Around half of the cameras we've seen over the last three months have pegged their resolution at the magical 16 megapixels; 16 -- not three -- is clearly the new magic number. Cramming that many pixels onto a sensor the size of your little fingernail is no small task. While the cameras we've seen have produced wildly differing results, Fujifilm's FinePix F600EXR has triumphed.
Many comparable snappers have sacrificed quality in pursuit of an impressive marketing hook, but Fujifilm has produced a first-class device that combines high resolution, a long zoom and great output in one attractive package. It even has built-in GPS. No wonder Fujifilm calls it the perfect travelling companion.
Handling and features
GPS is becoming ever more common on consumer cameras, where it's used to stamp coordinates into your files' metadata so that they can be plotted on a map when you get home. The F600EXR takes this one step further with an inbuilt database of points of interest, their locations and how far each lies from where you're standing.
Landmarks are shown either as augmented reality, overlaying the live view if you hold the camera upright as you would to take a picture, or as a top-down radar if held horizontally. Throw away your guidebook; this is the shortcut to getting the best shots of your holiday, wherever you happen to land.
Build quality is excellent, with a chunky, comfortable body and rubber strips on the front and back to help you keep a firm grip.
The mode selector dial is angled, which is a bit strange, and there's a button to the left of the rear LCD for raising the flash when you want to use it; the flash mode selector only works when it's popped up.
Beyond that, everything is exactly where you'd expect to find it. The menus tailor themselves to the selected scene mode, with options that aren't applicable greyed out rather than removed altogether. We performed our tests using the EXR auto mode, which selects the most appropriate sensitivity, white balance, exposure and even resolution to get the best results from the shot.
If you want to make specific tweaks without resorting to the traditional aperture and shutter priority or full manual modes, there are three supplemental EXR modes. These cover off resolution priority, which uses the sensor's full pixel count; high sensitivity/low noise mode, which extracts detail from darker scenes without introducing excessive noise at the expense of losing some pixels; and D-range, which increases the level of detail in highlights.
We started our tests outdoors, shooting a white iron bridge against a green background to see how well it coped with both the stark contrast and the high level of direct light on the bridge structure.
Unfortunately the results could have been better. The F600EXR chose a sensitivity of ISO 100 and a fast shutter speed of 1/550 second; when we examined the photos in post-production and zoomed them to 100% there was evidence of fringing where the light spread beyond the painted surfaces, encroaching onto the trees as a loose yellow fringe.
From this angle, most of the bridge structure exhibited evidence of clipped highlights. Things were much improved when we changed our shooting position so that the light distribution across the frame was more balanced, with a lighter area to the right of the subject reducing the contrast of the ironwork relative to the overall frame. By moving onto the bridge itself there was less reflected light, resulting in fewer clipped highlights and solving the problem of undesirable fringing; this was despite being shot with a wider aperture, which would let in more light at a faster speed of 1/600 of a second.
Overall, the F600EXR performed very well outdoors, capturing plenty of detail in shots where the subject matter represented little tonal variation. In the shot below, of a lock and canal banks, both the water and the foliage are full of detail despite the F600EXR having a very limited palette with which to work. When zoomed to 100%, it's easy to make out fine detail on the edges of leaves and stalks, and the grain in the wood of the lock gates. It performed very impressively overall.
Noise was very well controlled at low sensitivities but became more evident as shooting conditions deteriorated. By the time it was necessary for the F600EXR to self-select ISO 400 to counter the setting sun, we could detect grain in our finished results when zoomed to 100%. It should be noted that this was undetectable when the image was instead displayed at full screen, rather than zoomed, and so shouldn't impact the quality of your images in general web use or when printed.
An interesting side effect of increasing the sensitivity when the shooting mode is set to EXR Auto is that the F600EXR reduces the image resolution so that it can devote more pixels to achieving the best possible result with the lowest possible level of noise. In our tests, stepping up from ISO 100 to ISO 400 reduced the image size from 16 megapixels to just eight.
The full sensitivity range runs from ISO 100 to ISO 6400, with an additional ISO 12,800 available in shutter priority mode.
The F600EXR's 15x zoom lens puts it well within superzoom territory, enabling you to get very close to your subjects without moving, and even at full telephoto it manages to maintain a respectable maximum aperture of f/5.3. This helps to achieve bright results with the minimum of noise at the furthest end of the zoom. The image below of King's College Chapel, Cambridge, was taken from 900 feet away, yet at full zoom it was still able to isolate the chancel window within the frame.
Translate these measurements into their 35mm equivalents, and this zoom matches a 24-360mm lens on a full-frame dSLR. Not only would that be expensive, but it would also be heavy and fairly large, so for anyone looking for a more accomplished compact for travel photography, this is a great candidate.
Detail was extremely well maintained across the full face of each frame and right into the corners and edges. There was no evidence of vignetting, where the corners of the image can become darkened on account of the amount of glass through which the light has to pass on its way to the sensor.
Furthermore, aside from the issue we have already outlined regarding the blooming effect on our three-quarter view bridge shot, we could find no evidence of misregistration where the F600EXR had split the various wavelengths of visible light on their way to the sensor. Instead, what we saw was consistently sharp and well rendered results.
The F600EXR performed well under a wide variety of lighting conditions. We conducted our regular still life test under three lighting sources: studio lights, ambient lighting and using the onboard flash; this achieved sharp results, with well balanced colours and the minimum of noise in each instance. Under studio lighting it maintained a low level of sensitivity -- ISO 100 -- and so under these conditions achieved the best possible results. It slowed its shutter speed to 1/80 second, and produced a well-balanced exposure across the full frame; reflections on polished wood were taken in its stride to preserve detail in areas that lesser cameras might burn out, and capturing an impressive level of detail in a woven fabric that appeared at the back of the scene.
It performed equally well under the other two lighting conditions, although in both instances it increased its sensitivity to ISO 400 and slowed the shutter to 1/18 second under ambient light. Despite this we noticed only faint levels of grain in either shot, with the shadows in the flash-lit scene subtle and well controlled; this allowed us to see plenty of detail in those parts of the scene that they covered.
The F600EXR shoots 1,920x1,080 footage at 30 frames per second for full-HD output. As with its stills performance, it maintained a high level of detail in most shooting conditions, including footage filmed while we were walking across unsteady terrain.
However, when zooming while filming, it had difficulty in maintaining sharp focus in some situations. As you can see from our test footage below, after zooming on a general river scene, the F600EXR continued trimming the lens position in an effort to maintain the best possible focus. This was both visually distracting as it meant that the image would slightly blur with each tweak, and obvious from the soundtrack, which exhibited slight clicking noises as the mechanism moved.
Although it was difficult to hear when filming in fairly loud situations, the zoom was clearly audible when we filmed in more quiet surroundings, such as the street in our test footage, below; this somewhat spoiled the finished product. If you plan on filming with the F600EXR it therefore pays to set your focus and framing at the start of the session and leave it in place until you have captured all of the footage you're after.
Despite these small complaints about its video performance, we were very impressed by the F600 -- particularly when shooting stills. Colours and detail were accurately captured, and the zoom was a real boon in so small a device.
The F600 was fast too. Despite its extensive range, the zoom action was quick and responsive, and there's no discernable lag between halfdepressing the shutter release and the camera fixing its focus.
At £240 it's certainly not an impulse purchase, but it is a versatile piece of kit with a great resolution. It has sufficiently versatile features to keep the more advanced hobby photographer happy for years.