Fujifilm brings better dynamic range to a lower price. (October 18th, 2009)
Having struck a chord with its semi-pro F200 EXR compact, Fujifilm has tried to expand its appeal further by offering the F70 EXR a lower-cost model that somehow achieves an even more ambitious 10X zoom. Experienced photographers will find a number of things to like in the new point-and-shoot, but is it enough to serve as a sidearm or even as a main camera?
Product Manufacturer: Fujifilm
- Dynamic range helpful for getting the most from shots.
- 10X lens flexible but still produces good quality.
- Well-built, compact design.
- Easy to use while still giving some manual control.
- Good price for the feature set.
- EXR only sometimes a saving grace.
- Lens zoom isn't as dramatic as you'd expect; slight fringing.
- No HD video or HD video output.
- Controls omit shutter priority and could be better-placed.
ergonomics, controls and expansion
Anyone who has held the F200 EXR will feel instantly at home with the F70 EXR both in design and in its feel in the hand. Both are positives: the design is reasonably compact and is extremely well-built with a solid, metal design that doesn't creak or groan. That Fujifilm managed to fit this with a 10X zoom lens at all is surprising in its own right.
That also means the control layout is familiar, and for the most part this is also appreciated. The button layout is simple and largely self-explanatory. We would like to see an evolution in the mode dial design, however. While its dedicated EXR and natural light settings make more sense than many of the presets on more beginner-oriented cameras, an veteran user's camera ought to have aperture or shutter priority at the top level rather than left to software. We'd also like to see the mode dial move to the top of the camera where more options would be available and it would be easier to twist the dial with fingers.
In the software itself, the interface is once again simple without sacrificing too much control; you can adjust autofocus, metering modes, the amount of dynamic color range enhancement, and even the maximum ceiling for ISO sensitivity when it's left to automatic. Full manual mode works as on the F200 and provides full, albeit not fine-grained, control over aperture and shutter speed. Once again, though, there are a few gaps between automatic and full manual: aperture priority is hidden in the menu, and shutter priority isn't an option at all. As such, the F70 feels a step below workhorse compact cameras like the Canon G11, though definitely still higher than regular models.
About the only element that's truly lacking is the absence of standardized ports. Again like the F200, the F70's only port is a combination data and video port. While it helps keep the camera small, it's proprietary and ties you to Fujifilm's cabling to upload photos or display photos on a TV. Lose it and you won't have the option of borrowing a spare USB or RCA cable. There's also no HD support, so pictures won't show at their native resolution.
still image quality: EXR and 10X zoom
Much of what we said in the F200 EXR review stands true for the F70 in terms of image quality: in standard shooting, the camera is best up to about ISO 400 before noise truly becomes an issue. That won't compare against a DSLR but is comparable to most average-to-good compact cameras. You can drop the resolution to boost ISO levels even higher, up to ISO 12,800, but outside of emergencies ISO 3,200 and above are simply too noisy to be useful. Owners of cameras that are very sensitive in the first place, like the Panasonic Lumix LX3, will likely be happier.
As before, EXR mode exists primarily to reduce the amount of noise at a given ISO level or else to improve the dynamic range and bring out detail from shadows as well as reduce instances of blown-out highlights. We've noticed that the noise reduction mode is relatively muted and that most of the actual benefit comes from the dynamic range mode's accentuation of detail. The latter isn't always a magic bullet, but it's enough that you'll see details you might have lost otherwise -- especially in low light.
Daytime: more detail appears in the tree bark in the second shot.
By far the most frequently touted feature of the F70 EXR is its 10X lens, which is reputedly the most compact ever fitted into a compact camera. We agree that it's small, but the zoom factor is lightly misleading: the 5-50mm range reaches the equivalent of 27-270mm. That's further than many general-purpose lenses even on DSLRs, but it's not as dramatically different as the higher number would suggest. Photographers who want to avoid cropping whenever possible might be better off with the S200 EXR, whose lens reaches a much further 436mm equivalent at its best. We definitely appreciate the F70's flexibility; we just wish there were slightly more of it.
Thankfully, whatever zoom the lens uses tends to produce good to great image quality depending on the scene. The lens is very suited to macro photography as well as some wide-angle shots, and it doesn't exhibit some of the compromises that often come with high-zoom optics. Chromatic aberration, the blue or purple fringing that occurs in high-contrast scenes with a relatively small lens, is evident towards the far end of the range but isn't extreme. Fans of bokeh (very shallow depth of field) shots may be slightly disappointed as the minimum aperture is f3.3, slightly higher than the f2.8 or lower of some competing (but often more expensive) cameras.
Maximum zoom gets close to wildlife, but isn't as long-distance as we'd like for 10X.
It's in video mode that Fujifilm once again shows its greatest weakness. Although somewhat more forgivable for the F70 EXR than the F200 given the much lower price tag, that video is still limited to VGA (640x480). It can handle a fair amount of detail in low light but can be noisy even in daylight. In one of our tests, we also noticed lens flare artifacts, though this was on a sunny day with light glinting off of cars -- a scene likely to trigger problems for many cameras.
Movies aren't the F70's emphasis, but it's nonetheless disappointing when many cameras, even those below the F70's lower price point, can shoot in wide VGA (848x480) or 720p (1280x720). Cameras are being asked to do more these days, and that Fujifilm's doesn't handle video well may be a weakness for those who want an all-around device.
For all the apparent criticism of the F70 EXR, at the end of our testing we genuinely appreciated it as an always handy pocket camera for the amateur. The lens is powerful enough to accommodate most everyday shooting situations, and the (mostly) manual controls give a fair amount of fine tuning to get an exact shot. EXR is somewhat oversold but can often be the "nudge" needed to improve an already good shot or to salvage detail from a shot that otherwise wouldn't have worked well.
The unit is most alluring as a primary camera for those who can't justify a semi-pro point-and-shoot or a DSLR but still want to learn the basics of serious photography. At $280, it's less expensive than even the discounted F200 EXR and much less costly than some of the highest-end examples, even if it doesn't have the sheer low-light performance of these rivals or else their support for extras like hot shoe flashes. It should also appeal to anyone who simply values a well-constructed, fairly easy to use compact with better-than-usual zoom.
It's in the camera's potential role as a second camera for a hobbyist or professional that Fujifilm encounters the most trouble. Many with the cash to spend on a DSLR can also afford to buy a better compact camera, and for them the money saved buying an F70 EXR may not be worth an increase in noise or the lack of sheer control dictated by the size of the camera. It's far from a poor camera -- in many respects, it's excellent -- but it's targeted more at an in-between segment of the market that values image quality only just enough to pay a small premium.