Wednesday, January 5, 2011

F550EXR, F500EXR, HS20EXR – First Thoughts – *Updated

Well now … Fuji finally has some skin in the advanced compact game. They’ve announced a pair of new cameras, the F550EXR and the F500EXR. The specs on these are interesting … starting with a boost from 12mp to 16mp but keeping the 1/2” sensor.

Now, those who have read this blog for a while are quite familiar with the damage that the extra 2mp did to the F80EXR over the F70EXR. There is noticeably more smearing with the 12mp F80EXR, although to be fair all EXR cameras smear at some point.

However, all things are not equal this time. Fuji are making quite the big deal about their adoption of an EXR variation on the BiCMOS back-lit technology that seems to improve low light response in some other cameras … those without the Fuji sledge-hammer noise reduction.

So this has the potential to not only avoid disaster, but to actually improve IQ over the F300EXR. With such a massive jump in pixel density (about 52mp/cm2!), we’ll have to wait and see on that. Let’s look at the three cameras feature by feature and see what might be in the offing.

The following are only the areas where the cameras are different from the F300EXR. Everything not mentioned in the table is exactly the same as the F300EXR. Bold items are items I consider an improvement, and you will note a couple in the old camera’s column as we’ve lost a few minor features. But the gains far outweigh the losses. Note also that the F550EXR has several features not on the F500EXR.

I checked the HS20 specifications and it uses the same sensor and firmware as the F550EXR. The HS20 is clearly the F550EXR in a bigger body with a longer lens and more buttons. I won’t bother contrasting it to the others separately. The bold items are contrasted against the F300EXR, not the HS10. Maybe later …

Please check the Fuji site before reporting errors against the DPReview tables. They have errors, which I realized when some feature losses made no sense. I spent well over 90 minutes scouring the Fuji site to get it right.

Feature F300EXR F500EXR F550EXR / HS20EXR




Sensor 1/2” EXR 12mp 1/2” EXR-CMOS 16mp 1/2”EXR-CMOS 16mp
Pixel Density 39MP/cm2 52MP/cm2 52MP/cm2
Max Image Size 4000x3000 4608 x 3456 4608 x 3456

360° V7680x1080 H7680x720
240° V5120x1080 H5120x720
120° V2560x1080 H2560x720

360° V7680x1080 H7680x720
240° V5120x1080 H5120x720
120° V2560x1080 H2560x720

360° V11520x1624 H11520x1080
240° V5760x1624 H5760x1080
120° V3840x1624 H3840x1080

Video HD 720p @ 24fps HD @ 1080p @ 30fps, 720p @ 60fps HD @ 1080p@ 30fps, 720p @ 60fps
Video Codec MJPEG (AVI) H.264 (MOV) H.264 (MOV)
High Speed Video N/A 80/160/320fps 80/160/320fps
Audio Mono Stereo Stereo
Lens 15x 24-360mm equiv Same Same
Aperture f/3.5 – f/7.1 – f/10
f/5.3 – f/11 – f/16
Same Same for 550
f/2.8 to f/11 wide, f/5.6 to f/11 tele for HS20
Digital Zoom 4x 5x 5x
Auto ISO Auto + 400/800/1600 Auto Auto
ISO Size Restriction 6400 S size, 12800 S size 6400 M or S size, 12800 S size 6400 M or S size, 12800 S size
Continuous Top/Final 5 @1.5fps
Top/Final 23@4.5fps
Top/Last 3(L) @ 3fps, 3/6(M) @ 3/5fps, 3/6/12(S) @ 3/6/12fps Top 4/8(L) @ 3/5/8fps, 4/8/16(M) @ 3/5/8/11fps, 4/8/16/32(S) @ 3/5/8/11fps
Best 8(L) @ 3/5/8fps, 8/16(M) @ 3/5/8/11fps
Auto Bracketing N/A N/A AE +or- 1/3, 2/3, 1 EV
Film Simulation
DR 100/200/400
Focus Contrast AF, Phase Detect AF Contrast AF Contrast AF
AF Frame Detect Center, Multi, Tracking Center, Multi, Area, Tracking Center, Multi, Area, Tracking, Tracking
Additional Playback Functions N/A Protect, Exposure Warning, Mark for upload, Panorama, Erase selected frames Protect, Histogram Display, Exposure Warning, Mark for upload, Panorama, Erase selected frames, Photo navigation
Battery Life NP-50 250 300 300
HS20 (AA) – 350 alkaline, 400 NiMH, 700 Lithium
GPS N/A N/A 550: Built-In, Trip Logging, Navigation based on distance of photo from present location
HS20: N/A

My analysis:

  • The new cameras are a substantial all-round upgrade over the F300EXR
  • This is a real EXR sensor based on BiCMOS technology. WOW!
  • The pixel density is somewhat scary, but I’ve seen decent results from the Sony 1/2.4” BiCMOS at 14mp, so at 8mp (binned) this sensor might be truly excellent, especially as you can shoot RAW when you need to
    • Hopefully the dual EXR processors can move the RAW data quickly enough … their track record with the HS10 was abysmal
  • They addressed beefs I’ve had for years and one we’ve all had – the audio is now stereo, and so should sound far better (if they did not screw up the bass sensitivity); and the video code is finally updated to H.264. And there is an exposure warning (playback only, but it’s there) and on the 550, a Histogram!!! Hallelujah!
  • The 550 gets auto bracketing, answering yet another major criticism. But the 500 does not.
  • The 550 not only gets RAW, but RAW + JPEG, which leads me to believe that they will write RAW images pretty quickly. Perhaps they will finally add lossless or even lossy compression to RAWs? It’s needed …
  • A serious increase in HD frame rates and size. Higher specs than Nikon’s dSLRs :-) Well done.
  • The 550 gets better panorama support than the 500
  • It looks like we lose the individual AUTO modes – 400, 800 and 1600. But there may be a setting for the highest ISO, we must wait and see.
  • The web site mentions 1600% DR, but the specifications for auto bracketing of the DR modes shows only 100 through 400. This means that the new EXR sensor still has only up to 400% in hardware, which means that 1600% is implemented in software just as 800% is implemented in software on all previous EXR cameras. Those cameras fixed the ISO to 200 for DR800, so who wants to bet that the ISO will be fixed at 400 for 1600% DR? Anyone :-)?
  • Area focus is a cool feature. dSLR like. About time. (Yes, I know that the HS10 has it.)
  • The loss of phase detect AF will go unnoticed for the most part.
  • SDXC is a nice feature, and needed for those recording at 1080p. Those files are massive. I plan to record at 720p.
  • High speed shooting in a compact … nice. Adds to the fun factor.
  • Battery life has been increased. Well done.
  • And last but not least, the 550 gets a built in GPS! AWESOME. It records all the usual parameters, allows trip logging, and it has the cool feature of calculating distance to a photographed location, which acts as a navigation aid. Clever stuff.

This sensor is small … it may have trouble challenging the Canon S95 because of that. The S95’s pixel density is 23MP/cm2, which is quite a bit less than the binned density of the F550EXR, at just under 30MP/cm2.

But the Fuji also has BiCMOS going for it, so things will be interesting. It does not have to equal the S95 to absolutely stomp it with this feature set. Things will get interesting once the camera is available … of course, it’s going to be expensive and might be priced out of the market.

Update … NOT SO FAST! The price looks just about perfect for a camera loaded to the gills with features.


That’s MSRP, which means street price within a few months will be $299 or so. I plan to pay full price and grab the first one Henry’s gets. Strangely, the Canadian Fuji site does not show the F500EXR at all … that’s weird.

My bottom line is that the 550 looks like a winner at this price. It has addressed so many criticisms that it is a whole new direction for Fuji. This is Fuji’s chance to erase the memory of the E900 in my opinion. But image quality has to improve over the EXR cameras. I really hope they addressed the jpeg engine and looked at how the S95 and the HX5 handle chroma noise and smearing … no matter … I will be first in line for this one. Update: I’m on the list at Henrys.

The 500 is a potentially large improvement over the F300EXR, however next to the 550 it looks pretty warmed-over rather than innovative. The 550 has all the cool advanced features.

For the HS20EXR, well, the jury is out. I think it can improve on the HS10 with this new sensor, which is bigger and when binned has lower pixel density. Lots of potential there. The new processor may very well fix the HS10’s terrible RAW speed penalties. Wouldn’t that be something …

A note on the HS20’s focal range. The body and lens are likely identical to the HS10. However, we know the sensor is larger than what was there before (1/2” vs. 1/2.3”), yet Fuji claim exactly the same focal range.

To explore further – the crop factor of the F300EXR (same sized sensor as HS20) is 5.45 (360/66), and the crop factor of the HS10 (previous sized sensor) is 5.7 (720/126) so there is a mismatch going on. If it is the same lens and body, then the focal range of the HS10 should be 4.2*5.45=23mm to 126*5.45=687mm … 23-687 should be the real range of the HS20 if they’ve just created a hybrid of the HS10 with the F550EXR as it appears.

So are Fuji finessing the difference over the the real focal range? Or have they tweaked the body a bit to change the lens / sensor distance to compensate? Or perhaps the lens itself? I consider the first option the most likely, since that costs nothing and few people will ever check.

A shame that the GPS is missing from the HS line. Why would the advanced compact get this feature and not the hybrid of the advanced compact and the bridge cam?

Update 2: I’ve posted a thread to the Adobe Forums asking for ACR support for the F550EXR, HS20 and S200EXR. The first two, along with the F500EXR, are all done with one implementation and three camera names. The latter is likely a little different, as the sensor is a little different. In fact, the three cameras may have slightly different filter arrays, requiring different color profiling … that’s a possibility. If you plan to acquire one of these cameras, and if you process using an Adobe work flow, you might want to consider getting on board. I was clear with Adobe that the new cameras are the priority, as this sensor appears to have a future.

Further, I’ve posted a request to Fujifilm Tokyo Headquarters, asking if they would please consider implementing the DNG format with demosaiced data (i.e. the camera performs the first step by creating a more typical RAW data matrix from the split sensor data base on mode.) This provides instant compatibility with *any* RAW converter than can read the DNG format for every future Fujifilm camera. I further suggested that they take advantage of lossless JPEG compression inside the envelope to reduce their raw file sizes, which are notoriously large. Others should consider getting on this bandwagon, as it would make Fuji cameras very appealing to a lot more people.

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