Design and features
So you want an SLR shooting experience, but without the hassle of changing lenses? You'll probably be tempted by something like the Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR then, with a 30-436mm (14.3x optical) fixed lens attached to a dSLR-style body.
The design of this thing looks very similar to an SLR and it certainly feels like one when you pick it up. At 820g even some prosumer digital SLRs are lighter than this camera. It's also built like a tank, and has enough metal-tipped grips and lens barrel coatings to make you think twice if you met it in a dark alley late at night. The movement of the lens certainly gives this intimidating impression as well — lock and load, boys and girls.
A manual focus ring is located at the back of the lens element, and all the focal lengths are written on the barrel itself (note that the lens movement is all mechanical rather than via a dedicated zoom rocker like on many superzooms). The lens is optically stabilised and has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the wide end (30.5mm). Lifting the camera up is certainly a tricky task, as it's easy to knock the flash open if you lift the camera via the lens barrel rather than the hand grip. Oh, and did we mention it's pretty heavy?
The top of the camera continues the dSLR styling, with a mode dial providing the standard PASM shooting options, as well as custom modes, movie mode, EXR, FSB and SP modes.
|EXR||Fujifilm's version of intelligent auto mode, and you can subsequently choose from full resolution mode, high and low noise mode, as well as dynamic range mode.|
|FSB||Film Simulation Bracketing, which takes three consecutive shots each with different effects from Fuji films.|
|SP||Scene position, in other words, scene modes for common situations (snow, flowers, etc).|
In FSB mode, the S200EXR will automatically take the same shot, three times, and apply a different film filter to each image. At the top is the standard (Provia), middle is vivid (Velvia) and the bottom is softer (Astia). As you can see each mode is quite subtle but it gives a nice consistency between Fuji's film and digital lines. (Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CNET Australia)
On the left side (looking face-on) is the slot that lifts up to reveal the SD/SDHC card slot, and on the right you're presented with a myriad of buttons and switches. There's a focus selector, continuous shooting button, white balance adjustment button, and a plastic flap that covers the USB ports, power connection and AV out. They're all actually pretty clever ideas, as you don't need to delve into the menu system to find common tweaks.
On the top of the camera is a pop-up flash and we're heartened to see a hotshoe included as well. The viewfinder is electronic and reasonably easy to see. For photographers looking for a more point-and-shoot experience, never fear, the 2.7-inch LCD screen is available as well. Unfortunately, there's no sensor that automatically switches between the viewfinder and the LCD screen, it has to be switched on or off via the dedicated EVF/LCD button to the right of the screen. This is a little counter-intuitive, only because the form factor of the S200EXR makes your own actions automatically switch into dSLR shooting mode.
Inside the camera, the main calling card is the 12-megapixel Super CCD sensor. Fujifilm claims that sensor, which is designed differently to conventional digital camera CCD sensors, offers lower noise at high sensitivities and a wider dynamic range. Unfortunately, there is no HD video provided on the S200EXR.
In the shooting menu, you'll come across the Film Simulator option to choose the look of your images in the style of Fuji films — so there's Velvia, Provia, Astia, black and white, and sepia. The S200EXR can shoot in JPEG and RAW but you'll need to do a bit of hunting around in the menus to find the option to switch on RAW shooting, plus download an update to the included software (which, surprisingly, can't read the camera's RAW files). At the time of writing, the software update to allow the FinePix viewer to read RAW files was available from Fujifilm's website and Windows 7 compatible updates were stated as being available "From November 2009".
Starting up the camera takes a fair while thanks to the graphical displays. It takes 2.8 seconds for the camera to initialise and be ready to shoot which is fairly slow, shutter lag follows suit at a leisurely 0.6 second, and burst speed in "Top 6 (RAW 3) mode" gives a shot about every 0.7 second until the camera has taken six shots.
The menu system is reasonably intuitive for a first-time Fuji shooter, and although there may be an overwhelming number of buttons and dials for beginner photographers, keen hobbyists will have a field day.
One annoying quirk is how the camera powers off after a period of inactivity — but instead of pressing a button to wake the beast from its slumber, you need to turn the camera off and on again. Given that the start-up time is so slow, it does get annoying, quickly.
The Fujifilm is capable of delivering some great images, and they stand up to the all-important test of being scrutinised at full magnification. Overall, greens and blues were particularly punchy but without excessive saturation (we put this down to the design of the Super CCD sensor) and the lens is quite sharp across focal lengths.
The lens exhibits some barrel distortion at the wide end and slight pincushion at the telephoto end, and chromatic aberration is noticeable and exhibits itself along high contrast areas in a purple guise as you can see from the picture below.
Chromatic aberration is an issue with the S200EXR's lens. (Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CNET Australia)
At higher sensitivities like ISO 800 and 1600, the image quality did begin to degrade at full magnification, with blurring and smearing of detail particularly evident at 1600.
It's hard to compare the S200EXR to any other camera — it's not quite a digital SLR and it's not a superzoom in the conventional guise either thanks to its size and increased controls. This is a very niche camera that will appeal to those looking for the flexibility of different focal lengths in an SLR-sized package at a slightly cheaper price. The pictures the S200EXR delivers are very good — just be prepared to develop some sweet biceps as you take your images.