Ever the pioneer, Fujifilm has come up with another variant of its Super CCD sensor design. This brand new EXR sensor promises improved resolution, better high-ISO quality and increased dynamic range. But does it work, and is the £290 FinePix F200EXR the best camera to showcase it?
Fujifilm's claims about its EXR sensor aren't just idle boasts. The high resolution is obtained when the 12-megapixel sensor is used in its standard mode. Other cameras have 12-megapixel sensors, of course, but this one's particularly large, measuring 1/1.6 inches across the diagonal, which makes it about twice the area of a standard 1/2.3-inch sensor. This alone should make a difference.
It's the EXR sensor's two extra operating modes that are crucial, though. In high-ISO mode it uses 'pixel binning' to combine adjacent pixel values to produce 6-megapixel files of higher quality than could be obtained normally. Other makers use pixel binning too, but Fujifilm's rearranged the layout of the red, green and blue pixels on the sensor so that it avoids the unwanted colour artefacts usually produced.
In the high-dynamic-range mode, meanwhile, the EXR sensor uses two sets of 6 million pixels again, but differently. This time it combines two separate exposures (actually captured simultaneously) to produce images with a much higher dynamic range. In other words you shouldn't get those inky black shadows and bleached-out skies.
So does all this fancy technology work? You bet. In normal, non-EXR mode this camera gives the sharpest, finest detail you're going to get from any compact -- and a few digital SLRs. In the high-ISO EXR mode, the definition, noise levels and overall quality set new standards for compact cameras. And the high-dynamic-range EXR mode is excellent. Shadow detail is lightened and the sensor holds onto even the most extreme highlight detail, rendering it with a wonderful subtlety instead of just bleaching it out.
Okay, so the EXR modes produce only 6-megapixel images, but, unless you routinely print A3-sized photos, you're not going to see any practical difference anyway.
The camera body's not bad either. The F200EXR is solid, chunky and stylish. It starts up fast, the autofocus is good and it zooms quickly. There's some serious barrel distortion at the wideangle end of the zoom range, and some colour fringing here and there near the edges, but otherwise the 5x zoom deliver high levels of sharpness which don't drop off much near the long end of the zoom range, either.
The controls are confusing, though. It could take you a long time to figure out that the F200EXR uses Fujifilm's existing dynamic range enhancement alongside the new EXR mode. Similarly, you don't need to be in the EXR mode to shoot at high ISOs -- the EXR mode simply offers improved quality. Also, too many options are dependent on others -- you can't use extended dynamic range when shooting in the 'velvia' film-simulation mode, for example.
Fujifilm's always banged on about how overall picture quality is more important than megapixels, but its cameras haven't always driven the point home. The FinePix F200EXR is different. It's a decent camera in its own right, but the new EXR sensor is the real star of the show and really does deliver image quality that its rivals can't.
Edited by Charles Kloet