HandlingIn spite of its rather improbable 30x zoom lens (24-720 mm), the Fujifilm HS20 is actually a relatively compact bridge camera. Obviously, it's not going to fit into your jacket pocket though, and you will need a small case or bag to carry it around in. The HS20 is a pleasant camera to use. It has a nice big handle for effective grip and the camera's textured covering makes it nice to hold.
The various controls (dials, buttons, on/off switch) are easily accessible and are generally well finished. The only slight let-down is the rubber cover for the connection ports, which looks a little flimsy. Photographers who like to play around with the picture settings will appreciate the good choice of direct-access controls (white balance, RAW mode, ISO, light metering, autofocus etc.), whereas users with less time to spare will no doubt appreciate the Auto EXR mode, which takes care of everything for you.
The LCD has a definition of 460,000 dots, making it accurate enough for most situations. The viewing angles are nice and wide and the screen can be flipped upwards or tilted vertically. That's practical, but a full swivel screen would offer even more flexibility, especially when the camera's mounted on a tripod. The on-screen image is much less clear when the light starts to fade, but plenty of detail can still be distinguished in low light. As is all too often the case, the electronic viewfinder isn't particularly accurate or comfortable to use. Plus, the presence detector (that switches off the LCD automatically when you raise the camera to your eye) doesn't work very well if you're wearing glasses. We forgot about this viewfinder pretty quickly and only really used it when we really had to (in bright sunlight, for example).
The pièce de résistance of the HS20 has got to be its 30x optical zoom lens complete with manual control. It's well made, on the whole, but the zoom ring is a little too keen between 24 and 80 mm, or at least it was on our test model. The entire focal range can be covered in 1/4 of a turn, which allows you to move from one extreme to the other very quickly indeed. The downside of this manual function is that zooming isn't always as smooth as it could be—something you're particularly likely to notice in video mode, where an electronically controlled zoom is clearly an advantage. Note that the position of the flash just above the manual control ring is actually quite annoying, as we found it got in the way of our fingers when trying to zoom.
The internal menu is too plain, too traditional and too linear, but that doesn't make it any less practical to use. Another thing worth noting is that the camera is powered by four AA batteries. Although this can be quite practical (AA batteries can be picked up pretty much anywhere in the world), this makes the camera quite heavy (add 110 g for four NiMH batteries). In its standard 'Easy' mode the battery life is acceptable, but it drops markedly in Auto EXR mode, as the camera is constantly monitoring the surroundings to determine which scene setting to use.
ResponsivenessThe FinePix HS20 EXR is a little slow to start up. In fact, it take three (sometimes precious) seconds to get ready for action, which is too long by our book. However, this bridge does make up for things with its fast autofocus. Whether at wide-angle or telephoto settings, focusing takes under a second most of the time. In low light, the HS20 gets a helping hand from its built-in lamp and really doesn't do a bad job.
JPeg pictures are saved relatively promptly, but as soon as you switch to RAW you'll have to wait almost ten seconds before taking the next shot.
The HS20 holds its own in burst mode, shooting at a speed of seven full-resolution frames per second for eight frames.
Picture QualityWe first of all tested the accuracy of the impressive 24-720 mm lens. It's nothing special at wide-angle settings and pictures lack a little sharpness and consistency (the edges are more hazy than the middle of the shot). Still in wide angle, pincushion distortion is a problem. This is really quite unusual as barrel distortion is much more common. This pincushion effect could actually result from the camera's barrel distortion correction system going overboard but, in any case, it's clearly visible. This soon goes away when you start to increase the focal length. From 50 mm, the image is more consistent across the frame and is generally sharper. In fact, photos still come out looking pretty good at 720 mm. Given the enormous power of the zoom lens and its huge focal range, it actually gives pretty good results on the whole. Plus, the 1 cm macro mode makes the le HS20 a particularly versatile camera.
It's interesting to note in passing that when measuring the angle of this camera's field of view, we discovered that the HS20 actually has a wider-angle lens than the 24 mm announced in Fujifilm's tech specs. Our tests showed a field of view of 77°, which is an equivalent focal length of 22 mm with a 1/2" sensor (the previous model had a 1/2.3" sensor)
The 16-Megapixel BSI CMOS sensor keeps noise nicely in check. It gives good results and noise has a very fine grain (visible from 400 ISO) and isn't heavily coloured. Plus, the moderate smoothing doesn't wipe out detail. Noise is clearly visible in areas of block colour and the HS20 tends to overexpose pictures, which in turn makes granularity more visible. Tweaking the manual settings can get rid of this though, which good results even at 3200 ISO.
Finally, the HS20 EXR keeps chromatic aberration under control.
VideoThe 1080 video mode does its job more than adequately. With H.264 encoding and decent stereo sound, the HS20 takes nice video clips that are pleasant to watch ... so long you keep the camera steady and slow while moving it around: the 14 Mbps bitrate can handle relatively fast movements, but a rolling shutter effect is clearly visible when you move the camera horizontally (vertical lines lean to one side as the camera sweeps into position).
The FinePix HS20 EXR can also film slow-motion video, capturing up to 320 frames per second in 320 x 112 pixels.
- Fast autofocus in most situations
- 24-720 mm optical zoom lens gives good results over the whole focal range
- Good picture quality up to 1600 ISO
- Manual optical zoom with expert-style handling
- High-quality 1080 HD video mode (and slow-motion video)
- Distortion and slight lack of sharpness at wide-angle settings
- No continuous RAW mode and RAW shots are slow to save
- Electronic viewfinder isn't very good
- GUI could be better
The Fujifilm FinePix HS20 EXR has plenty of attractive features, including a powerful, versatile and decent-quality manual zoom lens, a good video mode, a fast autofocus and sharp picture quality. The only real disappointments are the electronic viewfinder, the GUI and the time it takes to save RAW shots.