Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR digital camera review

With the trend of late for ever-larger zoom lenses crammed within ever more miniscule camera bodies, Fujifilm’s new S200EXR – which offers a 14.3x optical variety – comes as a something of a shock.

Upgrading the S100fs and ape-ing a digital SLR "proper" in design and control layout – not to mention price – this 12-megapixel bridge model is unapologetically chunky and substantial at an 820g body-only weight.

Hefting this latest super zoom out of the box and holding it firmly in both hands, construction feels rock solid too; the digits of the right comfortably wrapping around the large grip, while the left encircles the prominent zoom barrel with manual focus ring. To zoom in or out you simply twist said barrel, which feels much more satisfying than merely pressing a button with thumb or forefinger.

Though a broad focal range equivalent to 30.5-436mm in 35mm film terms proves ideal for both candid portraits and amateur wildlife photography, plus its Tonka toy-like physical dimensions are what make the biggest initial impression, again with this camera it’s what’s on the inside that counts – as much if not more.

For this is Fujifilm’s third camera (after the pocket-sized F200 and F70) and its first bridge model to feature the company’s innovative Super CCD EXR sensor technology that allows the user to utilise said chip in three different ways. EXR option one is to simply shoot regular 12-megapixel maximum resolution images (as JPEG or RAW files), while the second is to capture images with increased dynamic range. The camera does this by taking two shots in quick succession – one at a high ISO (light sensitivity) setting, the other at a low ISO setting – combining them as a single image.

The third user-selectable EXR option aims for high sensitivity but low noise; achieved by coupling together same colour pixels to achieve larger light gathering pixels.

Additionally there’s an auto EXR setting found on the top plate mode dial that allows for point and shoot operation, the camera itself choosing which of the trio of options best suits subject and conditions. Other shooting modes include the more regular program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual modes.

Though this all sounds like fun, at times the differences between shots taken in the various EXR modes are very subtle – particularly in daylight conditions – leading us to conclude that, for general-purpose usage, one shouldn’t be swayed to buy this camera for its "EXR" properties alone.

Fortunately, helping the S200EXR to stand further apart from the pack – and make the most of its manufacturer’s analogue heritage – are additional curiosities such a trio of film simulation modes.

Photographers can aim to match the look of shooting with the naturalistic Provia (the camera’s default setting), the warmer, flattering Velvia, or Astia film, plus more run-of-the-mill black and white or sepia. These options are accessed via the easy to read and intuitive to navigate menu screens, a dedicated button for the selection of which is located at the centre of the four-way control pad on the camera back.

With the camera powering up ready for the first shot in just under 2 seconds, pictures are composed via fixed 2.7-inch LCD or electronic viewfinder (EVF) directly above the larger screen (and in place of the optical alternative). It would have been good to see a higher resolution screen and a tilting one at that for maximum visibility, but what’s provided is adequate.

The camera is commendably fast to determine focus and exposure if left on auto setting, though when shooting handheld at maximum telephoto, even with image stabilisation on board, we found we sometimes needed to take two or three shots to get one that was nicely crisp. Purple fringing can also be a problem when shooting subjects framed against bright skies, though that’ true of most of Fujifilm’s competitors.

Whilst both pop-up flash and hotshoe for supplementary alternative are offered, so is up to ISO 12,800 light sensitivity for those who want to switch off any artificial illumination and go for the natural look.

In practice however noise intrudes noticeably from ISO 800 upwards when left on the camera’s default settings, detail softening at ISO 1600 which is a little disappointing, as is the fact that the S200EXR’s video resolution is a mere standard definition 640 x 480 pixels rather than the latest high-def 1920 x 1080 or 1280 x 720.

More positively the full extent of the zoom can be utilised when recording, focus automatically adjusting – and quickly – as the user moves through the range.

Verdict

So does the Fujifilm S200EXR offer pretty much all that a DSLR does, whilst saving the need to swap lenses or invest in additional optics? No, but it gets a fair degree of the way there, the combination of Super CCD EXR sensor and bolted-on Fujinon branded lens delivering an impressive degree of sharpness under most conditions.

That said, as we usually find with Fujifilm cameras with the camera left on its default settings, colours can look a tad wishy-washy, particularly on overcast days. Therefore we welcomed the added punch provided by selecting the Velvia film mode, which for us often delivered results closer to those seen by the eye.

So, while results straight out of the camera at times benefit from further tweaks in the image-editing package of your choice, the Fujifilm’s intended audience of photo enthusiasts who’ll want to get hands-on shouldn’t be dissuaded from purchase – even if the suggested retail price still smarts.