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White Balance

The E550 offers six white balance presets (sunny, cloudy, fluorescent 1, fluorescent 2, fluorescent 3 and incandescent) as well as the usual auto white balance and a custom (manual) setting. In everyday shots the auto white balance gave few problems, though low incandescent lighting - as usual - produced a strong orange cast. Our studio tests revealed the auto white balance to be capable, but by no means fool-proof.

Outdoor - Auto WB
Red: -2.6%, Blue 4.7%
Average

Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 0.3%, Blue -3.5%
Good
Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 4.2%, Blue -8.4%
Average

Flash Performance

The E550's pop-up zoom has a quoted range of around 0.6 to 4.5m (2.0 - 14.8ft) at the wide end of the zoom and around 0.6 to 2.2m (2.0 - 7.2ft) at the long end - slightly different to the F810, though in use we saw no practical differences. In use we had very few problems at all with the flash aside from a rather leisurely recycle time of around five seconds per shot. It works well at close distances, and if you up the ISO you can get it to reach a lot further than the quoted maximum. Color is also very accurate when shooting with flash.

Skin tone
Excellent color and exposure
Color chart
Excellent color and very slight under exposure

Macro Focus

The E550 can focus down to around 24 inches (60cm) in normal mode (at either end of the zoom). The macro mode fixes the zoom at the wide end of the range and reduces the minimum focus distance to around 3 inches (7.5cm). Despite only being available at the wide end of the zoom the macro mode doesn't produce a huge amount of distortion.
Wide macro - 65 x 49 mm coverage
62 px/mm (1564 px/in)
Distortion: Low
Corner softness: Low
Equiv. focal length: 32.5 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion*

Despite the slightly wider angle of the E550's zoom lens, barrel distortion is well controlled at just under 1%. At the telephoto end of the zoom there is no measurable distortion at all. We also found no evidence of vignetting.

*Examples shown are from the FinePix F810 Zoom - see page 1 for details

Barrel distortion - 1% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 32.5 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.0% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 130 mm

Specific image quality issues

The E550 Zoom is something of a mixed bag when it comes to image quality. On the one hand the resolution produced by the lens/sensor/processing system is fantastic, especially for an affordable compact camera; on the other hand there are some issues you need to be aware of.

Focus and exposure are generally excellent (though as noted before, Fujifilm's attempt to preserve highlight detail can cause slight underexposure), and - as we've come to expect from Super CCD - colors are vivid and vibrant. This makes the E550 perfect for pulling some color out of dull, overcast days, especially if you use the 'turn everything up to 11' F-Chrome setting. For casual snap-shooters wanting a pocket camera that produces pleasing, sharp, well-saturated results straight out of the camera the E550 is hard to fault.

But there are some problems - most noticeably color fringing at wide angles/wide apertures and the usual problems dealing with dynamic range in contrasty scenes (see below for comments on both). It is also a real pity that the 6MP shooting mode is 'crippled' by high JPEG compression and over-sharpening (you can turn the latter down), as the resolution advantage offered by the 12MP setting is fairly minimal in real-world shots. After extensive testing we came to the conclusion that the best results you can get from the E550 come by shooting in 12MP Fine mode (forget RAW - using the supplied RAW Converter the results are no better than JPEG). The results - at their best - are then capable of beating virtually any standard 6MP CCD camera in resolution terms, and can give plenty of 8MP models a run for their money.

Color fringing

Although it only affects wide angle shots and is only really a problem when shooting at wider apertures, the E550 Zoom does exhibit very pronounced purple fringing that is visible both on--screen and in larger prints. There is a small amount of Chromatic Aberration (blue and yellow fringes either side of high contrast areas) visible in our test chart shots at the 32.5mm equiv. end of the zoom, but we didn't see this in any of the real-world shots.

100% crop 32.5 mm equiv., F2.8

Contrast/Dynamic range issues

Although no worse than most comparable 5 and 6MP CCD cameras, it is worth pointing out that the E550 Zoom, like the F810, struggles to capture scenes of high contrast with wide dynamic ranges. Unlike most cameras, however, the E550 attempts to combat this to some extent by slightly underexposing most bright scenes, meaning blown-out highlights are thankfully rare. The downside of this (aside from slightly dark looking photos) is that dark midtones and shadows can easily end up filled in, something not helped by the rather high contrast used by the E550's processor. On the upside the shadows can be very effectively lifted in Photoshop (or similar), and if you're shooting at under ISO 200 this doesn't really increase noise. But it would be much better if the dynamic range were wider and the contrast set a little lower. Below is a rare example of blown highlights (the camera has for once exposed for the shadows, not the highlights).

100% crop 32.5 mm equiv., F2.8

12MP or 6MP setting?

I spent a good deal of time comparing the 6MP and 12MP output images of the E550 Zoom to attempt to discover just how much of an advantage shooting at 12MP would offer in everyday use. The test shots certainly show that the 12MP setting captures noticeably more fine detail (though it is nowhere near double the 6MP setting). The Super CCD artefacts that plagued earlier generations of the technology are much less pronounced, though the 6MP images still look smoother and cleaner. The main difference, however, is that the 6MP images are too heavily compressed (something you cannot change) and show distinct sharpening halos. Our advice is therefore to shoot at 12MP, even if there is some redundancy (extra pixels that don't actually add any information to the captured photo).

*Examples shown are from the FinePix F810 Zoom - see page 1 for details

100% crop from 6MP original,
Upsized using Photoshop CS Bicubic Smoother
100% crop from 12MP original
100% crop from 6MP original,
Upsized using Photoshop CS Bicubic Smoother
100% crop from 12MP original
200% crop from 6MP original,
Upsized using Photoshop CS Bicubic Smoother
200% crop from 12MP original
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