Top critical review
196 people found this helpful
Good value but some flaws
on 24 September 2012
I'm writing this review having spent a month testing the camera alongside my other compacts, superzooms, mirrorless cameras and DSLRs (yes I collect too many cameras I admit). I make this point just because I want to emphasise that I have no brand loyalties (I own Fuji, Canon, Sony, Nikon, Panasonic and Olympus cameras/lenses) and am thinking about this camera's pros and cons in relation to others I have owned or used.
On paper this modestly sized Fuji should have stormed to the top of the superzoom leader board. I used to be a Fuji fan - using Velvia film stock and the venerable little f30 and f31 wonder cameras as DSLR emergency backups. Fuji can make some cracking cameras for sure. Is this one of them though?!
This model, the F660 EXR offers a 15X stabilised zoom lens, a 16MP equivalent EXR sensor, manual controls (but no raw mode), a decent 3 inch rear LCD, and a sack full of interesting features. However, Canon, Panasonic and Sony continue to lead sales figures of this kind of camera. The F660 EXR tries to please everybody - it goes wide (24mm), which is nice for landscapes and cityscapes, has reasonable telephoto reach (360mm) which is nice for wildlife/zoos/action shots of sports, etc., and has a lot of features, such as a lower resolution high ISO low light mode.
The thing is, there are already some very good superzooms out there (the Panasonic TZ series for example). Fuji's trump card here, they claim, is the EXR sensor technology, apparently leading to better colour fidelity and less high ISO noise. But are these claims true in practice? My testing of the camera has lead me to the following observations: Fuji's experience with film does seem to have helped them get some nice colours out of their digital cameras, and the F660 keeps up this trend, with punchy, vivid colours that are infinitely tweakable.
BUT, the lens sharpness is only so-so in comparison to other compact and bridge cameras I have experience with. One of the big attractions is the 24mm wide end, which beats some competitor superzooms, but unfortunately at 24mm the lens is not overly sharp. This is a problem, as the 24mm wide angle is one of the star features of this camera and people are likely to want to use it at this setting when they go on vacations, take landscape and cityscape shots, etc. For sure, it is not as sharp at wide angle as Panasonic superzooms I have owned and tried out, and most definitely not as sharp at 24mm as my trusty Panasonic LX3 compact. Paradoxically, at the long end of its focal length range the lens is actually pretty decent - so it's a nice little pocket camera for occasional action shots and zoo visits. Kudos to Fuji for this as many superzooms are very iffy at the long end.
High ISO shots benefit from the EXR technology and the option of reducing the resolution to 8MP, but they remain much more noisy than high ISO shots from micro four thirds, Sony NEX or DSLR cameras. This is what you would expect from a compact superzoom of course, but would-be purchasers do need to know that whatever claims Fuji are making about the technology in this camera, it is outclassed in low light by mirrorless cameras with larger sensors, such as the Panasonic G range, Olympus OM-D or E-P range and Sony NEX range. Of course those cameras are more expensive than this little Fuji. You are not going to want to take this camera beyond ISO 800 regularly if you are a pixel peeper or want to print large. This is common for superzooms but I point it out because Fuji make big claims about the EXR sensor technology and you need to cut through the hyperbole and appreciate that the camera is not a miracle worker.
So image quality is a mixed bag - at the 24mm wide end it disappoints, whereas the long end of the zoom is actually surprisingly good. Colour is nice, but resolution not great. High ISO is OK but not as ground-breaking as promotional material/claims would lead you to believe. For a superzoom its pretty good, but over ISO 800 don't expect to be able to print massive poster size prints without some post-processing to reduce noise, or else put up with noisy or mushy/soft images.
The biggest let down of all is video - the video from this camera is plain disappointing - noisy in low light and just lacking in resolution. Panasonic, Canon and Sony just do video better, even in compact superzooms. I don't think even the most positive reviewers here on Amazon UK could argue with that.
Taken together then the camera is what it is: a high value package that delivers plenty of bang for your buck - 24mm wide angle right up to serious telephoto zoom range, nice build quality, OK noise performance up to ISO 800. If you spend £100 or so more you will/can do better when it comes to wide angle lens performance, and video. Canon, Panasonic and Sony still lead the way in superzooms, but you pay more for the good models - they seem to have fitted better lenses to their rival models, and have worked out better processing to get the most out of their sensors.
So if this Fuji sits at the top end of your budget, and you are not looking for good quality HD video from a camera, go for it - it's well put together and will generally deliver pleasing results if you play to its strengths (avoid over ISO 800 if you want large prints and make careful use of the 24mm wide end of the lens). if your budget can stretch further and you value good HD video output and perhaps a crisper lens, I recommend looking at Panasonic's TZ range or the Sony HX range - you may pay a bit more but those cameras seem to be better superzooms in terms of image quality and video. It's a shame, as Fuji are doing some interesting things with their new mirrorless cameras, but this superzoom is not going to have rival manufacturers worried about losing market share.
So, to sum up:
PROs: 24mm wide angle, good build quality, nice colours,decent IQ up toISO 800 when EXR 8MP mode used, nothing else like it at this price point
CONS: 24mm wide angle setting is rather soft, the over-hyped EXR low light mode is not the miracle technology it is claimed to be, video is much worse than that from competitor models
This review is picking up a few 'unhelpful' votes - I presume from folks who have posted glowing reviews here or who have bought the camera and are delighted with it. I can understand that they have a different view but I'm not sure that they can honestly argue with my observations - is this camera genuinely good at 24mm, at high ISO, and is its video good? I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise but I notice that my observations gel with those of some of the major camera review web sites as well.