Point-n-shoot founder Colin Glover Reviews Fuji's 16 Mp Superzoom Bridge Camera with 30 X Zoom, Full HD Video and Raw shooting. But is it any good? Read Colin's in depth review and find out.

It Looks like a DSLR, it feels like a DSLR, it zooms like a DSLR, it focuses like a DSLR and it shoots like a DSLR. It’s not a DSLR, but does Fujifilm’s HS20 EXR perform like a DSLR? Released last year to both applause and criticism alike with photography enthusiasts being split down the middle, opinions being either that it’s a great camera or a noisy beast.  What is beyond doubt, though, is that the because it’s just about as close to a DSLR as you can get for a fixed lens camera it has a legion of dedicated users.

HISTORY.

Back in 2010, Fuji unveiled the HS10 EXR, a 10 Mp bridge camera with a 30 X zoom lens, Raw image capture, Full 1080p HD movies, high speed shooting and DSLR style controls. Limiting the sensor to 10 Mp meant lower noise un images, and even though the majority of fixed lens cameras were now sporting 12 & 14 Mp sensors, serious photographers who didn’t want to carry heavy DSLR’s and lenses around loved it. It featured a ‘Back Side Illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor (the circuitry is at the back and the pixels at the front so more light hits the pixels for less noise).  It was an immediate hit with photographers, and a year or so later it was superseded by the HS20 EXR, with an increased  pixel count 16 Mp sensor, and quite a few extra frills.

Fuji’s EXR sensors are supposed to give cleaner images in lower light, and the EXR cameras which feature them are the top of the range models for each camera type Fuji produce. 16 Mp was a big leap from a 10 Mp sensor, and there were fears about how effectively the camera would handle noise.

Up until January 2012 the HS20 was Fuji’s top of the range consumer camera, with only the ‘Professional’ series X-10 (3 X zoom) and X-100 (fixed length optical lens equivalent to 35mm) being more expensive. Fuji’s SRP was originally £399.00  However, that month Fuji released the SX-1 and X-Pro 1 ‘Professional’ series cameras , as well as ‘Two’ updated versions of the HS20. The HS25 and HS30 (both EXR).

PRICING.

As the HS30 EXR features an improved 16Mp EXR sensor, a larger improved electronic viewfinder, Lithium Battery and a few minor enhancements. in between it and the HS 20 sits the HS25 EXR, which lacks the HS30’s improved viewfinder and lithium battery, as well as the Raw shooting mode which made the HS20 so popular which makes the HS25 more of a downgrade than an update. At the moment the HS25, whilst widely available in the US, is only sold by Jessops in the UK. With a US Price of around $400.00 translating to £252.00, Jessop’s price of 5p shy of £330.00 seems very excessive (especially as it’s almost £115.00 more expensive than it sells the HS20 for though it’s a web only collect at store price and stocks are limited).  This brings us back to the HS20. Whilst it’s not officially discontinued, there are now three bridge models above it, which means that the UK street price of £299.00 has dropped significantly to around the £220.00 mark, I’ve recently seen it sold new on Amazon’s marketplace for £199.00, though stocks seem to have sold out very quickly as one day they were listed as for sale, the next they were nowhere to be seen.  Fuji’s own shop had refurbished models listed for £179.99, though they didn’t any in stock at the time. Currently , you can get a refurbished model for £199.00 plus £5.00 delivery.They didn’t have new models listed as for sale, indicating it might be discontinued soon.

PACKAGING & CONTENTS.

The camera comes well packaged.  This camera came from Fuji Direct, and inside the courier’s polythene bag was a sturdy plain brown box. Inside this was the camera’s retail box. This box was constructed of thinner card, although a little thicker than used in your average point and shoot camera, but then the HS20 is considerably bigger than your average point and shoot, and needs a stronger box.

Inside the box, the camera is packed in a bubble wrap, and the accessories are loosely packed in the box. The strap, lens cap, AA batteries and leads are all packed in one small clear bag, with the leads being packed in their own bag. The paperwork and CD rom were in their own poly bag on the bottom of the box, and the camera, leads/strap/cover and lens hood (also in its own bag) were on the top. There was no cardboard frame holding the items in place, but the top and bottom of the box was lined with 1” thick blue foam pads, to protect the camera from damage.

 

 

FIRST IMPRESSIONS.

The strap is relatively easy to fit, though getting the ends through the second plastic toggle was a little fiddly, I had to press the end of the strap down to narrow it to get it go in and then gently pull the toggle over it. The lens cap was much more straightforward, though as with other bridge cameras, you loop it around the strap.

Weight wise and size wise it’s very much like an entry level DSLR. In fact Nikon’s entry level DSLR is both smaller and lighter.  It feels extremely solid, and is comfortable to hold. The sheer number of buttons and dials you can press is daunting, if you include the two dials and four presses of the Direction Pad then there’s a total of 19 things to press.  For the beginner, it’s a little like overkill, but if you’re upgrading from another bridge model then many of the buttons should be familiar. However, dependent upon whether you’re in shooting or playback mode, some buttons have different functions, especially the Command Dial, which has nothing written on it. For example, to change the aperture in  Aperture mode you simply turn the dial, but do it in manual mode you press and hold the EV button and turn the dial.

The back is dominated by the large 3” LCD screen. It’s a 460,000 pixel screen which means images look absolutely gorgeous when viewed on it. Colours look well saturated, and fine detail looks pin sharp, and zooming in to magnify images doesn’t make images look blocky. It can, in fact, make images look better on screen than when viewed on a computer.

On the top is the burst mode button, and the exposure button, as well as the shutter button surrounded by what appears to be the zoom lever, but is actually the on off switch, a big clue being the words ‘On’ and ‘Off’ at the rear. Move the switch left or right to turn it off and on. A major gripe with users is that if you have the auto power off enabled then once the cameras switches off you have to turn it off then on again. The big mode dial at the rear has 11 positions, whilst the blank command dial is somewhat smaller. Above the lens is the pop up flash, which can be adjusted in intensity depending upon lighting conditions, and used as a fill in or a full flash. The range varies between 12.5 at the full telephoto length and 23.3 inches at the 24 mm wide angle. Behind this is the Hot Shoe mount for an external flash.

The front of the camera is dominated by the whopping 30 X optical zoom lens. It has a 58 mm diameter, and a thread to attach filters or telephoto converters to extend the telephoto range. 2 X converters can be bought on Amazon from about £10.00, giving you an unbelievable 60 X optical zoom. I can’t comment on image quality at 60 X magnification, especially on a cheap £10.00 converter. It’s a manual zoom without a motor, to zoom in you twist it to the right. Behind the zoom ring is a manual focus ring. In manual focus mode the camera has an annoying feature of zooming in on a focus point to show you focus has been achieved, though it can be turned off. I found that you start turning the focus ring and as the image starts getting sharper it would suddenly zoom in without warning, ruining your concentration. Once turned off, focusing became a lot easier. It’s better to use the LCD screen rather than use the gauge at the bottom of the screen. To the sides, looking at the front you have the outputs for usb, A/V out and micro HDMI out (HDMI lead not supplied) on the right, whilst the SD card slot is on the left. Don't swap a card over whilst the camera is powered on as this locks the camera and could lead to damaged images. The camera takes SD/SDHC & SDXC cards.  There’s 5 dedicated buttons to the left of the LCD screen, for ISO, Auto Exposure (AE), Autofocus mode (AF), Focus type (AF CSM) and White Balance (WB), which have different functions in playback mode indicated by a blue icon next to the button.

On the bottom is the battery door and the tripod mount. The Battery door has no metal hinge, so be careful when you open it. To open it, slide the catch first. Battery life is fantastic. It uses 4 X AA batteries. The 4 supplied Panasonic alkaline batteries lasted just under the manual's claimed 300 shots, which were a mixture of flash off and on, though mainly off. Putting 4 NIMH Rechargeables from Asda actually exceeded the claimed 400 shots by about 50%. I'm not sure of the exact count, but by the time they ran out of power the image count had increased from the 290 odd shots taken with the original alkalines to well over 850. There's a menu item to select for the battery type you're using in the setup menu, so be sure to select the right type to extend your battery life. The tripod mount is made of plastic, and some users have had an isue with the thread on this, Be sure not to overtighten this.

MODES

Auto mode is the standard point and shoot mode. None of the advanced EXR features are used, though you can choose manual focus. The autofocus system is competent and uses 256 segments for a precise exposure. Focusing is fast and reliable, and  though it’s not the fastest in its class it won’t let you down when you need to capture images quickly as shutter lag is just 0.1 seconds. Images come out really well.

EXR mode uses the sensors EXR features to produce better images, and there’s four flavours of EXR, EXR Auto (where the camera chooses the best mode and image size for any given scene), and an EXR Priority mode with a choice between Resolution Priority (crisp clear shots with high resolution), High ISO/Low Noise (to reduce noise in high ISO images) and D-Range Priority (up to 1600% Dynamic Range).

Programme Auto mode sets the exposure automatically, whilst letting the user select shutter and aperture manually.

Advanced Mode has two variations, Pro Low Light, and Pro Portrait. Pro Low Light combines three images for lower noise in low light conditions, whilst Pro Focus blurs the background for portraits, whilst giving lovely skin and pin sharp subjects. There’s three strengths of background blur (Bokeh). The camera achieves this very well.

SP1/SP2 Mode stands for Scene position, and allows the user to set 2 of the scene modes for quick recall. In reality it’s just like Scene mode on a normal point and shoot, but it remembers the last scene for you. Having two positions means you can select your two most used scenes in from the menu.There's 17 scene modes to choose from, though if you add the two advanced modes it brings the total up to 19, and the three additional EXR modes, HR, SN and DR bring it up to 22. Sadly, there's no scene for 'Museum' or shooting objects behind glass, though there is a Text mode, as well as Greenery, Cat, Dog, and all the other usual suspects found on most new digital cameras.

Aperture Priority lets you select the Aperture size to control how much light to allow into the camera, and the camera sets the best shutter speed. Aperatures range from F2.9 up (large) to F11 (small).

Shutter Priority is the reverse of Aperture Priority. The user sets the shutter speed, and the camera sets the best Aperture. Shutter speeds range from 1/4000th of a second to down to 15 seconds (PASM modes – 4 secs in auto modes) and there’s a Bulb (B) setting that lets you keep the shutter pressed as long as you want for up to 30 seconds.

Motion Panorama lets you choose between 120/180 and 360 Degree panoramas. The camera stitches them together. Be aware that if you zoom in, you might not get a full 360 degree image.  It’s easy to use, just sweep the camera along the line in the centre of the LCD screen and a progress bar at the bottom shows you how far you have left to go with your pan.

Manual Mode lets the user set aperture, shutter and exposure independently for creative results, though you must know what you are doing to achieve the best results.

 

LENS.

The 30 X Fujinon lens is manually operated like a DSLR and starts at a wide angle of 4.2mm/24mm (35mm equiv) going uo to  126mm/720mm (35mm equiv) at full telephoto. The lens produces sharp clear shots throughout the range with image quality only softening at virtually full telephoto length. As with many cameras edge sharpness suffers slightly, though it hardly shoes unless you look closely. There’s no digital zoom, at all, so you don’t get the fuzziness that it produces. There’s a two-step image stabilisation that uses sensor shift techniques, and this works really well. Also, when using EXR mode, there’s an Advanced Anti Blur option in the menu that combines three separate images to reduce blur.  The camera seemed to produce reasonably sharp images at full zoom with it off, as my indoor shots indicate. Purple fringing in high contrast areas seems well controlled, though if you look hard enough you’ll see some. The supplied lens hood will help eliminate sun flare.

There’s a 58mm filter thread that allows you to attach filters such as Polarizing, ED, UV and coloured filters, as well as telephoto and wide angle converters to give you an almost DSLR like environment. Filters fit exceedingly well, and don’t degrade the excellent Fujinon lens. Telephoto converters can be hit and miss. Sony and Raynox produce acclaimed telephoto converters, but at £170.00 for the Sony and £400.00 for the Raynox, they cost  up to almost twice the cost of the camera. You can get cheap converters from a tenner, but they don’t seem to work well with the HS20.  Images look extremely soft and hazy around the edges. In fact they seem suited to cameras with smaller with lens barrels like Canon’s G series Powershot models. I tried two different models, with extremely disappointing results for both.

MANUAL

A 136 page manual is provided on the disc to print out. My printer can print double sided and produced a booklet for me with ease, just select ‘Booklet’ There’s 7 pages of warnings, a ‘Legend’ page and 3 pages of contents before you get to page 1. It’s well written, but is hard to follow at times.  It will often lead  you to other parts of the manual, having you thumb through the pages to get more relevant information on a feature. There’s no hyperlinks in the PDF file so if you don’t print it out then you’re forever clicking to get to the relevant section, or typing the page number in the box, but as page 1 of the PDF is actually page ‘i’, the front cover and not page 1 of the manual, you’re 12 pages out.  There is a printed quick start manual in the box to get you started, but it’s  a basic affair, you’re better with the full manual.

MENU

As with the manuals, menus are a tad complicated too. There’s two reasons for this. Firstly, there’s so many modes that each mode disables various functions, you’ll often go looking for a function to change and find that it’s greyed out. This is annoying. There’s two menus, a shooting menu and a setup menu. Unlike most cameras which have the separate menus along the top, the HS20 EXR’s 2 menus run down the side. The camera usually defaults to shooting menu. Secondly, there are a lot of options in the HS20’s setup menu that you’ll find in the shooting menu on other cameras. Depending upon the shot being taken, you’ll often find a lot of time in between both menus.  In fairness to Fuji, the menus are accessed like most cameras, and they look good. You can even change the menu colours, there’s several to choose from. Once you’ve got used to the camera, the menus become relatively easy to navigate. There’s usually between 4 and 6 pages to each menu depending on the mode you’re in.

PERFORMANCE

There’s no mistaking that the HS20 is a fast camera. It’s not the fastest bridge camera, but it’s right up there with the others. Startup time seems terribly slow as the camera starts with a white screen and the image gradually appears. It’s the same resuming from playback mode, though this can be shortened a lot by pressing the shutter button as soon as you switch on. It can take pictures at 12 frames a second, and seems to live up to this claim.  Auto focus is fast, taking approximately 0.1 seconds on average, though depending on the light and the contrast between the subject and background. At full zoom, focus takes a little longer, and sometimes the camera cannot autofocus, leaving Manual Focus as the only option.

Write times to the memory card are very fast. I used a class 1 memory card for the review and it found saving 8 Mp EXR images was extremely nippy. Put a fast card in the camera and images are saved extremely fast. However, Raw image processing is quite slower than with a DSLR, though there’s not many bridge cameras with raw capability. Some users think that it's slow at savng images to a memory card, but, whilst it is slow when it merges images to form a singe image like in the advanced mode, Jpeg performance

IMAGE QUALITY

Image quality is generally good. Daylight shots are generally good, with good colour and contrast. They look better on the 460,000 pixel LCD screen than on a computer.

A big concern is that the sensor is only a half inch model with 16 megapixels. Issues of noise do arise, although the EXR mode ‘High ISO and Low Noise’ or the Pro Low Light option in the advanced shooting mode reduces noise to acceptable levels. At most levels up to ISO 800 noise isn’t a major problem. However, as with most cameras, it starts creeping in at ISO 400 and above ISO 1600 and above are unusuable, except for web shots, or where low light demands you The Back Side Illuminated CMOS sensor gives better low light  than a non BSI CCD sensor.

 

Exposure is generally good, with four options available, average, spot, centre weighted and multi. The latter has 256 areas for accurate exposure. Average, seems best for general work, and Spot works well for telephoto work. Multi is acceptable, but doesn’t seem to give the best results, as white areas have a tendency to over expose. You can check exposure with the histogram, which is turned off and on using the Display button. Or in playback mode you can press the AF CSM button to do this. Overexposed areas blink black.The EXR D-Range mode does a great job of bringing out details, as does the 'Pro Low Light' setting in the advanced mode. In these modes, shadow details are noticeably improved.

There’s a noticeable lack of Chromatic Abhorrations (purple fringing) in shots, and they are generally sharp. Macro performance is great, producing clear images, as does Super Macro mode, which allows you to get as close as 1 CM from your subject. The camera takes excellent photographs. The two Auto modes (Auto and EXR Auto) produce great photo’s, and even if you only ever use these two modes, you’ll get great results. Night photos are good too if taken with Pro Low Light or EXR High ISO/Low Noise, but when taken in one of the P A S M modes noise can rear it’s ugly head, leading to lack of detail. You can set the noise reduction level to Standard or High in the menus, but images in this mode can lack fine detail. Generally speaking, EXR mode gives the best fine detail, though P A S M modes allow the user the control to take better exposed images.  There are three levels of sharpness, Soft, STD and Hard, and three levels of contrast. Out of the camera, the default STD setting of sharpness produces slightly soft images. This can be tweaked in your preferred image editor. Image quality is good across the whole zoom range, dropping off noticeably at full zoom. There is also a noticeable loss pf quality at the edge of the image, but it’s nothing to worry about. Again, it’s worse at full telephoto length, but it’s not bad enough to be a problem.

Raw images show a good amount of detail, though compared to the average DSLR, they are slightly disappointing. It must be said that none of it’s main competition has raw capture, and with raw images you can recover a lot more blown highlight. Even when shooting JPEGS the images produced can still recover some blown highlights, as you will see from the image of the dessert on this page. The shadow detail on the swirl of cream has been recovered with considerable success.

With The EXR modes, shooting at 8 Mp gives better quality images than any of the competition at the same 8Mp resolution. At full resolution there are better superzooms out there, particularly Sony’s HX 100V and Canon’s SX 40 (albeit the latter shoots at 12 Mp). It’s images are not far behind though.

The HS20 EXR boasts dual image stabilisation, which at full zoom works really well. In fact, it’s fair to say it works a treat. Even handheld shots at long focal lengths come out sharp. It’s worth noting that even indoor shots without flash come out sharp.

VIDEO

The camera’s video specifications are impressive. It can shoot full 1080p HD movies, as well as the lesser 720p HD, and 480p standard definition video at 30 frames a second, along with High Speed video with 480p at 80 fps and 320 x 240 pixels at 160 fps and 320 x 112 pixels at 320 fps. High speed modes are without sound and are designed to playback slow motion. There's a dedicated Record button, just press to start recording, and press again to stop recording. However, don’t expect it to replace your HD video capture device as it has a serious flaw. When you zoom in, the video quickly loses focus, and it takes 2 - 3 seconds for the autofocus to work. Whilst in focus video is of good quality, if you’re capturing something where you need to zoom in and out a lot, such as your son’s footie match, then the video is spoiled by this. Also, when focused properly it can sometimes jerk in and out of focus without even touching the zoom control. You're better off prefocusing before starting to record. Having said that, it’s video is a lot better than many other cameras you can buy today. Yoou can see a sample movie here.

VIEWFINDER

The HS20 is equipped with a 200,000 pixel Electronic Viewfinder(EVF). It's fitted with a Diopter so that it can be adjusted for spectacle wearers. I found that with or without spectacles on I needed the same setting for my short sightedness. A button on the rear of the camera switches between the LCD and viewfinder, but there's also a sensor by the switch that automatically detects when you put the viewfinder to your eye and turns the LCD of, which works extremely well and is usefull on bright sunny days if you can't view the LCD. However, in practice, if you flip the LCD up too high, or you move your hand across the sensor, or even hold the camera too close to your body, then annoyingly it will switch to the viewfinder. The default for this feature is off, though you can enable it in the setup menu. Using the viewfinder instead of the LCD keeps the camera steadier, and at longer zoom lengths gives sharper images. In my opinion, it's not the sharpest EVF I've used.

PLAYBACK

Playback is achieved the same way as on any normal camera, left and right on the Dpad thumbs through the images, but you can also use the command dial to do this, but be aware it flicks through in the opposite direction. You can use the Display button to cycle through the information options to decide what you see on screen, and also press and hold the AF C-S-M button to see full shooting information for your images.

As there’s no zoom lever, you use the ISO and AE buttons to zoom in and out of your images. As with most cameras, zooming out on an image that’s not magnified on screen will produce a thumbnail view. There’s four levels of zooming out, and you don’t get the usual grid, it’s more like a slideshow with the main image highlighted centre screen, and the preceding and following images either side. Zoom out more, and you get more images in a similar style display, refreshing different from your average display. What is unusual is if you zoom out four times you fill the screen with not a dozen images like most cameras, but a staggering 97 images. To make it stand out from the rest the highlighted image is the size of four thumbnails. There are 10 rows of 10 thumbnails, less the ones obscured by the highlighted image.

The image quality of the screen is excellent. 460,000 pixels ensure they look good on screen. Even the image noise can be seen if an image is excessively noisy. However, the images look too sharp. You can zoom in on an image and see detail displayed spectacularly, like the hairs on the back of the leaf on a flower, but you won’t be able to get that clarity by cropping the image on your computer.  In fact, images show more colour, clarity and contrast than when viewed on your P.C. or laptop.

The screen is a flip out screen, and flips up by 90 degrees, or flips downwards 30 degrees. Putting the screen at a 90 degree angle means you can look down and put the lens in close whilst being able to view the screen and get the shot. The screen is great to use, even in sunlight, and I was able to view the images on an overcast day with lots of light, whereas my wife’s mobile phone screen was virtually impossible to view.

CONCLUSION

There’s no doubting that Fuji was aiming at nearly all possible markets when it designed the HS20 EXR. The 30 X zoom, 16 Mp sensor, and easy EXR modes are designed to appeal to the point & shoot user who wants the best possible easy to use super zoom camera, whilst the advanced features are aimed at DSLR users who don’t want to carry around lots of lenses and accessories. However, I feel that Fuji have missed out on both sets of markets. Whilst it’s true that many DSLR users want an ‘Everyday’ camera they can use without the burden of taking all their kit with them, these users demand the best, cleanest images possible, and the HS20 doesn’t deliver that. It’s true that it delivers outstanding image quality for it’s price, but these users prefer cameras with larger APS-C or 4/3 sensors as the images produced are much cleaner.

However, that’s not to say that Fuji has missed the best market with the HS20, it’s a well-respected camera, and is the Fuji camera of choice for the advanced photographers on the myfinepix website for Fuji users. As point and shoot super zoom it can’t be faulted, especially at 8 Mp EXR modes. The defining reason for it not catching on as much as it should have was the cost. At launch it was priced at well over £400, beyond the pockets of most point and shoot users. It’s new reduced price tag  should redress that to some point. Pound for pound, the HS20 EXR is the best featured super zoom for the money. All it’s main rivals are around or above the £300.00 mark. In fact, stocks of the HS20 are selling out quick. The only other camera around the £200.00 price point with Raw shooting and a 30 X zoom is Kodak’s Easyshare Z990. With it’s DSLR like features it will appeal to those who wan’t a DSLR but could never afford the entrance fee.The introduction of the HS30, which is regarded as having even better image quality, and Fuji's 'Professional' X-S1 bridge models, mean that the HS20's plummeting price is good news all round. The HS20 can now be bought cheaper than Fuji's new 'SL' range of bridge cameras, and is much better specified than them. Even Fuji's the new HS25 EXR (in between the HS20 and HS30 and exclusive to Jessops at £330.00) is over £100.00 more expensive and lacks Raw image capture, thus not being as good.. And although you can pick up a HS30 EXR for under £330.00, many users say the the improvements are not worth the extra £130.00.

With all it's features and EXR modes, the HS20 EXR is every bit an 'Enthusiast's' camera. If you're considering going down the DSLR route but don't want the hassle of carrying a heavy camera with several lenses around, then it's the perfect upgrade. If you're already a seasoned DSLR user looking for an 'All in one' everyday camera, you'll probably be disappointed by it's images, and would be better off looking at a camera with a larger 2/3rds or APS - C sized sensor.

BUILD   QUALITY 5

FEATURES          4.5

IMAGE QUALITY  4

EASE OF USE     3.5 (Advanced user)

EASE OF USE     4 (Point & Shoot user)

VALUE                   5

OVERALL             4.5 = 90% Highly Recommended.



 

 

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