The Fujifilm FinePix F770EXR updates the F-series models, replacing the F600 along with its new siblings the F660 and F750 variants, and as such it is designed to be a traveller's camera companion capable of shooting almost any subject. But how does it perform? We find out.
Fuji has been building a new and very nice line in camera gear over the last year or two and with competition stiffening across the board with new kit from usual suspects such as Nikon and Canon also joined by great new kit from makers such as Panasonic, Samsung and Olympus, things have been tough in an even tougher marketplace. But then Fuji introduced its impressive X Series line of higher-end digital cameras, all the while refining its more compact lineup and so, enter the Finepix F770 EXR.
The FinePix F770EXR sits atop company’s F Series compacts, a series of cameras that slips in between the semi-pro level X Series and the compact Z and T models and as such it looks a real stunner. And so the new F770EXR is designed as an all-around camera, combining a stunning 20x 25-500mm optical wide-zoom lens, 16-megapixel resolution CMOS sensor and a top sensitivity setting of ISO 12800.
Image stabilisation is also a key foundation for a camera such as this as it makes hand holding long-zoom shots a possibility and the improved processing power means fast start up, response times and a fleet of foot AF system. My one initial worry is a rather confusing menu and user interface system, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Fujifilm FinePix F770EXR Review – Design
The F770 EXR oozes the sort of built and ‘feel’ you’d expect from a more expensive camera, it’s also remarkably compact for a camera boasting a 25mm to 500mm optical zoom lens. The camera’s quality is matched by the lens and buttons (there’s no lens wiggle or button stickiness) and the all-red body livery on my review sample is very smart without being overly flashy.
The Fuji F770 EXR has a curved and rounded shape that means it looks a little unorthodox compared to some more traditional style compacts. The top of the F770 has a rounded hump over the lens that houses the GPS bits and bobs, while a neat rubberised area on the sculpted hand grip on the camera’s face makes one handed operation feel safe, even if it is a bit shaky, particularly at the 500mm end fo the lens.
A clever but tiny and, it has to be said, rather underpowered pop-up flash is activated by a rather well hidden button on the left side of the camera but it’s only really suitable as a fill-in unit or for low light indoors where distances it will have to illuminate are not to great. The flash also looks rather vulnerable when it’s activated and popped up into its firing position where it just looks fragile to me.
The net result of the curved body and the GPS ‘hump’ however is rather a contradiction in that it makes F770 appear bulkier than many of its competitors and yet at the same time, the smoothed and nicely tactile finish on the camera’s body makes it feel small in the hand. In any event, it’s nice to hold and use.
Of the main buttons on the camera there’s the aforementioned shutter release/lens zoom control, which are well positioned and great to use, there’s a useful function (Fn) button and a recessed (for safety) on/off button.
The back of the F770 is typical of a compact snapper with its excellent, large 3-inch screen dominating the real estate. The mode dial sits at a jaunty angle off of the back of the top plate and is excellent and very usable; I love its position and the way it aids the overall handling of the camera, as your right thumb falls naturally over the knurled dial.
This is used to get into the main camera shooting settings while an otherwise rather ordinary back plate control layout includes a four way dial-come-jog-control (it rotates for faster scrolling and access to features), a direct HD movie recording button that’s sat under the mode dia’s plinth and so is great to get to and use with your right thumb.
The playback button, display toggle/control and menu/OK buttons are pretty standard, but as with most Fuji compacts there’s the addition of an F or Finepix button, which brings into play the ability to shoot using film simulation modes (for those in the know, or that shot on Fuji film in times of yore) where it mimics Fuji Velvia (my favourite with punchier colour), Provia and Astia (Fuji’s APS slide film) slide films as well as having Sepia and black and white modes.
ISO, image aspect ratios, continuous shooting and GPS set up systems are housed here too, for fast set up and access. Macro shooting, flash settings, deletion/exposure compensation and self timer drive settings are all gained via the four-way jog control mentioned earlier, so as I say, it’s fairly normal in that regard.
Most camera makers have managed to create menu systems and interfaces that are easy to use and understand, great for the general snappers and making the cameras easier to use for novices; many including a help system to guide you, to a greater or lesser degree, on camera modes and their uses.
This Fuji’s menu system looks simple enough at first, with just two main tabs to choose between, one for shooting (or playback when in playback mode) and one for set up. It appears easy but it’s overly technical in my view as there’s a lot of stuff to tinker with, not all of it as straightforward as you might expect, while menu sequences needed to determine settings feel overly long too.
The metering systems, for example, are housed within a ‘Photometry’ sub menu; more novice users might not know what that means, but I think such kit should be easier to get at to make it faster and easier to use, ideally through direct buttons; enter the Fn (function) button, which I assigned to the this task.
However, a while spent with the camera will get you familiar with its interface foibles and once you’ve used it a for a while, these initial technicalities will quickly pass and with the likely purchaser of this camera being a more experienced user, perhaps much of the interface issues will be moot. If you’ve owned a previous Fuji digital camera, then many of the menu features will be more or less familiar too.
Fujifilm FinePix F770EXR Review – Features
The camera provides a complete set of manual controls on the main mode dial; P, A, S and M and then the titular EXR mode. Here you get three setting to choose between that prioritise detail, dynamic range or low noise at higher ISOs.
These are selected in a menu option which again, makes it use and set up a little less intuitive than I’d like, and depending on the setting, it also effects the resolution of the shots you take.
For instance, the wide dynamic ‘D-Range’ (DR) mode takes two images and combines them to get the dynamic range boost but at only 8-megapixels resolution; the camera effectively reconfigures how it uses the sensor’s pixels and their respective photo sites in order to achieve the result.
In fact, the way the F770 uses its sensor cleverly makes the most of the backlit CMOS sensor technology and in the DR mode particularly, it mimics the way Fuji’s old Super CCD sensors used to use multiple photo sites on each pixel location to get better dynamic range at the expense of gross resolution.
My one regret is you cannot get at the EXR settings while shooting in the manual modes, here it might add even greater versatility to the camera’s already impressive shooting armoury.
Nevertheless, there’s a good set of pre-sets, but again the process to get things set up can be on the slow side, requiring work within menus to select and define many of the modes, all meaning until you’ve got to grips with the camera’s settings and menu options, it all feel overly convoluted to actually get the most of many of the camera’s more powerful bits and pieces.
On the downside, some of the more useful features are frustrating to use. GPS settings are convoluted and I found very little in the way of control over the flash settings; you get forced, auto and slow synch modes in EXR and shutter priority and program modes for example, but not in aperture priority or full manual shooting.
Here the camera dictates flash by using its in-built ‘intelligent’ flash technology in some of the aforementioned manual shooting modes, which is both annoying and counter intuitive and while the camera does a good job of it, some form of ‘proper’ manual control over the flash is a prerequisite, at least in my book.
Once the GPS feature is set up it is rewarding once active, as the geo-tagging and photo navigation modes are very clever indeed. For those not familiar with such GPS kittery, the F770 is able to automatically tag the longitude, latitude and altitude co-ordinates on images of the thing you‚Äôre photographing.
It can also highlight on screen any landmarks you’re shooting too, so overlaying the words ‘Houses of Parliament’, say,with the Houses of Parliament on the camera’s screen as you prepare to photograph it.
While an obvious example it is a very funky feature indeed and in fact, Fuji says the F770 boasts a worldwide database of 1-million landmarks!
Even funkier still, is the photo navigation system, where tilting the camera downwards activates a radar-like view of any photogenic landmarks that are displayed on the screen near your current location with their distance away. In short, the camera can become a kind of photo tour guide able to provide key data on things to shoot (almost) wherever you are travelling.
As you may realise by now, the F770 is simultaneously a feature-packed snapper, able to be used as a simple point-n-shooter as well as something far more sophisticated. And so, when it comes to using some options, it’s comparatively simple, which is good while a look at its hardware tells the opposite story.
Most compacts on the market today have a suite of built-in filters, such as toy camera, pinhole, miniature and the like; designed to give fun photo options on devices that are otherwise more limited, in terms of their hardware. The F770 has none of these modes but does have the more usual array of subject, or scene modes including landscape, night scene, natural light (and with flash), fireworks and beach modes along with two pet oriented settings of cat and dog, to name a few.
Those after more control and manual options get access to relatively few things to tinker with, outside of the manual shooting options on the mode dial and these include exposure compensation, white balance, and saturation controls, alongside the automated kit Fuji has built in.
Fuji has spent a lot of time on the hardware too and the impressive 20x optical zoom and speedy AF combined with the excellent image stabilisation that becomes essential at the longer focal lengths this camera can shoot at.
Interestingly, the map viewer software that comes with the camera and can be used with MyFinePix Studio means the GPS does not just tag your location and store the metadata, the F770 plots your route along Google Maps, complete with your photos.
Performance and Verdict
Fujifilm FinePix F770EXR Review – Performance
In day-to-day use, the F770 performs really well, powering on and off is quick, the recycle time between photos is fast too and so, the camera is as sleek a piece of hardware as you’d expect; there’s very little to complain about in general use.
However, the overly convoluted interface made things harder than it ought to use the camera, particularly when you remember today’s smartphone technology and touch screen interfaces can be such fun and simple to use; complex doesn’t always mean complex to use.
Getting the right shot or getting the camera set up to take the right shot can be a task itself, as it is not always immediately apparent what setting to use for what shot; even the EXR setting needs a little research (read the manual) to find out which mode might be best to use, as it’s not apparent on the camera out of the box.
In the EXR Auto mode, the F770 does a good job of choosing a setting for you, portraits for portraits and macro for macro subjects for example, but again you don’t know what effect the automatically selected EXR setting will have. Or perhaps its just a case of not worrying and letting the camera do its stuff?
Either way, reading the manual on the CD could be essential (though the basic manual is less illuminating) to get the most from this camera, but we all know, reading the manual is the last thing most people will want to do.
The scene modes can do a great job, and the foibles of the EXR settings aside, shooting with fully manual control I found I got the best from the camera where I sorted the EXR setting manually too, to suit the subject, and then the camera does as superb job.
And while the EXR modes provide a way to cope with very bright scenes, low light with low noise and helps ensure you get bags of detail, again just when to use all the EXR kit can be hit and miss at first.
The shutter and aperture adjustment are both nicely handled, via the rotating four-way jog control with a live exposure level indicator to help you get exposure as you’d like.
The F770’s lens is a cracker, its combination of 25mm wideangle and the 500mm full zoom capability encompasses more or less anything you can throw at it and provides crisp results without too much distortion.
I Iike the implementation of the F770’s sweep panorama feature, it worked well and with which you can also shoot 360-degree cylindrical images and you can also shoot (two-shot) 3D images to view on compatible PCs and viewers.
In terms of image quality however, it’s a fairly mixed bag. Anything above ISO 600 shows some slight noise, but not excessively so. Colour is well rendered with the Velvia film mode being my favourite; metering works well enough, the centre-weighted mode providing, arguably, the best balance across subjects.
Auto-focus and image stabilisation work together well too, on even fleeting subjects and with images that are clean and well exposed and the camera dealing well with subject blur but the piece de resistance for a camera such as this, is the JPEG + RAW capture mode allowing you to do even more with your images later in image editing software if you want to.
However, I was very worried about some odd blurring around the periphery of images shot at the 500mm end of the lens on some shots using the cameras wide dynamic range or DR mode as it combines two images. Any subject movement can compromise the images, such as swaying tree branches and the like. The lens at full zoom is soft at the edges as well, so this compounds any such issues if the subject you’re shooting has such movement problems.
In other EXR modes, the issues surrounding that blurring (due to the two shots) is ot such a problem and reveals the lens is capable of much more crisp results.
HD Video capture is good with booth 1080 and 720 settings at 30fps, the 20x zoom fully operational throughout with a reduced zooming speed to keep intrusive motor noise to a minimum although the focusing during shots requires a moment to get itself sorted, so that’s a tad slow. Video quality is very good if slightly on the noisy side but not distractingly so.
The Fuji FinepIx F770 is a great compact super zoom that’s ideal for the travel market into which it is pitched. It’s ore than able to handle most shots and the clever GPS options and the map-plotting software are great, certainly more interesting than other attempts from competitor’s systems.
Fujifilm FinePix F770EXR Review – Verdict
The Finepix F770 EXR looks great and is capable of some stunning results, be they still, video or panoramics; the camera is also an odd mix of contradictions packed full of clever kit that then takes a while to get to grips with.
The impressive sensor and processor mean technically, it’s able enough and operates quickly, but the menu systems and interface are too convoluted.
Getting up to speed and managing the menu systems are key to get most from this camera, but once you have got to grips with it, there’s plenty more kit to play and have fun with.
Manual settings provide the more advanced user control, hsame about the odd flash set up though. The 20x zoom, panorama mode, and GPS give it something more in the way of pizzaz, plus, it’s a remarkably small compact for a GPS-enabled camera witha 25-500mm zoom lens ensconced within.
In a camera market crowded with feature-packed compacts this camera’s convoluted and rather complex menu interface is frustrating, the best of this camera can be got at but it takes a little to much work for my liking.
Nevertheless, once set up and running and you know what it working the best for you, the Fuji FinePix F770 EXR will cope with just about anything you can throw at it, from holiday snaps, through safari snaps to stunning landscapes