FujiFilm FinePix S200EXR review

With a layout that mimics a typical SLR’s design, Fujifilm’s FinePix S200EXR offers superb handling, megazoom reach, advanced exposure control, and only a few minor disappointments.

The impressive credentials start with a 14.3x optically stabilised zoom lens (30.5mm to 436mm). A handful of other megazoom cameras offer more reach and wider-angle capabilities, so that isn’t the S200EXR’s standout feature. Instead, direct your attention to the 12-megapixel EXR sensor, first found in the pocketable F200EXR.

With this sensor the S200EXR can take standard 12-megapixel images, but it can also combine adjacent sensor sites to create 6-megapixel images that have low-light sensitivity with reduced noise, or shoot high dynamic range (HDR) images by using alternating sensor sites to capture shadow and highlight detail.

You can leave the S200EXR set to EXR mode – sort of like a superpowered program mode – and let the camera automatically choose the right one (full resolution, high ISO low noise, or dynamic range). Or, if you prefer, you can manually select which EXR mode to shoot with.

Feeling exposed

In practice, we found that EXR mode generated subtle but noticeable improvements. In this mode, our low-light photos did have less digital noise, and the HDR mode extended detail into highlights and shadows. But make no mistake: programs like Photomatix Pro, which combine a series of exposures into stunning high dynamic range photos, are in no danger of losing their job to the S200EXR.

Composing your photos is a joy with the S200EXR. You can choose between the bright 2.7in LCD or the electronic viewfinder, both displays provide detailed status information in a smart way. When you change exposure modes, a large graphic clearly announces the new setting and provides a short summary of the virtues of the selected mode and which button to press to customise your choice further. The LCD did fine in moderate sunlight; at noon, however, we had better luck with the electronic viewfinder.

Focus locks in quickly, and the camera produces no perceptible shutter lag when taking the shot. If you switch to manual focus, the focusing ring on the lens barrel gives you SLR-like positive control.

Almost everything about the S200EXR seems snappy – except the time between shots, which is around 2 seconds. That lag is perhaps the biggest distinction between the S200EXR and a digital SLR. If you press the shutter before the camera is ready, the next shot simply never happens. Continuous shooting mode mitigates the problem, though – you can choose from among a number of settings, including auto exposure bracketing and a mode that will capture up to 24 sequential shots as long as you hold down the shutter release.

In addition to EXR, Auto, and the usual program, shutter priority, aperture priority, and manual modes, the camera has 16 scene modes, running the gamut from portraits to sports to fireworks.

It’s surprising that the S200EXR’s video recording is so disappointing. Video quality is decent, but it’s limited to 640 x 480, a far cry from the HD video we would have expected from a camera like this. And while you have full control over the optical zoom when recording, the auto focus sometimes lags noticeably behind, contributing to some unintentionally ‘artistic’ video clips.

Battery life is a strong suit. In our battery evaluations, the S200EXR fired off just under 400 shots on a single charge of its rechargeable lithium ion battery. We’ve seen a few cameras last into the 500-shot range, but 400 shots per charge is a rarity and a plus.

If you’re the sort of enthusiast who welcomes both the design and control that a digital SLR offers, you won’t see the size of the S200EXR as an encumbrance. More of a concern is the camera’s key feature, the EXR sensor. Yes, it provides some interesting exposure options and takes very good images, but you’ll end up with 6-megapixel photos, much smaller than what you’d get from other advanced point-and-shoot models. You can avoid the EXR settings to get the full 12 megapixels, but then you miss out on the camera’s main selling point. Quite a conundrum.

OUR VERDICT

The muscular zoom, wealth of exposure controls, smart layout, and good battery life make the FinePix S200EXR a strong contender for a spot in your camera bag. This elegantly designed megazoom camera has a wealth of unique exposure options for serious photographers.