When manufacturers use language like 'revolutionary' and 'ground-breaking technology', it's only natural to feel a twinge of scepticism. One thing is for sure, however, the new Fujifilm F200EXR is bristling with bright ideas and clever new features.
At the heart of the camera is a brand new 12MP Super CCD EXR image sensor, but the more intriguing aspect is how the equally new EXR image processor aims to get the most out of the sensor, pursuing the best possible image quality in wide-ranging conditions.
The F200EXR's main claim to fame, and indeed to ground-breaking revolution, is that the sensor can be used in any of three distinct modes. The first is Resolution Priority mode, which uses all 12MP of the sensor to deliver the most detailed rendition of subjects (nothing particularly new there then).
Next up is the High ISO & Low Image Noise mode, which aims to get around the problem of image noise in low lighting conditions. As a workaround, the F200EXR caps two adjacent pixels together so they can gather more light, at the expense of halving the output resolution from 12MP to 6MP.
Again, however, it's not uncommon for compact cameras to be limited to producing relatively small resolution pictures at their maximum sensitivity settings.
Finally, there's Wide Dynamic Range, the most cunning of the EXR modes, in which the sensor effectively captures the scene with two 6MP images using different exposure values, merging the results into a single 12MP or 6MP image that retains maximum detail in both highlight and lowlight areas of the image.
While all these EXR novelties sound exciting enough, to some extent or another, the big question is how they perform in practise.
You can select any of the three EXR shooting modes by switching to EXR on the camera's main mode dial and then pressing the Menu button. One of the main selling points of the F200EXR, however, is that it's sufficiently 'intelligent' to analyse the scene and figure out whether you're taking a macro, portrait, landscape or night scene shot, and so on, and then to deliver the optimum settings automatically.
So, for example, in low lighting conditions, the camera will switch to a lower resolution and in high contrast scenes, the wide dynamic range mode will be invoked.
In our tests, EXR Auto worked reasonably well up to a point, but we came away with a few reservations.
For example, in highly detailed scenes that were brightly lit, the camera often seemed to switch to lower resolution for no apparent reason.
There was much more consistency about automatic switching to low resolution mode in gloomy lighting conditions, where high ISO settings were selected by the camera. Even here, however, the camera seemed to switch between different scene types at random.
Disappointingly, the reduction in image noise was nowhere near as effective as we'd hoped for and, at sensitivity settings of ISO 400 and above, noise was much more noticeable than in images produced by any of the new Canon compact cameras we reviewed in last month's issue.
Things take a turn for the better in Wide Dynamic Range mode, which really does work effectively. The effect can be applied automatically or manually, with two increasing strengths available in most modes to best suit the scene, and three strengths on offer in EXR Wide Dynamic Range mode.
In our tests, the camera did an excellent job of retaining both highlight and lowlight detail, for example, preventing pale blue skies from washing out while preserving plenty of intricacy in dark shadows.
While Canon and Nikon cameras have competing i-Contrast and Active D-Lighting systems to produce similar results, the F200EXR's technology is particularly impressive.
Dig a little deeper beneath all the EXR hype and there's an impressive range of features that deserve to come out of the shadows.
First up is a respectably generous 5x zoom lens, equivalent to 28-140mm in real terms, taking you from a 'proper' wide-angle to short telephoto. There's no image stabiliser built into the lens, but at least the camera features CCD-shift stabilisation, which works fairly well in conjunction with the Auto ISO feature to deliver Fujifilm's so-called Dual Image Stabilisation system.
People-friendly, the F200EXR includes Fujifilm's latest Face Detection 3.0 system, which makes a very good job of recognising faces in scenes and applying correct focus and exposure automatically, complete with red-eye reduction lash. The 'super-intelligent' lash works well in varying conditions and is particularly good at avoiding blown highlights in macro shooting.
Maintaining the tradition of various recent Fujifilm F-series compact cameras, you can forego the lash in favour of an 'N' (Natural Light) shooting mode, which adjusts ISO and other image processing parameters to give good results in dull lighting conditions.
Again, however, image noise is disappointing at high sensitivity settings, but at least there's an N + Flash shooting mode, which takes two exposures in quick succession, one with lash and one without.
The Manual shooting mode is also worth having but, while there's plenty of flexibility with shutter speeds, you can only change the lens aperture between two settings at any given focal length, for example to f/3.3 or f/9.0 at the wide-angle end and to f/5.1 or f/14.0 at the telephoto end.
The sharpness of the Fujinon lens is impressive throughout the zoom range, although we suffered a little chromatic aberration (purple fringing). Colour rendition is sumptuous yet very natural in the standard Provia setting and gloriously vivid in the camera's Velvia mode.
There's also an Astia film simulation mode, which is great for soft-looking portraits, all three modes being named after Fujifilm's legendary film stock.
All in all, the F200EX has a lot going for it but, to repeat a well-worn adage, it's more evolution than revolution.