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Fujifilm Finepix S200EXR review

Verdict:

Performance could be better, but with SLR-like controls and exceptional image quality, this is the best ultra-zoom camera we’ve seen.

Review Date: 22 Feb 2010

Price when reviewed: £167

Supplier: http://www.dabs.com

Reviewed By: Ben Pitt

Our Rating 5 stars out of 5

User Rating 5 stars out of 5

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The S200EXR is the first bridge camera we’ve seen in a long time. Bridge cameras have controls and ergonomics to rival SLR cameras, but are built around small sensors similar to those found in compact cameras. They were once seen as a low-cost alternative to an SLR, but now that SLRs are available from £300, it’s not surprising that the market for bridge cameras has dwindled. The S200EXR’s 14.3x zoom lens keeps it in the running, though. Matching this zoom range on an SLR would require an expensive lens upgrade, bringing the total cost of an equivalent SLR package to around £700.

If there is a market for these bridge cameras, Fujifilm has it sown up, as there isn’t anything else quite like the S200EXR. Its closest competition comes from Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FZ38 and its ilk. These cameras are more compact than the S200EXR, and their 18, 20 and 24x zooms are even bigger. However, they can’t compete with the S200EXR for ergonomics.

With its big handgrip, dual lens rings for zoom and focus plus a command dial for adjusting exposure and other settings, it feels like an SLR in operation. There are lots of single-use controls, including buttons for ISO speed, white balance, drive mode and exposure compensation, plus switches for metering and focus modes. This makes adjusting settings extremely quick, but there are a couple of caveats. One is that the RAW shooting mode is buried in the Set-up menu rather than placed alongside the JPEG compression control. More annoyingly, when shots are being saved to SD card, most of the buttons are unresponsive.

The camera has no problem taking further shots while previous ones are being saved – we measured a respectable 1.5-second gap between photos in normal use. However, we had to wait for around five seconds after taking a shot before we could adjust the ISO speed and take another. It’s a problem we’ve seen in other Fujifilm cameras, but it’s a more significant drawback here considering the camera’s SLR aspirations. Start-up also fell short of expectations, taking 3.6 seconds to switch on and capture a frame. Continuous mode was reasonable at 1.9fps, but had to take a 15-second breather after just six frames.

Any camera that costs over £300 needs to deliver extremely high image quality. Fortunately, the S200EXR does just that. Details were sharp, and although this is partly down to aggressive digital sharpening, this can be toned down to produce crisp yet natural details. The chromatic aberrations that hampered this model’s predecessor, the S100fs, are much less of a problem this time around.

Best of all is the low noise when shooting at high sensitivities. This is partly down to the 1/1.6in sensor, which has twice the surface area of the 1/2.33in sensor used by Panasonic’s FZ38. Meanwhile, Fujifilm’s EXR technology means that this sensor can drop its resolution to 6 megapixels in order to double its sensitivity – see our review of the F200EXR for more details.

Finally, a Pro Low Light scene mode reduces noise even further for static subjects by capturing four frames and overlaying them. The result is low-light image quality that bites at the heels of SLR cameras. Considering that other ultra-zoom cameras are pretty awful in low light, this is a tremendous achievement. Our only criticism is that automatic exposures tended to use unnecessarily high ISO speeds, particularly when using the flash. The ISO range used in auto mode can be customised, but it’s worth keeping an eye on this function to ensure best results.

The S200EXR isn’t perfect. The inability to change settings straight after shooting is annoying, and the VGA video mode with 11KHz sound is basic compared to the HD video modes offered elsewhere. Its considerable bulk won’t please some people either. However, the big zoom and sublime ergonomics make it an excellent choice for outdoor photography, while exceptional low-light performance means it’s just as impressive indoors.

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