The Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR doesn’t do things by halves. A quick browse down its specifications quickly affirms that: It has a 16-megapixel EXR CMOS sensor and wide-angle 24mm lens that extends to 360mm thanks to the 15x optical zoom. Considering its diminutive size it is impressive such an optic can be housed inside a body that easily fits in the palm of your hand.
What do you get?
For added stability the F550EXR has sensor-shift image stabilisation technology to counteract camera shake. It’s a bit of a shame this isn’t lens-based stabilisation as the 360mm extension would benefit from the stabiliser actively working in real time during composition.
Elsewhere and the prominent “GPS” logo brandished on the camera’s top indicates that Global Positioning Satellite technology comes as standard. This means location data is tagged into images’ back-end data and this can be used for a number of advances. The F550EXR can read these geotags in-camera and provide a latitude and longitude display or, to be that bit more clever, place names are also available (just don’t expect a limitless expanse of locations).
Add an 8fps continuous shooting mode, a 1080p HD movie at 30fps that uses the H.264 codec and still image sensitivity from ISO 100-3200 (ISO 6400-12,800 are at reduced resolutions) and it’s clear there’re plenty of high spec features on offer.
The F550EXR’s autofocus system works well and has a variety of capture options: Center, Multi, Continuous and Tracking will cover most bases, though there’s no capacity to manually adjust a single AF point as per some high-end compacts. In addition to the main options there are a variety of Face Detection and Recognition features that even go as far as Dog & Cat Recognition. We kid you not, the usual method of human detection has been adapted to spot those more canine or feline features (though best not to try this one on your friends).
Image quality should be one of the areas where the F550EXR truly shines, but the move to a high-resolution 16-megapixel CMOS sensor - the same as that found in the Fuji HS20EXR - doesn’t come without its share of issues. Images are certainly good enough, but the EXR sensor doesn’t manage to grasp more detail than the older and lower-resolution CCD EXR as found in the F300EXR camera for example. The reason for this, in our mind, is that the total resolution is just that bit too high to squeeze onto a 1/2.3” sized sensor. And 16 megapixels is bigger than anyone is likely to need.
There are some advances to this however. As the F550EXR has an “EXR mode” it doesn’t always use the sensor in the same way: the High Resolution 16-megapixel option captures images using colour pixels arranged in a unique fashion that’s exclusive to Fujifilm EXR cameras; Wide Dynamic Range 1600% “doubles up” pairs of pixels to output an 8 megapixel image with far greater range between shadows and highlights; whereas High Sensitivity & Low Noise uses pairs of pixels processed in a different manner to offset image noise (also output as an 8 megapixel image). Do these modes work? Yes, to some degree that sets images apart from the competition. But if the goal of this camera was to have better images at an 8 megapixel output then it should have been sold and marketed as such, not the 16 megapixel camera that it is.
The F550EXR’s low ISO settings produce good images, though very close inspection will reveal some processing issues that diminish finer edge detail and the like. Move up the ISO scale and softness creeps in fairly quickly.
Metering can occasionally suffer from favouring mid-to-highlight areas on brighter days and this can result in ever-so-slight overexposure. More overcast days posed no issues, plus there are always exposure compensation and manual exposure controls to easily correct for any exposure qualms.
For true image buffs one of the F550EXR’s trump cards is the ability to shoot RAW files. Serious photographers demand such a feature - it even renders quickly without holding up the camera’s buffer for too long at all. For a compact camera the Fuji does manage to stand out from the crowd for the right reasons, the RAW mode being one of them.
Price-wise and the F550EXR’s £329 RRP has been quashed to between £245-299 depending on where you shop. And for those lower figures, considering everything that’s on offer here, that’s quite the steal.
There are lots of high-end, mid-zoom compacts out there, but the Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR manages to deliver something unique. It’s packed to the rafters with features that set it apart from the competition and the EXR mode on the main dial is an enhanced point-and-shoot mode to take advantage of for good shots in most conditions. We do think that the new sensor is a little overly resolute to the detriment of image quality, but these 16 megapixel snaps are on par with equivalent compact cameras. There’s not a lot missing here, and if you can find a good online deal then the F550EXR offers enough to keep some of its closest rivals at bay. An impressive little camera with a rangey zoom.