Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR review
It's rare that a camera rewrites the rule book, and even rarer when it's so well rounded and affordable.
Review Date: 18 Nov 2009
Price when reviewed: £199
Reviewed By: Ben Pitt
For years we've pined for a compact camera that has a big zoom and takes great pictures in low light.
We'd just about given up waiting, concluding that both a big zoom and a large sensor (required for low-light sensitivity) simply won't fit in a pocket-sized body. However, Fujifilm has proved us wrong.
The F70EXR is Fujifilm's first compact big-zoom camera, following in the footsteps of Panasonic's TZ range. This is a crowded market, but the F70EXR starts well by being the smallest and lightest yet. At £200, it's also one of the cheapest.
The compact design is particularly remarkable, as the F70EXR has a larger sensor than any of its competitors. The 1/2in diagonal isn't much bigger than the 1/2.3in and 1/2.5in sensors used elsewhere, but it's an important factor for low-light performance. Sure enough, photos taken with the F70EXR at ISO 1600 - the sensitivity required under typical household artificial light - looked significantly sharper and cleaner than the best from its competitors.
Low-light image quality gets a further boost from Fujifilm's ingenious EXR sensor design. Switching from 10 to 5 megapixels not only reduces the amount of noise in photos but actually increases the definition of details. It's a feature we first saw in Fujifilm's F200EXR. As if that wasn't enough, the F70EXR has yet another trick up its sleeve for low-light photography. A scene mode called Pro Low-Light takes four photos in quick succession, aligns them as necessary and superimposes them to reduce noise further. As long as there wasn't much motion in the scene, low-light shots had a clarity and smoothness that wasn't far behind that of SLR cameras. For a £200 compact camera, that's nothing short of extraordinary.
The innovations don't stop there. Another new scene mode, Pro Focus, simulates an SLR camera's shallow depth of field, blurring the background to draw attention to the main subject. In practice, the border between foreground and background was often a little imprecise, but it's a fun tool to play with.
The F70EXR also includes the dynamic range extension introduced on the F200EXR. Overexposed highlights such as washed-out skies are a common problem, but the F70EXR recovers them, capturing colour and details that would otherwise be lost. This feature uses variable sensitivity in different parts of the sensor, which is much more effective than rival systems that simply process the image after capture. The downside is that it only works at its best in the 5-megapixel EXR mode, and introduces noise when shooting at 10 megapixels. We recommend deactivating this feature in Program mode and switching to EXR for times when it's clearly needed.
Otherwise, this is a capable, dependable camera. Automatic exposures were generally excellent, although unnecessarily high ISO speeds led to some loss of clarity in flash-lit shots. Again, manual tweaking easily overcomes this. The menu system could be tidier but it's great to see manual exposure. Performance was above average, with particularly fast autofocus, and few people will lament the three-shot limit in continuous mode. At the long end of the zoom range, details weren't quite as sharp as those from the F200EXR or Panasonic's TZ7, but they were more than adequate for A4 prints. Our only serious grumble is the lack of an HD video mode.
With its sleek, compact body and 10x zoom, the F70-EXR is perfect for holidays and days out, coping equally well with wide-angle vistas and telephoto portraits. Unlike other big-zoom compacts, it also takes attractive photos indoors without the flash. The fact that it costs under £200 is the icing on the cake. The F200EXR remains an excellent alternative; its 5x zoom is hardly lacking and its larger sensor produces marginally better photos. However, the F70EXR's 10x zoom is much more versatile. With the added benefit of Pro Low-Light Mode, it's our favourite compact camera at any price.
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