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Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR Review: A Sharp Low-Light Shooter
by Andy Stanton -  12/16/2011

Fujifilm has a long track record of creating compact cameras with innovative sensor designs that produce surprisingly good image quality in low light, especially considering the small size of the sensors. The first several generations of Fuji's special sensors were called the "Super CCD," and used octagonal rather than rectangular pixels. The most renowned camera of that first era was the F31fd, which camera buffs still talk about with reverence.

In 2008 Fuji announced a new version of the Super CCD sensor, the EXR, which used a color filter array layout that allows for binning (combining) two adjacent pixels of the same color. In early 2011, Fuji released the F550EXR, in which its EXR technology was combined with a back-illuminated CMOS sensor for greater speed and low light ability. The F600EXR is Fuji's follow-up to the F550EXR.

Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR


As I mentioned in my "First Look," the F600EXR is very similar to the F550EXR. Based on looks alone, you'd be hard pressed to tell them apart. Both use a 1/2.0 inch, 16 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS EXR sensor, have a 15x optical zoom lens with a lens range of from 24 through 360mm (35mm film camera equivalent), have a built-in GPS for geo-tagging your photos, can shoot in RAW mode and can take HD movies at 1080p resolution. The only significant differences I can see is that the F600EXR employs motion detection in Auto EXR mode to reduce blur, a Landmark Navigator feature to improve the functionality of the GPS, and an intelligent digital zoom which effectively doubles the telephoto range of the lens.

The F600EXR is packed with attractive features. In addition to those mentioned above, it also has an advanced mode with options for "Motion Panorama 360," which enables you to take easy panorama shots simply by sweeping the camera horizontally or vertically, "Pro Focus," in which the camera takes three shots and combines them to create an image with a blurred background, and "Pro Low-Light" in which the camera combines four shots to reduce noise and blur. Another interesting feature of the camera is a dynamic range adjustment mode in which the camera combines shots to increase detail in high contrast shooting situations.

I brought the F600EXR with me to Williamsburg, Virginia, which is a restoration of what was once the Virginia capitol back in the colonial era, and had fun taking photos and movies. Overall, I enjoyed my experience with the F600EXR. Let's take a close look at this interesting camera.

BUILD AND DESIGN
The F600EXR is a sturdy, well-designed camera, although it's not particularly stylish. It has a largely metal and plastic construction. It's about the same size as most compact ultrazooms, at 4.0 inches (103.5mm) wide, 2.4 inches (62.5mm) high and 1.2 inches (32.6mm) thick and weighs in at 220 grams, including memory card and battery.


Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR
The camera comes with a lithium-ion battery, battery charger, wrist strap, USB cable, A/V cable, a brief owner's manual and a CD which contains the full version of the manual as well as My Finepix Studio for organizing and viewing photos. It's available in four colors - black, the color of the camera I used, red, champagne gold and white. At the time of this review it can be purchased in the U.S. at a price of under $250.

Ergonomics and Controls
The F600EXR feels good in the hand. It's easy to hold and use thanks to a rubber coated strip at the front of the camera and a protruding area at the rear that can be used as a thumb rest. The front plate of the camera is dominated by the 15x Fujinon lens, which, when fully retracted, still protrudes about 1/2 inch from the camera body. The lens zooms smoothly, with only a hint of hesitation. To the upper left of the lens are a combination auto focus assist illuminator/self-timer lamp and a stereo microphone. On one side of the camera there's a compartment with ports for USB and HDMI cables, which is covered by a thin, plastic door.

Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR

A pop-up flash is located at the top of the camera. The flash must be raised by pressing a button - it does not come up automatically. Toward the camera's middle there's a bulge for the GPS, an on/off button and a shutter button with a zoom control lever. A circular mode selector is situated at about a 45 degree angle between the camera's top and rear sections. The mode selector contains settings for some of the camera's shooting modes - EXR, auto, advanced, scene position, manual, aperture priority, shutter priority and program. The bottom of the camera contains a speaker, a metal tripod socket and a battery/memory card compartment covered by a sturdy plastic latch. The camera has 33MB of internal memory and can use SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards.

The camera's rear contains a 3.0-inch diagonal, 460,000 pixel LCD monitor in a 4:3 aspect ratio. To the right of the monitor there's a playback button, a large dedicated movie button, a circular four-way control dial for accessing the camera's menu, a display/back button and an F button. The F button is a standard feature on Fuji cameras and is a short-cut to certain shooting modes. In the F600EXR it also permits the user to access the GPS setup menu. The control dial allows selection of macro, self-timer, flash and trash/exposure compensation. The dial has a movable ring around it for navigating through the menu functions.

Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR

The controls on the F600EXR seem well-constructed, though the play, display/back and F buttons are quite small.

Menus and Modes
The menu system used by the F600EXR is divided into two basic sections - shooting and setup. There are many different selections in each section and most of the selections have submenus, which makes the system a challenge to learn. This is unavoidable to a large degree because of the many options included in the F600EXR. It will be important for users to spend time with the full version of the owner's manual to fully understand all the camera has to offer.

Here are the camera's shooting modes:

Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image

Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
Provia
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
Velvia
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
Astia
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
Black & White
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
Sepia

Display/Viewfinder
The F600EXR has a nice LCD monitor with a 3.0 inch diagonal in a 4:3 aspect ratio and a 460,000 pixel resolution. The monitor provides 100% coverage. The monitor can be adjusted among 11 brightness settings, though increasing the brightness will result in a shorter battery-life.

DCR tests cameras for LCD screen quality, measuring for contrast ratio and brightness. The best LCD monitors have a contrast ratio above 500:1 and brightness of at least 500 nits. Lab tests showed the F600EXR's contrast ratio as 1000:1, which is superb, but a peak brightness score of only 280 nits, with a black luminescence score of only 0.28 nits. However, probably due to its excellent contrast ratio, the camera's LCD monitor looks good and worked well under most lighting conditions, though I had trouble viewing it in bright sunshine.

As is the case with almost all point-and-shoot cameras, the F600EXR does not have a viewfinder.

PERFORMANCE
I was pleased with the performance of the F600EXR. It responded quickly to menu selections. Pressing the dedicated movie button started the movie recording instantly. The camera took about two seconds to start up. Shot-to-shot time averaged about 2.5 seconds without the flash and about 3.5 seconds with the flash in operation. The camera rarely had problems focusing, except in very low light, at the extreme end of the zoom, and when trying to focus on a very light-colored object.

Shooting Performance
As DCR's lab tests show, the shooting performance of the F600EXR is very good. The F600EXR turned in a particularly impressive result of 0.14 seconds for auto focus acquisition, which is the time taken between pressing the shutter button and taking a focused picture. This was considerably quicker than the scores from the Panasonic FH7, Sony TX100 and Nikon P300, three speedy cameras. The camera is not particularly quick in continuous shooting mode, though, as it was only able to take full resolution pictures at 3.5 frames per second.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
Camera Time (seconds)
Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR 0.01
Sony Cyber-shot TX100 0.01
Panasonic Lumix FH7 0.02
Nikon Coolpix P300 0.05

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
Digital Camera Time (seconds)
Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR 0.14
Panasonic Lumix FH7 0.22
Sony Cyber-shot TX100 0.32
Nikon Coolpix P300 0.43

Continuous Shooting
Camera Frames Framerate*
Sony Cyber-shot TX100 10 11.4 fps
Nikon Coolpix P300 7 6.9 fps
Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR 4 3.5 fps
Panasonic Lumix FH7 1.2 fps

The F600EXR uses an NP-50 lithium-ion battery, which is rated at an impressive 300 photos between recharging. In real life shooting, I found the battery life to be somewhat shorter, but I did access the menu frequently, which had an effect on battery life.

Lens Performance
The F600EXR has a versatile Fujinon zoom lens with a range of from 24 through 360mm (35mm film camera equivalent), and a maximum aperture of f/3.5 at wide angle and f/5.3 at telephoto.

Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
Wide Angle
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
Telephoto


The camera has a digital zoom mode that can extend the apparent focal length to 720mm, though the same result can be achieved by cropping the image taken at maximum optical zoom. The lens can focus as close as to about 5cm from the subject in macro mode. I found the lens to be relatively free from distortion.

Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
Wide Angle
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
Telephoto

Chromatic aberration (colored fringing) was well-controlled though it was sometimes present when shooting dark objects against a light sky. The lens had good sharpness, with a slight blurring towards the corners. I did not notice any vignetting. There was minimal barrel distortion at extreme wide angle and no pin cushion distortion at extreme zoom.

Video Quality
On paper the F600EXR has an excellent movie mode, with a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1080 at 30 fps (29 minute maximum recording time), stereo sound, optical zoom, auto focus, auto exposure and auto white balance available while recording. While I was able to achieve some nice footage, I found that the camera consistently had problems maintaining focus. This is demonstrated in the movie set out below:

Image Quality
The F600EXR produced sharp, high quality images with pleasing, realistic colors. Its D-Range priority mode was able to keep overexposure from being a problem, as often occurs with point and shoot cameras that have small sensors.

I mostly used the camera's auto white balance setting. White balance can be set to custom, auto, direct sunlight, shade, three types of fluorescent, incandescent and underwater. The image below shows auto white balance under fluorescent lighting:

Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

The camera's flash can be set to auto (with red-eye removal on or off), fill (with red-eye removal on or off), slow-synch (with red-eye removal on or off) and to off. Fuji's specifications state that the effective range of the flash, when on auto mode with ISO set to auto, is approximately 0.4 ft. to 10.4 feet (15cm to 3.2m) at wide angle and 2.9 feet to 6.2 feet (90cm to 1.9m) at telephoto. The flash performed well, without providing too much illumination.

Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image

I was very pleased with the performance of the F600EXR in low light. Even at 1600 ISO I was able to take images with good color, low noise and only a moderate effect from noise reduction.

Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image

The ISO images below, prepared by DCR's labs, confirm that the F600EXR's combination of EXR technology and a back-illuminated sensor provides low light performance that's superior to that of most point and shoot cameras. The images have good sharpness and color through 400 ISO, with slight blurring at 800 ISO.

Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
ISO 100
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
ISO 200
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
ISO 400
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR
ISO 800
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR
ISO 1600
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR
ISO 3200
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

The results at 800 ISO are similar to those of most point and shoot cameras at 400 ISO. Image quality at 1600 ISO is still acceptable for small pictures, while 3200 ISO is usable only an emergency. All told, a very good performance by the F600EXR.

Additional Sample Images
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image
Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image Fujifilm F600EXR Sample Image

CONCLUSIONS
The Fujifilm Finepix F600EXR is a solid entry in the compact ultrazoom class. It has many strengths, chief among them its EXR mode that significantly improves low light image quality compared to most point and shoot cameras. The F600EXR has solid build quality and good ergonomics. Its menu system takes some getting used to, mainly because of the many possible options offered.

The camera is loaded with advanced features, including a RAW mode and a GPS for those who wish to geo-tag their photos. I especially appreciated the D-range priority mode, for limiting the effect of overexposure, and the enjoyable Motion Panorama 360.


Performance is another strong point of the F600EXR, with quick shot-to-shot times and very little shooting delay due to shutter lag or auto focus acquisition. Image quality is also one of the camera's strengths. However movie quality was a disappointment, in that the otherwise good looking movies I was able to take were marred by the camera's problem keeping the subjects in focus.

Overall I was very pleased with the F600EXR and have no problem recommending it as long as people are aware of the auto focus issues in the camera's movie mode.

Pros:

Cons: