Extra Terrestrial, a review of the Fuji F200 EXR
With the F200, Fuji is stretching the molds of photography to a point you are almost tempted to think that the EXR is an abbreviation for EXtRa terrestrial with the camera’s occasional out-of-this-world performance.
Full control, and I mean full
In the F200 Fuji basically lets you ‘play’ with the sensor at the individual pixel level.Now that’s pretty cool! With Canon, Sony, Nikon etc. you do not come anywhere close to this. All they let you do is turn up or down the light-sensitivity, i.e. crank the ISO value up or down. With the F200 you can tell the sensor if it should concentrate on “High Resolution” (HR-mode), “high Sensitivity /low Noise (SN), “Dynamic Range” (DR), or simply put it on auto and let the camera determine what the scene you are photographing calls for.
The high sensitivity/low noise is obtained by effectively doubling the pixel size by pairing neighbouring pixels (of the same color) together increasing the camera’s light sensitivity and lowering the noise. The higher dynamic range is the result of splitting the sensor in two, one half underexposes the scene and the other half overexposes it, and then combining the two halves into one shot at the end. Note that in both the SN and DR mode the resolution drops from 12 to 6 MP due to the ‘magic’ performed by the sensor.
That’s all fine and dandy, but does it work?
Short answer: yes. Longer answer: still yes, but it comes at a price of added user complexity and reduced image resolution.
The F200 has one of the best high ISO/low noise performances I have seen in a pocket camera. All thanks to the EXR sensor magic.
Overall the images produced by the camera were of very, very good quality considering the small sensor size.
Fuji’s EXR sensor could well be a step in the right direction with just the right amount of outside-the-box thinking that sensor manufacturers need to have to get to continue to squeeze even better image quality from tomorrow’s digital cameras. Unfortunately, the F200 does not record RAW images. Shooting with the F200 the question of “what if it had RAW and the EXR sensor, what kind of results would that yield...?” was always in the corner of my mind. Hmm, one can only wonder. Note: Fuji recently announced the Finepix S200 EXR (read my review) which will feature both the magic of the EXR sensor and the ability to record in RAW format. Wow!
Auto this and auto that
Normally I am not a big believer of auto-features in cameras. Just read “Hands of the auto-mode”, part 1 and part 2. But I have to admit that the Fuji F200’s auto-ISO feature is well implemented. It is possibly the best implementation I have seen of this feature in a pocket camera. Other than just setting the camera to auto-select the ISO value you can set the upper value, ranging from ISO 400, 800, 1600 and 3200. I had the camera set to auto-ISO with upper limit of 1600 basically the whole trip, and it worked really well. Only improvement I can think of is to be able set the slowest shutter speed yourself.
Again I have to admit that the EXR auto-mode also works quite well. The mode auto-selects the EXR mode (high resolution, high sensitivity or dynamic range) depending on the scene that you are shooting. Generally the camera got it right. The individual EXR-modes are in effect also auto-modes, since they each limit the settings available. E.g. when in “Dynamic Range” mode you can not engage the flash, and the only ISO values you can choose are Auto 400, 800 and 1600. Strange. In none of the EXR modes can you adjust the shutter speed and aperture. To do that you must set the camera to P-mode or M-mode.
Speaking of the P-mode, it’s a bit of a strange mode. Normally you can change the shutter speed and aperture in sync, but the mode doesn’t allow you to change either. Strange. You need to set the camera to M-mode (Manual) if you plan to change the shutter speed and aperture. To help guide you the camera has a basic light-meter’ scale indicating over- and underexposure. The F200 uses neutral density filters to set the aperture. Apparently, only one filter was installed resulting in you can only set the aperture to a low or high (filter off or on) value.
The dragon that bites its own tail
I know, I know, it’s an over-used cliché that one with the dragon, but nevertheless true in this case. The image quality wonders of the EXR sensor is also the F200’s main problem as it adds unnecessary user complexity. The objective part of photography is really quite simple. You have control over the shutter speed, aperture and ISO. That’s it. Very simple, right? The Fuji F200 introduces a fourth dimension, the processor. Now you have to set the three ‘classic’ settings (shutter speed, aperture and ISO) along with what the sensor should focus on; high resolution, high sensitivity or dynamic range.
To avoid that added complexity (and the risk of shooting a scene in the wrong mode because you forgot to reset the mode-dial), I had the F200 set to EXR-auto most of the time. Unfortunately, this reduces your other photographic choices, such as metering, shutter speed, aperture, ISO value, exposure compensation, etc.
Hmm! this is precisely my main complaint of the auto-mode that it takes away the essential choices you have to make as a photographer. The image will be taken, and it will probably be of good quality, but it may not match the look you were trying to get because your photographic choices were quite limited.
And speaking of added user complexity, the camera is haunted to some degree of what can be called 'menu mayhem'. Even having shot with the camera extensively over the long weekend, I still find myself forgetting what the difference is between the regular “Menu” button and the “f” (for Fuji) button. Personally, I could have sacrificed some of the nice 3” screen real estate for a cleaner, more intuitive button layout. Perhaps, a dedicated button for the EXR-mode, ISO value, shutter speed and aperture.
“It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the F200”
Not quite Superman-fast, but still quite fast. Start-up time to one frame captured is about 2-3 seconds, much better than the Coolpix S710 I reviewed a while back. More importantly the auto-focus speed is also very, very good. If photographing sport or other fast-paced activities you can set the camera to “Continuous”, select one of the multiple frames options (“Top-3 frames”, “Final-3 frames”, “Top-12 frames”, or “Final-12 frames” -- again Fuji, why all the choices? Just give us “5 frames consecutive” or something along that line) and snap away. It works!
Write time was good to, even though I did use a class 6 speed memory card which probably helped speed things up a bit. The same goes for the playback experience which was fast and very smooth.
Display, ergonomics and general look-and-feel
The back of the F200 is dominated by a large 3” LCD display. More important than size, is that the camera always shows you your basic shooting information of shutter speed and aperture. The camera also has my favourite display setting with ‘rule of two thirds’ grid. The top of the LCD feature additional, helpful shooting info, such as battery-level, camera-mode, flash-mode, macro/landscape-mode, EXR-mode, shots remaining and ISO value.
In playback the much of the same information is displayed. Very helpful!
Ergonomically, the camera sits nicely in your hand. Your right thumb naturally rests on the mode-dial with your index finger on the shutter release. The F200 has a comfortable, reassuring heft to it without being too heavy. Design-wise it is not going to win any awards, but hey inner beauty is more important. Right?
The camera’s image stabilization works very well with sharp shots down to around 1/20 s. Depending on the available light and the upper ISO limit set, the camera tried to push the shutter speed all the way down to 1/4 s resulting in lightly blurred shots.
All in all
Whenever a friend’s or family’s camera is up for replacement I love to help out with the selection process. Hey, any time I can shop for a new camera is a good time. If the person is looking for image quality in the smallest possible package my recommend so far have been the Canon G9 (from having owned and shot with the camera extensively) and now the G10. Now, I will have to revise that recommendation, as I believe the Fuji F200 with its unorthodox sensor will deliver just as good or (slightly) better results as the G10, and that’s even in a smaller package and at a lower price point to boot. Pretty sweet.
Most of the shots in this post were grabbed with the Fuji F200 EXR. The ‘product shots’ of the F200 were taken with the Nikon D700 and 105mm f2.8 VR lens. Natural light was used with a little artificial light added from the Nikon SB900 flash bounced of a white ceiling.
Looking for a new lens?
What a coincidence. The startup I co-founded has just released the first beta version of a new lens finder. Simply head over to www.findthatlens.com to find all the compatible lenses for your camera. Let's go.
- 85mm f1.4
- San Francisco
- shutter speed