Monday, February 9, 2009

FinePix F200EXR: a dream compact?

While I shoot the vast majority of my images with one of two digital single-lens reflex cameras, for months I've been trying to sift through the glut of compact (point-and-shoot) cameras on the market to find a quality piece of equipment that I can carry around conveniently when either I'm in a hurry or don't want to be lugging a heavy camera bag. Something to use, for example, at informal social functions, a simple walk through the park, or one of those "gotta get it quick or it'll get away" moments.

Six months ago, I acquired a Pentax Optio Z10, lured by the attractive 7X built-in (no lens protrusion) optical zoom and the promise of image stablization. The zoom is splendid, and I got some nice images in daytime available light. But the image stablization is limited to certain shots and I don't have a lot of control of when it's engaged.

But the most disappointing aspect is that I found out quickly what I'd heard and seen with images taken with so many point-and-shoots: They don't have nearly the ISO sensitivity that you'd like or want. In a batch of photos I shot with the Z10 inside Lucas Oil Stadium for a Colts NFL game last fall, for example, I took a couple dozen shots using available light, and I'd estimate that 70% of those were of inferior quality (at least to my standards).

Comes now Fujifilm with the possible answer to my dilemma. The cameramaker announced last week that it would be releasing, at the end of this month, a high-octaine compact -- the 12-megapixel FinePix F200EXR with a 5X optical zoom and 3-inch LCD monitor -- that will go a long way toward addressing the ISO sensitivity issue and do much more. It has my attention, and if it does everything the early writeups say it will do, it will come very close to being my "dream" compact.

The two most interesting features of the F200EXR:

1) The high ISO senstivity and low noise mode: The EXR technology, when engaged, will be able to "read" low-light situations, and instead of using all 12 million single pixels to capture fragmented light to render an inferior image, it will merge pairs of pixels to form 6 million much-larger photodiodes, which in turn will capture more light and promise an image featuring less noise. Basically, many more "keepers."

The phrase "when engaged" above is key. The shooter will have the option of setting the mode manually to take advantage of the low-light ISO sensitivity EXR technology, or the shooter can use an automatic mode that assigns the camera the authority to determine when to engage it.

2) A "Dual Capture" wide dynamic range mode. Using the same concept of halving the 12MP as described above, Dual Capture will record two different light exposures of the same image using two sets of 6 million pixels, which, when combined, promise to provide an excellent level of detail in highlights and lowlights that would otherwise be lost.

This appears to be a modified way of handling what many photographers now do with DSLRs in a technique called high dynamic range. In seeking to extract optimum detail and quality from a particular photograph, photographers will take two, three, four or even five versions of the same image -- each with a slightly different exposure (a process called bracketing). Later, in editing the pictures, they merge two or more of those bracketed versions into one, the result being a much more crisp, detailed and color-dynamic image than they would have had in just a single-frame capture.

The FinePix F200EXR portends to capture two such exposures, or versions, for the photographer in Dual Capture mode. To be sure, this isn't the same thing a shooter can attain with classic HDR as described in the previous paragraph, but for a compact, it's the most innovating and intriguing step in that direction I've seen, thanks in large part to the EXR pixel halving and pairing technology.

Fujifilm says the camera will debut at the end of this month at a retail price of $399.95, and already is accepting preorders at that price. I expected the cost to be more than the average pocket-sized compact, so I guess I'm not surprised by that pricetag. I want to wait to read more reviews before I take the plunge, but if you saw me right now, you'd notice me listing in that direction!

To read up on the FinePix F200EXR, follow the following links:

Fujifilm's official announcement of the F200EXR

The review of the F200EXR

The price listing for pre-orders at

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