Fujifilm FinePix F200 EXR

The Fujifilm FinePix F200 EXR ($400 as of July 27, 2009) is an excellent pocket camera for relatively advanced photographers, either as a more-portable backup to a digital SLR camera or as a versatile primary . The basic specs are nice: You get a 5X optical zoom lens with wide-angle chops (28mm to 140mm), optical image stabilization, a bigger-than-most 12-megapixel sensor (1/1.6 inches), and ISO levels of up to 12800 at reduced resolution. But the biggest draw for photographers is the sensor itself.

The first Fujifilm camera equipped with the (the ), the FinePix F200 EXR offers some unique sensor-tweaking settings, too: You can shoot in resolution-priority mode for full detail; a high-ISO/low-light mode knocks down the resolution for less-noisy low-light images; and a dynamic-range mode is optimized for capturing even detail in shots containing both shadowy zones and well-lit areas.

The FinePix F200 EXR definitely takes nice, colorful shots; but in my hands-on tests, there was no dramatic difference in the look of images taken in various EXR modes. Across the board, the camera errs on the side of vibrance: Macro shots of flowers or glowing neon signs are dramatically colorful, which makes for stunning shots in most conditions but may displease photographers who prefer a more natural look. I also noticed distortion to vertical lines in wide-angle shots--a subtle but visible fish-eye effect.

I did most of my hands-on test shots in broad daylight, under dark indoor lighting conditions, or in almost complete darkness; and EXR Auto mode was usually smart enough to pick the right settings. It performs especially well in low-light situations without the flash, creating bright colors and clearly defined subjects. A slight amount of noise begins to appear at ISO 800, but not near enough to ruin a shot.

On the other hand, the camera is a bit noisy mechanically: You can hear the FinePix F200 EXR whirring and clicking as it calculates optimal in-camera settings. The sound isn't loud enough to ruin a wedding photo shoot, but it might scare a skittish bug or a bird away when you're trying to take a macro shot. The zoom dial was a tad finicky and less than smooth; it tended to jump between zoom points rather than sliding smoothly and continuously between them.

In our PC World Test Center jury evaluations, the FinePix F200 EXR achieved an overall score of Good, but with weaknesses noted in a couple of areas: Flash exposure is uneven (which isn't that big a deal, thanks to the camera's stellar low-light, no-flash picture quality), and it registered higher-than-normal levels of distortion in test shots. Key strengths: In well-lit settings without the flash, and in our color accuracy tests, the FinePix F200 EXR was among the best point-and-shoots we've seen this year.