Want a 'travel zoom' camera on the cheap this Christmas? Then could the 15x optical zoom Fujifilm FinePix 660EXR could be the answer?
The bigger – or rather longer – the zoom lens on our compact cameras, the more options we have at our fingertips for framing any subject in mere seconds.
An optical zoom is also the method by which today's digital snapshots differentiate themselves from smartphones - and while the 15x range offered by the Fujifilm F660EXR falls short of some 'travel zooms', such as the 20x Panasonic TZ30, the Fuji does offer a higher 16 megapixel resolution from an EXR CMOS sensor and, on paper at least, appear better value.
Along with the TZ30, the Fujifilm's main competition comes in the form of the Nikon S9300 and the Sony HX20V.
The F660EXR is available for around £149 at the time of writing - and that's for a metal build, pocket-sized chassis with sensor shift image stabilisation that feels built to last. That's something you couldn't previously say of many £150 snapshots.
In fact we'd go so far as to say that this FinePix, along with its 20x zoom siblings in the F750, F770 and range-topping F800EXR, is one of the best-looking pocket zooms on the market. So does the entry-level F660EXR have what it takes to make it onto our list of the best digital compact cameras around?
Fujifilm FinePix F660EXR: Controls
Only slightly bigger than a credit card in height and width, Fuji has here found room for an unobtrusive yet useful handgrip complete with leather-effect rubber padding, plus a full complement of physical controls, including traditionalist shooting mode dial.
This has both user definable options - including program, aperture priority, shutter priority and full manual mode - as well as fully automatic ones.
Add in the ability to 'tweak' the way the sensor operates in EXR mode - biasing it towards full resolution or enhancing the scene - plus an 'advanced' auto setting which allows the capture of full 360° panoramas with a sweep of the camera, and it feels we're getting more than expected at this price.
Further to this there are 18 pre-optimised scene modes for common subjects - including one each for cats and dogs - while an 'F' mode button near the base of the backplate provides one-press access to most often used settings, such as image size and quality, ISO light sensitivity and drive modes. It's here also that Fuji's 'film simulation' modes are found.
These provide another point of difference and are, in a nutshell, effects filters that attempt to ape the effects of the maker's roll films of old. There are vivid, soft, black and white and sepia options to choose from, along with a 'standard' setting.
While the camera powers up ready for the first shot in around three seconds, which is average for its class, the zoom, starting out a wide-angle 24mm equivalent in 35mm terms and running up to 360mm at the telephoto end, responds well to a nudge of the zoom lever. It veritably powers from extreme wide angle to maximum telephoto setting in just over two seconds.
To arrive at more precise framing, it's possible to incrementally nudge it forward or back in baby steps. With separate one-touch video record and playback buttons, plus a familiar four-way control pad, on the F660EXR the sense is that everything is falling immediately between forefinger and thumb as it should.
Fujifilm FinePix F660EXR: Screen
With no optical or electronic viewfinder, as expected, the Fuji FinePix F660EXR presents a 3-inch back screen with a respectably clear 460k-dot resolution.
Still JPEG images are composed and reviewed in standard 4:3 aspect ratio. This means that when video recording is commenced black bands crop the screen top and bottom, thereby displaying a 16:9 format image more faithful to how the resulting footage will appear if replayed on a flat panel TV or widescreen monitor.
Fujifilm FinePix F660EXR: Battery
The bundled NP-50A lithium ion battery, which slides into the familiar compartment at the base, shared with slot for removable SD media card, is charged separately from the F660 with the aid of adapter-come-mains-plug combo.
Battery life when fully charged is good for up to 300 shots, which is towards the top end of what we would expect for a pocket snapshot camera.
Fujifilm FinePix F660EXR: Image quality
As this is an EXR model, Fuji provides users with a choice of three ways in which the sensor can be utilised. Option one is the choice of high (full 16 megapixel) resolution, option two is increased dynamic range, with the camera taking two shots at slightly different exposures and combining them, or option three is boosted sensor sensitivity so in theory better low light performance.
As we've noted, 'EXR' even has its own setting on the mode dial, though if you like you can ignore the options here completely and let the camera decide what best befits a particular subject/lighting scenario, with the Fuji making a reliable fist of it.
Video is a Full HD 1920x1080 pixels at a smooth 30 fps and with stereo sound – which is a bonus at this pricing level – though the responsiveness of the zoom noticeably slows once recording has commenced to disguise the mechanics of the lens. As expected, pictures are of snapshot quality though we appreciated the flexibility of the extended focal range.
Fujifilm FinePix F660EXR: Verdict
Just £150 for a solid-feel metal-bodied 16-megapixel camera feels like very fair value, and that's before we throw in the fact that there's a retractable 15x optical zoom lurking within.
We love a 'long zoom' or 'travel' compact as much as the next guy and, just as with a camera with a swivelling back screen as opposed to a fixed one, once you've got used to a camera with a zoom range beyond the standard 3x or 5x, this Fuji will have you hooked.
Opportunities for photo and video shooting that were previously beyond the reach of your old pocket snapper or phone now are within your grasp. OK, so at times we struggle to see much difference in image quality from one EXR mode to the next and have always felt that whole switch-able sensor thing to be more gimmick than essential feature.
But for the money being asked here if it's snapshot quality you're happy with we would suggest you really canít go far wrong with the Fujifilm FinePix F660EXR.
Fujifilm FinePix F660EXR release date: Out now
Fujifilm FinePix F660EXR price: £149