Design and features
The F550EXR is a travel-oriented camera through and through. With its sleek and smooth exterior housing a 15x optical zoom, it's slim but certainly not light in the pocket. This thing means business.
Adding to the serious, sturdy feeling is the metallic finish that also coats many of the other calling cards that this camera has, such as the built-in GPS unit. Not only does it have a range of shooting options present on the mode dial (more on this later), but the F550 also offers mini-USB and HDMI output and a stereo microphone for recording sound in video mode. Behind the 24mm wide-angle lens is a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor, which affords the F550 some fast continuous shooting speeds, which you can see in our performance stats below.
One design quirk, though, is the positioning of the pop-up flash, which pops up every single time you turn the camera on. It's rather annoying, but it can be pushed down as easily as it raises itself. What's even more interesting is the fact that the mode dial is angled ever so slightly at the back of the camera, placing it in a perfect position for your thumb to twist without contorting the rest of the camera. So, with every good ergonomic choice comes a bad one...
Elsewhere, at the back of the device, the 3-inch screen is bright and chirpy, a reasonable but not ground-breaking resolution of 460,000-dots. The biggest news on the spec sheet is this camera's ability to shoot in RAW, which puts it head and shoulders above its nearest competitors. On top of the regulation automatic mode, you also get EXR mode, which lets you choose one of three different ways to use the sensor to obtain the best shot possible. You can leave it in full EXR automatic, switch to resolution priority, high ISO and low-noise priority or dynamic range priority. Additional modes include 360-degree panorama, pro focus (blurring background) and pro low light. Scene, program, aperture, shutter and manual exposure modes are also available.
The F550EXR can take full HD video in 1080p at 30fps. It uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and can take SD/SDHC/SDXC cards.
The F550EXR took approximately one minute to lock on to a GPS location for the first time. You have the option of having the GPS permanently activated (even when the camera is switched off), or only activated when the camera is turned on. Location data can also be displayed on the screen when an appropriate place is found from the database provided by Navteq, which is reported to cover 85 countries across six continents.
Once images have been tagged with their GPS location data in-camera, viewing them on a computer and plotting the location is easy on Google Maps, using Picasa or any other image viewing program with mapping.
|Sony Cyber-shot HX9V||Panasonic Lumix TZ20||Canon PowerShot SX230||Fujifilm F550EXR|
|16.2-megapixel Exmor CMOS||14.1-megapixel MOS||12.1-megapixel CMOS||16-megapixel CMOS|
|3-inch LCD (921,000-dot)||3-inch touchscreen (460,000-dot)||3-inch LCD (460,000-dot)||3-inch LCD (460,000-dot)|
|16x optical zoom||16x optical zoom||14x optical zoom||15x optical zoom|
|24mm wide-angle||24mm wide-angle||28mm wide-angle||24mm wide-angle|
|GPS tagging||GPS tagging||GPS tagging||GPS tagging|
|HD video (1080p)||HD video (1080i)||HD video (1080p)||HD video (1080p)|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Time to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR126.96.36.199
- Panasonic Lumix TZ188.8.131.52
- Sony Cyber-shot HX9V184.108.40.206
Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)
- Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR4
- Panasonic Lumix TZ2010
- Sony Cyber-shot HX9V10
While the other cameras in this comparison cannot shoot RAW images, the F550EXR can — however, it takes approximately 6 seconds between shots before the camera can take another. RAW+JPEG processing takes even longer.
The quoted 11 frames per second for continuous shooting is only achievable at a reduced resolution of 8-megapixels, and although the camera can shoot 8fps using the "Top 4" continuous shooting mode, it saves only four of those images. Fujifilm rates the battery at 300 shots.
There's a lot of work that's gone into making this camera, and it shows — from the outward design, mostly. At reduced magnification, you can expect to see punchy and vibrant colours on images, as well as a good amount of detail resolved by the lens. There's a degree of softness the farther out from the frame you go, particularly on the right side, but hardly noticeable for the everyday photographer.
Zoom in to full magnification, and ISO levels around 400 and above is where problems start to appear. An over-processing issue makes some detail look a little too precise and crunchy. There's obvious barrel distortion at 24mm, though that's nothing out of the ordinary, especially compared to the rather dramatic effect found on similar cameras like the HX9V.RAW vs. JPEG
The F550EXR clearly has quite a different way of processing its JPEG images to what comes straight out from the camera's sensor, as can be seen in this comparison between the two files. The JPEG image also appears overly sharpened in the 100 per cent crop (inset). (Credit: CBSi)
One area where the F550EXR fell flat, though, was on night and low-light images. Despite the best attempts of additional shooting modes, low-light shots just looked a mess. With high levels of flaring and a lack of sharpness, it's hard to recommend this camera for evening shots, even when using the dedicated low-light, low-noise profile.
Video quality is reasonable, with good audio separation from the microphone. The image itself isn't overly sharp, and unfortunately you can't use the optical zoom while filming — just the digital zoom.
Exposure: 1/350, f/5.3, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/30, f/3.5, ISO 1000
Exposure: 1/4, f/3.5, ISO 1600
Exposure: 1/30, f/3.5, ISO 500
While the F550EXR offers a range of excellent features for travelling photographers and a great GPS module, it is let down by average images. Shooting in RAW and processing afterwards will get around some of these issues, if you're prepared to put in the leg work.