Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR Camera Review
Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR Camera Review
Since its founding in 1934 Fujifilm has had a history of innovative products from film to X-rays and cameras to medical imaging - even branching out into a range of skin care products. They are best known for their cameras and this is the area we will be exploring today. Unlike long time rival Kodak, Fuji have been quick to embrace change by prediciting the disruptive effects digital photography would have and readily cannibalised their existing ranges to remain current. This willingness to remain competitive is what ultimately saved them from the same fate as Kodak and now they are one of the world's oldest photographic manufacturers. Their cameras range from compacts for everyday use to specialist products for enthusiasts and professionals. One area they have avoided is the Digital SLR, instead offering up a range of Bridge cameras with the allure of SLR functionality but with the convenience of a compact camera and without the hefty price tag. Given the difficulty Panasonic (the last entrant into the Digital SLR arena) has faced becoming established against the incumbents (Canon and Nikon) this may be a wise strategy.
Today we are reviewing the Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR and will take a detailed look through the course of this article.
Before delving into the camera, we should examine the specifications to give readers some idea of what the HS20EXR is capable of. These specs are taken from the Fujifilm site:.
That was a bit long-winded but should answer most questions and give prospective buyers a good idea of whether their needs are met. With SDHC cards being so cheap these days there's no reason to go for anything less than 16GB to ensure space never runs out (except perhaps in movie mode). Having said that, it is important to note that while Class 6 SDHC cards are recommended for movies, we found that Class 10 is required to give flawless recording at 1080p. Even more so, the responsiveness of the camera (time taken to write to the memory card) is highly dependant upon the speed of the SDHC/SDXC card. We used a 45MB/s card and it made a big difference in burst mode but realistically the host controller of the HS20 is limited to 20-25MB/s (something not mentioned in the official spec) so any card that can (sustained) write faster than this will be ideal.
Mention must also be made of the supplied software, SikyPix. We made the mistake of ignoring it and using Photoshop instead until we found that only SilkyPix can handle the RAW image types taken by the HS20. SilkyPix is a very capable editing suite and essential until a Fuji compatible RAW filter is available for Adobe Photoshop.
Now lets take a look at the camera itself:
Often mistaken for an SLR, the HS20EXR has the same chunky body that professionals feel gives them a good grip. The body is dominated by the Fujinon lens which is not removable but gives a massive 30x zoom. The virtues of the Fujinon lens can be researched by doing a Google search for readers so interested but is outside the scope of this article. The HS20 sports 16 megapixels compared with the 10 megapixels of the HS10 it replaces.
Even with the lens retracted we can see that this is a hefty camera and at the school performance we used for our test, several parents assumed it was a much more expensive professional Digital SLR camera. The main button so familiar to Fuji camera owners is no longer sporting a zoom ring. Instead the zooming is done manually by turning the barrell of the lens. This is strange at first but soon becomes second nature. It does however pose some problems in movie mode for smooth zooming which would be much more graceful with a mechanised zoom. The flash is compact and hides away nicely and is now activated by a button on the side - no longer popping up unexpectedly as with our old Fuji S5700.
The back is where all the controls are and we have a plethora of options. The familiar menu ring is there and the usual dial for selecting shooting modes from full Auto to a setting for every occasion and a fully Manual mode for professionals. The EXR mode offers extra possibilies by extending dynamic range or clarity by doubling up on pixels and other tricks. We used the Auto mode for our testing and know from other users experiences that the pictures we took would have been even better over time and with tweaking as we gain experience. Also visible is the one press button (orange circle) for starting movie recording with the added capability of being able to take pictures while recording albeit one size category lower (remember to get a fast SDHC/SDXC card). The buttons down the left hand side are those commonly adjusted by photographers between shots and would be too onerous for the user to go through the menu to adjust each time so have their own buttons which is very handy in practice. The unmarked dial at the top is a command dial and is used to cycle through the available options with these buttons for extra speed but does require the use of both hands. The 3 inch screen is large and clear at 460,000 pixels and can be adjusted in dimness to save battery power. The viewfinder is not just a gimic and very functional, switching on when an eye is pressed close (not so good for spectacle wearers) and diopter is adjusted with a dial on the side of the viewfinder.
When the lens is fully extended it does protrude a significant amount (more so with the supplied lens hood attached - be sure to use this as it protects the lens if dropped as well as eliminating unwanted peripheral light). A manual focus ring is just behind the zoom ring but in practice we were unable to get manual focus to work (a shame as auto focus does not always give good results at full zoom). There is an improved rubber thumb grip and mounts for the included neck strap.
The screen flips up and down to a reasonable degree for waist level and overhead shots but is not as flexible as the screen on some Digital SLRs. The flap on the right holds the memory card slot and the one on the left the USB 2.0 and HDMI connectors (the USB socket is also used by the RR-80 remote release trigger).
Underneath we can see the mounting plate screw hole and while it is plastic rather than metal, this did not pose any problems and never once suffered any damage on the many occasions we used a tripod. The battery compartment has a locking slide to avoid popping open accidentally during handling and contains the 4x AA batteries required to power the camera. We recommend using Hybrid NiMh batteries as they retain a full charge for many months and if you use the camera only occasionally you may find normal rechargeable batteries drained in a matter of only days. In practice we managed to get over 500 shots with our 2100mah NiMhs before exhaustion - more than the rated 400 but cautious users will prefer to have a set of "hot swap" spares. It is possible to power the camera from the mains with an adapter but this does not recharge the batteries and limits placement to within reach of a mains socket.
We had the perfect testing ground for our review in the form of a school play at the school of the reviewer's children. A big hall also allowed us to test the full zoom capabilities of the HS20.
The photo above was taken without any zoom from our fixed position at the back of the hall (notice how far away the stage is) and the clarity and contrast of the photo show how good the HS20 handles low light conditions (this photo was taken with the built-in flash in an otherwise darkened room).
The camera aims to increase the success of shots
with a CMOS Shift sensor, and offers High-Speed AF to help make sure images are
correctly focused. Fujifilm FinePix cameras are also some of the only cameras
available with Super Intelligent Flash - this is designed to give you two shots,
one with flash, and one without, so that you can choose the best after taking
The big test is how well the camera performs with zoomed shots and while the pictures on the Fujifilm website are very impressive, how hard is it for amateur photographers to get the same results? The key to understanding the problems of zoomed shooting is in knowing the problem of camera shake. Image stabilisation does a good job of eliminating camera shake when there is no zoom but zooming amplifies the effect. The solution is the use a tripod or if space forbids that, a monopod. We used a tripod for shooting at our school play as our reviewer is not known for his steady hands (and wisely chose not to pursue a career as a brain surgeon) but this still left us with a minor problem. Namely, at extreme zoom even pressing the shutter button creates enough shake to cause blurring. The solution to this is to use the optional Fujifilm RR-80 Remote Release Trigger. This plugs into the USB socket on the camera and has a long enough lead to the palm sized unit to completely eliminate button shake. Pressing halfway focuses just like the button on the camera. The one thing we could not compensate for was the poor and unbalanced use of spotlights by the school so please bear this in mind when viewing the photos below - the white balance is off.
Here we are using about 20x zoom. The picture is sharp and vibrant (apart from the white balance) and fine details can be clearly made out. Clicking on any photo in this review will bring up a larger version but sadly we could not include the full sized jpegs let alone the RAW files due to bandwidth restrictions.
Now we are at full 30x zoom and the subject we have focused on is clear and detailed. On the full size image we could zoom in on her eyes and see the fine detail in each iris and this is a remarkable achievement for a Bridge camera.
We took some 500+ photos at the event and less than 10% were blurry compared to about half for our old Fujifilm S5700 and all that given the poor lighting conditions.
Focusing was much quicker than we expected although occasionally the focus point was missed at maximum zoom and we had to focus on a nearby high contrast area before recomposing the shot.
One area we could not test in the time available was the video recording capabilities of the HS20. We had hoped to receive the review sample sooner and take still photos at one performance and make video recordings at the other. In the end we had one performance left when the camera arrived and chose still photos. It also gave us no time to experiment with the camera so our experience is the same as that of someone with no prior skill in photography who has just purchased an HS20. The recording options are listed in the specifications section but most notably, the hS20 can record in 1080p in .mov format which makes it better than our dedicated HD camcorder which can only record full HD in an interlaced format.
We scoured the net to bring our readers an example of the video recording capability of the HS20 and found the following recorded at 1080p. We think you'll find it quite impressive.
Other options include high speed modes and a search of YouTube will bring up many interesting HS20 clips.
The Fujifilm FinePix HS20 is a remarkable camera offering most of the features of Digital SLR cameras at the price of a compact camera. The single lens it is limited to has the versatility of carrying around several SLR camera lenses. Picture quality is superb even with our limited expertise and will no doubt improve substantialy over the coming weeks and months. The 30x zoom allowed us to capture detail which would have previously been impossible without physically getting closer to the action and will be a great boon for wildlife photographers.
Movie recording is on a par with dedicated HD camcorders - an unexpected bonus for a still camera albeit with a few problems when zooming during filming. Slowed down high speed shooting allows for some amazing effects.
Fuji have informed us that the Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR is now end of line and being replaced with the HS30EXR. While this means that parts will be harder to source in a year or two, it also means that some incredible bargains are available for the HS20 with prices as low as £200 for those shopping around. This makes it about half the price of the HS30 and the only difference we can see between the two is a custom battery pack and an HDR mode.
We hope to bring you a review of the HS30 in the latter half of this year but for now the Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR is an excellent product which meets all the needs of amateur photographers (and most professionals too) with the versatility of a Bridge camera at the price point of a compact camera. We give it our Gold Award.
We would like to thank FujiFilm UK for making this review possible.
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