Saturday, September 18, 2010

F300EXR – Review Part 1 – First (and Later) Impressions (Updated 20 Sep 2010)

This is the second time I posted this first part of my review of the F300EXR. The first time I wrote for over 30 minutes and Windows Live Writer hung, losing the whole thing. Sheesh … an unreliable application should always save a draft before attempting to post. And what’s with a modal dialog with no cancel button? I thought Microsoft had it together in their software team … ok, enough venting :-)

Fuji Talk Forum user SHood posted last night that the F300EXR came into stock across Canada last night. And sure enough, the Henrys web site showed immediate shipment available. So I set an alarm for this morning and hopped on down just after they opened to pick up the one my son ordered just before he left their employ.

I checked the cam in the store and was satisfied that the corners were not Frankensteinian bad or anything … then stopped on my way home to set up a tripod in the woods for a few minutes to grab some shots with the three members of Fuji’s EXR long zoom family. Land of the 1/2” sensors … whatever you want to call it.


Let’s do first impressions before I show some images:

  • Slight increase in size is not really noticeable.
  • Weight feels the same in hand.
  • The lens looks nice … kind of muscular in a Dodge Charger sort of way.
  • The new grip is nice, but I will probably have to change my hold a bit to take best advantage.
  • IS seems to work really well.
  • Macro seems amazing … much closer than I expected … the new AF seems to go closer and closer at full wide (but not full zoom.)
  • Overall performance seems fast, although not faster than other EXR cams.
  • AF is very fast at times, with less hunting than other cams.
  • Buttons and switches feel great and I love that blue LED in the power button.
  • The big LCD is very impressive.
  • I like the new position of the mode dial.
  • I like having A prio and S prio on the dial and moving the pro modes to advanced instead of buried in SP.
  • I like using the same battery for all 3 cams, although I realize that few people will have the same need.
  • *New* The video zoom has been slowed down to match pretty closely to Panasonic ZS3’s style. Excellent! It tracks focus much better at this speed.
  • *New* The video focus is close enough to silent to be unnoticeable … excellent!
  • *New* The audio during video is unmuffled! SUPERB! Not sure yet how close they got to the Panny, but I plan to test that.
  • *New* Macro goes closer than it does on the F70 and F80, courtesy of the 24mm lens. Magnification is quite a bit higher.

What don’t I like? Well, very little.

  • A bigger battery would have been inconvenient for me, but very useful for everyone else. These cams run out of juice way too fast.
  • *New* Took me a while to like the new rubbery hinge on the USB access door. But I like it now. Less convenient than the original hard hinge on the F70 and F80, but obviously more robust.
  • *New* The video codec still sucks! Big, big files … limited recording time perfile. Pay the fricken licensing fee for AVCHD Lite already!!!

After leaving Henrys, I stopped in the woods and set up the tripod. I shot only two common images across all three cams …

The first is a simple image shot with a path and trees lining it on either side going off a long way into the distance. I am not satisfied with this as a good test of acuity, but it does show us the nature of these three cams when faced with strong patches of dappled sunlight and heavy foreground shadow. Difficult as it gets. Also, there are many leafy branches against blue sky, so we will see how fringing is on the new lens.

Note that the exposures are all slightly different. Although the framing is the same and I selected –1/3EV to help protect the sunlit portions, each meter sees a slightly different frame (the cam does not lock in like an Arca mount) and the F300 sees a much wider image and thuse quite a different balance of light potentially.

The F300 is first.


The highlights are mostly held, but it’s a tad harsh and busy. Still, the foreground is open, no shadows went to black, so I am very satisfied. Let’s look at the corners, despite the fact that the top right already looks scary even at blog size.


For some reason I forgot to add the stroke surround on the bottom right corner, but the data is there anyway. The one that grabs you is the top right. Wow, that is ugly. Now … I checked it in store and it was fine. I have other tests that look ok. So I am chalking this up to wind for now.  We’ll see once I get a better set of tests … perhaps the dreaded brick wall :-)

Meanwhile, here is how the F80 rendered it … this is, you will recall, pretty much the same sensor … size and resolution being identical.

DSCF4838_F80_OOC[1] Kinda similar, although much less wide (28mm vs 24mm.)

And the F70:


A bit drier look. It looks like the F300 retains the F80’s saturation boost. We’ll see if they managed to tame the nasty side effects at high ISO in later tests.

As mentioned earlier, that was not a great test because it was not even close to a flat field. Still, I think the image worked out fine at web sizes … the sky is well retained, fringing is not excessive at all, and the tones are nice and rich.

I should mention here that none of these were thouched by photoshop. They are as the camera rendered them.

I also shot a macro of a tree trunk, which is also a flat field. But the issue here is that, despite mounting on tripod, statistics got me and the F300 and F70 images are slightly soft while the F80 is very sharp. Still, they are all workable at web sizes, so you get to see them anyway.

F300 out of camera …

DSCF0004_F300_OOC[1] Crops …


Again I forgot to surround the final crop bottom right, but it is there. The curve plays havoc with sharpness that is already slightly compromised. Yet you can see that the detail is there anyway.

This is how I would PP the image given my druthers …


Looks pretty much fine to me.

Now the F80 …

DSCF4840_F80_OOC[1] Seems rather cool, even against the F300 out of cam image.



Yes, the F80 has shadow issues, as I noted in my extensive reviewws of that cam. Too much blue. They have tamed it again in the F300, which will help a lot. Thank you, Fuji.

And finally, for your total entertainment, some 100% crops from the three …


So … the WB is back to F70 standards … i.e. better than the F80. The detail looks good so far, but better tests are needed and I will craft them over the next days and weeks.

It’s a keeper, I’m already sure of that :-)


Unknown said...

S-prio? Be still my heart.

Kim Letkeman said...

Yes, and trivially accessible. Go Fuji ... the real secret here is that they now gave us three apertures per focal length, almost as good as any of the older cams ... so I think we back in business ...

Unknown said...

All apertures????
Oh my.....
Thanks for your work so far on the 300, WB esp appeals as well.
For the time beeing even my Oly E-PL1 is laid aside and I use only F70EXR and my smartphone.
The more I use the 70 the more I appreciate it.
I imagine the same can be said of the F300.
Look forward to the rest of your review.
Likely ordering the new Fuji this week...

Kim Letkeman said...

Lili, thanks. Yes, I like the WB a lot so far. Gotta try it in difficult light.

starless said...

Hi Kim,
are you sure you didn't swap F70 and F80 in the last image, the 100% crops from the tree with the WB comment?
The image looks strange with respect to everything I've read in your blog about F80 :).

Kim Letkeman said...

starless: No, the images are not swapped. These are shot at 100 ISO, and the F80 in this case retains a bit more detail, as I have mentioned in my blog before. It is only as ISO rises above 800 that the extra pixels and lower saturation starts to make the F70 look better. The worse the light, the better the F70 looks. But for those shooting mainly day time images, the F80 might be the better camera ...

starless said...

Thanks Kim.
I was actually talking about white balance. I'm absolutely not an expert, but on my monitor the F70 image looks "greenish", so when you write "the [F300] WB is back to F70 standards … i.e. better than the F80" I thought you meant that the F80 image - the worse - was the greenish one, because the other two have very similar colors.
But I now see that EXIF info in the greenish image say F70, so it can't be wrong ;). Sorry.

Kim Letkeman said...

starless -- the F70 image is a slightly cool green on the top right portion, the F300 is a slightly warm green, and the F80 is decidedly cool blue green. My strong preference is for the bark to be slightly green over blue green. So yes, I prefer the white balance of the F300 and F70 ...