In its press release announcing the arrival of the S200, Fuji U.S.A. proclaimed that
"Users of the FinePix S200EXR will find their results equal or superior to D-SLRs, principally due to the revolutionary design of Fujifilm's EXR CCD sensor technology."
The camera is sized like a DSLR and the MSRP is in the entry-level DSLR league, so let's find out if the end product lives up to the ad copy.
The S200 powers up and displays a focus icon in about 3 seconds - I was able to get off a first shot in about 3.4 seconds. Single shot-to-shot times run about 2 seconds with a SanDisk Extreme III 20MB/s memory card. The camera shot 6 full resolution, fine quality JPEGS or 3 RAW files at a slightly faster than advertised 1.8 fps in our studio tests, with write times of about 13.5 seconds for the JPEGs and 11 seconds for the RAW files.
There's a blackout of the monitor or viewfinder after the first shot in the series, and once the picture comes back it's lagging one behind the latest shot, so panning on moving subjects can be some work, especially if you're filling the frame with the subject. Here are two consecutive shots in the continuous mode - it always surprises me how much a scene can change in a second or less.
AF acquisition times were generally good, and in the range of most of the competition - we measured a 0.55 second press to capture time with no pre-focus. Things slowed at the telephoto end, but not out of the norms for the class - the S200 had a hard time picking out a small subject in front of a busy background (hummingbird hovering with palm trees 50 feet behind), but that's a tough assignment for any ultrazoom. Shutter lag is nothing more than an afterthought at 0.01 seconds.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR||0.01|
|Casio Exilim EX-FH20||0.02|
|Nikon Coolpix P90||0.03|
|Olympus SP-590 UZ||0.03|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR||0.55|
|Nikon Coolpix P90||0.56|
|Olympus SP-590 UZ||0.57|
|Casio Exilim EX-FH20||0.59|
|Casio Exilim EX-FH20||40||30 fps†
|Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR||6||1.8 fps
|Nikon Coolpix P90||14||1.4 fps
|Olympus SP-590 UZ||4||1.2 fps
* Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
† Note: The Casio Exilim FH20 has no continuous shooting capabilities at full resolution (9 megapixels). It is, however, capable of shooting at 30 fps at a slightly reduced 8 megapixels. Given this relatively high resolution, we have included the FH20's continuous shooting numbers in our comparison.
Flash range on the S200 is listed as ranging from 23.6 feet at wide angle to 12.5 feet at telephoto, both at auto ISO. I tried shooting with manually set ISOs and it appears that the S200 needs ISO 400 at least to make the published figures. Recycle times were good at 100 ISO, ranging from just under 3 seconds at wide angle and a moderately lit scene to about 4.75 seconds for what was probably close to a full discharge - f/8 and telephoto in a near pitch black garage.
The camera has a hot shoe with which to mount an external flash, but the shoe is not dedicated - there's no electronic connection to the camera so TTL (through the lens) exposure metering with external flash is not possible. Flash units that provide aperture adjustment, external metering and sensitivity control may be used with the S200.
Fuji rates the S200 battery for 370 shots using CIPA standards that are generally pretty accurate.
The S200's 14.3x zoom features an f/2.8 maximum aperture at wide angle that matches the competition in the class, but the f/5.3 at telephoto is slower than most but a bit quicker than the Canon PowerShot SX20 IS.
There is a very slight amount of barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom, and edges and corners look a bit soft. The telephoto end looks pretty good across the board - very slight, if any pincushion distortion, and a small amount of softening in the corners, but really quite good overall. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) can be present in some high contrast boundary areas, but the fault is difficult to see below 300%+ enlargements - for most folks and normal size prints there won't be many complaints in this regard.
The lens with its manual zoom is a joy to use - much more precise framing than is possible with the power zooms found on most ultrazooms. Rotation of the zoom ring through about 90 degrees takes the lens from wide angle to full telephoto. The lens will focus as close as 0.4 inches in super macro mode.
The basic and complete manuals identify the stabilization mode as optical (lens shift), but the press release from Fuji USA mentions a dual stabilization system incorporating automatic high ISO adjustment in addition to the optical mode. Shooting primarily in programmed auto or manual modes, I didn't come across any instances where it appeared an auto-ISO stabilization system was at work.
In a class where most of the competition is packing at least 720p HD video, the 640x480 resolution of the S200 puts it behind the others in this category. The zoom function of the lens is not available during movie capture per the basic manual, but in practice if the camera focus mode selector is set to continuous, it will re-focus after zooming - you'll lose focus during the zoom but the camera refocuses fairly quickly once the zoom ends.
Default images out of the S200 were generally good as to color reproduction and overall image quality in good light. The default auto ISO setting for auto shooting is auto/1600 and you don't want the camera to go towards the upper end of that setting if you can help it. With a full set of manual controls, special scenes and a large number of user inputs available, the S200 offers a wide variety of ways to capture images.
The EXR shooting mode is one of the special modes available in the S200, and I tried the auto setting on one of my usual high contrast scenes, the fountain at Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, California. As advertised, the camera selected the d-range shooting option. Here's the auto shot, a second with manual selection of the d-range option and also a third shot made in aperture priority:
The auto and manually selected d-range options both shoot at a 6 megapixel reduced resolution, and while the histograms are very similar, the manually selected d-range has just a bit more detail in the dark areas of the fountain. The aperture priority shot (at a full 12 megapixel resolution) is quite similar to the two EXR shots, but examination of the histogram for this shot indicated some clipping of highlights that was not present in the other two images. Keeping the camera in EXR auto mode and training it on a normally lit scene resulted in the camera selecting the high resolution option; the camera opted for high ISO/low noise in a dimly lit indoor scene. In short, the EXR auto mode performed as described.
The lower resolution files produced in the d-range and high ISO/low noise modes produced files of 2816x2112 pixel dimensions; the full res files are 4000x3000 pixels.
The FSB (film simulation bracketing) shooting option makes three images with a single push of the shutter button; colors are the standard, vivid and soft settings. Here's an example:
Not a lot to choose from between these three images. While a single push of the shutter takes the three shots, you have to hold the camera on the subject until the third shot is completed - the camera makes a single image in each color rather than a single image and then processing it in each of the three color palettes. Next, here's a shot in standard color and the same shot with color, tone and sharpness settings all maximized from their default values.
Pro focus and pro low light are the two shooting modes in the scene position menu that aren't found in most other cameras. Pro focus takes up to three images when the shutter button is pushed once (you have to hold the camera on the subject until the shots finish), using the multiple shots to produce a sharp main subject with a blurred background. Pro focus is limited to 6 megapixel resolution.
Pro low light takes four shots for each push of the shutter button and combines them to produce a single image. You have to hold the camera on the subject until the fourth shot is taken and the image is at 6 megapixel resolution. Here's a shot of Bandit using pro focus and an image captured in pro low light (shutters closed to darken the room).
And here's pro low light compared to another special scene mode, "night tripod," which is shot at full resolution.
Auto White Balance did a good job in most lighting conditions, but shot quite warm under incandescent studio lamps. Besides auto there are two custom settings, daylight, shade, three fluorescent and an incandescent setting.
Default exposure calculation is via 256 segment TTL multi metering; there are spot and average metering options available. Multi proved largely capable across a broad range of lighting conditions, but it could lose highlights in very contrasty conditions such as the white water portion of breaking waves.
ISO noise performance was good - Fuji's Super CCD sensors have earned a deserved reputation for providing some of the best low light noise performance in compact digitals, and my impression of the S200EXR is that it has about 1 stop better noise performance than all the recent ultrazooms that I've reviewed.
Looking at the studio shots and particularly the crops, 100 and 200 appear practically the same, with a slight bit of noise showing up at 400, and a bit more at 800. The most dramatic change in the crops occurs between 800 and 1600 - but the S200EXR looks cleaner to me through 800 than any other 12 megapixel ultrazoom I've shot personally.
Even though 100 and 200 look very similar, 200 is a bit noisier as can be seen in these two beach shots when viewed at the large size.
This amount of noise differential is not of much import in small images, but if you can shoot at 100 ISO the S200EXR produces the best large print image quality I've seen in an ultrazoom.
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
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