Looking for a versatile and affordable camera to take on your travels? With a 15x wide-angle zoom lens, built-in GPS, 1080p video recording, raw support, an HDMI output and a raft of creative, automatic and manual functions, the Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR superzoom is positively bulging at the seams with photographic goodness. It's reasonably priced too, costing £230 or thereabouts.
Portable and tough
The F550EXR is housed in a serious-looking, rugged outer shell. It might not be the lightest camera in the world, weighing around 215g with the battery and memory card included, but it's still extremely portable.
The massive zoom has surprisingly little impact on the size and shape of the unit. The lens housing is raised above the rest of the camera's body, but only by about 6mm when the device is in standby mode.
The all-black metal and plastic shell is moulded into an appealing, modern style and has some useful touches, such as a rubber grip on the front to help you hold the camera steady. The large, 3-inch screen on the rear offers a high resolution of around 460,000 pixels. Alas, we found its colours to be rather garish, and there's no way of toning them down.
We do have a couple of gripes with the camera's design, though. First up is the motorised pop-up flash, which emerges every time you switch the camera on, whether you need the flash or not. It's a thundering nuisance, particularly since it happens to be situated just where your left forefinger naturally rests when holding the camera.
There's also nowhere for your right thumb to sit comfortably without risking accidental button presses. We found some of the buttons -- particularly the power switch -- small and fiddly too. Not only that but the raised mode dial can be hard to use, since your fingers naturally attempt to twist the fixed mount it rests on rather than the dial itself.
Picture noise nuisance
The F550EXR uses Fujifilm's back-illuminated EXR CMOS sensor, with a resolution of 16 megapixels. This may sound good but we've noticed that many compact cameras with resolutions this high tend to exhibit picture noise, especially when you use them in environments that aren't evenly lit.
This proved true of the F550EXR's images, which start to look too grainy whenever the sensitivity is set above ISO 400. You may even notice some noise in areas of solid colour at lower settings, as our photo above shows. This is a shame, since the camera offers high sensitivity settings of up to ISO 12,800. In auto mode, the F550EXR is quick to adjust to higher-sensitivity settings, which means you could be more affected by this issue than you think, even if you mostly take outdoor shots in daylight.
Despite the noise issue, there's plenty to commend in the F550EXR's images. Colours are terrific, with bold tones and high contrast handled particularly well. The camera's great for nature shots, although we wouldn't put much trust in the 'foliage' mode, which tends to overly pump up greens.
Whether you're taking a picture of something far away or up close, the F550EXR delivers a sharp, detailed image. Macro shots are a particular highlight and the wide-angle lens lets you fit more into the frame for group shots. At the long end of the zoom, the image holds its sharpness well, thanks to a sensor-shift image stabiliser. You may notice some chromatic aberration along the edges of high-contrast subjects, such as dark buildings with cloudy skies behind them, but this is normal for a camera of this type.
There are loads of different shooting modes available, including one for taking 360-degree panoramas. Film-simulation options are offered and there are several different high-speed continuous-shooting modes to choose from if you're shooting fast-moving subjects or want the option of taking photos in bursts.
We should point out some of the limitations of the F550EXR's features. It takes much longer to store raw images than standard JPEG files, for example, so be prepared to wait between shots if you want to make use of this format.
Similarly, the HD video quality is pretty good, and you'll benefit from not only stereo sound but also full use of the zoom while filming. Unfortunately, however, the camera's autofocus struggles when using the zoom and we found that much of our test footage was blurry and unusable.
It's also worth mentioning that, for those who aren't interested in geotagging their photos, a GPS-free version of the camera is available in the shape of the FinePix F500EXR, which costs about £200.
A number of niggles prevent the Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR from achieving greatness. But, at its current price, it still represents good value for those seeking an advanced set of features in a fairly compact camera.
Edited by Charles Kloet