Fujifilm FinePix F900EXR review: 20x zoom compact for those who crave control

To help you get to an important setting fast, there's a programmable function button (Fn) on top. It can be set for ISO, image size or quality, dynamic range, film simulation, exposure metering, focus mode, or face detection.

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Joining the Fn button on top, the F900EXR has an E-Fn button on the back that basically lets you map the buttons on back to a second set of functions. Want to be able to quickly change focus mode or white balance? The E-Fn button is for doing just that. For people who actually like to find just the right settings for a shot, it's a great setup.

One slight disappointment -- and I mean slight -- is the pop-up flash. It performs just fine, but it's a manual flash, so you'll have to pop it up yourself if you need it. Plus, despite the fact that it can be angled back, it won't fire in that position so it can't be used as a bounce flash.

What will probably be more disappointing, though, is battery life. It's rated for 260 shots, but setting it for the fastest performance, using the zoom a lot, frequently recording full HD or high-speed movies, or using its continuous-shooting modes will empty it faster. Also, if you take advantage of the camera's built-in Wi-Fi, don't expect to reach that mark. On the upside, its battery pack is fairly inexpensive, so do yourself a favor and pick up a couple extra batteries and you should be set.

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Wi-Fi and mobile app
The F900EXR's built-in Wi-Fi can be used for a few things. Mainly, it's for sending shots (up to 30 at a time) from the camera straight to your Android or iOS mobile device. Basically, you pick the photos on the camera you want to copy to your smartphone or tablet, open Fujifilm's camera app on that device, and tap a Connect button on screen, and, with any luck, the two will directly connect to each other and start sending the images.

You can also connect to the camera and use your smartphone or tablet to browse the camera's contents. You can select and transfer photos that way as well.

The Wi-Fi connection to your smartphone can be used for geotagging your photos while you shoot and, with Fujifilm desktop software, you can use the camera to connect to a home wireless network and have the camera automatically back up your shots to a Windows computer.

General shooting options Fujifilm FinePix F900EXR
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance Auto, Direct Sunlight, Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, Incandescent, Custom
Recording modes EXR Auto, Auto, Advanced, Scene, Program AE, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual, Movie (Normal, High Speed)
Focus modes Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual, Macro; Center, Multi, Area, Tracking
Macro 1.9 inches (Wide); 4.2 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Standard, Vivid, Soft, Sepia, B&W
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 5 shots

There is no shortage of shooting modes on the F900EXR, including two Auto modes (with or without scene recognition) right up to semimanual and manual controls. In manual mode, available shutter speeds start at 8 seconds and go down to 1/2,000 second (though they're dependent on the ISO used); selectable apertures include f3.5, f7.1, and f10 at wide end, and f5.3, f11, and f16 at the telephoto end.

EXR Sarah Tew/CNET

The scene-recognition auto, called Auto EXR, can now detect 108 different shooting patterns and includes Fujifilm's EXR options. These consist of High Resolution Priority, D-Range Priority, and High Sensitivity & Low Noise Priority. The High Resolution Priority setting uses the full 16-megapixel resolution for photos, while the other two shoot at 8 megapixels to improve dynamic range in high-contrast scenes or reduce noise in low-light photos. (Fujifilm's site has a full explanation of the EXR technology if you're interested.)

Each of these can be individually selected or you can leave it in Auto, letting the camera decide which to use. Auto is effective and reliable as long as you're OK with the possibility that you'll end up with 8-megapixel photos if the D-Range and High ISO & Low Noise Priority modes are used for your shot (and you should be because 8 megapixels is enough resolution for a megazoom point-and-shoot).

The Advanced mode gives you a few more tools to work with that take advantage of the camera's speedy sensor: Pro Low-light and Pro Focus. The Low-light mode snaps off several photos and then combines them into one lower-noise photo, while the Pro Focus creates a shallow depth of field by digitally blurring the background. (The former works better than the latter.)

In this mode you'll also find a cool multiple exposure option that lets you layer one shot on top of another as well as eight advanced filters (Toy, Miniature, Pop Color, Dynamic Tone, Partial Color, High Key, Low Key, and Soft Focus). You can see example of these in the slideshow in the photo quality section of the review.

For video, you can shoot at resolutions of 720p or 1080p at 60fps and VGA at 30fps. You also get high-speed movie movie capture at 480fps (320x112 pixels), 240fps (320x240 pixels), and 120fps (640x480 pixels).

There are plenty of compact megazoom options available -- from basic snapshot cameras to ones that are mostly point-and-shoots with a bit of extra control to those designed for enthusiasts. The Fujiflim FinePix F900EXR falls into "enthusiast" group, but it's a very capable "family camera," with solid results if you just leave it in auto. Though its photo quality and performance still aren't those of larger-sensor cameras like dSLRs and mirrorless compacts, you're not going to get one of those with a 25-500mm zoom lens.