Fujifilm FinePix F770EXR

Fujifilm’s bombardment of the travel zoom market continues with its fourth F-series release in a12-month period, the FinePix F770EXR.

Unlike its recent predecessors, it’s not a small update: this latest model cranks up the specification by squeezing a 20x optical zoom lens into the small-bodied design.

But with so many releases in such a short period of time, and in a highly competitive market space, has the Fujifilm FinePix F770EXR finally cracked not only Fuji’s formula, but the travel zoom formula as a whole?

Powerful zoom

Among the F770EXR’s biggest draws is its formidable 20x optical zoom lens. This brings the Fujifilm brand up to speed with the likes of the Panasonic TZ30, Sony HX20V and Canon SX260 HS, and offers a considerably longer focal length than its 15x zoom F660EXR predecessor.

The F770EXR’s 25-500mm equivalent means wide-angle group shots or far-and-away subjects are right at your fingertips. The f/3.5-5.3 maximum aperture - that’s the most light the lens can let in at its respective widest and longest focal lengths - may sound standard, but is slightly brighter at the 500mm setting than its nearest competitors.

As per its predecessors, and despite being a new lens, the F770EXR still has some issues with lens flare. It depends on the shooting conditions, but prominent light sources can generate large flare that tends to show as transparent "shapes" within an image.

Irrespective of its pros and cons, the lens does have size on its side. This camera is truly pocketable, and the lens itself disappears inside the body when the camera is switched off. Ideal for on-the-go portability.

Familiar design

The F770EXR’s design is familiar fare, though an angled mode dial on the rear of the camera gives it a bit of added personality.

It’s possible to select from variety of shooting options: there is an auto mode as well as the usual array of manual modes, but it’s EXR mode that will be of most interest to most – we’ll cover that in more detail later.

Rather than lens-based image stabilisation technology to help counteract handshake, the F770EXR opts for a sensor-based version. While it is a capable enough system it means a far more juddery experience in preview, compared to its lens-based competitors, which can be a particular issue at the longest focal lengths. Better to have than nothing at all, but with a 20x zoom lens this really ought to be a better technology.

When light isn’t as plentiful the camera also offers an AF assist lamp which sends out a near-daylight coloured beam. And, if you need it, there’s a pop-up flash to light up dark scenes.

EXR extras

Like the F660EXR, the F770EXR has a 1/2-inch EXR CMOS II sensor. The important part of that is the “II” element in the title: this sensor is more advanced compared to its first generation and is said to deliver a 30 per cent improvement when it comes to low-light performance and overall image noise.

But image quality isn’t all that. Even though the sensor is ever so slightly larger than most of its competitors, the full-resolution 16-megapixel shots can be a little soft, lacking in detail and over-processed into painterly-like scenes on some occasions.

This is where EXR can come to the rescue. The setting, which is marked as "EXR" on the mode dial, will auto select a between wide dynamic range or high sensitivity, low noise (SN) modes. The half-resolution (8-megapixel) output is down to the sensor using two sensor-level pixels for one on-screen pixel, but this gives the camera double the data to work with for an improved picture. It does really work too, though it can improve results only by a limited amount.

If we’re talking ISO sensitivity then the F770EXR offers ISO 100-3200 as standard and reduced resolution ISO 6400-12,800 settings. The lower resolution files don’t cut it in terms of detail, colour or resolution, so it’s down to the standard ISO range to rule in our book.

ISO 100-200 produce decent enough results, though processing can make shots a little soft. ISO 400 already shows considerable detail breakdown, particularly in fine detail areas. ISO 800 is further smeared, while ISO 1600-3200 lose yet more detail and colour wanes into a more washed-out palette.

That may not sound like a sparkling review of its abilities, but it’s pretty standard stuff for a compact camera. We were hoping for more. 

However the F770EXR does have an added trick up its sleeve. The ability to shoot raw is a powerful tool that most other compact cameras fail to include, and something that gives this model a different angle of appeal.

Performance

When it comes to autofocus we have few qualms about the F770EXR’s performance. Whether in close-up macro mode or focusing on a far-away subjects the system performs well.

It also comes in a variety of flavours: centre, multi, continuous and tracking. The centre and the auto-selecting multi are both quick off the mark, while tracking is fast to recognise the selected (central) subject, but the lag to then focus and fire the shutter might not get the shot you were hoping for. The tracking system is more sensitive and better at keeping up with subjects than many other compacts though.

However, and just like its other Fujifilm cousins, there’s a "cut out" issue whereby the image preview ceases to show in real time while the autofocus is acquired at longer focal lengths. This "pause" in motion is long enough of a lag for the subject to wander off and leave you with an empty frame. It’s been present in generations of Fujifilm cameras now, and could really do with a fix.

Other features come aplenty and make the features list look appealing. There’s GPS (global positioning satellite) technology to track and tag where shots are taken; a 360-degree panorama mode; a 1080p HD movie mode where the lens and full time autofocus can be used to their full; and a speedy eight frames per second (8fps) bust mode. 

If anything does lack by today’s standards then it’s a touchscreen and the aforementioned lens-based stabilisation system. 

Verdict

Even though the Fujifilm FinePix F770EXR is a more budget travel zoom camera than much of the recent competition it has a load of features on offer. Really decent features too: GPS, raw shooting, EXR modes, and we could go on.

But we’d really like to see a lens-based image stabilisation system in the next incarnation and, despite "sensor improvements" the overall image quality won’t cut it when it comes to fine detail work. The EXR output modes go some way to delivering better quality, but it has its limits - also take into account the overall exposure, occasionally problematic lens flare, live preview "pause" when focusing at longer focal lengths and there are some issues to be had. 

There have been a lot of F-series cameras in the past year, and although each has added subtle improvements it's taken the F770EXR to amp up the lens capability. But without lens-based stabilisation and some higher spec features, it's difficult for this compact to truly shine. 

The F770EXR is small, pocketable and affordable - although it's not that much cheaper than the competition. This is a travel zoom with some audible fizz, but it just doesn't quite have that explosive bang.



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