FujiFilm FinePix F850EXR Digital Compact Camera
My last in-depth visit to the Fuji compact camera line was the F660EXR, a 15x zoom model with 300 shots CIPA standard battery life. It was and is a quite satisfactory compact still camera. Yet, the F660 Fuji had the worst video capability of any recent compact I've reviewed. It was and is really horrid and an embarrassment, considering how good the rest of the camera operates. If taking video with your digital still camera is important to you, this glaring defect will be more than sufficient for you to go elsewhere. I'll leave it to you to grade the importance of the video in your own terms.
However, the Fuji F660EXR was and is sold as a digital still camera, not as a camcorder that can take stills. As a digital camera, it handles better than several Panasonic and Canon models, putting them to shame in terms of battery life, many still camera features and in particular low light ("M" or 8M mode). When viewed and used as an "8MP" camera, the captured images from the Fuji are 3264x2448. That's more than adequate for outstanding 8x10" prints, even with a moderate amount of cropping. As tragic as the video attempt is on the F660EXR, it easily rated as a good choice in a long zoom, digital still camera with exemplary low light capabilities. The included charger and inexpensive batteries, along with a low retail price made it a very compelling compact travel camera.
The new F850EXR pumps up the optical zoom to 20x, adds a faster EXR processor II, speedier performance, better 3.0-inch (approx. 920K-dot) LCD, but reduces the battery life to 250 still shots. The F3.5 / F5.3 lens array isn't particularly bright on the wide angle side of things, but is brighter than most at full zoom.
The F850EXR also adds more auto capabilities, detecting 108 shooting patterns translating into 64 scenes, faster 0.21 second autofocus, faster start-up and peppier shot-to-shot performance. It also weighs a tiny bit more, at 8.1 ounces. It is a lot of imaging horsepower in a half-pound package.
FUJI VS. COMPETITIVE MODELS
Fuji, while certainly a name brand, is sometimes marketed incomprehensibly, offered with strangely high list prices and steep discounts. One common source for the Fuji F850EXR, in black, has a $299 list price and an actual delivered price of $208.44. In white, the same camera is $186.62. Yet, if you shop a bit, you can find this (and other) Fuji cameras at astounding low discount prices. I did just that, buying my example of the F850EXR in white for $114.49 delivered. Yet, the F850EXR is a current, 2013 model, just announced at the beginning of the year. It does make it a bit more complicated to grade this model, for it is not easy to discern if it is a $210 camera, $180 camera, or a $115 camera. In my own case, it is a $115 dollar investment and there is no camera on the market that remotely competes with it at that price point.
For whatever reason, the color choice of the F850EXR can change the price drastically. It makes little or no sense, but that's the way it is. As a practical matter, I'm going to call this a $180 camera, for you can get it right now (December 2013) at that level or less. Of the cameras listed above, most cost about 30% more.
The 20x zoom that is relentlessly called “remarkable” is hardly that anymore, considering that more than a dozen pocketable cameras today offer that much range, or more, in the $250 price bracket. The spread in size and weight isn't huge, either. This F850EXR weighs 8.1 ounces, the Nikon S9500 weighs 7.3 ounces and the Canon SX280 is 8.2 ounces. There isn't much point in debating the merits of less than one ounce in a camera.
STILL IMAGE QUALITY
The F850EXR is at its best taking 8-meg photos, half of the full sensor resolution. This is plenty of image size for 8x10 prints and more than needed for anything smaller. This is the “M” images size, or 3264x2448 pixels in the 4:3 aspect ratio that matches the three inch LCD. M mode also lets you shoot up to ISO 6400 and gives you six frames per second for about 7-9 frames in continuous shooting. It is at least that fast, for when crossing a river on a bridge, in the car at 70 mph, it is sometimes difficult to get an unobscured shot. Yet, in this very short period of time the F850EXR captured 31 images for me, all quite clear.
Used this way, in the F850EXR in “EXR AUTO” mode is a very fast shooting, fast cycling camera: a super-duper point and shoot with consistently good results. It also is either a very good value or an all-out screaming deal, contingent on what you paid for it. Even at $200, it does well against the tragically flawed SX280, the Nikon and the Panasonics that all cost 30% to 40% more.
While taking very good images for a camera in this class, the slightly larger 1/2 inch (vs. 1/2.33) sensor doesn't seem to make a huge difference. Nor do the specialized shooting modes (Pro Low Light, Advanced Anti Blur, Pro Focus) offer anything remarkable.
The 60 fps is a puzzling choice, for 30 fps is full-motion video and that's what you'll end up with if uploading to YouTube or burning a DVD. 1080x720 pixel 30 fps is HD video, a broadcast platform, and the 30 fps stuff is easier to edit and render, with smaller file sizes. As long as you go easy on the zoom speed and aren't planning on lengthy videos, the F850EXR captures usable video, although not comparable to a dedicated camcorder by any means.
As an everyday, do pretty much everything type of take anywhere camera, it is hard not to like the Fuji FinePix F850EXR. It does everything in the "very good plus" area. If you aren't going to print larger than 8x10's, you can set it into EXR AUTO mode at the M (eight megapixel) setting and enjoy one of the fastest-shooting compacts around.
The F850EXR is a massive upgrade over the F660, not just in still image quality, but also in zoom range, LCD quality, menus and video ability. It feels good in the hands, has an LCD as good as any in a compact, offers a 360 degree Panorama mode and there are several partial color modes and slow-motion video modes with which to experiment.
The video is now quite usable, it comes with a plug-in charger that is faster than the el cheapo USB method and won't tie up your camera. You'll need a tripod for this, but the Fuji Intelligent Digital Zoom reaches to 40x in “EXR Auto” and a bewildering 69x in Program Mode at the “M” image size setting. It has the full suite of PASM controls and two user-programable buttons. Its pop-up flash does not produce the vignetting you often see in smaller, flush with the body flashes in super-compact cameras. All in all, it is just a terrifically fun, speedy little camera to use. For the money, nothing I know of comes remotely close to comparing with the F850EXR. I am surprised, but in a very good way.
Copyright 2013 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.