Fuji FinePix F550EXR Review
Using the Fuji FinePix F550EXR
It takes about 2.8 seconds for the FinePix F550EXR to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's pretty slow for a camera in this class.
There's no live histogram on the F550EXR. Also note that rather unusual-looking target at the center of the frame
While the F550EXR lacks the hybrid AF system of its predecessor, its focusing performance is still very good. At the wide end of the lens expect focus lock in 0.1 - 0.4 seconds, with telephoto times ranging from 0.6 - 1.0 seconds. Low light focusing was accurate on most occasions, with focus times hovering around the one second mark.
I didn't find shutter lag to be an issue, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.
Shot-to-shot delays were brief when taking JPEGs. You'll wait for just one second before you can take another photo. When using the RAW format, you'll have to wait more like five seconds before you can shoot again. Adding the flash into the mix did not slow things down noticeably.
There's no way to delete a photo that you just took -- you must enter playback mode to do so.
Now let's take a look at the available image size and quality options on the F550EXR:
And now you see why I recommended buying a good-sized memory card along with the camera!
The FinePix F550EXR can take RAW images, either alone, or with a JPEG of the size of your choosing. I explained the benefits of the RAW format earlier in the review.
The FinePix F550EXR has the standard Fujifilm menu system. It's pretty basic (no help system) and on the sluggish side, but it gets the job done. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the full list of items in the record menu:
- EXR mode (Auto, resolution priority, high ISO & low noise, D-range priority) - only shown when mode dial set to EXR; discussed earlier
- Advanced mode (Motion Panorama 360, Pro Focus, Pro Low Light) - only shown when mode dial set to Adv. discussed earlier
- Scene position (Natural light & flash, natural light, portrait, portrait enhancer, dog, cat, landscape, sport, night, night (tripod), fireworks, sunset, snow, beach, underwater, party, flower, text) - only shown when mode dial is set to SP
- ISO sensitivity (Auto, Auto 400, Auto 800, Auto 1600, Auto 3200, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800)
- Image size (see above chart)
- Image quality (see above chart)
- Dynamic range (Auto, 100%, 200%, 400%, 800%, 1600%) - the last two options are only in the D-Range priority EXR mode, which I discussed earlier
- Film simulation (Provia/standard, Velvia/vivid, Astia/soft, B&W, sepia)
- White balance (Auto, custom, sunlight, shade, daylight fluorescent, warm white fluorescent, cool white fluorescent, incandescent, underwater) - the custom option lets you use a white or gray card for accurate color in unusual lighting
- Continuous (Off, Best Frame Capture, top 4, dynamic range bracketing, Film Simulation bracketing, AE bracketing) - discussed earlier
- Advanced Anti Blur (on/off) - also discussed earlier
- Face detection (on/off) - see below
- Photometry [metering] (Multi, spot, average)
- AF mode (Center, multi, continuous, tracking) - see below
- Face recognition - see below
- Recognition (on/off)
- Register - a new face
- View & edit - existing faces
- Auto registration - after repeated photos of the same person, the camera will ask if you want to register their face
- Movie AF mode (Center, continuous)
- Movie mode (1920 x 1080, 1280 x 720, 640 x 480, HS 640 x 480, HS 320 x 240, HS 320 x 112)
- AE bracket EV steps (±1/3, ±2/3, ±1 EV)
Since I've covered most of those earlier, the only things that need to be discussed here are the AF modes and face detection/recognition features. The center and multi AF modes should be self-explanatory. The tracking mode will let you pick a subject, and the camera will attempt to keep them in focus as they move around the frame. The continuous AF mode always has the camera focusing, which reduces focus times, but at the expense of battery life.
The camera locked onto two of the six faces
The camera's Intelligent Face Detection system can find up to ten faces in the scene, and make sure they're properly focused. The F550 can detect faces from nearly all angles -- even in profile. It can also learn who people are, and give them focus priority whenever they appear in the scene. These registered faces can also have their name, birthday, and category (relationship to you) stored in memory, as well. The face detection didn't actually perform that well in my test, usually finding just two faces (out of six) in the scene.
There's also a setup menu on the F550EXR, which you can access from either the record or playback menus. This is where you'll have to go to use the RAW format, which is ridiculous if you ask me. The options in the setup menu include:
- Time difference (Home, travel)
- Silent mode (on/off) - you can also quickly turn off all of the camera's noises by holding down the Disp/Back button
- Reset - back to defaults
- Format - internal memory or a card
- Location search (Off, permanently on, when switched on) - another place to turn the GPS on and off
- Location info (on/off) - whether landmark or coordinates are shown on the LCD
- Tracking data (on/off) - whether GPS data is saved to a log file, which can be imported into MyFinePix Studio
- GPS units (km, miles)
- Image display (Off, zoom, 1.5 sec, 3 sec) - post-shot review; the zoom option lets you enlarge an image to check for proper focus, open eyes, etc
- Frame numbering (Continuous, renew)
- Operation volume (Off, low, middle, high)
- Shutter volume (Off, low, middle, high)
- Shutter sound (1, 2)
- Playback volume (0 - 10)
- LCD brightness (-5 to +5)
- Auto power off (Off, 2 mins, 5 mins)
- Dual IS mode (Continuous, shooting only, continuous) - see below
- Redeye removal (on/off) - whether the camera digitally removes this annoyance from your photos
- Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best to keep this off
- AF illuminator (on/off)
- RAW (Off, RAW, RAW+JPEG) - why this is buried in the setup menu is beyond me.
- Save original image (on/off) - whether unprocessed versions of photos taken using the redeye removal or "advanced" shooting modes are also saved
- Auto rotate playback (on/off) - whether portrait images are automatically rotated on the LCD/EVF
- Background color (Blue, purple, pink, orange, green, black) - for menus
- Guidance display (on/off) - whether "tool tips" are shown in ceratin situations
- Video system (NTSC, PAL)
- Power management (Power save, clear display) - this essentially adjusts the LCD refresh rate
The only thing I want to mention here are those two image stabilization options. Continuous IS has the system always running, which helps smooth things out when you're composing a photo. Shooting IS only activates the system when the photo is taken, which results in better shake reduction. You can also turn image stabilization off entirely, which is advisable if you're using a tripod.
Enough about menus -- let's do photo tests now! Before we begin, I should tell you that shortly before I got to taking the studio photos, a spec of dust appeared on the sensor (or perhaps the lens) of the F550EXR. Not surprisingly, I was unable to remove the dust spec, seeing how the camera was sealed. Rather than wait for Fuji to send out another camera, I decided to shoot the test photos with the dust spec. All of these photos were taken at the 16M resolution, unless otherwise noted.
Our macro test turned out fairly well, though the yellowish color cast shows that the FinePix F550EXR struggled with our studio lamps. While the camera has custom white balance, there's no way to fine-tune it, which could've avoided this color cast. Anyhow, the figurine looks nice and sharp, save for some minor artifacting due to noise reduction.
The minimum focus distance in macro mode is 5 cm at wide-angle, and 1.2 m at telephoto.
The night shot turned out just "okay". The F550EXR is rather inflexible when taking long exposures, due to its slow lens and 8 second shutter speed limit. I would've preferred a 10 second exposure for the above photo, but it's just not possible. Anyhow, the buildings are fairly sharp, though you can see some mottling and detail loss due to heavy noise reduction. The edges of the frame are also very soft, which is a problem I had with this camera. On a more positive note, purple fringing is nonexistent, and highlight clipping is kept to a minimum.
Due to ISO and shutter speed constraints, my usual night shot comparison shots came out too dark. For example, at ISO 200, you cannot use a shutter speed slower than 4 seconds, which isn't long enough. I am also skipping the night shot RAW comparisons due to huge differences in brightness between the RAW and JPEG images. Our studio ISO tests remain, however.
The F550EXR uses both a preflash to shrink your subject's pupils, plus a digital redeye removal system to eliminate this annoyance from your photos. Unfortunately, despite repeated attempts, I was unable to get a redeye-free photo. Even the tool in playback mode didn't help. While your results may vary, I would expect to see redeye in at least some of the flash photos that you take with the F550EXR.
The first thing you'll probably notice in our distortion test is the dust spot that I mentioned in the intro to this section. You can also see the yellowish color cast that comes from the camera not getting along with our studio lamps. As for the actual test results, there's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion on the F550's 24 - 360 mm lens. You can see what this looks like in the real world by checking out the building on the right side of this photo. It's hard to see at this size, but there's also substantial corner blurring on this lens, and I'll more on that below. While the test chart has some mild vignetting in it, I didn't find it to be a problem in my real world photos.
You've already seen bits and pieces of this earlier, but here's the full studio ISO test. Since this test is taken under consistent lighting, you can compare the results between cameras I've reviewed over the years. The photos below were taken at full resolution, until the two highest sensitivities when the camera requires you to drop to 8 and 4 Megapixel, respectively. With the usual reminder to view the full size images as well as the crops, let's take a look at how the F550EXR performance across its ISO range:
ISO 6400 (8M)
ISO 12,800 (4M)
Things look decent but not spectacular at ISO 100 and 200. It's not hard to see the "jaggies" around the edges of the letters in the photo. Details start to get smudged at ISO 400, but it's there's still enough left for a small or midsize print. At ISO 800 we get more grain-style noise as well as a drop in color saturation. I'd save this setting for small prints only. ISO 1600 is pretty washed out and noisy, and if you recall the test on the previous page, things look better if you use the High ISO & Low Noise setting here. Unfortunately you cannot manually select an ISO above 1600 in that mode, but you'll get a similar effect by just lowering the resolution to 8 Megapixel in Program mode. The ISO 3200 shot is definitely suited for shooting at that lower resolution, though I'd avoid the two highest sensitivities (6400 and 12800) entirely.
Now let's do a RAW comparison, though I must preface it by pointing out that Photoshop's RAW conversions are coming in much brighter than the original JPEGs. I don't know if that's a feature or a bug, but it's worth a mention. And with that, let's see if we can find a benefit to shooting RAW on the F550EXR:
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
Aside from colors being brighter and more saturated, I don't really see much of an improvement to be gained by shooting RAW (and I didn't at ISO 3200, either). I should point out that you can shoot RAW at lower resolutions, though only in the EXR modes. For example, you can take an 8 Megapixel RAW photo by switching into the High ISO & Low Noise mode. I can't guarantee that the results of shooting RAW will be any better at that size, but there you go.
Overall, the FinePix F550's image quality is disappointing. While exposure was accurate and colors were generally pleasing (with my studio lamps being the exception), the photos have strong detail loss and very significant corner blurring (here's a good example). The corner blurring was so bad that I asked Fuji to take a look at the photos and tell me if the camera was defective. The response was not what I was expecting: they said the camera was performing up to spec. It's probably a combination of too many pixels being pushed through that 15X lens and poor quality control on Fuji's part, but regardless, the photos don't look great. While other online galleries haven't shown corner blurring as bad as I've experienced (hence the QA problem), the noise reduction issue is definitely real, as you can see in the photo gallery at PhotographyBLOG. As far as noise goes, you'll want to put the camera into the High ISO & Low Noise mode for best results, as photos taken at full resolution don't stay clean for long. In fact, if you treat the F550EXR as an 8 Megapixel (rather than 16MP) camera, you'll be a lot happier with the results! Purple fringing was generally well controlled. Highlight clipping was a problem at times, but that just means that you need to switch over to the D-Range Priority mode.
So that's my opinion about the FinePix F550EXR's photo quality. Now it's time for you to view our gallery and see what you think!
The FinePix F550EXR and its new sensor can record Full HD video. That means that video is recorded at 1920 x 1080 at 30 frames/second, with stereo sound, for up to 29 minutes. A 4GB SDHC card will hold about 38 minutes worth of video. If you want a lower resolution, you can drop down to 1280 x 720 (720p), with the same time limit. You can also record at VGA (640 x 480), as well, for up to 115 minutes.
As with its predecessor, the camera lets you use the optical zoom while recording a movie. The lens moves slowly and quietly, to minimize the chance of the microphone picking up any motor noise. The camera can also focus continuously, so things will stay in focus as you zoom or pan the camera. The sensor-shift IS system is also available, though as I illustrated way back in the tour section of the review, it doesn't seem to dampen camera shake that much.
There are no manual controls of any kind in movie mode. You just press the red button to start recording, and again to stop. You can take a still image during movie recording by pressing the shutter release button. The stills are saved at the 8 Megapixel resolution.
The F550EXR can also record high speed movies, taken at 80, 160, or 320 fps. As is usually the case, as the frame rate goes up, the resolution goes down, so those will be recorded at 640 x 480, 320 x 240, and 320 x 112, respectively. These silent movies are recorded at high speed but played back at 30 fps, giving the impression of slow motion.
Movies are saved in QuickTime and use the H.264 codec.
Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the Full HD setting. I don't know about you, but the movies seem a little over-compressed to my eyes.
The FinePix F550EXR has a pretty neat playback mode. Basics include slideshows (complete with transitions and the ability to highlight faces), image protection, favorite tagging, voice captions, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view (up to 100 at a time), and playback zoom.
|Image search feature||Searching by GPS location name|
In addition to viewing photos one at a time or as thumbnails, you can also search through them by date, face (recognized, close-up, couple, or group), scene mode, file type (still or movie), whether they're tagged as a favorite, and even by GPS landmark name.
The camera allows you to rotate, resize, or crop photos. The only editing tool for photos is redeye removal, though it only works if the camera detected faces in the image. There are no movie editing tools available.
A crazy GPS-related feature that I can't show you (since I get no reception in my house) is called Photo Navigation. Once the GPS has your current location, you can pick a photo that has been geo-tagged and the camera will show you the direction and distance you need to go to reach that subject. I can't imagine ever using that, but there you go.
Another neat trick the F550 can do is create photobooks. These aren't books you can have printed; rather, they're more like electronic albums that can be viewed on the camera or in MyFinePix Studio on your PC. You can manually add photos to a book, or you can use the image search to help pick them.
The camera shows you a decent amount of info about your photos right away, including the landmark name or coordinates. For more info, plus a histogram, just press the display button.
The F550EXR moves through photos fairly quickly. If you're using the four-way controller, expect a full resolution image appearing about a half second after a low res placeholder. You can go a lot faster using the control dial, though it's showing the low res version only until you stop scrolling.