The HS30 EXR has the same basic body, build, design and control layout as the HS20 EXR. It's chunky, reassuringly robust, comfortable to handle, and has a flattering finish in spite of a few minor details—like the buttons on the back of the camera or the rubber plugs covering the connections ports. The HS30 EXR is a little on the heavy side. At 685 g, it's 100 g heavier than a Sony HX200V or a Canon SX40 HS, and a whole 150 g heavier than Panasonic's FZ150. Plus, it's not exactly compact. It feels particularly thick, but then that's what you get with a mechanical zoom—lens retraction is quite limited and the HS30 is almost as thick as an SLR with a 18-55 mm kit lens.
The mechanical ring around the lens is a real treat to use, as it's precise and relatively smooth, even if you can hear a slight friction noise as you rotate it. Note that the ring at the base of the lens barrel is electronic rather than mechanical and is reserved for focusing only, which is a bit of a shame since expert compacts like the Canon S100 and Sony RX100 have shown just how handy it can be to customise this control with different settings.
The screen is nice and comfortable to use, with a decent resolution, good viewing angles and good brightness levels, although some aliasing effects can be spotted on the edges of letters. However, the onscreen image isn't amazingly accurate. With a Delta E at 7.7 (colour fidelity, the closer to zero the better) the HS30 is only just within average. It severely washes out light grey shades, making it hard to judge exactly which parts of your picture are being overexposed due to bright lighting.
The viewfinder is much better than the habitually mediocre EVFs we typically find in bridge cameras. For starters, it has a 920,000-dot screen, which is four times more than usual for this kind of camera. In terms of size, it's not amazing, and some shimmering is noticeable, but there's none of the colour break-up you get with sequential displays. It's generally much more pleasant to use than the viewfinders we've seen in other bridges (with the obvious exception of the X-S1, which has a bigger and higher-definition EVF).
General handling is standard Fujifilm stuff. This bridge is geared up for users who know what they're doing, with plenty of direct-access settings buttons. However, some features could be more intuitive—for example, sensitivity and exposure correction settings aren't accessible in EXR Auto mode, but can be changed when you switch to a specific EXR mode.
Note too that unlike its predecessors, the HS30 uses an Li-ion battery with battery life announced at 600 photos. The HS30 actually uses the same battery as Fuji's hybrid X-Pro1, which is even better than the one in the X-S1!
The good news is that start-up time has improved, as the HS30 takes a photo a little over two seconds after you hit the On switch.
The bad news is that RAW shots are as slow as ever to save, freezing up the camera as they do. You therefore have to wait for the camera to finish saving a shot to the memory card before you can access any settings.
In Jpeg mode, this bridge is nicer to use, shooting photo after photo without keeping you waiting around too much.
The autofocus does a decent job—it's not especially fast or especially slow—but it does sometimes get a bit hesitant in low light. The burst mode is limited to three frames per second and stops after eight photos (five in RAW mode), which could clearly be better.
The HS30 EXR has the same basic specs as the HS20 EXR, with a 16-Megapixel BSI CMOS sensor and a 30x zoom lens announced at 24-720 mm (see inset). Fuji claims to have tweaked the sensor a little, but it's otherwise identical to the one seen in the previous model.
It's therefore no surprise to see ISO test results that look very similar to those of the HS20 EXR. The tipping point comes between 800 ISO and 1600 ISO—at the latter setting, heavy smoothing kicks in, wiping out detail in an attempt to keep digital noise in check. The Panasonic FZ150, Sony HX200V and Canon SX40 do a bit of a better job, but take very different approaches to image processing (heavily processed for the Sony, more natural for the Panasonic and Canon models).
Note that, as with many Fuji cameras, the HS30 overexposed our test scene, which makes noise particularly visible in darker parts of the sample shots. When you correct the exposure, the results get much cleaner, with barely any more noise than in shots from competitor models (but still a little more smoothed at 1600 and 3200 ISO).
The lens in our HS30 gave considerably better results than the HS20 and did a slightly better job than the HS10, even though these cameras technically use the same lens. It's therefore safe to assume than lens quality in any model you buy will fall somewhere between the three.
At wide-angle settings, the frame could be more consistent, as the corners of the shot aren't as sharp as the centre. At telephoto settings, the frame is consistent in quality, but that's due to a noticeable drop in sharpness in the middle of the shot. That won't be a problem for standard-sized prints (8" x 10" / 20 x 27 cm prints will look very detailed at all focal lengths). But, on the whole, the Canon SX40 lens is sharper and Sony's HX200V is comparable at wide-angle settings but better at telephoto.
As with our general test scene, we had a recurrent problem with exposure in our Barbie shots. Even when using the face-detection function, the HS30 was often tricked by the black background, in turn overexposing the subject (Barbie). But, thankfully, exposure is more accurate and reliable with this camera in real-life situations.
The HS30 EXR films 1080p HD video. It's on par with current market standards, with a relatively sharp, detailed image in spite of a slight tendency to overexpose bright, light zones.
Sound recording is actually quite good, with a marked stereo effect and pretty good levels of fidelity. We've seen some models do slightly better (Canon's SX40, in particular), but it's really not bad. However, in very quiet scenes, you can hear the buzzing of the continuous autofocus working in the background, as well as a slight noise from the zoom ring if you happen to turn it.
- Advanced controls: mechanical zoom, loads of buttons, etc.
- Good build quality, sturdy and reassuring
- Viewfinder is better than those usually seen in bridges
- Good picture quality up to 800 ISO or even 1600 ISO
- 1080p HD video with stereo sound
- Handling can be complicated (options sometimes deactivated, menus could be simpler)
- Lens could give more consistent-quality results, especially at wide-angle settings
- RAW shots are slow to save, limited burst mode
The Fuji HS30 EXR is a pretty standard replacement for the HS20 EXR. It brings a largely improved viewfinder and an Li-ion battery, but it's otherwise just like its predecessor. In other words, it's a very good bridge—or a must-have for anyone looking for a mechanical zoom—even if Canon's SX40 and Sony's HX200V edge slightly ahead.