With its impressive headline spec of 15x optical zoom and 12 megapixels, combined with its sleek, undulating curves and pocket-friendly proportions, the £280 FinePix F300EXR suggests Fujifilm has regained its sense of purpose when it comes to digital compacts. And it's about time, too.
The F300EXR has a secret weapon up its digital sleeve. As indicated by its suffix, the F300 incorporates a Super CCD EXR sensor, and a second-generation one at that. For those not up to speed regarding the properties of said sensor, it can be utilised in one of three ways. There's a choice of shooting at full, 12-megapixel resolution in High Resolution (HR) mode, alternatively selecting wide Dynamic Range (DR) mode to balance shadows and highlights for tricky exposures, or opting for Low Noise (SN) mode for shooting without the flash in dimmer conditions. Can't decide? Then leave the camera on its default Auto EXR setting, which ably recognises a range of common scenes and subjects.
Metal gear solid
This seductive new 'travel zoom' makes its plasticky rival -- the 14x-zoom, which retailed for nearly the same premium price on launch earlier this year -- resemble an uninspiring bar of soap in comparison.
With a high proportion of metal in its construction, Fujifilm's F300EXR feels solid when held. That said, there's not actually that much to grip onto, save for a gentle curve to the faceplate and thin rubber pad. Six tiny nodules at the back prove additional purchase for the thumb, next to a rotund bulge that incorporates a backward-sloping shooting mode dial. This dial features program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual settings, plus scene position, regular auto, Auto EXR and advanced settings. The latter includes a new 360° motion panorama mode for a digital theatre effect that results in one sweeping, elongated image file. There's also a background-defocusing Pro Focus and noise-avoiding Pro Low Light mode. These work by combining several exposures, so a tripod is a must. If you haven't got one of those on hand, setting the self-timer and resting the camera on a flat surface does the job.
Fujifilm would maintain that the unusual positioning of the shooting dial makes for easier access to the essential settings. While this may very well be true, it looks like the dial has accidentally slipped from its ordinary top-plate position, giving the impression the right-hand side of the camera has wilted.
Switch the F300EXR on and there's an even more obvious annoyance. The built-in flash, usually tucked away neatly within the top plate, rises automatically and without request. Try as you might, there's no way to click it back down into place again. Consequently, it gets in the way of where you'd usually place your thumb when gripping the camera in both hands to line up a shot. The F300EXR takes roughly two seconds from start-up before you can fire off the first shot, its lens zoom sound-tracked by a mechanised buzz.
Automatic for the people
In the predictable absence of an optical viewfinder, images are composed via the 76mm (3-inch) LCD. It boasts a high (although not as high as the recent), 460k-dot resolution. When reviewing full-resolution images, the pictures take a moment to build on screen before being displayed with pin-sharp clarity.
Since this is a point-and-shoot camera first and foremost, Fujifilm has gone to town on the performance of its autofocus mechanism. A complete press of the shutter release button takes a snap in the blink of an eye, or officially 0.158 seconds according to Fujifilm. This snappy speed is thanks to the phase detection autofocus -- a feature more readily found on digital SLRs, such as Sony's newest translucent-technology and . There's also a new hybrid autofocus system to better measure light and contrast.