November 19, 2009, 12:26 PM — It may not be a DSLR, but the FinePix S200EXR ($600 as of 11/13/09) is the sort of advanced point-and-shoot camera that's an enthusiast's dream. With a layout that mimics a typical SLR's design, it offers superb handling, megazoom reach, advanced exposure control, and only a few minor disappointments.
The impressive credentials start with a 14.3X, optically stabilized zoom lens (30.5mm to 436mm). A handful of other megazoom cameras offer more reach and wider-angle capabilities, so that isn't the S200EXR's star feature. Instead, direct your attention to the 12-megapixel EXR sensor, first found in the pocketable Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR.
In a nutshell, with this sensor the camera can take standard 12-megapixel images, but it can also combine adjacent sensor sites to create 6-megapixel images that have low-light sensitivity with reduced noise, or shoot high dynamic range (HDR) images by using alternating sensor sites to capture shadow and highlight detail.
You can leave the camera set to EXR mode--sort of like a superpowered program mode--and let the camera automatically choose the right one (full resolution, high ISO/low noise, or dynamic range). Or, if you prefer, you can manually select which EXR mode to shoot with.
In practice, I found that EXR mode generated subtle but noticeable improvements. In this mode, my low-light photos did have less digital noise, and the HDR mode extended detail into highlights and shadows. But make no mistake: Programs like Photomatix Pro, which combine a series of exposures into stunning high dynamic range photos, are in no danger of losing their job to the S200EXR.
Composing your photos is a joy with the S200EXR. You can choose between the bright 2.7-inch LCD or the electronic viewfinder, and both displays provide detailed status information in a smart way.
When you change exposure modes, a large graphic clearly announces the new setting and provides a short summary of the virtues of the selected mode and which button to press to customize your choice further. The LCD did fine in moderate sunlight; at noon, however, I had better luck with the electronic viewfinder.
Focus locks in quickly, and the camera produces no perceptible shutter lag when taking the shot. If you switch to manual focus, the focusing ring on the lens barrel gives you SLR-like positive control.