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9/10

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The F200 EXR is a large and complex camera for a compact, so it's not too surprising that its overall performance is a bit of a mixed bag. It takes nearly four seconds to start up, which is pretty slow, but it shuts down again in just over two seconds, which is pretty quick. In single-shot mode is has a consistent shot-to-shot time of approximately 1.6 seconds, which is impressive considering the amount of processing that's going on. The F200 has a variety of continuous shooting and burst settings, which vary depending on the shooting mode, but in the auto mode long-period continuous mode it shoots at approximately 1.8 seconds per frame. It does have a high-speed burst mode that can shoot at 5fps, but only at 3MP resolution.

Fuji makes a great deal of the camera's low-light focusing abilities, and with good reason. I tried the camera both indoors and outdoors in a number of low-light situations (alright, they were parties) and I was unable to find any situation in which it wouldn't focus, apart from deliberately pointing it up into the featureless night sky. In any situation where there was actually something to photograph, the camera would focus on it quickly and accurately, with the help of its extremely bright AF assist lamp. Without question the F200 EXR has the best low light focusing ability that I've yet seen from a compact camera.

Of course the big question is; does the EXR sensor actually perform as advertised? Fujifilm claims that the F200 EXR has superior low-light image quality to the F31fd, and I'm happy to report that indeed it does, although to be honest the F31 was so good that there's not much in it. Shooting in the EXR High ISO/Low Noise setting, producing 6MP images, from 100 to 400 ISO it is effectively noise-free, and while there is some noise at 800 ISO it has a fine grain-like texture with accurate colour reproduction. 1600 ISO does show noticeable noise effects, but with none of the colour artefacts seen in other cameras at this sensitivity setting. Again, the noise texture resembles film grain, and isn't an unpleasant effect. While it doesn't produce results comparable with a larger DSLR sensor, the EXR sensor does have a clear advantage over conventional 12MP compact camera sensors in terms of image noise.

Shooting in the High Dynamic Range mode also produced impressive results, with good detail in both shadow and highlight areas, certainly superior to other 12-megapixel cameras. In the normal 12-megapixel high-definition mode the camera performed much like any other premium 12MP compact, recording a high level of sharp fine detail. The lens performs well, with excellent edge-to-edge sharpness, although it does produce significant wide angle barrel distortion and a little chromatic aberration. Thankfully Fuji's usual purple fringes are kept to a minimum.

Verdict
The Fuji FinePix F200 EXR is well-made premium compact that represents a major technological breakthrough in terms of sensor design and performance, and a welcome return to form for Fuji's flagship compact series. It is capable of taking good quality pictures in virtually any light conditions, and has better high-ISO image quality and low-light focusing than any other compact on the market. It is expensive at the moment, although the price will almost certainly fall over the next few months.

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