Compared to...

When Fujifilm announced its EXR technology at Photokina 2008 it promised high-ISO performance 'superior to the F31'. It may seem odd that a company would use a two-year-old, out-of-production camera as its benchmark unless you're aware of the reputation that the F31fd had developed for itself. A combination of a slightly larger sensor, clever sensor technology and carefully balanced noise processing (that smoothed noise without destroying all detail), helped the F31fd set a high-water mark for low-light performance in compact cameras.

Since then, the trend towards offering more megapixels has not had an exclusively positive effect on image quality. While rendition of detail in good light has improved, performance in low light has often suffered, particularly when assessed at a pixel level, as we do. In theory larger images downsized should offer superior quality but we have rarely seen this be the case either. As a result, the lowly (and imperfect) F31fd has become highly sought-after on the used market. This prompts us to take the unusual step of comparing the F200 EXR to a model long unavailable, not because it's another camera you might consider going out and buying, but because it stands out as one of the few solid benchmarks in the short history of digital compact cameras.

A more practical peer is the Ricoh CX1: one of a new generation of cameras based around CMOS sensor technology and one that also aspires to offer improved rendering of highlight detail. Although that capability won't necessarily be demonstrated in this test, we can at least look at whether the two cameras' image quality in good light is up to standard, before looking at what they offer beyond that.

We'll also compare it to probably the best performing compact camera with a conventional CCD sensor, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. The F200 EXR's is now priced some way below the premium quality LX3. The Fujifilm can't boast the fast (though limited range) lens of the LX3, or match its build quality and classy styling, but it's a more flexible and accessible camera in many respects so can its clever sensor technology keep it in the game when the light drops?

But first we'll put it up against a conventional CCD sensor compact. In this instance the Canon PowerShot SD 960 IS (IXUS 110 IS in Europe). It also has a wide-angle zoom lens and 12 megapixels and therefore appears to be a direct competitor for the F200 EXR.

Compared to... Canon IXUS 110 IS (PowerShot SD 960 IS)

Below you will find a studio comparison between the Fujifilm FinePix F200 EXR and the Canon SD 960 IS (IXUS 110 IS) at the cameras' lowest ISO settings, which means 100 for the Fujifilm and 80 for the Canon.

Studio scene comparison (@ lowest ISO)

  • Fuji FinePix F200 EXR: EXR HR mode, ISO 100, Default Image Parameters,
    Manual white balance, +0.33 EV compensation

  • Canon PowerShot SD 960 IS: Program mode, ISO 80 Default Image Parameters,
    Manual white balance, +0.33 EV compensation
  • Lighting: Daylight simulation, >98% CRI
Fujifilm FinePix F200 EXR
Canon PowerShot SD 960 IS
ISO 100, 1/70 sec, F4.3
ISO 80, 1/50 sec, F4.5

The small sensored Canon SD960 IS (its 1/2.3" sensor, rather than the Fujifilm's 1/1.6" means that its sensor has an areas of around 0.28cm2, rather than the F200's 0.45cm2). Even at base ISO the F200 EXR is producing a cleaner, more detailed image. Slight differences in sharpening, alignment and focus mean that the difference varies between crops, but the F200's output is clearly better overall.