Fujifilm FinePix F800EXR review

Fujifilm isn’t shy when it comes to turning out releases in the travel zoom compact camera market. The FinePix F800EXR - which succeeds the F770EXR by adding wireless image transfer functionality - looks on paper to be an affordable, well-featured compact. We thought its predecessor had one or two issues and lacked some "must have" features. Can the F800EXR right those wrongs?

What’s new?

A quick dash through the F800EXR’s specifications will confirm that it’s the same design as the F770EXR that came before it. The 16-megapixel 1/2-inch CMOS sensor remains the same, as does the 20x optical zoom’s 25-500mm equivalent.

Those are already decent enough features though. Wide-angle, long zoom, and a larger-than-average compact camera sensor certainly ticks the boxes.

However there’s still no optical image stabilisation, instead the sensor-shift mode takes care of things. That’s fine at wide-angle settings, but at a 500mm equivalent it won’t help stabilise the image preview, something that plenty of competitor travel zooms are capable of.

The F800EXR does have one obvious new feature: wireless image transfer. This almost-but-not-quite-Wi-Fi feature can be used to sync with a smartphone in order to post images direct to the web. It’s not possible to get the camera to talk directly to a web browser though, so the addition of the third-party essential does slow things down.

We’ve seen the feature before in Fuji’s own FinePix XP170 and found it fine enough, but less advanced than some of the competition out there - just take a look at Samsung’s Wi-Fi-enabled cameras, such as the Galaxy camera, and it’s clear to see just how connected some devices will be in the not too distant future.

Big zoom, little body

Design is a familiar tale. The cherry-red F800EXR review sample that landed at Pocket-lint HQ is the spitting image of the F770EXR. Telling them apart is only possible because of the wireless logo on the latest camera’s top and product name on the rear.

In most respects this means that the design is good: the large zoom lens is neatly tucked away into the body and the camera can easily fit into a pocket or bag. They don’t call them travel zooms for nothin’.

READ: Fujifilm FinePix F770EXR review

The 25mm wide-angle lens packs in the wide-angle setting that’s essential for those broader landscapes or group shots, and its 20x optical zoom takes that all the way up to a 500mm equivalent for picking off far-away subjects.

This is the same lens that lacks stabilisation, something that feels at odds with some of the design. The mode dial on top of the camera, for example, comes complete with full manual modes, as well as auto ones, which shows that the camera’s targeted not only at point-and-shoot users but also more advanced shooters. The kind of users who will want a better stabilisation system.

Performance

The F800EXR’s autofocus system is swift and generally accurate, though it will often depend on a very centralised focus point when in auto or EXR mode. Indeed even the "multi area" autofocus mode - accessible when in manual modes - doesn’t seem to spread particularly wide from the centre of the frame.

At longer focal lengths the focus system slows right down though and has to hunt out its subject. As per the previous model, there’s an ongoing "pause" or "cut out" issue. To explain: this phenomenon occurs at longer focal lengths, whereby the image preview frame freezes while focus is being attained. We were trying to shoot sea lions in San Francisco but this frustrating issue meant that dozens of shots were missed at the 20x zoom setting.

We’re particularly impressed with the camera’s close-focus ability though. At the widest-angle setting it’s possible to get very close to a subject and, although such distance obviously can’t be maintained further up the zoom range, the macro mode still comes in handy at reasonable focal lengths.

The other features stack up well against the competition too. GPS for geotagging and wireless image transfer for smartphone-based sharing sure do give this compact some extras to shout about, plus there’s a panorama mode, eight frames per second (8fps) burst option and 1080p video capture.

There’s still no touchscreen or more advanced features that are increasingly common among competitors.

Image Quality and EXR mode

We’ve already mentioned the F800EXR’s 1/2-inch sensor size. It’s not exactly huge, but it’s got a notable amount of extra surface area compared to the more standard 1/2.3-inch sensors found in the majority of other compacts.

As much as that ought to translate in to truly standout image quality, we found that the F800EXR, just like is predecessor, offers good but not exceptional images at full resolution. There’s some softness, and processing causes a lack of edge definition in the JPEG files.

But the F800EXR does have some tricks up its sleeve. The ability to capture raw files is unusual at this level and, for more advanced shooters, will be most welcome.

Then there’s the EXR mode. This clever process-based feature is one of the F800EXR’s highlights. The camera can decide whether the scene should be shot at the full 16-megapixel resolution when light is good, at a reduced 8-megapixel resolution to adapt for better dynamic range when backlighting is present, or using the high sensitivity, low noise mode to shoot multiple shots for a lower image noise output that’s useful in dim conditions. It really works too and the lower resolution EXR outputs are visibly better.

If the full 16-megapixel resolution is more your thing then there’s an ISO 100-3200 range, while the higher sensitivities of 6400-12,800 are restricted to reduced resolutions. Our advice: stick to ISO 100-200 where possible as, from ISO 1600 and above, the results won’t cut it where detail is concerned.

Verdict

The Fujifilm FinePix F800EXR comes with plenty of notable merits, but its packed-out features list misses out some key points.

The lack of lens-based stabilisation means this compact just isn’t quite the same calibre as its close competitors. Wireless image transfer is occasionally useful but it’s not the ultimate browsing and sharing experience - add a touchscreen and full Wi-Fi browsing direct from the camera and then we’ll talk.

Image quality is just okay - just like its predecessor - but for a 1/2-inch sensor size there’s not the sort of "pop" we would have expected and overexposure is a problem.

It’s affordable, it’s small, packs in a big zoom but has failed to address ongoing issues such as poor autofocus at the long-end of the zoom that have plagued the predecessors.

However it’s the EXR mode that comes into genuine use and saves this model from a lower score. The acronym-like name may not be the most known or recognisable brand draw, but it does make shooting in low light plausible and the dynamic range option will save plenty of back-lit shots.

There have been so many F-series models released that it’s about time Fujifilm fixed the bugs, then went on to focus on added extras such as wireless image transfer. Having not done so, the F800EXR is, unfortunately, overshadowed by the advance of its competitors.