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Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR review

Ben Pitt
21 May 2009
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
267
inc VAT
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Specifications

The marketing of compact cameras concentrates on plenty of megapixels plus fancy gimmicks such as smile detection.

Fujifilm has broken rank with a camera that prioritises image noise and dynamic range instead. As such, the F200EXR displays some long-overdue common sense, and backs it up with groundbreaking innovation.

The F200EXR's sensor is bigger than most, measuring 1?1.6in across, rather than the more typical ?.3in. With a larger area it can measure light levels more accurately, boosting image quality. However, the innovation is in its internal design. The pixels on a digital camera's sensor detect only the strength of the light hitting them, not the colour. A colour filter array in front of the sensor ensures individual pixels receive only red, green or blue light. By knowing how this filter is arranged, the camera can then calculate the various colours. The F200EXR's filter is subtly different, as the pixels are arranged in pairs rather than as a checkerboard. This means each red pixel is next to another red pixel, and so on. As a result, this 12-megapixel sensor can switch to being a 6-megapixel sensor simply by combining the levels from the matching pairs of pixels.

When there's plenty of light, the F200EXR behaves like any 12-megapixel camera. However, in low light, it can switch to being a 6-megapixel camera, either automatically or manually. With twice as much light hitting each 'pixel', the camera can measure it far more accurately, reducing noise. Because of the redesigned pixel array, this is far more effective than simply resizing a 12-megapixel image to six megapixels.

We've seen the F200EXR's dynamic-range extension feature before, most notably on the F100fd. It uses a dynamic ISO speed to avoid over-exposing the brightest parts of the image. You've probably experienced this problem, known as highlight clipping, while taking images on a bright day, as the sky is often exposed as white rather than blue. To avoid this, the F200EXR can capture a photo at, say, ISO 400, but reduce the sensitivity for the highlights to ISO 100, under-exposing them to preserve detail. On the F100fd, the downside is that it uses high ISO speeds, even in bright conditions, which increases noise. However, with the F200EXR's 6-megapixel mode the user can increase the dynamic range by 400 per cent while shooting at ISO 100, or by 800 per cent at ISO 200.

Both technologies are extremely impressive in practice. At ISO 1600, 6-megapixel images exhibited less noise and sharper detail than 12-megapixel images from this or any other compact camera we've seen. The highest dynamic range setting restored lost highlights with minimal side effects. It helps that the F200EXR is otherwise very similar to the F100fd, which has exceptional image quality. We're delighted that the F100fd's cumbersome menu has been improved and manual exposure added. Performance can be a little slow, particularly in the 0.5fps continuous mode, but this too is better than on the F100fd.

The F200EXR makes great improvements on the F100df, our previous Best Buy compact camera. It's expensive at £267 including VAT, but a camera that's so groundbreaking in such useful areas deserves nothing less than five stars.

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