Fuji FinePix F300EXR Review
How Does it Compare?
There was a time when you equated the Fuji FinePix F-series cameras with great low light performance. Their FinePix F30 in particular became a cult hit because of those abilities. Unfortunately for Fuji, the competition has not only caught up -- they've surpassed them. A lot of that is due to the more pixels being pushed onto smaller sensors, which requires more aggressive noise reduction. On paper, the FinePix F300EXR sounds like a dream come true. It has a sensor optimized for high resolution, high sensitivity, or wide dynamic range (though not all at once), a 15X, 24 - 360 mm zoom lens, a hybrid autofocus system, manual controls plus cool automatic features, and 720p movie recording, just to name a few things. Unfortunately, the camera falters in the image quality department, with substantial highlight clipping, lots of detail loss from heavy noise reduction, blurring around the edges of the frame, and high ISO performance that is average at best. Add in a weak (not to mention annoying) flash, so-so low light performance, some ergonomics annoyances, and limitations in numerous shooting modes, and you've got a camera that I'd recommend passing on.
The FinePix F300EXR is a compact and stylish digital camera. It has a professional-looking black finish, with a rubberized grip that's easy to hold. The body is made of metal, and it feels quite solid in your hands. Heck, even the tripod mount is metal. Two things I don't like are the mode dial and the scroll wheel that surrounds the four-way controller. While I like how the mode dial is angled, it's way too easy to turn accidentally. The scroll wheel also turns too easily -- it really needs to be more "notchy". The F300EXR somehow manages to fix an F3.5-5.3, 15X optical zoom lens into its small frame. This lens has a focal range of 24 - 360 mm, which is perfect for almost any shooting scenario. The camera also has a sensor-shift image stabilization system, which does a good job of reducing blur for both stills and movies. Speaking of the sensor, the F300 is equipped with the unique SuperCCD EXR sensor, which has a unique pixel arrangement that allows for the resolution/high ISO/dynamic range abilities that I mentioned above -- at least in theory. Fuji also snuck some extra pixels in there for phase detect autofocus, which gives the F300EXR its snappy focusing performance. On the back of the camera is a 3-inch LCD display with 460,000 pixels. Everything's nice and sharp, and the screen has good outdoor and low light visibility. That brings us to the flash, which is not only anemic -- it's downright annoying. It pops up when the camera is turned on, taking up valuable finger space, and won't go back down until you power the camera off. Let's hope Fuji takes care of this on the next model.
The F300EXR has a pretty nice feature set, though it has some rather puzzling restrictions at times. For the point-and-shoot crowd you've got a pair of auto modes: a "standard" one, and the EXR Auto mode which selects the EXR mode (high resolution/high ISO/dynamic range) for you. The High ISO & Low Noise and Dynamic Range Priority EXR modes produce the best photo quality on the camera, and you might find the latter especially useful, as the F300EXR is prone to highlight clipping. Unfortunately, you can't adjust basics like white balance or exposure compensation in any of the auto modes. I should also mention that the High ISO and Dynamic Range Priority cut the resolution in half, to 6 Megapixel (though that's still plenty for most purposes). The F300 also has plenty of scene modes, including pet detection (and yes, I tested it, and it works). There are manual controls on the F300EXR too, giving you the ability to control the shutter speed, aperture, and white balance. I was a bit annoyed with the lack of manual ISO control in shutter priority mode, and the fact that you cant' get at the whole range of shutter speeds unless you're in full manual (M) mode. On a related note, in "A" and "M" mode you can only select from three apertures at any one time, thus limiting the usefulness of this feature. Other features on the camera include the fun Motion Panorama mode (which can take 360 degree panoramas) and Pro Low Light mode (which reduces blur and noise in low light). I could never get the third advanced feature (Pro Focus) to work. "The F300 can also record video at 720p with full use of the optical zoom and image stabilizer (though you'll hear both).
Camera performance was mixed. The F300EXR takes about 2.5 seconds to start up, which is on the slow side. The hybrid autofocus system does deliver better-than-average focusing speeds in good light, though the camera often struggled to lock focus in dim light. Shutter lag wasn't a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were brief (1.5 secs without the flash, 3 secs with it), though some of the advanced features require some processing time. The camera's burst mode is nothing to write home about, taking five shots at 1.8 frames/second at full resolution (you can go faster if you drop the resolution considerably). Battery life was a bit below average.
That brings us to the F300EXR's Achilles heel: photo quality. Overall photo quality isn't very good, and the low light capabilities of past F-series models is just that: a thing of the past. The F300's photos are soft, with smudged details (even at the base ISO), with plenty of highlight clipping. Photos also have considerable blurring around the edges of the frame -- the lens is certainly being pushed to its limits. High ISO performance is not great, especially at the high resolution setting. There you'll run into noise at ISO 200 in low light and ISO 400 in good light -- a big step back from previous models. You'll get better high ISO performance by using the High ISO & Low Noise EXR mode, though the camera will be totally point-and-shoot, and other cameras (such as the Canon PowerShot S95) do better anyway. As for highlight clipping, you can reduce that by using the dynamic range feature, though keep in mind that the ISO sensitivity will rise (a little in the EXR mode, more at full resolution). Other issues include strong purple fringing and fairly consistent overexposure. On a more positive note, color accuracy was good, and redeye was minimal.
I have two final things to mention before wrapping things up. First, you won't be able to access the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod. Second, while it's nice to save trees, having the full manual on CD-ROM is a bit of a pain.
The Fuji FinePix F300EXR is one of those cameras that sounds great when you look at the spec sheet and press release, but in reality, it turned out to be a major disappointment. A camera can have all the bells and whistles in the world, but at its core, it needs to be able to take high quality photos. And while the F300EXR may be good enough for small prints at low ISOs, the simple fact is that other cameras do just about everything better. I'd recommend spending your hard-earned money on something other than the FinePix F300EXR.
What I liked:
- 15X, 24 - 360 mm zoom lens in a compact, well built body
- Sensor-shift image stabilization
- Fast autofocus in good light
- Good color accuracy (even in the studio), low redeye
- Dynamic range is decent if you use the DR 400% or 800% settings (though ISO is increased)
- Sharp 3-inch LCD with good outdoor/low light visibility
- Motion Panorama lets you create 120 - 360 degree panoramas
- Pro Low Light mode reduces blur and noise in dim light
- Records 720p video with full use of optical zoom and image stabilizer
- HDMI output
What I didn't care for:
- Photos are soft, with lots of detail smudging and highlight clipping; for best results you must use EXR modes, which lower resolution and limit control of settings
- Edges of frame can be blurry; strong purple fringing at times; camera tends to overexpose
- Low light capabilities not as good as competition, nor the F-series models that came before it
- Weak flash is always popped up, taking up valuable finger space
- Low light focusing can be hit or miss
- Only three apertures to choose from at any one time; ISO can't be manually adjusted in shutter priority mode; full shutter speed range only available in full manual mode
- Can't adjust exposure compensation, white balance, or ISO in any of the auto, EXR, or scene modes
- Sluggish frame rate in movie mode; video quality just okay
- Unremarkable burst mode and face detection features; could never get Pro Focus to work
- Mode dial turns too easily; free-wheeling scroll wheel needs to be more "notchy"
- Can't access memory card while on tripod
- Full manual on CD-ROM, not very detailed either
Some other cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS, Casio Exilim EX-FH100, Kodak EasyShare M580, Nikon Coolpix S8100, Olympus Stylus 7040 (possibly discontinued), Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7, Ricoh CX4, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V. If you don't mind giving up a lot of zoom power, the Canon PowerShot S95 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 are both very good in low light situations.
As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the FinePix F300EXR and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our gallery to see how the FinePix F300EXR's photo quality looks!