DCRP

Fuji FinePix F300EXR Review

Look and Feel

The FinePix F300EXR is a stylish and compact digital camera. The body is made mostly of metal, and it feels solid in your hands. Ergonomics are decent (I like the angled mode dial), and the camera can be held and operated with one hand. That said, the mode dial turns too easily, and the scroll wheel around the four-way controller doesn't "click" when you turn it, making precise adjustments more difficult than they should be. I'm not a fan of the always-up flash, which takes up finger space on the top of the camera.

Now let's see how the F300EXR compares to other compact ultra zooms in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS 4.0 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 8.3 cu in. 167 g
Casio Exilim EX-FH100 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.2 in. 12.3 cu in. 181 g
Fuji FinePix F300EXR 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in. 12.3 cu in. 195 g
Kodak EasyShare M580 4.0 x 2.3 x 1.0 in. 9.2 cu in. 150 g
Nikon Coolpix S8100 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.2 in. 11.8 cu in. 184 g
Olympus Stylus 7040 3.7 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 8.1 cu in. 144 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.3 in. 12.8 cu in. 196 g
Ricoh CX4 4.0 x 2.3 x 1.2 in. 11 cu in. 184 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.2 in. 11.8 cu in. 170 g

The FinePix F300EXR is darn close to being the largest and heaviest camera in the group. Despite that, I found that the camera travels comfortably in just about any size pocket.

Alright, let's start our tour of the camera now, shall we?

Front of the Fuji FinePix F300EXR

The F300EXR features an F3.5-5.3, 15X optical zoom Fujinon lens -- quite a feat for a camera this small. The lens has a focal range of 4.4 - 66.0 mm, which is equivalent to a very nice 24 - 360 mm. As you can probably tell, the lens is not threaded, so you can forget about conversion lenses and filters.

At the back end of that lens is the camera's 12.0 effective Megapixel SuperCCD EXR sensor. The unique octagon-shaped photo sites are arranged closely together, allowing the camera to capture more light than traditional CCDs. The sensor can capture photos at the full 12 Megapixel resolution, expand the dynamic range of a photo by electronically combining two exposures, or use a unique "pixel fusion" technology to have low noise at high sensitivities. This particular version of the SuperCCD EXR sensor also has pixels dedicated to phase detection autofocus built into it, allowing for much faster focusing than typical compact cameras that use contrast detect AF (which the F300 supports, as well). I'll tell you more about the camera's autofocus speeds -- plus provide samples of each of the EXR's capabilities -- later in the review.

The sensor is also involved with the F300's image stabilization system. The camera detects the tiny movements of your hands that can end up blurring your photos. It then shifts the sensor itself in order to compensate for this motion, allowing for a higher likelihood of a sharp photo. Fuji says that the IS system on the F300EXR has been improved over previous models, though I have no way of testing that. Image stabilization systems can't do everything, though. They can't freeze a subject in motion, nor will they allow for handheld, multi-second exposures (though Fuji has something that tries to handle that). Want to see the image stabilization system in action? Have a look at these:


Image stabilization off


Image stabilization on (shooting only mode)

Both of the photos above were taken the very slow shutter speed of 1/2 second. As you can see, the photo taken with IS turned on ("shooting only" setting) is nice and sharp, as it should be. You can also use the image stabilizer in movie mode (which is somewhat unusual for a camera with sensor-shift IS), and you can see how well it works in this brief sample video.

To the upper-right of the lens is the F300EXR's pop-up flash. This flash pops up automatically when the camera is turned on, and once it's up, it's up. As I mentioned, it takes up much needed finger space on the top of the camera. This flash is also fairly weak, with a working range of 0.2 - 3.2 m at wide-angle, and 0.9 - 1.9 m at telephoto (at ISO 800 -- most manufacturers use Auto ISO). As you might expect, you cannot attach an external flash to the F300EXR.

The last thing to see on the front of the camera is its AF-assist lamp, which is located to the upper-left of the lens. The camera uses this as a focusing aid in low light situations, and it also blinks as the self-timer is counting down.

Back of the Fuji FinePix F300EXR

The first thing to see on the back of the F300EXR is its 3-inch LCD display. This screen has 460,000 pixels, so everything's quite sharp. The screen brightness is impressive, as is the viewing angle. Outdoor visibility is quite good, and since the screen brightens automatically in dim light, you can still see what you're trying to take a photo of.

As with all compact cameras, there's no optical viewfinder on the F300EXR.

Now let's talk about the mode dial, which is located at the top-right of the photo. Fuji has angled the dial toward you, which is nice. Unfortunately, the dial turns way too easily, which is not-so-nice. The options that you'll find here include:

Option Function
Auto mode A standard point-and-shoot mode, with many menu options locked up (including exposure compensation and white balance).
EXR mode Select from EXR Auto (camera picks scene mode and EXR setting automatically) or resolution priority, high ISO & low noise, or dynamic range priority modes. As with the regular Auto mode, you cannot adjust the ISO, exposure compensation, or white balance.
Program mode Point-and-shoot, but with full menu access. There's no Program Shift feature, though.
Shutter priority mode You choose the shutter speed, and the camera picks the appropriate aperture. Shutter speed range is 3 - 1/2000 sec. Cannot manually set ISO sensitivity.
Aperture priority mode You choose the aperture, and camera picks the proper shutter speed. The aperture range is F3.5 - F16, and will vary based on the focal length of your lens. Do note that you can only choose between three apertures at any one time.
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself. Aperture range and restrictions are the same, but shutter speed range expands to 6 - 1/2000 sec.
Scene Position Pick a situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from natural light & flash, natural light, portrait, portrait enhancer, dog, cat, landscape, sport, night, night (tripod), fireworks, sunset, snow, beach, underwater, party, flower, and text.
Advanced mode Contains Motion Panorama 360, Pro Focus, and Pro Low Light modes, all described below.

The FinePix F300EXR has two auto modes. One is a basic point-and-shoot mode, while the EXR mode will select a scene and an EXR setting for you. Do note that camera settings such as exposure compensation and white balance cannot be adjusted in either of these modes.


EXR mode menu

So what are the three EXR modes? Resolution priority is your everyday 12 Megapixel mode -- nothing special there. High ISO & low noise mode cuts the resolution to 6 Megapixel and uses something called pixel fusion (a type of pixel binning) to reduce noise levels when the sensitivity climbs. The dynamic range priority mode also reduces the resolution, and can reduce highlight clipping, either automatically or manually. The downside is that the camera must increase the ISO sensitivity in order to do that. Let's see examples of the low noise and dynamic range priority EXR modes now

To test the High ISO & Low Noise feature, I used our studio test scene. I took the photo three times: once at full resolution (12M), once at medium resolution (6M), and a third time in the High ISO mode (also 6M). The sensitivity was fixed to 1600 for all of these. Below are crops of the three photos. I have downsized the full resolution image to 6 Megapixel, to see if you can get the same low noise effect by just downsizing your photos. Let's have a look:

High ISO & Low Noise
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Full resolution, downsized
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Medium resolution
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There are some differences in exposure here, due to the different settings (most of which you cannot adjust) in the various shooting modes. In terms of noise, the photo taken in High ISO & Low Noise does look better than the other two, though just lowering the resolution to 6M in the regular shooting mode gets you pretty close.

Next, let's look at the dynamic range priority mode, a feature which is much needed on the F300EXR. You can increase the DR in regular shooting modes (at 12 Megapixel), though only up to 400%. In the dynamic range priority mode, the resolution is halved, but the DR can be cranked all the way to 800%. Here are examples of each:

Auto DR
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DR 100%
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DR 200%
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DR 400%
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There's some pretty substantial improvement in dynamic range in the photo above of the campanile at UC Berkeley, which was taken at the 12 Megapixel resolution. The highlight clipping at the Auto DR setting is so strong that you can barely make out the numbers on the clock. Things are even worse at the 100% setting, which tells me that Auto DR was using more correction than that. The real improvement comes when you reach the 400% level, where the sky is bluer and the clock is more legible. The camera did have to increase the ISO to 400 for that photo, so noise levels are higher than at the lower DR settings, so I'd say it's worth the trade-off.

Auto DR
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DR 100%
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DR 200%
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DR 400%
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DR 800%
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The next example, showing off the dynamic range priority EXR mode, was taken right here in the home office. The DR 100% image is truly awful (tons of blown highlights), with the Auto DR photo being slightly better. The detail in the window doesn't really start to come back until the DR setting reaches 400%, with 800% being a further improvement. While the ISO is increased to make all of this magic happen, it doesn't have to go as high as it does when the resolution is set to 12 Megapixel (800% DR is at ISO 200).


Scene menu

There are quite a few scene modes on the camera, as well. Some of the notable ones include:

  • Natural light & flash: takes a photo with natural light and another with the flash
  • Natural light: takes a photo using only natural light
  • Portrait enhancer: Smoothes skin and removes blemishes in your people pictures
  • Dog/cat: the camera actually recognizes certain breeds of dogs and cats, and makes sure they're properly focused and exposed; worked fine with my flame-point siamese!
  • Night/night (tripod): the first one boosts the ISO to allow for handheld night shots, while the other uses long exposures
  • Underwater: don't know why they have this, as Fuji doesn't sell an underwater housing for the F300EXR

The Advanced spot on the mode dial contains three relatively unique options:

  • Motion Panorama 360: pan the camera from left-to-right (or vice versa) to create a gigantic panorama
  • Pro Focus mode: combines three exposures to blur the background of your photo, while keeping the subject sharp
  • Pro Low Light mode: combines four exposures into one, to reduce blur and noise in low light situations

The Motion Panorama 360 works exactly like the Sweep Panorama feature found on Sony cameras. You simply pan the camera from left-to-right (or whatever direction you're going), and the camera combines numerous exposures into a single photo. Unlike the Sony, you can actually take a full 360 degree panorama using this feature, in addition to 120 and 240 degrees. While it's a pretty cool feature that works well most of the time, Sony's got a leg up on Fuji at this point, as their latest cameras have the ability to keep people from getting chopped into pieces (which you'll see in one of the samples below).


120 degree panorama


Full 360 degree panorama

Pro Focus is supposed to help you take a photo where the subject in the foreground is sharp, and the background is blurred. Unfortunately, I never once got this feature to work (I had the same problem on another Fuji camera). No matter what the subject was or how many times I recomposed, I would always get the "cannot create effect" warning on the LCD.

I did get Pro Low Light to work, though. As with the Pro Focus mode, the camera will lower the resolution to 6 Megapixel here, and then combine four exposures into one. The result is less noise and a higher likelihood of a sharp photo. Here's the usual nightshot, taken without a tripod (though I really had to brace myself) plus another example which shows the noise reduction in action:


Handheld night scene


Compare the noise in the regular and Pro Low Light versions of this photo

Did I mention that the FinePix F300EXR has manual controls too? You can control the shutter speed and aperture, though there are limitations with both. First, only three apertures can be selected at any one time. For example, at wide-angle, you can only choose between F3.5, F7.1, and F10. If you're in shutter priority mode, you may be disappointed to learn that you can't manually adjust the sensitivity -- it's "auto" only. I also don't like how Fuji doesn't give you the full range of shutter speeds while in shutter priority mode.

Getting back to the tour now, the next items of note are buttons for entering playback mode, and for recording a video. Since there's no movie spot on the mode dial, this button is the only way to capture video clips.

Below that we have the four-way controller, which has a scroll wheel around it. You can use the scroll wheel for navigating menus, adjusting manual settings, and playing back photos. I don't like how it's not "notchy" though -- it's not very precise (the Canon PowerShot S90 had the same problem). The-four way controller handles many of the same tasks as the scroll wheel, plus:

  • Up - Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV) + delete photo
  • Down - Self-timer (Off, auto release, 2 or 10 sec)
  • Left - Macro (on/off)
  • Right - Flash (Auto, flash on, flash off, slow sync)
  • Center - Menu/OK

The "auto release" self-timer uses the camera's face detection system. When it sees a human face in the frame, it takes a photo. Fuji says that this feature is best suited for taking pictures of babies, but I imagine it works just fine with adults, too.


F-mode menu

The last two things to see on the back of the camera are the Display/Back and F-mode buttons. The latter opens the F-mode menu, which has these options:

  • ISO sensitivity (Auto, Auto 400, Auto 800, Auto 1600, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800)
  • Image size (see chart later in review)
  • Film simulation (Provia/standard, Velvia/vivid, Astia/soft, B&W, sepia)

A quick note about those ISO options. The regular Auto mode (only available in some shooting modes) will top out at ISO 800, I believe. The other Auto modes allow you to set the maximum sensitivity that the camera will use, ranging from 400 to 1600. Naturally, you can also manually adjust the sensitivity, though keep in mind that the highest sensitivities will be at lower resolutions.

Top of the Fuji FinePix F300EXR

The first thing I want to point out on the top of the FinePix F300EXR is the pop-up flash over on the left, and how much space it takes up. Pushing it down doesn't do any good, either -- it won't close until you power off the camera.

I have no idea what that round thing is to the right of the flash. As far as I can tell, it's nothing. Next to that is the camera's microphone, followed by the speaker and shutter release button / zoom controller combo. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.9 seconds (you can go slower if needed). I counted just under 40 steps (!) in the zoom range, which allows for precise adjustment of the focal range.

The last thing to see up here is the angled mode dial, which I told you about in the previous section. Let's move on!

Side of the Fuji FinePix F300EXR

There's nothing to see on this side of the camera. The lens is at full wide-angle here.

Side of the Fuji FinePix F300EXR

On the other side of the camera you'll find the F300's I/O ports, which are kept under a plastic cover. These ports include:

  • USB + A/V out (one port for both)
  • HDMI output

I should mention that Fuji uses a Micro HDMI connector, which may be a bit harder to find that the Mini HDMI cables supported by most cameras these days.

In case you're wondering where the optional AC adapter goes: you plug the DC coupler into the battery compartment and run the power cable through that little door at the bottom of the photo.

The lens is at the full telephoto position in this photo.

Bottom of the Fuji FinePix F300EXR

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount (yay) plus the battery/memory card compartment. The door that covers this compartment is of average quality. Do note that you won't be able to access what's in that compartment while the camera is on a tripod.

The included NP-50 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.

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