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Fujfiilm FinePix F80EXR
12.0MP | 27-270mm (10X) ZOOM | $258/£179

Fujifilm's FinePix F80 EXR features the same innovative EXR sensor technology (albeit not exactly the same sensor) that was debuted in the F200 EXR, last year, and replaces the F70EXR (upping the pixel count and adding some important new features). Fuji's EXR sensors differ from conventional technology by breaking with the long-established Bayer pattern, which enables the F80EXR to operate in three modes. In resolution priority mode, all of the camera's 12 million photodiodes are used to create and image, but when switched to 'D-Range Priority' or 'High ISO and low Noise', neighbouring pixels are paired. This drops the total resolution down to 6MP, but gives the sensor a wider effective dynamic range (DR mode) or less per-pixel noise (SN mode).

Aside from its innovative sensor technology, the F80EXR is a fairly conventional compact camera, both in terms of ergonomics and of functionality. The 10x optical zoom lens can't quite match cameras like the Canon Powershot SX210IS at its wideangle setting, but 27mm is still pretty good by compact standards, and the F80EXR is one of the smallest cameras in this group. At the long end of the zoom, 270mm is again, not quite as long as some of the cameras on test, but it is perfectly adequate for capturing distant details.

  • EXR Priority Modes and EXR Auto Modes
  • Fujinon 10x optical zoom (27mm - 270mm)
  • 3.0 inch, 230k dots High Contrast LCD Monitor
  • HD Movie Mode (720p) and Micro HDMI Port
  • Face Recognition and Image search features
  • Pet Detection
  • Auto Picture Rotation 
  • Ultra High sensitivity (up to ISO 12800 at 3 MP Resolution)
  • Up to 800% Wide Dynamic Range
  • Tracking AF
  • Dual Image Stabilisation (ISO and CCD Shift)
  • Film Simulation Modes
  • Face Detection with Automatic Red-eye Removal
  • Super Intelligent Flash
  • 230 shot battery life (with included NP-50 Li battery)

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Overview

The F80EXR's 10x optical zoom lens is housed in an impressively compact body, and the metal shell gives the camera a reassuring weight and rigidity that - frankly - we'd expect at this level. Ergonomically, the F80EXR is classic Fujifilm, in that build quality is high, but the menu system could be made a little clearer.

In terms of mechanical ergonomics, the F80EXR is satisfying, but not perfect. Our main complaint is with the exposure mode dial, which - like the Canon Powershot S2010IS - is located where your thumb naturally rests, on the top right of the camera's rear. Unlike the Powershot, however, on the F80EXR this dial is so loose that it can be knocked off its desired position very easily, and - perhaps worse - can be knocked halfway between settings. In extended use, our solution was to apply tape to the wheel to keep it still. It ain't pretty, but it works.

Otherwise, the F80EXR handles reasonably well. A small metal strip on the extreme right of the front of the camera serves as a minimalist handgrip, and the now standard 4-way rocker switch and small cluster of buttons are well-spaced with a good tactile feel. The standard Fuji 'F' button provides quick access to the most commonly used image settings. Although the camera feels nice and responsive when shooting, something that we noticed after extended use of the F80EXR is that although the LCD screen comes back on very quickly after you take a picture, you have to wait for the memory card access light to go out before you can take another one. Depening on the shooting mode, this delay can stretch into seconds. This isn't unheard of, but because the camera appears ready to shoot, it is frustrating to find that it isn't.

The most obvious source of confusion in the menu system is a 'dynamic range' setting, which is available in all modes (including 'D-Range Priority' EXR) but (at 12MP resolution at least) is in fact quite unrelated to EXR. At full-resolution, 'Dynamic range' denotes a conventional d-range optimization function, designed to protect highlight detail. Options run from 100%-400%, and when selected, the entire shot is underexposed to retain highlights, then a different tone curve is applied to present the correct final exposure.

As far as the lens is concerned, despite its wide range, the 27-270mm optic zooms quickly and smoothly, and although it isn't stepless (which we really would not expect on a camera of this type) the steps are many and small, rather than few and long. This keeps the zoom action nice and smooth, and aids accurate composition. Annoyingly though, when shooting video, zooming the lens causes it to go dramatically out of focus for a moment, before re-locking. For this reason, it is preferable to keep your finger well clear of the zoom control when shooting video footage.

Key Features

The F80EXR doesn't have a handgrip as such, but a thin strip of unpainted metal on the extreme right of the camera serves to stabilise the body when used one-handed. It's almost identical to the F70EXR it replaces.
The top of the camera is sparsely populated, and plays host merely to the power button, shutter release and zoom toggle.
A four-way rocker switch on the rear of the F80EXR provides access to AF, flash and self-timer modes, as well as a delete option in playback, which doubles as the exposure compensation button. The menu button at its centre brings up a complete selection of options, and the F button provides access to a few, key shooting options. Face detection gets its own dedicated button.
Despite its wide zoom range, the F80EXR is a fairly slimline camera when turned off, and the lens doesn't extend too much when it is powered up either. Even with its lens racked out to 270mm (equivalent) the F80EXR remains impressively compact.
Underpowered flashes are to be expected on cameras of this type, and the F80EXR is no exception. The built-in flash has a quoted range of 4.5m, which makes it suitable for close-range interiors and fill-in.
The F button brings up an edited list of commonly-accessed functions. Options are limited to ISO, Image size and Film Simulation mode.
Manual control is available on the F80EXR but it's something of a halfway house. Although shutter speed can be adjusted in 1/3EV steps, aperture control is much more limited. This isn't uncommon, but a choice of two aperture settings (the smaller of which is actually just a neutral density filter dropping in front of the sensor) makes this feature little more than a token.

Image quality and performance

In terms of its performance, the F80 EXR is a solid performer, but doesn't stand out significantly from most of the other cameras in this group. It's AF system is fast and reliable, and its AWB system is rarely stuck for the right color balance, but it's metering system is noticeably prone to underexposure in some conditions. The most challenging situation for the F80 EXR's metering appears to be overcast days, when the scene contains a certain amount of sky towards the top of the frame. Too much sky, and underexposure results, but with the camera pointed down, to keep the sky out of the frame, and the exposure is accurate. It is unusual these days to meet a metering system so frightened of highlights, and the F80 EXR's highly reflective, somewhat dim LCD screen doesn't help either, by making even correctly exposed images look rather too dark when the camera is used in daylight.

We were disappointed with the performance of the F80's 'Pro Focus' mode as well. One of the 'Special Program' (SP) modes on the mode dial, Pro Focus combines two or three frames taken at different focus points together, to deliver the illusion of a smaller depth of field. It only really works where there is some depth of field available (i.e. at the long end of the zoom) and in our testing, it's benefit is marginal, at best. The same criticism can be levelled at 'Pro low light mode' which stacks several images together to reduce the appearance of noise in poor light. The function works reasonably well if the camera and subject are motionless, but the F80 EXR's slow continuous shooting rate makes this hard to achieve in normal shooting conditions.

In other respects, performance is good. Startup time is a relatively speedy 2.5 seconds (approx) and image playback/review is fast. Zooming into captured images is nice and quick too, and a light touch of the shutter button is all that is required to return to shooting mode.

The F80 EXR is a good compact camera with a range of useful and well-implemented features. Its 27-270mm lens is an excellent performer, even at very lose focusing distances, as you can see here. Both of these images were taken in the 'DR' EXR mode for increased dynamic range.

EXR Mode

The F80 EXR is unique in this collection of cameras for its triple-mode sensor. After extended use, we've really come to appreciate the benefits of the DR mode for increased dynamic range - so much so, in fact, that we consider this the main selling point of the camera. In its full resolution mode, the F80 EXR gives decent, but not outstanding image quality, and struggles especially with scenes containing a lot of green, such as landscapes. The reason the F80 EXR has trouble rendering detail accurately in the green channel is almost certainly down to the unconventional way in which its sensor is designed, but although things can look a little suspect at 100% onscreen, we're confident that its shortcomings will be invisible in normal use.

The advantage of DR mode is the noticeable increase in dynamic range in areas like bright sky or sunlit stonework, which you can see in the comparison images shown below. The difference that DR mode makes is hugely beneficial in tricky lighting conditions, and brings the quality of the F80 EXR's output to a similar level that we'd expect from a Micro Four Thirds camera or DSLR.

HR (12Mp)
DR (6Mp)

The high-ISO 'SN' mode is interesting too, and definitely offers a meaningful improvement in high ISO performance compared to full 12MP output. Just like the DR mode, resolution drops to 6MP, but unless you intend to make prints greater than letter size, this decrease will remain essentially unnoticeable. It is a shame though that (for some reason) the highest available ISO setting in 'SN' mode is ISO 1600. Like SN and DR modes, the ultra-high ISO settings are also achieved by pixel-binning (the highest 12,800 setting outputs a 3Mp file) and it does therefore seem odd that you have to switch out of the EXR setting to access them.

If we owned the F80 EXR, we would tape up the shooting mode dial so that it never comes off 'EXR'. these extra modes - and especially DR - are definitely the key selling point of the camera. It is a shame though that Fujifilm doesn't have the confidence make EXR more central to the camera's operation in all shooting modes. The entire system is complicated by the fact that 'DR' can mean very different things when it appears as an option in the camera's menu. Set to full resolution, at ISO 100, the F80 is limited to 'DR 100%'. At ISO 200, a 'DR 200%' option appears, and at ISO 400, a 'DR 400%' is also unlocked. This isn't EXR. This is just tonal adjustment, pushing and pulling the tone curve to give the illusion of greater dynamic range in a single exposure. The only way that you can shoot in the 'true' DR mode is to either switch the shooting dial to 'EXR', as already mentioned, or (in one of the other modes) to manually drop the resolution from 12MP to 6Mp. At this point, 'DR 200%' and 'DR 400%' do actually engage the EXR function.

Summary

The key selling point of the Fuji F80 EXR is undoubtedly its triple-mode sensor. Whilst it is a solid and (generally) reliable compact camera overall, its sensor is genuinely unique, and offers significant improvements in image quality if used correctly. It is a shame though that its interface isn't better designed, and the EXR modes more sensibly implemented. Our ideal compact camera would have the Fuji's EXR sensor and the body and ergonomics of.... well.... pretty much any other camera in this test. There is no doubt though that if you're serious about image quality and you're confident that 6Mp is enough for you (and it probably is) then the F80 EXR is a compelling package and at under $300 it's a good price.

  • We like: Innovative EXR sensor gives excellent results in DR mode, fast and reliable AF and metering systems, good sharpness from 27-270mm.

  • We don't like: Murky LCD screen in bright light, sub-par image quality in 12Mp resolution mode, fussy implementation makes using EXR modes more complicated (and confusing) than necessary
FujiFilm FinePix F80EXR (FinePix F85EXR)
Category: Travel Zoom Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Optics
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Capturing excellent highlight detail (in 6MP DR mode)
Not so good for
Novices, point-and-shooters and anyone that needs to make large prints.
Overall score
70%
The key selling point of the F80 EXR is Fuji's EXR sensor. When switched to the 'DR' setting, the F-80 EXR can produce excellent results, and the 'SN' mode also helps keep high ISO images relatively noise-free. In some other respects though, the F-80 EXR is outpaced by the competition.

EXR sensor explained:

The EXR sensor's unique pattern means that, unlike conventional sensors, there are always two adjacent photosites filtered to detect the same colour.

The common 'Bayer' pattern used in most digital cameras The color filter array pattern of Fujifilm's Super CCD EXR sensor

Because neighbouring pixels are always designed to detect the same colour, data from these adjacent pixels can be combined without producing the strong color artefacts (moiré) introduced when binning with Bayer sensors. This arrangement, along with some changes to the way the underlying sensor is used, allows the F80 EXR to capture light in three modes:

HR mode

In most situations, the F80EXR uses its high resolution 'HR' setting in which it uses the full 12Mp resolution output from its sensor much like any other camera. This is also how the camera behaves when it's not placed in EXR mode. When the mode dial is set to EXR and 'auto' is selected, the camera will default to HR mode when it determines that there is enough light for it to offer the best quality result.

SN mode

In low light situations, the camera can use its SN mode, which makes use of the designed-for-binning color filter array. Because most noise that can build up in an image occurs randomly, combining the results from two photosites helps to average-out that noise, as well as simply capturing more light in total. As such, the SN mode aims to improve the signal-to-noise ratio by producing a pixel-binned six megapixel image from the twelve megapixel sensor.

DR mode

The EXR sensor does more than pixel-binning, though. The underlying circuitry has two read-out channels that take their information from alternate rows of the sensor. The result is that it can act like two interleaved sensors, with different exposure times for each half of the photosites. The retained highlight information can then be blended in with the output from the other half of the sensor that is recording a 'full' exposure, again making use of the close spacing of similarly colored photosites.

In simple terms, in DR mode, the EXR sensor is able to 'underexpose' half of its photosites by reading out data from them before the end of the full exposure. This allows bright and dark areas of the scene to be properly captured in a single exposure.

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