By Josh Fate
Fuji's new Super CCD EXR imaging sensor uses new larger pixels, placed closer together and in a new arrangement to increase the sensor's sensitivity. Combining this with the new image processor is what makes the sensor so powerful. The processor uses an advanced electric charge to control the sensor's output, lowering the amount of noise, increasing resolution and capturing more realistic colors, all with faster processing speeds. This allows for the camera's multi-frame modes, such as Pro-Focus and Pro Low-Light, to work on the fly as you are shooting. Rounding out the Real Photo Technology is the 14.3x optical zoom lens with sensor-shift image stabilization. Similar to the lens found on the FinePix S1000 FS, this lens is geared a little more to the telephoto end with a 35mm equivalent of 30.5-436mm. Made up of aspherical and low-dispersion glass elements, this lens has been designed to minimize aberrations while gathering more light.
The S200 EXR is a fairly large camera, bigger than some of the smaller entry-level dSLR cameras now on the market. It fits nicely into medium to larger hands. The shutter release and manual zoom are easy to operate at the same time. For such a large range, the manual zoom is very compact when not extended, making it easy to carry and keep in a smaller camera bag. The dSLR design of the camera allows for several shortcut buttons on top, the back and also on the left side of the camera, all of which are easily accessible with one hand or the other. After a little time with the camera they are also easy to remember, allowing you to use them without looking. The top of the camera features the mode dial with 2 custom selections that allow you to create and save your own settings. Next to the mode dial is a rotary dial that makes searching the menus and changing settings faster and easier. One thing that you really need to watch for when changing shooting settings is making sure that you have the resolution set to the desired setting. There are several shooting modes that do not shoot at the "Large" resolution and if you use one of these, the camera will not automatically chage the resolution back after you are none. Instead, it stays at the lower resolution in all shooting modes until you change it back. This takes some time to get used to and could cause some disappointment when you realize your great shots are only 6-Megapixels instead of 12 (discussed more below).
Viewing and framing your images can be done on either the EVF (electronic view finder) or the 2.7-inch LCD screen. Depending on your shooting preferences, both screens have at least 200,000 dots of resolution and both display the same information and 100% coverage. Unlike a dSLR, the camera's performance does not change between the two as the camera does not have to deal with a mirror and different focusing modes. 11 levels of the brightness allow both screens to be easily seen on a bright day using the higher settings, or dimmed down in low-light conditions. When outside you will see some reflections on the LCD screen.
Performance from the S200 EXR is good for a standard digicam, but not quite up to par high-performance point-n-shoot and entry-level dSLR cameras. With an external, manual lens, it is a little disappointing waiting 2.9 seconds before the camera is able to capture its first image when the camera is first turned on. When the camera is pre-focused, the shutter lag is less than 1/10 of a second, but it jumps to 5/10 to 6/10 of a second when allowing the auto-focus to work. When shooting in EXR Auto, it even slowed a little more topping out at 8/10 of a second. In single shot mode, the time it takes the camera in between images (shot-to-shot delay) is 1.22 seconds when shooting without the flash and 2.04 seconds when using the flash. Again when shooting in EXR Auto mode these numbers get slower, taking 1.38 seconds between shots without the flash and 2.60 seconds with the flash.
The S200 EXR also includes several continuous or "burst" shooting modes. Capturing a full 12-megapixel, Large image (or a medium image in certain modes), Top 6 and Last 6 are able to capture 6 jpeg images in 3.1 seconds (1.94fps) or 3 RAW images in 1.3 seconds (2.31fps). If speed is your main concern and a small image is OK, then you can switch the camera to Top 24 or Last 24. Here you can capture 24 Small images in 4.7 seconds or 5.11fps. Neither of these modes allows you to use the flash when shooting, so you will either have to raise the ISO or just not use them in low-light conditions. All of our tests were completed using a Lexar Pro 133x, 2GB SD memory card, Program mode, Flash off, ISO Auto and all other settings at the factory defaults, unless noted otherwise. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.
Our outdoor image samples show us that the camera does an excellent job with exposures and colors, producing a pleasing image with sharp focus throughout. The Museum and Firehouse images also show us how well the camera's scene detection settings (EXR Auto mode) work, producing much more eye-catching images than Program mode. Fuji's 14.3x optical zoom lens allows you to use the camera to shoot vast landscapes with the 35mm equivalent wide end of 30.5mm, then with just a twist of the manual zoom ring, you can zoom in on a distant subject with the 436mm telephoto end. At the wide end of the zoom range you will see some barrel distortion as well as some aberrations in high-contrast areas, most noticeably along the right sides of the Museum and Firehouse shots.
Our indoor shots also produced very sharp images with excellent exposures and colors. We did see some variance between the Flash and non-flash shots in terms of white balance, producing a warmer, yellowish image without the flash. Noise throughout the image is kept relatively low up to ISO 800, while anything after that is unacceptable for a high-quality print of 4x6 or larger. One of the main features claimed by Fuji is the ISO of 12800, which creates an image with so much noise, it looks like it has had a post-production filter applied to it.
Assisting you when shooting in low-light situations, the pop-up "Super Intelligent Flash" has a range of up to 23.6ft. (w), or 12.5ft. (t) at ISO Auto. This will allow you to capture images across a medium to large-sized room depending on the focal length you are using. This smart flash is excellent when shooting macro shots, however, the length of the lens limits its ability to be effective. Fuji claims that it can evenly light the subject and background throughout its range, producing a more realistic image, instead of blowing out the subject or underexposing the background. For real close-ups you are better off using a higher ISO and switching into Super Macro mode, with the ability to focus on a subject as close as 1cm away.
Fuji has really enhanced the "Auto" shooting features on this camera with its EXR Auto mode. This allows the camera to choose not only the best "scene" mode for your current shooting situation, but it also chooses the best mode for the imaging sensor to operate in. The camera has the option of choosing Resolution Priority, High ISO & Low Noise or D-Range Priority. As our sample images show, when using this mode, you get an image that really stands out from the image captured in Program mode.
Thanks to the very powerful EXR image processor, the camera also has several shooting modes that capture more than one image at a time, which are then combined inside the camera. The processor is able to track specific points in your image in order to line up the images, which allows you to shoot in these modes without a tripod. Pro-Focus captures several images, one in focus and the rest out of focus. It then cuts out the intended subject, leaving them on a blurry background, producing a depth-of-field simulation. Pro Low-Light mode uses the same process of combining several images that are captured simultaneously, to create a single image with much less noise than the originals. Both of these images can be accomplished without using these modes, as long as you have a tripod and the know-how. With the EXR processor the camera is able to simulate them with hand-held shots. Even shooting at night, you can get a descent hand-held image that would be impossible with other cameras.
Shooting in the EXR modes as well as the Pro-Focus and Pro Low-Light scenes have a hidden drawback, as two of the three image sensor modes do not allow the camera to capture a full "Large" or 12-Megapixel image. Instead, High ISO & Low Noise and D-Range Priority will capture a "Medium" sized image at the largest. At 2816x2112, these modes are only capturing a 6-Megapixel image when using their highest quality. The third mode, "Resolution Priority" captures the standard 12-Megapixel image that the other shooting modes capture. This is also true for several of the Scene shooting modes including both Pro-Focus and Pro Low-Light modes. This is not something that Fuji tells you on their website about the camera, but it is something that people need to find out before they purchase the camera, not after.
Shooting portraits with the S200 EXR is very easy thanks to the camera's Portrait scene mode and Face Detection software, which works in any shooting mode, and can be turned on and off very quickly with the dedicated button on the back of the camera. These allow the camera to quickly find and track the faces in your photographs. The camera selects one face as the main priority (marked by a green box) then adjusts for the others (white boxes) as much as possible. When a face is detected and the flash is in use, it automatically fires the Red-Eye Reduction flash, unless specifically set not to. This flash helped in most of our portrait shots, but occasionally we still noticed some red eyes, similar to the girl in our Portrait sample. Pressing the Face Detection button during playback will display all of the faces that were detected in the photo. As you continue to press the button, the camera will zoom in on the faces individually, starting with the face the camera chose and marked with the green box.
A feature that can be easily overlooked on the S200 EXR is its ability to capture movies. This could be because it only has the ability to capture at resolutions of 640x480 and 320x240, while most new cameras are including HD capture of at least 720p if not 1080p. Although there is no HD capture, the quality of the video that the camera does capture is very good. Even videos caught in marginal lighting play back smoothly and show very little noise and artifacting. A bonus to this camera is that you are able to use the full 14.3x optical zoom while recording. This allows for a much more creative shot, although the camera does have a little difficulty staying focused while zooming. Recording the audio for your movies is a standard, mono built-in microphone. It is very sensitive and will pick up all sounds around it. During playback, you will notice background noises, which will seem to be very loud, that you did not notice while you were shooting. To reduce these noises, be aware of your shooting locations, and try to stay away from furnaces and air conditions as well as staying out of the wind if possible.
Powering the S200 EXR is a 7.2v, 1150mAh rechargeable Li-Ion battery. During our tests, I was able to capture 211 images and videos before the battery had depleted. This falls well short of the 370 images that Fuji claims is possible according to CIPA standards. The battery lasted for a while when only shooting a few shots at a time. Be sure it is charged before you go out, because once the battery icon flashes red, you only have a few shots left before its dead. If you plan to use this camera on all-day or weekend and longer shooting trips, you will want to have a backup battery charged and on hand. This is very easy thanks to the included charger that is able to completely charge a NP-140 battery in just under 2 hours (110 min.).
Bottom Line - The Fuji FinePix S200 EXR is an innovative new camera featuring a 12-Megapixel, redesigned Super CCD EXR imaging sensor, EXR image processor, 14.3x optical zoom lens and several new and creative shooting modes that really make it stand out. The camera's only major drawback is the lack of its ability to capture 12-Megapixel images in its specially created shooting modes (6-Megapixel max.), which are the most appealing features on this camera in my opinion. With excellent image quality and good performance, the S200 EXR holds it own with the other cameras in this class, despite the lower resolution in some modes. With a MSRP of US $599.95, this is just one of many full-featured, super zoom cameras available in this price range. You might also want to look into the Nikon CoolPix P90, Canon PowerShot SX1 IS or the Olympus SP-590 UZ.
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