon's P7000, Panasonic's LX5 and the Olympus ZX-1 which are all above the $400 range. All of these are compact cameras with better optics and features then your run of the mill point-and-shoot cameras and are arguable compelling back up cameras for DSLR owners or snap-happy travellers.
Fujifilm's F550EXR offers many of the features of these cameras and more at the price of $349 in Best Buy Canada.
Out of the box, the F550EXR feels and looks like a premium point and shoot camera with a stainless steel front and assorted rubber and shiny hard plastic parts. Turning on the camera, it takes around two to three seconds to get to the point where you're ready to shoot. We wish startup speed was a bit faster but realize there's a lot going on.
The F550EXR's computer brain, the EXR-CMOS is busy figuring out shooting conditions and making the necessary adjustments for optimal photo quality. Once initiated, the camera's operation is fairly quick specially if you're not zooming in and out of shots. The overall feel is more electronic than it is mechanical and while decidedly smart (keep your dial on the P program mode or EXR Auto) there are some nuances we have to get used to.
The whirring sound accompanied by the pop-up flash almost every time you turn it on can be a bit surprising. The pop-up flash, particularly, can startle someone who is new to the camera and surprise them enough that they might drop it if they are holding the camera where the retractable flash is. Still, these are small quirks that are soon forgotten once you set off to go take pictures with the camera.
Easily pocketable, except for the half-inch part in the front case that houses the 15X zoom lens, the F550EXR is fun and capable camera to take. First of all, it feels reassuringly solid in the hand and has some weight to it. Controls are easy to manage and straightforward plus the 3"inch screen is sufficiently bright for viewing, composing and playback.
A perfect camera for a day out in the town (see slideshow above) we found that the F225EXR gave generally vivid, well saturated and accurate photos during a number of shooting conditions. Macro mode was particularly good and we can see this as a great camera for taking detailed shots of plants, insects and things people sell on eBay. We're also impressed by the Panorama 360 mode that only requires you click once and then spin around to take impressive, auto-stitched panoramas. (see below)
Taking it around town, we shot street scenes during Toronto's Woofstock and were able to take photos of dogs without getting too close. The EXR processor is perfect for this type of photography where you want to go zoom in to detailed scenes and then a minute later focus on wide angle city-shots. Few of the shots were blurred but the shooting pace was manic and we are used to the quick deployment of DSLRs which a point-and-shoot will never match.
Even novices will have the opportunity to take more photos that look better since the EXR processor, the Fujinon lens and the dual image stabilization (CMOS Shift + High ISO) all work together to produce the best results.
We've had no time to test the GPS or the HD video capability as of yet but it's great to have both should the need arise. There aren't too many GPS enabled cameras in the market today, early attempts at including this feature were wishy-washy (remember the Nikon P6000).
The FX550EXR takes full 1080p video (with stereo microphones)and can be engaged by pressing one button. It is a clever design choice and effective for those moments when video tells a better story than a bunch of stills could.
Not dismissing their prodigious film background, Fujifilm also offers Film Simulation mode (PROVIA / STD, Velvia / VIVID, ASTIA / SOFT) that copies the characteristics of film into the photos you've taken. Add the advanced 27 scene modes, 360' motion panorama and Full resolution high speed shooting at 8fps and you have a stellar feature set in an incredibly compact package. We would have loved to see an optical viewfinder in this model but that place is taken by the GPS so good tradeoff.
The F550EXR comes with a portable battery charger and video-out cables. It features an HDMI port on the body as well. Great camera, extensive set of technology features and a relatively acceptable $350 price point, make this a good choice for those seeking a multifacted large zoom camera in a quality, compact body.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5