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Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent resolution in 12MP mode, very good in 6MP mode
  • Vivid, vibrant colors
  • Low noise
  • ISO 800 setting (only 3MP, but low noise)
  • Clean, sharp results
  • Excellent photographic controls
  • Useful 32.5 - 130mm zoom range wider than normal
  • Fast start-up, very low shutter lag
  • Program shift function
  • Excellent handling
  • Good flash performance
  • Excellent movie mode
  • Fast file writing (>2MB/s)
  • Fast, reliable focus
  • RAW mode (though see cons, below)
  • Bright, high resolution screen
  • Good battery life from two AAs
  • Optional lens converters

Conclusion - Cons

  • No control over quality (JPEG) settings at 6MP
  • Slightly high contrast - cannot be changed in-camera
  • Tendency towards slight underexposure (exposes for highlights)
  • 6MP images look over sharpened (changing sharpness setting helps slightly)
  • 4-shot limit in continuous mode
  • Purple fringing at wideangle
  • Maximum F5.6 aperture at tele end (can lead to camera shake)
  • RAW converter offers no control, RAW mode offers no quality advantage
  • Screen can be hard to see in very bright light
  • Optical viewfinder not very impressive
  • Some problems with focus in very low light - especially at the long end of the zoom
    (no autofocus illuminator)

Overall conclusion

The FinePix E550 Zoom is an incredibly capable camera that punches above its weight both in terms of features and image quality. The handling and speed of operation are superb, and the range of controls comprehensive. The 32.5-130mm lens offers more versatility than the more common 38-115mm equiv. found on many similar cameras, and is very sharp across the frame. Resolution is excellent, noise very well controlled and the colors really jump out at you. The ISO 800 mode is not only usable, but very useful too - the low noise means you can often get away without using flash in social situations.

On the downside the 6MP mode is too compressed, the default contrast too high and the default sharpening too aggressive (much less so at 12MP). Most disappointing is the RAW mode, which - using the supplied 'RAW Converter LE' offers no control and no noticeable quality improvement over JPEG.

If you don't mind doing a little post-processing to your pictures and being careful with exposure, this is a camera that can produce really stunning results, and it's a joy to use. It offers incredible value for money, much more so than the internally identical F810 Zoom, and gives some considerably more expensive 5MP and 6MP cameras a serious run for their money.

See also the recent review of the FinePix F810, which shares a lens/sensor unit and internal processing with the E550, and therefore produces virtually identical test results.

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