Can Fujifilm's HS30EXR reshape the superzoom and right the wrongs of last year's HS20 model? The What Digital Camera Fujifilm Finepix HS30EXR review...
Fujifilm Finepix HS30EXR review – Features
A superzoom wouldn’t be so called if it didn’t have a significant zoom on offer. The HS30’s 24-720mm f/2.8-5.6 (equivalent) lens has that more than covered. But not only can this optic make far-away subjects fill the frame, it’s also go a 1cm-from-subject Super Macro mode when shooting at the widest-angle 24mm setting.
A 3in, 460k-dot LCD screen is mounted on a tilt-angle bracket and is complemented by an electronic viewfinder (EVF). But here’s the first big news: the EVF is both larger and higher resolution than its predecessor. An integral step in making the camera more user friendly.
Behind the scenes and the Fuji HS30 utilises the same 16-megapixel, back-side illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor with EXR processing and sensor-shift image stabilisation technology as found in the HS20 model. The pixels are rotated by 45° degrees for more effective capture of light, while EXR processing engine is said to process superior images.
Images can be captured from ISO 100-3200 at any given resolution, or at 8MP for ISO 6400 and 4MP for ISO 12,800. In addition there’s a 1080p HD movie capture mode that uses the H.264 compression codec for best possible quality.
Auto shooting, full manual controls, and burst shooting up to eight frames per second (8fps) complete the package.
Fujifilm Finepix HS30EXR review – Design
Unlike many compacts that depend on a ‘zoom toggle’ to extend the zoom range, the HS30 is rather different: the inclusion of a manual zoom ring means it’s possible to quickly jump through the zoom range with a literal hands-on approach. It’s a lot like using a DSLR lens.
Like the HS20 before it, the HS30 is a nigh on identical machine, bar for some subtle changes to the grip around the lens barrel. That being the case the protruding built-in flashgun – while necessary in order to avoid drop-shadow on account of the large lens – makes it tricky to rotate through the zoom in one single movement. Similarly the manual focus ring is set so far back towards the camera’s body that it can be a touch fiddly in use. It’s a case of six of one, half a dozen of the other though – to compromise one aspect of these design points would only have a knock-on effect to other areas of the design.
So overall the HS30 is a well designed camera. The grip is deep and easy to hold, buttons and dials are clearly marked out and sit within easy reach of the hand.
The rear LCD screen can be angled 45° down or (in excess of) 90° upwards on the vertical bracket for waist-level or overhead work.
In addition more advanced users will be pleased at the inclusion of a three-pin TTL hotshoe that can be used with external flashguns.
In some areas the HS30 steps up a level beyond its HS20 predecessor. The electronic viewfinder is now slightly larger and far more resolute, at 0.26inches in size and with 921k-dots of resolution to be precise. It makes a huge difference in use and is the single biggest advance in this latest model.
But that’s not all. Gone are the 4xAA batteries of the HS20, instead replaced by a rechargeable li-ion battery that comes included in the HS30’s box. For our money that’s a far better deal.
Fujifilm Finepix HS30EXR review – Performance
The Finepix HS30EXR’s zoom lens not only offers a significant range but is easy to use thanks to the manual zoom ring design. The autofocus system itself is snappy and accurate at wideangle settings, but doesn’t deliver to the same standard at the longer focal lengths. The biggest issue – that was also apparent with the HS20 – is a ‘pause’ where realtime feedback ceases for a brief moment as the camera focuses. This means a moving subject may have left the frame during the period of focus, which makes shooting moving subjects tricky.
Furthermore the continuous autofocus system is no more advanced than those in many other contrast-detect compact cameras. At longer focal lengths moving subjects will ‘outsmart’ it, which renders it of little use for moving subjects.
There are four main focus area types, ranging from Centre-point, Multi-point and Area through to Tracking. The Area AF offers 49 areas that cover the majority of the image preview.
Macro enthusiasts will be pleased by the 1cm-from-subject Super Macro mode. Although limited to the 24mm wideangle, the close focus distance at longer focal lengths is still impressive in the regular Macro mode. It’s approximately 3m-from-subject when at the longest 720mm setting – ideal for capturing subjects with that pro-looking blurred background.
As well as JPEG files it’s also possible to capture Raw shots. This is another area that the HS30 has improved compared to the HS20: it now takes less than a third of the time to write a shot to SD card, at around two seconds for a single frame.
Continuous shooting at 8fps is possible when shooting JPEG files, though maxes out at five frames if shooting in Raw. The fast burst rate is met with useful options in the drive menu such as Dynamic Range Bracketing or Auto Exposure Bracketing. Other options include ‘Best Frame Capture’ (i.e. standard bust mode), or even ‘Film Simulation Bracketing’. The Film Simulation modes offer Fuji’s traditional film types: Provia (standard), Velvia (vibrant) and Astia (soft) as well as Black & White and Sepia options. Elsewhere in the menus it’s possible to customise Color, Tone, Sharpness and Noise Reduction and there’s even a WB Shift for that extra level of control.
The HS30EXR also has a 1080p movie mode that uses the H.264 compression codec and outputs MOV files straight from camera (no computer-based processing required here). Capture begins almost immediately via the press of the one-touch movie button on the rear of the camera, though the 16:9 ratio used for movies will ‘crop in’ to the frame with top and bottom black borders (as it’s a different ratio than the 4:3 or 3:2 stills options).
As well as the HS30EXR performs, it’s worth reflecting on your expectations. If you will, a subtle word of warning: A superzoom won’t match up to nor replace a DSLR (plus decent lens). Focus ability, potential wide aperture advances and better image quality will see to that. For the money superzooms offer a fair balance of features and this, combined with a focal length reach far beyond anything within this price range, are their obvious strengths.
Fujifilm Finepix HS30EXR review – Image Quality
As described in the HS20 review from last year, the inclusion of a 16MP sensor had an impact on how much detail could be resolved compared to the HS10’s 10MP sensor from the year before. The HS30 uses the same 16MP sensor, so while image quality is reasonable it won’t resolve high amounts of detail at all ISO settings, and overexposure isn’t uncommon.
Pop the camera into the EXR mode, however, and it’s a bit of a different story: by using the full span of the sensor for an image of half the resolution, the EXR processing can garner the fullest dynamic range, colour detail and (in effect) has twice the level of light to play with on account of using two pixels for every one in the final image. The EXR results are useful for point-and-shoot snappers, but we’d still rather see a lower resolution, higher performance sensor to help capture that extra-fine detail.
The HS30’s lowest ISO 100-200 settings produce reasonable images, but the mosaic of JPEG processing artefacts, lack of smooth gradients and smeared edges won’t resolve as much detail as a DSLR (or similar) camera is capable of. From ISO 400-800 the issues become more pronounced, and so overall quality further declines. The higher ISO settings will have limited use for critical work, and the top-end ISO 12,800 can only be shot at 4MP (though it’s so riddled with image noise it’s not worth using).
Overall the image quality isn’t bad in compact camera terms, but as this is a camera designed for picking out far-away subjects, the inability to resolve quite the level of detail that those users may desire may be frustrating. The 720mm focal length will often require a higher ISO sensitivity to be used in order to provide a fast enough shutter speed for the shot. Close-up work at lower ISO settings won’t suffer from such restraints, however, and show the camera’s ability in a better light.
Like the HS20 before it the HS30’s metering also leans towards overexposure. Exposure compensation or manual adjustment does mean it is possible to set the exposure to suit your needs, or even bracket to expose multiple shots, but we advise shooting Raw files in addition to JPEGs to ensure there’s plenty of room to manipulate in post-production.
The HS30 isn’t going to outclass a DSLR or other large-sensor camera when it comes to image quality, but it will deliver shots just as good as many other 16MP compacts out there, making it a balanced, fair and affordable snapper.
Value & Verdict
Fujifilm Finepix HS30EXR review – Value
Considering that the HS30 is packed out with more tech than the HS20 has, the £359 launch price represents good value. Shop online and the likes of the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS can be picked up for around the same price, while the shorter-focal-length Panasonic Lumix FZ150 is around £369.
Fujifilm Finepix HS30EXR review – Verdict
The HS30EXR takes the superzoom formula and tweaks it into better shape than its predecessor. The 24-720mm manual zoom not only offers a significant range but the hands-on zoom ring makes it feel more DSLR-like than other superzoom cameras. Add to this the far superior electronic viewfinder that outclasses the competition and the rechargeable li-ion battery and the HS30 is on the right track.
But for all its good points, there are a couple of things that we’d still like to see: more accurate exposure and a lower-resolution sensor to help with critical detail would be at the top of the list, along with a faster continuous autofocus system. Image quality is reasonable, but won’t compare to a DSLR with long lens – so buy the HS30EXR with realistic expectations. Of course, such kit would cost considerably more, and this is where the HS30 comes into its own: a fair balance of price to features make it a great success.