In all respects apart from its sensor the F70EXR is a fairly typical long-zoom compact camera. Like all of Fuji's higher-spec models it is solidly made, with an all-aluminium body. It's on the smaller end of the scale for this type of camera, measuring 99.3 x 58.9 x 22.7mm, making it one of the slimmest camera to feature a 10x zoom lens. It's quite heavy for its size though, weighing a little over 200g including battery and card. The body shape includes a small raised lip on the right of the front panel which provides some grip, there is a shaped thumb rest area on the back incorporating the mode dial, and the camera is comfortable and secure to hold, although the shiny finish can be a bit slippery especially with damp fingers. It is available in either silver or the gunmetal grey of my review sample, but I did find that the gloss finish chipped and scratched very easily in day-to-day use, as you can see on the pictures below.
Most long-zoom compacts are fairly simple point-and-shoot cameras, but the F70EXR is somewhat more versatile. The main mode dial offers full auto, program exposure with a side-option of aperture-priority, and full manual exposure. In fact this is a bit limited, since only minimum and maximum aperture can be selected in either mode, although shutter speeds from eight seconds to 1/2000th of a second are available in manual.
The control layout is very simple and straightforward, with four buttons and a D-pad that are large and well spaced out with clear labels. Like all Fuji cameras the F70EXR has two menus, a quick function menu which controls only ISO setting, image size and the film simulation mode, and a main menu which controls everything else. I can't help but think that this is a wasted opportunity; there are other camera functions that would be more usefully placed on the function menu, such as metering mode or drive mode. The film simulation mode, useful though it is, would be better placed on the main menu. Perhaps a custom menu system like that used by rivals Ricoh would be a better idea.
When EXR mode is selected on the mode dial, the main menu also carries the EXR mode options. There are three settings: HR mode uses all 10 million photocells for the maximum resolution of 3616 x 2712 pixels, but has none of the low light benefits. SN mode reduces the image size to 2592 x 1944, or five megapixels, and limits the ISO setting to a maximum of 1600, but produces much higher quality images at high ISO and in low light. Finally the DR mode also reduces image size, but uses the extra light-capturing ability of the paired photocells to enhance dynamic range. There is also an Auto EXR mode which uses scene recognition to select the appropriate mode.
I have to say I've been very impressed with the three EXR cameras I've tested so far. The technology does live up to Fuji's claims, and the low-light performance is significantly better than almost anything else on the market, easily out-performing conventional CCD sensors. The only serious rival is the in-camera HDR technology developed separately by Ricoh and Pentax, which yields quite similar results. Some might think that limiting the image size to five megapixels is a step backwards, but it's big enough for a decent quality A4 print, and when printed at the typical snapshot size of 10 x 15cm the difference between an image from a 5MP camera and one from a 10MP camera is indistiguishable by the unaided human eye. Annoyingly however, if the camera is set back to Program Auto from EXR mode the image size remains at 5MP, even if it had previously been set to 10MP.
One feature lacking but frankly unmissed from the F70EXR's specification is HD video. It can record video at 640 x 480 and 30fps with mono audio, and the zoom lens can be used while recording if you don't mind hearing it on the soundtrack. To be honest video recording is a fairly low priority on my list of things I want from a still camera, so it's not going to lose any points here.