Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR

The Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR hasn’t taken long to surface. It was only the middle of 2011 when we first got our mitts on Fujifilm’s F550EXR - a camera so similar to the latest F600EXR, that it’s hard to tell the two apart.

Does the latest model brush up on some of its predecessor’s weaknesses, or does it just make the same mistakes all over again?

What’s on offer?

The Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR packs a sizeable 15x optical zoom lens with a 24-360mm zoom equivalent into a slender body that’s less than 3.3cms deep. Add to this a 16-megapixel, 1/2in sensor that’s constructed using Fujifilm’s unique EXR pixel array - which can use two pixels for each one rendered in an image (at 8 megapixels) to create low-noise and/or wide dynamic range shot - and the F600 isn’t short on ideas.

The sensor can capture still images as raw and JPEG files or shoot 1080p HD movie clips, plus sensor-shift image stabilisation helps to keep shots all the sharper. An 8fps burst mode can churn out shots at a rapid pace and the camera’s GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) module can track where shots are captured.

There’s no doubting this compact is crammed full of features for a reasonable budget, but we can’t help but think, “what’s new?”

So what is new?

Fujifilm F550EXR owners aren’t going to lose much sleep over the F600’s new features. Limited to an Intelligent Digital Zoom, the promise of a more accurate scene mode recognition and GPS landmark navigator, the F600 is otherwise, so it seems, a carbon copy of its older F550 sibling.

The Intelligent Digital Zoom mode can magnify a shot by 2x in EXR auto mode which, in combination with the 15x zoom, equates to a 30x or 48-720mm equivalent. As digital zoom crops into the frame, the final image is often sharpened throughout which can cause image noise to become prominent. The F600EXR’s Intelligent Digital Zoom recognises edges and sharpens different areas of the frame accordingly for a better quality shot.

Outside of the EXR mode and the digital zoom maxes out at 3.4x - less than the F550EXR’s 5x.

Meanwhile the GPS’s latest Landmark Navigator has a series of built-in landmarks and maps tagged on to its existing geo-tagging ability. The camera automatically detects landmarks and points of interest within the vicinity.

Image quality

We’re not going to get too annoyed over a lack of major changes, however, as the F600’s feature list in isolation makes it look like one smashing little camera.

However the F600EXR’s images are a mixed bag in many respects. While the 16-megapixel resolution captures reasonable levels of detail, shots aren’t always quite up to scratch. There’s some evidence of over-processing that, while not a complete write-off by any means, does bring into question the significant 16 megapixel resolution.

But it’s the EXR mode that goes on to explain the pixel density: the "half resolution" shots captured at 8-megapixels in this mode are more than resolute enough and, depending on which setting is being used, bring the benefit of lower image noise and higher dynamic range. It’s the Wide Dynamic Range 1600% that takes two exposures - one for the highlights and the other for shadows - in order to combine them in a single frame. High sensitivity, low noise (SN), on the other hand, uses pairs of pixels for an increased signal that returns a lower-noise shot.

What makes the F600 extra special is the inclusion of raw shooting. It’s a rather uncommon feature to find in compact cameras at this level and will be one major draw for prospective buyers.

The EXR array is unique to Fujifilm cameras and is a design implemented at the sensor level. We just feel as though the full-resolution shots should have a little more "oomph" to them, or we’d rather that the camera was just marketed as an 8MP compact instead, as this is where its best abilities are.

Performance

The F600EXR’s autofocus system works well and has a variety of capture options: centre, multi, continuous and tracking will cover most scenarios, though there’s no capacity to manually move the single AF point, as you can with some higher-end compacts.

Add the speedy 8fps continuous shooting mode, plus that 1080p HD movie mode, and it’s clear the F600EXR is quite the performer.

Verdict

If we take the F600EXR at face value then there’s plenty to like - though the changes since the previous F550EXR model are so minimal that there’s barely a difference between the two cameras.

On the upside, this does mean that the F600EXR is packed with features that will make it an attractive purchase, most notably the 15x zoom, GPS technology, 8fps burst mode and 1080p HD movie.

On the downside, the full-resolution image quality isn’t as top-spec as the excellent Raw capture option might suggest, but slip the camera into the 8-megapixel EXR modes and the results are more impressive.