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Over the years I have been a strong advocate of using a superzoom bridge camera for travel and especially for taking with me on safari. This is mainly for two reasons - They are smaller than SLR cameras and they are far cheaper.

When I was planning for a trip around northern Spain, I did consider taking my current superzoom bridge camera with me, the excellent FinePix HS20EXR, but I really wanted a camera that I could just put in my pocket and take to the beach or even with me on a hike in the Pyrenees mountains, yet I still wanted to have a powerful zoom, so I decided to look for something more compact.

Travel Zoom Cameras

This was no problem, as there are hundreds of compact cameras them out there - but I still wanted a camera with a pretty large zoom. That is where the Finepix 550EXR jumps out from the crowd. Whilst it is true to say that it is a little heavier and bulkier than a full compact camera, it can still easily fit into your pocket and has a really good 15x optical zoom.

My First Impressions

I love the look of the camera and it has a nice solid feel to it as well. Like the HS20 I own, you cannot help be impressed by the quality of the body - it feels less "plasticky" and more robust than most other travel zooms that I looked at.

The power button located at the top has a blue LED which lights up when switched on.

For the most part and considering this is a compact, the buttons are very well ergonomically positioned and I like the fact that the command dial is positioned at an angle making it really simple to turn with either your thumb or index finger even when holding the camera in one hand.

Similar to what is found on more expensive and larger cameras, the selector button/dial can be controlled in two ways - either as a standard up, down, left, right button, or you can rotate an outer ring clockwise or anti-clockwise to control menus on the screen. Once you get used to it, this can be a real time saver, especially for things like scrolling through loads of photos.

Main Features

The main reasons to buy any Travel Zoom camera is for it's zoom and it's compact size. With the FinePix F550EXR you are not going to be disappointed as it comes with an impressive 15x optical zoom that ranges from 24 mm right up to 360 mm (35mm equivalent) - Remember, it was not that long ago that even the best superzoom bridge cameras only had a 15x zoom, so this is really impressive that they have managed to fit it in such a small body

15x Zoom (35mm camera equivalent: 24-360mm)

The large zoom capability was what first drew me to this compact camera over all the competition. The 15x optical zoom starts with at a wide 24 mm and goes all the way to 360mm (35mm equivalent)

This gives you a lot of freedom to change the frame to suite your particular shot.

The Sample photos below illustrate just how powerful and useful the 15x zoom is. I took the first photo in each series at 24mm (0x zoom) and the second at maximum zoom 15x (360mm) from the same location:

Using the FujiFilm FinePix F550EXR
Using the FujiFilm FinePix F550EXR

24mm

360mm (15x)

   
Using the FujiFilm FinePix F550EXR
Using the FujiFilm FinePix F550EXR

24mm

360mm (15x)

   
Using the FujiFilm FinePix F550EXR
Using the FujiFilm FinePix F550EXR

24mm

360mm (15x)

 

To change the focal length (zoom in or zoom out), you use a small spring loaded lever that sits in front of the shutter button on the right side of the body of the camera. This works well and is well positioned, but can be a little tricky to fine tune your focal length. This is one area where larger cameras like the FinePix HS20EXR and SLR cameras where you rotate the lens to adjust focal length are superior.

Image Stabilization (CMOS Shift + High ISO)
The problem with long telephoto shots is that unless you are using something like a tripod (see: Tripods for Travel & Safari) you images will often suffer from camera shake and subject movement which can ruin photos by producing blurred results. To help with this, the FinePix F550EXR uses a highly effective CMOS-shift and high ISO image stabilization to help ensure that your photos stay extra-crisp and clear, even at the full 15x zoom.

The F550exr version also has an additional anti-blur feature that is not available on the F500exr version. This helps you to take sharp photos with low light or at full 15x zoom without the need of a tripod.

The way it works is the Finepix 550EXR camera in EXR AUTO mode uses the power of their EXR CMOS sensor and Multi Frame technology to combine 4 frames into a single, sharp blur-free image with remarkably low noise.

This feature does reduce the image size from 16mp down to 8mp, but for most uses and online web galleries this is more than enough and does mean that you don't have to travel around carrying a tripod. It is also far better to have a sharp 8mp photo than a blurry 16mp one.

In my opinion the image stabilization is easily as good as any other camera that I have used in this class and as good as on most superzoom bridge cameras that I have tested.

Compact Camera

Weighing 215 g (0.47 lb / 7.58 oz) and with dimensions of 104 x 63 x 33mm (4.09 x 2.48 x 1.3") it is true to say that the Fujifilm Finepix 5550EXR is a little heavier and bulkier than most full compact cameras, but then again, most of them don't come with a 15x zoom.

Double Sliding Structured Lens Technology
The image below shows that when you turn on the camera, the lens extends out a little. When zooming in on a subject this lens will extend out a little further. What is impressive is once the F550EXR is turned off the whole lens folds and fits into the body ensuring that the camera is compact enough to easily carry with you wherever you are going. Ideal for Travel and even taking with you on a night out on the town.

 

Top Down View of the Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR, showing the lens fully extended

High Quality Lenses
Fujinon have used the highest quality extra-low dispersion glass to mold its high-precision aspheric lenses.

What does this all mean? Well an aspheric lens is simply a lens with a surface which is not perfectly spherical or not perfectly convex or concave or, to put it another way, you can find different areas on the lens with different degrees of curvature. The asphere's more complex surface profile can reduce or eliminate spherical aberration and also reduce other optical aberrations compared to a simple lens.

Extra low dispersion glass is used to make lenses on high end cameras, telescopes, microscopes and binoculars. The Extra low dispersion glass prevents chromatic aberration because it concentrates and directs the wavelength of light more effectively onto the camera’s film (sensor). Lenses made from extra low dispersion glass have less air bubbles and glass deformities that are more likely to cause image distortion.

Sample Photos

Below are a few of the photos I took with the FinePix 550EXR whilst I was on holiday in northern Spain. Most were taken using the Auto EXR mode. The only editing that I have done is to reduce them in size and a little in quality to optimise them for the web.

Using the FujiFilm FinePix F550EXR
Using the FujiFilm FinePix F550EXR
Using the FujiFilm FinePix F550EXR

1/340 sec.
f/7.1
ISO-100

1/250 sec.
f/7.1
ISO-100

1/750 sec.
f/3.5
ISO-100

     
Using the FujiFilm FinePix F550EXR
Using the FujiFilm FinePix F550EXR
Using the FujiFilm FinePix F550EXR

1/300 sec.
f/4.7
ISO-100

1/250 sec.
f/7.1
ISO-100

1/750 sec.
f/3.5
ISO-100

     
EXR CMOS Sensor

One of the features that Fuji are most excited about on this camera, but one that is probably the most uninteresting to most casual users is their EXR CMOS sensor that optimizes the best of EXR and CMOS imagining technologies.

The new BSI (Back Side Illuminated) EXR CMOS sensor that according to Fujifilm offers a breakthrough in image quality. But what is impressive and class leading is the 16 million pixels that is a real leap in image resolution for a bridge superzoom camera.

EXR Sensor?
Basically what the EXR sensor does is to take two images simultaneously using different exposures to produce a single image. This has the effect of significantly enhancing the dynamic range, revealing subtle details in shadow and eliminating washout of bright areas.

Standard sensors are perfectly fine for the flat lighting for example what you find on overcast days, and in these situations the EXR sensor's widest dynamic range would not be of an advantage.

But on a bright, sunny day, the dynamic range of most standard sensor cameras isn't wide enough to simultaneously capture details in the dark shadows and the bright highlights, so something will be lost. If the camera uses a high enough exposure to capture shadow detail, highlights will be blown and where the sky should be blue, you'll probably see only white.

You could use any camera to take two or more photos with different exposures and combine them in post processing to get a similar effect. This is known as HDR processing, but there will be a time interval between the photos, and depending on the length of the time interval and if the scene contains moving objects, combining the images can create problems. With a camera that has an EXR, this isn't a problem since both images are shot at the same time and combined automatically.

To go into the technology in further detail on this page would be overkill, but I have listed it's main advantages. It is also worth taking a look at the video below:

  • The very high resolution (16 Megapixels) images it captures
  • Wide Dynamic Range 1600% - DR mode simultaneously captures two images to produce a single image with significantly enhanced dynamic range, revealing subtle details in shadow and eliminating washout of bright areas.
  • High Sensitivity & Low Noise - SN mode takes advantage of high-sensitivity to capture smooth texture and natural brightness with minimal noise.
  • The CMOS circuit enables fast data signal readout, which in turn makes the new high speed movie possible along with the high speed continuous shooting functions.



Full HD Movie Recording

The Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR is able to record high-resolution full-HD 1920x1080 movies with stereo sound (16:9 format) at 30 frames per second. (1280 x 720 pixels @ 60 frames/sec. or 640 x 480 pixels @ 30 frames/sec.)

The camera uses the H.264 (MOV) Full 1080p HD format and stereo sound. The mainstay of broadcasting and Blu-Ray technologies, the H.264 format produces file sizes that are smaller and easier to handle than AVI, plus they’re compatible with many applications and websites, making it simple for you to share video content via sites such as YouTube.

The A one-touch movie record button enables you to capture all the action in full HD very quickly without having to change modes on the camera ensuring that you don't miss any of the action, what is more is you can take still photos during movie recordings as well. The 15x optical zoom is also available in movie recording.

Auto Focus
When shooting video, you will notice that the camera sometimes struggles to keep in focus, especially if you have the Movie Auto Focus set to "continuous" and the subject is moving.

Zooming
Whilst is is possible to use the zoom whilst filming, it is almost impossible to do it smoothly. So I would suggest picking your zoom level and then film the subject.

Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR, showing the lens fully extended
3.0-inch LCD

Apart from the fact that it does not tilt, I think this F5550EXR camera uses exactly the same screen that is used on my FinePix HS20EXR.

This is great news, because the 3.0-inch LCD monitor is excellent and is as large as any in this class.

It has a 460,000 dot resolution covering 100% of the image and you really get an excellent view. This is really important because like most compacts these days, it does not have a conventional viewfinder.

But for me the most impressive bit about it was the quality of the image it produced and the high resolution graphics that it displays as you navigate through the menu. Far better than all others I have tried.

GPS

The F550EXR uses a GPS module. This creates geo tags displaying latitude and longitude or place names on all your photos and videos. This information is stored within the Exif header on files. Additionally, the camera holds a database of over 500,000 place names allowing you to display the name of the place where the photo was taken.

This location data can then be used for pages with maps, where you can post photos to a specific location on the map. Sites and programs that will recognise this data include MyFinePix Studio, Panoramio and Picassa.

Whilst the GPS function is excellent for travel photography, I did a times find that the camera took quite a while for the GPS function to work and for it to recognise where I was. This is no good if you are constantly turning your camera on and off. To get around this you can set the camera to continuously search for your location, but this will obviously impact on battery life.

RAW Image Format

High resolution pictures are captured in 16:9 format (4,608 x 2,592 pixels, 3,264 x 1,840 pixels, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels) and can be stored on the camera in either JPEG or RAW formats (or both).

Many travel compacts don't offer you the option of capturing your images in RAW format, but with this Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR camera, not only can you do this, but you can preset the camera to record images in JPEG, RAW or both formats as default. But if you only select one format, you can record in both when necessary just by pressing a single button on the back of the camera.

For those that don't know, Raw image files are sometimes called digital negatives, as they fulfill the same role as negatives in film photography: that is, the negative is not directly usable as an image, but has all of the information needed to create an image.

The purpose of raw image formats is to save, with minimum loss of information, data obtained from the sensor, and the conditions surrounding the capturing of the image.

Panoramic Photos

Just like on my FinePix HS20EXR, the "motion" Panoramic mode on the F550EXR is simply stunning. Gone are they days where you had to use special software on your computer to stick the photos together, with this FinePix camera they are so easy to create.

To take panoramic shots, all you have to do is select Adv. on the main dial and then press menu to select the "Motion Panorama 360 Mode". Then press the shutter button and just sweep the camera to pan the scene. That's it! The FinePix F550EXR very cleverly produces the 360° panorama shot automatically!

You can also easily change the how wide you want your panorama to be - either 120°, 180° or 360°. You can also change the direction you want to sweep your camera - either Right to Left, Left to Right, Up to Down or Down to Up.

Tracking Auto Focus

Another aspect that I really like is the camera keeps fast moving subjects in the frame in focus, even when the zoom is fully extended. This is really useful when you are trying to capture birds and other wildlife that is on the move.

Best Frame Capture Mode

Timing a shot, especially with fast moving subjects can be very difficult. But with Best Frame Capture Mode, all you have to do is half-press the shutter and the FinePix HS20EXR starts recording photos at 11fps at 8 megapixel resolution. When you decide on the correct moment and fully press the shutter button, the camera captures up to 16 frames including pre-recorded frames, giving you the opportunity to select the best shot.

Best Frame Capture Mode


Cost & Where to Buy

UK Shoppers UK Shoppers
Buy this camera in the UK:

US Shoppers US Shoppers
Buy this camera in the USA:

   
199 (with free delivery) at Warehouseexpress.com  
   


F550EXR vs HS20EXR

I thought it would be useful to compare the main stats of my two favorite travel cameras.

Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR
FujiFilm FinePix F550EXR
Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR

Street price: $250 • £230

$499 • £399

Zoom tele (T): 360mm (15x)
Wide-angle: 24mm
Aperture range: F3.5 - F5.3
Continuous Drive: 8fps
Min shutter: 8sec
Max shutter: 1/2000sec
ISO rating: Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200 (6400 and 12800 with boost)

720mm (30x)
24mm
F2.8 - F5.6
8 fps
30sec
1/4000sec
Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200 (6400 and 12800 with boost)

Max Res: 4608 x 3456
Effective pixels: 16 million
Censor Type: EXR CMOS
Sensor size: 1/2" (6.4 x 4.8 mm)

4608 x 3456
16 million
EXR CMOS
1/2 " (6.40 x 4.80 mm, 0.3 cm²)

Metering: Multi, Average, Spot
Exposure compensation:
-2 to +2 EV in 1/3 EV Steps

TTL 256 zone
-2 to +2 EV in 1/3 EV steps

LCD Size: 3"
LCD Dots: 460,000
Built-in Flash: Yes, Pop-up
Flash range: 3.2m
External flash: No

3"
460,000
Yes, Pop-up
3.2m
Yes, Hot-shoe

Max Movie: 1920 x 1080 (FHD 30 fps)

1920 x 1080 (FHD 30 fps)

Dimensions: 104 x 63 x 33mm
Weight (+ batteries): 215 g (7.58 oz)
Battery: Lithium-Ion NP-50 rechargeable battery and charger

131 x 91 x 126mm
730g (25.7 oz)
4 x AA batteries (Alkaline, NiMH or Lithium)

Add Telephoto Lens: No

Yes


Negatives?

One thing that is a slight concern to me was that the camera would sometimes just freeze. The only way to then reset it was to completely remove the battery. I have done some research on this and I don't think it is a very common fault as there is not much written about it. I would suggest that if you camera does the same that you could easily get it replaced with another one.

Whilst the GPS function is a great feature, I found that it at times took ages to recognise where I was. To get around this you can set the camera to continuously search for your location, but this will obviously impact on your battery life.

In Conclusion

If you are looking for a compact camera that still has a pretty impressive zoom, then I have no hesitation in recommending the Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR. It is a great little camera that is packed with many features that are as good as my more expensive and much bigger bridge camera.

This versatile camera is an ideal travel companion and because of it's small size can easily be taken with you almost anywhere you go. It is for that reason it is ideal for anyone who really wants to travel light, but still wants to get some close up wildlife shots whilst they are on safari.


Alternatives

If the 15x zoom is not enough for you and you are looking for something that has a larger zoom, then I would suggest taking a look at a superzoom bridge camera - they may be larger then the F550EXR, but they are still much smalller and cheaper than an SLR camera and they come with very powerful zooms. Below are a few of my recommendations:


Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXRFujifilm FinePix HS20EXR

The successor to the very popular FinePix HS10 from Fujifilm, comes very powerful Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR with it's 30x optical zoom (35mm camera equivalent 720mm), much higher 16 MP image resolution, faster auto focus and movie recording in full 1080p HD. This camera has to be one of the very best for taking with you on any safari holiday.

>> Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR Camera Review


Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100

With a super powerful 24x optical zoom (35mm camera equivalent 600mm), much higher 14.1 MP image resolution, rotating LCD screen, movie recording in full HD and a 25mm ultra wide angle lens, this is the best superzoom compact digital camera on the market and an ideal safari holiday companion.

>> Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 Digital Camera


Canon PowerShot SX30 ISCanon PowerShot SX30 IS

This superzoom bridge camera from Canon, the PowerShot SX30 IS features a massive 35x zoom (35mm equivalent of a 24-840mm lens) and loads of other features including full 720p HD video recording, excellent image stabilization and a vari-angle 2.7 inch LCD display.

>> Canon PowerShot SX30 IS Digital Camera


Related Articles

Below are some more articles that you may also find useful:


The Best Digital Superzoom cameras for SafarisThe Best Compact Superzoom Cameras for Safari

If you do decide that a superzoom compact camera, rather than a digital SLR, here is our guide to the best compact super zoom safari cameras. Includes features to look out for and review of the top two cameras with a side by side comparison.

>> Best Safari Camera (compact superzooms)




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Best Cameras for Safari Digital Cameras for Safari

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