The Fuji F500EXR is an attractively styled and well featured compact digital camera.
Fuji offers the 16Mp F500EXR in a range of colours, so we were disappointed that our review sample was the rather unimaginative black version. It also comes in silver, red or blue. The zoom itself is finished in a smart, contrasting black making for a stylish overall impression. You can also get a GPS-enabled model, the F550EXR, which adds another £30 to the current price (this camera went onsale in April and has already dropped from £249, while the GPS model was original listed at £329).
Aside from the excellent price, we were impressed by the Fuji's attractive build and its smooth, near silent operation. The camera body is 23mm thick, into which a 1/2in CMOS sensor and plenty of functionality have been packed. This includes a 3in (460K dot) LCD on the rear and a Fujinon lens that extends from 24-360mm equivalents.
The overall weight with battery and card in place is 215g. Having spent a lot of time the noticeably chunkier Ricoh CX5 immediately before testing out this camera, a zoom that operated in a slightly less skittish and generally more discreet fashion was welcome. The F500's 15x zoom is super-smooth and, provided you use it with a mini tripod and a stable surface, you can use it fairly effectively in video capture mode as well as when taking still shots.
As we'd hoped, this camera is able to take wide-angle shots as well as zooming in a long way. Fuji touts the 360-degree panoramas that can be captured, but during our test period the weather was atrocious and the resulting shots we took hobbled by lack of light and fuzziness. Electronic cleverness can only do so much in such conditions. With better light we'll be able to make a fairer assessment of how effective this feature really is.
In general use, the Fuji is an effective sharp-shooter. It has a host of automatic and manual controls, featuring 27 separate scene modes, including an underwater one. (The necessary housing for this is sold separately - don't go dunking this pretty piece of electronics in the pool.) Should you wish to experiment, exposure controls extend to white balance, bracketing and light compensation from 60 to ISO 1600 (or 3200 using software).
If a photo really matters, it pays to activate the Best Frame Capture mode. Similar to the Best Shot feature on comparable cameras, this option starts to trigger the shutter as soon as your finger begins to depress it and lock the focus and then take up to seven photos in quick succession. The best composition and sharpest shot is then automatically saved.
Inevitably, face recognition and smile detection are also included, though the anti-shake above average video capture features are stronger selling points. Full 1920x1080 HD video can be shot and, if you wish, there's a film simulator to help you get into the action. Three frames per second stills can even be taken at this camera's top resolution of 16Mp. Fuji includes support for SDXC cards which write large image and video files faster. The results can be displayed on an HD TV using the HDMI out.
We had two bugbears with this camera: first is that the flash that sits at the top left pops up whenever you switch on this camera. On a sunny afternoon, this is both pointless and a potential battery drain (anecdotal reports such the battery life on this camera is underwhelming, though we experienced no such disappointment). The other is the rather weak macro mode. Focusing extremely close up is not the F500's strongest suit and while we got sharp, textured photos from 15 to 20cm from our chosen subject, we were unable to get the Fuji to focus lock at under 10cm.