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Fujifilm’s F-series compact travel zooms have developed a pretty good reputation over the past few years. The F900EXR (MSRP $399.95) doesn’t tinker with the formula, but rather upgrades the ingredients. Like the F800EXR that preceded it, the F900EXR pairs a 20x optical zoom lens with a 1/2-inch EXR CMOS image sensor in a body that will easily slip into a jacket pocket. While the lens is exactly the same, the rest is all different: a new processor, a new sensor, and a new hybrid AF system with phase detection baked right into the sensor.
That alone should turn some heads, though Fujifilm is claiming all that internal improvement adds up to one thing: the “world’s fastest” autofocus speed. Of course that claim comes with a truckload of caveats (read: it’s based on Fujifilm’s own research). Still, we got our greedy little mitts on the F900EXR at CP+ 2013 to see if the camera worked as well as advertised.
We can certainly say one thing about Fujifilm: they know how to build a stylish camera. It’s not distinctive (looking just like every other F-series camera in Fuji’s lineup) but the F900EXR’s smooth lines and rounded edges give it a premium feel, with plenty of real estate to hold onto. The grip is slightly improved, while the top of the camera is just a little less rounded than the F800EXR. The F900 is primarily made of lightweight plastic that’s coated in a material that provides excellent traction. It doesn’t feel like the most durable camera in the world, but the build quality is noticeably solid.
The camera is laid out like your typical point-and-shoot, with a solitary control dial on the rear. The control dial also functions as a four-way navigation pad, with shortcuts to options such as focus, exposure compensation, flash, and timers. In the center of the control dial you’ll find access to the color-coded menu system with tabs for shooting, playback, and system settings. Depth of control definitely isn’t the camera’s strong suit, though the physical mode dial on top does provide access to the EXR mode, the full suite of PASM settings, and automatic and scene modes.
While it’s easy to hold onto, shooting with the F900EXR is a hit or miss experience. The shutter button has very shallow travel, which makes finding the half-press point a hassle when trying to focus and recompose. Autofocus speed was indeed remarkably quick, though. Even on the dim trade show floor, the camera moved between subjects at various distances with ease, and quick reviews of the shots we took seemed to indicate accurate focus. Is it the world’s fastest? Perhaps, but with everybody and their brother claiming to have the fastest AF these days, we’re not about to back any claims without more thorough testing.
In terms of features, there isn’t much that the F900EXR has over last year’s model. The F900 retains the wireless transfer capabilities that debuted in the F800, though we’re still not sold on the utility of WiFi outside of a few rare occasions. While the autofocus speed is undoubtedly the biggest improvement, that speed hasn’t translated into better continuous shooting. The F900EXR manages a respectable 11 frames per second, but Fuji has neglected to improve the buffer, which can manage just five shots in a burst. It can hit 16fps for 14 frames in Best Frame mode, but not at full resolution.
On the hardware side, the upgrades are limited to the new sensor/processor combination, plus a bump in the rear LCD resolution, from 460k dots to 920k. Sensor resolution remains the same at 16 megapixels, though we’re eager to see if there are any improvements to image quality in addition to the new hybrid AF system. The lens features a very useful 20x optical zoom range, with a respectable 25mm-equivalent wide angle extending all the way to 500mm at full telephoto. It’s the exact same optical construction as the F800EXR, with a maximum aperture range of f/3.5-5.3 and a built-in ND filter.
Even on the software side, Fuji is staying the course. The new sensor has the same ISO range (100–3200, plus 6400 and 12800 at reduced resolution) and shutter speeds (8 seconds to 1/2000sec). Also available are bracketing modes for both extended dynamic range and the camera’s “Film Simulation” modes, which mimic the look of famous Fuji film stocks. Fuji has added one notable software feature, though: RAW and RAW+JPEG capture. This will certainly please enthusiasts looking to get the most out of their camera.
(Update: While the official specs page doesn’t reflect this, the Fujifilm F800EXR also offered RAW shooting capability. We regret the error.)
The Fuji F900EXR is a logical step forward for the company’s compact F series. It doesn’t offer brave new innovations, incrementally upgrading some internals and focusing on producing extremely quick hybrid autofocus. That should be enough for most people to jump on the F900EXR rather than scooping up the older (now-discounted) F800EXR.
We enjoyed our time with the F900EXR. The hybrid autofocus is very responsive, even under the unspeakable trade show lighting. While we don’t know how much of an improvement Fuji has made to the camera’s image quality, we were impressed with what we saw from the F750EXR, which used the same sensor as the F800EXR. The F900EXR should be at least as good, if not better.
Our one disappointment is that Fuji couldn’t outfit the F900EXR with a bigger buffer. While 11 frames per second sounds quite impressive, most cameras in this class can manage 10fps for at least 10 shots. The F900EXR is slightly faster than that, but the small buffer is exhausted in less than half a second—a window that may be too small to capture what you’re aiming for. It’s a minor concern, to be sure, but with a $50 jump in price over the F800EXR we have to wonder why it went overlooked.
Regardless, we expect the F900EXR to be a competent performer that will hold its own in a crowded travel-zoom market. The camera’s hardware bona fides are more than capable, and its stylish design is a refinement of a successful formula. There’s certainly room for ergonomic improvement—we’re looking at you, shutter button—but Fuji’s F900EXR has made a positive first impression on us. We’ll know more once we get the camera into our labs for a full review, which should happen sometime this spring.
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