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Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR, Olympus Mju 7010 & Samsung ST550 Digital Camera Review

Christmas is coming! We test three great value for money, feature-rich compacts that make for perfect presents.

|  Under 250 Christmas gift compacts in Compact Cameras
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Features & handling

Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR, Olympus Mju 7010 & Samsung ST550 lined up Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR, Olympus Mju 7010 & Samsung ST550 held by me
Three digital compact cameras selling for under £250 and all tested by Matt Grayson.
Which one offers the best value for money?

The megapixel race has finally slowed down and the compact camera makers are getting innovative with features to tempt you to their products. The three cameras in this test offer a variety of different tempting features but the overall emphasis is on price and all sell for under £250, so they make great Christmas presents, for your loved ones or perhaps for yourself if you fancy a small, pocketable camera when you want to travel light.

Budget compact group test: Features
Fujifilm's F70 EXR offers plenty of useful features including the Pro-Focus mode which takes two pictures in quick succession and merges them to make one image with a better depth-of-field for portraits. It also features a 10x zoom starting from the equivalent of a 27mm wide-angle lens in 35mm format terms.

Arguably, the biggest development is the new EXR sensor so features such as Resolution Priority, Dynamic Range and High ISO/Low Noise are fitted to this camera. Its aim is to increase the scope of your photography by expanding the possibilities with each different scene.

Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR  
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR front view
The camera is small, attractive and covered in a smooth, glossy casing.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR rear view
The small command dial is a bit too cluttered with unnecessary modes.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR top view
This Fujifilm compact's slightly deeper body houses the 10x optical zoom.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR screen
Fujifilm have always produced easy-to-use menus and the F70 is a typical example.

Olympus continue the Mju range with the 7010 which features a 7x optical zoom ranging from 28-196mm in 35mm terms. It's a slimline model with small buttons and dials that are, frankly, with my chubby digits, a bit too small for my liking. The idea of this camera is that it's small and thin but still packs a large zoom lens.

Other features include a shadow adjustment mode which works in the same way as the Fujifilm Dynamic Range mode but by only taking one photograph, several art modes, YouTube upload and Bright Capture for lightening dark subjects that may be backlit.

Olympus Mju 7010  
Olympus Mju 7010 front view
I love the quirkiness of the Olympus, with the huge lens on the tiny body.
Olympus Mju 7010 back view
The back sports small buttons that aren't difficult to use - if you have thin fingers!
Olympus Mju 7010 top view
The Olympus Mju 7010 is ridiculously thin but still has a 7x optical zoom.
Olympus Mju 7010 screen
An easy function menu is available, but the main menu can be deceptively tough.

Brand new from Samsung is the ST550. Wanting to offer something unique to the consumer, the ST550 has a small screen on the front for taking self portraits and playing amusing cartoon imagery to help babies smile. On the back, is a 3.5in touchscreen which removes the need for buttons and dials.

A 4.6x optical zoom is fitted to the Samsung which is the shortest zoom of the three test cameras. It also starts at 27mm in 35mm terms and extends out to a telephoto setting of 127mm.

Samsung ST550  
Samsung ST550 front view
The front screen for composing self-portraits can just be seen next to the Schneider lens.
Samsung ST550 rear view
The large 3.5in screen is a 'Haptic' variety which means it vibrates when you touch it.
Samsung ST550 top view
The Samsung ST550 is easily pocketable thanks to the slimline design.
Samsung ST550 screen
Large icons on the easy-to-use menu means the touchscreen is more responsive.

Budget compact group test: Handling
Using touchscreen technology can be tricky (or touch & go, to be punny) because the screen should have everything laid out clearly but with the main image still in clear view. Samsung have played it safe by adding a small margin to either side effectively reducing the 3.5in screen to 3in. Small tabs overlapping the image bring up different features when tapped and I really like this feature. I can see the benefit of choosing MicroSD as the memory card type because a lot of mobile phones use that card and it makes the camera more appealing and accessible.

Fujifilm are well known for easy-to-use cameras and this model includes the FinePix button that first appeared a few years ago – it separates some features so they're quicker to find. Using the F70 EXR is easy and the camera has explanations of features if you hover on them for long enough. I'm unsure of the dial on the back, though, because it makes things too cluttered. It's only small but has eight options to it, including Natural light mode which I'm not sure will be used that much. It seems to be an auto mode with a good white-balance setting.

I like the look of the Olympus because it is quirky. The camera is so slim, the zoom bulges out of the front but the designers have worked well with it. It's designed for a happy snapper and it's really easy to navigate around any of the modes and menus. There are some build issues, such as the flimsy battery door and exposed USB port, but the casing is metal and the dials and buttons are responsive.

Compact cameras have to be easy-to-use bearing in mind the prospective user. All three cameras have an easy-to-use user interface so you shouldn't have any problems with navigating the menu systems. Build quality is relatively good with some minor detractions such as open ports on the Samsung and Olympus or a plastic tripod bush. Fujifilm offer the best build in my opinion – it feels the most solid,  has a metal tripod bush and the menu system is arguably the easiest in the test.

Budget compact group test: Performance
All three cameras were put through their paces in a variety of conditions and tests. All pictures were taken at the same time to ensure fairness.

Click on any of the thumbnails to open the full size images.

The Olympus doesn't do too badly when faced with diverse lighting. I found it kept detail everywhere except in really deep shadows or backlit subjects. Luckily, the Mju 7010 features a shadow correction that boosts detail in shadow areas to help give a more balanced exposure. With the sun behind a subject, it would be a good idea to use fill-in flash at this stage if the subject is close enough. The great thing about this system is that it doesn't adjust highlights at all, so if you have a sublime sky and a dark subject, the latter will be changed without affecting the sky. I really like this.

The Samsung also has problems with strong shadows and backlit subjects. It also has a dynamic range compensation system that it calls ACB (Auto Contrast Balance). It works in a similar way to the other two cameras on the test by adding detail to shadows and balancing out the exposure. It works well enough without burning out highlights.

Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR contrast
The Fujifilm doesn't do a bad job at recovering detail.
Olymus Mju 7010 contrast
The Olympus provides the best shadow correction.
Samsung ST550 contrast
The Samsung produces strong shadows and ACB is only mild.

Exposure is really where Fujifilm should excel, in theory at least. The FinePix F70 EXR has the benefit of the EXR sensor that features a Dynamic Range system with five different strength settings. Contrasty or strong light that gives a lot of shadows is handled better from the Fujifilm with more detail in the darker areas. Unfortunately, in shots with strong shadows or a backlit subject, the preset dynamic range compensation modes are too subtle to make a worthy difference. Auto setting in the EXR mode works well, though, as it gives a substantial boost to shadow area details.

Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR auto mode
Fujifilm auto mode.
Olympus Mju 7010 auto
Olympus auto mode.
Samsung ST550 dynamic range auto
Samsung auto mode.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR dynamic range EXR mode 100%
Fujifilm DR EXR mode 100%
Olympus Mju 7010 dynamic range shadow correction
Olympus DR shadow corr.
Samsung ST550 dynamic range ACB mode
Samsung DR ACB mode.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR dynamic range EXR mode 200%
Fujifilm DR EXR mode 200%
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR dynamic range EXR mode 400%
Fujifilm DR EXR mode 400%
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR dynamic range EXR mode 800%
Fujifilm DR EXR mode 800%
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR dynamic range EXR mode auto
Fujifilm DR EXR mode auto.

One of the EXR modes featured on the Fujifilm is Resolution Priority. This suggests a higher resolution image but in my tests, the EXR didn't record much more information than the Fine setting in the quality menu. For example, a 3.40Mb image in EXR Resolution Priority recorded 3.39Mb in Fine quality. Then again, the Normal setting was 3.38Mb so there's not a great deal of loss between the settings, but it means freeing up a fraction more space on the memory card. The Resolution Priority images certainly look sharper than the large file size images and that's what it's designed to do, which is useful for fine detail objects.

The Samsung has three quality settings within the highest resolution setting. Thanks to the 2 million extra pixels, the Samsung ST550 Superfine setting records a maximum file size of 4.71Mb, while Fine setting records 2.63Mb and Normal records at 1.82Mb. Notable differences on paper, but little difference in picture quality and with the user generally being a snapper, it's worth dropping the quality down for everyday use. Especially with the memory card not having as high a capacity as the Fujifilm.

The Olympus matches the resolution of the Samsung at 12Mp and the high quality setting registers around the same at 4.78Mb. There are only two settings on the Mju 7010 and dropping to the next level down records a 2.46Mb file which is just over half the size. There's no visible difference between the images, at least, not in my test shots but means you can drop the quality and free up space on the memory card.

Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR Resolution Priority
Fujifilm EXR Res Priority.
  Samsung ST550 superfine resolution
Samsung superfine resolution.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR Fine
Fujifilm fine resolution.
Olympus Mju 7010 fine resolution
Olympus fine resolution.
Samsung ST550 fine resolution
Samsung fine resolution.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR normal
Fujifilm normal resolution.
Olympus Mju 7010 normal resolution
Olympus normal resolution.
Samsung ST550 normal resolution
Samsung normal resolution.

The menu system of the Olympus can take some getting used to, but once in there, you'll find four focusing modes for face detection, iESP, spot and tracking focus. Face detection simply scans the image for any faces and focuses on them. In an ideal world, the Olympus should also track focus but it failed to do that. It also had trouble locking to any face that wasn't straight on to the lens or if the face was in a corner of the frame. There is a tracking focus facility available on the camera but this only really works in the iAuto mode on the rear dial. In this mode, pressing left on the nav pad activates the focus track and pressing down locks to the area the camera is tracking. iESP simply works out what is the best thing to focus on, which is a snappier way of saying autofocus.

Fujifilm have fitted a dedicated face detection button to the F70 EXR which is located in the bottom corner of the camera. It finds a face in any area of the frame and tracks it if the face moves around. There are three other focus modes in the main menu. Multi focus mode is essentially autofocus. It uses a contrast detection system to find the subject. Centre mode focuses on the centre of the frame and continuous mode will focus on the centre of the frame and continuously adjust focus so the centre stays in focus. You don't need to press the shutter halfway unless you wish to lock it. This mode also uses more battery power and the focusing system is audible, but unless you're in a monastery, you're unlikely to hear it.

Because of the touch-screen capability of the Samsung, it opens the ST550 up to all sorts of cool options, the coolest being touch-focus. Simply touch the area you want the camera to focus on and there it is. It works brilliantly and is actually pretty fast, too. Other than that, the camera has a general autofocus mode, which is precise enough but the most interesting part is the face detection. It's been taken one step further in the Samsung and features smile detection, blink detection and face recognition. The latter works by storing faces of people you know and if the camera sees them in the frame it will prioritise them in the frame. This isn't new technology, but the MyStar mode allows you to take five photographs from various angles of the person to make certain the camera never misses them. This will be useful for the self portrait feature of the camera.

Colour and sharpness
The Fujifilm produces a vibrant colour result with warmer tones, such as red, yellow and orange, coming out nicely in most of the pictures I took and I also like the way it handles primary blue. Strange then that other lighter or darker blues don't seem to quite hit the mark. I found bright blues, such as aqua or turquoise came out a bit too blue while paler blues, such as the sky, recorded duller than it was in real life unless the sun was particularly strong.

Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR
Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR colour test
Warmer colours are prioritised over cooler ones with the Fuji.
Olympus Mju 7010 colour test
The colours from the Olympus look a bit pale.
Samsung ST550 colour test
Colours from the samsung are bright and punchy.

Earth browns and greens reproduce nicely and any photographs with trees or foliage were accurate. I also like the mono grey scale on the Fujifilm, the camera handles them really well. Subtle tones benefit from a faithful recording and flesh tones are also treated well. However, in my tests, I found the portrait images taken in portrait mode had an ISO setting way too high which in turn distorted the image badly.

Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR blue sky
In strong light, the blue of the sky is more accurate.
Olympus Mju 7010 blue sky
Blue comes out a bit brighter on the Olympus.
Samsung ST550 blue sky
The Samsung records the colour accurately.

I'm the happiest with the colours produced from the Samsung and in my tests, bolder colours came out with plenty of punch. Despite this, pastel colours were treated well and recorded accurately. Red is rich and bright while orange remains a little brighter than I'd expect with the camera recording red the way it does. Purples are pretty faithful and it copes well with contrasting colours in close quarters to each other. Skin tones were warm, thanks to the portrait mode but I had to take more than one image whenever I took a portrait because the camera couldn't cope in anything other than bright light if I didn't want to use flash.

Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550
Fujfilm FinePix F70 EXR saturated red
The Fujifilm prioritises reds over other colours.
Olympus Mju 7010 saturated red
Boosting the red doesn't affect other colours on the Olympus.
Samsung ST550 saturated red
The Samsung produces bold saturated reds.

I don't like the way the Olympus records colour. It leaves colours muted and soft. Primary red takes a hue to it closer to cerise and it made my eyes hurt to look at rich reds. In fact, the only reliable colours I could find throughout the test were blues and browns. While primary blue is rich, other blues and blue based colour such as the sky or turquoise, come out bright. The Olympus manages to record the grey scale accurately and flesh tones, while pale, came out a lot smoother than the Fujifilm. In fact, the Olympus took the best portrait shots in the test.

Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR
Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR portrait
Portraits are well exposed and balanced, but noise is poor.
Olympus Mju 7010 portrait
A paler result from the Olympus, but overall better.
Samsung ST550 portrait
More colour than the Olympus but focusing was problematic.

Low ISO settings on the Fujifilm are really good with no noise at lower settings. Black noise starts to become a problem at ISO800 although it does start to show mildly at ISO200. The Fujifilm has an ISO range from ISO100-12800 although the resolution starts to drop at ISO3200 to around 5Mp while ISO6400 and ISO12800 drop to around 3Mp in a bid to control noise. It's still pretty bad at this stage and I'm surprised a better noise reduction system hasn't been fitted to cope seeing as the sensitivity goes so high.

Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550
  Olympus Mju 7010 ISO64
Olympus ISO64 test.
Samsung ST550 ISO80 test
Samsung ISO80 test.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO100
Fujifilm ISO100 test.
Olympus Mju 7010 ISO100
Olympus ISO100 test.
Samsung ST550 ISO100 test
Samsung ISO100 test.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO200
Fujifilm ISO200 test.
Olympus Mju 7010 ISO200
Olympus ISO200 test.
Samsung ST550 ISO200 test
Samsung ISO200 test.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO400
Fujifilm ISO400 test.
Olympus Mju 7010 ISO400
Olympus ISO400 test.
Samsung ST550 ISO400
Samsung ISO400 test.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO800
Fujifilm ISO800 test.
Olympus Mju 7010 ISO800
Olympus ISO800 test.
Samsung ST550 ISO800
Samsung ISO800 test.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO1600
Fujifilm ISO1600 test.
Olympus Mju 7010 ISO1600
Olympus ISO1600 test.
Samsung ST550 ISO1600
Samsung ISO1600 test.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO3200
Fujifilm ISO3200 test.
  Samsung ST550 ISO3200
Samsung ISO3200 test.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO6400
Fujifilm ISO6400 test.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO12,800
Fujifilm ISO12,800 test.

The Olympus has a sensitivity range of ISO64-3200 and at the lower stages, the results are lovely and smooth. It's unfortunate to see coloured blobs of purple start to enter the image at ISO200 and the problem gets slowly worse and at ISO800, bright blue spots scatter the image. Olympus made a good move in capping the sensitivity at ISO1600 because a higher stage than this would result in the picture being unrecognisable.

Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550
  Olympus Mju 7010 ISO64 outside
Olympus ISO64 outside.
Samsung ST550 ISO80 outside
Samsung ISO80 outside.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO100 outside
Fujifilm ISO100 outside.
Olympus ISO100 outside
Olympus ISO100 outside.
Samsung ST550 ISO100 outside
Samsung ISO100 outside.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO200 outside
Fujifilm ISO200 outside.
Olympus Mju 7010 ISO200 outside
Olympus ISO200 outside.
Samsung ST550 ISO200 outside
Samsung ISO200 outside.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO400 outside
Fujifilm ISO400 outside.
Olympus Mju 7010 ISO400 outside
Olympus ISO400 outside.
Samsung ST550 ISO400 outside
Samsung ISO400 outside.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO800 outside
Fujifilm ISO800 outside.
Olympus Mju 7010 ISO800 outside
Olympus ISO800 outside.
Samsung ST550 ISO800 outside
Samsung ISO800 outside.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO1600 outside
Fujifilm ISO1600 outside.
Olympus Mju 7010 ISO1600 outside
Olympus ISO1600 outside.
Samsung ST550 ISO1600 outside
Samsung ISO1600 outside.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO3200
Fujifilm ISO3200 outside.
  Samsung ST550 ISO3200 outside
Samsung ISO3200 outside.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO6400 outside
Fujifilm ISO6400 outside.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR ISO12,800 outside
Fujifilm ISO12,800 outside.

The more I used the Samsung, the impressed I became with it. Noise is controlled very well on the ST550 throughout the ISO80-3200 range. To be fair, there's a little noise at ISO80 and while it does increase through the higher speeds, it doesn't do it as badly as I'd normally expect. Another good thing is that the noise is of the black variety which means if you want to shoot some black & white, you can make them nice and gritty. There's some green colour in the grey card at ISO3200 but blacks are unaffected.

The Fujifilm gives some pretty weird results when selecting the preset fluorescent modes for white-balance. Throughout the test, I had to keep taking the camera out of fluorescent setting and put it in AWB because the camera gave a better result. That is, unless I had time to set the custom white balance. It compensated a bit too much giving a pinkish cast on version three, an orange cast on version one and a green cast on version two. Stronger casts, such as incandescent (tungsten), are controlled better by the preset modes giving a much more balanced result, although the auto setting still does quite well to combat the problem.

Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR auto white balance cloudy
Fujifilm AWB cloudy.
Olympus Mju 7010 auto white balance cloudy
Olympus AWB cloudy.
Samsung ST550 auto white balance cloudy
Samsung AWB cloudy.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR white balance cloudy
Fujifilm wb cloudy.
Olympus Mju 7010 white balance cloudy
Olympus wb cloudy.
Samsung ST550 white balance cloudy
Samsung wb cloudy.

Soft, artificial light, such as fluorescent lighting isn't handled very well by the Olympus. It gives a result that's too green in auto setting and way too pink in the preset mode. Unusually, stronger lights such as incandescent are coped with nicely by the camera in the preset mode while the auto mode struggles.

Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR auto white balance fluorescent
Fujifilm AWB fluorescent.
Olympus Mju 7010 auto white balance fluorescent
Olympus AWB fluorescent.
Samsung ST550 auto white balance fluorescent
Samsung AWB fluorescent.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR white balance fluorescent
Fujifilm wb fluorescent.
Olympus Mju 7010 white balance fluorescent
Olympus wb fluorescent.
Samsung ST550 white balance fluorescent
Samsung wb fluorescent.
Incandescent (Tungsten)    
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR auto white balance incandescent
Fujifilm AWB incandescent.
Olympus Mju 7010 auto white balance incandescent
Olympus AWB incandescent.
Samsung ST550 auto white balance tungsten
Samsung AWB tungsten.
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR white balance incandescent
Fujifilm wb incandescent.
Olympus Mju 7010 white balance incandescent
Olympus wb incandescent.
Samsung ST550 white balance tungsten
Samsung wb tungsten.

I got a brilliant result from the Samsung as it coped with any colour casts I tried on it in the preset modes. Sure the auto setting struggled on the stronger artificial colours and even showed a slight cast under fluorescent lighting but it isn't unpleasant until you see the balanced image next to it.

Integral flash modes
There are six flash modes on the Samsung ST550 for auto flash, red-eye reduction, fill flash, slow sync and red-eye-fix which is technically a software program, not a flash mode. It works by detecting the red colour found in red-eye and removes it for you. Red-eye hardly happened in my test shots, so I found little need for it, but it's good to know that it's there if you do need it. The flash has a range of 20cm-3.4m at wide angle and 50cm-2m at telephoto with the ISO set to auto. At a distance of 1m, there's a little vignetting at wide-angle which gets progressively better as the camera is zoomed in. By the telephoto setting, there's hardly any showing.

In contrast, the Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR has only four flash modes from forced flash off, red-eye & slow exposure, normal red-eye reduction and forced on. At ISO800, the coverage of the Fujifilm is 30cm-4.2m at wide-angle and 90cm-2.4m at telephoto. There's a small amount of fall off at the corners which settles out at a medium focal length but then starts to drop off again at telephoto.

Olympus also have four modes on the Mju 7010 but they're the relatively basic flash on, flash off, red-eye and auto modes with no slow sync or anything. That's not to say it doesn't do the job. It works well and I had no complaints, but the Mju name has been built on a reputation for quality and I'd like to see more features on a camera of this calibre. Also set to ISO800, the Olympus has a range of 10cm to 5.8m at wide-angle and 50cm-3m at telephoto. There's more drop off at the edges than the other cameras on test but it has more power in the centre of the frame. At a mid-range zoom, the image has a very small amount of vignetting in the corners and a more balanced exposure while at telephoto, the result is a lot more balanced.

Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550
Flash wide    
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR flash at wide-angle
Fujifilm wide-angle flash.
Olympus Mju 7010 flash at wide-angle
Olympus wide-angle flash.
Samsung ST550 flash at wide-angle
Samsung wide-angle flash.
Flash mid-range zoom    
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR flash at medium zoom
Fujifilm medium zoom flash.
Olympus Mju 7010 flash at medium zoom
Olympus medium zoom flash.
Samsung ST550 flash at medium zoom
Samsung medium zoom flash.
Flash telephoto    
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR flash at telephoto
Fujifilm telephoto flash.
Olympus Mju 7010 flash at telephoto
Olympus telephoto flash.
Samsung ST550 flash at telephoto
Samsung telephoto flash.

Buffer/Write speed
The Fujifilm features four continuous shooting modes, but unfortunately, none of them are simple straightforward continuous modes. The four modes are separated into two divisions which operate in bursts of three or 12. You can choose from either Top3 or Final3 and which one you choose will determine when you take a picture. Final3 is great for taking pictures of a fast moving subject because you keep your finger down on the button and when you lift your finger up, the last three images are recorded. In Top3 mode, the pictures are taken when you first press the button.

I managed three photographs in one second, which is pretty impressive. The camera works faster at the higher ISO because the resolution drops and there's less information to process. Top12 and Final12 modes do the same job but takes more pictures and also shoots at 5fps. This is better if your reactions are poor, but it takes a lot longer to process the information so if you need your camera ready quickly, you're less likely for that to happen.

The Samsung has a standard setting of 1fps which is pretty low, but a motion capture mode will take 7fps, a much better result but with a much lower resolution of 640x480 which is around 307,000px. This would be suitable for a stop motion project or to contribute to a series of images for a triptych. Ideally, the resolution would only be suitable for viewing on a website, so don't consider printing it.

The Olympus has a small buffer as it can only take a maximum of two photographs before it has to download to the memory card in continuous shooting mode. There are two other options called Hi1 and Hi2. Hi1 drops the resolution down to 3Mp but can then manage 21 images in just over two seconds. Downloading the images takes a further 10 seconds or so, which is slow. Hi2 takes the images a lot faster, managing 21 images in under 2 seconds because the resolution is reduced further still.

Battery life
All three cameras take a Lithium-Ion battery and all lasted the full test without recharging. The Olympus and Fujifilm come supplied with a battery charger, while the Samsung has to be plugged directly into the USB port on the computer. This is useful if you have a laptop with you for a quick charge, but not if you don't and the charge lead is painfully short.

Budget compact group test: Verdict
I'm surprised by how poorly the Olympus has performed throughout the test. Its images have a lot of noise, it's slow and feels less well built than the other cameras on test. For me, the Olympus is out of the running. While it has a lot of features, it doesn't have as many as the Fujifilm or the Samsung.

Samsung ST550 group winner
Fujifilm have released a camera that has a revolutionary sensor, yet still the image quality would come out below the standards I'd expect from technology as advanced as this. On its own, the Fujifilm is a great camera, it's well built, has the Pro-Focus mode for cool portraits and the EXR menu that takes advantage of the sensor. It also features the film simulation modes which give the images a tone similar to 35mm film.

For me, the Samsung has the most features. The touch-screen is a haptic type that vibrates to confirm it's working. That's kind of annoying but can be turned off. It also provides the best colours out of the three, handles noise well even though it creeps in too early and also copes well with white-balance. Some buttons on the screen are a bit close together too and I found out that I sometimes pressed the wrong button. However, these problems can be worked around or got used to and it did provide the best images in the test.

Budget compact group test: Pros
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550
Good build quality
Nice features
Good dynamic range
Good looking camera
Great low ISO performance
Handles strong WB nicely
Great build quality
Fun-to-use touchscreen
Front screen for self portraits

Budget compact group test: Cons
Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550
Some colours off the mark
Too many modes on dial
Noise hits hard early
Flimsy build (battery door etc.)
Buttons are close together
Open port for charger

  Fujifilm F70 EXR Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550

The Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR costs around £175 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Fujifilm FinePix F70 EXR

The Olympus Mju 7010 costs around £187 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Olympus Mju 7010

The Samsung ST550 costs around £234 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Samsung ST550

Budget compact group test: Specification
  Fujifilm F70 EXR Olympus Mju 7010 Samsung ST550
Zoom 10x optical 7x optical 4.6x optical
Resolution 10Mp 12Mp 12Mp
Sensor size 1/2in 1/2.33in 1/2.33in
Sensor type Super CCD EXR CCD CCD
Max. Image size 3616x2712 3968x2976 4000x3000
Sensitivity ISO100-12,800 ISO64-1600 ISO80-3200
Media type Internal (47Mb), SD, SDHC Internal (36Mb), xD Internal (55Mb), MicroSD
Focus type Auto, multi, centre, cont. Spot, face detect, focus track Multi, cntre, face detect, smart touch, face recognition
Normal focusing 45cm-infinity 70cm-infinity 80cm-infinity
Close focusing 5cm-2.5m 10cm-infinity 5cm-infinity
Metering types Programme AE, aperture-priority, manual ESP, spot Multi, spot, centre weighted, face detection AE
Exposure compensation +/- 2EV in 1/3 steps +/- 2EV in 1/3 steps +/- 2EV 1/3 steps
Shutter speed 1/4sec-1/2000sec 1/4sec-1/2000sec  
Flash Built-in Built-in Built-in
Monitor 2.7in TFT LCD 2.7in Hypercrystal II 3.5in TFT LCD
Interface USB 2.0 USB 2.0 USB 2.0
Power Li-Ion battery (NP-50) Li-Ion battery (  
Size 99.3x58.9x22.7mm 97.5x55.7x26.2mm 99.8x59.8x18.6mm
Weight 180g 125g 165.7g

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Kako 14 168
15 Dec 2009 11:21AM
I can't believe there are too many people out there prepared to spend over 150 on a compact camera with only fair to middling performance. Save your money. I've just bought a Canon Powershot A580, with 4x optical zoom and 2.5" LCD complete with 12month warranty from the Canon Outlet on ebay for less than 49! Sensational value. I've also bought a pack of 4 Ansmann 2850mAh AA, the original canon DCC-80 case and a 1GB SD card to go with it. Total cost less than 67 for a camera that will give me 90% of the performance of those tested above. A no brainer.

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