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Underwater compact camera review

Fuji FinePix F500 EXR | Fuji WP-FXF500 housing

Equipment review

The camera | Like the F80, the Fuji FinePix F500 compact is a thing of beauty – it comes in several colours, but we were smitten with the pure white version we were sent. It really did look fabulous beside those other objects of desire, the MacBook and the iPad.

All the physical elements described in our review of the Fujifilm F80 EXR are much the same (read that here) but we will reiterate that the Fujifilm F500 also has buttons that sit slightly proud of the body so can feel what you are doing without having to look at the camera as you use it – a real bonus for spontaneous shooting.

The camera will shoot up to 16 megapixels and measures around 100 mm x 60 mm so it's small but still substantial and weighty enough to feel comfortable in your hand. The lens has been changed to a Fujinon 15x wide angle 24-360 mm optical zoom. The wider angle on this lens was a great bonus underwater allowing you to get much closer to a subject but apart from a few tests, the additional length on the zoom was not useful, see below.

The best innovation over previous models, however, is that Fuji have introduced custom white balance on video.

The housing | The housing produced by Fuji to specifically fit this camera is another chunky item – substantial, solid and well made. My favourite feature remains the double o-ring system with one o-ring on the rear door and one on the inside of the housing, a true belt-and-braces bit of design, ideal for people (like me!) who don't want to work too hard at looking after things.

However, the downside of this new housing is the enormous port, which has been added to allow full zoom capability yet using the zoom really means shooting through far too much water. The results when testing this were not good – with the zoom out to it's longest length you would need some seriously powerful flashes to counteract the distance through the water. It takes great shots on land.

Colour and exposure tests

My main aim with the F500EXR was to see how well the new custom white balance feature worked on video and have to admit to being amazed. The sequence of button presses to get to custom white balance is a little clearer than other compact cameras but it is still time consuming. Once you are in the correct menu, take a reading on a piece of perfectly white card (not grey or a hand) making sure you fill the whole frame, then save it before you start videoing.

The two videos, top right were taken at the same time. The left one uses Fuji's standard underwater setting while the far right one was taken after a white balance reading.

The three videos below all use custom white balance with NO additional correction in a software programme. Sometimes the results are unexpected, but that is down to not resetting the custom white balance often enough. I would say you need to do this every five metres once you are deeper than about 10 or 12 metres.

LOCATION: Sumilon, Philippines
DEPTH: 14 metres
SETTINGS: No custom white balance

LOCATION: Sumilon, Philippines
DEPTH: 14 metres
SETTINGS: Custom white balance

LOCATION: Pescador, Philippines
DEPTH: 22 metres
SETTINGS: Custom white balance

LOCATION: Apo Island, Philippines
DEPTH: 8 metres
SETTINGS: Custom white balance

LOCATION: Apo Island, Philippines
DEPTH: 12 metres
SETTINGS: Custom white balance

A full length video shot with the Fuji FinePix F500 EXR is here.

Underwater photos

Taking stills with the Fuji FinePix F500 EXR is limited in the same way as the F80. The port casts a shadow so you will need an external flash. If stills are your priority, please refer back to that section on the previous review. However, for occasional images, taking a custom white balance reading gave good results. Another nice feature is that you can take a photo even while the video is recording so if you have corrected the white balance for that, any incidental photo will have reasonable colour.

A note on this camera
The camera supplied by Fuji for reviewing was a pre-production camera. The only downside we noted was that the focusing on video was unreliable. This particular camera has gone back to Fuji for testing.

Summary

More information and similar cameras are on the FujiFilm website.

The Fuji FinePix F500 EXR continues in the same vein as the previous models tested. They are sturdy, well-built cameras that will withstand a fair deal of heavy-handed treatment like being dropped on the floor, into the bottom of a RIB or knocked about in rinse tanks. Likewise, the Fuji housings are strong and easy to maintain.

Fujifilm compact cameras improve step-by-step with every new version that Fuji release. This one is getting very close to what I would say is my ideal underwater toy of choice. The build quality – especially of the housing – is superb. For someone who is willing to add a flash and use it underwater for stills, it could be a great camera but stills in this 'house' are Shaun's domain. For me, it's simply about recording what is happening around me and loading the fun stuff up on this site. Although I know this isn't a professional-quality video, it does the right job for me.

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