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ePz Member Challenge - Fujifilm Finepix S200EXR

Three ePHOTOzine members take up the Fujifilm/EPZ challenge at Chester Zoo using the Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR

|  Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR in Digital Cameras
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They've each won the first round of the ePHOTOzine/Fujifilm digital challenge, now we invite members Cheryl Surry, Phil Jefferies and Phil Hargreaves to a grand finale shoot-out at Chester Zoo using the Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR.

Chester Zoo is billed as the UK's number one zoo with over 7000 animals. It's situated to the North of Chester and is in grounds that cover 110-acres with 11 miles of pathway. Over the years the zoo has been modernised and although viewing has been improved dramatically for visitors, this is often through wire mesh or glass, making the photographer's shooting conditions far more challenging.

With that in mind, how will our three challenge contestants cope with these barriers and a typical British dull and rainy Autumn day? 

The Camera
Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR front viewEach contestant was handed a Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR to use while attempting each challenge. This bridge camera (with fixed lens) is as easy to use as a compact, yet provides the versatility of an SLR. Its key features are a huge 14.3x zoom lens with a 30.5mm-436mm range and a new CCD technology called Super CCD EXR sensor. The sensor automatically adjusts its processing to help deliver a combination of maximum detail, low noise and dynamic range, depending on the shooting circumstances, and each element can be manually controlled. Several Fujifilm exclusive modes present advanced shooting options, such as Pro Focus, that takes two shots with a single press of the shutter - one sharp for the foreground and one soft focus for the background. The two images are merged in camera to produce a sharply focused subject against an out-of-focus background. Pro Lowlight is a similar multi shot option that takes four photos in sequence and blends them to give high sensitivity and low noise.

The contestants 

Phil Jefferies
Phil JefferiesPhil is a Driving Instructor in Swindon, Wiltshire

He first started taking photographs when he was 15, using a second-hand Zenit B which he still has in the loft. He drifted away for many years and only got the bug back again in 2005 when his wife bought him a Nikon D50 DSLR for Christmas. Phil still uses the D50 as he keeps getting good results and is happy with it.

His favourite subject is the natural World, with flora and fauna and recently he's been dabbling with landscapes. You may bump into Phil at a craft fair in his region, as he regularly has a stall selling his photographs.

Phil's never used a bridge style camera and has never been to Chester Zoo, but has shot at Marwell and the Cotswold Wildlife Park, and is a regularly visitor to the Hawk Conservancy Trust and WWT centers.

Phil Hargreaves
Phil HargreavesPhil, from Brierfield, near Burnley, Lancashire, is a Landscape Manager for a North-West based Housing Association.

Phil's owned a Canon EOS 40D DSLR for about five years, but feels that he's only scratched the surface as there's so much more he wants to learn. His success stories include getting a picture on the cover of Lancashire Life and winning the Digital Photographer of the Year 2009 competition with Digital Photo magazine.

Phil uses Canon, mainly because he started out with a Canon compact and stayed with them when he bought his first DSLR. Now he's invested quite a lot of cash in Canon lenses, it's quite difficult to change systems. Although he's quite happy with his current setup and has his eyes on the EOS 5D Mark II.

His favourite subject is portraiture, as he thinks the human face reveals so much about the person.

Phil's never used a bridge style camera like the S200EXR, but he's had a go at zoo photography before. His previous attempts where nothing serious, more just snapping away on days out at Chester Zoo.

Cheryl Surry
Cheryl SurryCheryl is an IT Consultant from Swadlincote, Leicestershire

She has been taking photographs on and off for more than 20 years, but only became serious in the last five years.

She's a regular ePHOTOzine EC award winner and her recent claim to fame is winning the 2009 Countryfile Photographic Competition where her photo is on the cover of the BBC Countryfile 2010 Calendar.

No surprise then that Cheryl's favourite subject is nature. After being couped up in an office all week she finds it good to get out in to open spaces.

Cheryl uses Nikon, just because she has small hands and finds that the controls sit more naturally than other systems. She also has a Casio EX-FH20 bridge camera, but rarely uses it.

Cheryl can't remember the last time she went to a zoo, probably at least three years ago. She prefers the more natural managed locations, such as conservation centers and RSPB reserves.

The challenges

Challenge 1 - Pro Low-light Mode
The Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR has a Pro Low-light Mode where several pictures are taken in rapid succession and then merged to provide one noise free result. Our three contestants have to show the mode working to its best.

Phil JefferiesPJ: I found the Pro Low-light Mode a very useful addition to the FinePix S200EXR, allowing the user a chance to get good quality images in a situation with challenging lighting where flash would not benefit the overall result. I thought the best way to demonstrate this was with images of lizards in an indoor situation, taking the images through glass which flash would reflect in.

Although a lot of the tanks that the lizards were kept in had  bright lights within them, often the lizards would be in an area of dark shadow, which gave me a chance to show off the Pro Low-light facility to its best, the function coped very well with these conditions, even allowing for a slight movement in the eye of a dragon lizard.

Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR Pro low-light

Phil HargreavesPH: As this mode requires a still subject I used it on a python that was stationary long enough to take the four shots without movement. I focused on the tail, which contrasted nicely with the old timber background. Holding the camera as still as I could without a tripod, the S200EXR took four exposures in quick succession and blended them together. The resulting image was surprisingly noise free given the very low light conditions. As the shot was hand-held, sharpness wasn't perfect, but quite usable. Also I was shooting through dirty glass, but the camera produced an image I was happy with, despite the conditions.

Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR Pro low-light

Cheryl SurryCS: I tried this mainly in the Aquarium. Since the fish were quite fast it really did not work as it took too long to take the four images, so I decided to concentrate on the corals. This did seem to work, there was slight movement with the flow of the water, but the resulting image was impressive given the lack of light and the fact it was taken hand-held. The system takes some getting used to as the progress indicator is quite distracting as you try to concentrate on the process.

Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR Pro low-light


Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR zoom rangeChallenge 2 - Animal Portrait showing zoom capabilities
The Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR has a super long 14.3x zoom range from 30.5mm wide-angle to 436mm telephoto. Our three contestants have to shoot the best animal portrait to test the capabilities of the zoom range.

Phil JefferiesPJ: I used the zoom fully extended on a number of subjects.

I also used it to the take an image of a crocodile through glass in an indoor tank and at full zoom. It produced a very good close up portrait of the animal, despite the fact it was hidden right at the back of its enclosure. By putting the lens up against the glass it has given a very good clear image, showing good detail on the crocodile's skin.

This would be suitable for a compact user looking to move up to a higher spec camera by allowing closer cropped images without relying on digital zoom at its maximum reach which often gives grainy soft images.

Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR zoom range

Phil Hargreaves

Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR zoom range

PH: I took several shots of deer, using the zoom at full extent on the camera's automatic exposure mode. This is extremely easy to use as it works out all the exposure controls for you and produced very clear, sharp shots. This surprised me as using the long end of the zoom hand held can often result in camera shake and blurred shots, but that wasn't the case here. Focusing was very good, with the lens locking on quickly and accurately.

I also used the shorter end of the zoom on indoor shots in the Orangutan house. Used in conjunction with the EXR High Sensitivity and Low Noise mode, this produced some of my favourite shots of the day, despite the extremely dirty glass!

I feel that the long zoom range would be very useful to a compact camera enthusiast, especially as the larger size of the FinePix S200EXR helps balance the camera and, as such, reduces camera shake.

Cheryl Surry

Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR zoom range

CS: Due to the height of the fences very few animals were accessible without shooting through the wire. I tried the long end of the zoom on the elephants mainly, which was most helpful as they spent most of the time at the furthest point from the clearest viewpoints.

For a compact user the zoom offers a good range, enabling a variety of shots to be taken from a single position. To be fair, given the conditions, most cameras and lenses would have been struggling. As an indicator the auto ISO kept setting itself to ISO3200.





Challenge 3 - EXR in action
The main technology behind the S200EXR is Fujifilm's new CCD Sensor - Super CCD EXR. This technology provides optimum results deoendent in shooting conditions and offers the ability to prioritize for High Resolution, High Sensitivity & Low Noise and Wide Dynamic Range. The challenge for our three contestants is to provide a picture that best shows the EXR technology at work.

Phil JefferiesPJ: I shot the majority of my images with the camera set to EXR Auto, to really test its abilities and I thought it coped with everything very well, apart from when the conditions were really dark. On a shot with lions the light was very challenging as it was getting towards the end of the day and the camera set a very high ISO to cope with this and produced a noisy image.

I used an indoor situation to try this out in tough conditions, shooting the lizards foot, and fish in the aquarium to gauge the detail and colour range that the function achieved.

Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR exr text

Phil HargreavesPH: I used the EXR Auto mode several times, in the Orangutan house and Aquarium where it switched to SN and worked well, and employed the High Resolution mode for some outdoor shots where light levels were higher. My only negative with the SN mode is that the image can look like strong noise reduction has been used, and is not as sharp as it could be, but, as previously stated, I was not shooting in ideal conditions as my subjects were behind smeared and scratched glass, with reflections also causing problems. The HR mode worked well, producing crisp, clear shots with good exposure. The camera performed poorly in low light conditions where the subjects were moving – I couldn't get one decent shot in the chimp house, but that would have been same with a compact camera and most users would have struggled with an SLR.

Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR exr text


Cheryl SurryCS: I tried a couple of the EXR Auto functions. This one used SN mode. Again in the conditions it's hard to judge whether the functions work well. It would have been good to have tried the Pro Low-Light mode with some street night photography.

We also asked a few questions about the contestants' day with the Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR.

Were there any particular features you found useful on the Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR?

Phil JefferiesPJ: I was particularly impressed with the facility to view the histogram in live view mode, prior to pressing the shutter button. This appeared to be a very useful function. With the camera in manual mode I was able to see the histogram on either the LCD screen or in the viewfinder over the image I was composing. This gave me a chance to dial in exposure compensation before committing to pressing the shutter.

Phil HargreavesPH: I tried out the Pro-Focus mode, which simulates a narrow depth-of-field by blurring the background in-camera. On screen this worked surprisingly well, making the subject stand out against the background, however the images didn't stand up to close scrutiny as the blur was uneven in places on the edge of the subject, but unless you zoom right in this is not noticeable.

Cheryl SurryFujifilm FinePix S200EXR blacjk & white modeCS: I think with some practice the Pro Focus mode could be really useful. Not having any suitable portrait models I tried to fool the mode into blurring the background on the water pouring down the outlet outside the main cafe which passed over a quite photogenic train structure. After a few failed attempts I did manage to get the settings that I wanted. A slow shutter speed and wide aperture effect.

The Film Simulation bracket feature was interesting and I enjoyed shooting in black & white, with creative use of slow shutter speeds to create a blur effect like this shot to the right.

The Custom settings were also useful. I set one to shoot colour and one black & white with a few other settings thrown in. This made it quicker to swap without having to go back in to the main menus each time.

Did you use flash?

Phil JefferiesPJ: I did not use flash through the day, most of my images were indoors through glass and I wanted to avoid glare, although I did use manual modes for a few shots, mostly aperture-priority, for some long range portraits of some primates and it produced good sharp images, with a nice out of focus background when used wide open.

Phil HargreavesFujifilm FinePix S200EXR aquariumPH: I didn't use the flash, but did try the manual modes with slow shutter speeds, creating arty blur effects on the aquarium fish (example to the right). The manual modes were easy to use and almost the same as my DSLR camera.

Cheryl SurryCS: I didn't try the flash either. I did try manual, but without some guidance I could not get the system to let me set both aperture and shutter. I did not seem to be able to switch between the active setting, but I'm sure this was possible once you knew how to do it. Much the same with manual focus, which only appears to work in program mode.


Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR ePHOTOzine Members' Verdict

Phil JefferiesFujifilm FinePix S200EXR flashPJ: An ideal camera for a compact user looking at moving up to a higher spec camera with superb functions, such as Pro-Low-Light and EXR, without the expense of a DSLR. Users would have the knowledge that the auto functions would give very good results, but they would still have the chance to experiment with manual modes if and when their confidence increased sufficiently.

From my point of view I would find this a useful second camera to keep alongside my DSLR, set to either Pro Low-Light or EXR, if a shot came up that would be missed if I was having to input the settings to my DSLR.

Phil HargreavesPH: Compact camera users who want more features, but do not require a DSLR will find the S200EXR has a lot to offer. For those who want to point & shoot, the automatic modes are excellent, requiring minimal intervention from the user, but producing very good images. However, for those who want more control, the manual modes offer many possibilities for experimentation.

The long zoom range is great for all kinds of shooting situations for those that do not want the hassle of carrying a bag full of lenses, and compact users would find that this camera would be much better to handle than the smaller cameras that they are used to, especially when using the long end of the zoom. 

For a DSLR user like myself, the many benefits of the S200EXR are not quite as desirable, as I am quite happy with the functionality of my current camera. Being used to the heavier weight of the EOS 40D, the S200EXR seemed light in comparison, and it took some time to adjust to the controls on the smaller camera. That said, these cameras are not marketed at DSLR owners, but at compact users looking to upgrade, and in that respect I feel that Fuji have a very saleable product in the FinePix S200EXR.

Cheryl SurryCS: From a compact users point of view, this could either be a completely bewildering expansion of the creative possibilities or a positive progression. The manual options are there if wanted, or the camera can be used on fully auto. So there are good possibilities however you want to work. It's hard for me to judge if the AF was faster than a compact as it is so long since I used one, but the conditions really weren't fair on any AF system. Overall the camera was good to use and in better shooting conditions the results would have been good. I wouldn't abandon the DSLR for it, but I have a similar camera the Casio FH-20 in the car and if the Fuji had been around at the same time, given the price difference it would have been a strong contender based on the handling.

For a DSLR user and glasses wearers point of view I found the EVF quite tiring to use. And the lack of an articulated screen was disappointing, as it would have allowed me to shoot over the fences with some chance of composing. I found being restricted to a central focusing point frustrating as that is not how I work in my nature photography. I like to predict the action and set the focus point to achieve the best composition.

There are some interesting features to the camera, which would have been good to explore in better conditions and on a different subject matter, like the fireworks mode and the Pro Low-Light mode on some night time work.

The camera held up to the weather well. I used it while it was raining and it continued functioning correctly.

The histograms were quite bunched towards the middle on all the shots, so little recording of black or white end. Very flat images on the settings chosen, that could be a disappointment to some, would have expected slightly more punch in the shots out of camera.

And the winner is?

Phil JefferiesAfter much deliberation we decided it was a very close competition. Each contestant used the features of the camera well, but it ended up being a very close tie between the two Phils ,as Cheryl didn't provide all three challenge photos. Phil J had the slight edge overall, clinched by his shot of the lions. Phil wins the Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR.

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MikeRC 17 3.6k United Kingdom
16 Feb 2010 5:53PM
I found this editorial extremely interesting, perhaps more'so because Chester zoo is one of my stamping grounds and I visit some 2 or 3 times a month.

If the Finepix HS10, due for release in April, had not been announced I could have been tempted with thS200EXR.

..however I will almost certainly get the HS10 and while this is not a foregone conclusion, if I find that I can get adequate quality shots I shall sell my SLR and lenses....I'm never 'gonna be one of the great photographers anyway.

I rarely drive a car, prefering to travel by bike and despite what some of these youngsters say, for me carrying a heavy camera and lens in not easy and tends to spoil the day.


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