We raved over Fujifilm's FinePix F200EXR back in March. It was the first camera to feature the company's innovative EXR sensor, offering high dynamic range and excellent high-ISO performance. Now the company's made the 10-megapixel FinePix F70EXR, a 10x superzoom compact with the same technology, and it can be yours for around £220.
Fujifilm's always experimented with offbeat sensor designs aimed at improving picture quality beyond sheer megapixel counts. The approach taken by the EXR sensor is to use all its megapixels in its high-resolution mode, but to pair them up for its high-dynamic-range and high-ISO modes. In the high-dynamic-range mode, the two sets of pixels are used for two different exposures which are then combined in the camera. In the high-ISO mode, pixel pairs are used to increase sensitivity without increasing noise.
The penalty? In both the high-dynamic-range and high-ISO modes, you only get half the resolution. That wasn't a problem, we thought, with the F200EXR, but the F70EXR is slightly different because the sensor is physically smaller and has 10 megapixels rather than 12. We can live with 6 megapixels but, for some reason, a 5-megapixel resolution feels rather iffy.
Nevertheless, the high-dynamic-range mode works spectacularly well. Other compacts leave bright skies washed out, but the F70EXR captures all their colour and subtlety. And, instead of inky black shadows, you get richly graduated dark tones. A 5-megapixel resolution isn't so bad when the improvement is this spectacular.
The high-ISO mode is also good, although other camera makers have made big strides and the advantage of the EXR sensor here is slightly less plain, given that you have to take a resolution drop. The 'standard' high-ISO modes aren't that hot, and the maximum ISO 12,800 setting is just a crazy mush.
Buried in the scene modes, however, is an extraordinary 'pro low light' mode that blends four shots to produce clear, sharp pictures in near darkness. It's amazing. The 'pro focus' mode is rather jolly, too, producing shallow depth-of-field effects without Photoshop, although the zoom, focus and subject distance have to be right for it to work.
Fringing faux pas
But there's bad news too -- make no mistake. Fujifilm's often been slightly sloppy about chromatic aberration and colour fringing, and the F70EXR's got it bad. Don't, whatever you do, shoot leaves (or anything else) against a bright sky, unless you happen to like purple-blue fringes that you can see from across the road. There's something odd going on down at a pixel level too, where the sensor produces a kind of 'mazing' effect as it tries to extract the last scrap of detail, but then throws it all away with slightly too much smoothing of subtle textures on a larger scale.
The controls are still too confusing. There shouldn't be two ways of shooting at high ISOs (EXR or ordinary), and, since the EXR modes are so key, they should have their own spots on the mode dial.
The Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR is a well-designed, compact superzoom, and the EXR sensor technology is spectacularly successful, even though the resolution penalty is disappointing. But it's all spoilt by some truly horrible purple-blue fringing. It doesn't appear in every shot, but it's frequent enough to drive you mad in the end.
Editing by Charles Kloet