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Fuji FinePix F70EXR Review

How Does it Compare?

The Fuji FinePix F70EXR is a compact ultra zoom camera whose low light shooting is best in its class. The F70EXR isn't perfect, but for a little over $200 you get a compact camera with a big 10X zoom, image stabilization, at least a full stop advantage in terms of noise, several manual controls, a dynamic range enhancement feature that actually works, and generally snappy performance. Image quality is very good, though you will have occasional vignetting, blurry corners, and artifacting that is a by-product of the SuperCCD EXR sensor. Some of the camera's flaws include a clunky, dated menu system, unremarkable movie and burst modes, manual exposure control limitations, and below average battery life. Despite these imperfections, the FinePix F70EXR's 10X zoom lens and superior low light skills make it a camera I can recommend.

The FinePix F70EXR looks nearly identical to its sibling, the F200EXR. On the outside, the main differences are the lens (10X vs 5X on the F200) and LCD (2.7" vs 3.0"), while the sensor on the inside is lower resolution and a bit smaller on the F70. The camera is made of a mixture of metal and plastic, and feels pretty solid, with the usual exception of the door over the battery/memory card compartment. The F70 features an F3.3-5.6, 10X optical zoom lens, with a focal range of 27 - 270 mm. Yes, that maximum aperture range isn't as fast as I'd like, but it's what you'll find on most compact cameras. Inside the lens is the SuperCCD EXR sensor, whose unique pixel arrangement allows for better performance at high sensitivities than conventional CCDs. This sensor is mounted to a movable plate which makes up the camera's image stabilization system. The IS system reduces the risk of blurry photos, and it can smooth out your movies as well. On the back of the camera is a 2.7" LCD with the typical resolution of 230,000 pixels. Outdoor visibility was very good, while low light viewing could be improved upon. The F70EXR does not have an optical viewfinder.

The F70EXR has a nice feature set, though some of them are crippled a bit. The camera has two auto modes: a regular one that shoots at full resolution, and an EXR mode that will select a scene and an EXR mode for you. Do note that the exposure compensation cannot be adjusted for either of these modes, and the slowest shutter speed is just 1/4 second. The EXR mode does have a manual override which lets you select one of the three modes (high resolution, high ISO & low noise, dynamic range priority), and it opens up the exposure compensation feature (but not slower shutter speeds) as well. The high resolution EXR mode doesn't do anything fancy: it takes photos at the full 10 Megapixel resolution of the SuperCCD sensor. The high ISO & low noise mode lowers the resolution to 5 Megapixel and produces photos with less noise than a typical compact camera (though you can shoot at full resolution and downsize the photos for the same or better effect). The dynamic range priority mode reduces clipped highlights (and you can adjust this in the P and M shooting modes as well), though if you want full resolution photos, you'll have to boost the ISO proportionally.

The F70EXR has limited manual controls, allowing you to adjust the aperture alone, or along with the shutter speed (there's no shutter priority mode, though). One annoyance is that there are only two aperture settings to choose from at any one time, rather than a whole range. The camera offers a custom white balance mode, but it lacks a manual focus feature. The F70 does not support the RAW image format. I should also mention two new scene modes on the F70EXR: Pro Focus and Pro Low Light. I was never able to fire off a single shot with the Pro Focus feature (the camera always gave me an error), but it's supposed to give you a sharp subject with a blurry background. The Pro Low Light Feature works by combining four exposures into one, which helps produce a sharper photo. This only works for stationary subjects, though. Lastly, there's the F70's movie mode, which lets you record up to 29 minutes of continuous VGA quality video (where's the HD?). The camera lets you use the optical zoom and image stabilizer while recording, and continuous autofocus is available as well. However, the noise from all three of these is easily picked up by the microphone.

While it lags in a few areas, generally the F70EXR was a snappy performer. One of the areas in which it's a bit slow is startup speed: it takes around 2.2 seconds to prepare for shooting. Focusing speeds are very good, whether you're at wide-angle or telephoto. The camera focused quickly and accurately in low light, as well. Shutter lag wasn't an issue, and shot-to-shot speeds range from one second without the flash to around three seconds with it. The F70EXR won't win any awards for its continuous shooting mode. At full resolution, it takes just three photos at an average 1.7 fps frame rate. You can shoot faster (4.7 fps), but at 3 Megapixel / ISO 400, which isn't necessarily desirable. The F70EXR's battery life is below average for its class.

That brings us to photo quality which, in most respects, is the FinePix F70EXR's strong point. The camera had accurate exposure overall, though it does tend to clip highlights, just like other compact cameras. Unlike most of those cameras, however, you can actually use the dynamic range enhancement feature to reduce the highlight clipping, though as I mentioned, the ISO sensitivity will have to go up a notch or two. Colors were nice and saturated, and photos had a smooth appearance to them. At low ISOs you may find some detail smearing in low contrast areas, which is kind of a trademark of SuperCCD sensors. Noise levels stay very low until you hit ISO 800 in low light and ISO 1600 in good light -- yes, that's a full stop better than most cameras I review. At ISO 800 and 1600, the F70EXR wipes the floor with nearly all of the competition. Above that, don't expect much: the image size goes down and the noise goes up, and there's even some banding to be found. Photos taken at the highest ISOs are lacking far too much detail to be used. The F70EXR has moderate levels of purple fringing at times, and expect to see some corner blurring and vignetting, as well. The camera is supposed to remove redeye automatically, but that didn't work too well in my tests (though your results may vary).

There are a few final things to mention before I wrap things up. The menu system on the F70EXR is difficult to navigate at times, and just feels dated. I found the mode dial on the camera to be a little sloppy, just like the one on the F200EXR -- it needs to be more "notchy", if you know what I mean. The door over the battery/memory card slot could really use a lock, and you won't be able to access it when the camera is on a tripod. Finally, in the bundle department, the included Mac software is poor (thank goodness for iPhoto) and the full manual is only available in digital format on an included CD-ROM disc.

If you're looking for a compact ultra zoom camera that excels at low light shooting, then the FinePix F70EXR should definitely fit the bill. It's not the most feature-packed camera in its class, but it delivers better high ISO shots than almost anything else out there (save for a digital SLR, of course). While there's definitely some room for improvement (mostly in terms of features and usability, rather than image quality), the F70EXR is a camera well worth your consideration.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Low light performance a full stop better than other compact cameras
  • 10X zoom in a compact body
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization
  • Dynamic range priority mode restores clipped highlights
  • Many manual controls
  • Automatic scene and EXR mode selection
  • Good AF, shot-to-shot speeds
  • Optical zoom, image stabilization, and continuous AF available in movie mode (though noise from each will be picked up by the microphone)
  • Good value for the money

What I didn't care for:

  • Some artifacting from SuperCCD sensor at low ISOs; some corner blurring, vignetting, and purple fringing, as well
  • Redeye
  • Only two apertures to choose from at a time; no shutter priority mode or manual focus
  • Exposure compensation not available in auto modes; slowest shutter speed is 1/4 sec with rare exception
  • Unremarkable continuous shooting mode
  • Menu system feels clunky and dated
  • No optical or electronic viewfinder
  • Sloppy mode dial; door over memory card / battery compartment is a bit flimsy, and is inaccessible when using a tripod
  • Below average battery life
  • Full manual only on CD-ROM; Mac version of FinePixViewer is very basic

Some other compact ultra zoom cameras include the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS, Casio Exilim EX-H10, Kodak EasyShare Z950, Nikon Coolpix S630, Olympus Stylus 9000, Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1, Ricoh CX2, Samsung HZ15W, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the FinePix F70EXR and its competitors before you buy!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.