The FinePix F550EXR is the latest generation of advanced compact camera from Fujifilm. With a newly developed 16MP EXR CMOS sensor and 15x optical zoom with RAW shooting capability, it promises a lot. Read our Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR review...
Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR review – Features
The FinePix F550EXR is an update to the F300EXR, with one of the most notable changes being the sensor. Out goes the 12MP Super CCD EXR chip to be replaced by a 16MP EXR CMOS sensor. It remains physically the same size, at 1/2″, but they’ve squeezed another 4 million pixels onto the surface area. The sensor also utilises back-side illuminated (BSI) technology for more effective light collection. The EXR technology used on the F550EXR has evolved from previous incarnations based around a Super CCD structure to work with a CMOS pixel array, but the philosophy remains the same, with the sensor’s performance optimized for either maximum resolution, low-light performance or dynamic range.
The optical zoom range offers an incredibly broad range for a compact camera of this size, running from 24-360mm – the wide-angle coverage is excellent for those wanting to cram loads into the frame, while the long end gives you plenty of scope to get in close to your subjects. The Fujinon lens is a Double Sliding Structured Lens, which has allowed the large focal range to fit neatly inside the slim body. The FinePix F550EXR also features a CMOS Shift mechanism to reduce camera shake – necessary at the long end of the zoom range. The ISO range runs from 100-3200, but can be expanded to 6400 at 8MP and 12,800 at a reduced resolution of 4MP.
While the FinePix F550EXR utilized a hybrid AF system that used Phase Detect technology for improved AF acquirement speed (just like a DSLR does), the F550EXR uses a more common contrast-detect system, though Fujifilm claim that the speed is virtually identical. The F550EXR can also shoot at 8fps (frames per second) at full resolution, or 11fps at a reduced 8MP.
Along with a dedicated EXR mode (you can choose between the three EXR modes as well as an Auto mode), there’s Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority and full manual for more creative control. On top of that, there’s an Auto mode, Advanced (with the choice of either 360 degree panorama, Pro Focus or Pro Low-light) and 18 scene modes. As well as shooting in JPEG, the FinePix F550EXR can also shoot in Raw as well, while videos can also be captured in 1080p at 30fps and shot in H.264 format.
There’s a 3in rear screen with a resolution of 460K-dots, while there’s also a built-in GPS unit to tag the location where images were shot – either latitude and longitude or Place of Interest.
Design and Performance
Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR review – Design
With the exception of the little bump in the top-plate that houses the GPS unit, the design remains virtually identical to the F300EXR that precedes it. It’s a relatively sleek looking piece of kit, with small proportions considering the zoom range and features on offer.
There’s a pleasing, but small non-slip rubberized grip on the body, while the flash is stowed neatly in the body, popping when the camera is switched on. There’s also an angled mode dial, set roughly at 45 degrees, to make it more comfortable to switch between settings.
Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR review – Performance
The Hybrid AF system works very well – AF acquisition is fast and precise using the central point, while the AF tracking mode does a solid job of trying to keep focus on your moving subject. And if you pair the focus tracking with the Best Frame Capture – 8 images captured at almost 8fps, or 16 images at 11fps with a resolution of 8MP, then you should easily be able to grab an action shot or two. If you opt to shoot in Raw however, expect a 5 second write time, and take a couple in quick succession, and you have to wait while the images are cleared off the buffer before you can carry-on shooting.
A Fujifilm compact wouldn’t be complete without a range of film simulation modes to choose from – Provia/Standard, Velvia/Vivid, Astia/Soft, B&W and Sepia. These are accessed via the F mode button, which also features ISO, Image Size, Continuous shooting and location search for GPS.
If you’re shooting in Aperture or Shutter priority, the scroll-wheel at the rear of the camera is used to toggle though the settings, while in Manual mode, the Exposure compensation button is used to swap between the two settings. Dip into the Advanced shooting mode and you’ve got the choice of either a panorama (settings of 120, 180 or 360), which works by sweeping the camera from left to right, while Pro Focus blurs the background to mimic the effect of a shallow depth-of-field shot typical of DSLRs. While it’s easy to be cynical about it, it does do a pretty good job of blurring the background, with the difference clearly noticeable compared to shooting without it. The Pro low-light mode is supposed to enhance clarity in low-light shots, but our tests showed a minimal difference.
The rear screen is incredibly bright and crisp, making composition and reviewing images a pleasure, while the menu system itself is easy to navigate.
Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR review – Image Quality
Whether the change from the Super CCD chip to the 16MP CMOS sensor has been for the better is up for debate. While the performance has been improved, allowing a higher frame rate and the 16MP will keep the marketing people happy, the actual images don’t seem to see an improvement of those of the F300EXR.
At full resolution, detail is good at lower ISOs, but softness can become an issue at higher sensitivities – in an effort to reduce noise, parts of the image look like they’ve been smeared. If you’re going to be shooting at higher ISOs, then the F550EXR’s High ISO & Low Noise EXR setting is the one to go for – with a resolution of 8MP compared to 16MP, the ultimate signal to noise ratio is better, and while you can see a noticeable improvement over the full resolution alternative, it’s not as dramatic as that on the older Super CCD chip. It’s a similar story in D-Range Priority – while there’s an improvement in highlight areas, it’s not as impressive as we’ve come to expect from an EXR chip.
Metering is good, though you may find that a touch of underexposure can benefit the shot, and while the lens is nice and sharp, there’s some noticeable distortion at the wide end, so it’s worth being careful with horizons and architecture to avoid bowed straight lines.
Value and Verdict
Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR review – Value
At £259, you’ll find it in the mix against some stiff competition, but you’ll struggle to find a similar priced camera with a specification the beats the F550EXR – there’s no denying you get a lot of camera for the cash.
Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR review – Verdict
If you’re after an enthusiast focused compact, then you’re better off looking at the Olympus XZ-1 or Panasonic LX5, but for those after a solid, all-round compact camera, then the F550EXR fits the bill in many ways and is a very well specified piece of kit, especially when you consider the price – 15x zoom, fast AF, and 8fps for starters. That said, while images are good and inline with the competition, they don’t quite deliver the standout results we were hoping for. Rather than opt for a CMOS BSI chip, it’s a shame the Super CCD chip that was employed by the F300EXR hasn’t been developed further.