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Brian's Photo Blog — Article 310
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Pros and Cons of the Fujifilm FinePix F900EXR Camera
Friday 18 April 2014   —   Category: Equipment
After my disappointment with a Canon Powershot S100 and my dissatisfaction with an Olympus Stylus TG-2 iHS, last August I was still in quest of the ideal pocket camera.

That same month I made my third attempt at finding a suitable pocket camera by purchasing a Fujifilm FinePix F900EXR. I had always planned on writing an article giving my first impressions of this camera, but I never got around to it — those round tuits can be VERY hard to find!

Therefore, eight months later, it’s too late to give my FIRST impressions, but I still want to offer my impressions, wherever they happen to fall on the timeline. So in this article I will discuss what, from my experience, are the pros and cons of the Fujifilm FinePix F900EXR. First, let’s start with the good news:
RAW Images
For me, the most important feature of this camera is its ability to create images in RAW format. As I wrote previously, when I purchased the Olympus TG-2 “tough” camera, I thought I could live without RAW capability. But shooting only JPGs was so unsatisfactory that I can’t imagine myself ever buying a non-RAW camera again!

When taking pictures in JPG format, the camera processes the image itself, applies noise reduction, and then compresses the image data to a smaller size by throwing some of that data away! Therefore, if you want to make any adjustments to the photo, you are already at a disadvantage because a lot of important image data is missing.

In contrast, RAW images preserve all of the original data, so you have as much image data as possible to work with as you process the photo yourself, rather than letting the camera process it. With software like Adobe Lightroom you can adjust the white balance, exposure, noise reduction, and a host of other settings, so you can fine-tune each image to get the best out of it. You can do this to a limited extent with JPG images, but the results are much better with RAW images, especially when it comes to recovering overexposed areas of the image.

Because pocket cameras are generally intended for the unsophisticated point-and-shoot crowd, the vast majority of them do NOT offer RAW capability. As of today on the Digital Photography Review Web site, 111 compact or ultra-compact cameras out of 1738 offer RAW — that’s only around six percent. Therefore, the Fujifilm FinePix F900EXR scores big points with its RAW image capability!
 
Super Zoom
After the measly 5x zoom on my Canon S100 and the even worse 4x zoom on the Olympus TG-2, I was feeling quite jealous of the 20x zoom on my wife’s Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V, which unfortunately does not shoot RAW. Therefore, I decided that I wanted a RAW-capable camera with at least a 10x zoom.

Last August the ONLY camera released in 2013 to meet these specifications was the Fujifilm F900EXR. With these three criteria (RAW, 10x-plus zoom, and compact body), I really only had ONE choice. As of today, there is now one additional camera: the 2014 Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 — RAW-capable with a 30x zoom!
 
Full Manual Control
In some situations, automatic exposure just doesn’t cut it. At times like that, a photographer’s skill and experience with manual settings can make or break the shot. Therefore, I insist that any camera I own have full manual exposure control, as well as aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes.

Out of the 1738 compact or ultra-compact cameras listed on the DPReview Web site, only 133 (less than eight percent) offer full manual control. Three cheers for the Fujifilm F900EXR!
 
Small Size
Some “compact” cameras are not very compact. For example, even though the Nikon Coolpix P7800 is in the same “compact” category as the Fujifilm F900EXR, the P7800 is twice as bulky (by volume) and 70% heavier. For my needs, I want a small, lightweight camera which will easily slip into a shirt pocket — PLUS have all of the features mentioned above. The Fujifilm F900EXR is just such a camera.

If I wanted to haul around a bulky, heavy camera, I could simply take my primary camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M5. Or, to get smaller within the same Micro Four Thirds system, I could buy the highly-regarded Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1 and use my existing lenses. To get even smaller, I could embrace the Nikon 1 series or Pentax Q series of interchangeable-lens cameras.

Unfortunately, NONE of these cameras, although smaller than the E-M5, are pocketable. Thus, for someone like me who wants a pocket camera, those cameras are not even contenders. That’s one more plus for the Fujifilm F900EXR!
And now for the not-so-good news:
Slow and Inaccurate Focusing
After perusing articles and reviews on the Web, it seems that Fujifilm cameras might have a reputation for poor autofocus. If so, my experiences with the F900EXR would certainly reinforce that bad reputation. I don’t use the camera much for video, but when I have, much of the resulting footage has been useless because the camera was not focusing properly on the subject.

But even with still photos, I have had more trouble than I should focusing the lens where I want it. Switching from the “Multi” focus mode to “Center” seemed to help some, but still I have been quite disappointed with this camera’s autofocus performance.

For example, in the photo to the right the F900EXR would not focus on the plants in the foreground, nor would it focus on the background. I have no idea where it was trying to focus! After a number of attempts it finally got it right, as you can see in this photo, but it shouldn’t be that difficult!
 
Pathetic Pseudo-GPS Functionality
As I have written previously, I absolutely LOVE cameras with GPS and geotagging features. In fact, I think EVERY camera should have GPS (and RAW)! Over the past few years, some of my cameras have been GPS-enabled, and some have not.

Even though I could swear that I read about a geotagging feature of the Fujifilm F900EXR somewhere in their marketing literature, I can’t seem to find any mention of it except in the owner’s manual, and on the Web page which describes the capabilities of the Fujifilm Camera App.

Unlike dozens of other cameras which have built-in GPS capability, the F900EXR relies on the GPS functionality of your smartphone or tablet. But getting that GPS location data from your mobile device to the camera is definitely a convoluted and nonintuitive process:
  1. Start the Fujifilm Camera app on your mobile device.
  2. With thirteen (!) pushes of the on-camera Menu and arrow buttons, find and activate the “Location Info Search” menu option.
  3. From what I can tell, this “feature” only works if your cellular connection is turned on (for a tablet), so go into the Settings app and make sure it is. If your tablet is Wi-Fi only, I suspect you might be out of luck.
  4. Go into the Settings app on your mobile device make sure Wi-Fi is turned on, and then connect to the Wi-Fi network which the camera is creating.
  5. Quickly switch back to the Fujifilm Camera app before the “Location Info Search” function on the camera times out.
  6. Tap on the large “Geotagging” button in the Fujifilm Camera app.
Once these steps are completed, the Fujifilm Camera app connects to the camera and sends it your mobile device’s GPS location data, and the process is done ... for now. EACH TIME you move to a new location and want to update the geotagging location info in the camera, you have to go through this entire process again. If you don’t, then the photo will either have the wrong GPS coordinates, or no GPS data at all. On a long day of shooting in many different locations, this will get REALLY old, really FAST! It will probably drain the batter on your mobile device faster if you leave Wi-Fi on between each location update, so you’ll probably want to add one more step to turn off Wi-Fi each time. Sheesh!

Once you have updated the camera with your current location info, the rest of the process seems to work fine. I tried it out on some photos around the house, and when I imported the photos into Lightroom, clicking on the GPS-coordinates icon for each photo brought up a map showing the proper location. So at least that part is functional. It’s just getting the location data into the camera that’s such a hassle.

After trying the process a number of times, I can tell you that the data connection between my iPad Mini and the F900EXR camera is very delicate and temperamental. Imagine having to fight with that all day long, just to get GPS location data embedded in your photos! In the end it’s hardly worth the hassle. I suppose it’s better than the total lack of GPS functionality on my E-M5, but it would have been MUCH better if Fujifilm would have built a real GPS receiver into their camera like other manufacturers have.
 
Wimpy Wi-Fi Photo Transfer
The F900EXR does have a whole Web page (no longer available) of marketing info boasting about its Effortless Wireless Transfer. However, “effortless” is not exactly the first adjective that comes to mind, even though the process IS somewhat easier than connecting for the GPS location info:
  1. Press the green playback button on the camera to put it into image review mode.
  2. With only five pushes of the on-camera Menu and arrow buttons, find and activate the “View & Obtain Images On” menu option.
  3. Go into the Settings app on your mobile device make sure Wi-Fi is turned on, and then connect to the Wi-Fi network which the camera is creating. Cellular connectivity does not need to be on.
  4. Start the Fujifilm Camera app and tap on the large “Browse Camera” button.
  5. Tap on the big green “Connect” button which appears on the next screen on your mobile device.
Once you have established the wireless connection, you can browse thumbnails of photos in your camera on your mobile device. You can select up to 30 images (and no more than 30 at a time) to import into your mobile device’s Photos app. If you have chosen to turn on the “Resize Image For Smartphone (3M)” menu option, the photos are transferred to your mobile device at a reduced 3 megapixel resolution. Otherwise, they are transferred at full resolution. With the 3:2 image ratio option set on the F900EXR, a full-size image is 4608 x 3072 pixels, while the reduced-size image is only 1776 x 1184 pixels — good enough for sharing on the Web.

Unfortunately, this app does have some major limitations:
  • The app will not transfer RAW images, only JPG. If you want to copy RAW image files to your iOS device, you’ll need to use Apple’s Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader (or the older iPad Camera Connection Kit.)
  • You can’t see an enlarged view of the photos in the app BEFORE you transfer them, only a thumbnail. This makes it more difficult to know which images you want to transfer.
  • You can’t see an enlarged view of the photos in the app AFTER you transfer them, only a thumbnail. You have to launch the Photos app and view them there to see them larger.
  • As noted above, you can transfer only 30 images at a time, which would be a hassle if you have taken a large number of photos you wish to transfer to your mobile device.
So, all in all, both for updating GPS location data and for transferring photos to a mobile device, this Fujifilm Camera app is bare-bones and half-baked. In addition, it has been created for the iPhone and not the iPad, so although it runs on the iPad, it is locked into portrait orientation. I don’t like this because I normally use my iPad in landscape orientation. It wouldn’t be that hard for Fujifilm to put a little bit of effort into the app and make it run in landscape orientation as well. Come on guys!
 
Non-Tilting LCD Screen
Almost all of the cameras in this class have fixed, non-tilting, non-articulating LCD screens, so this is simply one of the compromises you have to make with this size camera body. Because of this limitation, it is sometimes VERY difficult to frame a shot, like when I was trying to get a picture of this mushroom. Between the inaccurate autofocus and not being able to get my eye down to grass level, I just had to point and shoot and hope for the best. I ended up taking about ten photos until I got one that worked. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is a hassle.
 
No Manual Focus
Once again, the vast majority of cameras in this class do not feature manual focusing, so that is yet another trade-off you have to make. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I would use manual focusing on this type of camera anyway, so I don’t really miss it. If I really need to focus manually, I’ll grab my full-featured OM-D E-M5 and a decent lens that’s built for it.
 
No Viewfinder
By now you know the mantra: almost no camera in this class has an optical viewfinder any more. It would be really handy in bright sunlight, but once again, you have to decided what is important to you and make compromises. NO camera is 100% ideal or perfect — there are ALWAYS trade-offs.
So, there you have my take on the pros and cons of the Fujifilm FinePix F900EXR. It’s not my dream camera, but then again, my dream camera does not even exist. They say that the best camera is the one you have with you, so in that light this is the best one. In addition, it is the one camera that best meets my needs, so I guess it’s a keeper until something better comes along. Hmmmmm... that new Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 I mentioned above looks kind of interesting ....
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 310
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Brian's Photo Blog — Article 310
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